101 miles - Total: 514 miles
Another 100-mile day under a baking sun in the heart of rural Ohio; I left Washington DC in a hurry and I am attacking Ohio with restlessness; my wheels are spinning fast in small-town America. Among wooden barns, auto dealerships, barking dogs and corn fields I make my way across this vast state which is the prelude to the Midwest. A long way to go of course but I am making progress. I am more than halfway to Chicago. The ride has been very good today, especially in the afternoon where I was allowed to test my speed and, for a few miles, I hammered it. It has been a day of two halves. In the morning I was in the middle of the usual hills roller coaster but past Mansfield it became almost pancake flat. Today I even had the distinct pleasure to hit the Obama's campaign trail. The big man is coming to Mansfield in two days to rally people's confidence and shore up votes come November mid-term elections.
The morning starts hot and windless with a burning sun as I leave the hotel at the late hour of 10am. The bicycle is the best mean of transportation to see the geological change. From Pennsylvania to Ohio I can appreciate the gradual geological shift. The steep, rocky, coal-filled mountainsides give way to rolling hills covered in grass that glows a brilliant green in the morning sun. I love the rollers that sit close together, where I can fly down one side and let my speed carry me up the other. I curse the steep ones that rise from the flats and force me to inch my way up in granny gear through the hot and sticky air extolling a hefty physical prize out of my body. But I do like the strain that the hill presents, I don't mind to sit up on the pedals, pretending that I am in the lead of the race sprinting away from the peloton. I am having fun, I let my mind wonder, I listen to my body and I let my legs spin. I am finding out how my body is reacting to the strain and whether the recent chemotherapy that weakened my system has finally rebooted the machine. Some corrupted files have been interfering with it but since the start of the ride I have not detected any symptoms of a "virus".
I am aware that if I am making progress and keeping up with the schedule is due to the level of fundraising, today coming up to 10 thousand dollars. This loud statement of solidarity discourages any attack to my system. I am very proud of the amount that has been raised so far; the money is going to research to fight and cure leukemia and blood-related cancers. Honestly, I feel I am doing something bigger than me, it is way bigger than me. The ride might be a silly thing but this cause is bigger than any single human being alone. It is humbling and scary at the same time. Access to health care, good health care is a human right and everyone should have it. Without insurance people die. This wrong must be corrected. Fighting for this should come as collective response shown by the good heart of human beings coming together to join in a fight for a better life. I am glad I can be, even it is for a fleeting moment -the duration of a bicycle tour- a representative of this cause. My life was sent spinning with three words: you have cancer. Fine, I accept the challenge. Now I lay down a challenge myself. I spin the wheels of my bike chewing up miles across the US with the love and support of many human beings for tailwind. Let's see if the virus can keep up!
Back to the ride, back to Ohio. Today I bumped into some Amish communities. I watched them laboring energetically over fields and by barns tending to the livestock and other farm needs. I have seen a lot farm life in the past few days. At car speed the countryside seems monotonous, repetitive, uneventful. However, the bicycle offers me an intimate view of life's happening. This might be silly but it happens quite a bit: today I had two dog chases, I outsprinted them easily. Most dogs however are chained, but that doesn't stop them from trying to give chase. As soon as they see my twirling legs and hear the clanking of gear shifts, their violent, protective instinct kicks in. They forget all about the chain latched to the collar around their neck and tear off across the yard, legs pumping, barking loudly, ready to terrorize. And then, only a couple of seconds later, the chain pulls tight against the tree or pole it's attached to, stopping the dog dead in its tracks and instantly pulling it back toward its owners' house with a solid yank. The owners do not bother to call the dogs and all they do is stare at me unmoved, their body language does not give anything away. I sometimes raise my hand to wave hello, most of them reply with a nod of the head or they don't; they simply stare blankly as if they are looking at a dark TV screen. Most people are outrageously overweight. I often pull in at a grocery store to stock up on water and I wait in line behind some enormous man or woman who is going to purchase some obscure sugar-inflated snacks and will never, ever in their lives comprehend the taste of fresh fruit. But then again who are these people that inhabit "small town" America? And what is "small town" America? It certainly cannot be contained in a few sentences and it cannot be branded under isms or economic-based or even cultural categorizations. It is hard to attach the word 'liberal' to it but the fact that Obama is coming to town to shake it off of its numbing conservatism and bigotry might as well thrust my memory to one of my heroes, a liberal of small-town America par excellence, Atticus Fynch and his savvy words: "you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view". This one was for Scout.
The bike also gives me a chance to appreciate the weather and how it can alter your travel. The wind for instance, oh God! don;t eveng et me started on this and here it is pretty tame compared to the gusts of the open west. The wind changes everything. I am trying to learn how to protect my ride against it, where it blows from and how to prevent it from knocking me off balance. Traveling on the bicycle makes you want to stop at any corner or at any pretty sight and makes you want to remember it for ever. Makes you want to be one with the scenery, makes you want to go everywhere and see everything. I feel I could just walk through a corn field, smell the fresh grass, stop in one of the many hamlets I pass through and talk to the locals for hours. Or I could simply ride away after a quick hello. The bicycle is the only true serendipitous means of transportation because it allows no barriers between you and what you see and stifles all inhibitions within yourself. The bicycle makes you wanna live.
The last 20 miles before Upper Sandusky. I push hard without stopping and by the time I am in town I long for a hot shower and a hot dinner. I enter the hotel and I don't know how the lady at the counter can find the decency in herself to smile at me because I'm a complete mess of dripping, sweaty, salty nastiness. My legs are tarnished with a mix of chain lube, dust, sunscreen, and sweat. Likewise my lower arms. I quickly pay the bill, wash my clothes and spend half an hour soaking my stiff legs in the tub. When you look at the world and think of Ohio you might be realizing that it is insignificant and stale, old and underdeveloped, isolated and prmitive. Maybe. But it is the pumping heart of the agricutural engine of America. After all when you slice up Americana, not all the pieces will taste sweet, but they might still be nourishing. This is the heart of America, few people know it and fewer people come to see it thinking there is nothng to see. How wrong they are!
Tomorrow I will continue on the historic Lincoln highway, which has been my trusted ambit of action for more than 200 miles. I am hoping to cross into Indiana. Lake Michigan beckons. And Chicago will be next.
Another Ohio barn
Amish cart in Wooster
Run-down wooden church in tiny Mifflin
Mansfield, hundreds in line to get tickets for Obama on his campaign trail on Wednesday
Ohio scenery of today's ride, afternoon.
The bike is taking a breather
Football training along LH
Another photo for the 2013 barns calendar!
Flat and fast
A yard sale, all sorts of junk for sale, even a compound bow for $150