My dog goes by a lot of names. Petunia is her original moniker, dubbed after our initial meeting in a pet store about three years ago. I’d wanted to adopt a rescue dog, despite the myth that rescues have too many psycho-emotional problems to be trainable, loving pets. So one day, I went to the local pet store to try to get some ideas about breeds and types of dogs, since I’d only ever had feline companions. I’d started out hoping for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel like Virginia Woof, the sweet dog my dearly loved colleague, Carole McKenzie, had owned and brought with her to the psychology course she taught at University of Hartford. Virginia was travel-sized, loveable, friendly, and obviously well-trained and flexible. But in the pet store, a spunky little Jack Russell/Poodle mix dog caught my eye, and after a few minutes in a separate pen with a few toys, it was clear that I couldn’t leave this special little puppy behind. As I signed the paperwork to take her home, an employee said to me, “This dog is going to be YouTube famous someday. Make sure you bring her back to say hi to me.” (For the record, I tried to bring her by a few months later, but found the shop had closed.) Some have said I rescued her from the pet shop– she had a rough start from the get-go, as I discovered the day after I brought her home, she had a somewhat drug-resistant ear infection, a long case of the giardia parasite, and required multiple vet visits at just six months old. But she was the wonder of my world, and she rescued me in ways I’m still learning about.
Her first day home, Februrary, 2012:
Petunia became Tunes, and Tunie, and Tunia, and Tunisia, followed by its capital, Tunis. She was also a cow, a little cow, a Bolivian Miniature Running Cow, a birdhouse, a monkey, and a marmoset. Tunes became Spoon, and Spoon-Cow, and Spoonie, and Balloon, Baboon, and she was P-Tunes when she was dancing with me to House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” When we were in the relevant section of Illinois, she was Spoon River, Wider Than A Mile, as I crooned to her through farmland where I would not be heard nor judged.
On a rainy Saturday morning, we crossed the swollen Illinois River, passing some construction workers who were maintaining the bridge. “Where ya goin in this weather?” the guys laughed, and I replied, “The Pacific Northwest. Might as well get used to the rain now!” And it was a lot of rain. It was’t so bad for me, but Tunes was looking glum and had hunkered down in her carrier. A group of motorcyclists passed me and gave me the nod and the biker’s “low-five” hand signal, a respectful gesture from the big burly dudes on their hogs, and I felt my status elevated a bit. After a few hours of zigzagging through corn and soy fields, it was 2 pm, and I stopped, soaking wet, under a Lions Club hut in Henry, IL. We were soaked, cold, and hungry. The wind blew the rain sideways so that the shelter barely kept us dry. The small town had a bar and a convenience store at a gas station, so I opted for the latter, hoping to eat and maybe warm up a bit. I was surprised upon entering that their air conditioner had been blasting, and sopping wet, I became much colder as I shivered in the bathroom, which, of couse, had a big fan blowing from the ceiling directly on to me. I bought the lone slice of terrible pizza spinning on a tray under a heat lamp, and gave Tunes the warmed meat toppings. My fingers were pruney and somewhat blue, and I considered ending my day right there and then. A church nearby had an awning that was sort of out of the rain, and I could dry off, pitch tent, and warm up in my sleeping bag and rest for the remainder of the day. But it’s only 2 o’clock and we would be stuck HERE, I thought petulantly, wringing my gloves out and drying Petunia’s head with a little towel. I thought of all the times I’d been asked what I did on tour when it rained, and my response was simply, “Well, it gets wet.” I’d be uncomfortable stopping or going, so I might as well keep going, I nudged myself, with only my fortitude to depend on.
During the day, NPR was accessible on my little radio, and I was lucky enough to mostly-hear a story about Max Leonard’s new book Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France. Although I hadn’t kept up with the tour this summer and have never really had much interest in following bicycle racing, except for the crazy TransAm Race tourists I’d met last year, I heard a fascinating account of the rascals who came in last, somestimes deliberately seeking popular “last place” titles, endorsements, and invitations that could double their salaries and financial opportunities. When the local news report came on, however, I was sobered by yet another report of a local cyclist killed after a motorist ran them over, fleeing from the scene. Not long ago, I’d just read an article about the safety of cycling, however, and given the number of people who command me to “be safe” as I venture off, the infographic seemed worth reproducing here:
Later in the day, after I’d resolved to continue on despite the crummy circumstances, I was ecstatic when out came the sun and it dried up all the rain, and the itsy bitsy cyclist could crank in joy again. I busted it at a nearly-frenzied pace of 16-17 mph over the flats and rollies, as I neared my WS destination. A couple named John and Stephanie, with their two young children, had agreed to take me in for the evening after they’d returned from a wedding in Chicago. I didn’t get a photo of them during my brief stay, but they were the consummate hosts– offering me safe, dry lodging and a shower, and an incredible amount of trust, as they had two children under 3 years of age. Stephanie commented on the latter, citing critics who questioned her for housing relative strangers on CouchSurfing and WarmShowers, and she echoed my sentiments that most people are good, your instincts are your best ally in screening guests and hosts, and bicycle tourists especially do not have good getaway vehichles. I watched their little ones crawling around in a minefield of Lego bricks. “You’re both braver than I am,” I told them as they described the perils of having a home with a staircase and two young crawlers. John said it was kind of scary, but smiled broadly, and they both shone with an abundant promise of glowing parenthood that I could just imagine understanding.
In the morning, I had breakfast in the gas station/restaurant where all of the local people gathered, perhaps before church. This older farmer dude asked how far I’d come, and I told him– 2,200 miles. He lost his mind. “Are you on DRUGS?!” he exclaimed. I checked my imaginary watch and said, “No, it’s not even 9 AM yet.” That really griddled his toast.
People in the midwest, like many other places, have been so nice to me. On the rare occasions when I see houses and people, they shout “good luck!” and “I hope you make it!.” A good dad with daughter came over to say hello at a 7-11 and ask about my trip. “I just wanted her to talk to you to learn about what you were doing,” he said as I cleaned and greased my chain. I was so happy for that moment, that maybe in some small way, I was the impetus for another life-changing adventure, or at least for the thought of one.
As the fog lifted and the heat came on hard, I emboldened myself with a promise: today’s ride is for you, I thought, for the woman who smiled and shouted at me from her swimming pool. I was blowing by at a good clip, but I turned around to ask her what she’d said, as I couldn’t quite make it out as her calls were lost into the wind. Beverly said she was 65 and had always wanted to travel the world by bicycle, but she’d just had open heart surgery, and wouldn’t be doing anything fast anymore. She invited me to take a dip, but Tunes didn’t like to swim and I wanted to keep my chafe-prone bum dry, so I thanked her and pushed on in the heat. This is for you, I silently reiterated, for those who said they’d wanted to do this all their lives, but never got the chance. For the man in the retail store in Ohio who was in awe of my journey but said he could never get the time off to live his dreams. For the busy mom woth a few young kids who couldn’t make it work. For the elderly journalist who said she’d join me if only her body would let her cycle that long. Today’s ride is for you, I promised, and rushed on through the fire that radiated up off of the pavement, my skin cooking in the summer sun and heat.
We crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa, as the last bit of Tunes’s ice pack cooling device melted. The heat going over the bridge was almost unbearable, but I knew we’d be indoors soon at a WS host’s house, since there were storms predicted overnight and few places to stealth camp in the busy and relatively populous city of Muscatine, Iowa. Luckily, we were headed for a wonderful evening with a bright and funny woman named Jeanne, where we both had a wonderful respite from all that ailed us.
Song of the day: Moon River, a la Breakfast at Tiffanys.