I ate breakfast at the local cafe. The waitress and I fell into talking about bicycles and the west coast, and she revealed that she'd grown up in San Diego but then moved back to Illinois because she "got into some trouble". I didn't ask what kind of trouble it was. Upon arrival, she'd married her high-school sweetheart, settled down, and raised a family in the same area that her own parents had lived for many years. I couldn't decide if it sounded idyllic or disappointing, so I just kept the subject on California. She was in her fifties at least, but surprisingly good-looking for her age. I think it was her personality more than anything else.
Anyway, I devoured an omelet and a salad, nodded at all the patrons who were staring at me and my bicycle, and then took off. On my way out of town I rode into a headwind so strong that I was almost unable to move at all - a wind of some 45 or 50mph I estimate - and it was so ridiculous that I started laughing. Eventually I got to a bend in the road and a windbreak of trees, and as I cruised safely behind them the wind changed course and slowed down. Now it was just 20mph ... but still blowing in my face.
I'd finished Reamde yesterday, so I queued up something totally different - a long, tempestuous book about the modern cinema called "The Good, The Bad, And The Multiplex" - and listened to it at double-speed to keep it interesting. The first chapter is a rather belligerent rant aimed at the author's local movie house and it's management, and I found it borderline intolerable, but in the remaining chapters he calms down quite a bit and makes some very interesting points about financing, reviewing, promoting, and presenting movies, and floats some sensible propositions on how to improve all of these.
Sometime in the middle of the day I paused for a snack break on a wide bridge, and looked down in time to catch a train crossing beneath me. Look at all that coal!
The book and the snacks kept me steaming along all the way to the town of Havana, where I rumbled up over a dangerous metal bridge spanning a wide river, and then had to pull into a parking lot to catch my breath and re-gather my wits. Bridges like that always freak me out.
A woman rolled up next to me in her car, cranked down her window, and said "What're you doing out in the cold and where are you going?"
I'd just done a death defying ride over a bridge and was not in a witty mood, and thought she was being a bit intrusive, so I responded to her first question and ignored her second. "... I'm riding my bike."
"Oh," she said. "It's just that I do Warm Showers and I didn't know you needed a place to stay!"
Warm Showers is a website where people offer room and/or board to transient cross-country cyclists. She was apparently surprised that I hadn't contacted her to arrange a layover. Honestly, the idea of using the Warm Showers service hadn't occurred to me at any point in the planning or execution of my trip, and standing there in the parking lot, I was at a loss to explain why. Perhaps it was because I knew I would be traveling alone, and that presented a different balance of risks. But regardless of that, I was placed on the defensive by this woman's intrusiveness, and so I felt predisposed to turn down anything she offered.
"I'm not stopping here -- just passing through," I said.
"Oh," she said. "Oh well; have a good trip."
"Thank you!" I said.
She drove away. She was clearly trying to be nice, but I was put off. Partly by her manner, and partly by something else:
The Ambiguity Of Cars
When you're on a bicycle, cars are death monsters. You spend your time trying to keep distance from them. You wish they would all just disappear. When you're on a bike - or even just walking around, for that matter - and someone drives right up next to you in a car and starts blurting words at you, it makes you nervous. It's like you're walking around in the woods, and suddenly you're approached by a woodcutter who wants to have a friendly chat with you, but he's carrying a running chainsaw casually in one hand. What are his intentions?
Same sort of thing with drivers zooming up to you. People don't even realize their mistake, because most people have never had it happen to them. But cross-country bicyclists deal with it all the time.
People will cruise up within inches of you at a stoplight and ask "where ya goin'?", expecting an answer while you're madly trying to determine if they intend to go straight or turn right when the light changes, potentially obliterating your bicycle and ending your life. If you don't respond, you're the rude one.
People will honk their horns at you as they drive by, startling you as you attempt to balance on a narrow strip of shoulder, and unless you look up into their window and parse their faces and their upraised hands, you'll never know if they were honking because they want to encourage you and cheer you on, or because they hate the sight of you and intend to plow you into a ditch.
People will slow down to a crawl behind you, stacking up the traffic, even though you've given them the entire open lane to pass you by, while you ride over rocks and garbage in the gutter to make yourself as small as possible. They will hover there, and you have no idea if they are displaying chivalry and waiting for a clear oncoming lane so they can veer into it and give you a wide, respectful berth - or if they are malevolently cursing you for having the nerve to ride such a ridiculously slow contraption on their highway, and getting ready to scream at you or throw something at you from an open window as they shoot forward. You have no idea because you can hear them, but you can't see them.
In all of these cases, people are either trying to be model citizens, or they are planning to seriously endanger you, and you have absolutely no idea which it is, until it happens.
And so it went, with this woman shooting up next to me and barking questions. I just wanted to be rid of her. Of course I felt bad afterwards for being so cold. But she was in a car -- she just drove off, and there was no way I could catch up and apologize if I wanted to. If she'd approached me on foot, the conversation would have been entirely different. I would have probably made a new friend.
Bah! Whatever. I ate dinner at a local restaurant, and then headed east, on the long straight ribbon of highway 136. I finished up "The Good, The Bad, And The Multiplex" and listened to some crazy radio comedy shows for a while. (I really need to send some of these to Ken!) Then I went for something different, a series of lectures called "The Science Of Influence", by a fellow named Kevin Hogan who is basically a motivational speaker. Not my usual fare, but it really got my brain cooking. I'll comment on that in a separate post.
I listened to the first segment of that and then decided to switch gears again, to a series of lectures by professor Anthony Goodman, called "The Myths of Nutrition and Fitness". Neat stuff.
Did you know that by traveling from sea level to 6000 feet, you double the amount of water lost from your body from breathing?
Did you know that humans are unique among land animals in that they can vary their gait to match their pace and intelligently manage their energy expenditure, and can therefore outrun any other land animal, if they get to choose the distance? Sure a cheetah can run 65 mph, but for how far? Sure a horse can run all day, but how long does it take to speed up in a 30-yard sprint? Interesting food for thought. Maybe humans aren't weaklings after all.
Anyway, I rode over a bunch of hills and made a lot of pee stops and noshed on a bag of chips, and finally I rolled into McLean after 1:00am. Before I found the motel I passed by a gigantic gas station and restaurant, with an incredible variety of trucks parked nearby. Many of them were running their cooling units to preserve their cargo.
The noise was amazing, so I tried to record it on my phone, thus:
11-10-11 1:29 AM: Them's a lot of trucks!
... Then I zipped over to the motel, booked two nights, sat in the shower like an exhausted lump, and crawled into bed.