Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Erie...and beyond

On Thursday morning I woke up to discover I had left my stove out overnight. In the rain. The pilot wouldn't light, which coffee, a potential disaster (I have werewolf tendencies that are activated by lack of coffee instead of the presence of a full moon).

As I packed up camp and fought off a fast-approaching caffeine headache, a man walked over from his camper across the way. "Hi," he said, "looks like you're on some sort of a bike trip."
"Where you going to?"
"New York City."
"My son works as a carpenter in Wyoming."
"Oh," I stammered, flummoxed by his complete non-sequitor, "that must be very...woody for him."
The man turned and walked back to his camper.

I pedaled out of the campground, thinking I would stop at a gas station or a fast food joint for some coffee. No such luck. I rode twenty miles without passing a gas station or convenience store or fast food restaurant. Just corn fields, mobile homes, and rusty heaps of car corpses. I didn't have a map of the area, and was relying on the GPS on my phone. The reception dwindled from meager to none. The sky flickered and grumbled, unleashing a stampede of large, heavy rain drops. I waved at a passing truck, hoping to ask where to find the nearest gas station. He slowed down enough to give me the finger, then zoomed on, spraying me with a sheet of muddy water. As he sped into the distance, I noticed a pair of steel 'testicles' dangling from the rear hitch of his truck. Probably a prosthetic, indicating complete lack of the real deal.

Finally, in the miniature town of Pierpont, I came across a saggy Shell gas station. I leaned my bike against the crumbly cement facade, creaked open the screen door, and walked into the dimly lit, cavernous interior. Miscellaneous car innards lay scattered on the floor. A geriatric Oldsmobile sat atop a hoist. Several naked incandescent bulbs hung, bat-like, from the ceiling. In the corner a scoliotic rack sagged under the weight of candy bars, lighters, road maps, and engine oil. I picked out a Pennsylvania map and a Snickers bar and set them on the counter. A wispy-haired man tottered in from the back room. "Good morning," I said, "I'd like to buy these." "Well," he said, "I was just going to give those to you. I saw your bike out front. You're on a trip?"
"Wow...thank you. And yes, I am on a trip. To New York."
"You be careful out there. Say, you want some coffee?"
"Yes please!" (This guy was a mind-reader.)
I drank the coffee while he (Bob) regaled me with tales of his youthful wanderings. He'd hitch-hiked to New York City and slept on park benches. "Gives me the willies thinking about it now, but at the time I didn't know any better," he said, shaking his head. "So you watch out. There's a few scoundrels around here. A few years ago I sold some gas to a woman and she drove off in the same direction you're going. They found her body the next day. Murdered."
I promised him I'd be careful, thanked him again, and got back on my bike. I'll send him a postcard when I get to New York. If I make it alive...

I spent a rainy Friday, Saturday, and half of Sunday in Erie. On Sunday afternoon I headed north, and into New York. I've been biking through the countryside, suburban sprawl, and saggy rust belt towns of New York State.

Next up: the Erie Canal

Thursday mileage: 67
Sunday mileage: 42
Monday mileage: 45
Total mileage: 1,224

Sign outside Pierpont, OH

Sketch of Erie at dusk

Sign in Erie, PA

A shack near Lake Erie Beach State Park in New York

The inside of the shack

A bird's nest I found in the shack

House outside Lancaster, NY

NY welcome sign

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