Tag Archives: journaling

19 (or 3b)

One pair of shoes lost, one Nalgene bottle busted, one sense of adventure slightly dented and dismantled: the essential spirit and substance of my ride today. These are my thoughts as the chill air creeps into a poorly erected tent on a sloping ground. And silence. Silence of the mind. Nothing-to-do-ness. The sounds of automobiles intermittent, not regular; a dog barking somewhere, lost in space; crickets, etc.; the mad chatter of frogs. These are the sounds of rural North Carolina. Altogether peaceful and lulling. And yet, I’m wary. I’m not completely comfortable. Perhaps because this is my first night alone in a tent, all over again. Perhaps because I have stated reasons for wanting to do this but then have little interest in doing what I say I want to do, or accomplish. Does that make sense? I should stop this nonsense. The thing will come of itself at the end of the journey, not before. And if it doesn’t? Well, that question must wait. It can only be answered then, at the appointed time, as with all things. Day by day, hour by hour, pedal stroke by pedal stroke.

I chatted briefly with a kid at a gas station, in the community of Seminole. I was standing outside by my rig when he walked over to me and asked about my trip, about which I explained, pointing out that I carry certain things in my trailer, and other certain things in my panniers, which he referred to as “saddle bags.” He then went on to explain that he rides horses, and sometimes he and a buddy would pack their saddle bags and go off on short camping expeditions with provisions of food; and beer, whiskey or both. “Nothing like Brokeback Mountain, though,” he says as he stands there, a cigarette dangling from his fingers by his side, cowboy boots on his feet. He gave me a handshake and wished me well on my trip before driving off with what was presumably his brother and mother. I hopped back on my bike and continued on to find a place to camp for the night. The conversation, handshake, and well wishes were nice gestures, I thought.

In the past I used to poo-poo the encouragement of others (with regard to me), but I always felt my life to be easy, and so the encouragement unnecessary. This life now, so far, isn’t so easy.

18 (or 2b)

Leaving.

A bagel and an espresso, and them I’m off. ‘Tis a strange sensation when I think about it; it’s been so long since the last time I began this routine, or so it seems. The issue here, of course is the thinking about it. Although, when I think, “It’s just a bike ride,” there settles over me a great calm. And a clarity of mind and purpose. This is just a bike ride. And a beautiful day for it at that. Taut, blue sky overhead speckled with bits of wispy cloud. Crisp, cool, dry weather with a bit more wind than is preferable. Yet here I am in this state of sublime calm and sustained nervousness. Do I contradict myself? I could sit in this cafe forever.

There are things in life which sometimes become missed. But there is always something else to take its place. I go now.

17 (or 1b)

The sliding by of things: vines and trees tipped with tiny, green leaves; a construction yard, dry and barren as they all seem to be; houses—some with gardens, some without; the slanting shadows of trees in a wood broken by slats of sun; a muddy pond—filthy milk crate on its sodden, muddy shore; an enormous, serpentine river gliding like a great snake, the sun sparkling like splinters of glass on its dirty, green surface that is blue in places of reflected sky; small, white boats tied up to their docks, rocking gently on rippling waves; Y-shaped pillars that look like slingshots, carrying electric cables, marching long into the distance. The wail of the train horn drifts by like a friendly wave. We pass a Filipino Kitchen and a Japanese Restaurant situated on opposite corners in the town of Quantico.

The water in my coffee tastes dirty, unfiltered, like D.C. But it is my own coffee that I brought, so is still much better than what I might have ordered on the train. Too, it tastes a bit of memories, nostalgia, the ever uncertain future, of the last few flower petals remaining on a tree. It tastes of friendship too. The sun is angling through the window ever so slightly, resting lightly on my arm warmingly, comfortingly. I am the most tranquil state of calm. Sitting in this train car, the whole train winding through forest and wetland, over wide, silent rivers with sunlight splashing through the windows, the coffee gurgling inside me like a small child chirping happily (thinking of my nephew right now), I think via train is the most marvelously peaceful way to travel.

I can not put this all into words. Such phony, brittle things they are. There is just the swelling in my chest, and the letting go.

 

I leave shortly on my bicycle. There is still some organizing to be done; packing for a train ride with bike and things is different than packing for a bike ride.

I don’t feel like I’ve properly recommenced my trip, which I guess is true, I haven’t. This is merely an intermission, and a slightly uncomfortable one at that. They always are, though, once the thought of getting back on the bike intrudes. It’s so easy to get comfortable. I’m staying with a friend in Chapel Hill and currently I’m sitting in a comfy cafe with a cup of coffee and a few of my things: laptop, journal, earbuds, a copy of Thoreau’s Walden and Civil Disobedience. A pen. It’s a huge space. Directly in front of me is a trio of couches surrounding a coffee table with a tiny bouquet of spring flowers on it. There are probably another twenty or thirty tables scattered around the place, some cozy chairs, old school desks lining a portion of a wall. In short, a mish-mash of furnishings. The many people on their laptops…

How strange it is that I be here, and they be here, and tomorrow I will be gone but here they will remain. Here they will remain. For a time, at least. And like the spring buds ready to bloom, to then give of their pollen to the insects and birds to distribute around the earth creating something new and extraordinary in the process, and then falling to the earth to be no longer, so too they. In a way. In a way.

16

The seventy and eighty degree days that I had enjoyed earlier in the week had vanished, displaced by a cold front that swooped in the day before I left (highs were in the fifties, so I wasn’t exactly suffering). As would be typical for me I had a stiff headwind to fight against on my way to the Amtrak station the morning of my departure. I had to cycle hard to make it on time; this wasn’t helped by my missing a turn (also typical), and lingering too long at The Daily over my breakfast and coffee. I did however make the station on time, and no one bothered to make a fuss over my trailer, thankfully, either (always a slight worry).

The train ride went as any train ride ideally should, and that was without hiccup, or holdup, delay, or catastrophic malfunction. I’ll spare the details, because there are few. However, just three seats ahead of me there was a rather peculiar woman with hair like straw, and a face worn and creased like an old piece of leather, carrying with her a large, wooden cross, perhaps three feet tall and two feet across. She also carried a couple of battered, old suitcases which she asked me to stow for her in the compartments above. She sat with her cross for a while but later placed it in another storage compartment on the other side of the train. I overheard her say she was on her way to D.C. to protest something about The Affordable Care Act, but as she was talking to another woman in the seat across the aisle I wasn’t able to glean any other information regarding her intentions. I’m not sure if the cross was supposed to act as some sort of prop for a performance she was planning, or if it was just something she carried around on her person wherever she went, although, I imagine that would get rather wearying after a while. Anyway, most of the nine hour train ride she wasn’t even in her seat. God only knows where she wandered off to, but she had this dirty blanket that she would drag along behind her just like Linus. What curious people we stumble upon in our wanderings over this great, big land.

My mom kindly picked me up at Union Station, and so marked the end of the first beginning of my trip. And now the second beginning will commence in short order. I have an Amtrak scheduled for the 18th to Durham, NC to visit a friend and, after spending the Saturday there I will be on my way back to Charleston, then to Savannah, and then west to…

 
The blue sky above is law
Reflected in the wetland’s still, brown waters
And the cotton fields yet unpicked

15

Eventually the time came that I could make my way back to the NotSo Hostel and check in. Pretty simple. It’s a beautiful old house with a big porch out front. It appears to have once been a duplex which was modified to become a single, stand-alone unit. Facing the building from the outside the door on the left, which is typically locked, gives access to a dorm room, while the door on the right opens into the office. Beyond each of these rooms is a kitchen with a small set of stairs leading up to a platform between them. From the platform, at a ninety-degree angle is another set of stairs leading to rooms upstairs. Bathrooms are off each kitchen, as well as backdoors which are the entrances for guests.

I ended up staying in Charleston for five or six days, the whole time at the hostel. Lovely people were met, a friendship made, and good times had. One of the things that I love about staying at a hostel versus staying in a hotel, or couchsurfing is the feeling of community that is fostered by sharing a space with so many people, and the regular in and out of faces; one never knows who he might meet. There’s sort of a constant ferment going on. A lot of energy, usually very positive. I was lucky that my few days there coincided with Nico’s time there. He had come to town to volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign, and was working at the hostel for housing and breakfast. His was a generous, sympathetic soul, and we got along with each other superbly, and ended up spending a fair bit of time together when I wasn’t off wandering around the city, and he wasn’t busying himself with the campaign or hostel-related work. I shouldn’t forget to mention Fallon, either: an employee of the hostel who I definitely saw the most of, and whose company I enjoyed immensely.

Most of my time in Charleston was spent wandering the city with my camera, wondering when I was going to leave, eating delicious food, passing judgement on cafes and coffees, failing to get caught up on my blog, worrying about the money I was spending, and, as mentioned previously, hanging out at the hostel/with Nico.

I found Charleston to be a pretty city, and particularly magnificent closer to the battery, which overlooks the mouths of the two rivers that bound the peninsula which Charleston is situated on and empty into the Atlantic. Here one sensed the slightest scent of salt on the air, and seagulls drifted on the continuous breeze looking for handouts. As I walked through the park that is part of the battery, tall trees spaced appropriately forming a thin canopy over head, a wedding party was having photos taken, and a small, string musical ensemble was playing within the confines of a gazebo. Families were all over walking and sight-seeing. The atmosphere was that of an energetic calm. A peaceful complacency.

I wouldn’t say that I loved the city, though. I did love the food, however. I recommend Leon’s, Butcher & Bee, Minero, and Hominy Grill. For baked goods I recommend WildFlour Pastry. For coffee I recommend The Daily, Blacktap, and Kudu. And I loved donuts from Glazed Gourmet Donuts, and ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Obviously this list is criminally short but, as I was on a rather tight budget that I exceeded tremendously, and I’m not keeping this blog merely for recommendations of food and drink, I offer no apologies. In fact, one could visit Charleston for a week or more, eat from no more than theses places, and never grow bored of the variety of provender available.

13

My train was not to depart from Columbia’s Amtrak station until 2 a.m. This unfortunately is the only available departure time for trains from Columbia to Savannah. In Savannah I had a four hour layover before departing for Charleston at 8 a.m. I was to arrive in Charleston around ten.

I had to be out of the motel by 11 a.m. There was time to kill, and a lot of it. This was probably not the most thrilling day of my life. Mainly it consisted of walking, sitting, sitting, walking, pushing my bike… Much time was spent at cafes. A ramen shop for dinner late. Leaving the ramen shop with still more time to kill I thought I might make a visit to The Whig, North America’s Greatest Dive Bar (this is according to their website). The reviews for it are pretty outstanding, actually, so it seemed a … the necessary place to grab a drink while still in town.

Pushing my bike up Gervais St. from out of nowhere, like a specter, swoops down Terrence, a rather sparkling, spectacularly ebullient character. He was just like the Christmas tree on the state house lawn: sparkling with myriad lights, his words fizzing like champagne, crackling like pop rocks. He was curious about my bike and trailer. It’s always a pleasure answering questions about my trip to those curious. So much better than the mute-mouthed stares I receive from the majority. Anyway, after answering Terrence about what I was about he excitedly went on to regale me with his ideas for cycling up and down the east coast—an item he wished to check off his bucket list. He thought this might take him a couple years, to which I told him likely not unless he was planning on making a lifestyle out of it. He seemed to think cycling across the country would take the same, so I really don’t think he had a strong grasp of time and distance in general. At the end of our little chat he wished me luck, and told me to stay safe and blessed. Often when on the road it takes very little to lift one’s attitude. Most often a kind phrase such as in this case is all that’s needed. I’ll never see him again, most likely, but that little phrase of his will always be remembered.

The Whig was only another couple of blocks up the street, and shortly after my interaction with Terrence I was locking my bike and trailer up to a railing just outside. The bar itself is located in the basement of a building. Whether it was a hotel or an office building I couldn’t say; I hardly cared, really. All I remember now was that it was a rather large concrete edifice on a street corner.

Walking inside I was greeted by a smallish, dimly lit, not-quite-yet-crowded-but-on-its-way space. It effused an aura similar to that of the basement of The Brewer’s Art and The Ottobar combined. A series of booths lined one wall nearby, and there were some tables scattered about the middle of the floor. The bar was a short way off, opposite the entrance. Way off in one corner, through a doorway, there was what looked like someone’s living room. Quite clearly it was not but, sitting at the bar as I then was, peering through the crowd, through the doorway, the room being significantly brighter than the rest of the venue and painted a putrid shade of blue-green, I felt as though I was looking into someone’s living room, but a room that was a separate reality, that was occupied by people doing things in a realm completely isolated from the one I was in. I had the sense that I was watching a movie, or had gained voyeuristic entrance into someone else’s private world. That doorway was a portal. But only that doorway, only that room, and as soon as I looked away I was brought back to the here and now. I was seated at a bar staring at an array of small animal skulls mounted to the wall over a display of bottles of various liquors and liqueurs, all surrounding a sabertooth tiger skull, the centerpiece there. Someone had attached tiny antlers to these skulls which looked like they may have come from a possum or raccoon. But perhaps they were skulls from the rare, and, some might say, mythical Jackalope. Next to a spiral staircase which appeared to go nowhere, disappearing as it was into the ceiling, was a stuffed bobcat carrying a ferret in its jaws, and a pigeon in a black cage. The whole space was suffused by an orange-red light, like a thousand lava lamps going at once. It was a bit like being in a secularist’s most pleasurable version of hell. The only pain wrought by the alcohol and that special person you mistakenly went home with on a night. Perhaps all that was missing were women dressed up as demons prodding at people with candy pitchforks. That I imagine is what the old businessman, slumping over a drink at the bar, his bald pate reflecting the orange light like it was a light bulb itself, was dreaming of. Sitting there, sipping my beer, watching him, the only question that came to my mind was, “How has he not yet fallen off his stool,” and, “will he?”

At the bar I struck up conversation with a guy—I don’t ever bother getting names usually, or I don’t write them down and consequently forget them. As is normal we talked about my trip. Guy casually told me how he had ridden his motorcycle from here, up through Maine, to Alaska and back. It took him two months to cover the 14,000 miles. Said he has a friend who did an equally wild thing by walking from San Francisco to Jacksonville. It seems strange to me that one never hears about these people until he’s off doing the same sort of thing himself. I mean, the only exposure I had to this world was via internet forums and blogs. I don’t actually know anyone, besides my friend Doug, who’s traveled in this way, and Doug’s trips were more feats of endurance than travel.

At any rate, I was off to the Amtrak station after my few beers and tacos. It’s just a small, rectangular building down a dark street. Easy enough to find despite the poor lighting, I guess. I was approached by another old guy. This one originally from the Catskills, but had been living outside of Columbia for the last twenty years. He was on his way to Florida to visit his father for his 92nd birthday this January the 7th. Fantastic. Says he’s still sharp, at least for a 92 year old, even if he isn’t very mobile anymore. Dude-man must have smoked half a pack of cigarettes while we were standing outside shooting the shit. He’s 68 and said he’d been smoking since college. Sounded like it too. I’m surprised he has any throat left. I really loved the glasses he was wearing. These enormous rectangular, metal-framed pieces. Looked like they must have come out of the 60’s or 70’s. Perhaps that was even when he acquired them. We talked for a while, on and off, about nothing in particular. Just chewed the fat like. Normally I hate pointless conversation, small talk, but he had quite an enjoyable presence to him, for the most part. Eventually though, there was no more nothing to talk about, so I went to the bathroom and he started up with a women in the seat next to him.

At last the train arrived, and once I transported my bike and trailer to the far end with the rest of the luggage and got my self settled into my seat the woman next to me, who I may or may not have woken up, decided she just had to talk, so I spent the next twenty minutes conversing with her about my trip and God knows what else. She was impressed by the trip, but then everybody is. To me it’s just riding a bike while towing a bunch of crap behind me, getting frustrated and cursing every so often. There’s nothing particularly momentous or monumental about it. Eventually she shut up and let me nod off for the rest of the ride to Savannah. Amen.

12

My first day in Columbia was also my first time setting foot inside a Waffle House. I was back there the following evening too; after the debacle of the day I really was not in the mood to hide in the bathroom with my camp stove cooking lentils.

I thought it a very smart move building a Waffle House in the parking lot of a motel, or a motel in the parking lot of a Waffle House, though likely the former rather than the latter, because, obviously…

Creeping slowly back to the motel with my bicycle I noticed some poor, grease streaked sucker in a black leather jacket lying next to his moped in the parking lot, a mis-arranged pile of tools at his side. Clearly something was amiss. Walking back across the parking lot to the Waffle House after my shower, the moped was parked elsewhere, presumably repaired, the guy in the leather jacket nowhere to be seen.

Sitting down at the bar I noticed the same couple that was there the previous night was still there. In the same booth. I wondered whether they had left, or if they lived there full time, paying rent for the booth, taking showers at the motel. When one has to go to work the other stays. When the other person has to go to work that person stays. If they both have to work God help Waffle House if someone is in their booth when they return. Not a bad deal, really, though the benches don’t give you much room to stretch out. I noticed too it was right next to the coffee maker—sneakily convenient.

The woman looked like an older Peggy Bundy, though with white hair instead of red, her pasty face like a heavily kneaded ball of dough sprinkled with flour, wearing lipstick of a vivid scarlet, and a sequined, sheer, white moo-moo over black stretch pants and black crocs (versatile footwear if there ever was any). Her husband looked a lot like this fellow from a mail and date service center next to the coffee roastery I used to work at in Annapolis. The same bristly, white mustache and frown on his face, like the whole world outside was repulsive and unworthy of his notice; like the coffee was bad (it certainly was not); like life was bad, and pointless in general; like there was really no reason at all to even get out of bed; like life was so full of drudgery and unhappiness that he’d just as soon be dead because when everything is registered in the same dull shade of grey every day what difference does it make. That’s Pat. This guy was Pat. He was also wearing a five panel camo hat with a slightly cheeky sideways cock to it, either out of laziness, apathy, or a sense of humor that I didn’t think that he had. Both he and his wife looked like characters out of a John Waters film. Desperate Living specifically comes to mind.

A man, the man, the one who was tinkering with his moped earlier in the parking lot came in and sat two stools down from me. He and an employee across the bar began talking about food costs. How many pieces of bacon go on a sandwich, how much cheese, ham, pecans, sauce, whatever it is. Typical corporate, managerial worries. I’m not sure why these two are conversing about it though. I suppose if that’s something being strictly tracked in coordination with shifts worked by specific individuals, one could easily be in trouble, if not fired, for being too liberal with an ingredient—one way of keeping prices so low, in addition to using very low quality ingredients. After exhausting this topic (this took very little time) they switched to debating time of employment, with one bragging of having been with Waffle House for twelve years, while the guy next to me, whose moped still won’t start I noticed, states, with some pride I might add, that he’s been with Waffle House, though not this particular Waffle House, for seventeen years. His voice is scratchy and dry, like he’s been sucking on the end the exhaust pipe of that moped of his for too long. I’m not sure what to think of that: his time at Waffle House. He clearly does not make enough even to purchase a bike that runs, and looks like the only shower he gets is when he’s outside in the pouring rain trying to get it to start. But it feeds him, and obviously, like so many other people, he doesn’t know any better about food and nutrition, and he is presumably able to pay for a place to flop, has no ambitions beyond what’s in front of him, and seems to genuinely like the people he works with. Who am I to judge? I bet if he laid off the cigarettes for a year he could afford a new moped though.

I was just finishing up my meal when Peg waltzes over to the jukebox to rock the house for us all. Country music it is! I finished up at a fortuitous moment.

Now, I mentioned in my previous post that I was to formulate a plan with which I would proceed with the rest of my trip. It goes as such. Because I was such a short distance from Charleston, and because the cost of a train ticket from Columbia to Washington D.C. cost nearly the same as one from Columbia to Savannah (a required layover), to Charleston, and then to Washington, I decided I would pay a visit to Charleston instead of heading directly home where I would rest up and take care of the business of replacing certain parts that need and/or want replacing on my bicycle. Needless to say I am now in Maryland, where I am from, and have been for some time (a month, to be specific). I plan on taking a train back to Columbia in March, picking up where I left off. There is still, perhaps, some for me to write about: my time, and impressions of Charleston for one, the train trip, etc. Once I get through all that it may be some time before another blog post appears (not that they show up with much regularity, even with me being “home” and working minimal hours anyway).

11

Disaster.

Sort of.

Disaster,

and then lightness.

The previous night I found a huge welt on my ass. Some skin must have been getting pinched between my seat and my leg the other day all day. I was used to saddle sores by that point and hadn’t give the discomfort much thought. It wasn’t until checking into my motel room and going to take a shower that I discovered it, painful to the touch. The touch! How I was supposed to sit on my bike the next day…

Mounting frustrations.

I left anyway, after a decent breakfast at the motel. They even had a waffle maker, and toast, and cereal, and scrambled eggs, and bacon, and sausage gravy; a whole variety of things. Juice. And bad coffee, to be sure. So I left, sitting side-saddle, my right butt cheek hanging off the side. How long was I going to be able to pedal like this? My thought was to struggle into Charleston and formulate some ideas from there. It would be two fifty mile days. I supposed I could manage.

I got my first flat of the trip in one of the ugliest suburban development areas I’d ever seen, in Cayce, a small city bordering Columbia to the west, on the opposite side of the Congaree River. Multi-colored houses all exactly the same on a flat, sandy lot. It brought to mind that scene in Edward Scissorhands of everyone in the neighborhood backing their cars out of their driveways to leave for work. All the houses identical but for their colors. Lawns all neatly manicured. Paradise. A Tupper-ware paradise. The flat was fixed in a matter of minutes, and I was on my way.

Google Maps routed me onto Old State Road which delighted me once I laid eyes on it. It appeared to have not been used as a proper road in years, but mainly as a trail for the occasional cyclist or ATV. It was an old gravel and dirt road that ran through a forested wetland, spanish moss dangling majestically from the trees like garland. Pretty lichens and mosses, and other damp-loving plant life in abundance. It was very jungle-like, and I would not have been surprised in the slightest to observe monkeys swinging from tree to tree, their chirps and howls punctuating the silence of my rolling tires. It was all quite beautiful, if a wee bit soggy after all the rain that was had.

I had only cycled a half a mile along the road when I came to an impasse; a lake of water submerging the road stretched for about eighty yards ahead of me. I had no way of telling how deep it was, but it was quite obvious that if I were to cycle through my panniers and some of my trailer bag would be getting soaked, and too, I had no idea what the surface of the road looked like underneath; the first half mile that I had just cycled wasn’t in the best of shape, with depressions, ruts, and various obstacles abounding. To my right it was more of the same through the trees, but sans road. To my left there was a low ridge, or mound of earth, waist high with vegetation, but nothing impenetrable or impassable, that ran parallel to the road for the length of the lake in front of me. It seemed the only obvious, immediate solution the problem of getting around the road.

The temperature was in the 70’s, it was extremely humid, my jersey was already nearly soaked through with sweat, and now I was to discover that the vegetation that ran along the ridge was nearly all brambles (and a spot of poison ivy). And because it had been raining so much the earthen ridge these brambles were growing in was slippery mud. Despite all this I still thought that I could push through. My only other option was to turn back the way I had come and search for an alternate route, which was something I didn’t want to do as I thought it would be too time consuming.

After wading over and through these brambles, which weren’t so much bushes as they were long, thick, flexible ropes protruding from the earth, peppered with thorns, sort of arched over at varying degrees, and criss-crossing each other, catching on my clothing and skin, I eventually came to anther impasse. This one a channel about six feet across, of maybe a foot or two of water, connecting the submerged road on my right to a parallel channel of water to my left. There was no way across this gap; not with my bike, panniers, bar bag, and trailer with twenty or thirty pounds of gear in it. However, from where I was standing the ground on the side of the channel to the left of me appeared to be in navigable shape. There was plenty of plant life still, but the ground was flat at least, and there looked to be more space between plants so that maybe it would prove easier to maneuver myself, my bicycle, etc. through. The only issue then was negotiating the channel. I backtracked a bit, through the thorns all over again, to find a narrow enough spot where I thought I could make the leap while carrying my trailer, as it was the heaviest piece of equipment I had. I would of course have to remove all the various pieces of baggage from the bike in order to make the crossing.

Having managed this delightful task, I reassembled everything and began pushing once again, until for the third, and final time I came to another dead end, this being the not-so-surprising one of a wall of vegetation. I finally admitted defeat, but not without having spent at least an hour pushing my bicycle, and negotiating my trailer through an obstacle course of brambles and mud. Of course, everything that I had just gone through I had to go through again, only in reverse this time in order to get back on the road.

And so, once again on the road I turned around and began pedaling back the way I had come. It was then that disaster, yet also my salvation, struck. Pedaling through one of the cratered portions of road shallowly filled with water, that was also entirely comprised of fist-sized stones, my pannier hook slipped loose from the rack and slingshotted upwards catching in the spokes of the turning wheel. The bungee cord it was attached to then began to rapidly wrap itself tightly around the hub axle. The pannier, with my computer and electronics, immediately flipped upside-down and began dragging through the water. I think the words, “fuck” and “shit” slipped out of my mouth at this point. As I was slowing down and also nearing the end of the puddle I heard a loud “crack!” This happened to be the sound of a breaking spoke. Once clear of the water and having come to a halt I leapt off the bike to take a look at things. At first, for the life of me I could not figure out what had happened. It wasn’t until examining a bit more closely and noticing the bungee cord wrapped around the axle of the hub, and the pannier hook bent at a ninety-degree angle, latched onto a spoke that I understood exactly what had taken place.

After several minutes of struggle I managed to get everything unraveled. The pannier was unusable because the metal hook had bent, and I would need a vice and pliers to bend it back, so I had to stash that in my trailer along with everything else that was in there. My wheel I noticed was well out of true as well from the pressures the pannier had exerted on it, so much so that I had to let out a fair amount of cable in order to prevent the brake pads from rubbing on the rim. Not at all rideable for any length of time, particularly as I was carrying extra weight.

I was shocked. I was furious. But only for a moment before a pristine calm washed over me, and that sort of amusement that arises when after so much struggle one realizes that there is absolutely nothing to be helped, that there was no way to prevent what happened, and that there is nothing to do about it but continue going on in whatever capacity is possible. I had a good laugh all alone there covered in sweat, mud, blood and scratches, my feet soaked from the whole ordeal. I had been struggling with the choice of continuing on despite all the aches, pains, and mechanical issues, or simply stopping and going home because, really, what was to stop me, and what did I have to prove? The correct answer to that question is nothing, and nothing. This event resolved the issue for me entirely, in one fell swoop. The mental struggle was over, and it was an enormous relief. So I began to walk, and the rain began to fall.

Once I got back to some pavement I hopped gingerly onto my bike and gently cycled back to the motel I stayed at the previous night. I called my mom. The shower was bliss. I began to formulate a plan.

10

Rain. Glorious rain is what I woke up to. Looking at the weather report I saw that it was to clear up sometime around noon. With check out time at 11, and my penchant for late starts, I figured the worst of it would pass while I was still at the motel. This conclusion come to, I quickly headed over to the front office to see about breakfast, because most of these joints serve a continental, which, while of middling quality, is at least calories, and also means that I don’t have to cook. Unfortunately for me they only offered the usual foul, pre-dosed bags of coffee, and a miserly selection of the most uninspiring, sorry, pre-packaged pastries I’ve ever seen. It seemed I would be cooking.

Outside it was still drizzling a bit when I left the motel. This lasted a good hour into the ride before a rent in the clouds allowed sunlight to pour through over the earth, deluging everything in air and lightness, and softly shimmering pixie dust; the road like a long, silver tongue that you could slide along forever, it was so pure and without imperfection. The whole world was dazzling—a beautiful woman with whom you might make love, in a negligee so sheer you could hardly tell at all that it was there without its constant glimmering; none but the finest details hidden, every contour visible. And as you keep looking, staring, this woman becomes a kaleidoscope that you are in, and everything is showered with glitter, and then the top is removed and brilliant light shone in, and all you can do is stop and stare and maybe take a picture but hate it afterwards because it’s just a mere postage stamp on the envelope of the world that you were caught in for just a moment…

I waited too long before stopping for a break. Again. There are times (most of the time) when I just get rolling, and I want to keep on rolling, and so I continue to roll, and boy, was I rolling, rolling, rolling. Good energy and super flat roads were helpful assistants in that. About three hours in I began to hit some hills. These slowed me up a bit, and I noticed my energy was flagging so decided to stop and eat what had recently become my standard lunch/snack/whatever—tortillas with banana, peanut butter, and honey. Unfortunately, this provided little aid, or, more likely, came to late. The hills continued to continue and my energy continued to wane. I had wanted to do another ten miles and find a motel somewhere outside of Columbia, but once I arrived in the city, and after eating an actual meal of sorts, I decided to stay in the area. There was still at least an hour or so before it was to get dark and I could use that time to explore a bit.

Lunch (I guess I’ll call it that) wasn’t anything marvelous; just a wrap and a small bowl of fruit from a cafe that served poor shots of Counter Culture coffee. It was located in a bit of an odd area, though something that’s become a bit more of the norm within the specialty coffee scene, anyway, the lobby of an office high rise. The interior space was a bit minuscule, with a small bar at a window and a couple of tables, but they had a very nice patio space outside where a man who looked distinctly like Santa Claus in overalls and plaid was sitting at one of the umbrella’d tables, occasionally glancing up at me from a notebook in front of him. I could only assume he wanted to speak with me after watching me arrive on my bicycle, so, upon leaving I did just that. This man (I forget his name) was a bit hard to understand with the heavy, unidentifiable accent he had, and was perhaps a bit daft, at that. I told him about my trip, and that while in the cafe I had been looking for a cheap motel that had something better than consistent one-star reviews, and comments about roaches, pealing wallpaper, poor or no wi-fi, and unhelpful staff. This immediately stimulated the good samaritan in him because he had to tell me right off the bat that all the hotels in the city would be expensive and out of my budget, as if this wasn’t something blindingly obvious. He then stopped to think and recommend a few places that he knew of off the top of his head that would perhaps fit my criteria, despite my assurances that I had in all actuality already found a suitable place. I got the distinct sense that he had stayed before in these motels he named; he exuded the air of a vagrant or fringe, someone without a proper home, as we would call it; his home being, perhaps, just the city itself (but that accent?!).

He spoke to me of the clouds above, and how, if one looked at them through binoculars they moved in a certain way. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what he meant by that, and simply nodded along with a, “mhmmm, I see, yes, is that so?” to keep things flowing along like those marvelous, fluffy clouds of his. Our conversation of sorts, spiced with pinches of awkward silence, finally ended after I asked him about what he was writing in his notebook. His answer was that he was writing a mystery novel. He then asked to use my name for a character, to which I consented with a nod. I couldn’t understand why he would want to, what possible import it could contain. He said that maybe I would be an attorney’s assistant, and whether this character had been written into the novel already I had no idea. He could have said he wanted to use me, my name, as a janitor or a monkey. What difference would it make? Still, I really couldn’t understand why an attorney’s assistant, but if that’s what he sees in me, that’s fine by me. I can’t imagine how he might fit a touring cyclist into a mystery novel anyway. Who knows. Anyone as crazy as that old bugger could shoehorn one in somehow.

At last I wished him luck on his book, and took off on my bike happy to have escaped. The state house was a mere couple of blocks away, so I decided to pedal that way. I wasn’t the only one with the idea of visiting the state house. Children and a few families were playing on its steps and taking pictures. Couples were walking, hand in hand throughout the grounds. I marveled at my first siting of palm trees on my trip. The sky was the color of explosion along the western horizon, silhouetting those very same palm trees, as well as oaks and maples in tangerine and cantaloupe, crimson and honey, scarlet-red, periwinkle blue. I began cycling towards the motel, which was west, where that ball was burning, melting below the horizon, and above me the blue sky darkening, curling over, and closing in—a great wave to quash the fire that burned.

9

I left Charlotte late, as is my standard, but still managed to put in the 50 miles necessary to make it to the town of Chester, SC., though it wasn’t long before my groin was nagging at me again, even after the five days of rest. I stopped at a Food Lion after a couple hours, sat down on the concrete outside the store, and had some lunch in the shade, as it was warm and uncomfortably humid in the sun. I was really feeling irritable about pretty much everything regarding the trip at this point and didn’t really feel like going on, but there wasn’t much else to do, really, so…

There were periods of cycling through some brilliant green, bucolic farm land, and the largest, most open landscapes I’ve seen thus far (well, that would likewise be the farm land). I got my first look at cotton fields, most of which were picked clean, though there were a few that had not been harvested yet, and the roads which were nicely flat made for easy and speedy cycling.

When I arrived in Chester it was already past dark. The town was decorated for Christmas with large, wire-framed, light-wrapped Santas, angels, reindeer and what have you scattered throughout the tiny center of town. Again, at first glance it seemed a charming place, what with the Christmas decorations giving it a sense of merriment, and some of the houses on certain streets being quite grand in appearance, but only so long as I didn’t look too closely at the empty buildings in the town center, which I did of course, and then came to the conclusion that I was in another ghost town. I can only wonder for the reason of the town’s, and the many others like it that I’ve written of before, economic downfall. What was the town’s past source of economy? Where has it gone?

The ground being soaked I didn’t feel like camping. It was also night, as I mentioned already. Actually, at this point of the trip I was quite sick of camping altogether, regardless of the state of the ground. Probably my overall frustrations with everything from my bike not shifting properly, to the crappy saddle I’d been sitting on for nearly a month uncomfortably, and my sore groin (again)… and that probably covers it. Physically sore = mentally sore. Things not working properly = a constant source of agitation.

I stayed at the EXECUTIVE Inn on the edge of town. A nice enough place, as all these “cheap” inns and motels are. The shower was naturally fantastic, as was being able to write in comfort. There was even an awful restaurant right next door where I could, and did, have dinner. I’ve forgotten the name of it already, but it was named after the city: the Chester some such something or other. It was one of those lugubrious places with a wooden fish nailed in place over the entrance denoting that they do indeed serve seafood. Immediately upon entering I was assaulted by the smell of old grease and deep fryers. Whether open or closed I imagine that aroma has permeated every table, brick and seat in the place, and it probably reeks of it morning, noon and night. I was then greeted by the host, standing at her station by the cash register to the left. She seated me in a booth and supplied me with a glass of water. Now, this booth was no ordinary booth. The padded seats were merely busted mattress springs wrapped in dull, red vinyl, and the surface of the table a faux-wood laminate such as one might find in an elementary school. The restaurant was essentially one long feed hall, reminiscent of a low barn. At one end was the kitchen, hidden behind a wall and a door, and the register. The rest of the place was just row upon row of booths or tables, all obviously of the lowest quality. On the far wall opposite the kitchen was a nonsensical juxtaposition of a white board side by side with a flat screen tv. Above these two fixtures was a captain’s wheel framed by two large harpoons. Hanging on a column in the center of the room was a life preserver, and all throughout the restaurant were framed pieces of “modern art” one might find at a Big Lots or similar store. Some photographs of a bunch of nobodies’ faces, and a twenty foot long mirror that probably hadn’t been cleaned since the place opened.

I wasn’t expecting much after sitting down, taking a look around, and then looking over the menu, but even the low expectations that I had were disappointed by the meal, which was probably the worst I’ve ever had. However, for $6 (!!!) and free hush puppies, which, until I got to Charleston, I could only describe as breaded, deep-fried balls of insipid, uninspiring, doughy calories, it’s maybe hard to complain. And the service was friendly enough. Actually, more so than at a lot of other places. It saddens me that this is the type of food that people find to be normal, or good in so many places throughout the country. Nothing fresh. Everything canned or frozen, and trucked in from a warehouse somewhere. No wonder obesity is so rampant here. I didn’t linger for long, despite having brought a book with me to read; I could do that easily enough back at the motel, and so I did.