The People We Meet

I’ve written many times that the people we meet–not necessarily the places we visit–make 3 months of biking across America worthwhile. This, I think, has become more true as Rory and I make our way towards the East Coast. Throughout the Midwest the scenery is less spectacular than the mountain passes of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, and the riding itself is less interesting.

Over the course of our trip I’ve tried to keep track of the many individuals who we’ve encountered along the way–mostly through journaling and Instagram. I’m instinctively uncomfortable taking pictures of people, but I’ve gotten better about asking (and so far no one has refused). That said, I rarely write in longer form about these strangers-turned-friends explicitly, but instead as characters that turn up briefly throughout the narratives of my other blog posts.
So, I’m going to (try to) write about these people that add color and texture to otherwise similar days.

Friday night (9/15) we stayed with Doug and about 20 live turtles in Napoleon, Ohio. Initially he invited us not to his house, but to the bar he’s owned for year and a half. Everyone in Napoleon seems to know Doug–even if he doesn’t know them–and everyone seems to know that he hosts a constantly changing cast of touring cyclists, exchange students, and anyone else who might need a home for a few nights. He also hosts a series of ridiculously popular turtle races in the greater Ohio area. Apparently turtles happily eat cat food.

Tuesday afternoon (9/12) as Rory and I rolled out of Chicago we passed Tony, who is finishing his third trans-am bike tour. We exchanged route information (origin, destination, general route, plans for the evening) and names (an afterthought)–the necessarily things to know about another cyclist. When we arrived at the dunes a few hours later, he had already purchased a campsite for the three of us to share. Tony travels with a laptop and two phones, but no stove.

The next morning (9/13) as we huddled under a restroom overhang waiting out a rainstorm, we met a woman (who’s name I unfortunately don’t remember), touring on a Brompton folding bicycle with a Burly trailer full of art supplies in tow. Cyclists who tour on Bromptons seem to be part of an exclusive club; its members refer to their bicycles using special alpha-numeric codes. Up until now I’d never wanted to own a folding bicycle, but I admit to feeling a small amount of jealousy when she unpacked her small “bike-cube” in under 30 seconds flat.

Sunday night (9/17) we stayed with Phil and Cindy just outside Cleveland. Phil introduced us to orienteering, a sport which seems to involve a map, a compass, and being lost in the woods for 12 hours at a time while trying to find hole punchers hidden in small gullies. There’s also a kayaking version (getting lost in a lake), and a skiing/snowshoeing version (freezing while getting lost in the woods). Obviously I’m intrigued.

For me, writing people is challenging because there isn’t a theme to which they all contribute. Some share their homes for the evening; some provide new, challenging perspectives on how to live; some entertain us for a few minutes; some become friends for an afternoon or an evening. Still, these people (and many, many others) drive the narrative of this trip–more so than pedaling to a new place each day.

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