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.