Looking through the blogs, even just glancing at the titles I am struck by how difficult this bicycle trip has been. Going into this trip I thought I had a pretty good idea of what a 7 or 8 month bicycle trip would do to me. 3 years ago when I rode across Russia on a bicycle with Levi it was an incredible journey, it wasn't easy but there was this amazing sense of adventure that almost always kept us motivated to move. The hardest moments, and there were many, were difficult but within that framework of a great adventure that made them seem appropriate and more manageable. So when it came time for this bike trip, I thought that I at least partially knew what to expect, that having experienced Russian Hospitals, Russian Jails, bad roads, close calls and being away from home for months on end meant that I could endure this new endeavor. I thought that just because I knew that I couldn't contemplate what it would be like out on the road and how hard it would be, that this mindset would prepare me for the road.
I admit I was a bit cocky, dismissing the bicycling as simply a way to get around, that volunteering would be the focus and my alone time on the bicycle just a necessity to inspire and motivate other people. I knew from my previous bicycle trips approximately what a bicycle trip would cost and recognized the possibility of unforeseen expenses but again that cockiness of having been there before caused me to overlook that possibility as a real risk and that an unforeseen expense could alter everything, would I be ready for that; have a plan. I brought that same nonchalance to the weather, glancing over the possibilities of intense heat and ignoring what that would do to my speed, stamina and mind state. I brought this dismissive attitude to everything, I created a false belief that just being in the US would make this trip even simpler, that I wouldn't need to worry about being away too much because I would be so close to family and friends (and girlfriend). Pretty naive I know. But I guess this is just me recognizing something that everyone I have met both before and during this bicycle trip, "What are you, crazy?"
6 months later I find myself humbled by all that has transpired. The heat struck me full on and I never really recovered, it started as a mid March surprise but kept me battling heat stroke, sun poisoning and sunburns until September. By the last few months I dreaded each day on the bicycle, I could no longer handle the constant re-application of sun screen or battling all day to stay hydrated. It was one of the many possibilities I failed to truly weigh. When I was blind-sided again, this time by appendicitis I was again shocked by the harsh reality, not only was it a slightly terrifying experience, it also despite my Massachusetts RomneyCare was more money than I could afford. Another possibility I never really prepared for. My biggest blunder though was my nonchalance about my what this bicycle trip would do to all of my friends and family and myself. I never took the moment to properly prepare for how lonely it would be out on the road, in spite of near constant volunteering, and how much pain I would feel being away from my girlfriend Claire. I think I had more focused on how wonderful it would be to have someone to talk to at the end of each day on the bike, and this was true, for the bicycling it was a relief to have Claire to support me after a hard day, but it was so agonizing to be so far away from her. My loneliness was intense, especially in the southwest where most days were spent hiding from 100+ degree heat in a cheap hotel room and only riding 5 hours a day. Far more than I could have ever imagined. And finally there was the difficulty of losing someone close to me while out on the road, the road never seems as lonely as a time like that, loss to me seems to make everything magnified.
So I ran, I took a bus home from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I just had to, while in Milwaukee all of these things were beginning to magnify, Auntie had passed, my medical bills were piling up and in some sort of twisted weather trick the meteorologists were talking about the quick onset of "winter temperatures" that were numbing my extremities everytime I got on the bike. It wasn't Wisconsin or Michigan's fault I was falling apart a bit. Wisconsin had been amazing, my time in Racine was so much fun, wonderful people and a couple of days canvassing around the neighborhoods getting to work against Paul Ryan in two races. Then I went to Milwaukee and spent a unforgettable week there volunteering, working and staying with such amazing people that I found it hard to leave. In fact I didn't, I stayed to see the President speak in Madison with 30,000 of his closest WI friends and then to stay and meet Olivia Munn who was traveling the battleground states getting college students fired up for the President. Then I took a ferry across Lake Michigan to Michigan, but by then I was already on my way home, my decision made. Two days of riding brought me to Grand Rapids where I dropped my bicycle off at the nearest OFA office, promising phonebanking in exchange for keeping the bicycle there, I was on the bus 20 minutes later. I spent the night in Detroit, spending a few hours phonebanking and then retiring to the cheapest hotel in Detroit (yeah).
I spent 18 hours on a bus the next day before falling into a very surprised girlfriends arms, a more wonderful feeling I can't recall. Days have melted into more days I am scarily approaching a fortnight, something never my intention, especially in this crunch time of the election. But the exhaustion in my body and mind is actually palapable to me for one of the first times in my life. The task of getting back on that bike which sits in an OFA office in a Grand Rapids office in Michigan is so difficult it makes me cringe at the thought of my toes going numb for 2 or 3 hours or my lungs burning as cold air rushes in during an early morning start. The thought of spending another 3 weeks without my own bed, space, clothes or room battles with the thought of leaving my friends, family and girlfriend for the which is more unimaginable. But at some point this morning I realized what this story reminds me of, it reminds me of so many Americans have dealt with lately, some sort of irrational optimism, some sort of unbelievably high bar they set for President Obama's first term, that while bailing the country out of an incredible recession he should also complete every objective on his agenda. I didn't expected an irrational amount from myself initially, in a best case scenario this was not an unimaginable feat, it was very managable, but in the situation I have had to deal with I have also done an incredible amount, I have registered voters in every battleground state except Wisconsin and Ohio, I have volunteered in every swingstate but Ohio, it has been the hottest year on record, I have had surgery, and I have lost my Auntie Carol who was as we joked my "Ungodly Mother". But this isn't a preparation for me quitting, or me not returning to MI and claiming my bicycle to ride on to Ohio, it isn't me about to say I am just going to volunteer in NH from now on, even though all of these things I have been considering recently. Yesterday while I was beginning to write this blog I stumbled upon a blog that OFA Wisconsin wrote about me and they quoted me "This election is winding down, and even if it’s hard, I’m going to keep riding." This made me remember another one of my own ridiculous quotes about this bike trip "Riding a bicycle for 8 months, from March 17th to Election Day November 6, volunteering in each state, Bike For Obama hopes to remind Democrats of their part." Sometimes the person you need to remind is yourself, I can't promise that I will be doing much more riding, I can't even honestly promise I will spend all of Election Day in Ohio, but I can promise I am going back, I am going to Ohio and I am going to give everything I have left to getting Barack Obama elected one more time. How about you?
I walked outside this morning onto the porch of the supporter's house with whom I'm staying at. It is a perfect fall day, a little nip in the air, that crispness that wakes you right up and makes you happy you have a sweatshirt on. I am here in Wisconsin, a thousand miles away, it makes me think of Maine. Watching the leaves fall this morning while sitting on their porch, I can't help but be transported back to Philips, Maine where I planned this trip, where Levi and I planned our trip across Russia, and where we planned our first Camino. Of course I couldn't think about Philips without thinking about my Auntie Carol.
It was her house on the Sandy River and her porch that Levi and I would retreat to whenever we needed to get away or plan something. The first time we went Levi was skeptical, "Your Aunt Carol's house? Why on earth would we go there?"
"Trust me man, Carol is one of the most incredible people you will ever meet, we are gonna have a blast at her house." I never had to convince him again. Carol had a way of putting you at ease in her presence and making everything fun. We went back to that house on the river again and again and found ourselves doing things we never would have imagined, making apple butter, going through corn mazes, and even occasionally singing show tunes that we didn't even know. Carol, of course, was always singing show tunes and dancing to them, so eventually you caught the fever and began to know the lyrics.
Planning for the Russia trip, Levi and I went back at least a half dozen times, many of which coincided with big moments in the 2008 election of Barack Obama. We were there for the first debate, the second debate, the vice presidential debate and the most important one, the Inauguration, Carol was devoted to Democratic politics. And whereas my parents love politics but rarely get involved, Auntie would go each week into the local Obama office and make phone calls for then Candidate Obama. Without her example I might have grown up thinking that being a Democrat just entailed screaming at the television and arguing with Republicans-something she did rather well too.
When it came time to leave for Russia, everyone was promising to come and meet us in Porto, Portugal, where we hoped to finish the trip, it seemed like there would be a lot of broken promises. Levi and I knew however our Auntie Carol would certainly be one of the few who made it. Sure enough, almost a year later, a year of Auntie diligently "liking" every post we made on Facebook, we rode our bicycles into Porto in the rain to see my mom, Levi's mom and our Auntie Carol all standing soaking wet in the rain. They were holding a banner saying "Bravo Idiots" (our moniker), and they were singing, Carol leading the way. Slowly in the years since I started formulating the plan for this trip, Carol, if imaginable was even more excited about this trip than the last, promising again "I'll be there wherever you finish!"
When Levi and I had planned the Russia trip we had fixated on a globe in the corner of her house, now I would walk into her office and stare at her incredible collection of political pins. From Clinton to Kennedy, Dukakis to Humphrey, Carol had carefully collected liberal victories and defeats, it was a timeline of Democratic politics. President Obama's pins skirting the top of the cork board, it was time for her to get a new board.
By the time I left on this trip, Carol was already sick, a recurrence of cancer. I knew it wasn't good because, when I left Carol wasn't there, as much as she wanted to come she wasn't well enough to make it. When I rode through Boston, I stopped and saw her, she was still filled with optimism and we both agreed to meet in November, celebrate the victory in Washington D.C. where I still planned to end the trip. By then Carol was well into the humiliation of our healthcare system, struggling to keep insurance, battling reams of confusing paperwork, and being forced to sell her house in Philips to pay for the donut hole in her Medicare. Despite making such a positive impact on so many kids on Cape Cod through her theater classes, her stage acting and her work at local preschools, Auntie Carol (as most everyone called her, despite the fact that she wasn't technically an Aunt to any of us) wasn't well off, and the donut hole was more money than she had.
As I have been riding for the last 6 months, I spend a good chunk of each day thinking about Carol and her ordeal, what she is going through and how wrong it is. When I see the clips of President Obama saying "No one should go broke because they got sick." It is Carol I see, and I know I am fighting for someone who understands the problems we are facing with healthcare. For Carol, 2014 couldn't come quick enough, she needed to be able to focus on getting better, not battling insurance companies, worry about selling her house and switch around from hospital to hospital, rehab center to rehab center due to insurance. When people ask me why I am riding across the country for the President, Carol was my answer.
There are just 35 days left until Election Day, I wish Carol could have held on a bit longer so that I could give her the campaign pins I have collected for her, so that she could have voted for a Democrat one last time, and so she could see President Obama re-elected, but today my Auntie Carol lost her battle with cancer. Her struggle is over, for those of us who knew her the struggle to fill the void she is leaving in our lives now begins; her generosity, her humor, her optimism and her singing will not be forgotten by anyone of us. For those who didn't know her, the battle continues for those like her, for those still getting sick and going broke because of it, Auntie Carol fought her whole life for them and I will too. To Volunteer
I hadn't been back in 10 years, but making the turn onto Nauset Rd brought a flood of memories, and seeing the Nauset Regional Highschool sign made me want to turn around just like I was actually going to school. But I pulled myself together, after all I wasn't here to go to school, I was here to talk to the Nauset Democrats about getting involved with President Obama's campaign.
I had imagined meeting a group of students that were part of the Nauset Dems just to pad their college applications, sarcastic and totally uninterested in what I had to say about Neighborhood Teams and weekend canvassing trips to NH. Basically I expected them to be like me and all of my memories of high school.
Instead, before I could even open my mouth, the students were talking about how they were heading to Orleans later in the day to do some phone banking, reporting on the weekends canvassing numbers and what volunteer turnout had been like. I almost got up and walked out, what more could I do here, the Nauset Dems were already a Neighborhood Team, they just didn't know it, and they were one of the most dedicated and efficient teams I had come across yet. When I told them about the possibility of taking an overnight trip to New Hampshire to help win the state for the President, there was no hemming or hawing, no maybes or obstacles thrown up, they decided on a date within a few minutes. Incredible, in 2000 when I was sitting in those chairs full time, I wasn't part of the Nauset Dems, I didn't get involved and so I was forced to watch helplessly as the decisive hours of election eve stretched into weeks of horror as all the flaws of our electoral system were put on display. Meanwhile if some of my friends and I had gotten involved then, spared some of our precious social schedules we could have made a difference in New Hampshire where Al Gore lost by only 2000 votes. I was happy to see that these kids weren't making the same mistake.
As I was leaving I happened to pass the room where I had watched the 2000 election aftermath, as I peaked in I saw my old teacher Andrew Clark. He wasn't the teacher who watched that election with, but instead he played an even more important role in my life. He had introduced me to the Camino de Santiago, the 1000 year old pilgrimage route across Spain which is still walked today. He had based a lesson in his history class around it, I never forgot about it and was always waiting for an opportunity to do it. In 2005 myself, Nathan Tarvers and Levi Bridges walked this 500 mile trail and I fell permanently in love with the idea of traveling from town to town under ones own power, it was also where Levi and I decided ride our bike from Vladivostok, Russia to Porto, Portugal, what became www.paneurasianbiketrip.com, which in turn led to this trip. I wanted to tell him all this, that he was a major influence in my life, he started a chain reaction that hasn't stopped, and that the Camino is even better than he had said, but he was working with a student. I handed him a bumper sticker and a card, and told him that because of his class I had done the Camino de Santiago two times and now I am biking for the President, then I said goodbye, I didn't want to interrupt him working with a student, after all I know firsthand, as we all do, how powerful great teachers can be.
I owe Iowa one more blog entry. Even though I was there only two and a half weeks I think 2 blog entries is one too few. My time there was not one I will soon forget and the people I met there I hope to keep in touch with for many years to come.
It is not to say that my time elsewhere hasn't been incredible, just that finally slowing down and spending days in towns and OFA offices as opposed to just a night or a few hours has helped build stronger collections and feelings. Today is September 27th, Iowa's first day of early voting, the first in the nation, I have been almost giddy reading the newspapers, blogs, and even just seeing the Facebook posts about how it is going, recognizing the staff members, volunteers and places throughout the state. People lined up all across the state to vote on the first day, some even got there early as if it was an Iphone release day, nearly all Obama supporters, apparently Mr. Romney isn't to keen on early voting, not shocking considering his party is trying to get rid of it all across the country. Reading over the assessments I can't help but feel a tinge of pride knowing in some small way I helped, and even more so for all of my friends on the ground who will be working to win Iowa for the President for the next 40 days, proud just to have met them all.
I spent a week in Des Moines after being so lucky as to have met the President, he was coming to Des Moines that Saturday, so it didn't make sense to leave. I stayed and made hundreds of phone calls to get people out to the rally, it was the easiest phonebanking I have ever been apart of, giving away tickets to see the President makes you a pretty popular person. As the event got closer and closer I started doing other odd jobs as well, taking to my bicycle and fliering the town and giving away tickets to people on the street.
Having already gotten the most magical experience I could ask for from one of these events I decided that I should volunteer at this one, I didn't want to deprive someone else of that opportunity. As I believe I have mentioned, Iowa is a strange place in election season, this is serious business and the President's surrogates are everywhere, at the training for the event, Ashley Judd and Ben McKenzie stopped by to give everyone a little pep talk, granted I don't know who Ben McKenzie is but it was nice none the less.
It was really fun to volunteer for the event, getting to see people just as excited as me the week before, getting their first opportunity to see the President speak, and then to see them after glowing. Volunteering is work, but you still get to see the President speak and it was again a real thrill, I have a feeling it is one of those things that you never get used to. After the event I went out with most of the Des Moines staff, a great time, but something that left me moving significantly slower the next day.
Leaving Des Moines was tough, not so much because of my late night or because of the great friends I had made,though that contributed to it, instead it was the same battle I had been dealing with for so long, the heat. Here I was spending so much time in Iowa telling my story, talking about how great the trip had been etc., but everytime I got on the bike I found myself on the verge of a breadown. It was only in the 90's or 80's but while I was riding all I could think of was getting off the bike, just making it to the next stop or town. If there was a second obstacle in my way, be it headwind, hills or those pesky Iowa gravel roads that kept popping up, odds were that at least one or two points during the day I would find my self screaming at an inanimate object, shaking my fist at the skies for the wind or spitting on the gravely roads.
But as soon as I arrived in town it was back to "oh what a magical ride, what beautiful weather, and the rolling hills here in Iowa, just wonderful." That was the way it was when I rolled into Cedar Rapids where I spent my days volunteering by day and watching the Democratic National Convention by night. Continuing the trends of Council Bluffs and Des Moines, the Obama Campaign staff in Cedar Rapids welcomed me with open arms, and almost instantly made me forget about my riding woes. I spent a few wonderful days in Cedar Rapids before heading south to Iowa City the day after President Obama's convention speech. The President was holding a huge rally at Iowa University complete with the Vice President, Dr. Jill Biden and even the First Lady. I went and volunteered, it was a great event, the President used a lot of the lines from his acceptance speech which got wonderful ovations from the crowd of around 10,000 people despite the rain. After the event I stayed in Iowa City and helped the staff there for a night counting tickets and prepping clip boards for the next canvass.
My time in Iowa was drawing to an end, I stopped for one last night in Davenport on the banks of the Mississippi. I have met so many dedicated Democrats along the way, people who have sacrificed much of their free time and energy to advance the cause that I thought by now I had kinda seen it all. Then I met Murph, I still can't believe no one had told me about him before, Murph has made over fourteen thousand phone calls for the President, by now probably over 15,000. To put that in perspective, with all the phone banking I have been doing I have probably only made a few thousand, two or three. At 10,000 calls Murph got a very special call, "The phone rang" he told me, "I almost didn't answer it because I didn't recognize the area code, glad I did, 'Please hold for the President' someone said, and there he was, he asked about my family, we talked about his, he thanked me for my dedication, it was a long call, like 10 minutes or so, at the end I said, okay Mr. President I gotta go, there are still more calls to make."
What a whirlwind, arriving at 5am in Omaha seemed like a total dead end, but within 36 hours things were going faster than I could have imagined. First I realized that Omaha is that little Blue Dot that President Obama won in Nebraska, much to the Republicans shagrin (they redistricted in the 4 years since to try and take it back). Then I discovered that President Obama would be speaking a few miles north of Des Moines a few days later, perfectly timed to my arrival into Des Moines. I couldn't believe my luck. I spent a day in Omaha, defending the Blue Dot with almost 200 phone calls, it felt so good to get into the office and just focus on helping the cause, it is crunch time now and every call makes a difference and you can feel it in the offices, people are focused. By the time an hour had gone by I had forgotten all about my not reaching each of the lower 48 states, this was what I had been hoping to do and wanting to do by this time in the year.
The next day I rode just 15 miles to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Iowa, a place I had considered a goal for 5 months, I was finally there and I was as excited as the OFA staff when I rolled in, I could barely believe I was finally here. I sat down right away and got to calling, I called all day until I was a bit hoarse, Iowa is as important a state as you can get in this election and I didn't want to hold back. The next day it was raining and humid, not ideal canvassing weather but I still managed to knock about 125 doors and register a few voters, keeping alive my streak of registering voters in every swing state I have passed through, the thrill of knowing I would get to see the President speak in just 3 days kept me going long after my first blisters hit my feet. I have done a lot of volunteering for the President on this trip, made a ton of calls, registered a lot of voters and recruited many, many volunteers, but these first few days since Omaha were setting a new standard for me and it felt great to be this involved and contacting so many people each day. With the election getting closer and closer I really can't say no to any opportunity to help, that is the trade-off for skipping so many states, now, I have no excuse to not to spend all my free time working for the President. My time in Council Bluffs was great, 2 wonderful days with a great crew, I wouldn't have left unless I needed to in order to get to Des Moines in time, I wanted to canvass on Sunday too, but it would take me 2 days riding to get to Des Moines and the President's rally.
It was two days that made me happy I had decided to skip the Rocky Mountains, I was still struggling with getting back into shape and even the rolling hills of Iowa were almost too much for me. I rode 50 miles the first day, riding through all the scorched corn fields, a lingering symbol of this insanely hot summer. Short, brown and inedible it sits untouched in the field after field, I couldn't believe how much of it there was. The next day I did an agonizing 80 miles, many more than my legs were ready for and by the end of the day I felt like I was back in one of those first days in March. But there was a difference, I walked into the Iowa OFA Headquarters to applause and cheers, I don't know if I have ever blushed so hard! I was so exhausted and weary but their welcome revived me enough to make a couple of pages of phone calls, after all, tomorrow was a big day and I would hate to see the President having not tried my best the day before. The Digital Director of Iowa OFA welcomed me into his home and I got a great rest leading up to what would be an unforgettable day.
It was a quick car ride to Ames, Iowa, the Iowa State University campus, I barely noticed it I was so excited. The secret service was already everywhere by the time I got there, and probably days earlier, the little kid in me thought it was pretty cool to see them everywhere in their suits and sunglasses. The line to get into the rally was enormous, wrapping around the neighboring blocks, the only people who didn't seemed fired up were the college Republicans who were trying to pass out false "programs" that had a false time table to try and get people to become discouraged that they would miss him, even though in reality there were still hours to get in. I guess Republicans are just born spewing misinformation. I did what I could to help my friends on the OFA staff but as soon as the line started moving they told me to go in and gave me my ticket, I wanted to stay and help but they insisted, I'm glad they did. I got through security and made my way towards the stage, I knew they had given me a good ticket so when I saw a big crowd front and center I thought "oh cool I'll probably be right in the center here with them!" But I wasn't, I saw someone calling for people with my color ticket and went with them, they led us to the side of that crowd and right in front of them, in fact in front of everyone, already my body was beginning to shake with adreneline, I took a spot 10 feet from the podium, on the guard rail. I couldn't even believe where I was, if there wasn't microphones I would still be able to hear the President speak. the next 2 hours were waiting, some people spoke, some musicians came on and sang some nice songs but I was pretty much just out of my mind with anticipation. I was in a crowd of thousands but from my vantage point it felt like me, a Secret Service Agent and a couple of people next to me. And then, after the snipers took their position on the roof, and Senator Tom Harkin gave a wonderful introduction The 44th President of The United States, Barack Obama jogged out onto the stage. INCREDIBLE!!!! He is even better in real life!! It was just so awesome, he talked about everything from college loans, to manufacturing jobs, from jokes about the Republican National Convention to the local football coach. My favorite line was something like, "I'm starting to like the ACA being called ObamaCare, you know why? I do Care! Mr. Romney wants to repeal it on day one and has nothing to replace it, maybe he should call it RomneyDoesn'tCare!" The crowd loved every second as did I, he is just so good! After a great speech and thunderous applause, the President did what I knew he would do, but I still couldn't believe was going to happen, he jogged off stage and started shaking hands with everyone in the front few rows, i.e. where I was. He kept getting closer and closer until I thought my heart would beat out of my chest, he was in earshot!! "Mr. President I have been riding around the country for the last 5 months volunteering for your campaign in 23 states." He looked at me with an even bigger smile than he had had while shaking all the hands so far, "Thank You" he said as he gave me a huge hug. That is approximately how it went down, I know he thanked me, and I think he said more but I was tooooooo excited to process, I followed with "Mr. President may I give you a bumper sticker from my trip." "Absolutely, of course, give it to the tall guy behind me"
I shakily handed my bumper sticker and business card to the Secret Service Agent, "Is this to be signed?"
"No but here is another if you could get him to sign one"
"Sure wait here and I will bring it back"
I was trembling, I waited, eventually after everyone was gone the man came back, he had my bumper sticker in his hand with the President's signature still drying on it. "So where are you on your trip?" He asked me
"At the best part!" was what I wanted to reply.
My break from the trip was so refreshing to my enthusiasm and motivation that I almost didn't notice how detrimental it was to my legs, that is until I got back on the bike. Within 20 minutes of getting on the bike my legs were screaming and my lungs felt like they had shrunk during my convalescence. It didn't help that I was on the tail end of the Cascade Mountains and heading into the Rocky Mountains, it was a very intimidating place to re-start the trip. As soon as I left the city limits of Bend all the things that I had forgotten about the bike trip came rushing back, the mercury was stretching towards 100 degrees again, the landscape was desolate and barren, and of course there were wildfires breaking out throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho, all the states I was heading towards and smoke was rising everywhere around me. I even watched as a little plume of smoke ahead of me turned into a full fledged outbreak of wildfire, very creepy how fast it can happen. I collapsed into a hotel room totally wiped out and rather in disbelief that a long break had done nothing to change the weather, terrain, or wildfires; but had managed to totally deplete my energy, muscle mass, and patience. That night as I was licking my wounds I watched coverage of Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law being upheld and saw that only 80 days remained before the election, but I felt further from helping the President than ever.
I had only ridden 40 miles and it had destroyed me, the next morning I got ready knowing I was going to have to ride at least 70 miles before I could find even a campground. As I left the town I couldn't help but notice how beautiful it was, I was approaching the high desert of Washington state and canyons were again becoming common along with tumbleweeds and dead snakes on the side of the road. I was rather enjoying myself feeling hopeful and optimistic until I hit my first real climb, it was 3 miles long and it took everything I had. After the first half mile I was taking frequent walking breaks, I even had to take breaks from the walking breaks, it took me well over an hour to make it to the top of the mountain pass, at the top there was a rest stop that I collapsed at feeling weak and humiliated. I spent another hour there, over 2 hours of time taken to make it just 3 miles. A lot of people were stopping at the rest stop and I talked with a lot of people, subtly hinting at my interest for a ride, most were going the wrong way, one was a Republican who wasn't interested in helping me, and finally two motorcyclists who were devoted Dems but of course couldn't help me with transport. They did convince me that I could keep going and that in 15 more miles I would hit a town and then maybe find a place to stay, I could only hope. I struggled, it was so hot, my legs were jello and there was another big hill that forced me off of my bike. By now I was fully depressed, these were foothills, nothing to even compare with what I would be seeing in the next few days and weeks and they were laying waste to me, how many weeks would I have to spend trying to conquer the Rocky Mountains instead of helping President Obama get re-elected. I was fuming with impatience to get somewhere to make a difference and frustration with my inability to even ride 70 miles, how would I ever get to Iowa? I arrived in the town, appropriately it was a ghost town, or according to the residents, a "Functioning Ghost Town". I found that to be a bit of a stretch, the hotel had been closed for 5 years and most of the tourist trap elements had gone under around that time as well, I thought of it more like a double ghost town, it had been deserted twice. I bought some chips and a drink (I had run out of water earlier in the day) I knew I couldn't go on so I did what any good quitter would do, I stuck my thumb out to hitch. It took a while for someone to stop, the road wasn't so heavily trafficked, so when I was putting my bicycle into the back of the guy's truck and he said "Now I'll give you a ride but I will have to know why you are voting for that guy! I just want to know" I knew I had no choice but to stick with this guy.
He turned out to be pretty nice, he had voted for the President in 08, but had since taken a turn towards libertarian, but barely. He was interesting because he seemed overall to have Democrat morals, he just started every sentence with a Fox News talking point. "President Obama has failed us with his Energy Policy, a complete failure, we should be investing in research for renewable energy sources." or "Don't even get me started with Immigration, we should have a fence across the border, we should make it easier for people to get over the border and make it easy for those who are already here to become citizens." So many times during that trip I felt like saying, "You know that the Republicans would disagree with all of your ideas." or "The President is trying to invest in renewable energy, Romney calls renewable energy sources "imaginary energy sources"" But he was giving me a ride, and in fact when we reached where I was headed, he gunned the engine and said "I'm going east too, you might as well keep going with me" The trip ended 100 miles away in Pendleton, OR, as we rolled into the town I realized that there was an Obama event coming up in town that I had been phone banking for a few days prior in the Portland OFA office. I figured maybe going there and talking to local volunteers I could get an idea of what to do.
Pendleton has a great group of volunteers, very dedicated and energetic, and they did give me the guidance I needed, when I told them I was thinking of taking a bus so that I could get to Omaha soon and volunteer more for the President in the coming weeks, rather than battling the Rockies, everyone agreed. "You have to do what is going to be the most effective for the President, no one will be disappointed that you didn't visit Idaho and Wyoming, but it will disappoint you if the President doesn't get re-elected and you did visit them." Volunteer after volunteer echoed the sentiment. By the end of the night I had purchased my bus ticket and was scouting the area for bike shops. 2 Days later I was on a packed hot bus, slowly crawling up mountain passes that i wouldn't be riding. I wasn't exactly happy, but I felt that I was making the right decision, even if it required two nights of no sleep on the Greyhound and bad food. In two days I would be in Omaha, across the river from Iowa, and there would be 80 days left to make a difference.
Oregon was changing everything. After a month in the realm of 100 degrees, the temperature now struggled to reach the mid 80's each day, shade, once a luxury only afforded by a particularly tall cactus in the desert was now everywhere, it was just such a pleasure riding in Oregon I was almost giddy. So when I woke up at 3am Sunday morning with a sharp shooting pain in my right abdomen I thought it was just a bit of bad gas from that "celebratory pizza" from the night before. I got up and kind of hung out trying to pretend like it wasn't keeping me up, that I just preferred to get an early start on the day even though with the lower temperatures I no longer needed to beat the sun into the sky.
I was one of the first people at the diner in the early morning. The stomach ache was not really improving and I was beginning to get a bit concerned, actually I was terrified. My stomach is my weakness and I have had a long and terrifying history with food poisoning, most recently and most traumatically on my last bike tour, through Siberia. I had gotten so sick on that trip that I made 2 trips to Siberian hospitals and at one point during the trip spent a month only eating packaged foods or foods that I cooked out of terror of another relapse. As I was walking back from the diner the pain was still there, all I could think was "oh man not again! I can't go through this again."
By the time 8am had arrived my I had talked with my parents, my mother was already convinced that I had appendicitis, I was loathe to admit she might be on to something because it would mean she was right, so I told her it was gas and I would be fine. But I was beginning to get suspicious myself, the pain was so stationary and so constant that it didn't have the feel of food poisoning. I had debated just taking the day off, see how I was in the evening and make a decision then, but I soon realized how stupid of an idea that was, I was in the middle of nowhere, about 70 miles from any sort of medical care, so if I decided at nightfall to go to a doctor it would be a nightmare. So I decided to make a move, I packed up my stuff and headed out onto the side of the road to start hitch hiking, I was in too much pain to actually ride so I just stood there grimacing with my thumb out hoping.
After about an hour I was losing hope, there just wasn't a lot of sunday morning traffic to begin with, let alone trucks capable of carrying my bicycle, so I started going from business to business asking if anyone knew of someone who might drive me. Eventually I found a man willing to drive the 70 miles to Bend, OR with me and my bicycle, it was gonna cost me a bit of money but I didn't care. It was a long silent drive through the valley to Bend, my driver didn't seem that interested in making small talk and I was plenty to oblige, I was already beginning to try and muster up some courage for another bike trip hospital visit, almost 3 years to the day of my last one. He took me right to the hospital and very kindly took my bicycle out of the back for me, well worth the money.
It was the haunting memory of the Siberian hospitals that kept me going through the next few hours, I hate needles, I hate hospitals and I'm not that fond of wearing a gown, but all to vividly I remembered the feeling of not understanding what was happening, the blood stained sheets, and the hospital that looked like a factory of Siberia. I couldn't help but feel like this was a real step up. They ran a whole slew of tests on me before confirming what they and I already suspected, I had appendicitis 3000 miles from home. They would have to operate on me (I had hoped that by now modern medicine had invented a pill that magically dissolves your appendix, no such luck). By now I was getting a bit more comfortable in the hospital, everyone knew what I was doing, I was passing out bumper stickers to nurses and doctors for Obama, and one of my doctors had even been on a bicycle tour recently, these distractions helped calm me while I was prepared for my first surgery. I was allowed to have my bicycle in my room so I never had to worry about it out on the streets by itself, I just had to worry about offending the occasional Republican who might come in and see my Elizabeth Warren sticker. Eventually I was all prepped for surgery, the anesthesiologist assured me "You are all set, we just have to give a lady a new hip and you'll be next." Nice to see they keep the lines moving. They didn't ask me to count backwards from 10 as I was expecting, they just casually asked me about my bicycle trip and the next thing I knew I was in the recovery room totally bewildered and disoriented.
The operation was a total success, appendix removed and crisis averted. I had told the doctors about my previous incident in Siberia, more just as an icebreaker than anything else, but while I was recovering in my hospital room the doctor came in and told me that judging by the scarring in my intestines I was lucky to have made it out of Siberia alive. I must admit that was a humbling statement, it help me make a tough decision, I would take more than the one week of rest minimum requirement set by the doctors. I would fly back to Cape Cod for 2 and a half weeks for a little rest and relaxation, perfect timing. I had been making my way up to southern Washington to meet my friend Stephan, who was going to be in the area to visit family, now of course that plan had to be abandoned, but Stephan went the extra mile for me. When he found out about my surgery he drove 4 hours from Portland, picked me up and then drove back to Portland so I could fly home the next day, it was pretty incredible, I'm deeply indebted to him. Luckily he is a Democrat so I can at least try and work down my debt by continuing to volunteer for President Obama. I also found an incredible bicycle shop called Webcyclery that also agreed to come and pick up my bicycle from the hospital so I didn't even have to deal with it (the bike needed a bit of work anyway) and they will keep it until I arrive back in Bend.
I flew home a day later to begin the longest and strangest break of this trip, but also the best. The relaxation has been mandatory, first a steady diet of antibiotics, painkillers and bed rest, and more recently just a self imposed light schedule. But sitting on the sidelines has also made me grow antsy, watching the 100 days countdown to Election Day begin, seeing July end and August more than begin and feeling my legs soften, I know I have got to get out there for the final push. So on Sunday I flew back to Portland, took a bus back to Bend and picked up my bicycle and tried and act like nothing had changed. But it is now mid August, Mitt Romney just named his pick for VP (or in his words, "the next President of the United States") and this trip has cost me more than I expected. The only time I am really able to save money is when I am in a swing state staying with supporters, more importantly swing states are also where I can make the most difference in this election, my goal. So I am going to fly as fast as I can to Iowa so that I can do as much volunteering as possible before election day. This way I can still achieve my goal of spending the last month of this election in Ohio, circling the state and doing everything I can to help the President win this Election. In the end I will only miss a few states, a few that will have to wait until the next trip, Cycle for Clinton 2016.
87 miles, 52 miles, 107 miles, 64 miles, 35 miles, each day was a battle,
no matter how many or few miles I covered each day I found myself in the same
condition at the end of the day, destroyed. Riding through Arizona, Nevada and
the first days of California were quite honestly, awful, each day was well above
the 100 degree mark, the roads deserted and shadeless, and my body was doing
anything but coping with it. Arizona I won't even talk about, I am still not
ready to discuss those headwinds and mountain passes. I didn't volunteer, I just
tried to power through the state as quickly as possible. I just hoped the police
didn't stop me, or anyone else for that matter, everyone I encountered seemed to
be carrying a sidearm.
I reached Las Vegas after a 107 mile day that was
uplifting in it's ease, I had gotten an early tailwind and cruised through a
long flat valley before a truly spectacular climb up through the desert to cross
over the Colorado River at the Hoover Dam, one of the most beautiful rides of
the trip so far. Even the 100 plus degree heat didn't effect me too bad, at
least until the final desent into Las Vegas, but I quickly got myself to the
local Obama re-election office. I spent a wonderful couple of days with OFA NV,
I spent the 4th of July having one of my most successful registration and
recruitment days yet, always nice when you are in a swing state. I spent the
nights at an Obama supporters house, Peggy, who coincidentally was also a
passionate Tour de France fan, I got to spend my evenings watching other people
suffer on their bikes up huge hills and against brutal headwinds.
gamble in Vegas, continuing the theme of this trip, doing nothing
conventionally. It is rather funny, people ask me if I have seen this or done
that, and almost everytime the answer is "No, I didn't make it" or "I didn't
have the time." It is pretty common for a bicycle trip to miss some of the
sights, 20 miles out of the way is more than a quick detour by bicycle, but I
think this trip has taken it to the extreme, my spare time has been devoted to
canvassing, phonebanking and registering voters, rarely taking in a tourist trap
unless it is on the side of the road.
That may seem like a waste of a trip
to some, or that I should take more time to see some of America, but for me I
feel like I have seen more of America than I might had I just been going to the
sights. I have taken roads that few people take on bike tours and to me that
has been rather interesting, I see less of the tourist economy and attraction
towns and more of how the average town works in this country.
But out in the Desert there is only one road you ride on if you want to
survive, the highway, I rode for days on Interstate 40, the same as everyone
else, except I stop at every available truck stop. Each one was distanced 40-50
miles apart, just pushing the limits of my water supply in the scorching,
shadeless heat. So many times I would spend the last miles of the ride just
slogging as fast as I could while trying to conserve my last water bottle before
hitting a hotel. Once I reached my destination I would turn the air conditioner
on max, peal off the spandex and collapse on the bed in disbelief of what I was
doing in the middle of the desert, in 110 degree heat in July. My stops to
volunteer throughout the desert were all that kept me going, the people I met
and the stories I heard refreshed me, my volunteering stops have always inspired
me and driven me to keep going, but recently they have taken on this refreshing
and rejuvinating quality. I'm not sure if that was a reflection so much on
volunteering or the difficulty of getting through the desert each day.
As my girlfriend, Claire, will attest to, the only thing I had in the
desert was my volunteering and my optimism. There is something in me that can't
help but look for something each day that will make it easier to get up in the
morning. Each night I would call her and tell her how incredibly difficult it
had been that day, but that tomorrow "the wind is supposed to change" or "It
will be downhill for most of the day tomorrow." Inevitably it would be the same
story the next day, the winds had screwed me, the mountain never ended, but
Tomorrow did finally come, but boy did I have to work for it. Leaving Las
Vegas I thought I was close to the end, only a day or two left. But my body had
nothing left, I rode down into the Gateway of Death Valley, descending down at
thirty miles an hour, wishing I could go slower so that the scalding hot wind
would stop burning my fingers but not wanting to sacrafice slightly lower
temperatures for longer exposure. I climbed for days all the way to Victorville,
CA thinking that the next day I would ride to LA, instead I turned north towards
Bakersfield, I couldn't bear to climb a mountain simply to cross it again a
little further north. I was falling apart and I was still in the desert. I
rode for 2 more days until it was finally my last day in the Mojavi desert. I
woke up sure that I was finally at that "tomorrow", yesterday I had done two
phonebanks, one at the childhood home of Judy Garland, and I was feeling good.
I looked out the window that morning and it was cloudy, I had made it!!
I got outside so full of optimism, I rode hard, ignoring the brutal
headwind or the steep uphill as I approached the mountain pass out of the desert
I hated so much. But I couldn't ignore the humidity, I could barely breath. For
6 hours I rode up into that mountain pass dripping with sweat for the first time
in months, I felt like I could barely breath. I reached my destination and again
maxed out the AC and lay on the bed thinking "Tomorrow will be so easy, 50 miles
all downhill to Bakersfield"
It was downhill, but easy isn't the word I would use to describe it, at
least not when my road gave out, I was forced onto the highway, a road I wasn't
supposed to be on, but I could see no other way. The road was falling apart,
the breakdown lane was torn up and divited into "rough road". I rode down it as
slow as my brakes would allow, about 30mph, it was just so steep, I would squeal
my way to a stop at runaway truck ramps just in case. I got off as soon as I
could, about 15 miles later, my body totally numb from the vibrations of the
"rough road", but at least the cops didn't stop me. I stayed at a supporters
house in Bakersfield, Melissa and Keith, they are neighborhood team leaders (as
you should be)in the area, in charge of running phone banks and getting out the
vote. We went to the Crystal Palace, a famous Country Western bar for dinner
and to watch people line dance, I felt like I was in the Old West.
I was still searching for tomorrow though, the next day I rode through
field after field of agriculture, dairy farms and oilfields. The Valley that
stretches from Bakersfield to Redding, hundreds of miles, is incredible, every
fruit or vegetable you can imagine is grown here, but if you are paying close
attention you will notice something, it is a desert. Only through the power of
irrigation is the farming possible, irrigation canals turn the small farming
towns into almost little Venices. The only direct roads through the valley are
super highways that don't allow bicycles, so I struggled to make good time
riding through farmlands zigzagging on farmroads, probably 2 miles ridden for
every 1 highway mile, very frustrating.
I struggled to Sacramento, the highlight being reconnecting with a friend I
had studied abroad with 8 years ago and reminiscing about a time when I wasn't
living on a bicycle. I already knew then, visiting my friend in Fresno, where I
would find the tomorrow I was looking for. I was already behind schedule, due
to meet another friend in Washington State in just a week or so. Tomorrow was
going to require a trainride to get ahead and out of the valley. So yesterday I
cheated, maybe 200 miles, maybe 300, not really sure and I don't really care.
I've ridden over 4500 miles in the last 4 months and so a couple hundred on a
train seems well deserved. Now I am in Oregon, in the mountains, about 20
degrees cooler and Tomorrow I am ready to ride.
I write these blogs whenever I get a chance, but they almost always feel appropriately timed, like the beginning and end of a chapter. This one especially. In the weeks since I gradually climbed up onto the high plains of Texas, through cattle ranches that I was told hold more cattle than the city of Amarillo, the heat has taken over completely, it controls my every movement and every action. I have been through at least a dozen 98,99, 100 degree days and that doesn't include the asphalt effect, in the afternoon you can feel a scorching heat beating the back of your shins as it rises up from the pavement.
Each night I was forced into a cheap hotel as hailstorm, thunderstorm or even tornado watches immediately took effect, it was the same story each day, just as I would get in the door the wind would pick up to 60 miles an hour and the skies would open up and unleash a unreal storm of hail or rain. I intentionally stayed in brick motels hoping they could stand the storms. The further I climbed up the plains the longer the distances became, now I generally ride in about two maybe 3 sets, each about 30 to 50 miles depending on how far to the next place to refuel(i.e.water and food). I tried to stop in Amarillo Texas at a local democratic headquarters but it had shut down and moved else where, probably to New Mexico.
So I followed them, I only spent 3 days in Texas, powering through the heat for 3 big riding days, my new goal has been to ride more miles than the temperature, 98 miles in 95 degree heat or something like that.
The day I rode into New Mexico I did 107 miles in about 95 degree heat, pretty good margin. During those 100 miles my surrounding changed from farm country and cattle ranches to my first look at tumbleweeds and exposed redrock, my sense of accomplishment grew with every tumbleweed I passed. I was so beat at the end of the day that I stopped and got food and a beer before I checked into a hotel just so I wouldn't have to get up again once I laid down. I got up early again the next day to do a shorter day, as I was riding out of town I was startled by a tarantula walking along the side of the highway, really freaky, I almost ran it over.
The next two days of riding brought me to Albuquerque, the first day was one of the roughest I have had, the wind was directly in my face, I was dropped down to 7MPH and spent an outrageous amount of time out in the heat battling. I prepared myself mentally for a horrible day the next day, even if it was only 40 miles away I could be out there for over 7 hours. Instead I slowly climbed for about 9 miles and then started descending...and descending...and descending. 31 miles later I was in front of the OFA office 2 hours before I had planned and having not pedalled once from the top of the mountain.
I became almost giddy when I saw the OFA NM headquarters, it has been months since I've been to a swing state, Florida was the last one. I walked in and it was bustling with volunteers and staff and they were thrilled to have a visit from Bike For Obama. They put me right to work doing some phone calls, then out onto the local college campus to register some voters, it was awesome. I finished the night entering Data for the first time on this trip (always cool to learn a new skill, especially one that can be done while seated). I also did and interview that is now up on the NM Blog section on www.barackobama.com
I visited 3 offices in the Albuquerque area doing phone calls and staying with staff and supporters. I felt like I was back in the mix, having been in so many red states I felt like I needed to work extra hard on their behalf, afterall I had seen their incredible determination despite being totally outnumbered. But here in NM we have a chance, so I worked hard making about 100 phone calls, registering several voters and entering as much data as I could.
I couldn't stay as long as I would have liked, Albuquerque and Rio Ranch were wonderful to me, the food, the towns and especially everyone who took me in. Soon enough though I found myself riding north away from interstate 40, my road for the last weeks, into some rather remote desert on the way towards Durango, CO. I was feeling pretty good, in fact I was just glowing, NM had been good to me, and riding through beautiful desert canyons in the cool morning was only helping me to romanticize it more, I was stopping every few minutes to take another photo in the serene light. I stopped at a convenience store and filled up on water and food, it was in a Native American Reservation and I was horrified to see how much alcohol was walking out the door early in the morning, a reminder of a tragic legacy.
I left not really thinking about where my next rest stop would be, or the fact that it might get hot and the wind was supposed to turn. I was just enjoying the early morning in the desert. 2 hours later I was averaging 9 miles an hour and it was about 100 degrees on the asphalt. I was dying, possibly literally, by the time I reached the small town of Cuba after 6 hours. Cuba was incredibly poor, maybe the poorest place I have been yet,with people begging on the streets despite the heat and the lack of sidewalks. I felt like I had come a thousand miles from Albuquerque, instead of 60.
Another 140 miles north and I had entered into another world yet again. The desert slowly turned greener and greener, I entered a river valley and continued to climb until I was in something I would almost describe as a forest. I climbed a few thousand feet on my to Durango but it was well worth it, I was in the mountains for the first time since New Hampshire, it was beautiful. The mountains surround Durango in a way that I have almost never seen, they say Durango is in the foothills of the Rockies, but I felt like I was in the heart of them.
The Obama For America office in Durango was overjoyed at my arrival. They had been having trouble getting volunteers for their weekend of action since everyone in Durango seemed to be travelling for the month of July. We immediately got to work phonebanking, it was friday night and we needed volunteers for saturday. We used my bicycle trip as a draw to get the adventure oriented Durango Democrats out to volunteer, it was a success we got over a dozen volunteers to sign up to help us register voters the next day. It was a good thing too, the most recent predictions about Colorado suggest it may come down to less than 4,000 votes.
After phone banking we went out and tried to get a jump on the weekend by doing some voter registration that night, walking mainstreet of Durango. We had some luck, got about 6 new voters, but the big discovery came at about sundown, the sky had filled with smoke to the west, a fire had broken out about 400 miles down the road, it created a spectacular sunset but it was yet another fire in a state already besieged by fires.
Saturday we had a great day of action, signing up dozens of voters and and recruiting volunteers. I was stationed at the Durango Pride Picnic, a really fun event, fun people motivated to re-elect the President and happy to have our presence. By the end of the day even in the shade we were all exhausted, even in the mountains it was reaching over 100 degrees by afternoon.
I had met a fellow cycle tourer during the day who kindly opened up his families home to me that evening. I spent a wonderful night with them and some friends, sharing touring stories and getting advice on the road ahead. It is always fun to stay with people but cycle tourers especially know exactly what you are looking for since they have been there before. Just a wonderful stay.
By sunday it was clear that my trip was about to take a bit of a detour, wildfires had broken out both on the road I had planned to go west on, and the road I had come in on. There was really only one road left for me to travel, back south to New Mexico on a small backroad. Utah is out, it isn't ideal but then again if you are going to miss one of the lower 48 states on a bike trip like this I figure it should be one that Mitt identifies as home. I headed back south, flying at what felt like the speed of light with a tailwind and a several thousand foot elevation drop. I felt particularly hardcore as I flew because on each side of me plumes of smoke spiraled into the sky, I was threading the needle between two wild fires.
I re-entered New Mexico ndrode back through the remote desert, speeding as fast as I could through the scorching landscape without shade. Finally I reached I-40, I never had so much appreciation for a highway before, regular truckstops, overpasses to create shade for a quick restbreak and a direct route out of this desert. I was feeling pretty lucky.
And lady luck stayed on my side, I dodged a dust storm warning the next night, for those of you keeping track that means during this blog I have been in the realm of wildfires, severe thunderstorms, hailstorms, tornados and duststorms. Apparently the Southwest is a rather inhospitable place to live, but it sure is visually stunning.
Two days ago I entered Arizona, a state not known for it's progressive leaning politics, but I celebrated a great victory. Yesterday I took the whole day off and watched as the Supreme Court ruled the Affordable Healthcare Act constitutional, looks like we have something else to fight for this November.
Time to get out and get involved, go to www.barackobama.com
, plug in your zip code and find an event, trust me they are more fun than you think.
I left Arkansas at Fort Smith, a town that was once the gateway to the Wild West, the courthouse serving as the authority for the west, putting many to death. I crossed the river that serves as the border and found flat beautiful road as far as I could see and a tailwind to push me along. I cruised caually along all morning just counting how many big cowboy hats I saw pass me in giant trucks with gun racks mounted on their backs.
By afternoon the terrain had changed, the flat terrain that I had counted on lsting straight to the Rocky Mountains had changed into hilly up and down road that sapped my energy with it's steep repetition. The heat as I believe I have mentioned before, has been consistently in the 80-85 degree mark, but now it was moving into the 90 degree realm, at one point I took a rest break in the path of farm sprinkler system. By the end of the day I was beat up, I had taken it too easy on the flats and once the hills came it was so hot that I drastically slowed down, eventually I quit early in a small town, I mean a real small town, that had a hotel, a gas station and a McDonald's. I went to bed early so that I could get up earlier in order to beat the heat.
It took me two more days to reach Oklahoma City, dilegently getting up at around 5:30 so I could get on the road with the sun. The hills continued, completely destroying my preconcieved notions of Oklahoma being a flat, wheatfield like state, instead it was hilly with plenty cows and trees. It was hard to get over the disappointment of the hills, but seeing mile after mile of cow's grazing around watering holes and lazing under trees or some shade did amuse me. I even began to see those heron like birds that seem to hang out exclusively with cows.
The roadside was still covered with roadkill, possibly even more than normal. Armadillos were the most common followed by snakes of all shapes and colors, even some rattlesnakes, turtles too sadly claimed a lot of the roadway. The smell of dead roadkill baking in 90 degree heat will not be something I soon forget.
Oklahoma also seemed to have a disproportionate amount of famous people born in their towns, I road through the home town of Carrie Underwood, Troy Aikmen and Jim Thorpe all in quick succession. However when I mentioned this to Claire, she suggested that the towns here probably don't have a lot going on and might highlight their notable residents more than other towns, touche.
I arrived in Oklahoma City late on Friday night before Memorial Day weekend, not really an ideal time to get to work volunteering for the President. But volunteering wasn't the only plan I had for Oklahoma City, I had a date with a bus. I was going home for about a week to attend a wedding, see all my friends, family, and girlfriend and host a phonebank for Elizabeth Warren.
I have taken long bus trips before, I even wrote about one of them earlier in these blogs, so I knew what I was getting into when I stepped onto the bus. As I cruised north towards St. Louis, my first transfer point, I not only marvelled at the speed and ease with which I was moving but I also couldn't help but feel so connected with everything I saw out the window. I think the drive to do bike tours and slow travel in general has a lot to do with trying to see and understand a country, the way it is layed out and the way it is interconnected. I haven't characterized this trip that way in my mind, I always thought of it as the volunteering that is opening up the country to me, seeing it at the height of Election frenzy, but as I watched America speed by outside my window I realized how much of that scenery I now understood, the truckstops, the cheap hotels, the distance between towns, the beat up and forgotten town centers, even just looking down at the roads, I feel like I have learned so much about America.
It wasn't all pleasant reminiscing though, after all it is the bus, it was always full of all sorts of characters, I overheard all sorts of weird conversations and phone calls, one in particular by a woman setting up a rendezvous with a friend she knew along her route "Just go and get some whiskey.... I don't care! I'll just sit in the car and drink it... None of your business some times you just got to get F***ed up." Then there was the bus itself, Greyhound is slowly upgrading it's fleet to new wonderful wi-fi equipped buses with more leg room, but I didn't land one of those sweet rides, our bus was on it's way out. About mid way through the first day of travel a new vibration started that sounded ominous, then in Pittsburgh we encountered a incredible rainstorm that lasted most of the night, at a certain point the rain started making it into the bus, about an hour into the storm passengers in certain seats started complaining they were getting wet, the only response the driver could give was "With this much rain some of it is bound to get in!" Exactly! Who ever heard of a waterproof bus? Those wi-fi buses get customers wet too, they can just surf the web at the same time. At some point in the middle of the night, after the rain had cleared out we hit, what the driver explained as "a deer or other small creature."
I won't bore you with the details of my glorious week off of the bike, but it was a pleasure to see everyone, and I was especially grateful that so many of my friends came to the cape to visit. We also threw a fairly successful, if virtually unattended, phonebank for Elizabeth Warren. Before I knew it, it was time for another painful goodbye to everyone once again. Claire and I couldn't help but get to laughing when we realized that we had now said goodbye in a Holiday Inn parking lot, a street corner in Jamaica Plain and now in the Port Authority bus station in NYC. What glamorous lives we live.
The bus ride back to Oklahoma City was not quite as easy as the ride home to Cape Cod, but it was definitely less exciting, no rain storm, no roadkill, I brought a pillow and slept through most of it. I arrived back in OKC far from refreshed but just in time for their weekly phone bank. It was unbelievable to be back on the road, to see my bicycle again, to be back in the heat and farmland of Oklahoma after my relaxing and chilly vacation on Cape Cod, it took me more than a few days to get myself used to my life on the road again. I eased myself back onto the road, only going 40 or 50 miles a day, trying to get off the road before the heat hit, still the hills haunted me, my now tender legs struggled with the steep pitch. It wasn't until I reached Texas, yes Texas, that I began to feel like my old self (I definitely NEVER thought I would say that), the up and down stopped and the road began to just steadily ascend. I've climbed almost 1,000 feet each day, the consistency of it feels great and I can't help but associate it with something else, the Rocky Mountains. Suddenly these things that had seemed so far away, like the Pacific Ocean and turning another corner on this trip are just a few mountains and swing states away.