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Big Birds, Firefighters, and Michael Jackson

Zip ties can do amazing things, but one was no match for

zip tie around the rack and frame

zip tie around the rack and frame

the job of holding up Laura’s seven pound sleeping bag and saddle bags packed with mostly obsolete items, for example a sippy-cup that was her ‘bowl’. Laura biked to a hardware store to pick up some nuts and bolts while I cruised around town, happening upon some free live music on the campus of the University of Michigan. Laura met up with me, and we enjoyed the first beer I bought legally in the United States as we watched a band cover Old Crow Medicine Show’s, ‘Wagon Wheel’. The following morning we biked almost a hundred miles to the outskirts of Kalamazoo where we pulled into a fire station to ask if we could crash in back of the station. The fireman didn’t care so we relaxed on the warm pavement before setting up the tent on some grass next to the parking lot. Impressed with Ann Arbor, we anticipated that Kalamazoo would be just as cool. We got there, and the coolest thing we saw Your browser may not support display of this image. was a giant bird landscaped out of bushes and flowers. Maybe we did not give the town enough of a chance, but my attempts to find someone to blog about were not successful. After following a lead but coming up empty we decided to get back on the bikes, anticipating a bike path that spans the rest of the state from Kalamazoo to the coast of Lake Michigan. Bike paths are wonderful, especially when you enter them from a busy road and all of a sudden are relieved from having to keep your peripheral vision in focus every second, readying yourself to react to a rogue car.
We ended up at Benton Harbor for the night. Our campsite was a strip of grass above some train tracks on a residential side street. June2009 421After having stopped for ice cream at least three times during the day I was hungry for some greens and chowed down on a yellow pepper and some lettuce as we watched the sun set over the lake. In the morning we were brought coffee by the granddaughter of the lady who lived in a nearby house. We were also given the mugs that the coffee came in. I am still not sure if their mug cabinet was overflowing, or if they did not want to use them after two random kids traveling on bikes put their lips to them. It was easy to navigate the rest of the way to Chicago because we just had to follow the coast. In the morning we rode by Warren Dunes State Park, so when we saw signs for Mt. Baldy we thought we should stop and check it out. Mt. Baldy is a humongous pile of sand, the biggest sand dune on the Southern shore of Lake Michigan. It is constantly retreating from the shoreline as winds move the sand toward the parking lot and highway. We left our bikes in the parking lot and hiked into the water, having to run down the steep north side of the dunes.
Mt. Baldy from the back

Mt. Baldy from the back

Understandably so, we have not swum as often as we would have during our average summer. Lake Michigan made up a little for what we have been missing, but we still had to make it to Chicago so we hopped in the saddle and pedaled on deeper into Indiana.
All I knew about Gary, Indiana was that the Music Man took place there, where seventy-six trombones marched down the street or something like that. Laura reminded me of the lyrics to some of the songs, and we sang them gaily but naively amidst a depressed, crumbling town. We realized this as we spent over an hour circling the town looking for Michael Jackson’s childhood home to no avail. We were aliens to the people sitting on their porch, we could tell they probably did not get many bike tourists swinging through their neighborhood.
After a couple of gun shots rang in a nearby alley we decided Michael Jackson’s house was not worth seeing so we kept on trucking to Chicago, again following the coast to eventually meet up with a bike path that took us a couple blocks from our host, Kelly’s house.

A Fish (not Phish) Festival

To our delight another cyclist, Gretchen, was staying with Sam and Susan, so all three of them greeted us as we rolled into the driveway late in the evening. There was no shortage of beverages as Sam began to prepare some impressive Asian cuisine that tended to Laura’s vegetarianism but did not exclude meat entirely. It felt peculiar to be homeless on a bike one minute and a couple of drinks later to be sitting down to a five star meal in an unfamiliar yet friendly person’s home with our belongings safe upstairs on a bed that was made for us. I know this is not the first time we have used warmshowers.org, but I do not think I can get used to the feelings of amazement and gratitude for the hospitality we have been shown, and will be shown.
After dinner Susan drove us and Gretchen to get some

Fish Festival floats lit up on the water

Fish Festival floats lit up on the water

ice cream and watch the Fish Parade, an annual Vermilion tradition kicking off the fishing season during which boats are decorated and paraded on the canal that runs through town. Vermilion is a quaint town that reminds me a lot of a New England, coastline community. We had a great time with Sam and Susan, and hope to be back soon to catch some live music that is played at their non-profit venue and maybe to cook them a meal for a change.
a biker with a bubble machine

a biker with a bubble machine

Toledo, OH was our next stop before swooping north to Detroit. We called our hydro-geologist host, Susan, to check if it was OK to stay with her. Even though we gave her late notice and she was going to be out for the evening, there was no question that we could stay. On our way we encountered riders who were part of a group of 3,000 biking around Ohio. A similar program that is better known is The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) where over 8,000 people bike around Iowa. From what we saw and heard about these types of rides it’s just a big party that moves by bike. When we meet a new host, almost the entire time we are not in the shower or sleeping is get-to-know-you time, so over some delicious chicken and pasta we told her about our trip and Susan talked about her job and interests. It was a pleasant stay, and with Susan at work by the time we were leaving, we said our goodbyes on her chalkboard bathroom wall.

June2009 305

An Almost Perfect Story

Another late start to the day and we were off to Cleveland where our friend Sarah Cutteridge lives with her husband Aaron. We could not have left without Frank and his handy work on our bikes, who fixed spokes on Laura’s back wheel and my back derailleur cable. One of the greatest parts of warmshowers.org is, as bike aficionados, the people who host can usually provide tools if not the expertise to help with any mechanical issues.

Laura and Sarah

Laura and Sarah


Biking in to Cleveland, we found smooth, wide avenues without many cars on them. Having our work cut out for us, it was not long before we met up with Sarah and Aaron who live in a cozy house with five or six felines, two of which are missing a leg.
The routine upon entering a city has me seeking out a cafe to spend the day blogging while Laura wanders, sees the sights, and comes back with stories about all the homeless people she talked to. I am sure Cleveland has those who live on the fringe, but Laura spent the day perusing music stores with Sara and when we met up later that night we entertained ourselves by watching a movie and playing with the cats.
Blogged here

Blogged here

When it was time to go we said goodbye to Sarah and Aaron and took off at a slow pace toward Vermillion, OH. My knee was bothering me a bit so we chose to stop for the night only thirty-five miles out of Cleveland. Since our day on the bikes was not as epic as we were used to, we decided to take our time and jump into Lake Erie to cool down. The swimming area had a red flag up, not for rip-tide danger, but for ‘almost-too-polluted.’ In the parking lot of a pharmacy mere blocks from our host’s house, I noticed something wrong with my back wheel skewer which was not locking in place. While I was fiddling around with it a man who was picking up Chinese food with his family approached us and
Laura wet with Erie water

Laura wet with Erie water

announced that if we needed help, he was an experienced bike tinkerer. It turned out that he could not fix it, but he told us that he lived close by and he would be back soon with a different skewer that I could have. It is not every day somebody goes out of their way to help you, especially when it means that they have to wait another fifteen minutes before digging in to some General Tsao’s Chicken and Beef with Broccoli. Sure enough, he was back with a new skewer which he said he took off his mountain bike. I gave him some chocolate covered macadamia nuts to show my appreciation and he drove off before we realized that it was not a great fit, and was ineffective in keeping the wheel from sliding into the frame. Luckily, when I tried mine again it worked so that we were able to get on the road again and ride to see Sam and Susan, our host and hostess for the night. Nonetheless it was an astonishing, unexpected act of kindness that will have me at bended knee for any cyclists on the side of the road fiddling with a part.

With God, Bike Accidents are still Possible

June2009 234Our last night in Pittsburgh Laura presented me with a birthday cake and some of my favorite biking food, which was a form of surprise party because I was not expecting anything. It was a glorious birthday, and being in the middle of a trip like this makes it that much better. We departed Michelle’s after talking about Zipcar, her CSA share and her other sustainable habits like reusing plastic utensils if she acquires them. As a chemical engineer, she understands the significance of conserving natural resources.
While leaving Pittsburgh it was no surprise that we got lost, but it was still a little frustrating. The rest of the ride went pretty smooth given the storm we rode through. During the last thirty miles we were graced by the kind of thunderstorm that in our youth would have had us singing of rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens, and in actuality it was very pleasant. We were wet, but it was so hot out it was almost like being in a warm bath.
Frank and Peg, our ‘warmshowers’ hosts in Youngstown, OH, were waiting for us with pasta and a delicious homemade sauce to go with it. We then enjoyed some local brews while we chatted about bike touring (Peg and Frank are veterans of the xc ride), and even got a chance to play their didgeridoo. One of the topics of conversation was bike safety. Frank, a bike safety instructor does not wear a helmet. He is a student of the subject, and most studies done prove that actions such as driving and walking demand helmets more so than biking. But what is the harm in wearing one? It helps sustain a stigma that biking is unsafe which keeps people from biking. His words had some pull on Laura, who recently stopped wearing her helmet. The last thing I want is for people to not bike, and safety issues should definitely not be a reason for it. Some cyclists with

Peg and Frank

Peg and Frank

helmets will tell you from experience that drivers pose more of a risk to them, driving closer or recklessly because the drivers think they are safe if anything happens.
At this point in the game pedaling and steering is second nature to me, but even so the roads always hold unpredictable variables, not to mention drivers who think I do not belong there. Better roads, more bike paths, mandatory lights on bikes, and enforced speed limits are all things that can make biking safer, but waiting to get on a bike until this is a reality is ridiculous! There is also a question as to whether or not the .1 lb piece of foam is effective in doing what it is made to do, but from experience I can tell you it is. What we can do to help ourselves out is protect our noggins by wearing a helmet should anything happen, because (in Ohio at least) with God, bike accidents are still possible.

Steel City Sights

There are a couple things you do not want to happen on a bike trip, number one is your bike being stolen. With that checked off the list, number two is something to go wrong with your bike in the middle of nowhere that you can’t fix. Prior to leaving Burlington I

grease hands rasing the roof

grease hands rasing the roof

attempted to learn how to fix my chain in case the situation arose that required such knowledge, but it never worked out and I left with the hope that I would not need to know. So of course my chain snaps on one of our climbs, and the time came for me to learn. A kind woman I met at the top of the hill was willing to miraculously squeeze my bike and trailer into her station wagon (her infant son in the backseat tolerated my wheel in his face), and drive me to where Laura was waiting. I took the next couple of hours to familiarize myself with the ways of the chain, and finally with some words of wisdom from Laura’s dad we were off like nothing had happened. Before now I had only seen Pittsburgh at night during
delicious

delicious

a short layover while taking a train cross-country, so I was interested in seeing the city without its mask on. What I found was a free jazz concert, a person who knew a friend of mine at UVM, a sandwich with default ingredients of cheese, cole slaw, tomato and French fries, and about a million bridges, some of them painted mustard yellow.
I also found Kraynicks, a unique bike shop owned and run by Gerry Kraynick who followed his father Steve who opened the shop in the mid-forties. Pictures can only begin to reveal the quantity of parts that cover the walls and ceilings, and that are stored in the floor above and below the shop. Six stands are in the back for anybody to come in and work on their bike. Bikers can come in and use any tool they can find, and swap out parts if they will it. Boxes of stems, seat posts, and pedals line the shelves. Gerry, who can sell you new parts if you need them, does not ask anything for these services. All he asks is that whenever you are working on your bike and somebody else needs help, you help them. Gerry, a wise, gentle, white haired recumbent bicyclist is revered by those who know him, and I strongly encourage you to stop by even if you are just passing through just to say hi.
Shadyside is the community where our Couch Surfing host, Michelle lives. We stayed two nights on her futon before departing in the rain, heading north to Youngstown, Ohio.

Kraynick's Bike Shop

Kraynick's Bike Shop

Entering the Amished Land

One method of finding a place to sleep involves knocking on a door and asking for permission to camp in the yard. Our first night after Philly we saw a house with ample space for a tent and some trees to sleep under. The only person home was a middle-aged lady folding laundry in the front hall who, after having us hold our IDs up to the window and making an affirmative yet deliberate decision, let us know through the glass where we could set up.

Heidi's couches

Heidi's couches

We awoke to our first rainy day, and I mean rainy day. Everything, even what we thought was protected from the rain, got wet. When we arrived in Lancaster we thought it would be nice to have a warm shower, so we sought out a coffee shop with internet to look up someone on warmshowers.org. That was when we met Donna Styer, a life coach who, after inquiring about our trip, bought us a coffee and cookie. Impressed with our first interaction with a Lancasterite we were even more pleased with where we ended up for the night.
We met Heidi Shirk at her downtown home where she makes jewelry, bikes a lot, tends her plants and bamboo, cries during movies (don’t we all), and works in the city welfare office. That night we saw the action movie Ironman on an outdoor screen in the city square, which ended with me disappointed in myself for watching it over taking the time to blog.
My brother Henry, who just finished a semester abroad
staying happy on the road

staying happy on the road

in New Zealand attends Franklin and Marshall College which is in Lancaster. When I visit him next year I plan on stopping by Heidi’s house to say hello and show pictures. Route finding in PA was as easy as keeping our eyes open. There are multiple bike routes in the state that have signs at every turn to make sure you stay on it. We took route S, which spans the southern part of PA. We did veer off of it though to stay at Laura’s neighbor’s boyfriend’s parents’ house 8 miles west of Gettysburg where we caught the third period of the Stanley Cup Finals. Good thing the penguins won, their good mood following the game was probably the reason we were offered the pullout couch rather than the yard to sleep in.
part of an hour long climb

part of an hour long climb

The next day we said an unexpected ‘good morning’ to the Appalachian Mountains, and bid flat ground adieu. Our lack of route research prior to departure ended up making us the most bad ass bikers in the state. Most people who bike in to Pittsburgh take the Allegheny Pass bike trail that connects our national capitol with Pittsburgh. Not thinking the trip South to meet up with the bike path was worth it, we decided to take route 30, a road that was void of bikers due to the massive climbs.

Bikeless on a bike tour

There is much to do and see in cities,June2009 082 There is much to do and see in cities,Your browser may not support display of this image. so we thought another night in Philly would be appropriate, and also give me some time to blog. After dropping our belongings off at Sam Tremble’s house, a friend we contacted through couchsurfing.com, Laura explored while I sat in a pizza shop and began to write blog entries. I locked my bike outside but I could not see it from where I was sitting. Hours passed. I ended up eating a lot of pizza, and later that evening splitting a salad when Laura came back. We finished up at around eight and decided to go back to Sam’s house. When we walked outside Laura pointed out that there was no bike on the rack it was locked to. I knew there was no finding it; all I could do was smile and think of the irony of losing a bike while on a bike trip. It was like I was a pilot, and mid-flight my plane dissipates. Luckily for me not only was I was safely on the ground but billions of other bikes exist on our planet, a few of which were available to me. Finding a bike would be the easy part, it was the hitch my trailer attached to that was taken with the bike that I was worried about.

La Lux

La Lux

However, five bike shops and a couple of test rides later I was not only equipped with a light blue ‘87 Schwinn La Tour Lux but the only Burley trailer hitch in the city, taken from a display model.
Despite losing my bike, it was easy to stay in a good mood with the people I was around. Sam lives with seven other friends, all of whom ride bikes everywhere they go. Bikes are literally littered across the house. The only car they own is an old bus they plan on using to tour the country and play various gigs.
the living room/bike room

the living room/bike room

Four of them constitute the band Hermit Thrushes (like the bird), which will be on tour this summer. Some other members of the house include Sam’s brother Jack, a bike mechanic by hobby who helped us with anything we needed. Then there is Gianni, a good-humored member of the band who volunteers at the Fair Food Farm stand in Reading Terminal.
On our last night in town we had dinner with members of my family from Germany who were coincidentally visiting the city at the same time while on a tour of the country.