The middle of somewhere

In the morning I discovered yet another flat tire, this time on the other wheel.  I rolled the bike out into the daylight of the parking lot and changed the tube, and since we were already in a hotel room I used the sink to immediately patch the old one and pack it away.

First order of business today: Fix this flat tire.

After that we headed for the downtown, such as it was.

This town has seen better days.

The business folded and no one could pay to clean it up.

Nick realized he had to pee, and spotted a nearby dumpster he could sneak behind.  He came back shaking his head:  “As soon as I started peeing, a guy came out of the building right behind me.  He looked pretty upset.” We had a good laugh at that.

Ready for another day of riding!

We rolled along a little farther to a Family Dollar store, and I bought a big bottle of water and poured it into my water sack.  In the meantime Nick changed into warmer pants.  Preparations made, we pedaled Northeast and left the town behind.  Nick ranged way ahead of me on his younger legs.

He told me he also found inspiration to pedal because a cute bug joined him for part of the trip, and he wanted to take it on a free ride:

Nick had a friend riding along with him for a while.

“If you see my doctor pepper could you pick it up please? I put it in a pocket for a second and then it was gone.”
“I’ll keep an eye out. Is it in a bag?”
“No just a bottle. It’s sometime before the turnout with the benches.”
“Didn’t see the bottle. It will have to remain out here as one of the few soda bottles that actually has … soda … in it.”

Bike touring is like sailing a ship.  You leave anything on deck, and it will go overboard, and be gone forever.  You very quickly learn to tie down everything, even if it’s just going to be out for a few moments since the wind can easily blow it onto the ground where you’ll forget it.

Also, there are about ten million soda bottles half-filled with pee scattered all over both sides of the highways in the midwest, and for some reason there are also plenty of bottles with other trash conscientiously tucked inside them, like those old “ship in a bottle” tchotchkes from years past, except gross:

This is not what campers mean when they say "pack your trash!"

In most places though, the trash was lost in high grass and didn’t spoil the scenery unless we were deliberately looking for it.

What is that structure on the left?
Looks like a passer-by added some commentary!
Enjoying outside time.

30 miles later we got to the next town with a hotel.  There was one of those endless construction projects just outside it, making for an especially interesting approach by bike.

We could have gone farther but there was a big gap in the services ahead of us, which we would need a full day to cross.

Enjoying the windy road.

It was a touristy town next to a lake, and was clearly suffering from the COVID slump. The most exciting store for us was the one that promised good coffee, but it was locked up.

Too bad this wasn't open when we found it.

Nick’s comment: “I figured it could sense my Californian blood and it was magnetically pulling me towards it.”

Someone has liked coke for a long time.

The most unique thing about the motel was the weird collection of vintage coke products all around the lobby. Someone must have started it on a whim 60 years ago and then had no reason to stop. That’s one key difference between the midwest and the coast: There’s so much room here, people don’t really mind if it fills up with stuff. It’s probably a comforting reminder that civilization persists.

The shortcut to getting luggage inside: Throw it in through the window!

Half the restaurants in the town were shut down, and all the rest had closed early except for the Subway franchise.  There was a grocery store open though, where I found some produce and a few snacks.

At the hotel I set up my work chair in the parking lot, catching some nice late afternoon rays and warm air.  It reminded me of being at the drive-in movies as a kid, catching the low summer sun on the sloping expanse of the parking lot as people slowly accumulated around me and the sky darkened.  Soon a giant screen would flicker to life and a cartoon advertisement for snacks at the concession stand would echo weirdly among the cars…

After an hour or so the shadows moved and it got cold, so I went in.

In the evening I rolled over to the Subway.  The guy behind the counter turned down his rock music when I arrived, but I told him he didn’t need to, so he turned it back up.  We talked a bit about music and he mentioned that he was a massive fan of Stevie Ray Vaughn.  As he assembled my sandwich he gestured over to the soda fountain.  Apparently I qualified as cool enough to grab whatever amount of free soda I wanted.  Yesss!!  Service industry perks!  I shook my head but thanked him.

When I got back to the hotel I mentioned the story to Nick, and he put a playlist of Stevie Ray Vaughn on his speakers, which we listened to for several hours while I sorted through the last few days of photos.  Pretty cool.  Thanks, Subway Guy.

We were now well into that phase of a bicycle tour where you start to forget about the level of accessibility that most of the travelers around you are experiencing.  That is, you start to really feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere because it took you three or four days to get there.  It takes a little mental effort to remember that you could blaze through exactly the same locations in a few hours if you were traveling by car, and would barely even notice the distance covered — or notice much of anything.

This half-closed cluster of patchy buildings in the middle of the country really did feel remote.

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