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A novel by Len Joy

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day 4 - Franklin, PA to Warren, PA

Day Four

Franklin, PA to Warren, PA

65 miles – 6 hours 2 minutes

(Three years ago I came up with this idea that it would be fun to ride my bike from my home to my parent’s home in Skaneateles, New York. Later I wrote a story about that adventure which I hoped to have published. I haven’t been able to find a publisher for the story so I decided to share it with the world through my blog. This is the fifth of nine installments.)

There are voices in the hall. Loud whispers and someone fumbling with the lock. A woman giggles. The clock radio above the television shows 5:24 A.M. I try to go back to sleep, but I keep thinking about those mountains. After thirty minutes of torture I get up. I decide to try one of my nutrition-packed power bars, for the extra energy. The bar tastes like sawdust, but not as good. I toss it after three bites.

I have finally figured out that I don’t need to detach the bungee cords when I remove my pack. This saves ten minutes of struggle in the morning. I wheel my bike down to the front desk and by 6:15 I’m heading down Liberty Street. I’m grateful for Dan’s instructions because there’s no one on the streets of Franklin this early on a Sunday morning to ask for help.

I find the path without difficulty, but it’s foggy and I’ve made so many turns I’m confused as to what direction I’m supposed to go. I get off the bike and try to scientifically figure out which direction is north. I look at the river, remembering from earth science class that most rivers flow north to south. I start riding upstream. Ten minutes later I spot an arrow pointing in the direction I’m headed with “Oil City” printed underneath it, proving once again the value of a good high school education.

The path is smooth and the ride surreal. The fog hangs onto the river keeping the air moist and cool. In thirty minutes I’m in Oil City. The bike path ends and dumps me back on a neighborhood street. Again, I don’t know which way to go. I pedal a few blocks and spot a man out walking his dog. I ask him how to get to 62 and he tells me I’m on it.

Minutes later, outside of Oil City I encounter a steep hill that winds back and forth and back again, but keeps going up. I have a feeling of near despair as I reach the summit. I’m worn out and I have sixty miles to go. How many more hills will there be?

I stop at a gas station and buy more Gatorade. The kid at the counter asks me how far I’m riding. I tell him Warren. He gives me a look like, “Why would anyone ride a bike there?” I make a note to myself not to talk to any more convenience store guys.

I start up the next hill and it looks even more intimidating than the last one. It really is a mountain. I think about my spinning class and all of those focus techniques Marisa promoted for getting through the rough spots.

“Focus on a spot in front of you. Relax your arms, your shoulders, your feet. Tense muscles drain your energy,” she would exhort us as we pedaled our stationary spinning bikes to the sounds of Blondie or Donna Summer.

I stare at a spot ten feet in front of my bike. I take a muscle inventory. My shoulders are tense, my teeth are clenched, and my toes are curled up in my shoes as I muscle my way up the hill. I make myself relax, which actually works. I unwind my toes and loosen my shoulders and I can feel a surge of strength to my pedaling muscles. I am up and over the hill, still going strong.

The hills flatten out. Rolling hills with easy ups and downs. Outside of West Hickory I pull over next to a wood cabin that is set up just off the river. The guy there has a boat house and a long expanse of well-tended lawn. He’s sitting on his dock enjoying the quiet of a cool Sunday morning. There are no sounds, except for a few birds talking to each other. I take my first pictures since leaving Columbus. It’s impossible to take pictures while I’m riding and when I stop to rest, all I want to do is rest. But this morning it feels great to be out on the bike.

The road crosses over to the east side of the Alleghany River and then a few miles later back to the west side and then twenty miles farther upriver it switches back again. I ride through a succession of small river towns. For most of the ride I am shaded and cool. As I approach Warren the highway leaves the river. By the time I reach Starbrick, about ten miles from Warren, it is even hotter than the previous two days. When I arrive at the Warren Tourist Center on the outskirts of the town, the temperature is one hundred degrees.

I get directions for the Holiday Inn and ten minutes later I’m at the entrance. I park my bike at the front door and walk into the lobby. The lobby is hot- at least eighty degrees. The desk clerks don’t look very happy. I have managed to arrive before one P.M and my room is not ready. They tell me I can wait in the lobby.

Folks are arriving for Sunday brunch. The first thing they see as they enter the sweltering lobby is a hot, sweaty guy in bike shorts. The desk personnel seem to grasp the lack of marketing appeal I am generating. They wave me back to the desk. They have found a room. I ask if it has air conditioning. They assure me everything but the lobby has a/c.

The room is newly furnished and not a hint of smoke. I shower and stroll across the street to the Perkins Family Restaurant for my own Sunday brunch. I have eggs benedict and pancakes and finish everything.

I call home and Christie, who is sixteen, answers.

“Hi Dad,” she says. She’s been playing in an AYSO tournament for high school girls all week.

“How did you guys do yesterday?” I ask.


I had read an article by one of those childrearing gurus - those guys that seem to have all of the answers, but I’m convinced don’t have any real kids – who said to get your kids to talk, you need to ask them questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no.

“What was the score?” I ask.

“Four to nothing,” she says.

“Hey that’s great. I thought you said you guys weren’t going to win any games.”

“We lost. Nicole bought ten pairs of jeans.”

I hear Nicole yelling in the background, “Shut up Christie.” And then a door slams.


“Hi Dad.”

“Can I talk to Nicole.”

“She just left with Mom to go shopping. Mom’s making her take back some of the jeans. How’s your ride going? Did you get lost today?”

I will be hearing about that wrong turn for the next ten years.

Christie’s soccer coach shows up to take her to her game so I don’t get a chance to tell her how I conquered several “mountains” today. I hang up and turn on the television. The Yankee game is on and I watch until they show the Cubs score. The Mets set some kind of record scoring ten runs against the Cubs in one inning. I turn off the television and take a nap.

At six P.M. I head out looking for a restaurant. The restaurants in the Holiday Inn are all suffering from a lack of a/c so I walk down the street. Nothing much is opened on Sunday night. I find a small Italian family-style restaurant. Dark and comfy, but the air conditioner is working full-blast and losing the battle as the outside temperature is still hovering around one hundred degrees.

My waitress is a wiry fortysomething, with dyed-red hair and boundless energy. She tells me the specials and the prices for each. She’s genuinely friendly and checks back several times to make sure I’m doing okay as I enjoy my Bud Light and their special prime rib dinner.

One of the pleasures of dining alone is studying the other customers. At the table to my left there is a man in his late sixties with a portable oxygen system. He’s with his adult son who’s wearing a robin’s egg blue tee-shirt with a message “Can you hear me now?” and a figure of a hand giving the finger. He has on royal blue shorts with the shirt tucked into them and knee-high black socks with black high top sneakers, thick glasses and to complete the look, a bad comb-over. When he walks out his arms sort of flop at his sides.

At the table in front of me are two men in their forties. They’re wearing jeans and polo shirts and have a workingmen’s tan, like they might work construction. They’ve got a pitcher of beer and are talking quietly and joking with the waitress. They have an easy familiarity and I can tell they’re all old friends. When she brings their second pitcher, she joins them, and one of the guys puts his arm around her. They all laugh.

For the last two decades Bob and I and a few of our friends would meet at a bar in Chicago called Alcocks. We’d celebrate the success of the Bulls and complain about the ineptitude of the Bears and the Cubs and refuse to acknowledge the existence of the White Sox or the Blackhawks. We’d discuss Bob’s stupid, juvenile, hopelessly naïve political positions and candidates, and we’d brag about the accomplishments of our wives and children. Okay, sometimes we complained about them, too. But only the kids, never the wives.

For a number of years I had a second home in Arizona for business. Bob figured out his beloved “Oregon Ducks” played football in Arizona every other year, either in Tucson or Phoenix, and that it was a lot easier for him to get to Arizona than Oregon, so if I was in Arizona on the weekend they were playing Bob would come out for the game.

The first time he visited, the Ducks were playing U of A in Tucson. I was nervous about going to a game with seventy thousand rapid, redneck Arizona fans and one rabid, wacky Duck fan who was a wearing a baseball hat with a duckbill for a visor and carrying his duck horn with a planto blast every time the mighty Ducks scored.

But fortunately for me the Ducks played the worst game in college football history and by the 3rd quarter they were losing fifty-two to nothing. We left the game.

Bob wanted to go to one of the casinos in the area. Arizona has a number of them on the reservations. Bob is the world’s worst poker player so I was concerned he would lose a lot of money if he got in to one of those casino poker games.

But when we got there, Bob made a bee-line for the roulette table. He bought a hundred dollars of chips, all one dollar chips because he liked to have a big stack. There are many different bets you can place on a roulette table: odd-even; black-red, single number; combination of numbers; One option is to bet a column of numbers, such as 1, 4,7,10. That gives you a 1 in 3 chance of winning.

Bob arranged his chips into piles of twenty-five. He took one pile and placed it on Column 1. But he wasn’t done. He took a second pile and placed it on column 2. And then he took a third pile and placed it on column 3. He bet on all of the numbers so he couldn’t lose. I pointed out to him that couldn’t win either, but he didn’t care. He said he liked having the roulette gal handing him his winning chips after every spin of the wheel.

But what was even odder was that after a half hour of this everyone at the table was his best friend and he had them convinced he was a roulette genius. The Bob magic at work.

Bob’s consulting work the last three years has kept him on the road most of the year. The game that we’re going to next month will be our first Cubs game of the year. He has a new granddaughter, the Cubs and White Sox are both floundering and Bush is on the ropes. I won’t get a word in edgewise. And I won’t care.

The temperature outside is still in the nineties as I walk back to the Holiday Inn. Three days left.


Anonymous said...

great story....thanks for sharing....3 days left!

Len said...

Thanks, Jon.