Friday, June 30, 2017

Southern State Parks: Pricey RV Campgrounds

A couch in Cayce might not have the charm of a tent in the woods, but after a week of $30/night ACOE Campgrounds and State Parks, my wallet needed a break.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy State and National Parks a great deal, and I think they serve many important purposes from conservation to education to appreciation, but dang, the ones in the South are not cheap.  And they're also not really meant for cyclists or other non-RV campers.  I don't know that that's their fault, though.  I think they have a single price point because the only people that really visit them are RV folk.  It's probably too hot all summer for them to attract a major tent campers contingent, so why bother wasting space on them, right?  Just put an electrical outlet and water pump at every spot, charge a flat fee, and watch the RV-shaped sacks of money roll in.

Other than being high price and RV-filled, those State Parks and ACOEs still were beautiful reprieves after days of unforested riding.  They surprised me the same way the parks in the South Dakotan plains had.  After spending a whole day riding through flat, wide open, SD farm lands, I'd be shocked to find myself suddenly winding through dense forest that seemed entirely out of place without having to first pass through a false walled wardrobe.  The same happened in Alabama.  I'd go from a long day of highway riding to being chased by dogs through the woods in the blink of an eye.  And after escaping the dogs, I'd find myself in a park full of trees alongside a manmade lake.  A lot of Southern campgrounds seem to have a body of water attached to it, which makes sense with that godawful heat.  Did I say lake?  I meant swimmin' hole.

This is not from a Southern State Park.  This is in Colorado.  I just like the picture.

And that heat is interminable.  In July and August, you'll sweat as hard at night as you do during the day.  If you're touring down there, make sure to pack a tent with as much ventilation as possible and don't bother with a blanket.  Alternatively, a mosquito net and a rain tarp would work, but I prefer the tent since it weighs about the same and protects better during storms (September is storm season, and most camp sites are fairly wide open up above, even if the park is in a forest).  Maybe even pack a small fan to run during the night.  It can keep you cool and add a little white noise, which can be nice if the couple in the RV across from you like to get up at dawn to walk their hound dogs.

But back to the Southern State Parks.  Another thing to know is that they close heckin' early.  It's not that big of a deal with a bicycle, as gates are designed to keep cars out, not people, but if you're road tripping by car, be warned.  If you show up to camp after dark, there's a good chance you'll be locked out.  That is definitely the case with ACOEs.  If that happens, I'd say just keep driving until you can find a Walmart parking lot to take a power nap in while waiting for the next park to open in the morning.

Finally, the staffs at these campgrounds are all pretty laid back.  Sometimes almost nonexistent.  Why, if one wanted to, one could probably roll into camp late at night and then leave early in the morning without ever seeing a single park staffer.  Not even the staffers that enforce the fee collections.  Yup.  One could if they were so inclined.

But listen, with the high price point of those campgrounds and the terrible heat, it may not be a bad idea to keep an eye out for low price motels some nights.  Especially nights with severe thunderstorms rolling through.  Thunderstorms full of lightning, the great white shark of the sky.  There's really no shame in spending $40 on a motel with A/C and a mattress when you'd otherwise be spending $30 on a small dirt pad surrounded by RVs.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Does that leaf blower have a snooze button?

Day 7 - Sept. 22, 2016 - A.H. Stephens State Park > Cayce, SC

Is there any nicer way to wake up in the woods than to the sound of a leaf blower outside of your tent?  You are correct if you pointed out that I was in fact not in the woods, technically, but in a nearly $30 a night State Park.  I hadn't yet paid my camp fees, though, and the thought crossed my mind that maybe I shouldn't.  Yes, at around 8am, a member of the park staff rolled through the campground attempting to loudly blast away the fallen foliage.  For those that did not inspect the photo of A.H. Stephens State Park that was included in the last ride post, most of the trees in the area were of the pine variety, meaning that this dipshit was attempting to leave blow pine needles.  Was he doing a bit?  At 8 in the morning?  Are you serious?  Beat it, Kaufman.

I had a long day ahead of me and I hadn't planned on starting it so early.  There were over 130 miles standing between me and my layover in Cayce, SC (just outside of Columbia), and the Southern ACOE and State Park systems gave me little choice but to handle this portion of the ride as a lone segment.  Honestly, though, I'd rather spend the $30 camp fees on cheap beer than help pay for park employees to leaf blow pine needles.

Since I was staying with friends in Cayce, I was going to need to plan my arrival time accordingly.  I figured my best bet of them being home would be earlyish in the day, as they have jobs and lives and whatnot to attend to during the day.  Based on my previous days' rides, I figured if I left around noon, took breaks for dinner, a few rest stops, and breakfast, I could be in bed in Cayce by 7am or so.  That would give me 13 hours of riding and 6 hours of wasting time.  Also, if I had any bike troubles, that padding wouldn't be a bad thing.

I'm sorry to say that I paid to stay in that park.  It wasn't even easy to pay, as I had to ride around a lake to find the office and there was no way the staff had even seen me until I walked in through the front door.  The staff was even in the middle of the office counting the night's money, almost as if to show me how they were already well funded and that my money was definitely just going into the leaf blower gas fund.

It was a long day of riding, which gave me a lot of time to stare at my map and wonder.  All around the South, I'd been passing lakes that had the most peculiar, jagged edges.  In my experience, lakes are usually round in nature, with erosion working in a somewhat uniform manner.  But down here, it was not like that at all.  Unless you've seen what I'm talking about, it can be tough to imagine.  So here, take a look:

Click on the image to see a bigger version, yo!

Ok, in that screenshot, the following super jagged lakes are visible: Allatoona Lake, Carters Lake, Chatuge Lake, Hiwassee LakeLake Blue RidgeLake Burton, Lake Greenwood, Lake HartwellLake Lanier, Lake Murray, Lake Rabun, Lake WylieLake WoodruffNottely Lake, Tugaloo Lake, Yonah Lake, and honestly I'm tired of making this list so I'm just ending it here but you get the gist.  Looking at that map for the first time, you're probably thinking the same thing I thought: What up with those jagged lakes, yo?

Well, I'll tell you, yo.  After looking up info on each of those lakes, I started to notice a trend... none of those are natural lakes!  They're all reservoirs and dams and other human made/altered structures.  Even the Savannah River has been dammed and leveed into it's current state.  The website even flat out says:
Most of the lakes you will visit in Georgia — Lake Sinclair, Lake Chatuge, West Point Lake and so many more — are man-made. These types of lakes are usually created when humans build artificial dams in an existing river or stream. Builders sometimes protect smaller reservoirs from seepage by compacting the loose soil around it or lining the reservoir with fabric or compacted clay.
That made so much more sense!  We were the jagged makers, not nature.  Well, physics more than nature, but nature is easier to anthropomorphize.  Physics would definitely wear glasses, though, were it to be a humanized entity.  And it would be all, "nice jagged lakes," and then probably laugh it up with Chemistry and Biology.

It was after midnight when I stopped in Ridge Spring, SC for a late night dinner break.  Nothing was open in the tiny town of less than 1,000 people according to internet, but there was a nice park with picnic benches and lights.  Tired of bagged pump water, I had hoped there would be a gas station or convenience store, but just having a place to sit down was a fine compromise.  As I sat there eating my dollar store noodles, I checked my route.  I still had about 42 miles to go to get to Cayce, most of which appeared to be downhill, meaning if I kept my current pace I'd reach my destination at a terrible hour.    Getting to the house at 5am would be a bad idea.  The dogs would start barking, waking everyone up, making them all mad at me, kicking me out onto the street, sleeping in a gutter because I was so tired.  Then I remembered I was in the South.  I could just find a Waffle House to kill time at.  That or a Walmart.  Who doesn't like walking around a South Carolina Walmart at 5am?

I should have known that after washing down cheap noodles with warm, metallic water while battling a swarm of mosquitoes, I'd find a 24 hour Circle K convenience store a short distance away on the outskirts of town.  Better late than never, I guess.  I leaned Tibor up against the glass and headed in for some coffee.  That was when I met a store clerk that had to have been bored out of his mind.  I'm assuming, at least.  How stimulating could the night shift at a podunk Circle K be?

He struck up a pleasant conversation as soon as I walked in.  He even made a fresh pot of coffee for me.  When I went to pay, we started talking about the unusually high prices of the different goods at the store and about how big chains swoop in, push out the smaller shops, pay less to their employees, and charge higher prices to their customers.  But that was a function of the 24-hours of operation.  A lot of hours to be running lights and paying employees.  A lot of hours of no customers walking through the doors to buy coffee.  So to keep those doors open for the very occasional late night customer, he had to work later for less and I was going to have to pay more.  The big winner will always the corporation and its shareholders, but at least I got coffee at 1am in the middle of nowhere.

While we talked, and we talked for a while as neither of us had anywhere to be any time soon, his girlfriend and her friend walked into the store.  They'd just gotten off of work around the corner and came over to say hi.  When they saw me standing their in my lycra, the questions started.  Where was I coming from?  Where was I going?  Does my butt get sore?  Was I scared to ride at night?  Was I scared of cars in general?  Did people harass me?  Did I get stopped by cops ever?  I said that nobody ever bothered me, really.  That the closest I had to trouble was getting buzzed by some hillbilly pickup truck in Alabama.  And that all the cops I'd run into on bike had been nothing but nice with the exception of a cranky cop in California a few years back who'd been a little gruff.

That was when they pointed out an obvious fact.  I was white.  They were black.  My never running into trouble had nothing to do with my bicycle, it was because I was a white guy on a bicycle.  I paused for a second to think, and then agreed.  They were completely right.  I told them so, and that I had no idea if they would be harassed by cops or other people.  I really didn't have to worry about that much as a white male in my mid-30s without face tattoos.

We shot this breeze for a while longer, with me encouraging the girlfriend's friend to get into distance riding as she'd expressed an interest, and a little after 2am I hit the road.  I was about 40 miles from Waffle House, meaning I could get there by 6am, eat a slow breakfast, and get to my Cayce home by 7 or 8am.  Then sleep.

Being a white guy in America really does come with a lot of advantages.  Especially if you're born into the middle class with a stable, non-dysfunctional family.  Anyone that argues otherwise is lying, deluded, or a real dope.  I'm not saying it's a guarantee of happiness or success.  I'm just saying, it's a really good opening roll.  But race, gender, nationality, sexual preference, etc. are all Earth-based social constructs used to hold some people down while boosting others up with zero regard to the content of their character and their personal capabilities.  Do you know what cares little for social constructs?  Physics!  Yup, the great equalizer!  All Physics knows is that 1,500lbs of metal, plastic, and rubber traveling erratically down US-1 at 70mph do not have the consciousness required to create reasons to dislike someone before they ever get to know them.  Physics knows that all humans squish the same when a great mass accelerates through their XYZ coordinates.

Based on previous discussions, it seems to me that most people feel that night riding is dangerous.  Yes, it's more difficult to see at night.  Yes, you're more likely to encounter tired or drunk drivers.  Yes, ghosts of kidnapped children will try to lure you into the woods and off a cliff.  But one nice thing about night driving is that you can tell what's going on behind you by the headlights that appear around you.  While riding on US-1, headlights that were still a good distance behind me were aimed very close to where I was on the shoulder instead of in the middle of their lane (where they belong).  I looked back and could see a sports car that was angling out of its lane, drifting towards the shoulder.  Not wanting to see where this was going, I pulled as far over on the shoulder as I could, entirely off the road to be safe.  I was pedaling in the grass when the car, still 50-100' back realized that I was up ahead and swerved hard to the left.  It then blew past me (I was plenty safe from where I stood), and fishtailed wildly for the next few hundred feet before pulling off at the closest exit and speeding off.  The driver was either drunk or distracted.  In either case, I was happy it was night time so I had some sort of warning.  Also happy he or she was now off the road.  My skin wasn't going to save me from that math equation.

By 5am, I was only five miles from Waffle House.  My legs felt like they were going to fall off and my stomach was rumbling.  I couldn't wait for some waffles.  Please note that if you ever find yourself in a position where Waffle House sounds good, it means you're delirious.  Waffle House is not good.  Ever.  I was clearly delirious.

I parked at 5:30 and walked into that Southern breakfast chain with its trailer park charm and ordered a waffle, hash browns (capped and peppered), and a coffee.  When I took my first sip of coffee, I was reminded of the same thing I am reminded of every time I eat at a Waffle House: Oh god, why did I think this was a good idea?  The coffee tasted like soot, the waffle was paper thin, and the hash browns were soggy.  Yup, I was in Waffle House.  It's the grossest, but I always go back.  Me and Biz.  I've even chipped a tooth at a Waffle House.  Why do I do this to myself?

After killing an hour in that booth, I headed back out.  I got to the front porch of my vacation home around 7am.  There didn't appear to be anyone awake, and the dogs were quiet, so I parked my bike and fell asleep on the porch.

Monday, June 26, 2017

I Just Love Badass Shit

I was sitting in a shed-inspired bodega outside of Columbus, GA when this happened:

Somewhere in Georgia

A post shared by Brian Langan (@brian_langan) on

At first I thought I definitely looked cool with my matching shirt, gloves, and can. But then I was flipping through internet and it came to my attention that I'd somehow become the antagonist in my own story.

The above comic is a Brian Langan original, and I was going to use this post to promote his awesome art.  He has a lot of photos on Instagram other than comics and art, so I tried to filter by #comics.  But apparently you can't filter in Instagram by both user and tag, so I checked if Google had any ideas.  That's where I found a developer forum with a nifty JavaScript solution I could embed (much like the above comic), but that meant I'd need a Client ID which I'd have to get from the Instagram Developer page, and then Instagram would want to know why I was making API requests, and really this is just a blog post so why was I even bothering?

Then this definitely got me thinking about all the developers out there that put the niftiest little features in their useful software packages that no one will ever buy and about how angry they must be that Instagram sold for about $1B in 2012 and you can't even filter by hashtag and user from within the native UI.  And a part of me laughed so hard and another part of me cried a little.

But this post isn't about fake money and wastes of time.  This post is about Badass Shit.  So here are five badass shits:
  1. Brian_Langan on Instagram (#comics)
  2. Needlepoints (the band, not the hobby)
  3. The SW!MS
  4. Urban Axes
  5. Rip It

Friday, June 23, 2017

WA Dept. of Licensing: Designed to Hold the Poor Down

I never thought I'd miss the Pennsylvania DMV, but Washington state has made it possible.  The DMV is the butt of many stale jokes and one rad song, but in all the years I've been driving, I'd always assumed long lines were a thing of the past and that the reason the jokes were so stale was that they were no longer relevant.  I was so, so wrong.  Thank you, Washington State Department of Licensing Drivers License Center (DLC), for explaining the joke to me.

Here's the chronology:

10:30am - Arrive at the Shoreline DLC.  The very small parking lot is very full.
10:42am - Re-arrive at the DLC after finding parking elsewhere.
10:44am - Take a number.  I am 242.  Currently serving 160.  The room is packed.
11:00am - It's explained to me that I cannot get an enhanced license (required for flying), without a form of in-state identification.  More on this later.
1:00pm - My number is called.  I go to Counter 7 to answer a few questions and have a 30 second eye exam.  Sit down again afterwards.
1:08pm - My number is called again.  I go to Counter 1 to have my photo taken.  They don't show me the photo for approval.  Sit down again afterwards.
1:27pm - My number is called. again.  I go to Counter 2 to pay my fees ($89 + $2 debit surcharge).
1:29pm - Leave the DLC with a print out of the info about my license which I will be receiving in 10 days.  My old PA license has a hole punched in it by this point.

So after about 2 hours and 45 minutes, I left with no acceptable forms of ID.  Cool.

This wasn't a a big problem for me, though, only an annoyance.  I had both time and entertainment, being self-employed and currently engrossed in the Oak Island Money Pit and Dyatlov Pass stories on the Astonishing Legends podcast.  Additionally, I have a passport, so I have ID should I want to go to a bar or courthouse or wherever.  But what about people who aren't as privileged?

What about a single parent that's working two jobs to keep their family afloat?  Do they have three spare hours to sit around at the DMV?  Can they get the vacation time?  Can they find a babysitter?  Can they afford to be without a license for 10 days?  What if they need their ID for government services?  What if they're late for work because the DLC was so slow and that gets them fired because minimum wage employees are replaceable and why bother keeping someone that is late once even if they have kids because you can find someone else to do their thankless job anyway and then they have to get back on social services which is difficult since their ID is "in the mail" resulting in them missing a rent payment since they're living hand to mouth, ending up on the street, and losing their kids which get pulled into a foster care system that spits them out as batter and abused 18 year old "adults" that eventually end up in the prison system.

I don't know if I'm being dramatic.  It doesn't matter, really.  The whole point is that this system is currently designed to be annoying (or exasperating) for people that don't have real worries but completely life disrupting (possibly upending) to people who are already struggling so much and are barely scraping by no matter how hard they work.  This system is designed to keep poor people down.  Plain and simple.  What's worse is that all of this can be fixed, which if they're not fixing it, only reinforces the fact that this is all on purpose.
  • In Philly, I could go to one counter and get everything handled in a matter of minutes.  Why can't I do that in Washington?  Why do I need three counters to do what can be done at one?

  • In Philly, I could walk out with my license in hand.  Why can't I do that in Washington?  Why waste postage on mailing an ID to me?  Aside from the added costs, why increase the chances of identity fraud through mail theft?  Also, what am I supposed to do if I don't have a passport or other form of government issued identification?  How do I get into places that require ID?  How do I get medical services without ID?

  • In Philly, I could choose from six license centers.  Why are there only two in Seattle?  There are clearly not enough DLCs in the area to handle the amount of people that live here.
Two other problems that are less important...
  • The enhanced license process displays the utter idiocy of the WA State government.  I couldn't get an enhanced license without proving I already had other in-state ID.  But... once I get my driver's license, I can use that as my ID to then get my enhanced license.  Simply, I need to go to the DLC to get a license to then go back to the DLC to get it enhanced.  They are both giving me the ID and then enhancing it.  Just do it all at once rather than clogging up with DLC with more people as they come back for enhancement.

  • I don't have a middle name.  This means my driver's license now has an asterisk in it, as middle initials are used in the license number (Ex: MUSTACHET*123XY).  Don't use license numbers with non-alphanumeric characters!  Computer systems like alphanumeric!  Not symbols!  Especially don't use a character that is very specifically a wildcard or arithmetic operator!  Asterisks mean something special across all computer languages!  I've already run into one online banking system that has choked on this.  I wonder how well WA State's social service systems work with asterisks.  I'm sure they didn't have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to developers to enable asterisk handling...
Oof, ok, that was super ranty, but the point stands that this system is going to hurt people.  Not people like me, but people who are vulnerable.  People who are already in need of help, or at the very least, in need of less hurt.  Washington state government, pull your heads out of your asses and fix something that's hurting those people.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Southern Convenience Food: Pickled Eggs and Beyond

Before heading too much farther (further also works) north, I need to talk about the convenience store food I encountered while touring in the South.  Not to get too high on my horse, but I fancy myself a bit of a gas station gourmet.  Burned coffee that's been sitting out all day?  Fill 'er up.  Egg salad sandwiches past their expiration date?  White and wheat.  Stale crackers with imitation cheese filling?  I wouldn't turn down a six or an eight.  To say the very least, and reiterate what is clearly common knowledge, my palate is pretty refined.

That said, for as much experience as I had going into this, I still had no idea what sort of culinary adventure I'd be embarking on when heading to the South.  Would everything be cooked in pork fat, leaving me rail thin after a vegetarian tour?  Would all their coffee have hints of chicory, leaving me exhausted as I repeatedly turned down their gross coffee with that unnecessary flavor addition?  Would there even be convenience stores that would cater to a yank like me, or would I be run out of town the moment I uttered my first undrawled word?  I was heading into uncharted territory.  A place no one had ever gone before.  I was a modern Christopher Columbus.  No, the Vikings.  No!  I was just like the Paleo-Indians!  A real historical figure of great courage, I was!

After all those weeks of riding, I can now authoritatively say that, while I missed Wawa, Southern convenience stores are wonderful in their own right.  There seemed to be more Mom N' Pop style stores along the way, especially down in Mississippi and Alabama, which meant I even found some homemade food, something you don't see too often in the Northeast.  Also, the non-chain stops seemed to have less of a focus on cleanliness and more of a focus on self-service, an upgrade in expedience that I will take in a non-third world country.  Hmm... those may not be selling points for a lot of you.  If not, here are what I consider the three biggest:
  1. Hannah's Pickled Eggs - If any one thing can be used to gauge your depth within the South, I believe it's the availability of Hannah's Pickled Eggs (Hannah's Pickled anything, really, as there is no shortage of Pickled Sausages and Pickled Pigs Feet).  While tough to find in the Carolinas, once you venture into the deeper South (AL, MS), any self-respecting convenience store will have an open 5-gallon jug of individual retail, pink, pickled eggs, with Hannah's being the most common option.  And next to that jug will be either a box of cheap sandwich bags or a stack of hotdog trays in which to put your selected eggs.  If you're lucky, there will also be a set of tongs for fishing them out.  If you're not lucky, there will instead be a layer of hand-dirt floating along the meniscus.  Regardless of the self-service pickled egg delivery system that you're presented with, be assured that if you can find a jug of Hannah's in your travels, it will be a good day.

  2. Pimento Cheese Sandwiches - I am certain that even the most atheistic vegan would agree that Pimento Cheese is a gift directly from God.  For those not in the know, Pimento Cheese is a delicious salty, cheesy spread that can be delivered via any bleached carb, with white bread being my preference.  The best part about Mom N' Pop shops is that there's a good chance that they'll make and package their own sandwiches, with each recipe just a little different along the way (and with none providing any real nutritional value).  This means you can eat a Pimento Cheese sandwich every day on tour and never get the same one twice.  This is why Pimento Cheese is commonly referred to as the Snowflake of the South.

  3. Long Boys and Uncle Al's Planks - These last two entries were impulse buys at a check-out, and they did not disappoint.  Long Boys are just tootsie rolls made of toasted coconut rather than chocolate.  Planks are just thin vanilla cookies with different flavored icing, strawberry and lemon being my two favorites.  They are both delicious treats, and each is elegant in its simplicity.  That's right, I called them elegant.  I can do that because I'm a gourmet.

This would not be a fair and balanced review if I didn't tell you about the negatives.  My only culinary disappointment was the complete lack of self-serve pickled okra.  As an okra fan, I really wish there had been open jugs of pickled okra just sitting out.  Other than that, Southern Convenience Store Food gets a great big high five of approval followed up by a complicated series of hand slaps and fist bumps.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Weak Kneed Trainees: Titanium Stabilizers Required

Day 6 - Sept. 21, 2016 - Indian Springs State Park > A.H. Stephens State Park

The RV guy was friendlier, well, far less suspicious at least, in the morning.  I never met his wife, so it may have been a Norman Bates situation in that mobile home, but in any case, his wife or him in a wig seemed to have cooled down a bit after a good night's sleep.  If getting out into nature can't take your edge off, maybe it's time for an entire life re-evaluation.  There is no shame in take some time off in a mental wellness facility for some real rest and relaxation.  They'd even have a chance to talk with professionals about how to make their overall life more enjoyable.  How to cope with the day to day without living in fear and on the brink.  I mean, trees can only do so much.

After giving him a peace offering of a Philly Bike Tours sticker (he could slap it on the golf cart parked behind his RV), I headed back to my site to pack up.  While breaking down my tent and stuffing my odds and ends into assorted sacks and panniers, the real campground hosts rolled up.  They were a retired couple, and the husband was quick to loudly apologize for the shenanigans of the night prior.  He said that the RV across the way housed two overzealous trainees who didn't quite get how everything worked yet.  I don't know if the trainees could hear him over their air conditioning, but it wasn't for lack of trying on the host husband's part.  They then said to swing up to their site before I left to pay, as they didn't have change in their golf cart.

Once I was all packed and hitched, I climbed back out of the park to their site.  Like the ACOE camps, the State Parks had been mostly designed with RVs in mind.  Getting out of camp was a slow crawl with tired legs.  An unnoticeable ascent for a car, though.  Should be some sort of effort-based discount for bikes, right?

The campground hosts gave me big smiles and waves as I came up.  As they made change for my overpriced campsite (more on that in a later post), we talked about camping and hosting.  They were avid campers and enjoyed hosting as an extension of that.  Apparently, Southern state parks could get quite competitive for hosting spots, as Canadians pour down to escape their cold weather later in the season.  This couple already had other plans for their winter, though.  They were going to be snowmobiling through the Black Hills once the winter set in.  It was safe to say they were far more adventurous than the trainees parked across the street.  How many folks do you know that spend their retirement blasting down snow-packed horse trails in southwestern South Dakota?  Heck, that even sounds a bit much for me, with the low temperatures and the high chances of slamming into a tree at 60mph.

What made this even more incredible to me was the fact that the whole time they recounted their past adventures and future plans to me, the husband was being held up by a pair of titanium legs.  He clearly didn't let them slow him down, and he wasn't shy about bringing them up.  Since he wasn't shy, I had questions.

Apparently he had lost them because of a fall.  Not directly from the fall, but due to complications resulting from the fall.  He'd fallen off of a ladder or building while working (I really wish I'd written this all down somewhere) a few years back, and had landed on his legs, breaking them both.  Based on a minuscule amount of research on my part, it sounds like he had a tibial shaft fracture, which sounds ungodly painful.  So the impact sent a lengthwise fracture up each of his tibia and/or fibula, requiring multiple surgeries to attempt to repair the damage.  After the first rounds of surgery, while he gained some mobility, the pain was still unbearable.  After the next few round, it was still terrible.  Eventually, it seemed he wouldn't be able to get rid of his pain without getting rid of his legs.  Presented with the choice between a life filled with pain and a life with metal legs, he took the metal legs.  And that was that.  No more pain, and with some rehab and practice, he was back at a point where, in his 60's, he was snowmobiling through South Dakota and camphosting around the country.  It was inspiring to say the least.  He saw the loss of two limbs as an obvious solution to a problem rather than as a life changing dismemberment and appeared to have zero regrets after making the decision.  Apparently "practical" and "fearless" don't need to be on opposite sides of the personality spectrum.

After saying my goodbyes and receiving well-wishes, I hit the road, only getting lost briefly as I tried to find Route 42.  Flovilla, GA isn't a bustling metropolis, but apparently it has a middle school that takes day trips to the state park.  It's impossible to seem like you're not lost when riding a bicycle full of orange bags past a classworth of 8th graders a second time in less than ten minutes.  No.  I'm not from these parts.

My day was spent mostly in or around state or federally protected land, something I wasn't used to down South.  I'd started in Indian Springs, moved through Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, over Lake Oconee (with its $500/night Ritz Carlton) which fed into the Oconee National Forest, and eventually reached A.H. Stephens State Park.  Georgia felt like a shift into a different kind of South.  The humidity lowered, the timezone changed, and State and National Parks started reappearing, which meant no more ACOEs.  My only fear with this shift was that there would be no more pickled eggs.  I'd miss that South.

A.H. Stephens was situated in Crawfordville, a town that could be missed mid-blink, which was were I made a pre-camp Dollar General run.  I don't know that I'd ever been inside a Dollar General prior to this tour, and I seemed to be stopping there every other day by now.  Stocked, I headed into camp.  I knew this experience would be better than the last one just based on the fact that the entrance bore a sign that read something like: "If arriving after 5pm, please check-in in the morning."  Oh good.  This State Park shouldn't have crazy town trainees up my ass.

I was loving these late summer Southern parks.  Per the usual, my site was in a very unpopulated campground.  There was one site occupied by someone on a motorcycle tour and another site much further off with an RV, but aside from that, I had the place to myself.  At the nearly $30 per night they were charging for tent campers, I'd have rather had the entire place to myself.  And maybe a nice hot tub waiting for me.  Was that too much to ask?

A.H. Stephen's State Park Bathroom (Courtesy of

Before I wrapped up dinner, another car pulled into the campground loop, parking in front of the "Comfort Station" (bathroom).  It was a family of four, and they weren't there for camping.  We chatted for a bit, and it turned out that they were from Crawfordville and their electricity had recently been shut off.  Without a functional water heater, they were running up to the state park at night to make sure their kids could still take hot showers.  It was good to be reminded there are worse things in life than $28 campground fees...

Friday, June 16, 2017

Here Lies Love

A while back, I was listening to an episode of WTF featuring David Byrne.  In the episode, Byrne said that he'd taken an interest in Color Guard.  You know, twirling with rifles and flags.  This interest resulted in the documentary Contemporary Color, as well as my personal realization that wherever David Byrne leads, I will follow.  I don't care about Color Guard, but if David Byrne cares about Color Guard, I will watch him care about Color Guard until I may or may not also care, and I will enjoy it the whole time and probably care in the end.

That said, until recently I knew nothing of Imelda Marcos or the Filipino People Power Revolution, but when I was asked if I wanted to see a musical about them that was written by David Byrne (and Fatboy Slim), I was all in.  When I was told that it was an interactive disco musical, I was more than all in.  And going more than all in is a serious matter.  A lot of forms to fill out and collateral at stake.  Sure, my all credit is pretty good, but still, they don't make it easy.  That's just the world we live in, though.  It takes all to make all, and those who control the all don't much want to share.

Everybody dance now.  Everybody dance NOW! (Courtesy of

I was glad I took out that all loan out because the show was far more than I expected and even all the all I had in savings (and retirement) wouldn't cover what I needed.  First off, the Seattle Repertory Theatre is no longer a theater, it's a night club.  Club Millennium.  When you walk in, club staff uses wands to direct you around the dance floor.  There's a stage at the front and back, and seating along the sides and above the rear stage.  In the middle is another raised stage, but this one moves.  Once everyone fills in, the DJ welcomes you to the club and they walk you through some stage direction, specifically how to avoid getting run over by the fully mobile, rotating stage in the middle of the dance floor (just rotate with it and you'll be fine).  They also let you know that performers will be working their way through the crowd at times, so to be mindful of guiding hands. And then the lights go down.

When the lights come back up, the next hour and a half is dancing and music and storytelling and rotating and clapping and cheering.  It starts with a traditional musical solo, Imelda singing about her childhood hopes and dreams, and then jumps straight into a non-stop disco.  Here Lies Love tells a story of loving and losing and loving and losing, of selfish desires and selfless sacrifice, of the excess of 1970's American party culture and scarcity of 1970's Filipino poverty culture.  And the whole time, fortune and folly dance along with the ensemble.  Heroes and villains exchange roles, storylines abruptly change direction, and the emotions of the party goers are pulled in all directions.  The only constant is music.

After the last notes are sung, the club closes.  Millennium staff leads you off of the stage you may be standing on and back out of the theater.  And once the dancing stops, the processing begins.  You just saw, heard, and felt a lot, and it's going to take a little time to sort out your feelings.  On one hand, you just left an awesome dance party.  On the other hand, you just watched someone party while their country fell apart around them.  Above all, you were the subject of an emotional bait and switch, and you aren't quite sure how you feel about it.  It's lucky the line's long for coat check.

Byrne does an amazing job of splaying contrast across the stage and mind, recounting a tale heavy with morality through the typically mindless release of a disco.  I can't help but assume the price of admission to see a story of people rising up was the final bit of irony.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Motel Camping in State Regulated Wilderness

Day 5 - Sept. 20, 2016 - Columbus, GA > Indian Springs State Park

Econolodge served as a great reminder of why I shouldn't take camping for granted.  The air conditioning was nice, don't get me wrong, but the whole place just felt like, well, people.  And people are kinda the opposite of nature.

When I first opened the door to my room, I found a sheetless mattress angled awkwardly on top of a cheap box spring.  The next room they gave me had sheets, as well as a broken toilet seat and a fridge that dumped cold air out of a broken door (which I promptly unplugged).  People done been here.  Mhm.

At least it had a continental breakfast.  I was going to need to load up if I was planning on riding over 100 miles to Indian Springs State Park.  What Econo lacked in fresh fruit, I made up for in mini lemon poppy muffins, everything bagels, reconstituted OJ, and burnt coffee.  I'd say I easily got my $2 worth.

Cooled down, cleaned off, and carbed up, I was ready for the start of the northward leg of my journey.  As I started on my way out of Columbus, I was extremely excited to note that the humidity level had dropped markedly.  I didn't know if it was a temporary thing or if it the dog days were done, but I was going to enjoy it for what it was.  After four days of miserably damp air, this dryness could've been the precursor to a 100 year drought and I'd still have been thankful.  My rash was even more thankful.  I'd named him Bumpy.

Not too much to report from the road, other than a large bug getting lodged in my eye near sundown.  This was the one draw back to evening riding.  I wore sunglasses all day long, unwittingly protecting myself from airborne bug assaults while wittingly protecting myself from UV assaults.  Once the sun had started to set, I pulled off my shades, and sure as shit, a bug went flying directly into my right eye.  I quickly slammed Tibor to a halt and frantically tried to pull the critter out while standing along the side of the road.  A minute or so later, a Jeep pulled over, the driver concerned for the safety of the cyclist desperately pawing at his eyeball.  After a quick check-in, the driver went back into their Jeep, came back with a Q-Tip, and pulled that bug out of the inside corner of my eye.  What can I say?  Eye always rel-eye on the k-eye-ndess of strangers.  Eye.

After 102 miles and 3,700' of climbing, I reached Indian Springs around 11pm.  Not too bad for someone as pokey as myself.  The campground was closed due to the late hour, so I sidestepped the gate and checked out the map of the grounds.  I found a site close to a shower and headed off.  Passing through, I could see that the State Park was mostly vacant, with the occasional RV-occupied site.  This late in the season I wouldn't likely be running into many people, especially not after the sun set and the bugs came out.  As much as I loathe mosquitoes, they at least serve that purpose well.

This is the photo they have up for "Camping" on the Indian Springs website... (Courtesy of

I found my spot and pulled in, leaning my fully loaded bike against the picnic table while I started to make a quick, late night dinner of bagged noodles.  Moments later, a light went on in the RV to the left of the showers.  A few moments after that, the door of the RV swung open and a large man in his mid-40s lumbered down the little stairs and came across the road to my camp, flashlight in hand.  I guessed that he really liked noodles.

I was wrong.  He didn't care about my noodles, he cared about what the hell I was doing coming into camp so damn late.  Assuming he was the campground host, because who else would imagine running over to a new camper and grilling them in the middle of the night, I told him that I had been riding all day and that this was the fastest I could get here.  I added that it usually isn't a problem since I make very little noise, what with my bicycle being human powered.  He eyed me very suspiciously and then asked where my friend was.  Confused, I told him I didn't have any friends, well, not that I didn't have any friends, just that I didn't arrive with any friends nor would any friends be joining me.  I was riding solo.  He said he was going to have to talk to the campground hosts to see if I could stay.  Who the F was this guy if he wasn't the campground host?

After a quick call to the hosts from his camper, he came back to let me know I could stay but that I had to pay the hosts in the morning.  Losing a bit of his gruff edge, he explained that when I'd ridden in, I'd awoken his wife (I have no idea how this is possible).  She then woke him up and told him that two motorcycles had pulled into camp and that she wanted him to come over to investigate.  I'm assuming that once he walked over and found neither a motorcycle nor a second rider, he started to question the concerns of his wife.  He said he was going back to bed and that I needed to make sure to keep it down so I didn't wake his wife anymore.  I didn't know how to get to a lower decibel, as that would dip into the range of anti-sound.

I didn't know if this was any better than the Econolodge.  Motels, for better or worse, don't act like they're something they're not.  They're cheap, dirty, and reek of people, some of which are there for unsavory reasons (see Day 3).  It's just what they are, and if I get something better than that, it's a pleasant surprise.  State Parks, on the other hand, are supposed to provide connections to nature.  Fresh air, open space, and the white noise of nighttime cricket chatter.  So when I get to a State Park and find that my neighbors, who are in the safety and comfort of their mobile motel room, have the audacity to question my intentions as I roll in with no more than can fit on my bike, it kinda gets me riled up.  Here they are, telling themselves they're campers getting in touch with nature, but they're really just a bunch of scared little suburbanites so far removed from real danger that they need to whip up imaginary scares in order to feel like they're living.  Kinda made me wish a murderer would show up in the middle of the night.  Jerk-ass RV people.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Furry 5K: Doggo Volunteer Day

On Sunday, we volunteered at the finish line of the Furry 5K, a fun run/walk around Seward Park that raises money for the animals at the Seattle Animal Shelter.  Normally, 5Ks are way boring because they're just a bunch of people running three miles and who cares about that, but this one has doggos running too and that's way better!  So many doggos!

The Finish Line was the best job because we got to give water to puppos and their people after they just finished running, so they couldn't be happier to see us.  More importantly, the puppos had gone at least twenty minutes without being petted, so by the Finish Line, they were ready for some serious hands-on attention.  We also had purple tennis balls for all the doggos.  They were some happy doggos.  Doggos!

Anyway, less talko, more doggo:

Fast Finisher #1

Fast Finisher #2

Doggo Cool Down

Ermahgerd Cool Down

Babushka Sobachka

Leisure Crew Part 1

Leisure Crew Part 2

Big Doug

Should you ever find yourself in the Seattle area during the time of the Furry 5K, I would strongly encourage entering it or helping out. And if you're not in the Seattle area, I strongly encourage you to look into the events your local shelters are having to see how you can help out.  Doggos and kittehs can't always help themselves, but maybe you can because you're so strong.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Goodbye, Omar

I've only been gone from Philly for less than a week, so the feelings that come with a major upheaval haven't really had a chance to set in.  There are still far too many new things to do and see for me to spend too much time missing what I remember.  I miss my friends, an inevitability that's difficult to prepare for, but I'm meeting new people.  I miss my old neighborhood, which was the best in Philly, but I just found out there's a pump track less than a mile from my front door so that's pretty rad.  I miss flat city roads, which I clearly took for granted, but my buns are now in the process of turning to steel.  I know there are going to be moments when I miss my old home a lot, so I'm just going to enjoy all the new as much as I can as a way to build enough momentum to carry me over any upcoming rough roads of remembrance.  That said, my first stumble was an unexpected one.

Philly was home for a long time, West Philly, specifically.  West Philly is not for everyone.  There aren't as many restaurant options, even fewer bars and venues, and the only way in is up a hill (I was going to mention its distance from other neighborhoods, but Fishtown is far as hell and people go up there all the time).  But what West Philly lacks in those big city amenities, it makes up for with its small community charm.  Backyard hangs around a fire pit, impromptu events in Clark Park (Bluegrass to Fire Spinning to Slip n Slides), and probably most importantly, colorful neighbors intertwined in surprising networks.  The degrees of separation between you and your neighbors is at most two to three, building unexpected friendships in short time.

On Wednesday, West Philly lost one of its most colorful and socially interwoven (for better or worse) neighbors: Omar.  West Philly Omar, with many other nicknames depending on the company, was a staple in the neighborhood, mostly floating around Locust St. between 43rd and 45th.  Anyone that stopped by Abyssinia or Fiume even once would know him.  For anyone who hasn't and doesn't, Omar was, in simplest terms, a local homeless man that never seemed too low on energy to talk to a passersby.  But he was a lot more than homeless, and he may not have even been that (according to some).  He was a drunken berater, a sober wordsmith, a slurred poet, a clear eyed advisor, a racist asshole, a friendly face, and above all in my experience, a record of the neighborhood.  He was a living embodiment of the good and the bad that are West Philadelphia.

Omar (Kyle Cassidy -

I found out about his death on Facebook, and the responses therein varied widely.  Omar was not a simple person.  People loved him for good reason.  People hated him for good reason.  I liked Omar.  He was always nice to me, but I can't speak to the experiences other people had.  He seemed to always be at his worst when drunk, and I can't tell you why someone that could be so eloquent when sober would want to get so wretchedly drunk each night, but my assumption is that he was either numbing pain or stopping voices.  I never asked.

When I read about his death, it hit me a lot harder than I could have ever expected.  It felt like losing a close friend or family member, of which Omar was neither, and I wasn't quite sure why.  Then it sunk in that Omar wasn't just Omar; he was the West Philly that I'd just left and now couldn't go back to because it/he was dead.  My brain was being dramatically symbolic, I know, but hear me out.  Omar was the neighbor that everyone knew and who knew everyone.  That was my West Philly experience.  Everyone knows each other, even if they don't all like each other, and that's why it works.  There is social glue to hold everything together.  And I say this as I'm currently not looking forward to battling the Seattle Freeze, thinking about how the friendly, open, neighborliness of West Philly, or at least the biggest symbol of it, is gone.  

More personally, though, Omar was the last West Philadelphian I saw as I left town, which carried a lot of weight.  As I thought about that fact, I realized that Omar had quite literally book ended my Philadelphia life.  It starts a tad convolutedly, but my first good friend in Philly was Jon.  We lived on the same floor in the dorms and eventually became roommates.  Our freshman year, Jon had friends going to Penn, and through them I was first introduced to Omar (pointed out from across the street).  When I left Philadelphia last week, while driving up 45th St. with a carload of life, Omar was standing on the corner (probably the same corner that I first saw him on) having a conversation.  I hollered out the window, "Hey, Omar!  I'm moving to Seattle," and then kept driving north, past The Second Mile, past Saad's, past Philadelphia.  He was my last human proxy for an entire city.  And now he's gone.