Church and Fish Sandwiches

I woke up to the sound of Jim fumbling to get his morning Pall Mall lit.  The air in the apartment was thick, and getting thicker as he puffed away, but I no longer noticed the smell that had overtaken me when I first arrived.  Jim and I relaxed throughout the morning, him in his bed, and me on the floor, going between conversation and silence as we waited for the 11:30 church service.

Jim had grown up in a small Kentucky town east of Louisville before joining the military and being shipped off to Vietnam.  He returned home but stayed in uniform as he was utilized on various bases and eventually in Operation Desert Storm.  In all he was in uniform for 17 years, and the experience had undoubtedly taken it’s toll on the man.

As I laid on the floor relaxing, Jim piped up from his bed. “Could you do me –a favor?” His slowwww southernnn drawl raspy from years of smoke.  His sentences were often jerky, sometimes interrupted by a fit of coughing, but most times just broken up ever so slightly by the need to take a fresh breath where others would have spoken on. “Could you call, the operator –and ask to be transferred –to the Dallas Cowboys stadium, in Arlington, Texas.” He paused to rest for a second before going on. “I’ve always been –a fan, of the Dallas Cowboys –and I’d like it –if I could get my hands, on one of those catalogs –from the Dallas Cowboys store in Arlington Texas.  I’d like to get myself –something to wear –with the Dallas Cowboys logo on it.”

Jim had requested of me some other things already, including “A couple of fish sandwiches –from McDonalds.”, which I had denied him for personal moral reasons, but, I was more than happy to request for him the catalog.  How he was going to afford anything in the magazine, I don’t know, but it gave me a good feeling imagining his excitement on the day the catalog arrived.  I called the 800 number and submitted the request, much to the delight of Jim.

As the time for church approached, I asked my new friend if he felt like having breakfast.  He was excited and eager to eat, though his inability to muster enough energy to feed himself on a regular basis had toughened him, and he would have went along on an empty stomach without complaint if I had not said anything.  He turned down nuts and apples because of his teeth (or lack thereof). I searched around and found some soft white hamburger buns in his bathroom cabinet and made him a peanut butter sandwich.  We ate, and I helped Jim by putting his socks on.  In retrospect, I should have clipped his toenails for him.  They had grown into long, sharp points that extended more than a half inch past the tips of his curled toes.  I couldn’t muster the heart at the time.

I don’t know how he managed to clothe himself on a normal day.  His stiff muscles would barely allow him to bend down to touch his feet.  The struggle that Jim had to endure just to provide for himself the most basic essentials of daily life made most of the tasks unworthy of his effort.  I believe that he spent most of his time in his bed, watching TV and sleeping.

During Breakfast, I recieved a text message from my snow-biking friend, Leandro.  He told me about his church’s services that morning, which I said I could not attend because of my commitment to Jim.  I asked about a later time, which Leandro confirmed that they had, and he sent me the church address. Recognizing the street name, I asked Jim the address of his church…and sure enough, they were the same!  I told Leandro that we would see him shortly.

We got dressed, and opened the door to a blindingly bright, snowy morning.  Without any windows in the apartment, our eyes had adjusted to the relative darkness.  I set Jim’s wheelchair down on the snowy walk, and he hobbled over and plopped down in the seat.  The fresh air and sunlight was very enjoyable as we plowed through the snow on the sidewalk.  We approached the bustling church parking lot after a three block trek, the other members walking about, smiling and greeting one another.

We went up the wheelchair ramp, into the elevator, and got off on the main floor.  The building was large and new.  I later learned that the congregation had recently built and moved to that location.  The population seemed to be a younger crowd overall.  The dress was nice, but casual.  Many of the young men had beards, and I recieved a smiling complement from a young woman on mine as we walked in.  Another guy looked at me smiling and said “Don’t I know you!?”  I laughed and replied that no, I was from out of town.  “No I saw you on TV yesterday!!” the guy said and we both started cracking up.

Leandro appeared out of the masses of people and greeted both of us.  I introduced him to Jim, and he led us to the seats he had been saving in the very front of the church.  We made our way past dozens of filled aisles as I began to feel self conscious of our stench.  I am sure that Jim and I were some of the only folks who hadn’t showered in 30+, and 3 days respectively, and the fact that we had been marinating in Jim’s apartment probably didn’t help.  Regardless, no one looked twice, and everyone was friendly to us both.  Leandro gave us coffee, and introduced us to some of his friends.

The service was lively, and included a talented rock band that broke out into guitar solos between lyrics that were filled with love and worship of Jesus.  We chatted with one of Jim’s friends, Jason, after the service.  He explained that he had showed up at Jim’s apartment that morning to wheel Jim to church.  I felt good knowing that someone else was there for him, and as we talked more, I realized that Jason and his friends were on a mission to improve Jim’s life.

He said that himself and a couple other members had become aware of Jim’s situation about three weeks prior.  They had since bought Jim the two new space heaters, and a large comforter for his bed.  They had been bringing food, bottles of water, and doing his laundry.  We left church and Jason drove the both of us to a local shelter where we were both able to rinse off.  Jason helped Jim to undress, and sent an encouragement as he left the bathroom.

Stay in there for a good 30-35 minutes Jim!

We left the shelter feeling like new men.  Jason put icing on the cake as we drove away: “Jim, you must be gettin’ hungry huh? I’m sorry to say, but the only thing around here is McDonalds.”  I was in the backseat, but I could almost feel Jim’s excitement.  “I would love –a fish sandwich and a soda” Jim exclaimed.  Jason pulled through and ordered the meal for Jim. “We will have a fish sandwich…actually, make that two fish sandwiches, fries, and a large coke.”  Jim wolfed his food down in the car as we drove back to the apartment, everyone feeling happy, refreshed, and positive about the direction of Jim’s life.

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Big Storms a Comin’

(This post is what happened to me in the day/night after I left Bloomington. I couldn’t post it because the app wasn’t working.  The correct chronological placement of this post would be before the post titled With a Little Help from My Friends)

I made my way across the parking lot and down an alley that led to a small white house with a porch across the front.  I got off my bike and turned to the van that that I had been following.  Out of the sliding back door jumped two young smiling boys who immediately ran up to my bike and let off excitedly with a barrage of funny questions.

What are you doing here?You biked from Michigan?! Is that 100?! These carrots are superfood!!

I looked over and each had taken a giant carrot out of my bag, looking guilty and cute as they munched away. What an opportunity! I thought and reinforced their superfood notions while I set up my tent in the yard.

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The father, grandfather, and uncle all joined us and we chatted for a while. They helped me clean the trash off the porch so I could have a roof, and advised me to lock my bike, telling stories of past thefts. They left for a McDonalds dinner with the boys’ mother and baby sister while I helped with some yard work they had.

As time passed, I noticed multiple cars come and go in the back parking lot, people shuffling in and out of a 1st floor apartment about 30 yards from me. A pair of pitbulls barked continuously at me from their chains next door. The situation eventually made me uncomfortable enough that I decided to leave for the night and find a spot in the woods outside of town.

Just as I started walking back to my bike, a scruffy, tanned man got out of the backseat of another car and approached me smiling. He was carrying a large paper bag, and as he began to talk, I realized he was intoxicated. I struggled to make out some of what he said, but I felt comfortable and unthreatened. He asked me a few questions and offered a spot for the night in his apartment across the street. I said no thank you, still feeling that he was being honest and friendly, but seeking some solitude. He continued to reaffirm that he was a good person and that NOBODY would touch my bike in his apartment, but I continued to decline.

I thanked him, and reassured him that I believed he was good. But when I swung myself up onto the saddle, something didn’t feel right on my bike. I looked down to notice that my tire had gone flat. “Is the offer still on the table?” I said.

We stepped into Bill’s studio apartment, him insisting I bring my bike in for safe keeping. He said that he was very happy to have company, and that I should make myself at home. I was pleasantly surprised by how clean his space was, although it smelled of cigarette smoke and natural gas. I guess the cleanliness was partially due to his lack of possessions. He had nothing aside from a table, a bed with a nightstand, and a number of empty 40oz beer containers.

We chatted for a while and he was nothing but friendly and generous. He told me how his good friend was struggling with cancer, and that he hadn’t eaten in 3 days. I offered to make him dinner, but looked in the fridge to find only butter. He did have some pots and pans, so I left for the grocery store to pick up some veggies and eggs.

Bill was almost asleep when I finished cooking, and kept insisting that his stomach couldn’t handle food. I gave him a big plate full, and put another in the fridge for later. He ate a little, smoked a cigarette and washed it all down with beer before falling asleep around 9pm. Throughout the evening he had offered me his mattress, his only blanket, the Christmas present from his friend that he had just opened, and a pair of dirty socks, which were exactly the kind I had been looking for at Goodwill that morning. I gratefully accepted the socks, Bill more than happy to help.

Throughout the night, my new friend got up every few hours to drink, smoke, and to eat more of the egg and vegetable dinner. By morning he had finished his dinner and the extra plate. I made oatmeal before leaving and left a couple meals worth in the fridge.

Despite my initial feelings about staying with Bill, I left feeling happy that I could help him, and thankful for the wonderful hospitality. He was one of the nicest people I had met thus far. We wished each other luck as he tried to get me to stay, making a good point that the snow storm was coming, and would make my travels tough. I said no, but thank you, and began the 70 mile ride I had to the city of Louisville and it’s dense collection of warmshowers hosts that I hoped would keep me out of the coming storm.

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Towards Jim’s

I left dinner and went towards Jim’s apartment. I wove my way through the house lined and ice covered streets, taking care not to turn too sharply and loose my wheels. At some point I came across a group of about 20 burley, many bearded (which is very popular in Louisville) men riding mountain bikes through the snow in a tiny park that was set on a triangular piece of property bordered by each prong of a forking road. Red and white bike lights blinked everywhere as a few of them greeted me and asked if I wanted to play “footdown” which, upon inquiring, I was told is a simple game where the last person on two wheels wins. Afraid that my 70 lb bike would cause one or many injuries, I stayed on the sideline and watched as all twenty or so of them circled up and began to ride around in a tight, slow moving carousel. With barely room to pedal, let alone steer, people dropped quickly and moved to form a circular barrier around those still riding. Each time someone dropped out, the barrier would get tighter. The final three had an arena that was no more than two bike lengths in diameter. They were skilled riders and stayed up for a good while as the other cheered and hooted. Finally a champion was crowned, and someone yelled “and now for burgers and beer!!” And the group took off up the road.

I made my way to Jim’s and let myself in, startling him out of what seemed like a deep sleep. We talked for a minute as he tried to dissuade me from going to a bar to watch MSU in the big ten championship game. Obviously I had none of his argument and after looking up a couple bars in the area, went again on my bike, leaving Jim to sleep.

I rode down the street to the nearest watering hole and went inside. The bar was close to empty and the game was tuned in on multiple TV’s that looked like they had survived since the 1980’s. I was happy to learn that they would be open late into the night, and went out to lock my bike.

As I fumbled with my key and lock, I stopped for a second and realized I was getting the feeling that I should ride down to the other bar I had looked up, which was a couple miles further. I had, at other times on the trip, listened to my intuition, even though rational would say to do otherwise, and had good results. I decided it would be fun to try again.

I got to the second bar and was so happy to see not only huge projection screens playing the game, but a cohort of spartan fans that I joined in hugely outnumbering the buckeyes in the bar. I was having a great time cheering and chatting with the other MSU people when I stopped to look at some of the other faces at the table. I slowly scanned everyone, and was drawn to look again at a guy sitting in the middle of the group. After staring for a second, I realized it was Matt, a friend that I had met on a Spring Break trip to New Orleans seven years prior and hadn’t seen since that year! The reunion was glorious and we had a great night catching up, reminiscing, and cheering the Spartans to a victory.

I got back to Jim’s apartment late into the night, and climbed into my sleeping bag on his carpeted floor without disturbing his sleep again.

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Lou-ville

Christmas carols played loudly from speakers in the city squares as I rode through downtown Louisville towards the Bardstown Road area where my host lived. The neighborhood changed from tall buildings, expensive restaurants and a pedestrian friendly outdoor shopping area to small bookstores, local eateries, and coffee shops. Young professionals walked along the sidewalks, donning umbrellas and warm jackets as the freezing rain came down. David lived right off the main drag in a beautiful home that he made into a bachelor pad with his two dogs and three bikes. I felt totally comfortable among the dirty dishes and dog hair. Over the next couple days we would talk about biking and traveling, his urban lifestyle, his job working for the city’s cycling advocacy office (though he is a programmer by trade), and the many friends he has in the area that are farmers and the like.

We awoke the next morning to the trees sagging under a thick layer of ice. David sent me off with some sights to see, and a plan to meet up later that day for Contra Dancing at a local church. I got on my bike and made my way down Bardstown and into some nice neighborhoods and large parks northeast of the city. As the day wore on, the temperature continued to drop, freezing the rain onto the streets that had been warm enough to stay wet in the morning. The storm progressed into heavy snow and Louisville turned into a giant traffic jam. The worst of the conditions arrived in tandem with rush hour. I came across many a nicely dressed Louisvillian trying frantically to make it up the city’s steep hills as lines of cars waited behind them to get home and start their weekends. I began to join teams of people pushing cars up hills as police sat at the intersections persuading drivers to consider other flatter routes.

In the pandemonium. another biker stopped to help, and we exchanged jovial comments about the weather before walking back to town together, stopping periodically to push more cars. Leandro was from Mexico, and was in Louisville for seminary school. His passion for the church and his spiritual community in Louisville was powerful. He had not always been so involved, but since discovering the Christian Baptist community, he had finally found a spiritual home. It was amaZing to meet someone so happy and content with their situation and purpose. We exchanged numbers and he said he would get me more info on his church before Sunday in case I wanted to attend.

We parted ways and I continued on exploring and pushing. The conditions were, admittedly, very bad for drivers. Even as a proud michigander who is used to winter driving, I think having a car would have been trouble.

I had just finished running behind an old boat of a car when I was approached by two young ladies who worked for the local TV station. A few minutes later I had been on camera, seen the inside of a TV van, had two new friends, And a decent chance of becoming famous, which, being my ultimate goal in life, turned my spirits high to say the least.

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The news girls and I

I continued around the city looking at historic homes, urban gardens, and stopping at Hound Dog Press. The high ceilinged space was filled with 19th century printing presses, and Beautiful prints hung everywhere on the aged red brick walls of the shop. One of the owners, Nick, talked to me for a while about his business, and the next day we met at a beer festival with his family and brother who was visiting from his organic farm in Colorado.

Despite the weather, Contra Dancing was still on that night. A bluegrass string band played for the dancers atop a raised stage in the ballroom of a local church. When I was able to take a break from the spinning and stepping, I sat and enjoyed both the music, and the light footed movements of the men and women who were obviously very experienced. The group was relatively small…15 compared to the 100 normally. The age range spanned 40 or more years, and the skill levels were similarly dispersed. I spent my time messing up the flows of the dances, laughing, and trying to keep from getting nauseous from all the dose do’s!

Saturday morning we woke up and walked Dave’s dogs to the store. The first winter storm I had experienced in 2013 brought with it that peaceful and serene feeling that often persists after a heavy snow. As we walked back from the grocery, a man in a knit hat and beard drove slowly up with a hand out of the window, high-fiving both Dave and I without saying anything, and drove slowly away giving the thumbs up out his window. “He’s a nice guy…haven’t seen him in months.” David said matter of factly.

We went home and had lunch before saying our goodbyes and thank you’s as Dave was unable to house me for a third night. The roads were still bad, but people had been so generous that I wasn’t too worried about finding a place to stay, especially in the city.

I rode around town again that day, seeing the neighborhood of Old Louisville, and stopping by University of Louisville. When I was unable to find The Root Celler, a mom and pop grocer that stocks their products from small farms within 150 miles or less of Louisville, I kept riding, not really knowing or caring where I was headed. Soon I came upon an old man sitting in his wheelchair in the snow by the sidewalk. I smiled and waved, and just before I looked away, I saw him gesture me over to him with his finger. The neighborhood wasn’t ritzy by any means, but I felt comfortable enough to stop.

“Can you do me a favor?” The man asked. “Can you push me to church tomorrow morning?”

He looked right into my eyes when he asked. His voice was scratchy and he seemed to almost struggle to get the wind for a whole sentence.

“I would help you but I don’t know where I will be tomorrow…I don’t have anywhere to stay tonight.” I answered.

“Well you can stay with me! I’d enjoy the company and we can go to church together in the morning.”

I thanked him for the offer, and we chatted for a while longer. Eventually the topic of his TV being broken came up, and I offered to fix it for him, seeing as he didn’t have much else to do. We wheeled up to the door and went inside. The apartment smelled strongly of cigarettes and urine. There was a single room of about 10×15 that held a bed, a dresser, two space heaters, and a TV on a stand. Another door with a hole where the handle would go led into a bathroom that held a coffee maker, a hot plate, and a few random groceries. The whole place was unfinished, and had no windows. The main door wasn’t sealed properly and let in tiny streams of sunlight from outside. The bathroom was unheated, and the faucet and shower dribbled out, Jim later saying it was to keep the pipes from freezing.

I fumbled around with his television and found a way to once again bring in the free basic cable channels that Jim watched. When I inquired about his situation, he told me about his landlord charging him $575 per month, leaving only a bit of his social security check for food each month. He had no credit, and lacked the physical ability to move himself. He had no phone or internet, and no family. He spoke of a few friends and that was most of the positive that I heard from him. As I left, he again said that he would enjoy my company, and that I would enjoy his church. And although I felt bad for Jim and wanted to help him, I wasn’t ready to commit. I said I might be back, but that I couldn’t promise and went on my way.

I kept riding, thinking of Jim, his living situation, and about staying at his apartment. I didn’t feel like I would be in danger, but it wasn’t the nicest situation, and I thought there was a chance I could find something more comfortable. I shook off the thought of leaving him alone and made the decision to be back that evening. I could handle the dirt and smoke, and I would want someone to help me if I was in his shoes.

I hadn’t been riding for more than a few minutes from Jim’s when there in front of me was The Root Celler. It wasn’t the one I was looking for but “the bigger better one” that I thought was too far away! I stopped in and fell into a great conversation with the owner, Ron, about his business model, the local food systems in Louisville and Detroit, travels, food, family, and everything in between. Ron is highly energetic and very animated when he talks (similar to John Jit if you know him). Speaking with Ron and watching him interact with neighborhood people who were not only his customers, but also his friends, was a wonderful experience. A true local business experience.

Ron sent me along with a pie pan that he had been meaning to give back to a couple that I was scheduled to meet for dinner, plus two big bags of apples, one for me, and one for Amanda and Justin as a thank you for the pie. He offered to open the shop for me to sleep in that night, and gave me his number just in case I decided not to stay with Jim.

I made my way to the beer festival with Nick the printer and his family for a short time before rushing out for my dinner date with Amanda, Justin, and now Dave, who had hooked us all up.

Amanda and Justin are a Louisville super couple in my eyes. Dave had put us in touch because of their interest in cycling, farming, and sustainability, and because they had done the Peace Corps together in Latin America. As I made my way around he city that day, it seemed that everyone I met recommend that I talk to them. It felt awesome to say that I was already planning on having dinner with this couple that apparently had local-celeb status.

We shared our Indian dinners family style and talked about everything that interested us. Justin heads the office of sustainability at UL, and Amanda works while also growing most of their food at home. Amanda had also just acquired a vacant plot within the city that she planned on turning into a productive urban agriculture plot. AND, I was the only person at the table who owned a car! 🙂

Amanda and Justin told stories of how they had been reluctant to get legally married for moral reasons, even though as a couple they were everything but. The Peace Corps, however, only allowed “married” couples to travel together, so they took the legal plunge, and asked that all wedding presents be donations to a specified LGBT advocacy organization. Their ensuing overseas experience was amazing, according to them, and I could sense their excitement for the possibility that I would get to be a part of Peace Corps too.

We said goodbyes as someone yelled at me from a passing car “Why are you smiling so much!? You need a new lover!” I should have given them the link to the blog.

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With a Little Help from My Friends

The morning was cloudy and still warm from the day prior. I had 70 miles to Louisville where I was confident I could find a warmshowers host to help keep me out of the impending storms. The rain was scheduled to start in the afternoon and turn to ice and snow before nightfall. Bill’s early bedtime gave me the opportunity to fix my tire the night before, but a hole in my tire was exposing my inner tubes to rocks and debris. I had no spare inner tubes, and knew full well the possibility of hitchhiking that day.

I pedaled hard, watching for anything that might cause a flat. The route was almost all downhill as I traveled into the Ohio River Valley and towards Louisville. I was on the first flat stretch of corn fields when the rain started. The droplets rolled off my rain gear, but froze on my helmet and beard.

I stopped to eat some lunch under the awning of a large hardware store in Salem, IN around 2pm. Food in the stomach always has a warming affect, and I thought that maybe I could patch my tire somehow.

The workers were friendly and helpful, going out of their way to donate glue and a rubber patch to fortify my compromised rear tire. As I spoke to various employees, I heard mention of their coworker who was an organic farmer, and as I packed my bike to leave, I heard a young man and a woman talking about natural medical remedies and cattle grazing rotation a couple car lengths away from me. I smiled and butted my way into their conversation.

Gail had just been certified in Natural Medicines and was in the process of starting her own practice in Salem. Daniel was a permaculture farmer who dealt with cattle, vegetables, and was experimenting with aquaponics. As the icy rain continued, we all exchanged brief life stories before Daniel offered me a ride to Louisville when he got off work. I couldn’t have been happier! I rang the Salvation Army bell and helped customers load bags of rock salt into their trunks while I waited.

Daniel was on his way to his classes to become a Machinist, and went far past his destination in order to drop me off in the heart of Louisville. He talked about his experiences in sustainable grazing, and his experiments in creating a low-energy tilapia and veggie production system (the plants simultaneously feed off and clean the tilapia’s water). Though he was only 20, Daniel answered all of my questions with an impressive depth of knowledge.

We crossed the Ohio and into Kentucky where he dropped me off. Though it was nighttime and I still didn’t have a place to stay, I was excited and happy after a great conversation, and the fact that I had made it to the city before the roads iced over. I immediately went to work calling potential hosts for the night, and soon thereafter got an answer and an invite from David, just a few miles from where I sat.

As I was getting ready to head back to my bike, the large park square I was in suddenly started blaring a song out of speakers that were somehow hidden in or on the surrounding buidings.  I recognized the high-energy song as part of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas show.  Suddenly, to accompany the loud music, colored lights from all directions began to flash on and off to the beat of the music.  It was a nice show, but the fact that I was pretty much the only one witnessing this huge show made it seem funny to me.  For a variety of reasons, it made me think of a friend’s grandmother who had just died of old age, and before I left for my home for the night, I enjoyed the show, feeling as if it was sent to me by my late friend Grandma B.

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Hoosier Territory

I arrived in Bloomington after the short morning ride from Martinsville and took my time enjoying the scenery and people that often come with big college towns. It seems as though the whole Indiana University campus (along with 14 State Capitols, the Empire State Building, and more) has been built from the area’s rich limestone resources, and it made for an enjoyable afternoon. Like many universities, the building’s facades are intricate and aged, but IU’s campus combines that historic feel with gently rolling terrain, natural wooded areas, a clear running brook, and a variety of unique trees and shrubs from around the world. I spent my time riding around campus, checking out the amazing collection at the IU art museum, and meeting yet another new friend!

When bedtime rolled around, my host for the night (Laura, my sister) still had a couple more hours of studying to do, and so invited me to Starbucks to join her. We spent most of her time talking to strangers who became friends, before receiving a donation/rescue of about 45 pastries that we happily proceeded to sample at home with her roommate Jackie.

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Laura and her roommates left at their usual pre-morning hour while I continued to bum around, this day in their apartment, until almost noon. I looped back into town to unsuccessfully check the Goodwill shop for an extra pair of socks before bounding south into Hoosier National Forest and the Lake Monroe area. Warm weather, aMazing scenery, and a breakfast of oatmeal and 8 pastries combined to give me a unique vitality that I enjoyed throughout the day’s ride.

As the sun set that evening, I found myself in a grocery store parking lot in Bedford, IN with an invitation to turn a man’s backyard into my campsite. I happily accepted, and rolled across the street to the place I thought would be my home for the night.

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Fine Folks in Martinsville

I flicked on my flashing bike lights and slowly moved out of town as I tried to get my blood flowing again after resting at the gas station. I had filled my bottles up in anticipation for an oatmeal dinner somewhere in the parklands south of town.
As I wove my way through construction barrels, straining in the low light to see the potholes and potmounds in the road, I thought again about the lone warmshowers host in the martinsville area. After two rings, Mark answered, and, while surprised to hear from a biker, agreed, after a conversation with Joanna, his wife, to let me stay with them. I said thank you, and remembering a sign outside the church in the town square advertising “Free Dinner 5:30-6:30”, told Mark my plans and turned myself back towards town.

Feeling slightly uneasy about attending a soup kitchen, seeing as I had the means to my own food, I locked my bike and told myself it would be worth the potential karma hit for the experience. A man played Christmas songs on the piano as I chatted with an older couple that attended every Monday night.

The Lord has been great to us, hasn’t he!?

I stayed around afterwords, helping to clean up, and talked with the volunteers. It was a great event that seemed to bring all types from the community together to share a meal and good conversation. I enjoyed the friendly attitudes and matter-of-fact conversation as a young volunteer noticed my clothing. The Pastor chimed in:

I’ll tell you what, the further north you go, the stranger people dress.


As we finished up cleaning the kitchen, Mark made a surprise appearance at the church, and together we walked the few blocks to his home with Joanne.

I guess by now I shouldn’t be surprised when warmshowers hosts turn out to be incredibly generous, friendly, and interesting people, but it has continued to amaze. Mark and Joanne brought me in and instantly made me feel right at home as we made our way past beautiful paintings, pottery, and antiques on our way to my living room quarters. Our shared interests in cycling and the outdoors led to exciting conversation as we looked through pictures of their past tours and shared stories of our outdoor adventures. Our topics meandered through their tandem riding addiction, the routed rides they organize for the local cycling groups, and the 750 mile, 60 hour ride across France that Mark once participated in (three days, two nights…sore butt anyone?).

In the morning we ate a delicious breakfast before Mark and Joanne outfitted me with all sorts of new equipment and accessories which included two pairs of tights to keep my knees healthy and warm, another water bottle and bottle rack, a new book, and a detailed riding map to my next destination.

The route that Joanna and Mark sent me on down to Bloomington was absolutely amazing. Starting in flat farmlands skirted by mist-covered southern Indiana hills, it continued into the rolling woodlands of Morgan-Monroe State Forest, on past beautiful small farms nestled into the tall trees and hillsides, and finally through a long, narrow creek-side park before feeding me into downtown Bloomington.

All day I followed the spray painted directional markers that Mark and Joanne had laid on the road for their previously organized ride, and as I made my way up what was undoubtedly the longest and steepest hill of my trip thus far, I slowly passed over a message printed in big yellow letters on the pavement “FEEL THE BURN :)”, and despite my discomfort, couldn’t help but smile to myself as I thought of my new friends back in Martinsville.

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