March 28, 1999
awoke to a very cold morning - 38 degrees F. Brrr...
It was another slow moving morning for me. I managed to get everything
together and put on an extra layer of clothes. Unfortunately,
I was unable to find my full-fingered, cold-weather riding gloves and
glove liners. The tips of my fingers were numb and bitterly cold
as I biked into town wearing my regular biking gloves.
It was 7 miles back to 19. I didn't really like going out of my
way a total of 14 miles, but it's cheaper than motels.
Arriving in town, I called Kathleen to see if I left my gloves there. Having not seen them, I decided I need to get another pair. I called my Mom's and asked my Step-Dad to order me another pair of the REI Concept 2000 cold weather bike gloves and glove liners from rei.com. After he gets them he can mail them to me up the road.
As I continued up 19, the temp was getting warm quickly. When it got warm enough I shed a layer of clothes and continued riding the white line. When I approached a sign that said "Perry 26 Miles", a shoulder appeared. Wooo Hooo!! Now that I'm riding on a shoulder, I could feel the tension leave my body. It's so much more enjoyable not having to constantly focus on the traffic in my mirror.
After passing a couple of miles from a small, nothing town called Salem, I heard a yell and looked to see someone waving me down. It was an older, overweight guy, standing in front of a trailer on what appeared to be a big commercial lot. I rode along the fence and in through the gate to meet him. He introduced himself as "Smitty" and was kind enough to offer a place to stay. I parked my bike and Smitty told me about a Canadian cyclist that is staying there on the property. He yells for Ed and I see a bald guy wearing shorts and a t-shirt appear from a trailer about 100' from Smitty's trailer. Ed introduces himself and Smitty hands us a beer. We discussed each other's rides and routes. Ed began in Montreal and headed east across Canada, then south to San Diego, and followed the southern border of the U.S. He plans on going further south into Florida then head north along the east coast back home to Montreal. Ed started his trip with panniers but added a B.O.B trailer in California. Now he has both, and a lot of weight.
During our conversation about cycling, Smitty kept interrupting and giving his advice on the best route to take. Smitty used to be a truck driver and now, at 58, lives on disability. I didn't mind his suggestions, but he was so insistent that I change my route to his way, that he became annoying very quickly. He would spend 20 minutes explaining why going through a different state would be better, constantly repeating himself over and over. Then he would run into his trailer to keep checking on the NASCAR race on TV and bring out more beer. On offering me a third beer, I didn't want to accept, but Smitty seemed to take it as an insult...so I drank another. Then he proceeded to try and sell me any piece of junk he had. From an old, tattered, highway workers vest to wear while riding, to a fold up chair I could attach to my trailer and take along to sit on while camping. He was very persistent in trying to sell me something. I just kept thanking him and explained...I don't need these things.
Ed asked me if I'd been doing any "wild camping" and told me stories of his own wild camping experiences. Up until now it's been campgrounds, motels, and staying with friends, for me. I haven't been adventurous enough to try any wild camping in the woods. Smitty soon started talking about the Moose Lodge and how I needed to be a member. He said "they got Moose Lodges everywhere and can be a safe haven for you." I wasn't too keen on being a Moose member but he was so persistent. Smitty wanted me to call my parents back home and see if they could arrange it through a local Moose Lodger in my hometown. He wanted to speak to my Step-Dad to tell him his plan on how to get me a membership. Since he had no phone, I reluctantly agreed to ride with him to a pay phone later and make the call.
Ed tactfully breaks off the conversation by inviting me over to eat and take a shower in the trailer he's staying in. While in the shower, I could hear Smitty talking to Ed...Geeez! He followed us over here, doesn't he ever go away!? After Ed finished fixing something to eat he said, "Now we eat in quiet." Smitty got the hint and left. While eating, Ed and I talked about the road and he stressed "You must be positive." I told him that I'd heard places like South Dakota could test your sanity. Seemingly endless roads with a constant, unchanging landscape of prairies. Ed tells me those are the best places, all alone in the middle of nowhere. "You must have the right mind," he says, as he taps on his head. I'm informed that cycling alone like that is not for everyone and you must really enjoy what you are doing. You have to love being on the bike and not do this solely for a cause or just to be able to say you did it. Don't think about the future or the past, just right now. And enjoy everything around you while you cycle. Ed is a 57 year old retired teacher from Montreal. He has one son and one daughter, both in their twenties. His primary language is French and he has some difficulty with some of the English phrases. When asked how he can handle being around people like Smitty, he said "It just goes past me, I don't let it in here." (pointing at his head)
Smitty appeared at the door and was upset that we didn't go get him as soon as we were done eating. He is noticeably drunk as the three of us get into his car. Smitty flies down the dark road in the black night while drinking a beer and hiccuping while trying to talk. He had one hand on the wheel, the other holding a beer and not looking at the road much as he turned around while attempting some sort of intelligible speech. I thought that after surviving most of Friday by bike, I would die in a drunk driving accident. He pulls into the parking lot of a small redneck bar and I though "Oh shit, what am I getting myself into!" We go inside a very dimly lit bar, where Ed and I are greeted by stares, we surely did not fit in. Smitty heads for the bathroom and Ed says "One beer then we go." While drinking the beer, Smitty says, "There's a pay phone in the corner so you can make your call, and let me talk to him." I make the call and pre-warn my Step-Dad about this guy and tell him to just agree with him, even though we had no intention of signing me up as a Moose member. But I had to do this because there is no telling what Smitty would do considering his pathological psychosis and the fact that he owns a gun. So I hand the phone to Smitty he says some stuff and then I get back on and say a few words as Smitty goes and sits back down.
I heard someone talking real loud approaching the payphone making some obnoxious comments directed toward me, and then I heard Smitty say "Hey, don't mess with him" (talking about me), "he's on a bike ride from Florida to Alaska." I got off the phone to see a very drunk 6'6" guy wanting to use the phone.
After the phone call and our beer, Smitty orders a pitcher. Even though Ed and I told him no more beer. Smitty sits down at the table with the pitcher as Ed's telling me about his teaching career. Smitty gets mad since he isn't involved in the conversation and says, "Damn, I can't even buy your friendship" and starts to get up with the pitcher of beer. Ed and I immediately reach for our beer mugs so he could pour us a beer and then we re-directed the conversation to him. Smitty began talking more about the Moose Lodge. He said the best thing about it was "No Blacks." He went on to say that the only way they'll take a black is through Moose Heart and those are black children that they can "program and train to be the way they want them." I'm feeling very uncomfortable at this point because I find it very difficult to be around prejudice and hatred. Smitty went on to talk about the connections between many of the organizations, like Moose, Elk Lodges, and other secret organizations that no one knows about. Many of these secret societies have been around for hundreds of years and control many things. He is really drunk now and his speech is a bit slurred.
This was very disturbing to listen to since I do not agree with racism or hatred of any kind. I'm more of a pacifist and this place I'm at is the complete antithesis of who I really am. Another challenge to test me and for me to learn something, but what? Maybe how not to dislike this person that I've begun to loathe and feel sympathy for him instead.
The best words I've heard yet came from the lady behind the bar... "Last call for alcohol." Yes! It's almost over! I could have kissed her for that! We made it back and I went to sleep on the couch in the trailer Ed was staying in.