Cambridge, Oh - Marion, Oh: 111 miles. Total: 483 miles
I never like the smell of napalm in the morning. And this morning I feel particularly lazy, the long day yesterday made me a little complacent: at 7.30am I am still in bed. I finally get up and walk downstairs to the breakfast buffet. Oatmeal and fruit seem an healthy option. I don my gear. What's that stench? Oh, yes, my clothes. I need a good washing tonight, wherever I land I am gonna need to find a laundry machine. It was a bad idea to wear a white jersey, I should have gotten a black one instead. Whatever man, who cares, it's already 8.40, you are wasting time, just go. The fog has lifted, the clouds are thinning and a robust sunlight pierces its way through them. It would be nice to ride on long flat roads, after three days of climbing I could use a reprieve. I ride through a deserted downtown and the road hangs west, cuts through a small industrial park and suddenly drops into a basin, the hillsides around are covered by thick trees. I have the whole place for myself, this is beautiful, this is perfect. This is what cycling cross-country is in mind. You, the bike and nature. Only thing you have to do is to pedal, move your feet, stay alert and take in all in. This is freedom; time out of worry, time out of jail, time out of death, time out of unpleasantness. Freedom is what you make of it and the bicycle seems a good choice to me right now. I am singing and smiling but it won't last long because in a second my teeth will be clenched...wait what? a hill, okay, that's gonna be quick. One more? okay, fine. What? Again? After 10 miles I am drenched with sweat from all the climbing. Flat roads? Wishful thinking. I am up on the pedals most of the time and by the time I finish a descent it is time to climb again. The deliciously sinful garlic bread from last night oozes through my pores and in a matter of minutes it is all gone. The constant climbs, short, steep or long, make me work really hard. I can just watch my sweat roll down my legs, I can feel it running down my face. The sweat is me, the sweat is what life is after you have eaten, drunk and cried. Not that I cried last night, I'm just saying...
I don't know what I was thinking but the hills are back. As I reach the top of a hill I try to scrutinize the horizon searching for the Plains or a valley long enough that would suggest that the terrain is flattening out but all I see is the surges of the earth, round but pointy, the ripples of a green soil that jars the horizon, the wavy lines of the world around me, billowing, rippling, rolling. The prelude to plains of Ohio from Cambridge is 60 miles of yo-yoing that would drive even the Dalai Lama totally insane. Rollers they call them, rollers are not, there are hills that might roll their way for ever and ever but these are freaking steep hills, not for kids. And just when the terrain seems to flatten out they come charging right back at you like a dog that won't stop barking through the night. You are not singing now, are you? These are fantastic hills, don't get me wrong. This quiet part of rural Ohio is really pretty. I love the ride. I am just saying that rolling through the hills is not ideal cycling. It kills my rhythm, I cannot settle on any pace as the road won't allow me to do so. Thank God the chain is responding well. I am shifting gear every 200 yards, I apply different levels of pressure on the pedals, I huff and puff, every "yes" after cresting a hill is immediately followed by a "oh no" at the sight of the next one.
When I reach Mount Vernon, I have 70 miles in my legs with so much climbing that I am surprised to see the main square on a flat patch, isn't everything supposed to be slanted here? I need a rest and I wheel the bike through the charming historic downtown where there is an old cars exposition/sale. I don't know much about cars but some of them are really cool. Plenty of bikers around, seen them before, covered them before, huge guys striding their Harleys everywhere. They are sitting around drinking beer and smoking. My legs feel tight from the constant climbing but I am not tired. My spirits are high, the country is beautiful and I feel I am the only person in the world that knows these remote rural areas. I haven't bumped into a single cyclist.
I leave Mount Vernon at 2:30 PM and after a few miles I am surprised that I haven't seen a hill yet. 5 miles out, no hill, 7 miles out, nope, 10 miles, look around you idiot! There are no more hills, the ground is level, nothing is rolling, you haven't changed gear in a while, there are corn fields opening up before me left and right. Yes, the sight I was looking for, the news I was waiting for, no more hills! Only the Plains ahead. I am so overjoyed that my legs feel rejuvenated, here's my second wing, and a third and a fourth. I blast my way through the last 25 miles. I cycle fast, the wind tries to stop me, a headwind of 10 mph ain't a wind for me baby, I am used to Montana, I am tellin' ya. You are going to have to do better than that if you try to stop me. I know, I will find that again soon but now I am the boss. I climb, I sprint, I can do whatever I want, my body feels good, the bike feels smooth. I hit 22mph average and I can feel the bugs ending their existence on my face. My arms and legs are covered with dead bugs. My body is my windshield. On it, the scars of a day, a week, a month, a life lived on the road are visible, on it life is rampant with evidence of my best years. Windshields never lie. They just get cleaned up once in a while. Tending to the scars makes the past appear exciting and the present boring and safe. Weird thoughts running through my head, the same song today, what was it? A Beatles tune, the odometer reads 100 miles; not bad my man but you smell. I do, my clothes are soiled. The road is as flat as I have seen it. The world is resplendent with green corn and wheat fields which hug the sides of the road which, at times becomes so straight that I can see the earth three miles ahead. I reach the city limits of Marion and a Comfort Inn will do. I wash my clothes, finally. I sit in my tub for 20 minutes and head for the grill joint next to the hotel. A satisfying day through wonderful rural Ohio. I want more. I am keen to travel West. I want 120, 150 miles a day. I don't want to waste a single second. I am restless.
Yes, they do ask me where I am from, who I am, what I am doing. Traveling this fast -fast meaning spending so much time on the road- does not allow you to enjoy meaningful interactions with the people but at night or during my stops the inquisitive ones wonder why I look such a mess and inquire. WOW! All the way from Washington DC! Where you headed? California!! Good luck hon! That's amazing, that's aaawesome! You take care now. And on and on and on. In Morgantown I spoke to a student and when I told her I was from Italy she went: Really?! Me too!? And I asked: what's your name? Wendy Smith she said. Okay, everybody is from here past their third generation. Before that, your heritage is what you wish it to be, like magic, like a life you never had and you would like to talk about at parties, with friends, to impress them. Without being too simplistic, I do think that people here are extremely kind. I notice it when I ride; 90% of the vehicles give me plenty of space when they pass me, way more than the 4 ft required by the law. This is a sign of respect and acknowledgment that the crazy guy on a bike is really nut but he is doing his thing. This courteous behavior must mean something. On my previous two bike rides across the country, I noticed that the further west I went, the more indifferent drivers are. I leave it to my American friends to elaborate on this. Mike, Paul, Rick, Judy, any thoughts?
The view from my motel window at 8 AM
City Hall, Cambridge
Cambridge, Main st.
Here they are!
Out of Marion, it is just the road and myself
I have looked better, I know!
A power plant near Coshton
From the morning ride
The road near Martinsburg
This is Amish country
These are the rollers!
Mount Vernon, Tree Capital of the US for 12 years running
Old movie theater in Mt. Gilead
Post office, Mt. Gilead
No more hills, finally!
Wheat fields shining in the sunlight
These are all my clothes for 40 days. I am about to be a clean man!