Although the morning in Buffalo started out dry, the forecast indicated that a veritable deluge was upon us. But before the inevitable weather, Cliff whipped up the best egg and cheese omlette I’ve ever had, I dined with him and Carol outside on their plant and flower covered deck. Cliff spoke highly of city cycling, so after I bid them adieu, I cruised around leisurely for a while and found that there was hardly any traffic to battle. After exploring various neighborhoods for a while, I stopped into a tiny market and picked up some whole wheat bread to try out my host’s suggestion of centrifugal peanut butter and jelly: you frost two slices of bread to form sandwiches, re-stack the sandwiches back into the loaf bag, and whip it around like a centrifuge to mash them down neatly so that they compress and you can peel them off as you go. I set them up in a variety of ways to keep it interesting– some with almond butter and jelly, one on the top with sliced banana, one at the bottom with granola for extra crunchiness, one with the contents of a small honey packet I picked up from a small convenience store’s coffee and tea accessory station, and one with raisins. By the time I finish this trip, I could write a cookbook on peanut butter and jelly recipes.
Of course, before long, it started raining. And boy, did it rain. As for my allegedly waterproof togs, well… not so much, but they say you get what you pay for. I wasn’t willing to sell a kidney to get one of those fancy, truly waterproof, breathable, high-viz cycling jackets ($300? Really?), and last year I balked but shelled out $65 for one from REI that ended up being a big disappointment and I ultimately returned it. So I contented myself with knowing that it wasn’t really that cold, as long as I kept moving. A sopping wet and windy 55º gets uncomfortable when you’re standing still and your heart rate settles back down to normal, though.
Once again I did some unintentioanl off-route riding around and ended up going past a nice open-space park. Tunes did some rain running, and I tried to identify the source of a new squeak which seemed to be louder and differently located than the noise from a few weeks ago. Maybe it was the chain? The cranks? It was hard to say, but not difficult to hear. The map said there was a bike shop in the upcoming town of Hamburg, so I decided I’d stop in and have it looked at. But when I finally got back on route and arrived at the right address, I was chagrinned to see the dimmed storefront and “closed” sign on the door, even though the posted store hours indicated they should have been open. As if on cue, suddenly the sound of heavy rain roared around me, and the squish of lukewarm water in my biking shoes was calling for my attention. Blech indeed. I’d spotted a church a few blocks back with a big outdoor covered pavilion and a couple of tables, so I circled back to dry off there and evaluate my options. Their big front yard marquee read, “All are welcome at our table,” which seemed a suitable enough invitation.
I wrung out my shoes and socks, threw on a warm wool layer, peeled off a peeb from my smoosh-sammie stack, and checked a radar app on my phone. The dark patches of rain with a few less dark patches of drizzle all along my route meant I’d be advancing like a waterlogged rook on a sodden chessboard. Out of curiosity, I checked out all of the maps ahead of me, all the way to Washington. If I wanted to get to the ACA end point of Anacortes, it was still about 3,400 miles away, and if I wanted to finish by the end of August, that meant I’d have to average 55 miles per day in July and August. Doable, but it meant few to no days of dilly-dallying, and with a paltry 28 miles traveled that day, I didn’t want to punk out and stop riding just because it was rainy and uncomfortable. Instead of ruminating on my options, I decided I’d let the answer to come to me organically, and I turned on the radio while I tried to shake some of the water off of my rig and clothes and covers. A midtempo neo-soul groove played and the mega-voiced chanteuse delivered upbeat lyrics that practically asked me to move, so the pavillion became our stage and we had an impromptu dance recital.
After making a few phone calls, writing about 2,000 words about the previous day in Canada, and playing fetch with Petunia, I was peckish again. The rain slowed enough to permit a quick jaunt to the local grocery store, Tops, and picked up some a bagged salad for my supper and some dog food for my buddy. I met Steven and Chelsea there, who were excited to talk to me about my adventure. Steven recommended going to a particular bakery in Seattle, I caught his reference, and we giggled about a video game called Portal (the cake is a lie!). Thanks for the good cheer, both of you!
I headed back to my temporary shelter and did a little more yoga and some writing to warm up. Eventually, a couple of cars pulled up behind the church, and when the second one came, a woman got out and brought a flowe arrangement inside, possibly to get ready for Sunday services the next morning. I approached and asked if she thought it would be okay if I camped out under the shelter overnight. The church pianist gave me her blessing and offered to find me somewhere indoors, but at that point, I was sort of settled in to my temporary bivouac and she seemed to understand.
A little later, I was making another phone call when suddenly Tunes started to growl and I looked up to see a man with his head down, dressed in a black hoodie and black pants with a dark blue backpack coming towards the shelter. Thanks for the heads up, little cow. I greeted the stranger, and he seemed non-threatening, and almost sheepishly admitted, “looks like we had the same idea,” as he plugged an old flip-phone into the available outlet below where mine was charging up. He came and sat on the table next to me, and as he got closer, so did an unfortunately noisome rankness that I recognized as the hybrid aroma of long-term homelessness and lack of self-care, with a hint of barroom floor.
He said his name was Michael, and he seemed to have about three teeth between his gums, but as he spoke, I recognized something in him that seemed level and without guile. He sounded a bit like Eeyore as he pulled two cans of cheap beer from his backpack and offered me one. I declined, but he kept the second one at the ready. “I’m an alcoholic I guess. Well, a drunk, really. Alcoholics go to meetings. I’d be lucky to make it to 50.” “And how old are you now?” I asked. “Forty-nine. My birthday’s in four weeks.” “That’s a pretty bleak outlook.” “Well, that’s the reality of it, I guess.” He shared his story of a difficult upbringing full of loss and tragedy in a very matter-of-fact fashion, and how he came to be living in a $40 Walmart tent down by the creek in his native Hamburg, NY for the last decade or so. “I guess it was just the depression or the anxiety, but I could never hold a job. I never wanted the things most other people wanted. I just wanted to be out in the woods.” His cell phone rang and he sighed when he saw the name of the caller on his screen. “I was gonna meet this friend of mine at the bar, but I guess I don’t have to go to the bar tonight,” seeming content to have someone to listen to him for a while. A voracious reader, Michael confessed to have read “Stephen King’s Under the Dome in 4 days, a lot of Terry Brooks, and I’ve read the Lord of the Rings series about 3 times.” He asked about my travels, and Tunes had softened by then and let him scratch her behind her ears.
It was still raining and had started to get dark,when the inevitable question came: “So where are you gonna sleep tonight?” I did a silent calculation. Should I lie and say I was planning to move on? What if he was planning on staying there a lot longer? What if he wasn’t as harmless as I’ve assessed? I went with my gut feeling. “I got permission from the church to camp here and I told them I’d stop in tomorrow morning. There are plenty of lights on still, but I’m gonna settle in for the evening. You headed back to your camp?” He said he was. I felt slightly mean for saying it, but I was direct and added, “I hope you stay dry and have a good night. Just so you know, I’m a light sleeper, and will mace and possibly taser anyone who disrupts me at night, so if you need anything else up here, I’d wait til morning if I were you.” I didn’t want to seem like an easy mark, just in case, and I do sleep with a big old can of 30-foot range bear spray/mace, so I didn’t feel unsafe. It’s a strange balance between between remaining open and recognizing the humanity in every stranger you meet, and safeguarding your own person. But in the end, we shook hands, he wished me a less rainy trip, and he went back to his camp and I set mine. I slept unperturbed, and left at 5:30 the next morning in the mist, before the drizzle found me again.
Song of the day: Joan Baez- There But For Fortune