Song of the day: Crossing the Gap by Railroad Earth. http://youtu.be/ia2z2AeFSxs
My eyes attempted to open with the first light at around 4:30 A.M., but decided that would simply not do, and my mummy-sack-entombed body awkwardly rolled over as to not disturb the sleeping pup between my feet. I brushed off several spiders and their newly minted webs from my panniers and departed a bit after 6, and within a quarter mile of leaving the unkempt, overgrown railroad spot I’d crashed in, I saw a small, neatly mown fire department around the bend that would’ve made for a perfect campsite, had I only rolled just a bit farther. I wasn’t even bummed- it was pretty funny, and seemed to have some metaphorical life lesson in there somewhere, and I cycled into the town of Delaware Water Gap for breakfast at Mackeys (thanks for the gift card, mom!).
I refilled my water bottles, grabbed a coffee for me and a sausage patty for the little cow, and was sitting on the bench outside perusing my maps when a man approached and inquired as to whether I needed help. I asked him about the roads going north towards Burlingham, but he said he was a truck driver, and unfortunately only ever saw the most boring parts of the country– the interstates. José generously donated $20 for the Gearing Up fundraiser, and we chatted for a minute about the way that being alone helps bring you in touch with something more spiritual. “When you’re alone, sometimes that’s the only chance you get to talk to God– seems like there’s no time to do that, otherwise.”
After crossing the river back into NJ, we rode a very quiet, nearly automobile-free 17 mile stretch paralleling a bit of the Appalachian Trail, peacefully avoiding the Memorial Day traffic. Unhurriedly, I let my lungs fill with the sweet sylvan smells, enjoying the shade of the trees and the beauty of the ferns. I heard two hog-like grunts from my passenger, which meant it was time for Petunia to get her exercise, and so she ran alongside me for a couple of miles. She started out at a good clip of 11 MPH, then going up the hills and towards the end of her second mile, we slowed to around 6. She drank a lot of water, walked over to me and I set her back in her carrier and buckled her up. Good dog.
The Kittatinny Mountains were nothing to sneeze at– only the trees and grass were, for me– and I found myself once again doing one push up an exceptionally steep classic-Poconos mountain. Then 28 miles in and without any services around, we began to run out of our 6th and final water bottle. I took a chance by bumping over a rocky, unpaved side road into the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, but their alleged bathroom was austere even by Portapotty standards. But the gravelly detour wasn’t for naught. Tunes and I climbed down a little sandy hill and went for a refreshing swim (bath?) in the Delaware. Well, I went for a swim, but she is not a big fan of the open water. There goes my buddy-triathlon hopes for us.
Feeling refreshed, if not quenched of thirst, I climbed out and rinsed off the silty river muck as best as I could, put on some dry shorts, and cycled out in search of water.
I saw a large Christian center of some kind before I made it to my next city, and pulled over so Tunes could have a little break and so I could inspect the hose hooked up to the side of the building. I heard voices inside so I knocked on the door and was greeted by an older couple who were going to play mini-golf at a small field set up on the church grounds. I asked if I could fill a couple of my water bottles, and the gentleman happily agreed, quoting a Biblical passage about giving a man a cold drink and being rewarded by the kingdom of heaven. I thanked him and as he went off with putter in hand, I used the bottles to fill Petunia’s water dish and realized the water was quite brown. I assumed it was potable anyway since it came from indoors, and although it likely wouldn’t make the cut as holy water, it was good enough for this parched heathen, and we slugged it down and made it to Port Jervis.
By the standards of the Adventure Cycling Association routes, Port Jervis was a rather large city to encounter, with a population of nearly 9,000. I dodged the cars, had a bite to eat and Petunia got some more goodies (bacon with ice cream). I was even able to charge my phone and spare battery a bit while keeping an eye on Tunes, who was outside in her shaded carrier, leaning up against the window where I sat. A few people asked me the usual questions about where I was going… and although my time-challeged goal destination is Seattle, and had told another couple as much this morning, by 4 PM I’d started feeling that this was too overzealous. I’ve already got one nearly 5,000 mile cross-country bicycle tour under my belt, so why jinx it with such lofty declarations? I’m pretty sure I can solo ride to Maine, which is where the route hooks up with the westbound Northern Tier that rides to Washington. It would be great to then go west towards Niagara Falls, and even the Twin Cities, or possibly Glacier National Park if I had time and limbs left. But there I was, backpedaling on day 2, and telling a little girl that I was riding to Bar Harbor, even though she did not know where Maine was at all.
It’s more fun to take it day by day and see how the adventure unfolds, anyway, and I was reminded of that as I happened to see a firetruck pass me that said Hugenot FD. It just so happened that this was the next town I’d be passing through, so I continued on to see if I could crash there, having had the kindnesses of so many Fire Departments across the country on my TransAm ride last year. Sure enough, there was one car outside, and its firefighter owner was washing it near the bay doors. I asked if I could set up my tent in an inconspicuous corner of their lawn for the night, and Bill agreed, and chipperly brought me and Tunes a gallon of cold spring water! Great success.
It was only 5:30 after a hilly 55 mile day, but I was ready to park it and so was my little buddy after a riveting game of fetch– and by fetch, I mean, Petunia runs around with the tennis ball and I chase her, until she stops, I approach from a distance, and she bolts off with it again. I set camp between two trailers, rinsed a few clothes, re-organized some panniers, watched a swarm of cars and trucks pull into the parking lot when an emergency call came in, and waited until it was almost dark to begin my day’s final ablutions. Stealth-bathing outdoors by way of three tepid water bottles while swatting away rapacious mosquitoes is not for everyone. And while it’s not my favorite pastime or anything (although I am starting to see a pattern develop with this bike touring thing…), there is something real and important about eschewing modern comforts and conveniences, atavistically enduring the unpleasantness of the natural world in order to come closer to it. The feel of river mud between my clawing fingers, and of wet grass between my toes. Those were the moments when I could begin to talk to God, as far as I saw it.