After brushing my teeth with little Olivia and re-packing my panniers, I thanked my hosts and rode til noonish and into my tenth state, Ohio.
Despite a few drizzly moments, it was faily nice by midday, and that’s when I relinquished my control over roadside restraurant cravings and stopped at a 50’s retro outdoor diner called the White Turkey Drive-In. When I pulled up with my loaded bike and doggie, I felt the burger-mongering crowd’s conversations screech to a halt as if someone had stopped the needle on the diner’s vintage record-playing jukebox. I splurged on a root beer float, and Petunia sat on my lap and ate vanilla ice cream, and when one patron was willing to start the conversation, I gave my succinct travel story just slightly louder than necessary so that all who were obviously interested could hear.
Making my way along the flat roads, I saw a loaded-up cyclist in the distance approaching from the opposite direction. As she got closer, I thought that this was perhaps the next cyclist Leo told me he’d be hosting. “Mariah?” I called to her from across the street. She looked surprised and crossed over to talk to me, and I explained how I’d been given the heads up that she was headed east and our paths might cross. She told me of the miseries of gravelley and dangerous Michigan riding (she’d taken a fall but was mostly uninjured), that she was relocating to Boston, and we bonded as solo women touring cyclists. Just like me, she was constantly getting the question from strangers, “You’re going alone? Aren’t you scared?” and she impressed me with her spot-on response, “This is why we need feminism!” Right on, sister.
There were several nice views of Lake Erie and of a little lighthouse on a rocky jetty. After a 65 mile day, the finale was riding through the little touristy resort town of Geneva on the Lake, and we pulled up to next WS host’s house, Rick. Our last host Leo had practically sent us there, as he knew Rick (though had never actually met him in person) via their WS connection. I was starting to feel a bit like a WarmShowers mooch, but it was so nice to stay dry with all of the rain, and best of all, I was meeting so many interesting and inspiring people (and Tunes was getting a good amount of dog socialization as well).
Rick greeted me in the driveway and helped me bring my bike and gear into an enclosed porch, and let me make myself at home while he went out for a little while. I was pretty sleepy but had quite a bit of writing and prepping to do, so I was happy to have some quiet time. As I set my sleeping bag out on the couch that he’d offered me for the night, I noticed I was not totally alone, though, so I escorted my strange bedfellow outside before finally settling in. Rick made me a nice big bowl of popcorn which was an appreciated munchie, and I finally passed out listening to the rain falling just before midnight.
In the morning, my host made me some yummy pancakes with real maple syrup that his family made locally. A 65 year old retired Air Force self-described “grease monkey,” Rick had toured on the TransAm just a few years ago, and over breakfast, we had a lot of good laughs as we waxed nostalgic about the scary dogs of Kentucky, the blissful good health we enjoyed while touring, and how solo riding has its own kind of special joy. I was surprised to hear that people had often seemed surprised to learn that he was riding unaccompanied, regardless of his gender. “I like touring alone. I guess I just like being with myself that much.” Rick held my bike up while I re-loaded my gear and un-gunked and re-greased my chain. We were both pumped up from talking story about our travels. “You make me want to get back out there and tour again!” he said, and I told him that his un-met friend Leo just 65 miles away had offered to ride with him to DC in October. He seemed jazzed up about this prospect, and I hope they both get to go out and enjoy it again.
Leaving Geneva behind, I set out through more of northeastern Ohio, starting to feel the two previous long-mile days in my knees and neck a bit. During my travels, I got a voicemail from WS host Martha, who said that if I didn’t have a place to stay in Cleveland Heights, I was welcome to stay with her and her husband Joe, their Golden-doodle, Stella, and new German Shepherd puppy, Xena. This sounded perfect, as it was forecasted to be one more night of rain and I was ready for a short day, and camping in the city generally doesn’t is not a good idea. Singing the Drew Carey theme song all the way there (Cleveland rocks, Cleveland rocks….. OHIO!!), I arrived a couple of hours earlier than my hosts were expecting me, but not too early for the rain. I got drenched while stopped for a PBJ lunch, but managed to make it to a local library branch in cool castle-like building that had once been a mansion. No one seemed to notice or mind that I had Tunes with me, as I quietly sat down and started to write emails, edit photos, and blog on my phone and portable keyboard, with the sleeping pup curled up on my lap. They seemed like a pretty open and affirming place anyway.
When I arrived at Martha’s beautiful home in a pretty residential neighborhood, she invited me in and we exchanged introductions. Petunia let Stella say hello, but then promptly headed to our guest room to rest. The thunder earlier in the day had left her a bit unsettled and tired, and the bed that was ours for the night was exceptionally comfortable, so she was happy to make herself at home. Martha had picked up Lebanese food for dinner, including fattoush and a spinach pie, pita chips and hummus, and tabbouleh, plus baklava for dessert, and it was all so delicious. Martha told me that she’d been working with a dog trainer to get 8-month-old Xena prepared to be a search and rescue dog, and that the pup had gone for her first swim in a pond earlier that day. Docile and sweet Stella was also a working dog, certified as a therapy animal and was highly sought after by nursing homes and college campuses during exams. Maybe something for Tunes to aspire to in the future? Martha was also a cyclist and we talked bike trips a bit before I took cow out for a pleasant walk in the misty evening air, and we slept very soundly, safe and indoors once again.
Some art they had that reminded me of my neighbor back home in Jersey. Hi Wanda…. after a while, crocodile!
I can’t say enough how amazing my WarmShowers hosts have been and how grateful I am for their hospitality, openness, and generosity. Of course it’s nice to have my housing and fooding and hygiene needs met, but I also learn so much from them. I kind of wish I was home to host interesting travelers on the Atlantic Coast route, but I imagine there will be plenty of time for that. For now, there’s lots of adventure ahead over the next two months.
Song of the day: Ohio (Come Back to Texas) by Bowling for Soup.