Location: Saint Lazare, Quebec, Canada
Subject: Wriggling Through.
I left you in Minneapolis, a bit up in the air, after an encounter with the big, red BUG. Although permanently affected, all my scars are trivial and practically invisible now. More life-threatening were the increasingly frequent near-dives off my bicycle due to my teeth being almost completely worn down; the chain ring gear teeth, I mean. Let me recommend that you never let gear slippage get the better of you. There's little more embarrassing than riding coolly into a bumpy field towards a farmer to request a spot to pitch my tent, and almost being catapulted over the handlebars into the mud with a sound like machine-gunfire, as the front gears ratchet round and the chain doesn't pull along in agreement.
But I averted death, or death from embarrassment, by totally overhauling my whole drive-train at the Alternative bikeshop, where the mechanic kindly made an extension for my rear mudguard free at the same time.
I suppose I got part of the impulse from a long time friend in Minneapolis who is doing great things in the home remodeling trade. And my bike is kind-of my home. I originally met him when he was playing cello and climbing mountains in Osaka, and now he is loosing at darts and listening to Weird Al Yankovich in the Twin Cities. Ha Ha Ha! It's a good job that his day job gives him plenty of scope for creativity. Michael Anschell, you rock!
Now where was that creativity that I had somewhere just now...? I guess I'll have
to do without it for now.
With new purpose and positive power in my pedals I sallied forth towards the end of north America, knowing nothing could stop me now. And I should have been wondering what could stop me next.
A ghost? A curse? A skunk? An arrow? Or perhaps the King of Scotland? A frame breakage even? Not quite, but some of those things have delayed or sidetracked me. But in my experience, the best way to forge forwards, is to look to the side as much as possible.
The ghost? A bit of a red herring, really; A couple of days out of Minneapolis, the sun had just dipped below the horizon directly more or less to my right, and I luckily found a couple of men out on the land close to a house. I pulled over and greeted them, told them the condensed version of my life story in about 15seconds, and found them very willing to let me camp there the night, in fact they gave me a choice of sites. I chose the one by a grave yard just beside the house. This place was most secluded and sheltered from the road. It occurred to me too, that if in the remote chance anyone was about with the intention of giving someone like me trouble, they would probably steer clear of a grave yard. And hey, I only believed in good ghosts anyway, so I would be alright. And on top of that, even though just about everyone in that area was of German descent, this was the only graveyard with English dead in it around!
I slept like the dead that night.
A curse? Chicago is an impressive city, with an astonishing skyline, but closer to Earth, there are some pieces from the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the downed World Trade Center, the Pyramids of Giza, and just about every other historical architectural artifact that you could name, incorporated in just one of the most famous buildings there. But NO, the curse hasn't come from the Pharaohs or some celtic druids, I don't think. Apparently someone bought tickets for himself and his goat, to watch a baseball game at the Chicago Cubs stadium, Wrigley's Fields, but the goat was refused entry, and the goat keeper put a curse on the team, that they would never, ever, ever win the World Series again! And it seems to have worked for that last forty years or so!
I heard that the curse had been reversed somehow, this year, and I decided to pay some attention to how the Cubs did. They actually made it into the World Series (if that means anything to you) at the end of the season, which sent the city wild. And one fellow I met as I rode past Wrigley's went so far as to warn me that the end of the World itself would come about as soon as everything was complete; meaning when the Cubs won the World Series. So there was obviously a lot at stake. But rest easy folks, the Cubs didn't quite pull it off, and went down to the Yankees (booo! hisssss!) right at the last.
The Yanks saved the world yet again. Thanks Yanks.
Anyway, although I wanted the Cubs to win just to prove that guy's superstition
wrong, I told him that they wouldn't win, because I was going to finish
my bicycle ride around the world before the world ended.
I'm not superstitious though, of course.
George W B was in Chicago while I was there, though he was late and missed his appointment to see the opening of another stadium, the incredibly revamped Soldier Fields (or perhaps they wouldn't let the goat in!) and then he and his escorts did their best to stop me as I left Chicago myself. Police blocked my path and turned me back from the southward route out of the city, and I saw the motorcade cut by not far off. Then as I was pottering about in a park, looking for a different way through, some seriously mean looking and sounding helicopters flew low overhead. The sound was ominous, and not really like helicopters at all. I imagine that, surrounded by such overwhelming power, protection and technology, the president could very easily be convinced that he is invincible.
I wonder if this has any bearing upon his foreign policy. I reckon that he would be a different leader altogether if he had, at least once in his life, pedaled a bicycle across a continent or two.
I suppose that is as close as I will ever get to him, and probably that's a good thing.
But back to my very vincible self:
A skunk? Actually more the absence of one. I kept wanting to see a skunk along my way. I`d seen a number of roadkilled ones, and had smelled more, but a sighting continued to elude me. Their defensive odour reminds me somewhat of strong coffee, just in case you've never smelled one. And if you've never had to remove the reek from your dog or cat, then you need to use a bath of tomato juice and lemon juice, followed by a wash with shampoo.
But I wanted to see one, because they are supposed to be quite beautiful. To this end, a retired prison warder and funeral-home volunteer, Marco of Cambridge, Canada (again), who had already fulfilled one of my dreams by conducting me around Niagara falls (no adjectives needed), put out some bait in the form of apples and peanut butter one evening. There were plenty in the neighbourhood, their scent was on the wind regularly.
But the bait served only to treat the squirrels in the morning. Grey squirrels that are turning black around here, for a reason I don't know.
Oh well, it was an exciting failure.
An arrow? The hunting season by bow started after I rode round the bottom end of Lake Michigan (my first of the Great Lakes), and suddenly there were guys everywhere, driving off-road trucks and wearing head-to-toe, multi-shades of green camouflage gear. The camouflage looked so realistic and effective, that I'm sure there were many more than I actually spotted. About a month later, the hunting season with guns would start, and then the hunters would sport bright reds and oranges. Basically that's to avoid being shot, which doesn't' tend to be a problem with bow hunting, where you need to get really close to your target, and be absolutely sure what it is, before shooting. Whereas with a high-powered rifle, you can just shoot anything that moves, 200metres away! I thus had another good reason for wearing my reflective yellow cycling jacket. But that, and my other obviously-a-harmless-cyclist attire, didn't stop one group of men, who looked worryingly like urban guerrillas, from calling me to a stop to question what I was doing there. But when it dawned on them that I was bicycle touring, they excused their idiocy by saying that, especially after 9-11, they had to keep a look out what was going on in their area. Yes, but it helps to have quicker skills in recognition of friends or foes.
The information about various hunting attire was given to me by an ex-marine marksman
who, if Queen Mary hadn't been executed, would now be the current King
of Scotland, in his own words. And he seemed to know quite a lot of accurate
stuff, so why wouldn't I believe that? Especially as it's a good story
and it doesn't do my any injury to believe it. I met Mr. Marine when I'd
taken a side road on a whim, because a covered bridge was signposted down
that way. And as sidetracks so often do, it conveyed me on an intriguing
and complete little journey all of its own. After going further in my
search for the covered bridge than I had anticipated, I stopped at a small,
solitary house amongst some trees, where I saw Mr. Marine coming out of
the front door with his blind, old German Shepherd Dog, Tasha. When he
introduced himself, he said that he had been either honourably, or dishonourably
(I didn't quite catch which, and I didn't really care to question him
about it) discharged from the marines. He, as well as his housemate and
a number of his friends, seemed to have had quite a difficult time trying
to separate the activities of driving and consuming alcohol, the result
of which was that he was pretty much dependent upon a mountain bike for
getting about. He gave me a massive ham sandwich and some apples, and
escorted me with Tasha wondering blindly all over the road, to the covered
bridge, and to the right road to get me back on my way beyond that. He
told me about fishing, hunting squirrels, and about the local police now
paying more attention to stopping kids jumping off the top of the covered
bridge in summer, than to drug traffickers in the nearby town. Tasha lollopped
around, and at one point, right into Mr. Marine's front wheel. I was a
bit distressed at Tasha's limp after that. But she still came along. As
we parted, cycling in perpendicular directions, he shouted to me, across
an immaculate field of corn, "Remember the King of Scotland!"
I think that I had managed to keep my anti-royalist leanings well concealed.
A frame breakage? With only a few hundred miles to cover, before I hit the Atlantic Ocean side again, for the first time since 1990, where I will be quite within my rights to be able to say that I have cycled around the World, my frame broke! And it broke in pretty much the same location and way that killed my first bicycle in Japan (RIP 1995). So I was worried. Had I been in Indonesia or Africa, or somewhere like that, it would be straight forward to find a local craftsman who was capable of fixing anything, anytime, anywhere, for next to nothing, to get me out of my predicament. But I was in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, where I thought that I was going to have to part with an arm and a leg, at least, and spend tons of time, just getting some highly-paid professional to examine it, let alone repair it. But a combination of advice from long time friends, Gary and Allyson in Ottawa (met in Pakistan 1992, on the Karakoram Highway) and a business card of a bicycling safety advocate in Ottawa given to me by Fred (who'd taken me in and given me floor space in his student bedsit, on a messy, rainy night in Kingston, Ontario, 2003), gave me a two pronged attack on my problem. My two directions both brought me to the same man, Mike Plumber. Rather, I should say SAINT!! This was Mike's day off, yet he still dropped everything to get to the workshop where he usually works, pull things apart, practically armour-plate the stricken part of my frame, and then put it all back together again, between 5:10pm and 7pm on the same day the problem had arisen!!!. AND he did it all for a big fat zero dollars!!!!! Saint Mike! Yes, that fits right. Mountains of Thanks.
So even a frame breakage couldn't stop me.
The thing that did stop me, was a bridge. A mere bridge.
Between Port Huron, Michigan, USA, and Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, there is a privately
owned and managed bridge, because, apparently neither government is allowed
to control it. The company operating it forbids bicycling across the bridge,
for liability reasons. There is a walkway, but it is also forbidden to
walk a bike. So suddenly after crossing almost the whole of North America,
I am not responsible for my own safety on that little bridge (OK, actually
quite large as bridges go, but nothing enormous). The bridge agent woman,
upon whose shoulders rested the responsibility of getting me safely across
the bridge, made it obvious that she had better and more urgent things
to do, and didn't like my questioning WHY? She just thought I was trying
to buck the system, and kept saying that she wasn't going to change the
rules just for me. I just wanted to know why there were such crazy rules.
After a while, she did say that there was no facility for cycling across,
because there weren't enough cyclists wanting to cross. In my mind I said,
"Yeah, right!" but I left her to her logic. I couldn't resist
saying, after a while of silence, that this had happened to me before,
on the border between Laos and Thailand, and that they were a bit behind
the times too. I didn't improve her mood any. Sorry Ms. Bridge Agent.
But Canada did let me back in again for the last time. And the bridge wasn't a total defeat. It was over water, after all. I'm still rolling.
Then again, it snowed this morning, and I still have the formidable Adirondack Mountains to cross or get round, to get to Boston.
PS Special Mention: For a surprisingly large cheque as sponsorship from Lionel Pasamonte of LA TV in the name of his son, Max Pasamonte. My gratitude goes to you. You are helping me complete my journey in the spirit I've always intended. This goes for all those who've helped me on my way.