Things got better today. Well, statistically they had to. I was feeling so poor the previous two days that I almost certainly had to feel better today. Luckily, that was the case.
It was a bit startling to not be able to feel my toes when I woke up, but it was okay! The sensation came back in 20 minutes or so. I took a quick Gold Bond shower, applied some sun screen, then hit the road in the same gear I had been wearing for the past two days. Life on the road is so glamorous!
The highlight of today's ride wasn't even the ride itself. It was the pit stop I made in Edinboro, PA, a small college town. I stumbled upon Lakeside Bagel and Deli for lunch. While stuffing my face full of bagels, soup, cookies and tea (all of which was delicious), a gentleman approached me to ask if that was my bike parked outside. I confirmed that it was. He sat down with eyes full of excitement. It turned out that just the year before, he and a best friend had done a cross country tour. He was eager to learn about the adventure I was on.
We chatted for about an hour. Learning about the trials and tribulations he faced on his tour, many of which I've already begun to confront, was comforting. As I vented my concern about being overtaken by trucks, he suggested getting a rear view mirror. That was an excellent idea. Trucks would be far less anxiety provoking if I could see them coming. He gave some other useful tips, like suggesting that I sleep at churches or even cemeteries if I've got nowhere to go. The thought of sleeping at a cemetery creeped me out...but it was not a bad idea.
Our talk was good for my confidence. I left the restaurant with a renewed vigor.
About twenty miles south of Erie I was approached in the street by another gentleman. He was a local fellow who was passionate about cycling. He told me how a nearby GE plant moved its operations to Texas, causing the town to slowly fall apart. People, including himself, were having to relocate or accept jobs with excessively low wages. I sympathized with the guy. He was going to have to leave his hometown and relocate to Wisconsin for work.
I reflected. In rural towns like this one, it was the absence of economic opportunity that was causing tension. In urban areas like my hometown, Washington DC, it was the inequity of excessive economic opportunity that was causing tension in the form of gentrification. Whether in a rural or urban context, however, people's discontent was rooted in the loss of community. Home is home.
I continued. My excitement grew. Though I'd visited it plenty of times before, I was eager to see Lake Erie. Upon arrival in the town I made a stop at Competitive Gear bike shop. The owner, Peter, got me the rear view mirror that I needed and helped me screw my head back on after I thought I had lost my gloves. Solid bike shop. Any place that can deal with my neuroses is right on.
I rode down to the Lake. There it was! A bunch of water. Alright. What to do now? Oh, I know! I'll take some pictures. I took some pictures. Good job, Colin. You're awesome.
My evening ended in the home of my "Warm Showers" host, Leo. Within five minutes of meeting this guy he felt like my old Uncle Leo. He was great. As he showed me around the house he remarked, "Oh! I've got something for you. Let me go grab it before I forget."
I wondered. What could this guy have for me? We don't really know each other. The extent of our communications has been a few emails about accommodations and my suggestion that he check out my blog.
He returned with an odd canister in his hand. "This is for when you get out West."
Oh my God. Leo got me bear mace. He picked up on my bearanoia (shout out to Steevo) from my blog so decided to give me his old can of bear mace. If Leo wasn't the best host ever then I don't know who was.
We sat down to a nice dinner of goulash. Leo was full of touring stories and experience. Of particular interest were his thoughts around the utilities oh yellow Gatorade (ask me next time you see me in-person). He made one suggestion that got me feeling awfully patriotic. He suggested, "Always ride with a USA flag. You know why? Drivers may not slow down for you, but they'll slow down for that flag." Dang.
That night I went to sleep motivated. Having already ridden nearly 500 miles, I was ready to ride 5,000 more (cue The Proclaimers, "I would walk 500 miles...").