From Marion to Marion, neat. Didn't do it on purpose. It just happened. I did not know where I was going to land tonight. I did not plan the day at all. I did not even think about it. I went to sleep and that was it. Strange, don't know why. A day in which I did not try to control the events, felt great. I wish I could do it more often.
I have a sleepless night and I am awake for two hours from 5 to 7 but I cannot bring myself to get out of bed. I toss and turn fighting against a pillow and bed sheets that never feel like home. I am not even hungry but I still hit the breakfast buffet where I indulge on four, I repeat, four pancakes and three biscuits. I am glad I wasn't hungry.
Little did I know that a busy day was in the making. I am wearing clean clothes. A man is not a man without clean clothes. No question about it. I can't believe how many things I take for granted when I am at home. Like clean clothes, clean sheets, a bed, a roof over my head, a job, food, being alive. The list expands all the way to the few essentials that so many people don't have. Like water. If you are reading my travelogue and haven't made a donation or haven't started a fund raising effort yourself please do consider it. This is really worth it. I am cycling for water. In 10 years, countries will go to war over clean water. It is already happening. Let's protect what we have and fight to allow everyone to have it. Okay, now I will get off the heavy stuff and say a few words about the ride.
Nice sunny weather, temperature sits below 85 all day and a headwind of almost 10 mph is not enough to really put a chink in my armour. I push out at 7:50 and I ride at leisurely pace so that I can enjoy the wide fields all around me. Ohio keeps coming back with the same scenery over and over again but something in it appears to be never boring or repetitive. First 40 miles, easy, I pass from one tired looking group of houses, I cannot call them villages, let alone towns, to another. The sun comes out firing on all cylinders and I feel it on my skin. At about midway I stop apply sun on my exposed chops: my arms and head feel the brunt of it. Is the sun going to fry my brains after so many hours on the road? What's the side effect here?
The morning ride is uneventful, not much traffic, decent road surface and a shoulder large enough for me to ride in. I battle the real first headwind of the trip for 20 more miles but I easily roll into Wakaponeta, the birthtown of Neil Armstrong. I ride to the only bike shop in town called Crankers Cycling. Denis, or I think it was, puts pressure in my tires and wipes my chain, free of charge. Kind man and nice bike store he has. He asks me all sorts of questions about my ride and offers his kudos to me. He also warns me that in less than 2000 miles I should get a new chain. Will do sir. Unlike last year, this time I am taking my bike seriously. I have to take care of it, clan it, air it, pamper it. If I do that she might just be kind enough to get me far away from here without any serious mechanical glitch.
I leave Wakaponeta and by midday the heat hits me like if I am standing right in front of a giant furnace spewing hot air. Not even the shade brings some relief, my sweat drops down my limbs frenziedly so much that I wonder if I have some hidden sweat reserve that keeps on sending it straight through. My two water bottles are empty yet again. I am drinking today more than any other day. I take on a long stretch of road in sauna-like condition, I glance left and right and the line of the horizon flickers in the unforgiving sun. Not a car dares drives in this weather, I wonder where everyone in the world is right now, probably bbqing in some shaded backyard, laying on a beach in a crowded seaside resort or comfortably napping at home. 1 pm, 2 pm, total solitude, a flat world of a few humbling elements, just the road and the fields along it. It is so quiet all around me that I can hear the sound of my brain thinking. Total desolation and utter craziness creep into my mind: why the hell am I doing here? I better not think about that or else I will quit right here and right now and be done with my trip and my fund raising. I pass a field of giant cows and a field of goats, the animals are quietly grazing without even bothering to look at me. I try to yell to get their attention but they don't give a shit. They are too busy grazing or fighting for a tiny spot of shade. I lower my head and look at my thighs moving fast up, down, up, down in a swinging motion, the bike rolls on the empty road. I look at my arms, sun-burnt, dirt-freckled, sweaty and veiny. I breathe in and out and the air that my mouth ejects feels warm on my hardened nose and my beard-covered skin. Riding for hours in a flat world with nothing to do but to ride gives you time to get to know your body, the nuances, the tempo, the mechanics, the sound. For almost no reason, as the sun keeps blasting out searing hot light, the world becomes good again and I am in love with my ride. The farmland continues all around me as I keep a steady pace and ride mostly by myself expect for the odd car that passes me in a flash.
Only a few hours and all my efforts to ride in clean clothes are crippled by the heat, the sweat and the dirt that kicks up from the road. Past St. Marys, the day gets lively as I share route 30 with trucks. Every time an oncoming monster whizzes by I am showered by debris and a cloud of dust. I can only close my eyes momentarily and hope that the swirls of crap won't hurt. It doesn't. At the next store where I stop to refill my water bottles I know I look pitiful, my clothes a soaking mess of sweat and dirt, the woman behind the counter looks me squarely from top to bottom like I am hobo about to wreak havoc in this peaceful highway junction town. I smile but she doesn't smile back. Would they believe me if I told them I live in Washington DC and wear a tie everyday for a living? I hardly believe it myself right now. I am in a different life from the life I had a week ago, two weeks ago, a day ago. A different life means a different man? Maybe. Maybe not. I look at my hands and they unashamedly carry the signs of hundreds of miles of cycling under the unforgiving sun and in the pelting rain of the Appalachians. My legs are fraught with what seems like a slimy hodgepodge of sunscreen, sweat, dirt, mud and God knows what else. Everytime I wipe the sweat off my face my fingers pick up at least half dozen tiny dead bugs. It doesn't bother me. You are what you pick up along the way. You don't like it? Drop it! But I do like it, I leave my tracks untraceable along this mad race across the country I love so much. The girl is looking at you funny, like she knows your life. She knows squat about your journey. Nobody knows about it, nobody knows anybody, nobody knows shit about what we go through, the hours, the moments, the time that drags on and on and we build a protection against this funny look from a total stranger. We don't know shit about shit, we just hope for the best, that's what I think. I really don't care for the way I look at the moment and when I see my reflection in the store window I can't help but smile. I look pretty disgusting.
The ice-cold fluids give a new lease of life; I plod on staring at the horizon dancing in the haze. It must be some tiredeness setting in because the scenery is suddenly monotonous and does not provide any sort of distraction; farmlands all around. I miss the hills? Yes and no. The only distraction is provided by a bug, or was it a fly? that flies straight into my mouth the moment I open it, bon appétit, no way I can spit it out, it gets stuck in my throat, I gather enough saliva in my mouth to make sure it gets flushed down, I swallow and down it goes. It is also blisters time, I can feel 'em forming on my skin, I know this process. It is bothersome for two days then they will go away and I am all "broken in". In about 3 days I will be perfectly ready for this ride. Body and mind will be totally adjusted. I have seen it before.
To be honest with you, I am still in the stage when when I get up in the morning the first thought is: what the fuck am I doing? I think that it'll be a few more days before the first thought will be "I can't wait to get out there". Anyway, despite some nascent blisters here and there how my ass gets to stay planted on the saddle for some many hours is a miracle. These must be really good shorts, I think. I think all kinds of nonsense during the day, from the meaning of life to what is the material of my pants and why is the grass green. I love it when I ride and I'm completely lost in thought and entirely oblivious to the world around me, the ride passes faster. As I cross the state line of Indiana though, the shoulder disappears and I must ride an inch ouside the white line. It is about preservation now. Gotta watch out, one lane for trucks, cars, RVs and a tiny bicycle doesn't sound too promising for the bicycle. The effort awakes all my senses and at every huge truck that passes me I sick out my hand as if to say "thank you for not killing me." The sunlight begins to sharpen and the day is dying slowly. I check my odometer and I read 125 miles. Wow, now that I see the mileage all of sudden tiredness comes over me like blanket. Where am I staying tonight? I can't believe I haven't thought about it the whole day. I stop and check my GPS which hardly receives a signal. I grind out the last 30 miles. A real fight it is. The wind is still strong and actually feels worse than the morning. The blades of grass are all bent toward me. I am struggling. I am tired and I am hungry. The bike feels really heavy and I wonder whether an invisible enemy has put some concrete inside my tired. My mouth is dry and I cannot even find the strength to complain inside my head. Even my thoughts are exhausted. When I reach Marion I know I am in bad shape, tired, hungry, thirsty and dirty. I ride 3 miles around town to find a hotel, 3 miles feel like 30 and by the time I reach what seems to be a good option it is practically dark. Jumping in the shower after 12 hours on the road never felt better. If I ever get to California will be because of days like today. Today I fought hard.
5 States down, 9 to go. Andiamo.
Courthouse in Marion, Oh
The road out of Marion
Amish man in Kenton
Sometime beauty is in the details
Road to Wakaponeta, Oh
Still a few rollers, today it wasn't all flat
A highway junction town, can't remember the name
A crazy man and the Celina State Park Lake behind
A new State!
I take a 20 mile detour on this rough-surfaced country road to avoid the traffic of highway 18
My arms and my face are even dirtier than my legs