Thursday, August 10, 2017

Subway: The Law & Order of Food

Day 11 - Sept. 29, 2016 - South Boston > Bear Creek Lake State Park

I couldn't have been happier to spend the night in a cheap motel.  The storm that ripped through overnight would have tested both the waterproof nature of my tent and my ability to properly stake out a rainfly.  Also, the lightning would have probably taken me out, much like it had taken out the motel's cable and internet.  This was clearly not the front desk worker's first thunderstorm.

By morning, though, both clear skies and cable television had returned, allowing me to catch up on Law & Order while I got ready for the day.  I know the joke about Law & Order always being on no matter the hour is a dead horse, but all beatings aside, it really is on all the time.  Hand on the bedside bible, every morning spent in a motel had a TV playing L&O in the background.

When I hit the road, the storm had, thankfully, taken some of the heat out with it.  While still in the 80's, it at least felt like the lower, temperate 80's, not the high, practically 90's, 80's I had grown very tired of.  My miles for the day were also going to be in the low 80s.  I could handle an 80/80.  Almost seemed like a vacation after all the 90/90 days.

That day, the turtle parade continued.  Baby turtles and tortoises everywhere.  I even moved some from the middle of the road, thwarting suicidal plots along the way.  Here's one of the little reptiles I saved from itself:


After a beautiful morning of riding, with only a little light drizzle, I stopped in Keysville, VA for lunch.  Motels and expensive campgrounds may have thrashed my budget, but there was always Subway for a cheap lunch.  Come to think of it, that's not an exaggeration, and there always is a Subway.  It's like the fast food equivalent of Law & Order.  Seriously, go to even the smallest of small towns, and if they have electricity, they'll probably have a Subway.  There should be a cross-market collaboration between the two of them.  I'd buy a Stabler Special or a Benson Lettuce and Tomato.

I used my lunchtime downtime to give my mom a call.  She is a worrier, so phone calls are requisite for the prevention of missing persons reports.  Anyway, towards the end of our conversation, she asked if I wanted to stop riding yet, because she'd be happy to drive the 370 miles down to Keysville to pick me up if I wanted.  I declined, assuring her that I'd much rather spend those miles on a bicycle than in a car.  I'm thankful she doesn't watch Law & Order, or her worrying would be even worse.

Just few miles from Keysville, the rain began.  It didn't begin as a drizzle, it began as rain.  Actually, it wasn't rain.  It was a million wet fingers poking me repeatedly; persistently.  The rain was a sibling in the backseat of a minivan on a long drive to Ohio, and now matter how many times I yelled to the parents in the front, it couldn't be stopped.  The rain was a 10-year-old with ADHD.  I hated that rain so much.

And that rain would persist all damn day.  All the way to Bear Creek Lake State Park.  Well, just outside of the park.  The rain stopped just before I started to navigate the park's winding roads on my way to finding the heavily price-gouged tent camping on the far side of the lake.  The park was mostly empty of occupants and entirely empty of employees, so I found what looked to be the cheapest flat pad site (according to confusing signage) and laid claim.   After unpacking and pitching, I headed to the showers.  I know I was already soaked, but I wanted to be warm soaked, not cold soaked.

I got back to my tent as the rain started up again.  I was happy to be done for the day, but not looking forward to breaking down in the rain in the morning.  Everything I had was soaked.  Everything I had was going to stay soaked for the foreseeable future.  I had 300 miles standing between myself and Philadelphia.  That was only three more days of rainy riding.  How much mildew could develop in three days?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dollar General: Passing the Savings onto No One

The stanky Walmart bag story reminded me of another low cost mecca of the South (one that also exists up North but less noticeably so), Dollar General.  I wasn't born in a palace, so I'm familiar with dollar stores.  When I was a little kid, I thought they were great because I could actually afford to buy things there, making me feel like an adult.  A standard summer vacation of ours was to drive out to the suburbs of Cleveland (on a single tank of gas, as was noted each year) to visit family, and one of the highlights was always the Big Lots discount store they had out there.  We didn't have Big Lots in my hometown at the time (not true now).  I ended up with a lot of unused fishing lures from that store, and I loved them all.  I think most of the reason they make fishing lures so flashy is to attract humans to buy them, not fish to eat them.  Best I can remember, fish mostly wanted balled up pieces of cheddar.

Now that I'm an adult, dollar stores elicit a different emotional response.  The first is a bit of disgust with the realization that cheap, shiny goods were intended as a starter kit for a future of purchase-based personal-satisfaction.  You're not buying garbage, you're buying smiles.  The second is a bit of sadness as those stores are usually a depressing reflection of the local economy.  Dollar stores, pawn shops, and check cashing joints are usually a really bad sign for the future of a small town.  There will usually be a few adult bookstores sprinkled in there too.

$6.99 is a good deal...

Throughout Mississippi, 'Bama, GA, and SC, Dollar General was everywhere.  As my ride down to Asheville was done mostly at night, I never had a chance to pop in and see what necessitated such brick-and-mortar frequency.  But on my way back to Philly, a daytime crawl, I had plenty of opportunities to explore the aisles.  And guess what?  I get it now.  Dollar General is a mini-Walmart, so if you can't make it to Walmart, go to Dollar General.  They have a wall of refrigerators and freezers, aisles full of discount food, and even a hardware section.  Everything you could possibly need.  (I bought more than a few $1/bag salted pumpkin seeds on my way down, as well as a few bags of Knorr Noodles.)

But unlike Walmart, the only options were real bottom of the barrel options.  It's not so much that everything was inexpensive, as much as everything was cheap.  Food with no nutritional value, walls of soda, home goods that have a life expectancy of maybe two uses.  As I watched people push entire grocery carts up to check-out, it occurred that only a few explanations could cover the need to buy that much from a Dollar General:

  1. No other stores in the area
  2. Broke
  3. Raised that way/Don't know any better
All three of those possibilities can be directly tied to a downturned economy.  If there are no other stores, it could mean that other stores started and failed, or chains researched the locally economy and didn't see the town as a viable expansion option.  If Dollar General is just people's preference, it's either out of necessity or habit.  People that don't need Dollar General don't decide to suddenly become Dollar General people.  And once you're a Dollar General person, there's no way out.  You go there because you're broke.  Then you buy cheap products that break right away and have to go back to buy more.  Now you've spent twice as much but still only have the cheap good that's going to break again.  Eventually you spend 10x as much on a piece of garbage, so you're broker than before and need Dollar General more than ever.  You should buy it again.

And then it becomes generational.  All that cheap food?  Oh yeah, it's terrible for you.  So you eat the high sodium instant food, have a heart attack at 50, end up in the hospital, but you're broke (hence shopping at Dollar General) and you've been firmly against socialized welfare because you don't want handouts from Washington D.C., so you survive for a bit at the hospital equivalent of Dollar General, but the years of eating poorly can't be fixed, and tens of thousands of dollars later you die, dropping the bill on your kids who are now guaranteed a life of Dollar General.  Do you really think this is not by design???

Speaking of dying (economies, this time), growing up, my home town had two grocery stores five minutes away.  The bigger of the two is now a discount grocery outlet that sells cheese labeled by color, not type.  The smaller disappeared over a decade ago.  Within a mile of that grocery store is now a Dollar General, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, and Dollar Plaza.  These are all actual, not-made-up-off-the-top-of-my-head places.  Probably not moving back there.

All that said, I now live in Seattle, a city not known for its dollar stores.  There is, however, a deconstructed coffee house, which I find an equally troubling reflection of the local economy.  Deconstructed coffee is coffee that hasn't been mixed for you.  Like, people are paying extra to pour in their own cream and sugar.  It's just another thing people buy to prove that they're wealthy.  Like Jaguars and Apple Watches.  To prove that money is but for novelty.  Because there aren't any real problems here, like homeless tent villages and high addiction rates, so spend the money on having people not pour cream into your coffee.  

Thursday, August 3, 2017

It Got That Walmart Stank

Day 10 - Sept. 28, 2016 - Hagan-Stone Park > South Boston, VA

While packing up my site in the morning, I noticed that my water pannier (front, drive side) was getting suspiciously funky.  All that was inside of it were a few Platypus water bags and some tubes of Nuun tablets (plastic goods with no inherent odor), so I wasn't sure where the rotten smell was coming from.  I didn't have time to investigate that morning, but made a mental note to give the bag a cleaning that night.  My guess was it was just mildew from riding through the rainy, humid, summer South.

I was ready to cross the Mason-Dixon, and today I'd be one state closer.  My next stop would be in or around South Boston, VA, a confusingly named town about 90 miles away, that while technically south of Boston (over 700 miles south), has a noticeably different accent.  Not sure which I prefer.

The evening rain didn't do too much to clear out the heat and humidity, but there was a layer of clouds on the horizon that was both appealing and repelling.  I really wanted those clouds to catch up with me and block the sun's rays, but I really didn't want to spend the day riding in the rain.  I could think of a lot of reasons why riding in the rain sucked, but the two big ones currently were my lack of phone access and nipple chafe.  I always stowed my phone in a waterproof pannier when it rained, making it inaccessible for maps, podcasts, and music.  I know this could be mostly remedied with bluetooth technology and waterproof pouches, but I haven't gotten there yet.  As for the nipple chafe, my favorite riding shirt is wonderful on dry days and even on days with intermittent rain.  But on days with heavy rain that doesn't dry up quickly, water seems to turn it to 80-grit sandpaper, and my nipples get a harsh rubbing.  I was already riding with bandaids on them from the heavy rains at the start of the tour, but a big storm would soak them right off and I'd be exposed to a world of nipple hurt.

I had just barely made it to an Exxon in Yanceyville, NC when the skies opened up.  I could not have been happier to be under cover for that show.  Giant explosions of lightning in all directions, gusting wind, sheets of rain.  It would've been a top five riding storm for sure.  Even under the large awning of the gas station, I was still catching my fair share of rain.  It was bad.  And then twenty minutes later, it was gone.  Just like that, it was a hot summer day again and I got back on the rode.

(Before leaving Yanceyville, I'd just like to mention that they have a pizza joint called Little Pizza My Heart.)

The route I was planning to taking from Yanceyville to South Boston was going to be all back roads.  Bumpy, hilly backroads.  Thinking back to the stray dogs and sand traps of Mississippi and Alabama, I didn't have nighttime back roads left in me, so I headed due north to Highways 58/360.  Riding in traffic probably wasn't going to be fun, but at least it would be smooth.

Having survived that decision, if I had to do it again, I'd probably take the back roads (at least on a clear day).  That highway didn't really have much of a shoulder, but it had an abundance of cars.  And while it had an overall elevation decline, it still had a lot of hills.  A lot of getting up to get down.  At least the tops of those hills gave me a good view of the incoming weather to the west.  It looked like another Yanceyville storm was approaching, and that actually made me happy to be on the highway.  Torrential downpours on highways don't result in mud pits that stall out bikes.  They can on back roads.

Clear sky, smooth road, big shoulder, no cars, not The South.

Not wanting to get caught in that storm, I hauled ass to the closest Budget Inn, just southwest of the big city.  I didn't know if there was camping anywhere in the area, but the flashes in the distance made me not care to find out.  I checked in, was told the cable and WiFi might get knocked out by the lightning but the electricity will probably stay on, and went to my room.

I unloaded my bike and when I opened my water pannier, was almost knocked over by the stench.  So much for needing to make a mental note.  Bag in hand, I headed to the shower.  And that was the longest shower I've ever taken in my life.  I hand washed every item in the pannier, and when I reached the bottom, I found the source of the stank.  It was a single Walmart bag.  I don't know why a plastic bag would ever smell so bad, but this one did, and it had infected everything else.  After throwing the plastic bag in the trash next to the toilet, I soaped and scrubbed out the entire pannier. (Actually really easy with an Ortlieb waterproof bag.  Fill it up with soap and water, roll up the top, shake it really good, pour out the foam, hand scrub, repeat.)  Once the pannier and all of its contents were scent-free, I tended to my own dirt covered body, legs coated with puddle splash.  I left that shower feeling more accomplished than I did after 87.5 miles on the road.

That night I slept comfortably in my bed to the sound of thunderous lightning and gusting wind, hopeful that maybe this would finally be the storm that killed the heat.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

T-Gel: Beard Dandruff Solution

For years, I've been forced to do battle with beard itch.  Not just itching, but also flaking, which can be embarrassing and off-putting.  There have been times that scratching my face has created a dead skin blizzard capable of shutting down I-5 for miles.  Flakes of dead skin just endless falling from my chin, my shirt covered in sloughed flesh snow.  As gross as that sounds, the itch is still the worst part.  Like my face is crawling with ants.  Flaky little ants.

Anyhoo, I've tried all sorts of different things to remedy the situation.  I've used anti-dandruff shampoos (H&S, Clear, etc.) and they couldn't even put a dent in the flakery.  I've tried oils (olive, tea tree, etc.), gently massaging in as directed, but all they've done is make me an even oilier Italian.  I even tried biotin supplements at the suggestion of a hair stylist whose husband faced the same problem years prior and found his remedy in that B vitamin.  If anything, the biotin seemed to supercharge my flaking.  Nothing ever seemed to work, so I'd inevitably deploy the nuclear option and shave off the whole damn thing, exposing a layer of dead flakes on my red, irritated skin.  If anything, I appeared to be allergic to myself and there would be no real fix other than shaving.


But then a friend recommended I try Neutrogena T-Gel.  He said it worked for him when nothing else would, so I figured it was worth a shot.  Well, I went to Walmart and bought the Equate version of the extra strength T-Gel, and holy crap, it actually worked.  For the first time in my life, I had a flake free beard.  It was a freakin' miracle.

Maybe not a real miracle.  Maybe just science.  But what kind of science?  The active ingredient in T-Gel is coal tar, and not knowing the science behind said tar, I checked out WebMD.  Here's what it said:
This medication is used on the skin to treat the itching, scaling, and flaking due to skin conditions such as psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitisCoal tar belongs to a class of drugs known as keratoplastics. It works by causing the skin to shed dead cells from its top layer and slow down the growth of skin cells. This effect decreases scaling and dryness. Coal tar can also decrease itchiness from these skin conditions. (Coal Tar Topical - WebMD)
Shed dead skin and slow down growth of new skin cells?  That sounded like exactly what I needed.  I had way too much skin forming under beard and it was causing problem.  T-Gel was perfect.  But what about side effects?
Skin/scalp irritation or staining of skin/hair (especially in patients with blonde, bleached, dyed, or gray hair) may occur... Long-term use of this product can cause hair follicle problems (tar acne). (Coal Tar Topical - WebMD)
Skin irritation?  I already had skin irritation.  Staining?  I have brown hair, so no worries there.  Tar acne?  I don't actually know what that is, but it sounds like pimples, and I'm not too prone to pimples, so I don't care!  None of those side effects sound all that terrible when compared to horrible skin itching and flaking.

If you have the same beard problems as me, maybe give T-Gel a try.  It's pretty cheap, a bottle lasts a long time, and only has to be used every other day (or less depending on how bad your condition is).  Just lather up your beard in the shower, wash your parts, then rinse your beard, and you'll be all set.  And if it doesn't work for you, donate it to some other long suffering beardo in the hopes it will work for them.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cooler Than Me Bike Guy, Pt. 2

Day 9 - Sept. 27, 2016 - Monroe > Hagan-Stone Park

When I woke up the next morning, I found a giant bruise on the back of my thigh.  The bruise hadn't been there the day before and I hadn't bumped into anything recently, so it could only have been from a somnambular fight club or an overnight ghost assault, both of which are movies I would watch.  Other than that, I was feeling pretty good.  I'd iced the back of my ankle overnight, so even that was feeling pretty good.  I felt even better when I found out the continental breakfast included waffles.

Now, I am not really a big waffle guy, but there are two places I will always eat them.  Waffle House is the first, and really, I shouldn't go there ever, but I do, and I get a waffle, and I regret it every time.  The second, and the one I never regret, is at a self-service motel continental breakfast.  You know the ones.  The squeeze bottle of batter next to a big auto-timed waffle iron that needs to be pretreated with generic Pam?  It's so good, right?  I mean, it's not, but you know, it is.

Well rested and well fed, I hit the road ready for a big day.  I had close to a century ahead of me, but I felt like I could conquer.  I lost most of that feeling within ten minutes.  That's about how long it took for me to be dripping with sweat again.  The South is the worst.

After a few hours of tempting the heat exhaustion fates, I decided I'd earned an ice cream sandwich.  I found a nice convenience store and parked my bike along side the produce stand next door.  I was going through my handlebar bag, searching for my wallet, when I flicker of movement drew my gaze upward.  And what did I see perched a few feet above me, from a piece of outward jutting wood?  If you had guessed "doberman", you would have been close.  No, it was a spider approximately the size of a doberman.  Holy shit did I jump back.  The spider was so big that I didn't even take a picture of it for fear it would steal my phone.  You better believe I ran, almost dragging Tibor behind me.

Surviving that arachnid encountered made me feel even more deserving of an ice cream sandwich, so I pushed my bike over to the gas station and leaned it against the wall.  As I walked over to the convenience store door, a older gentleman looking up from pumping gas and asked where I was riding to.  I told him Philly, and then he proceeded to tell me about how he'd met a guy that had ridden over 10,000 miles a year or two prior.  Cool.  That guy again.

I got a longer story this time.  Apparently, over one winter, old gas pump guy met cooler than me bike guy as he was on his way west.  It was wintery and cold and CTMBG looked ill prepared for the ride ahead of him.  CTMBG was also unaware of the snowy climb ahead as well.  So OGPG took him in for the night to make sure he didn't freeze to death.  Weeks later, OGPG ended up getting a postcard from Mt. Rainier sent to him by CTMBG.  Some time after that, he received a postcard from Alaska.  CTMBG really was a lot CTM.  But I had an ice cream sandwich and at least he couldn't take that away from me.

On a side note, this was not my first tale of winter riders that seemed hellbent on dying on the road. Just last winter, a buddy of mine that works at a shop in South Philly met a guy that was headed to Texas while wearing clothes that were barely suitable for November, let alone winter-proper.  He was practically frozen when my buddy brought him to the shop and helped outfit him in proper winter wear that was on its way to Goodwill.  That cyclist was a very lucky guy.  People, do not rely on the kindness of strangers.  There are some strangers that don't have much kindness to share.

After that it was a long stretch of dead reptiles until I would reach Hagan-Stone Park Campground.  I saw a big, turquoise snake squished along the side of the road, as well as a bunch of little turtles.  I'd officially moved out of armadillo country.  I hadn't seen a squished one of those in days.  But while out of armadillo country, I thankfully was still in the heart of Pimento Cheese country.  Not much could have topped the homemade Pimento Cheese sandwich I ate for lunch at a bait shop/convenience store.  Way creamier than any brand name, gas station Pimento Cheese.

Not Squished

It was after dark when I finally reached the already-closed-for-the-evening campground.  Well, dark between lightning strikes.  All around me, lightning lit up the sky as a storm thundered its way towards me.  I'd ridden all day without bad weather, and if I kept a good pace while setting up camp, I could be in bed before it reached me.  

Hagan-Stone, while mostly for RVs, had a nice tent section winding through the woods.  For the first time in a few parks, I'd be camping under a bit of cover, away from the whirring sound of generators and safe from the gusting winds whipping the tops of the tall trees that surrounded me.  Those tall trees also provided cover to the deer living in the woods, and I almost collided with a bambi as I sped through that nearly empty campground trying to reach camp before the storm reached me.  That wouldn't have been fun for either one of us.

As I reached camp, the race was on.  I pitched my tent and stowed my gear in record time, drops of rain just starting to reach me through the leafy canopy.  After slamming down dinner, I ran up to the showers.  Once I reached the showers, the sky opened up and it poured.  I'd just made it.  That night I slept in my dry tent with an ice pack on my ankle, listening to the rain beating on my tent and hoping all the while that the storm would take the summer heat out with it on its way East.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Touring Tip: Setting up Camp

I have set up camp so many times that I mostly do it on autopilot at this point.  Muscle memory is a good thing to have when wrapping up a twelve hour day of riding.  Thinking isn't always an option when you're an exhausted, dehydrated, electrolyte depleted mess.

Bertha Creek Campground in the Chugach National Forest

The thing with muscle memory, though, is that it takes a lot of repetition to really make your muscles remember.  Muscles are pretty dumb like that.  So for those of you who don't have that tour camping muscle memory yet, here's a list of the things I do once I reach camp.  Feel free to use and modify it to build your own routine, or at the very least, to allow yourself to think less after a hard day:

  1. Find Campsite - I usually camp near showers because I don't like long walks after long rides.  If you're a light sleeper, your preference may be to camp as far from other people as possible.  Whatever the case may be, don't just grab the first site you see.  Put at least a tiny bit of thought into it as not all sites were created equal.

  2. Pitch Tent ASAP - Don't linger on this one.  As soon as you get to camp, set up your tent.  Aside from removing any question about site ownership, it gives you a place to put the stuff you're about to unload from your bike.

  3. Set up the Inside of the Tent - While you still have tent pitch momentum, inflate your bedroll and lay out your sleeping bag.  You'll be happy they're already arranged when you get back relaxed from a hot shower.

  4. Start Cooking - Start prepping dinner.  Water takes a while to boil and you can do other things while waiting.

  5. Prep for Shower - Get out your toiletries and bed clothes.  This way you can head straight to the showers after you eat.

  6. Put Bags in Tent/Bear Box - Your meal kit and toiletries are out, so put the rest of your stuff in the tent.  You'll have to do it eventually, may as well do it now.  If you're in bear country, all scented items should go in a nearby bear box.

  7. Eat/Clean Up - At most campgrounds, this is pretty straight forward.  But again, if you're in bear country, any scented non-garbage should go in the bear box.

  8. Lock Bike - Before leaving camp to shower, secure your bike.  I usually lock to a picnic bench or tree.  Your bike is probably not going to be stolen, but why risk it?

  9. Shower Time/Laundry - Wash up, you filthy beast.  Also, wash your day's riding clothes (shirt, shorts, socks) while you're in the shower.  You'll get a rash, otherwise.  

  10. Dishes - Wash your dishes in the bathroom sink after the shower.  This step may be optional depending on how you eat.

  11. Hang Wet Clothes from Bike - This will not dry them, but will get them closer to it.

  12. Pull Tarp over Bike - Tarping your bike will keep it dry overnight.  Even if it doesn't rain, morning dew will soak your saddle.  Make sure to tuck the tarp under the tires so it doesn't flap around in the wind at night.
At this point you're free!  Do whatever you want!  Explore the campgrounds, phone a friend, read a book, or just go to bed.  The world is your oyster and you have a bed waiting for you when you're ready to crash.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

My Body is Falling Apart

Day 8 - Sept. 26, 2016 -  Cayce, SC > Monroe, NC

Over the years, I've found that there are only so many days of riding I can do in a row before my body gives me an ultimatum: Either take a day off, or I'm going to steer this bike directly into traffic.  A week straight is just shy of my arms taking subconscious control and turning sharply into a passing semi.  By the time I reached Cayce, I was seven days in, pressing my luck, and running on fumes, caffeine, and ibuprofen.

By the time I left Cayce, after spending a lot of time plopped on a couch (and some on a bar stool), I felt a lot better.  I felt better, but didn't look better as I was now rocking two knee braces and, for the first time in my life, an ankle brace.  I was used to my knees hating me, but now my achilles tendon appeared to have caught a case of tendinitis.  I have since learned that all of these problems may be rooted in a lack of hip stretching.  Or stretching in general.  Getting old sucks.


Aside from purchasing an ankle brace over my days off, I'd also bought some instant cold packs for the road.  I figured they were worth a try since I was increasingly achy at the end of each day.  The only option after that would be to motorize my bicycle.  I could probably find a weed whacker in someone's front yard (I was in the South) and pull the motor off if I needed to.  I really hoped it wasn't going to come to that but wasn't above it.

Learning from mistakes of the past two starts, my first day after the long break was not going to be a full century.  It wasn't even going to be 90 miles.  My ankle and knees thanked me for finally thinking a little.

And that was it for South Carolina.  One long day riding in, one not so long day riding out.  Next stop, North Carolina.  This time, not in beautiful Asheville, but outside of presently rioting Charlotte.  In Monroe, specifically.  There would be no camping at the end of this first day back on the road, not so much by choice but by dearth thereof.  My only reasonably distanced option would be a cheapo motel, which seemed lame after spending three days relaxing indoors, but didn't seem half bad once I started dripping sweat ten minutes into my ride.  It was still Southern hot out even if it was almost October.

Nothing to really report from that day, with the exception of me being knocked down a peg or two during a rest stop.  Around lunch time, I stopped at a little strip mall gas station convenience store for a sandwich and a caffeine re-up.  Standing outside of the store were a bunch of hard-hatted dudes eating lunch around their pickup truck full of tree trimming tools.  As I leaned my bike against the store, one of the guys asked where I was heading from.  I told him I was coming from Cayce, but that I'd started in Mississippi and was ending in Philly.  Based on the reactions of other folks I'd met on the road over the years, I assumed I'd get a response like "wow" or "cool" or "doesn't your butt get sore?"  That wasn't what I got.

Instead, I got a story of how he'd met a fella just like me a while back who'd been riding for over 10,000 miles.  That guy even kept a blog of his travels so people could keep track of where he'd been and where he was going.  Yup, that was one cool bike riding dude.  

Whatever, man.  I'm pretty cool too.  With my knee braces.  And ankle brace.  Sure, I may not guerrilla camp, but, like I stay at really cheap motels and State Parks which are barely above sleeping in a ditch a few hundred feet off the highway.  Ugh.  Nothing impresses you people.  Stupid South.

By the time I reached Monroe, it was way late and the cheapo motel I'd found online had a sign out front that said "No Vacany" (sic), confirming my assertion that the South is stupid.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Camp Muir: Ooh-Wee

If you're like me, you love buying things with clever sayings printed on them, inspirational or otherwise.  I find them to be the best way to really tell the world who I am without having to open my mouth or update my personal blog.  Don't talk to me until I've had my coffee!  I only drink wine on days ending in Y!  Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit!

That said, I've seen a lot of shirts, signs, and coffee mugs lately sporting a quote attributed to John Muir.  Specifically the phrase: The mountains are calling and I must go.  Well, that catchy little phrase taken from a letter to his sister was all I needed to be inspired to hike to the Camp Muir summit base camp, a mere 10,000' up Mt. Rainier.  Armed with little more than a 100oz Camelbak, two 24oz water bottles, electrolyte tabs, sandwiches, trail mix, a Clif Bar, a Luna Bar, almonds, SPF 40 zinc oxide, sunglasses, gloves, hat, extra layers of clothes, a buff, hiking poles, microspike crampons, and a 6,000' head start, I knew I was going to be living the inspiration on my coffee mug.

My desire to be inspired was non-existant when the alarm went off at 4:45am.  By the time we reached the park-n-ride in order to meet up with our other fellow hikers, I was really regretting buying that stupid mug whose coffee was barely keeping me awake.  The ten of us reached the Paradise Visitor's Center around 9am, thankfully, and from there it was only 4.1 miles to Camp Muir.  Only 4.1 miles with 4640' of elevation gain.  That's almost a mile up!  This Muir guy was starting to seem like a real kook.

Mountain, Marmot, Wildflowers.  Something for all. (Photo by Dawn M.)
The first 1.4 miles were on and off of ascending trails.  There were wildflowers and marmots aplenty, but those sights were just distractions from the work ahead.  This hike wasn't about enjoying nature, dammit.  It was about the mountain that was calling.

After running out of trail, we reached the snowfield that would lead us to Muir.  Only 2.7 miles and 3000' on slippery snow pack.  We slowly worked our way up, and again, people tried to point out that we were surrounded by beautiful scenery.  More distractions!  So what if we could see Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. St. Helens?  So what if there was bright blue snow underneath our footprints?  So what if there were a pack of ravens wildly cawing and flying around the different rock piles we passed?  The goddamn mountain was still calling!  I must go!

Left to Right: Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens (Photo by Jessica L.)

Five and a half hours after we began, we reached Muir.  We were exhausted, many party members had severe frostbite, two people were lost in a crevasse, and rations were running low, but we had done it.  We had answered the mountain's call and we were inspired.  Inspired to sit down and eat lunch, because were also tired and hungry.

Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come.  After trudging up those 2.7 miles of snow, we were left with few options for the descent.  If we walked, it would be knee-achingly slow.  If we ran, we would like slip, fall, and slide off into a crevasse.  This meant we were forced to sit our butts down on trash bags and glissade (sled) back down to the trail.  The screams of terror as we rode down thousands of feet could have easily been mistaken for whoops and hollers of excitement, but they shouldn't be.  Does riding a trash bag down a 3000' descent sound remotely fun?  Does it?

Butt thoroughly frozen, we finally reached the trail.  We were happy to be able to walk once more, our backs and hips yearning for the weight of our packs.  A short while later we reached the parking lot.  The mountain had called and we had answered.  We lost a lot of good people up there, but they died for a good cause.  A coffee mug.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Seattle Update: So Many Hills

I've been in Seattle for about five weeks now, so I feel like I can speak with some serious authority when I say that Seattle has a lot of hills.  Wikipedia says there are seven, but I disagree.  I'm fairly certain there are actually hundreds, if not thousands.  The seven are listed as: First Hill, Yesler Hill, Cherry Hill, Denny Hill, Capitol Hill, Queen Anne Hill, and Beacon Hill.  Now, I don't live at any of those places, but I know I live on a hill.  

I have to go up that hill almost every time I want to get home.  And it's not a little hill that could easily be overlooked or forgotten.  My legs and lungs tell me it's not a little hill.  That and my previous experience with hills.  Does Seattle really think that I won't think a hill's a hill if it's not listed as one of the seven hills?  Do you think I'm that dumb, Seattle?

I've been to Ballard.  There's a hill to get into Ballard, but there's no Ballard Hill.  I've been to Fremont.  There's a hill to get into Fremont, but there's no Fremont Hill.  I've been up Phinney Ridge, which is most definitely euphemistically labeled a ridge and should be more accurately called Phinney Hill.   So why are there so many hills in Seattle that aren't granted hillhood?  Why is there such a vast hill cover-up throughout Seattle?  What is the purpose of the lies?  Who stands to gain from this hill conspiracy?

Paraglider setting sail of of one of Seattle's many imaginary hills.

Well, even the greenest Seattlite knows who stands to gain the most from hill-free propaganda: the housing profiteers.  All over Seattle, housing prices have skyrocketed, and I can only assume that this is the direct result of this flat-earth cover-up, these topographical untruths, these low elevation-gain lies!  With the median home price sitting at around $700,000, the whole city is being linguistically leveled to increase home value.  How else could you sell a sub-1000 ft² house at the top of a steep hill for that much money?

Property owners, home developers, realtors — they'll say anything to fill their pockets.  They don't care about you, they only care about your money.  Don't fall for their dirty little lies; fall for me pristine truths.  So here's the truth: Seattle is full of hills, has terrible weather, is horribly overpriced, has no jobs, and is going to break off into the ocean after the next big earthquake.  Don't move here and waste hundreds of thousands of dollars on a live-in shoebox.  If anything, you should move to Portland.

You may not know it now, but what I'm telling you is kind of a big deal.  I'm saying the things that the city doesn't want the world to know, speaking the big truths about hills like a real Troy Brockovich.  I don't want to label myself a hero, but if I get silenced in the upcoming weeks by the Condo Mafia that's taking over Ballard, I'd like to remembered as one.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Belated Birthday Post: Pre-Birthday Glitter

In all the Birthdayween excitement, I completely forgot to tell you about the pre-birthday crafting.  On Birthday Eve, a bunch of folks got together to create glitter art in my honor, a traditional activity for celebrating one's entrance into the latter half of their 30's.  With the sparkle of the glitter being symbolic of youthful exuberance and the arduous, post-crafting clean up representative of the later years in life spent rectifying the mess left in the wake of a capricious early adulthood, glitter art has become synonymous with the 36th birthday.

As was expected, the night was a complete and total success, and I feel that I've been properly launched into this brave new age.  But don't just take my word for it, have a look at the artful outcome:

Each piece is for sale.  Only serious offers will be entertained.

It's a lot to take in, I know, but allow me to take your hand and guide you through this glitter gallery:
  • Tree - Summer (2 of 4)
  • Jack-o-Lantern - Fall (3 of 4)
  • Blue Ribbon - Winning is everything
  • Lines #2 - Further exploration of the theme
  • Bee - Spring (1 or 4)
  • Lines #1 - An exploration of a theme
  • Seattle - A summation
  • Flowers - For me???
  • Owl - They're everywhere these days
  • Snowflake - Winter (4 of 4)
  • Shooting Star - Ode to Bad Company
  • Bubbles - Circles?
  • L + A - Reunion
  • Bloobs - For petting
  • Cactus - Not for petting
  • HBDHT♡ - Self explanatory
  • Fox - No fair.  Who brought the artist to the craft party?
It's amazing what human beings are capable, isn't it?  To create such beauty from something so simple as chopped up plastic and decorative paper?  It was a truly elegant and inspiring evening, and I couldn't be more excited about being closer to my 70th birthday than I am to my birth.  Yup, definitely happy to be 36 and playing with glitter on my birthday instead of, like, I don't know, sipping cocktails while floating in my glass-bottomed infinity pool on my penthouse balcony.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Touring Tip: Not Dying in the Summer

Gang, it's the middle of summer so hopefully all of you are out enjoying the weather while you can, possibly on your bicycle.  Those freezing cold winter rides are finally a distant memory.  No more toes going numb.  No more hands getting chapped and cracked.  No more frozen boogers that thaw as soon as you reach the office forcing you to beeline to your desk to blow your nose before someone stops you to ask you if you saw that email from old so and so and can you believe they changed that policy and are you sick?  Your nose is running; don't touch me if you're sick.  Ha ha, just kidding.  But seriously, that email.  Also seriously, don't touch me.

Yup, now you have a whole different set of riding problems, the top being heat exhaustion, sun stroke, and dehydration.  And those are just the potentially fatal ones!  Non-lethal include mosquitoes, bear attacks, and overcrowded campgrounds.  But hey, at least you're not cold, right?

If you plan on touring this summer, you probably don't want to die.  With that in mind, here are some tips for spitting in the face of nature and staying alive:
  • Stay Hydrated - Drink a lot of water.  Constantly.  Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink water.  If you are thirsty, you are already far behind in your water consumption.  Refill your water bottles every single chance you get.  Even if you still have over half a bottle, if you find a water fountain, you drink as much as you can and then fill back up.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to constantly be drinking water.  Clear pee is your best friend.

  • Stay Electrolyted - This one goes hand in hand with the above.  As you ride, you will sweat.  If you are like Tibor, you will sweat profusely.  As you sweat, you will lose a lot of salt.  This will be very noticeable at the end of a ride when the sweat dries from your limbs leaving a thin (sometimes thick) layer of salt crystals.  Since you're losing all of this salt, you are going to need to replace it, especially as you are rehydrating.  An electrolyte imbalance (caused by losing all your salt but still maintaining all your water) can be just as dangerous as dehydration (when imbalanced, your internal neuron network's electrical grid starts to fail), and can have similar symptoms and arguably way more disturbing ones to boot.  Lightheadedness is a surefire sign that I'm getting unbalanced, so I don't ignore any brain haze while riding.  To manage your electrolytes, add a supplement to your fluid intake.  Coconut water is a natural solution, Gatorade also works, and Nuun tabs are a low sugar alternative.  You could also take Salt Stick tablets or bring a bottle of pickle juice.

  • Zinc-Based Sunblock - Keep the sun off of your delicate skin with a high SPF, zinc-based sunblock.  Not only will zinc prevent you from getting sun stroke, it will keep you unburned and decrease your chances of getting both wrinkles and skin cancer.  If you can, steer clear from Oxybenzone-based sunblocks as they are quite bad for the environment.

  • Take Breaks in the Shade - Listen to your body.  If you don't feel great, take a break.  And when you take a break, do it in the shade.  There is no shame in taking 20 breaks over 100 miles if it means you aren't going to collapse along the side of the road and have to be taken by ambulance to a hospital.  The EMT is not going to properly lock up your bike before carting you off.  How are you going to finish your tour from a hospital without a bicycle?

Oh, and probably don't ride your bike in the middle of the desert in August?  I feel like I should have to tell you that one, but some of you just have really bad ideas.

Here's a nice place to ride a bike!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Birthdayween: The New Oneness

Holiday idea: Birthdayween.  Every July 2nd, people must dress up in costume to celebrate my birthday.  It's a mashup of my two favorite holidays, so let's get this movement started.  Here are some costume ideas:
  • Sea Otter
  • Bicycle
  • Steve Yzerman
  • Cat
  • Wizard
  • Armadillo
  • Xenomorph
  • Flickering Fluorescent Lighting in a Horror Movie
  • Meerkat
  • Cool Breeze
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • Anything that Eats Mosquitoes
  • Juniper Tree
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Polychromatic Jasper
  • Banana Wearing a Bandolier
  • Snow
In other news, Lauren took me to see Ween on my birthday and it was great.  The show was at Marymoor Park, they played for two and a half hours straight, and Tae gave me a pin for my birthday:

Hail Boognish

Having not seen Ween in a few years, I hadn't realized how far they'd been sucked into hippie jam band culture.  Not that Ween is a bunch of hippies, but there were some serious Phish-level behaviors going on in the crowd.  There's the culture of commodification and collection that permeates the jam scene and it is now strong within the Ween community.

Between limited run merch peacockery, show count braggary, and best version of a song argumentary, it felt like I was back on the East Coast.  "Dude. Jones Beach. Spring Tour 1998. Hands down best Guyute ever!  And I'd know because I've been to 150 shows and bought posters at every one.  You should come over sometime and see them."  It's like shows, songs, and merch are the adult baseball cards for little boys that grew up and didn't know what to collect anymore.  (I used "boys" because it seems to be a male-dominated phenomenon.)

Anyway, the show was way awesome, the Marymoor is rad, and the Ween still rocks hard AF.