Friday, July 27, 2007

daed si luap

If you've been following all three of our blogs during this bike trip, you'll notice that Ross, Julie, and I don't usually write about the same things, despite being on the same roads, seeing the same things. Consider them each like gospels, different versions of the same story, and I guess mine is most similar to the Gospel of John: very little concrete information, confusing and unnecessary symbolism, subtle clues hinting to the exact date of Armageddon and/or Beatles' conspiracies...

Not very helpful, I know, if you want to hear about biking or podunk towns or unique characters from Indiana. It's time consuming to write that all down in a public library knowing you still more hours of biking ahead of you and don't want to offend the other library patrons with your odor.

But now that I'm showered and biding my time in Chicago, here goes...


The days usually start around 6 or 6:30. No alarm clock needed; we all wake up on our own around that time. Different species of birds sing at different hours of the morning, and I wish I had some bird calling familiarity so I could tell time without using a watch, but my ability to differentiate anything about birds is generally limited to "fried" of "baked." So I check the time using my bike odometer and as long as it's something near 6:00, I prep myself to get up.

The hardest part of this ride: putting on the bike shorts each morning. It takes a lot of resolve for me to slide out of a warm sleeping bag, pick up a pair of bike shorts that are usually cold and damp from dew, and shimmy into them. But once that's over, the rest of the day is much easier.

There's little to no conversation between us in the morning. We each pack up our equipment, break down tents, pack away sleeping clothes, fill up water if there's an outside faucet. We make breakfast, lately cereal and powdered milk. The only meaningful thing we say in the morning is, "So where are we going today?" We all look at the maps, pick a final destination that's somewhere around 60 miles away usually, and plan a first stopping point, a small town or intersection about 10-20 miles away.

Inflate the tires, check for loose screws, reset the odometer, stretch a bit, and off we go.


Once we get going, it feels good. The morning, though sometimes cold, is so quiet and peaceful. Less cars on the road. No overbearing sun blistering the exposed skin. Just cool, crisp cycling with fresh legs and the optimism only a new day can bring.

As I've said before, Ross and Julie are much faster cyclists than me, so soon after we start, I'm alone on the road, and prefer it that way. It's a quiet time on the road and being with other people would be like talking on a cell phone in a monastary. It feels offensive to the morning.

I meet them at the designated stops (hopefully), and we share funny anecdotes about dogs chasing us* or fascinating road kill. We share snacks of plum tomatoes, green beans, cheese in a can, various chocolate or Little Debbie items. We pick the next stop and it's off again.

On the bike, when I'm not thinking about the distance or the soreness, I think about people I miss (yes, that's you!) or people I hate (yep, that's you, asshole). My mind replays embarrassing moments in my life, and I curse myself outloud for thinking about them. I have fake conversations with people so I have a whole script planned out the next time I see you all, and you better stick to your lines, the ones I imagine you'll say, or else none of my punchlines will be funny. I sing songs I haven't heard in years or theme songs to 80's TV shows (the new boy in my neighborhood lives downstairs and it's understood, he's there just to take good care of me, like he's one of the family). The set list also includes elton john, billy joel, beatles, system of a down, clutch, and any doo wop songs I can remember. I save "American Pie," "rocky racoon," and "scenes from an Italian restaurant" for hills because those songs last longer. Sometimes, if I'm in a particularly hard stretch--there was one point where they had closed off one direction traffic on a pretty busy road and I was trying to get past this construction stretch uphill with no shoulder and speeding semis, so I could find a safe spot to replace my quickly deflating back tire-- I say, "Powerboost! Powerboost, kid!" and that makes me go slightly faster, but for short stretches because the invocation doesn't actually decrease the lactic acid build up in my muscles; it's just a stupid thing I say to hopefully make me bike a little faster.

I picture what my life will be like when I finish this ride. Not unlike a major motion picture, there are plenty of alternate endings and deleted scenes. I also try to replay entire scenes from Bloodsport and the Rocky movies in my head to see if I can remember all the dialogue. Sometimes I'll remember episodes of the Simpsons and I won't be able to stop laughing.

And that's the whole day until anywhere from 4:00-6:00 when we meet again to find a place to stay the night.


We pick a town that's the right distance from where we started and that looks the right size for soliciting a place to sleep. Too small and it'll just be cornfields. Too big and there will be no open space for tents, or people will be less trusting. Has to be in the middle. Then, we usually start by finding local churches and see if the rectory is nearby to ask the pastor if we can set up tents on the church grounds. If we can't find a reverend, we've usually been directed to other people, the mayor of a small town that let us camp on the river, a police officer that let us set up shop in the town park. Julie has become quite adept at asking and, as she puts it, "gets a high," when we find a place.

We say thank you over and over, then start setting up for the night. Put the stove together and start boiling water as we pitch tents, change into non-spandex clothing, pee behind trees, relax.

WE usually cook mac and cheese which we fatten up with canned chicken and some sort of vegetable: green peppers, left over plum tomatoes, canned corn or veggie medley. The dinner is consistently hot and delicious and nothing feels better than having a safe place to stay and warm dinner to enjoy leisurely. We take turns doing dishes. Then, we might do some bike repair, sing the same songs over and over with the ukulele, or, at the really cool places, build a fire. There really isn't that much down time; once we've found a place, cooked, and set up for the evening, it's usually about 8 pm. And we're all in bed by 9 most nights.

I take my wallet, bike odometer (for the time), digital camera, knife, bike clothes, lantern, and journal into the tent with me. Essentially, anything expensive or valuable to me that I would not want to get wet or stolen. I do have waterproof bags on my bike, but they are a pain to pack up until the morning. I usually jot a few notes into the journal; nothing creative, just mileage, location, perhaps some interesting tidbit from the day. Then I might read for a few minutes and fall asleep.

I have a sleeping bag and use my raincoat as a sleeping pad if the ground if particularly hard. I use my sneakers as pillows. They smell horrendous after a rainy day, but you get used to anything.

That's it. That's been my life for the last 2 weeks. Not particularly exciting, which is why I avoided writing this blog entry; i've dozed off twice just trying to type it up. Again, if you want up to date info on actual riding, check ross or julie. If you want the first draft of a straight to video romantic action comedy I've been imagining starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Ralph Macchio in a no holds barred tournament that contenders can only enter by flying a Delorian at 88 miles per hour and going back in time, then check my blog again in a few days.

*I have not read Ross' blog, but I think it might describe one encounter we had with a couple dogs. I don't know what he wrote, but let me just clarify what happened. I, as usual, was the last one to bike past a house in Ohio that had two unfriendly dogs. Past experience on this ride showed that the dogs who barked wouldn't leave their lawns, no matter how much they disliked me. But as I cruised by, these dogs kept following me off of their property, so I veered into the road and crossed it hoping they would follow me and get hit by a car, truck, or SUV. Unfortunately, there were no cars travelling the road at the time. I finally stopped on the other side of the road to assess the situation with them yapping behind. I keep a knife in a pouch under my bike seat, but truth be told, I have not been practicing dog drills, and in this state of emergency, was not ready to whip out my shiv quickly enough to maim or blind these pets. So I just stopped to see what they would do, and, true to the cliche, the bark was worse than the bite, which never came, thankfully. They just stood there barking at me, and upon closer inspection, they were not the rabid pitbull/hyena mix I thought they were at first, but instead, just fluffy, black things that came no higher than my knees. So i flipped them the bird and continued on my way.

I don't know what Ross said about the experience, but there was no point in me telling my side because I don't think, now that I've written it all down, I've improved my image at all with this testimony.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Don't call PETA, but I've been thinking about killing and eating a frog one of these nights camping. I saw it on some Discovery Channel show where some wilderness guy lives in horribly inhospitable biomes (tundra; desert; Gary, IN) and has to find food and shelter to survive. Well, he caught a frog and roasted it on a stick not unlike an amphibious marshmallow, and I just think I'd be so awfully badass if I could do that. But as I bike, I try to think of what it would be like to hold down a squirming, wet frog and place the tip of my knife on its skull, between its eyes, try to imagine leaning forward and letting my weight spike the blade past the bones and into the gushy, important stuff that keeps it alive.

Nope, I can't do it. Something about frogs, the adorable way they hop and sing "Rainbow Connection" makes it difficult for me to slaughter them. But crayfish, on the other hand... those I'd be fine cooking because you don't have to actively kill them. It's more like a magic trick: boil water, place crayfish in water, cover, abracadabra, food! We found a bunch of them flopping under rocks in the Susquehanna River when we camped out in Laceyville, PA, but I didn't think of it at the time. But, then again, is it worth risking red tide disease, when actually we have plenty of food and don't need to be foraging?

Which brings me to the main topic of this blog: diet. I took a "before" picture of myself in bike shorts before we left and, to be honest, I don't think the "after" picture is going to look remarkably more fit. My mother has mentioned on numerous occassions over the past month how fat i've been getting. A few days into this ride, she left a message on my cell in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, that roughly translated as: "Don't eat the foods that make your tummy big." At first, I assumed that biking 60-80 miles a day would be enough to burn off whatever we eat, which has included pork rinds and a pickled egg from a gas station that, for some reason, was pink, including the yolk, so I didn't take her warnings to heart.

But, I've realized that while I enjoy biking, I don't actually enjoy the peddling part, and whenver possible, I stop peddling. When I do get around to peddling, I exert the least effort necessary to keep me upright on the bike, which may be why Ross and Julie have to spend extended breaks lounging on convenience store parking lots waiting for me. So while I am biking cross country, I'm doing the bare minimum necessary to even consider it exercise. I'm rarely even breaking a sweat.

So, after realizing this, I have taken my mother's advice and started buying fruits and vegetables and cheese from an aerosol can, which may not be Jenny Craig aprroved, but gives my body the necessary calcium and bacon flavoring it so desperately craves. I'm just warning you all, don't try to surprise me after this trip with Speedos or low rise jeans. I probably won't look any different except for a viscious farmer's tan and chaffing in areas that you hopefully won't be seeing anyway.

Friday, July 20, 2007

round 1, done

If you've watched as much ESPN Classic Boxing as I have, you know that Muhammed Ali, past his prime after a three and a half year lay off from the sport for his refusal to join the army, after having chalked up two losses to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, was supposed to have no chance against the monstrous George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle. After all, Foreman had man handled both the fighters that had beaten Ali and his knockout percentage was unheard of.

In interviews now with a much jollier, tubbier Foreman, he recalls that Ali, in round 1 of that fight, after withstanding a barage a punches in the ropes, said to him at the bell, "I made it." Fast forward to the eighth round and foreman, all the lean, powerful muscle, is crumpled on the canvas, winded from heat, wasted punches, and the psychological beating from the great Ali.

Well Pennsylvania, round 1 is over. I made it. Who climbed whose hills, bitch?

In Cleveland, OH now, a state that was supposed to be flat (that's all anyone in PA would say, "all down hill from here"), but certainly didn't feel that flat when my gears stopped switching. Climbing hills in the highest gear, I tried distracting myself, praying the Our Father as many times in a row as it took to get up the hill, then tried reciting the names of all the girls I've kissed, but unfortunately, that did not take very long, then wondering how the Little Mermaid, if she lives underwater, could have such bouncy, luxurious hair? Shouldn't it be a mat of seaweed covering her face?

Hope to make Chicago by next week. I know I'm not very good about blogging regularly; considering I spend about 12 hours a day biking, it's not a priority. But if you'd like more up to date info on how we are doing, check Ross' blog ( or Julie's blog (

To wrap up the Ali story for those unfamiliar, he didn't choose to retire after gaining the belt back from Foreman and instead fought for another five years or so and eventually develop Parkinsons Disease as a result of the repeated head trauma. So, after I cross the Rockies and I have uncontrollable body twitches, you can tell me I should have quit in the midwest. Champions like us don't stop till we see ocean.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

PA: Green with Envy

I actually tried posting this entry a few days ago while we were travelling through Potter County, PA, which is advertised as "God's Country." But apparently, God does not like my writing because the library in Galeton blocked my blog under the category of Adult/Mature. What's odd is that Potter County, PA is also the home of the "Woolly Willy" and though I have no idea what that is, it sounds like it too deserves to be in the Adult/Mature category.

Take a look at a tourism map of the state and you'll see Pennsylvania suffers from poor self esteem. None of their attractions are good enough on their own. There's Bushkill Falls, the Niagara of PA. And there's the Grand Canyon of PA. Hell, there's even a town here called Jersey Shore. Pennsylvania, just be yourself. Take pride in your unruly Eagles fans and churned butter, your Hershey kisses and potato chip making industry. You don't seem me going around calling myself, Armin, the Matthew McConaughey of New Jersey, do you?

Friday, July 13, 2007

no yellow jersey for me

Averaging a whopping 6 miles per hour the last three days, it is doubtful I'll be wearing the Tour de France yellow jersey. But imagine all I would have missed flying around at 20 miles per hour? A dead warthog being hollowed out by flies as if it were a jack 'o lantern. A dollar bill dropped on the side of the road, perhaps lost by a kid who had a lemonade stand, but was soon hit by the same truck that got the warthog. An old man, John Rawlings of Dalton, PA who met the Duke, John Wayne, three times in his life and proceeded to tell me about each encounter in his best John Wayne impression while I stood, nodding politely in the sweltering noon heat. Can't enjoy that at 20 miles per hour. Or even 10 miles per hour. No, for the slice of Americana I'm savoring, your average speed should top out at about 5 or 6 miles per hour. I've gone so slowly uphill, that at times, my odometer reads 0 miles per hour because it thinks I've stopped peddling.

In Towanda, PA, one time home of Stephen Foster. You can't help but whistle "Camptown Races" down these roads. This area of PA is known as the Endless Mountains. Not very encouraging to see when you're biking. They should have more encouraging welcome signs that say something like

"Welcome to the Endless Mountains (mountains end a few feet from here)"


"Welcome to the Endless Mountains (But you're already at the top, so it's all down hill from here, baby!)

Write to PA Tourism Department with your suggestions of Endless Mountain slogans and maybe it'll increase the cycling around here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

pepper spray, spf 50

My guess is that with the radiocative waste supposedly buried in New Jersey, all those heavy metals, plutonium, neptunium, uranium, must have increased the overall mass of the state, therefore making its gravitational pull much stronger than anywhere else in the world.

I could feel that gravity pulling me down, making my wheels sluggish, impossible to get any forward momentum. Day 1, Lincoln Park, NJ to Milford, PA was brutal. The sun that popped as a tiny bud in the east at around 5:30 AM, bloomed and exploded overhead around noon, spreading heat and ultraviolet radiation everywhere, like burning milkweed seeds.

Don't know what the warning signs for fainting are, but once I started feeling nauseous and dizzy, I pulled off the road. Having seen the crumpled and smashed in bodies of birds, frogs, unidentifiable furry things along route 206 N, I knew the motorists wouldn't have much mercy on me if I passed out into the traffic.

Continued on after lying in a cement shelter used as a bus stop for kids (but during the summer becomes a playground for every kind of crawling, winged thing native to North Jersey), Still exhausted, still picking spider webs out of my teeth, made it to the glorious Delaware River. Walked over the bridge and, delerious with the heat, imagined all the clumsy moths that were bumping into my face and chest were actually trying to get me to fall off the bridge into the brown water fifty feet below. Made it across no thanks to them.

I would continue writing this blog entry, but my eyes are burning as if the Coppertone sweating into them were pepper spray.

Main point, day one, tough, but finished. Day 2 so far, much more pleasant. never been so happy to see an overcast sky.

Monday, July 9, 2007

T minus whenever it feels right

bonus points to anyone who can name the song from which the title of this blog is derived.

Tuesday, July 10th is blast off. Wheels will be inflated, chains will be lubed, calves and quads will be stretched and supple.

And, at some point, not unlike Andy Gibb when he declined to join his brothers with the Bee Gees (fellas, wouldn't "Night Diarrhea and Upset Stomach" be a better title for a song than "Night Fever?" No? Well, fuck you, Barry! I'm going solo!), I may decide to splinter off from the group and pursue the rest of the ride alone.

This has nothing to do with Ross or Julie.

Whenever I tell people I'm riding to Oregon, everyone says "Thank God you're going with people." Though I know none of you have bad intentions, what you are inadvertently telling me is that I'm incapable of doing this on my own. I know I give off the impression of being sort of a naive and bumbling goofball, whose ineptitude, while amusing, prevents me from being successful independently. This impression is self inflicted; I do poke fun at my failures quite a bit and usually defer to others in a group. So people assume that my lack of training or planning means I'll get murdered by the Amish in Lancaster after pulling a hammie. Possible, I guess.

I know you are all just looking out for me. But, what you're really doing is questioning my heart and assuming that my brute determination is NOT enough to make it to the end.

Well, you know what? That's what they said about Jesus. "Oh, Jesus," the Phillistines would say, "You can't rise from the dead. Have you been training? What route are you taking from Hell to Heaven? Is Peter going with you?" And Jesus gave all of mankind the ultimate middle finger in the form of a resurrection. So I think that proves my point, Q.E.D.

Also, I may split off because my reasons for this ride are probably different from Ross and Julie's and may, in fact, be incompatible with theirs. This is just a guess because, to be honest, I can't really explain why I want to do this ride. Maybe the hours of mindless peddling will give me time to express myself more eloquently.

But, as best as I can explain it for now, part of the reason I'm biking is to suffer. To feel actual, physical pain. To feel deep, horrible loneliness. To feel interminable boredom. That way, when I'm about to bitch to someone about a girl breaking my heart, I can remember what my legs felt like on the eighth hour of day peddling uphill, and remember that as real pain. And when I am with friends, I'll remember real loneliness and won't take their company for granted. And when there's nothing on TV, I'll remember flat, monotonous stretches of the country and remember what real boredom was like.

Life has been so cushy for me the last three years in Boston, as reflected by my waistline. See Figure 1.

Figure 1.
(this is where an awful picture of my sorry, fat ass in bike shorts would be if I was willing to take the time to figure out how to post pics. For now, visualize one hundred eighty pounds of kielbasa squeezed together with saran wrap)

As I was saying, life has been cushy for me and I haven't had to suffer, and yet, I still find things about which to complain. But, if I can face all that physical discomfort and solitude and boredom and still be OK, I think I'll be a more appreciative, less whiny Armin once I touch the Pacific.

But, you see how it might be hard to be lonely and bored and scared with Ross and Julie right by my side? Then again, both of them have been talking big about their cheesecake eating prowess and it would be ever so fun to referee for them at the Old Country Buffet to see who really is the better competative cheesecake eater. So for now, I guess this pokey puppy will stick with the pack.

Friday, July 6, 2007

A Brief History on What I Can Remember

First there was Lewis and Clark in 1804. Then, for about 150 years, no one else was able to duplicate the feat of cross country travel until Ricky, Lucy, Fred, and Ethel did it in the "California, Here We Come!" episode of "I Love Lucy" circa 1955, if my memory serves me. And since then, many fool hardy adventurers, drunk on their own hubris and SPF 35, have tried to traverse this great land brought together by manifest destiny, small pox, Route 66, and WalMart, but NONE HAVE EVER MADE IT ALIVE.

I've been trying to Wikipedia the percentage of people who have attempted to cross the United States, but ended up a pile of bleached bones in the Sonoma, but I guess the survival rate for cross country travel is so low that even Wikipedia doesn't have information on it. But as a historical enthusiast and one time census taker (U.S. Census 2000 Jerz team, taking it to the streets!) I feel qualified to throw these facts and figures at you.

Fact 1: Notable explorers including Marco Polo, Ponce de Leon, and even Leif Ericson have never travelled across the entire United States. In one interview with Leif, when asked why he never tried to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Viking was reported to have said, "Are you fucking crazy? That's a really far distance! I'll stick to my fjords and Grendels, thank you very much." Marco Polo was not available for comment; every time the interviewer tried to get his attention, he'd scream "Polo!" then try to sneak out of the pool, which is an express violation of the rules.

Fact 2: More people have died from cross country biking than from cigarettes and tobacco-based products, according to the Phillip Morris website.

Fact 3: The Rocky Mountains are very tall and there is no tunnel under them. You just have to climb them.

When all this data is laid out in front of you, it's pretty staggering, I know. Which makes it even more remarkable that three plucky, young go-getters, Ross, Julie, and Armin will attempt the unthinkable on July 10th and bike from Lincoln Park, NJ to Portland, OR, with everything they need strapped to their backs.

There's usually an outcry of disbelief at this point, so here's the Q and A section of the blog.

* Have you been training, Armin?
* Have you mapped out the route?
* What will you eat?

All stupid, stupid questions, people. To answer the first, yes, I've been training in the form of the educational, but fun, computer game "Oregon Trail." I've gotten to the point where I can shoot so much buffalo, I can't even carry them all in my covered wagon. So yes, I've been training, and to answer the food question, I will be eating buffalo. Buffalo steaks, buffalo quesadillas, buffalo gazpacho, buffalo everything.

In response to the route question, let me ask you, what did humans do before Rand McNally was born? You know what they did? They got lost, they discovered those delicious out of the way diners you would never have found if you stayed on the main road where a server named Pearl gives you fresh bread and calls you "hun", they made new friends, they had a good laugh about it all. That's what people did before maps and so I think that answers the question sufficiently.

The most important thing, is learning from our predecessors. How do we increase the amount of zaniness exemplified in the I Love Lucy expedition, and decrease the amount of typhoid fever in the Oregon Trail simulation? Ideally, I'd like the ratio of zaniness to typhoid to be at about 3 to 1. Three parts zany, one part typhoid. Based on what I've learned from those episodes of I Love Lucy, and from my rudimentary knowledge of salmonella, we can easily accomplish this ratio by engaging in hilarious schemes--including, but not limited to, trying to steal citrus fruits from the homes of celebrities--at least three times more often than eating human fecal matter.

I think we're on the right track.