Morning’s dew had saturated everything when I started my day in Tontogany, so I sun-dried the tent while I packed the rest of my gear up and took Tunes for her morning walk, waving cordially to the sheriff who was parked nearby and observing me from his car. He didn’t bother me, though, so Tom must’ve kept his word and gave the 5-0 the heads up about me.
I cycled a simple 10 miles to warm up and work up an appetite, and in Grand Rapids, I pulled over at a picnic table alongside the towpath of the Maumee River to inspect my food provisions and realized I was out of bread. PBJ plans thwarted, I walked along the sidewalk of this quaint, tiny village, hoping to see a market, but instead I saw what looked like a little restaurant, although it wasn’t clear from the dark façade whether it was open. A woman exiting the building saw my setup, gasped delightedly, and when I asked if this place served breakfast, she said, “Goodness, yes they do. And I keep coming back here because…. well, I don’t know why, really.” She was very excited about my trip, so I gave her one of my TouringTunes cards, and she informed me that she was a reporter and that she’d like to hear more about my story. Mary Alice Powell, a sharp lady in her 80’s, took a couple of photos of me, then offered to buy me breakfast and hear my story so she could write an article about me in her column next week. She also knew the people in the restaurant well enough so that she got them to allow Tunes to sit quietly on my lap and eat bacon while I had a mountainous egg and veggie scramble with toast, courtesy of the note-taking journalist. She’d never had kids, traveled the U.S. with her dog (by car), and had written for several newspapers, even holding a position as a food editor. “I’ve tried to retire, but I just couldn’t stop writing,” she told me, and I thought of my wordy travel blog and identified with that notion. “She could tell you any kind of story at the drop of a hat,” one of the waitresses added, smiling at Petunia as she brought me out a cup of coffee. “Well I do love life,” Mary Alice declared. I told her about the Gearing Up fundraiser and answered her investigative questions easily, and she surmised that it was not my first big trip. “You’re obviously very prepared,” she assessed. She was sharp, poised, and genuine, and before she wrapped the interview, she had offered to buy me lunch to go, as well! I was reluctant to let her buy me two meals, but she insisted, and I finally accepted her generous offer and ordered a chicken sandwich with a pickle to go. How lucky was my timing! And she got an article out of it as well. “Everyone seems to say these stories just drop into my lap.” She echoed my sentiments about the freedom of living simply, an ineluctable and sublime aspect of bike travel, as she’d also had to pare down her possessions after relocating from a large farm house in Michigan to a modest bungalow in this small town. Talking with Mary Alice was like seeing a hopeful version of myself in 50 years or so. Maybe I’ll be that cool when I grow up. Before she left, she stopped to pay the bill and I heard her tell the waitress, “You know, the pie boxes are too flimsy. I told the owner that last week and he said it would cost an exra $3.50 for a thicker box…. Well, that’s all I have to say about that,” she said pointedly, ever the restaurant critic, then waved and wished me well on my journey.
Full of breakfast and even equipped with a ready to go lunch, I rode on through more small towns and farmland, listening to the local agricultural news report on my radio. An announcer read off Setember wheat and October hog prices, highlighted the upcoming World Dairy Expo where robotic milking would be featured, and discussed recent international trade meetings about American sales of corn to Japan. I’d been listening to a lot of radio and the battery strength seemed to be in decline, but at least a few stations came in clear enough so that I stayed amused.
I finally made it to the big city– Defiance, Ohio– which took all of about 5 minutes to ride through. I refilled water in one gas station mart, had lunch in a tiny town park, and called home to chat for a bit. The weather was pleasant, and I planned to camp out in one of the small towns up ahead, possibly making it to Indiana, if I really pushed it.
But a few towns later in Paulding, I thought maybe a 60ish mile day would be better than an 80ish mile day afterall. It was a little industrial town with a fairgrounds and one raggedy looking bar, and I made by way to the fire department in a rather tattered looking neighborhood. Across the street a couple of hundred feet away, a gray-haired man seemed to be doing some yardwork on his small grass lot. I looked around for signs of life in the FD, but realized it must’ve been volunteer and that it was dead and dark inside. I filled up my water bottles again and looked at my maps, trying to decide whether to push on or to start looking around this area for a place to hide the tent for the night. A wave of weariness hit me and I felt like the Indiana border looked farther than it probably was. As I settled on the idea of seeking a safe local site, the man from across the street pulled up behind the wheel of a blue Buick. “Do you need some help? My mother saw you from inside the house and send me over to see if you were okay.” His clear blue eyes focused on me with concern. I told him that I was fine, and that I was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. “In Paulding?” he asked, his incredulity seeming to stem from the dearth of possibilities in such a desolate place. I told him that I was hoping to set my tent up somewhere safe for the evening nearby, and whether he knew of somewhere that would fit the bill. “You’re welcome to any of my front, side, or back lawn. Don’t have no neighbors.”Glancing across the street, I saw this to be true, by virtue of the fact that his place was bordered by two windowless manufacturing warehouses and a trucking spot. “If it’s not a hassle for you, that would be great,” I responded, “and I’d like to say thanks to your mother for looking out for me.” He invited me over and turned the car around for the short trip back to the driveway.
Joe showed me his lawnspace and invited me inside and I met his mother. They had a new rescue dog named Daisy, a happy little yellow short-legger who was so absolutely attached to Joe that one day when he’d gone out, she’d tried to follow him through a slightly ajar door and went missing, and had the whole town looking for her. She came back, but only once she’d seen Joe in the search party.
Mother and son were very kind to me, and fascinated by my travels. “Can I make you some dinner? It’s not every day you get to meet someone from The East,” he said. He fixed me a plate of fried eggs with copiously buttered toast and a gigantic glass of milk for supper. “Hey, you wanna go on a tour of Paulding?” he offered, brightening. How could I refuse that?
He opened the broken passenger door for me from the inside by reaching through the open window, and holding tight to Tunes on my lap, we began the sightseeing voyage. “There’s the courthouse,” as we drove by the only stately building in the town square. “There’s our Dollar General. And there’s one of the two pizza plces, but that one’s not very good.” We made our way to a reservoir with a short walking path, and he put Hank Jr. on and began to sing along softly to a twangy country number called Family Tradition. “And here’s our drive-through.” He pulled the car into a portal that looked like a car wash, but intead of foamy soap and spinning brushes, there were snacks, sodas, cigarettes, beer, wine, and liquor, apparently for when you’re too drunk to get out of the car and go into a package store. “Hey, Joe. The usual?” the clerk said, and handed him a can of Diet Coke and a Mountain Dew. “I’m addicted to pop, I guess. I know it’s horrible for you.” He offered me a beverage, but I declined, and instead commented that I’d never seen one of those drive-throughs before. “Oh yeah, they’re everywhere. We have two in Paulding.
When I returned, I thanked him and his mom again for the hospitality, and his mother offered to let me use their shower and sleep on the couch, if I wanted. I accepted the offer of the shower, but I preferred to sleep outside, but thanked them anyway. I set up my tent outside, and Joe came out to see if I needed any ice cream or wanted anything else, but I was ready for sleep. The neighborhood wasn’t on the same page, though, and we heard and saw huge fireworks being set off from a block away in every direction. Poor Petunia did not like this at all. She shook, and stood up to see what was going on, pacing a bit with every loud crack and flash of light. I wrapped her tight in a wool shirt, tying it like a ThunderShirt for dogs, but this didn’t seem to help. I reconsidered the offer to go indoors, but it was already after 10 and I didn’t want to disturb them. I held her until the noise finally subsided around midnight, feeling weary and eager to leave Paulding behind. I promised Tunes that we’d make the 30 mile ride across the state line to a town park in Indiana that allowed cyclists to stay for free in their pavillion, and have an easy rest day, and stay indoors and away from the certainty of 4th of July fireworks.
Song of the day: Jimmy Brown the Newsboy by Flatt and Scruggs