Three Cheers for the Union! Hurrah! 6
Boy howdy what a week! So many things have happened that I have no idea where to begin. Perhaps I should start by saying that our Watsi campaign page doubled (!) this week! That means, you all have funded healthcare for 34 patients around the world, a total of $ 1,980 and counting! 34 lives have been directly impacted by you. Thank you.
The last post left off behind the Walmart in Oregon, OH. Which means I have to catch everyone up on two states, one birthday, two torrential downpours, two host families, one Civil War parade, and the intimate details of eight dinners. I might back off of the food descriptions to save time. . .
We left Oregon in the morning (once again, that’s Oregon, Ohio) and headed out toward Cleveland like a herd of turtles. I don’t really remember much of that day, except that I had a headache, and we saw another of those gigantic natural gas burners. Lizzy and I have decided that they are secretly manufacturing clouds out here. My headache cleared after a while, but my navigation skills were left in a fog. I missed a turn en route to Sandusky, and accidentally led us around a peninsula, a 25 mile detour. To say the least, I was peeved. Lizzy, of course, wasn’t bothered because it was such a “nice ride around the lakeshore.” Grr. Such a positive attitude. I realized my mistake when we hit the road we were supposed to be on but by then it was getting close to dark and we had 25 miles to go before reaching Huron, OH, our planned destination. We rode on into the evening and were assaulted by a thick and unrelenting cloud of gnats and mosquitoes. The onslaught was so fierce that by the time we made Sandusky in the dark, the both of us had buggy beards. We found a church on the edge of town that just so happened to have a private pavilion and soon commandeered the location and fell asleep.
The next day we knew we had to make it to Cleveland because we had arranged a night with warmshowers hosts, Sasha and Even. The morning was a perfect temperature, and since we had been able to get on the road early, we figured we would take our time. I happened to find a fun pair of kooky shorts that day–love ’em or hate ’em everyone has an opinion.
The weather was so nice we couldn’t resist a chance to go for a dip in Lake Erie. We found a free park, and after carefully reading the toxic algae warning signs, decided to jump in. It turns out that we could have just waited a minute and let Erie come to us.
The moment we left the water it started to sprinkle, and then rain. I am no stranger to rain; this rain was spectacular. It turns out that this entire region has been experiencing an inordinate amount of rainfall, and many places are flooding–places such as the bike lanes. It was fun for a while because the water coming off of the road was warm, and we knew we had a place to dry off at that night. It was less fun as we drew closer to Cleveland and the roads became increasingly crumbly. I couldn’t see beneath the flood and ran into something, exploding my front tube. After some soggy, roadside, mechanical work, we once more mounted the cycles for Cleveland and made it to Sasha and Evan’s completely soaked. Evan let us wash our clothes, take showers and dry off, for which we are eternally grateful.
Their home was really cute, so cute that I took some pictures of the inside. Maybe that’s creepy, but take it as a compliment. I did the same thing at Tom and Karen’s. . . We ended up going out for Vietnamese food that night, and in the morning woke up in complete luxury on Sasha and Evan’s couches. They are truly wonderful people and I’m really glad we got the chance to meet. Sasha gave us directions to KoKo’s Bakery in Cleveland’s “Asiatown” (put in quotations because the Cleveland Asiatown is comprised of one bakery) so of course, we had to go and get our bau on. Duuuuuuude. There is nothing like fresh humbau. Get some if you haven’t tried it. Seriously. Get up and get some. Right now. It’s worth the drive. Honest.
During all of this meandering we met really cool people. I got a hug from a stranger, a high five, a handshake, words of encouragement. We like Cleveland. I can’t write about everyone that we meet or it’d take all day, but that doesn’t mean those who remain nameless aren’t important.
We rode out of town into a headwind following the shore on the bike path, and then plodded through some high end historical neighborhoods. We were headed out toward Erie, PA, but I was full of bau, and wasn’t feeling too motivated. We took a few breaks along the way and met a lawyer named J at Aldi’s who bought our groceries and told us about Mediwish International–a Cleveland based nonprofit that sends medical supplies and provides training around the world.
From there, we peddled toward the hills and met a wonderful woman named Mary, who had an appropriately labeled ‘world’s best mom’ birdhouse in her yard. Seeing us struggle up a hill, she was moved with compassion and invited us home for dinner. We had a wonderful and filling time with her and her awesome son, Tom, pun intended. Tom explained the plot line of “Ben Ten” to us, and showed us the finer points of some video games. Mary gave me some “hola granola” for my birthday that was phenomenal. Hola Granola is homemade in Ohio and sales profits go directly to help woman who are trafficking victims. It was bomb granola. That night we made it to Ashtabula, OH. I should clarify, we made it to a truck stop/Denny’s improperly labeled as in Ashtabula, but is really 7 miles out of town.
We camped out behind the truck stop and Lizzy met a cool fellow named Carl, and his dog Champ. Carl relayed to Lizzy a fantastic dream in which Carl’s friend sold Champ to LeBron James for a million dollars. It is a long dream and if you’d like to hear the whole thing ask Lizzy because It’s worth hearing. In the end, Carl got the Champ back, but only after sneaking into a NBA game, attending a circus with LeBron, and taming a lion (or something). It sounded stressful to me.
We woke up the next morning, my birthday, to sprinkles. I thought that we should perhaps feast on pancakes at Denny’s to celebrate but after checking the radar decided to get some miles in before the worst of the rain came. The 7 miles to Ashtabula were insanely perfect. A paved rail-to-trail path took us exactly straight and downhill right to town, and it was beautiful to boot. It was like riding our own, private road through a rainforest. As it was my birthday, Lizzy bought me a Big Breakfast at McDonald’s (just for you daddy, I know how you love Big Breakfast) and surprised me with gifts. One gift was so great, so perfect, so improbable, I still can’t comprehend how: that stinker got me a copy of Ian Hibell’s Into The Remote Places which is one of the best bicycle touring books in the world! Or IS the best touring book. Somehow by bike, thousands of miles, and without damage, it made it into my grimy mitts.
It was pouring when we left, but it didn’t look like it was going to stop so I called ahead to a semi-famous warmshowers host in Erie, Leo, who agreed to let us stay with him. We took off into the deluge and paddled to Pennsylvania. I mean, peddled. . .
We stopped just past the border and met one of the most outstanding citizens I have ever come upon. Lizzy was sitting at the gas station looking pathetically damp, eating cold chili beans and mustard out of a can with a spork (such is life for us) when she was approached by a boy, probably eleven years old or so who had just bought a sandwich. He asked her why she was eating beans and she said, “oh, I was hungry and they’re good.” With that, he walked out the door, got on his bike, and rode away. We’ve had a few unsatisfying conversations of that sort and are used to it, neither of us expected to see him again. But after a while he came back. Lizzy was at the bikes outside and so he came to me and asked where she was. I told him, and he offered his sandwich to us saying that he didn’t want us to be hungry. It was the very sweetest thing that anyone has ever done and it simply melted my heart. We talked to him for a while, mostly about his bike. He has modified a sling to be a BB rifle holster so he can ride armed. Xander: we will never hear from you again, but you are bound for success. Also, Lizzy gave him some candy that we had been carrying with us through the rain. In hindsight, it was probably all sticky and smooshed together.
With melty hearts, we rode into the headwind the last few miles to Leo’s in Erie. Leo lives at the top of an incredibly steep hill. Just throwing that out there. We were very concerned about getting to Erie before 5 pm because we were expecting a mail drop. Leo graciously offered us a ride and we were very fortunate he did because we got four (yes four) boxes in the mail! And Leo gave us a “nickel tour” of Erie, and explained some grievances toward GE, which has up until recently been manufacturing locomotive engines in Erie. Now they have moved to Ft. Worth. We had a great time at Leo’s. He and his girlfriend Bonnie made us dinner, and had me blow out a birthday match on a delicious cake. (They didn’t have candles) Lizzy and I retired to the guest room to open up some mail from home.
I was overwhelmed and surprised to find so many letters from home:
Bob and Myrna Summers, Barbara Rainwater, Heather, Dylan, Kater Potater McInnis, Sam Weigal, Lela McInnis, FaFa, Momma, Tessa, Mark and Debbie Shraepel, Jeff, Shelby, Stephanie Kunkle, Brian Bump, Mary Inscore, Katie Kenning, Trevor, Abby, Clinton and Teresa Spencer, Dug, Ruthy and Holly Wilhelm, Anna Marie and Bellah, Kellen Strong, Lillian, Maddy Meadows, Danni, Naomi Sweet, Rylee, Carson, Addy, Shaun and Emiliy Stong, Sabastian, Quynne, Biggy, Cody, Cindi, Wayland, Beep, Poppet, Hoot, Noodle, the Kennings, Pam and Curtis Stringer, Elisabeth, Mark, Lena and Jane Childers, George Howard, and Jean Meade
Thank you! I might have missed a few, if I did sorry. I’m thanking you too.
I cried a little bit.
Best birthday ever.
I love you all.
I also got a very special box of delicious food from my dear friend Amanda Nystrom.
The next day, we packed up all of our things and went back to the post office because two cards from my Aunt Becky had not come with the other boxes. When we arrived, the postmasters were not too enthusiastic about helping us, and said we had nothing else. So I called my aunt, double checked addresses and such, and then went back in to ask again. Still no. So lizz went in and asked if we could have someone else pick the letters up for us, which is a no. We explained our cycling situation to them and still nothing. So with empty hands, we walked back out and called Aunt Becky to thank her for trying. After I’d hung up the phone, one of the postal people came out with three letters! I don’t know what they were doing the other three times they ‘looked’ for our mail, but I’m grateful nonetheless. We each got a letter from Aunty Becky, and I got another heart lifting letter from dear miss Amanda.
We peddled down the street to use a bathroom and a man told me that I had beautiful shorts. Hmmm. And husky legs. Hmmmm. I’m pretty sure it was a compliment, he was impressed that we’d biked so far. We stumbled upon a Country Fair Gas Station 50th birthday party and got free hot dogs, chips, cookies, waters and high fives. I was on the hunt for post cards which are getting increasingly more difficult to find out here, but to no avail. We rode on until we reached the town of North East Pennsylvania, which is located in the north west corner of the state-go figure- and met another cyclotourist who was very intense and really wanted us to check out New York wineries. I simply abandoned Lizzy to that conversation after 3 attempts to gracefully cut it short. We also stumbled upon a great 2nd hand shop and got a bundle deal on some sweet vintage post cards, so watch your mailboxes!
From there we rode into NY, snapped a picture crossing the border, and enjoyed some beautiful weather. I promptly got a flat. Number two this week, a sign that my tires are wearing thin. I switched my front tire out for my spare, which is essentially a new tire and we rode on. The delay prevented us from traveling as far as I wanted to go that night, but it turned out for the best.
Just as dark was coming we rolled into a time warp and found ourselves in 1863! The town of Fedonia was celebrating the posthumous awarding of the Medal of Honor to a town son, Alonzo Cushing, who was killed in Gettysburg while heroically defending Union lines against Picketts’s Charge. We happened to roll into the pre-party and met a wonderful and talented troop of musicians, the Calvert Arms Fife & Drum Corps, who let us stay in their camp at the city park. Mark, Mary, Markus, John, Dave, Cody, Jeff–you are some of the coolest people in the world! It was absolutely fantastic. After hearing a concert of the top hits from the 1860s, we cozied up around a campfire and listened to reenactment news. Mary, mom of the group who is a teacher/beekeeper/living history woman/columnist gave us a jar of her honey (yum!). She and Mark live near town and they let us stay in their canvass tent for the night since they wouldn’t be using it. We jumped at the opportunity.
We also were able to meet Rosamond Gallepsi-Burns, whose father was a WWI veteran. Rosamond has written a book, Dear Jen, which is a collection of letters between her father and mother during the war. She wrote the book as a way to get to know her father, who left before she was old enough to remember him. She is currently working on a second book. Rosamond encouraged us to write in our journals, and to laminate everything! I will continue to keep up on my journal, though I don’t think it is in my budget to laminate the hundreds of pages I’m writing.
We also met a couple, Laura and Max, and their energetic, gum chewing spaniel mix pup Sabrina. We had talked with them the night before, and came back in the morning with a gift of Lara Bars and a gift card. We were overwhelmed by their kindness, and by the fact that they had actually gone back home and read our blog the night before. If you are reading this now Laura, you have to go on tour! Send us an email when you go!
In the morning, Mary brought us muffins and eggs, and we got to hear another mini concert, watch a parade, meet Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Grant who took our business cards and drove away in a Lincoln Penny Mobile, see my great great great great grandpa Robert E Lee, hear cannon fire (it scared the tar out of me the first time), and listen to the heroic mini biography of First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing.
By the time of his death at age 22, Alonzo Cushing had seen combat at Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville and survived. His biography can be read here. Incidentally, His brothers were also recognized for their courage in combat, one in the West, and one for his involvement in the sinking of the USS Ironclad. It was a somber moment for me as I watched the Calvert Arms drummers and knew that were it really 1863, it would be likely that they would suffer the same fate as First Lieutenant Cushing. There has never been such a poignant time in American history, or time so crucial to our existence as a nation. It is worth remembering the passion and valor of those soldiers who fought to determine our fate, whether Confederate or Union. I sometimes wonder if I would have the grit, and I don’t think I would. I’m quite sure that after even hearing the horrible sound of a distant battle I would run for the hills.
I’m quite grateful for having met our new living historians, and for their commitment to keep in remembrance that terrible struggle. I am also grateful for having the honor and opportunity to work closely with Dr. Kerry Irish as his TA through his Colonial America and Civil War courses because I truly believe you cannot know or love this county until you have heard her history, and heard it from accurate sources.
And so, another week has gone down on the books. This had been a fabulous birthday week, this shabbily slapped together blog post does but touch the surface of the wonderful people we have met, the stories we have heard, and the sights we have seen. Everyday I wake up with appreciation for this opportunity and gratitude to the remarkable and kind strangers we get to meet every day. It is good.
Thank you all for following. Stink out.