Eads to Arlington - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

June 14, 2014

Eads to Arlington

Arlington's "comfort station" used to have a cyclists' log book
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Seating for one
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Cyclists are especially welcome
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THERE ARE, at Arlington, no more than two houses, one with posters asking for votes for Mitt Romney, and a patch of sandy soil with a bench, a few trees and a wooden outhouse described as a "comfort station." There used to be a guest book inside in which passing cyclists could register their passage geographical and anatomical and there still is a sign bidding them welcome.

All this took unusual significance today because the wind howled in our faces, even after a 6am start, and the road climbed through unprotected, barren fields as we struggled to maintain 12kmh. By Haswell, the only community - I won't even say town - we were on our knees, dry, drained and ready for the little gas station and junk collection ("antiques" to be precise). And there we sat and drank and felt sorry for ourselves before stiffening the sinew again and setting off through the wilderness after a brief visit to the village's jail, described on a weather-beaten sign as the nation's smallest.

We got to Arlington in the first hours of the afternoon and sprawled on the metal bench and visited the comfort station and wondered what to do next.

"Sure as hell don't want to stop here," Karen protested, more used to fine things in life. But the next option was another 30km in a stiffening wind. Better we stick with what we have rather than gamble on what might be. So we put up the tents.

"Ever camped out in wind this strong?"

I adopted a manly stance. "This is nothing compared to the night I spent on a peak in the Pyrenees," I began, and launched into one of my interminable war stories which make me feel better but everyone else bleary-eyed. Except that the wind rose still more and the tents billowed and flapped and strained. At moments like that, it is wise to remember that a tent with someone inside it may fall down but it can't fly away.

I was considering this point when the wind blew back in the opposite direction. It lifted my bike, which had been propped at a steep angle against a tree, and threw it on the door of the tent. That pulled out two of the stakes and the tent came swelling in at me like a galleon at sea. I lay there, holding the flapping ends and watching the poles bend and spring, wondering what to do next. Karen looked out from her tent and hers too began to lift off.

"Let's take cover," we shouted together. We flattened the tents, piled bikes and bags on them as anchors, and fled to the house without the political advertising. The people who lived there were my friends. They had given me water earlier in the day and it followed that they would take us in and make us coffee and find us soft beds and cook breakfast in the morning.

Except that nobody was home.

We sat in the lee of a garage as tumble-weed hurtled past and the air grew as dark as John Steinbeck with swept-up soil. I'd never considered that moving air could be so disconcerting. I wasn't scared but I was impressed and glad to be in shelter. Two horses, meanwhile, munched grass as though nothing had happened.

I knocked again at the house and then, from curiosity, turned the door to the garage. It opened.

"You can't just go into other people's houses," Karen protested. She insisted on staying outside. In my European way, I couldn't see why anyone would object to two people caught in a storm taking shelter where they could. We weren't going into the house and opening beers and settling into an armchair with the day's newspapers. In my European way, it hadn't occurred to me that people in America suspecting strangers in their garage might find their way with the help of a gun barrel. We don't have guns in Europe.

Well before any of that could happen, the son of the household came in from the fields, retrieved our abandoned belongings with his pick-up, and made us welcome. The rest of the family came home, forewarned of our presence, and asked us to forgive the dust and spiders and let us settle down for the night.

Without a shot being fired.

Haswell's jail, said to be the smallest in the land
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A single room, without charge
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Space for the hotel receptionist...
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Today's ride: 60 km (37 miles)
Total: 3,501 km (2,174 miles)

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