The Cyclist in the Cyclone
Trials, tribulation and tornadoes while bicycling across the United States
“FUCK man, that was RIDICULOUS,” I exclaimed. “I mean, that was like a tornado!”
TALIAH LEMPERT / SEE THIS PIECE AT WWW.BICYCLEPAINTINGS.COM/PRINT/ONEOFFS/BIKESTACK09-2-03.PHP
Editor's note: In the following essay, Jonny Waldman discuses what it's like riding across half of the United States by bicycle. When you're finished reading this piece, be sure to check out his piece about surviving a hit-and-run incident with a truck.
On the third day, God made land and plants, and both of those things were (and still are) good. On my third day, I made Macastrone, and it was good, too. No, wait: it was awesome.
I had just made the most significant purchase I’d make all summer, an 88-cent can-opener, so from that day on, instead of eating plain macaroni and cheese, I ate it with a can of Campbell’s Minestrone soup mixed in. I called it Macastrone.
Macastrone was born of necessity. I was biking about 90 miles a day, uphill and upwind, and my metabolism was rising rapidly. As a result, I was astounding myself with the quantities of food I was able to consume. Soon enough, I’d up the ante with veggie Macastrone, which incorporated a yellow onion and a red pepper.
That evening, shortly after I rolled in to Weston, West Virginia—263 miles from where I had started a few days before, in Washington, D.C.—I bumped into a bunch of kids who’d never seen a guy on a bicycle like me. They crowded around as I set up camp behind the volunteer fire department, and started asking questions. I took out my map to show them where I had come from, and where I was going. I traced a line from D.C. to Colorado, more or less along U.S. Route 50, then waited. One chubby little guy didn’t know where Colorado was, but knew about Kentucky. “That’s where my pa’s got his rig,” he said.
On Day Four, I had a 2,500-calorie breakfast that included two egg/cheese sandwiches, two pieces of apple pie, an ice cream cone, and a snickers bar. After fixing the first flat tire of the trip, I rode 87 hilly miles to Kentuck, West Virginia. I set up camp behind the Baptist church, and while preparing dinner, met a few locals born and raised in Kentuck. One of them asked me, without much of an introduction, “Do you know the Lord?” I didn’t really want to get into it, so I replied, “I know the Lord—Amen!” That sufficed, apparently, and soon they left me alone, to fall asleep on a picnic table.
I’d learned pretty quickly that, when biking alone on a budget, there were four places where one could reliably get a full night’s rest, safe and sound: a volunteer fire department, the woods, someone’s backyard, or a church. Since I’m not much of a religious guy, I favored the first three. But sometimes, when my legs were cooked and it was getting late, I had to take what I could get.
The next day I had a box of Oreos for breakfast, and while chugging up a steep hill at three mph, noticed a turkey vulture up ahead in the road. It was busy picking away at something. I’d learned to expect roadkill by the smell of decomposition, which, in a car, you rarely notice. On a bike, you notice.
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