1000 miles ain’t bad

Day 21 – Rest day

A lazy day for me – reading, drawing, doing my Scrubba laundry (though dirt is now ingrained into my cycling shirts), solar powered showering under the sun, getting online & pondering my next action…

We get a tour of Peter Bane’s developing permaculture space. He & Keith have done so much since they got the place a few years ago,  it is amazing. The excitement that Keith shows whilst showing us around his vegetable garden helps me make my decision – I’m going to leave the group & spend some time on an organic farm. I want to learn more that i can iimplement at home & right now I feel that I’m just skimming through places. I announce this at tonight’s meeting to mostly supportive responses.

I have had an amazing time with the Green Riders & know that they will continue to have many adventures.  It’s been fun hanging out though I realise that learning was my main purpose of this trip.

I’m proud to say that I’ve cycled 1000 miles with them, embarked upon something completely outside my comfort zone, & taken a chance. I feel ready to start a new chapter.


A wolverine in our midst

Day 20 – to Montague, MI (59 miles)

Another chilled out morning – hanging out in the climbing gym having breakfast & chatting. I set off with Jess, hatchet John, Suzie, Emily & skater John. We have a lot of fun. The route is mostly trail & we pass some errie wetland where the trees are submerged in dark lakes. Skater John plays music as he rides & at some point we all find ourselves singing along to ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’. The morning is cool & grey before the heavens open & we get drenched by rain & hail stones. Riding through puddles is fun!

By lunchtime it is sunny & we stop on grass outside a ‘correctional facility’ – dumpster pasta, tomatoes, peppers, avocado with foraged mushroom. The mushroom is a bit past it’s best & like chewing on a tasty old boot.
I discover that my spirit animal is a Wolverine,  which pleases me though I do not agree. I spend the rest of the ride pondering my latent animal traits.

We ride to a HUGE lake & jump off a soon to be private dock at the end of a half built cul-de-sac. The water is glorious aside from pond weed on my head.

We do some more dumpster diving – pastries aplenty including very large doughnuts shaped like hot dogs & hamburgers. ‘The American dream’, I say, which amuses Suzie very much.

Our host tonight is Peter Bane, author of the Permaculture Handbook. Apparently he us quite a big deal. He has mde us salad & pumpkin & venison soups. The rain starts again once tents are up & I have a lengthy tenancy battle with a mosquito,  who is eventually evicted.



Day 19 – to Grand Valley SU farm / sports center, MI (57 miles)

I went to sleep to the sound of gunshoots lastnight then woke up several times thinking it was time to rise. The bullfrogs must have been playing tricks on me. Joshua makes everybody sweet potato, apple & banana pancakes for breakfast – they are delicious & the hive of activity in the kitchen keeps people around for a chilled out morning. 
I leave with Vale, Cristina & Cheryl. We ride a beautiful scenic trail & stop for lunch at a farmers market in Middlesville. I buy honey sticks & a jar of honey & realise that my body is craving sugar. We get mixed responses of support & disbelief from the sellers. 

Along the ride we find Rob on his bamboo bicycle & lose Cristina & Vale at a turn. Rob, Cheryl & I cycle about 10 miles off route – luckily in the right general direction – we miss a bike trail for a busy road but the ride a good aside from a few dodgy roads. We ride through an all American suburb & it is everything you’ve ever seen in the movies – the American dream. Big white clean houses with emmaculate lawns, big cars, self contained play areas for the kids & a clean safe cul de sac. I can see the appeal & the curtains twitching. Rob & I talk activism & politics though I wonder how much he understands my accent. Generally I have had to repeat myself 3 times for the Americans. How strange to be in an english speaking country & experience language barriers.

We arrive at Grand Valley Student Union farm. I get the chance to wear a full on bee suit & help transfer the hive. The people leading the session are incredibly passionate about bees & it brings joy to my heart. I wonder if I’ll swat one by accident. We are told that bees are the only animal other than humans that we know can communicate abstract concepts – they communicate through dance & live by democracy. I find myself wishing that politicians were as clever as bees.

The SU serve us up a pot luck dinner & we hang out there chatting to students & making faces at small children (a favourite pasttime of mine). Youtube sensation, Dumpster Dan, arrives with huge boxes of dumpster chocolate & sweets. Joshua arrives by car – he smashed into a telephone box earlier & seems badly hurt though insists he will be fine.

We ride a mile to tonight’s sleeping area – the university climbing gym, which is, of course closed. I sleep on a giant safety mat which makes a wonderful mattress.


The long road to Mooville

Day 18 – to Nashville, MI (57 miles)

We have a late, leisurely start in our hotel room – laundry, hot showers (ultimate luxury) & general faffing.  We don’t get on the road until midday & Sarah speeds off, anxious about the faffing. The ride is quiet & long – not much around for distraction, I listen to podcasts about the Suffragettes – real feminism. We end up stopping at a family home to ask for water – there is the smell of weed in the air & they are the only people so far not to ask anything about our trip. 

Lee has bike trouble & finds a ride to get her the last few miles. WlKim & i stop at ‘Mooville’, a diary & creamery with a selection of religious paraphernalia in the porch & a petting zoo next door. A huge cow statue stands facing the cow field like some kind of cow god. I wonder if cows get intimidated. I have spectacular Butter Pecan ice cream & a goat tries to eat my hair.

We get a warm welcome at our next destination, a Warm Showers host. Bob’s wife, Maggie, invited us all to stay then gone on a 5 day bike tour. Bob is a gracious host. There is food on the stove & boxes of dumpster food up for grabs on the stairs. I set my tent up next to the creek while the bullfrogs sing. Ransom & John jam on a guitar & ukelele as the evening rolls in. A lovely evening under the fairy lights.



Day 17 – destination unknown – next scheduled host in 101 miles.

I ride with Kim, Lee & Sarah. After a few miles a realise i left my phone back at camp – luckily when we contact the lovely Jonathan he is still there & says that he will grab it for me. It is cooler than yesterday & 23 miles is a breeze. We stop for brunch at a ‘Big Boy’ diner. I discover that steak for breakfast is a real thing in America & that Americans call scones biscuits & biscuits cookies. Kim has southern fried steak, which tastes like chicken. It is another customer’s birthday & the staff serve them a cake whilst singing the most lack lustre happy birthday I’ve ever heard. They all seem downtrodden & I make sure I tip well even though the waitress can’t understand my accent.

After some suggestive photos with ‘Big boy’ outside (with 1 chap passing by at inopportune moments exclaiming ‘oh boy’), we get back on the road towards Jackson, Michigan, which naturally triggers Johnny Cash to be stuck in our heads all day.

We stop at a bike shop while Sarah & Kim enquire about getting their stems changed. The owner offers to let us camp around the back of the store & we decide to call it a day at 44 miles & go to the movies. We hide our stuff in the bushes, dumpster dive at Aldi & find more cookies, grapes, bananas,, tomatoes, avocado & cheese than we can carry, then cycle to the Wonderwoman at the ‘movie theater’. I enjoy the 1st 20 minutes, then men & nazis are introduced & it all goes downhill from there. Not feminist at all.

A storm is abrewing when we leave the film & lightening flashes across the sky. The others are not confident that their tents will withstand  the rain so we search for a cheap local hotel. We cycle through the night rain with lightening in the sky & fireflies flashing on the ground. It reminds me of ET. 


Sweating & Swimming

Day 16 – to Bahn public pool, Adrian, Michigan (55 miles)

Up for 6am & i am sweating before i leave my tent. We are treated to a breakfast of homemade granola,yoghurt, fresh fruit & bread  7am & the sun is beating. I ride again with Claude, who later tells me that inadvertently I taught him the meaning of the word ‘shade’ today. We stop & nap in a cemetery about 25 miles in. We have frequent stops to cool down & find a murky green lake next to an unlabelled industrial looking building. .. 94F is not hot enough to jump in there but we risk dipping our t shirts. We chat to a trucker who is super excited about starting his own 3 week tour. We arrive to our destination & I stand over a water spigot for 5 minutes to begin to feel normal again. The town has allowed us to camp outside their public pool for the evening, it is still open so it’s water slides & communal showers all round. We do a clear up of trash from the creek, as much as poison ivy will allow.


Trails & Trucks

Day 15 – to Shared Legacy Farm, Elmoor, Ohio (60 miles)

The morning is beautiful – quiet roads, warm sun, open fields. I reconnect with Sheryl Crow, who lifts my spirits as I sing & dance on my bike – the perfect soundtrack. We ride a lot on bike trails, which make life a whole lot more relaxed, & play cat and mouse with a few other riders – one of my favourite things about cycling the same routes. 20 miles goes by quickly. 

We find a lake that potentially is just a duck pond & dive right in. Some other riders have beat us to it & Rob piggy backs Cheryl into the water. We are invigorated by water &  stop at every fountain to soak our clothes as well as fill our bottles. 

We stop for ice cream – the store only sells half gallon tubs so we get one & sit on the concrete porch with spoons. We make a good dent in it & offer the rest to passers by.
About 10 miles from our destination we turn into the next bike trail… just as a chap pulls over a ‘Do not use’ sign. It has just been freshly tarmacked. Our alternative is a very fast, very busy truck route. With a dip on our right & warning grooves on our left, the shoulder gives us about 2 tyres width to cycle within. When large trucks whizz past I am pushed a few feet forward by the wind they create, which makes things quicker I suppose. It continues for 6 miles, which seem to take longer than our starting 20 miles. 

Yet finally we make it to Shared Legacy farm. I let a small child hose me down upon arrival & my trainers are damp for days. They put on a pot luck dinner & a friend of the farm sets up speakers & serenades us with his guitar into the night. 


A very different Birmingham

Day 14 – to Birmingham, Ohio – 45 miles

I set off with 2 other riders, we emerge into a group of 6 for a while then 3 of us take a wrong uphill turn. We decide against going back down to cycle up the hill from a different angle & reroute. It’s another hot sunny day & the fierce wind brings no relief – it is also hot & blowing against us. We reflect that we only notice the winds against us – when there are tailwinds we just take pride in our speed. We lose Jonathan to a fruit stall on the side of the road & later learn he stopped for a nap! So somehow I find myself riding with Adam , one if the fastest in the group & generally number 1 arrival. I keep good pace (Adam has the GPS) & he later admits surprise,  particularly as his speedometer clocked him as going 14 mph for some time. About 5 miles way from our destination I need to take a break & let Adam go on. I sit under a tree at the end of a driveway eating peanut butter on a hot dog bun. I muster up the energy to cycle the last 5 miles. I am assisted by Alanis Morissette, who I sing & scream to along the way – taking Jess’ advise to realise the trauma from my fall. It makes me feel a lot better until I am almost run over trying to take a photo of the ‘Welcome to Birmingham’ sign for the folks back home in the Midlands.  I realise that my phone has been fried underneath the solar panel that I’ve had bungee-d on the back of my bike (so I can’t even post the photo!)

<imagine photo here>

I make it to our host second of the pack. I saviour the fluke. Bob welcomes us with his friend Roy. I wonder if their Trump sticker is tongue in cheek. Bob has 2 pet wolves… well, close enough – one is 90% wolf, the other 80%. I say hello & move to the stroke too quickly, which is received with a warning bite to the air. Bob says that they are just fine – they sleep in his bed – he tells me not to be scared of them “or they’ll mess with you” & to be careful of putting my face too close. I avoid the wolves. One pees on Elle’s panniers. Bob also has another much smaller dog, who walks with a limp & is not allowed to be alone with the wolves in case they view him as prey & eat him. I almost sit in his poo.

We walk to the local bar, which is closed on Sundays, & instead buy what groceries we can from Dollar General. The other food shopping option is the gas station or a drive 6 miles out of town. Ohio makes me reflect upon the term ‘food desert’, something that I have heard but never really experienced before. I tell the cashier in Dollar General that I brought my own bag & he says, “oh great, your own  bag” & fills up a plastic carrier bag anyway. I complain about this to anyone who will listen. When we return our host has offered to drive to the real grocery store & Sarah joins them before making a Spanish rice dish for everybody to have dinner. We have now got into the habit of having a ‘help yourself, dumpster food’ area & tonight’s is a huge table including fresh fruit, vegetables, cakes, bread & more. We camp in Bob’s front, back & neighbours garden. He is delighted that we’ve made ourselves at home.


Back in the saddle

Day 13 – to Richfield, Ohio – just under 70 miles

Jess, Elle & I are back on our bikes. Vanessa is still on a lot of pain so heads to visit an uncle & recover in Nashville, Tennesee.  We ride our first 30 miles in no time. Ohio is flat, which is just wonderful. We detour to a huge lake to swim & cool down. We cycle off in dripping clothes which dry in no time. The sun is beating & the last 7 miles in 35ºc are tough. We are glad to arrive at our next stop – a former girl scout camp that we are staying at as a kind of trial group for opening it to the public in the future. Our camp hostess is super sweet & peppy & makes us sign disclaimers. 

This is the hometown of one of our riders, Lexi, whose mum happens to be the mayor, and so we are treated to a spread including kombucha & vegan pizza by the mayor of Richfield. Lastnight’s hosts rock up in their truck with Bear, more food, a crate of beers & a massage table. They have just driven 60 miles to camp out with us – “we kinda like y’all”. We are delighted. Our camp hostess is less delighted as their arrival is unexpected, alcohol is not allowed & our visitors are obviously worryingly cool. They stay anyway.


The nicest ghetto I ever visited

Day 11 – to Youngstown, Ohio

Cierra gets home at 4am & has to leave before 9am to get to her other job. I leave her a thank you note & something towards her own adventures. Jess & Elle get in touch -they stayed the night in Pittsburgh as well so we meet up & find our way to Youngstown. I stop in at a bike shop to get my bike checked & the pedals unjam easily. The bike mechanic shows me what to do if they jam again, scratches his head a bit & adjusts my gears, probably just for something else to do. 

I arrive at our next host’s house. Joshua & Emily are artists who live in 2 amazing houses that they bought, abandoned & in a state, for $2500 & $8000. They have worked hard on them &, along with their warm welcome, I quickly feel at home. Emily gives me a homemade comfrey & plaintain salve for my cuts & later Cris, Joshua’s mum, gives me a wjole tub. Cris lives around the corner & is the person who found us.

We eat & drink into the night around an open fire. Without exception the Green Riders fall for Joshua & Emily’s tiny kitten, Bear, who they found in a dumpster 4 weeks ago. He now goes everywhere with them. Joshua & his mate have a go on their extra tall bicycles which have seats at least 7ft in the air. We are all blown away by the cool loving vibe of this place.  

We are invited to sleep anywhere & we do – inside on the couch, the floors, the music studio, the eaves, & outside in tents, hammocks, on the trampoline, & on all levels of the wooden climbing frame fashioned to look like a ship.

Day 12 – Rest day at Un-Abandoned Community Garden

Cris, Joshua & Emily have put efforts into creating positive community space in Youngstown – the murder capital of the USA. Crime & heroin are rife here & they constantly refer to being ‘in the ghetto’. They try to get people interested in building community & growing as a way of providing other choices as well as giving people access to fresh food. The local grocery options are poor & Joshua tells us about local kids who think fruit comes in a can. We clear rocks, create a path & flower bed, weed  & make a start on a hoop house. It is hot but lovely. The author of a book about ‘Humanure’ comes to speak to us about composting. He says that you can compost just about anything & makes several potentially overzealous comments about composting his mother in law.

We return to the house where one of Joshua & Emily’s friends is starting a BBQ. We have several visitors throughout the evening & it feels that a community has certainly been built.  A friend of theirs, who started her growing with several kiddie pools in an overrun back yard, tells us about her journey to open ‘Lady Buggs Farm’. Her passion is inspiring. Spray paint art, yoga & meditation happen before bed. What a wonderful rest.