While Brenda and I were yakking over the cheese and crackers she provided the evening before, Whitey’s rear tire went entirely flat. Brenda had asked me what time did I want breakfast, and I said 7:30, so I could be out before it gets too hot. I woke up earlier than I wanted to after the previous day of sweating and baking and dehydrating and pumping air into the doomed tube and holding my breath as I passed various road pizza pies. Was aiming to change the flat before breakfast (and before the heat kicked up too many notches). I removed Whitey’s panniers and flipped him upside down in the hazy morning sun. I’d scratch his belly if he had one. I couldn’t decide whether to try to repair the damaged tube. It felt wasteful to just chuck it without trying. So I just replaced it a freshie and stuffed the old one in the bottom of the front left pannier. I’d patch it later, I swore. (Dare ya to guess if that ever happened!)
As mentioned yesterday, breakfast with Brenda was…perfect, or… fine, or delicious…hmm…one of a kind?. … Okay, you got me. I don’t really remember breakfast. Is that messed up of me? Oh, come on! It was less about the food and more about the connection. Plus, do you really want to read the list of items she prepared? Here’s one takeaway: Brenda asked if I wanted apple butter. I hesitated. I didn’t know whether or not I wanted apple butter. What’s apple butter again? Do I like it? Or is it gelatinous? Did Brenda make it during apple season and would my refusal cause irreparable damage to the common ground we’d created? Will this be my only opportunity to experience apple butter for the rest of my days on this humid earth?
“You don’t have to have it,” she said, looking at my stumped expression.
“No, no, I know,” I said, “Yes, please. Yes, to apple butter. Yes, to everything.” I explained my tendency to overthink things and assume there’s a right answer to a question, even one as banal as the one she asked.
“It’s only apple butter,” she said. “Not a big deal.”
“I want it for sure. I’m saying yes. And taking you at face value. And everybody else from now on.”
I do like apple butter, by the way. Well, I like it somewhat. Okay, I don’t love it (so no need to surprise me with a jar next time you see me (if you know me), or if we ever meet in person (if you don’t)…unless of course you made it from scratch and it’s really important to you that I experience it.)
And then I was gone again, on my way to Shaker Heights and family and a bit of ease. I couldn’t tell from the RideWithGPS app exactly how miles away I was, but it doesn’t matter, because I fucked it up immediately by turning the wrong way from Bella Fattoria. Will I ever learn?? Of course, the mistake took me right down a hill, so there was no way I was turning around. I made it work, only adding a mile and a half, or so.
The ride was less hilly than the previous day, that is until the early afternoon when it hit 90 degrees and I was still 30 miles away. The PGH to CLE route that I found on RideWithGPS runs you along a lot of bike trails (paved ones) in the latter half, so I spent 32 of the day’s 66-mile ride not having to deal with motorized vehicles. And there’s the added benefit of witnessing the fauna alive and running for cover as I barged into their environment, instead of…well, you know…in pieces. I passed through some prettier and seemingly more bicycle-friendly towns than the previous day: Ravenna and Kent, to name two I remember. The closer I got to Cleveland, the more well-kept the trails were. These trails, however, weren’t stocked with amenities (i.e., Helen Keller/Annie Sullivan-esque water pumps), and I was dying of thirst. I mean, not dying but definitely wishing for a convenience store to appear (and then disappear, so as not to ruin the landscape of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park). At long last, it was a golf course with working water fountains – with cold water to boot! – that appeared to save the day. (Ironically, golf courses = one of California’s most abundant wasters of our dwindled water supply. Maybe that isn’t irony. Maybe it’s just an excuse to talk smack about golf courses, because, according to Audubon International, the average golf course uses 312,000 gallons of water per day – and 41% of golfers polled by Golf Digest believe that climate change is a hoax. Well, they believed that in 2008. Also, I heard once that the amount of land that golf courses occupy in the US is the size of Delaware! …but it could have been Rhode Island. Or I’m making that up.)
Once the lovely Bedford Reservation spit me into Bedford, OH, it was only a 9-mile hike (mostly uphill – arrgh) to Shaker Heights.
I cycled right up to the eager progeny of my cousin Leah and her husband, Jeff. Ezra is 9 and Dahlia is almost 8 (though don’t quote for-sure-for-sure me on their ages). Leah had been texting me during the week saying how much the kids were looking forward to my visit. Dahlia had been so enthusiastic earlier that morning that she had performed a “cheer” in my honor. I asked her to recreate it for me, but sadly she wasn’t able to remember the moves (though she did engage us with some quite animated performance art the following afternoon comprised of acrobatic flinging of her person and lots and lots of bowing/holding for applause, gymnast/ice-skater-style). Both kids elected to hug me after I showered. Figured it was more considerate to give them the option, rather than scooping them up in a festering embrace.
Leah and Jeff are both community-oriented people with a ton of commitments, both dedicated to their work bettering the lives of Clevelanders. That evening, Leah was delayed in coming home because of her participation on a task force of Shaker Heights residents whose aim it is to improve equity in educational outcomes among the racially diverse student body of the city’s schools. Right on!
Jeff came home first and took the kids to Ezra’s baseball game, leaving me alone in the house to shower and raid the fridge. I wanted to go to Ezra’s game, I really really really did, but…(ok, I really, really didn’t.) Interesting to note that Brenda did not help in this regard. That morning when I told her about the impending baseball game, she discouraged me from going. One of her grandsons is 9, and she said the games are interminable – because the pitchers walk batter after batter. The adults go bonkers with boredom!
The next couple of days were relaxing, compared to the week before. I had the house to myself during the day to punch out an entire week of blog posts (though I only managed TWO, ffs). I got to do my stinkin’ laundry, have a catch-up lunch with Leah, eat ice cream both nights (including Mitchell’s – and if you’re from Cleveland, you’ll know about this crack-infused newer institution), get new tires for Whitey (not the plan but I was advised as such), go to Walgreens and wander the aisles not remembering a single item I was supposed to purchase, shed extra weight from my panniers (goodbye damaged tube, see ya soon noise-canceling headphones, so long travel-sized Q-tips), witness multiple ‘shows’ by Dahlia, AND attend Ezra’s next ballgame the following evening. Can I brag about Ezra? He is a gifted athlete. (Neither Jeff nor Leah ever played team sports with success. At all. It’s a little eerie, and completely awesome, how naturally skilled he is – at every sport he plays.) At the bottom of the final inning when every single adult present was ready to jump off a cliff, because of the endless walking of batters, Ezra stepped in. His first pitch was the first non-ball pitch in hours. I’m barely kidding. And the batter hit a grand slam. With nerves of steel, Ezra struck out the next 3 batters, and they won the game, er, 21-16. Ezra’s the kind of kid who throws the ball over the plate, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Isn’t that the only way a game can actually be played?
Notably (or not), Ezra’s team is called Rini-4-Judge. Pray tell, what is ‘Rini-4-Judge’? Well, she’s an incumbent Republican Cuyahoga County judge who’s seeking reelection. The origin of the sponsor of the team’s uniforms something that was not known to Leah and Jeff before I did a little private dicking. Such an odd way to spend campaign dollars: buying up a little league team in a very progressive Democrat area of the County to get your message out. Not to be judgey, but…not very judge-like of her. Or maybe it is. Name recognition. It’s insane that we elect judges anyhow. But it was hysterical to hear the boys chant their team name in unison. No one seemed to know whether Judge Rini has made it to a game to shake hands and kiss babies.
One last thing about my Shaker Heights experience: I took my bike in to Bicycle Boulevard where Jeff and Leah had recently purchased a couple of bicycles just to ensure that my tires were okay and to procure some bike nutrition (Nuun electrolyte tablets and Clif Bars, the usual). Mike, the guy who examined my tires leveled with me in a very pronounced Philly accent (not in that you’re-too-lame-to-fix-your-own-bike? cycling-bro affect that so many bike mechanics affect, at least in Los Angeles), “See, here where the tread is flattened out?” Whitey’s tires would have been fine for several hundred more miles around town, but not for 3,000.
So, I’m still saying yes. Yes, to not having daily flats as soon as I get into the wilderness of the Dakotas where bicycle shops and people are scant.
Mike’s story is also worth repeating. He works part time at Bicycle Boulevard and also at the Louis Stoke VA Medical Center where he counsels combat vets with PTSD, like himself. He also is establishing a foundation to help vets with PTSD recover through bicycling programs. He’s a good dude, for sure, this Mike. I gave him my card and told him to stay in contact. Still waiting, Mike…
I sincerely adore my Cleveland cousins. Last time I visited them was when I volunteered for the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign canvassing door-to-door to encourage people to get out to vote. This visit ended on a much better note.
And now…the Midwest and onward! (‘Now’ = ASAP)