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bicycle touring Uncategorized

Almost to Birmingham, AL

clotheslinemoon

Thunderstorms: 1 — Brie & Phil: Doughnut. Ultimately, it was the rain that kept us at the University Inn for a second night. With reports of flash-flooding and dangerous wind/tornado warnings, we thought it best to let all of that pass before venturing any further westward. One of the benefits of this extended stay was the joy of cooking dinner in the tub for the first time (via a camp stove) despite Gabrielle’s protests. It was either that, cook in the rain, or order Papa John’s, and we’re supposed to be on a budget, so logic prevailed. In any case, after eating all that we couldn’t carry, we woke up the next morning to relatively blue skies, so we anxiously packed up and left Jacksonville, AL for the last time.

This day of riding beat the shit out of us, basically. We were reminded just how out of shape we are, and it wasn’t pleasant. The whole day consisted of riding into 20-30 mph headwinds, and many, many climbs. On the brighter side of things, we could have been stupid enough to leave the day before, and had the same ride, coupled with torrential down pours. And, the reports of flooding were not false. Here is one example of an athletic complex we passed early on in the day:

hpim0871

As you can see, the one building there is flooded up to the roof. Alabama has been going through an extended drought, along with a large portion of the rest of the south, and this is what happens when you get days and days of rain, on hard, dry ground that is not ready to absorb that much precipitation. We rode past a number of properties that had flooded up to the doorsteps of many homes, and the funny thing is that the people outside would always smile and wave as we passed by. I have to think that I’d be pretty pissed at that moment, but maybe it’s a case of ‘you can get used to anything’.

We pushed through about 45 miles of Alabama on that day, and it truly was a fight the whole way against the weather, and against the dogs! So many dogs!! We are getting used to being barked at, but still it always feels like THIS will be the dog to bite me, and honestly you never know. If anyone out there plans to ride their bike through Alabama, be prepared for many, many dogs, especially pit bulls–try to guess which ones are friendly!

alabamacampsite

At the end of the day, we were in the middle of nowhere, and out of water, with no foreseeable chance of getting anymore, so we stopped and pitched camp for the night atop this cluster of property for sale. There were the remnants of former homes in about 4 or 5 spots, a great deal of tires and beer cans. We chose the highest and driest spot, that still had its electricity meter, and a clothesline: it felt the homiest. The sun goes down about 5pm in Alabama this time of year, so shortly after that is bedtime. We’ve been getting to sleep about 7. It makes you feel like Ben Franklin or somebody.
pinesunset

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bicycle touring Cats Uncategorized

Focus on Rigel

Rigel

Recently, Rigel (rye-jel) has thought up a new way to get me out of bed in the morning when she’s hungry. If you are reading this, and you happen to be a cat owner, then you are aware of the lengths that cats will go to in order to have their food dish refilled. The strange thing about Rigel is that she does all the dirty work for her big sister, Sirius (sear-us), who stands by the wayside and waits for us to cave (i.e.: drag our asses out of bed and fill the bowl.) One of our favorite techniques in Rigel’s repertoire was the period when she would climb up on the television on top of this like entertainment case we kept in our bedroom.dscn3224 She would stand up there for a while, and look down on us in judgement, or something, knowing that we knew why she was up there, and when we would turn over to go back to sleep, she would leap down from this perch right onto the bed. On a good morning, a morning when Brie or myself would refuse to budge, she would go through this routine a good 3 or 4 times, and to be honest, we would often fake sleep so she would do it again. That phase passed after a while and she went back to her old stand-by: scratching relentlessly on one wall or door or another. But recently, Rigel has upped her levels again. We’ll be fast asleep, still dark out and the whole nine, and all of a sudden I’ll feel a creeping down around my feet–then a tap tap, and a pat pat, and then: CHOMP!–she’ll bite right into my big toe! Not like a gentle nibble or anything like that either. I’m talking about a serious bite, all teeth and no remorse. That’s just the way Rigel rolls, and we love her for it.

The reason I am writing this post is because Brie and I will be leaving her, and her sister, behind soon, and basically my heart is breaking in despair. We originally drove Rigel and Sirius down here to Georgia back in May (’08) a few weeks before we left Rochester for the first leg of our bicycle trip. I won’t embarrass Rigel by rehashing the horrors of the drive down; suffice to say that it was not a pleasant car ride for her. We spent a few days down here with them while they became accustomed to the new apartment and . . . the dog (Harper.) At one point Harper had his jowls wrapped around poor Rigel’s backside, and I was ready to call off the whole trip right then and there, the thought of her being devoured enough to call off anything, really. Rigel resignedly sat staring out of the bedroom windows for hours at a clip, not watching birds or leaves fall or anything, just zoning-out. rigel longingYou could tell she was having a hard time. I kept on getting the impression that she thought we were punishing her for something, and whatever it was she did, she just want us to forgive her, take her back to her old life, and every time she would hop up onto my lap, look me in the eye, and send out the most pleading meow she could summon, it almost worked. However, as the days passed it became clear that both of the cats would be able to endure the changes and take care of themselves fairly well, although decidedly not as happily as they had a few days earlier.

Rigel is asleep right now in our bed here, just behind me. In our apartment back in Rochester she would rarely sleep in our bed (especially if Sirius was there first,) or even come into the bedroom because, we figured, something about the whiteness of it spooked her. She would really only come in to wake us in the morning. In the evening as we would turn in she would come in and mill around the bed, sniffing and creeping about; she would put her two front paws up like she was going to jump right in with us, the whole while Brie and I imploring her to join us, promising her everything you can promise a cat, I guess. She would never stay, and we always felt entirely teased. After years of this, last winter I solved the riddle, and actually, I am slightly embarrassed that it took me so long to hit upon it. One night as she stood on her back paws surveying the bed, I lifted the blanket and invited her beneath the covers. Like a bolt of lightning, she was in and snuggled up for the night. For me it was a revelation, like in Xmas Vacation when Ellen Griswold flips the switch that lights the house! Ever since then she has continued to sleep with us, albeit under the covers, but very recently she has begun sleeping openly on the bed. One of the interesting things about this whole idiosyncrasy was her absolute unwillingness to be in the bed at the same time as Sirius, a total alpha-beta struggle. However, a short time ago Sirius had an allergic reaction to something that curbed her dominance a bit, and allowed Rigel to set a new precedent, that of being in the bed whenever she pleased. This shift opened the door for our most sought-after and now coveted time together: the quadruple-cuddle.

Brie and I plan to set off again about Jan. 3rd. Not surprisingly, the hardest thing about leaving will again be the cats. I am sure that they miss us as much as we miss them while we are apart. When we first saw them again, after 4 months, Sirius was totally blasé, and basically snubbed us for the first few hours, while Rigel found the highest perch in the apartment, on top of the cabinets in the kitchen, and decidedly glared at me for hours before coming down. Now I was pleading with her! The tables had turned, and now I was indeed begging Rigel to forgive me. And I am not proud: I begged. She eventually forgave me, and we have rebuilt our relationship; perhaps it is even stronger now than it has ever been. I know that she is not content, though. She wants to get back to the way it used to be, when it was just Brie and I, and her and Sirius. I also think she senses that we are leaving again, as she sits and watches us pack up boxes and get things organized. It must seem familiar to her. This time we’ll be leaving her for at least 5 months as we ride from Gainesville, Georgia to San Diego, and then up the coast to Portland, OR. During the first part of the trip, I was scared the whole time that they would forget us, but surprisingly, I believe the time apart has indeed brought us closer together. My girlfriend thinks I’m crazy to go on so long about a cat, but I say it’s our relationships that matter most in life, and I can’t imagine what life would be like without Rigel.

Rigel Destroys the Gloworm

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bicycle touring Uncategorized

Bicycle Touring: The Importance of Mayonnaise Packets

mayonaisepacket

With Christmas quickly approaching, I thought: what better topic to discuss than mayonnaise? Many people love it, some people loath it, and as a bicycle-tourist, I can’t live without it–more specifically, I can’t live without the Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise packet. I know I am not alone, so I’ll come right out and say it: I am a mayonnaise snob. It’s true, and I won’t deny it. Home-made mayonnaise is off the table, because you often can’t beat that, but let’s be reasonable here, who’s making mayonnaise from scratch every time they need some? I’d wager, not many. This is about everyday mayonnaise. Kraft sucks, Duke’s sucks, I’ve heard Trader Joe’s is good but I’ve not tried it, I feel sickened even mentioning Miracle Whip, someone should file a lawsuit against the industrial food services, and to name names, I’m looking at you Sysco, I’m looking at you Aramark (perhaps two of the shittiest companies on the planet.)

When you’re riding a bicycle across the country you tend to eat a lot of sandwiches. At least Brie and I do. Before we even left home we knew that would be the case. There’s a number of reason’s for this, but to me the most important one is not having to pull out the camp stove, and everything that entails. So, since we knew this, early in our planning I began to collect condiment packets, and the Hellmann’s Mayonnaise packet was the most coveted of all packets. I discovered that the supermarket giant Wegmans provided them for people in their cafés, and so it went without saying that each time we went to this particular Wegman’s, the one in Pittsford, NY, I would line my pockets with these packets. Well, by the time we actually left, we had to leave some of them behind. When the trip began, I would estimate we started with about 75 mayonnaise packets, 30 mustards (Goulden’s & generic), a couple Frank’s Red Hot, a good amount of honey, and a couple of lemon juices. We ran out of mayonnaise in the first month, and only had one real chance to re-up (at the Onion River Co-op in Burlington, VT.) Once we ran out, it was over for us mayonnaise-wise. Once you’re in the middle-of-nowhere, you’re lucky to come across the aforementioned Sysco ‘1756’ Brand Mayonnaise, and the reality is that shit will fuck-up a sandwich. The significance of 1756 is beyond me. All I could dig up of any real importance was that it’s the year that ALF was born. In any case, running out meant the end of egg salad, and tuna; it meant dryer, less satisfying cold-cut sandwiches. (I was going to try to come up with some bizarre, off-the-wall use for mayonnaise, but I can’t top this: “Some physicians are now recommending the use of mayonnaise to combat head lice infections. Certain strains of head lice have become very resistant to the traditional chemical treatments, but leaving mayonnaise in the hair overnight with a shower cap will cause the lice to suffocate and die. Comb out any remaining nits with a fine tooth comb and repeat the process seven days later.” [from: Mayo-what!].) Right. So like I was saying, it was hard going without the stuff. This simple item really expands the possibilities of eating something decent and even delicious in a situation where you often had to settle for whatever was left at the bottom of your pannier. It dawned on me in Virginia that I should have made up a care-package of mayonnaises before we left, but alas, we rode our last two months mayonnaise-less.

So it went until we made it to Georgia, where we are currently wrapping up an extended break. As the day of our departure grows closer and closer, I had lately been thinking about our current mayonnaise situation again, and what we were going to do about it. We hadn’t come across any Hellmann’s since, I don’t know, Philadelphia, and the prospects seemed pretty bleak that we would discover a new supply, but I found some more. That’s right! They have Hellmann’s mayonnaise packets at Panera Bread! I started stockpiling them last week.

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bicycle touring

Bicycle Touring: Picnic with the LDS

We ended our first day on the road at Abbey Park in Lyons, NY. The benches and the bathrooms were a welcome sight for Brie , who was exhausted, even though our ride had covered a mere 36 miles. For my own part, I admit that I was happy to see the park, but decidedly less enthused about the group setting up in the pavilion. You could tell what they were by their name tags: Mormons. Now I am not proud that I felt the way I did, and I will be the first to say how wrong it was of me to dismiss the whole group as bothersome without even a word from them, but the truth is, I was not in the mood to be converted. I would have felt the same way about Hare Krishna’s, or Scientologists, for instance. It’s a question of wanting to relax more than saying ‘no thanks’ a hundred different ways. Anyway, one member of the group snuck over and invited Brie over while I was taking a dump. When I came out, she was adamant about going over; she didn’t want macaroni & cheese, she wanted a cheeseburger! So we went over and everyone was incredibly kind, made introductions, made jokes (‘He’s one of them “Salt Lake City” Mormon’s!’–a classic,) asked us what we were doing, and, what would prove to be a common question, why. Then we ate . . . and while we ate, the moment that I had been anticipating arrived: the story of who they were. Mormons, indeed. But that’s where they stopped, and I have to admit it was weird. They didn’t try to recruit us at all! I was thankful for that. All anyone offered was future kindnesses along the way.

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bicycle touring Uncategorized

A Prayer for Aiken Ray

The other day Brie and I stayed with an older gentleman in Aiken, SC who happened to be missing his trigger finger digits. He met up with us at a pizza place in town called “The Pizza Joint” and while waiting for him I had had a couple beers, and when he sat down I was like “. . .wha!” When he got up to use the loo, I asked Brie if she saw, and, of course she hadn’t, but she blew it off anyway chalking it up to a firecracker gone awry. I couldn’t bring myself to ask him out-right what happened because he’d already broken our hearts: he had just endured a pretty nasty-sounding divorce. So I tried to engage him in a political discussion to try and gauge where he stood (pro-Obama, but barely.) Well, he couldn’t even remember what party he was registered with, so I figured that he wouldn’t have had sufficient reason to cut off a portion of his finger to stay out of a war. I let it go. And yet I still wonder. . .