15 – Stoking the Fire of Our Paranoia - Travels with Walter - CycleBlaze

June 13, 2015

15 – Stoking the Fire of Our Paranoia

We backtrack to Ticonderoga to load up on supplies. Kristen and I pack the panniers with stuff bought from a Riteaid drug store, all of which has some far-future expiration date. Walter walks to a nearby picnic table and eats what by any objective measure looks to be human vomit. I'm not sure which of us comes out ahead.

A complete failure.
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The Adirondacks start as soon as the last hardware store of Ticonderoga disappears behind us. We climb up a hill so long and steep that the air stinks of sulfur farted out into it by all of the hard-working car engines that groan and whine as their drivers push them too hard toward the top. All three of us are panting heavy by the time we get there. I look like I just jumped into a river. Kristen and I celebrate the victory with a big squishy hug.

At the top of the climb there's a house, and this house is owned by a tough-looking guy of about sixty. We know this because as soon as he notices us stopping to rest at the end of his driveway he starts to walk our way. Before offering water he tells us with the accent of a Midwest farmer how the prisoners who escaped earlier in the week are still at large, and how the police found one of their camp sites.

"Oh yah, they did, up near Saranac Lake," he says. "Only about ninety miles from here. Found a buncha candy wrappers and garbage and stuff. But didn't find them two guys. Both murderers, ya know?"

I tell him that we do, although I wish we didn't. Even though I know New York is a huge state, that the two convicts are almost sure to be headed toward Canada, and that we'll sooner be stuck by lightning and an ice cream truck at the same time than cross paths with them, knowing that they're in woods connected to these and that more than 800 people are searching on foot, in cars, and from the air for them or anything that looks like them unnerves me. The forest is a place we go to feel free and alone, and for the moment both of those things remain upset.

As the older guy finishes stoking the fire of our paranoia we notice a truck driver standing not thirty feet away from us. He's hooking up a trailer that a previous driver had to abandon because the engine of his semi blew on the climb up from Ticonderoga that we just finished. He asks where we're headed and we tell him Washington State.

"Ah yeah, I've been there," he says. "Been all over the country, really. Been drivin' trucks for a long time. It's hard work of course, I mean you only see your wife a coupla times every few weeks, but you get to be in charge, get to see the country, work when ya want. I was never married. Just got a daughter, twenty-three years old, so, ya know. You two ever thought about drivin' trucks?"

I tell him that we haven't.

"It's good work. You can make fifty K a year easy. if you push hard you could make a hundred grand a year. Did ya know they got like 70,000 openings right now for drivers all across the country? You could do a husband and wife team kinda thing."

About halfway through all of this it dawns on us: we're being recruited to become long-haul truck drivers. We might be the first people in the history of bicycle touring to have that happen while standing in front of their loaded bikes. We have no idea how to respond.

"You two got any kids?"

"Just this little one right here," I tell him.

"Yeah, bring the dog along too. Some companies'll let ya do that."

A moment after we say goodbye the truck driver returns. He hands Kristen the most recent copy of Movin' Out, which calls itself The Journal of the Trucking Industry.

Some day we'll look back and think about how this is where it all started.
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After thinking about our truck driving destiny at the top of the climb we lose some elevation. But soon the road levels and we ride along a pair of lakes. They're dotted at random intervals with little cabins. The smell of campfires hangs in the air. We pass the faint outlines of trails that run into the woods and lead to some secluded drinking spot, and when we stop a single crow caws at us from one of the highest branches of a dead pine tree. Out in the lakes sit a dozen lone dudes, each in their own aluminum fishing boat. They reel and cast, reel and cast, reel and cast. If you asked any of them if they were having a good time they'd nod once and say Yep.

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I've never ridden in a Third World country before, but now at least I have an idea of what the roads are like. That's how the state of Highway 74 in upstate New York feels today. But it's nothing compared to the surge of joy I feel every time I round a corner and don't see a wall of pavement stretching up toward the sky in front of me. The highway also gives us the chance to pass by an old man on a riding John Deere lawn mower who wants so much to form a perfect edge on the strip of grass across the road from his house that we watch him drive the mower straight into the path of dozens of low-hanging branches, swatting them away from his face and cursing the whole time but never losing track of the task in front of him. Even in a state that thinks of lawn care as a core virtue this man is a cut above.

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We head due west from North Hudson on a road half shaded by the outlines of tall skinny pine trees. Rapids churn with great speed and anger in the river that parallels us. To the left, to the right, and straight ahead of us lie bands of lumpy mountains where there isn't one square foot not covered in some shade of green. When the clouds above charge in front of the sun's path they cast down dark, fluid shadows that move across the hills and valleys in a way that makes them look as if they've come alive. It's one of the happiest moments on a trip that's starting to fill itself with them.

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The hills of the highway go by at five or six miles per hour instead of three. The difference feels so big that they almost don't seem like the same act. On the rare tougher climbs we distract ourselves from the hard work by talking about what we'll do if the two escaped murderers or the police who are looking for them find us camped in the woods in the middle of the night. (The short version: Kristen will do everything; I will cower in fear inside the tent and crap myself.) A car passes by every fifteen or twenty minutes. The shoulders are wide with a surface so smooth that Walter naps when we ride up the hills. It's the ideal cycling road.

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When we get hungry we pull off onto a closed logging path and turn it into a rustic kitchen. Walter powers through his kibble from the comfort of his trailer while Kristen puts together a dinner of rice, beans, some kind of seasoning labeled Asian, and corn bread bought at the gas station we passed near the interstate. Except for the mosquitoes that force us to coat ourselves in chemical weapons-grade bug spray we're alone. The only sounds are the tumble of the nearby creek and the calm whisper of the wind through the branches and leaves of the trees that surround us. This is our simple life. And on this day, in this moment, everything about it feels right and good.

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And somehow it gets better. We continue on for another half hour before crossing into the public lands of the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest. There we find a rough side road leading away from the highway, follow it about half a mile, and then bushwhack our way into the woods where we set up the tent far away from the noise or lights of any other human.

What we're very close to are squirrels. A few minutes after we pile inside the tent two of them run past the door and charge up a nearby tree. And then they start chattering and squeaking at us like they're about to start a war, either because we've invaded their territory, because they've never seen anything like us before, or maybe both. Soon their calls have attracted half a dozen other squirrels, all of whom talk in excited tones and run back and forth through the trees branches above our heads, dropping a shower of pine needles onto the mesh of the tent. It goes on like this for ten minutes. Walter stares up at them in awe the entire time, with some core mousing instinct having been triggered that he's powerless to turn off. I've never seen him so locked in to anything before. He's alive out here on the road and in the woods and among nature, just like us. It's hard to explain how happy it makes me to know that I've given him a life more rich and unique than most dogs will ever know.

That pup.
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When the only sounds left are the crickets, we tuck Walter in between us in the sleeping bag, and then stare up at the black outlines of the trees against the dark blue sky. We give thanks that we're in this exact spot and nowhere else.

Today's ride: 43 miles (69 km)
Total: 518 miles (834 km)

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