The Growing Celebrity Status of a Haggardly Bicycler
In Boston, Massachussets we set out from our hostel with our loaded panniers and camping gear on the back racks. Our first picture was of us smiling, groomed, and enthusiastic. Within one hundred yards joggers asked if we are cycling across the country. They were friendly, but not impressed. as a significant coastal city they have likely seen many start out the same optimistic way, and have assumed most never made it. They wished us goodluck, and we began the trip.
In New York a kid outside a gas station asked where we were biking to. We told him across the country. He said that was cool and then he told us about the BMX biking he did and pointed out various parts of his bike he wanted to improve. People glanced at our bikes leaning on the wall of the building when they went in to pay for gad or cigarrettes.
We were only in Pennsylvania for a few hours. By then a beard began to become defined around my jawline. Occassionally someone beeped as we navigated through Eerie. Most of the time it was friendly.
Most of Ohio we took highway 20. My arms had grown thin and were extrememly tan, bleaching the hair on them. My eyes looked smaller in my new dark face. Most of the time 20 was crowded and unpleasant. We found relatively little open space until we turned off it to head towards Hicksville, a small rural town on the western border. The lady we stayed with was a national Scrabble champion and had travelled to 65 countries. She took our picture and put us in the Hicksville Tribune.
Indiana was the first state that seemed reasonably far away from Boston. Most people seemed to agree. They remarked that it was "Quite a ways" and that we still had "Quite a ways to go." They told us that it seemed like an exciting way to spend the summer. We were caught in a rainstorm under a tree in a family's lawn. The husband offered to drive us to shelter and then took pity on our wet and unfortunate state and let us spend the night. I often had grease marks on my shins and arms that lasted for days.
We went through Iowa the same time was the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, although in a different direction and 100 miles south. Every gas station clerk and truck that pulled along us on the road asked if we were doing RAGBRAI. We told them we were going from Boston to San Francisco. "That's a long ways," a woman said, shaking her head. She stared at me blankly and said it again, and then repeated it going out the door. We slumped over a beer in a German restaurant in Council Bluffs, the last town in Iowa. There was one other man in the bar. He told us how much he respected us for doing this and talked about the importance of following dreams when you're young and how that time has passed him up. After he left we were told our tab was picked up by an anonymous person.
Somewhere in Nebraska wsa our halfway point, although we didn't know where. My eyes retained red veins even after I woke up. The skin on my nose peeled continually. We left the city limits of Lincoln t osee a woman on the shoulder, holding out two water bottles. She shook our hands and told us she appreciated what we were doing even before we could tell her what it was. She was visibly excited for us and told us as much, and we promised to send her a postcard from San Francisco. In Lexington my bicycle broke and we had a passerby drop us at the local tavern to think through the situation. A quiet, red haired Nebraskan asked if we were biking for chairty, and then bought us a few pitchers. In North Platte the bottoms of my shoes fell out. I wrapped them with electrical tape a few times to hold them together. Three out of the next four meals were paid for by strangers.
Southern Wyoming has seen its share of cyclists trying to get through the mountains, except a backyard campground whose sign was hidden in the weeds. We signed the guestbook of an older woman whose oxygen tank made gunshot sounds every five seconds. When we opened the book we discovered we were no more than the 5th group that stayed there in the year 2010. Her son came out of a shed to greet us. He had long hair, glasses, and was missing a front tooth. "Holy sheep shit," he said, when we told him how far we've been. "Holy sheep shit indeed," I thought to myself.