TNGA: 350 Miles of Crazy

Victory!
Victory!

“B&D Crossing” reads the sign above the door of the only store for miles around. Two picnic tables rest along the wall. One lined with lightly loaded mountain bikes. The other with dirt-stained stinky cyclists halfway through a race across the state. “Oh no,” I moan as I slowly rise from laying on the bench. I walk towards the wood line and I stain the once green grass a colorful rainbow of dried mango and gummy snacks, the only food I had left on my last-ditch effort to reach this outpost.

“There’s an abandoned house next door with a couch on the front porch. Why don’t you go over there and sleep a bit,” Donna – the “D” in “B&D Crossing” – kindly suggests. With my stomach still in torment and unable to accept food, I trudge next door with my bright orange bivvy and curl up on the dusty, moldy couch to finally sleep. When I wake, it will be dark and I will be hungrier than I have ever been in my life. A bonfire in my gut ready to consume any fuel thrown upon it.

The day before my distress, I pedaled up and over mountain after mountain, through rivers and streams as deep as my knees. I pedaled through a thunderstorm after sunset and I kept pedaling on through the night ignoring the searing pain of chaffed privates and trench foot. Trench foot! My feet were so water-logged and tender by morning I could not stand or even pedal. I thought the gooey white, wrinkled and swollen skin of my feet would peel off like an overripe orange exposing the pink flesh beneath. An hour-long nap in my bivvy at sunrise dried my soaked skin restoring my vigor and allowed me to pedal on to the puke station. Continue reading

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The Bungling Burgler

“No tango,” I say feeling sorry for the tall lanky man standing before me. My shoulders shrug and my hands raise. I respond to his “request” like I would a beggar in the zocolo with his hand out. His hand is out except this hand is waving a six-inch kitchen knife. “Money,” he said. The only word of English he knew.

The man turns and walks away. “Good thing I know some Spanish,” I think to myself. I watch him stoop and pick something up. A red backpack laying a few feet from Jess.

In one fluid motion, Jess springs to his feet. He takes two large strides, and shoves the downtrodden man to the ground. The bungling burglar is now sitting on his ass with his legs spread in front of him, waving the blue-handled knife like a kid with a sparkler. Jess backs away with me alongside him.

The bungler stands and stomps towards us. The blade of the knife flashes as it’s moved back and forth in his hand. He is angry now, but still only threatening. We back up but don’t back down. Soon, rocks are clenched in our hands; softball-sized chunks of dense granite. “Give me the bag back,” Jess demands through clenched teeth, his face as red as blood. The Bungler freezes. Anger becomes fear as victims become aggressors. Continue reading

Copper Canyon: Mountaintop Rescue

Wednesday November 5th

Sierra Madre Tarahumara Mountains

Chihuahua, Mexico

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Such a beautiful day…

Thunder shakes the earth beneath my feet. Lightning pierces the wall of rain that replaced the pelting hail. My clothes are heavy with accumulated water and I am shaking uncontrollably. I lean my bike against a wall. I huddle beneath the slight over-hang of roof. An old hobbit-of-a-man is standing in the low-framed doorway.

“Hola,” I say through chattering teeth. I point to the roof and press myself harder into the wall, further from the driving rain. “Here. Please. I am very cold,” I say in woefully bad Spanish. But my words are not important as my condition is obvious. My needs are clear. I am human. I am suffering and exposed to the elements. He invites me inside.

I duck through the doorway and enter the adobe walled shack. A lone lightbulb flickers from the ceiling illuminating a long wooden table. In the far corner, an elderly woman stoops over a wood burning stove preparing dinner. Her back is hunched making her 5 foot frame appear even smaller. Her hair is wrapped in a scarf. She is wearing a long skirt. Continue reading

Died and Gone to Heaven

On our stomachs we lie in the 88 degree water of the Sea of Cortez. “Felix,” I say sitting up. “I think we died in that storm.” I hear a pop and watch Felix pour the amber liquid into a frosted mug. “Salud,” he toasts in Spanish. Our glasses clink together, “We’ve earned it, amigo.” We slowly sip, attempting to savor, but it’s of no use. The beer is too refreshing. The last week too hot. Our mugs are soon empty.

I stand and walk through the powdery white sand and into the restaurant. A gentle breeze passes through the open windows cooling my wet skin. A television covered in stickers, like the rest of the bar, broadcasts Two and a Half Men. “Dos mas cervesas, por favor.” A green parrot on the man’s shoulder whistles in reply. He hands me two more bottles of Dos Equis and new frosted mugs. I reenter the bathwater, as my dad called it, and watch the blue sky transition to orange, red, and violet. Continue reading

A Lifestyle Emerges

Sometimes an experience forever alters our future trajectories. For me, that experience occurred in the summer of 2012. I worked a lot then. I lived an ordinary life and I did not yet think it was normal to wash my underwear in the sink. My life lacked adventure and ice cream did not disappear by the quart. Bike touring created all sorts of weird new habits.

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Bath time!

The Great Allegheny Passage is a car free pathway that, together with the C&O Canal Towpath, connects Pittsburgh, Pa to Washington D.C. My plan was to ride 150 miles to Cumberland, My (the end of the GAP), turn around, and ride home. Simple, in a week I would be back at work climbing trees. Life would return to normal.

I knew next to nothing about bike touring at the time. I did however, have plenty of backpacking experience and all the camping gear required. What I needed was a way to carry it. A backpack was out. Riding long distances with weight on your back did not fit my idea of comfort. My bike frame was carbon fiber so racks and panniers were also out. That left a trailer. I lucked out and my favorite local bike shop, Biketek, happened to have one in-stock: The Topeak Journey. I spent the evening learning how to pack it and I practiced balancing this fully loaded rig on the street in front of my house. I spent the night dreaming of adventure.

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My rig atop the Eastern Continental Divide.

In the morning I loaded everything up, filled the cooler with ice – yes I carried a cooler behind a carbon fiber frame on this trip and yes it was a mistake – and I road out the front door towards the trail. I was carrying too much weight and my ass was not used to all that riding. By the end of the second day, I could barely sit on the saddle. I spent much time standing to pedal and I took frequent breaks. By the third day, I was used to the time in the saddle. I rode enough before hand that my butt wasn’t totally green, thankfully, and the ride actually became pleasant and even enjoyable further enhanced by certain company.

The sound of rushing water calmed me. The sway of the hammock rocked me to sleep. I awoke to threats of arrest. It was dark and I was exhausted from the long days pedal. I tried pushing up the hill but gave up in favor of riding the roads to the Ohiopyle campground. That too failed. I gave in and hung my hammock in the park above the waterfall. Rafting guides preparing for the day ahead tried to warn me, “The ranger comes at nine. I wouldn’t be here.” Modern plumbing took precident and I did not take their advice. “If you don’t produce ID I am going to arrest you, take you to the station, and find out who you are.” He was in my face nose to nose. He asked if I had drugs and faked a call for a k-9 unit. I say “faked” because they never showed up. He searched me then wrote a ticket for $160. My crime? Hanging a hammock in a state park.

The next night, I pushed my bike up the freakin hill. Frostburg’s Campground sits atop a steep hill. To get up there is a wooden ramp that switchbacks up the hill. Wearing road spd with an exposed cleat, traction was impossible but I managed to push/pull my rig up to the campground. I did not accomplish my goal of reaching Cumberland, My. In the morning I decided to not ride the 32 round trip miles. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. If I had gone on to Cumberland, I would not have met the unique individuals that altered my future trajectory. I would not have met Sarah.

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The ramp leading up to the campsite.

Sarah was on a rather long trip. She toured the Northeastern U.S. with her brother, then hitched solo from Maine to Baltimore, Md. There she met a friend and the pair were on their way to Detroit, Mi for a conference. Her odometer read over a thousand miles. I was awestruck that a person could do such a thing. I mean, who ever heard of riding a bicycle across states! Making her trip even more fascinating was how much money she had spent. Less than $10. Weeks on the road for less than the cost of a burger and fries at a local bar. Unbelievable.

She taught me her secret. In Homestead we passed a local bakery. We raided the garbage and found a cookie bigger than my head. It was broken in half, most likely the reason for its being in the trash. It was the most delicious cookie I have ever eaten. Later that day we raided the trash again. This time a large supermarket dumpster. In it we found food for the next few days. Actually, we found enough food to feed an army of touring cyclists for a week and that says a lot. You know how much a touring cyclist can eat! We snatched what would could carry: Two bags full of bagels, some donuts, a whole watermelon, some meat and cheese, and much more. One bag of bagels was given away in a small riverfront park. We told of where they came from of course.

In all, I rode with Sarah and her friend for four days. Our time came to an end 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh, camped in a strangers backyard, with a fabulous dinner eaten on the man’s picnic table who insisted we camp in his yard instead of the yard of the couple we originally asked. We would be much safer, you see, as he was a retired police officer. I found this level of kindness astounding.

Bike touring changed my life. From the daily routines such as washing my underwear in the sink, no longer wearing deodorant, less frequent showers, and eating obscene amounts food. To major lifestyle changes such as selling my car and commuting by bike, finding the cheapest housing available with rent at only $60, to quiting my job to ride to Bar Harbor, Maine for a lobster. And now, a year off work to ride south along the coast of the Americas. My life no longer lacks adventure.

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So comfortable…
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One of the many converted railroad bridges on the Gap.
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Beware of rattlesnakes.
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I have no idea what this insect is but, it is huge!
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The train station at Frostburg, My. You an ride it up and/or down the continental divide to Cumberland, My.