Between hours: a toast to losing control with grace.

April 15, 2010

 Dalton, Georgia. Who would’ve known. The first half of this entry is just routine. The latter is magic, and stands outside of benign chronology. These last fivse days could fill a million wells with words, as natural as rain but warm as blood. I’ll do my best to give a summary, but the pulp will need to ferment to become as become as beautiful as it can be.

 

So I left the Grape & Bean in Clayton later in the day from when I last updated. On my way out of town I stopped for water at a gas station with two boisterous “mountain men” with no evening plans save harassing me.

“Where ya goin’?”

“California.”

“Well I believe thats just after Hi-uh-wah-see, ain’t it?” He continued our conversation with his friend.

“Yesa I believe it’s just after Hi-uh-wah-see.”

“You ever go to Hi-uh-wah-see?”

“Naw. Ain’t nothin there.”

“Nope. Nothin.”

Chuckle. Cackle. Cackle.

And they went on cackling about how they party here and they party there and how they wouldn’t ever even ride a bike to Hi-uh-wah-see if their life depended on it. They were dirty, bearden and overalled, missing teeth and a little too archetypal. I remembered the quaint little book I saw in the quaint little bookstore in quaint little Clayton, the one called “Where Have All the Moonshiners Gone?” I can tell you they won’t be in a specialty coffee/book shop anytime soon.

I rode on out of town for a few hours, pushing the limits of dusk further every night it seems, up a few steep hills and across a lake surrounded by too many gated communities. This area is a strange mix of simple kitsch, extreme poverty, pure agrarianism, and dirty rich lifestyle-choosing.

I found a path that led directly to the top of a mountain, that I was already most of the way up, and decided to camp on the peak for the night without heeding the warnings of a cold front moving in.

It was cold.

Which makes waking in the morning slow and unmotivated.

Heading out around 9:30 I joined the rest of the traffic on 76, much to their disapproval. I made it through to Hiawasee, which was a busy little river town right underneath the tip of NC. I had lunch and moved on.

The day was calm, temperate, and without a problem, until about 4 miles outside of Ellijay, my desired destination. 76 had turned into a 4-lane highway and the Georgia DOT had installed those grooves on the shoulder that produce a tone when driven over. Well, in a car they make a tone and wake the driver up. For a bike it is like taking a jackhammer to your wheel.

Pffffsssssst.

I walked down a side road, saw a cute mailbox and knocked on their door to find a camping place. As expected, they took one look and were immediately suspicious, and I probably smelled terribly to boot, but he pointed to a field he owned.

“You can camp over there.”

Way over there.

So I did and set to work patching a tube and changing my tire.

Mr. Callahan watched and noticed that I wasn’t a threat and later brought me out a baloney and mayonnaise sandwich and a Coke. Bless the south. I told him my story and we chatted for a minute and then both turned in for the night.

It dipped to 36 degrees.

Brr.

So.

The next day started simply enough, early rising and an easy mind. In Ellijay I noticed my tire was a little flat. And then it popped again. So I patched another tube and changed it. And then it went flat. So I patched another tube and changed it. And then it went flat. Again.

After thoroughly cursing the sky I ended up at the Ellijay library and looked up how to properly patch a tire and I’ve been fine since. I also noticed a big puncture in my tire and fixed that as well.

Next stop, Dalton.

Everytime I mentioned this city there would be a resounding “oh! the carpet capital of the world!”

I don’t quite understand why this fact is 1, special or 2, interesting. But somehow it has become the official name of the town. Dalton: Carpet Capital of the World.

The house I stayed at had hardwoods. Beautiful hardwoods.

And about that house.

I rode into Dalton as the sun was golding, checked out the downtown and was very set to just move on. I checked my map and hailed farewell to the sleepy city, but a modest but picaresquely southern white house caught my eye. There were two people working out in the yard and a sign in the front that said “Holly Tree House.” About a block past I noticed a woman who could possibly have been a vagrant. All these little signs fired the weirdly connected synapses in my mind and that is how I ended up at their doorstep. Some call it fate.

I thought about offering some work in exchange for a shower/bed, if indeed that is what was going on. It may not be but may as well try, right? Intuition means something, yeah?

‘Deed it does.

To me it seemed like a normal thing to ask. They were still working outside.

Christian, the guy, seemed utterly confused.

“No,” he said, “but it used to be a bed & breakfast. Hey mom, he needs a shower.”

She seemed to think it was just the most normal thing ever. Just everyday.

“Sure, do you need somewhere to stay? It’s alright with me, let me just ask my mom.”

I was still babbling on about “well, I can help you guys with the yard work and stuff…” not knowing how to take the new twist in things.

Christian took me inside to meet his grandmother. “She just needs to check your ID and make sure you’re alright. Ha ha.”

Both Christian and LeeAnn gave me the impression that I was about to deal with something intense. I braced myself.

Katie was in a chair in a dim room.

I think the thing that was strangest to me was that they all treated this situation with a high air of normalcy. As if they’d done it so many times before. For once, I was the one taken aback.

“So you’re not a serial killer or a rapist or anything are you?”

“No. Just riding my bicycle.”

“Where are you going?”

“California.”

“What part?”

“Southern, to start.”

“Oh! That’s where I’m from!”

This is where she began to share her story, growing up all over California as a juice-drinking, Italian born, commune living sort-of hippie.

I told her my story too, what I have done and what I am doing and all of the why’s.

“Well I think you’re all right. But I’m gonna need to see your ID.”

Luckily I am carrying three forms, so I showed her all of them.

“Good, I think you’ll work out.”

Sweet. Got the job.

I spent the evening taking closely with both LeeAnn and Katie.

They have owned and run a restaurant called The Spiced Apple in Dalton for 35 (I think) years. At one point, the house had a restaurant-style kitchen and hosted people from all over the world. Including Charlton Heston.

“Oh, King Kong!” I said.

“You mean Ben Hur and Moses,” Katie said, taken aback.

“I think he was in King Kong too….”

I guess I was thinking of Planet of the Apes, but like usual, I just said what came to mind first, thoughts coming afterward.

“Oh, I thought you were making fun of him. He is a great man.”

I absolutely fell in love with this family. They were incredibly heartfelt, and dysfunctionally functional. A family that never would pretend to be something it’s not. And what they were was amazing.

As LeeAnn and I were talking at one point, and I was talking more openly with her than even some of my closest friends, I brought up the fact that my sister was in Chattanooga.

“And you’re not gonna go see her?”

“Well… I…. uh…”

I explained the story to her, which is long and complicated, and thus I tend to avoid it. And like I habitually avoid talking about it, I habitually avoided doing anything about it. If you’d like to know the whole story we can sit down for some tea someday.

Her sympathy is unmatchable, and her enthusiasm for my life’s story seemed even greater than my own. She offered to drive me there the next morning. I said I’d sleep on it.

Well as it turns out, Allie is in Knoxville and not Chattanooga, something she had told me but didn’t seem to stick around. LeeAnn was just as dead-set as ever. “Well, you have to go! You’re this close!”

So we left Sunday morning for Knoxville.

I had made it up in my mind that seeing her would be just as uncomfortable as talking on the phone, just surface pleasantries, but we were almost immediately able to talk openly and freely, which made seeing her very much worth it. LeeAnn, Allie, one of Allie’s friends and I all went out for lunch and talked and shared stories and had a wonderful time. There were some joyful tears.

Again, I’d love to tell the whole story, with every detail, but it would be better done over tea. Let me know.

On the drive to and from LeeAnn told me all about her life and her dreams, including starting a roller derby team in Dalton with the girls she works with. She wanted to stop in Chattanooga to order some roller skates, so we did.

Back at the house I told Katie everything that had happened and she also took on my story and offered her own wisdom. I felt like I was floating on air, but I was also emotionally and physically exhausted.

They encouraged me to stay longer.

Now I found out why they were so at ease with my being there. They had what LeeAnn described as “randoms” who just sort of show up at the house and end up staying. In fact there were already two there, Phil and Stacy. In a way it was a kind of community house.

I wish I had time and could put every detail of these three days down, but it would take forever and could breech that southern notion of privacy.

The next day, April 12th, I spent going around town a bit. I picked up some new books and had lunch at the Spiced Apple. Delicious, super amazing food. Boar’s head deli meats and cheeses. And 144 different kinds of cream pies. I had coconut. I could not move at the end of that meal.

LeeAnn and I cleared some space for the vegetable garden she is starting, and moved some daylilies to the “flower bed.”

We celebrated my birthday that night, they insisted. I was alright with that. Katie cooked an amazing dinner and had even gotten me a cake. The whole house of oddballs came together around the table and we had a grand time.

LeeAnn and I stayed up and talked until eventually I couldn’t stay up and slipped into a sugar coma.

Oh yeah. Katie had a table full of candy dubbed the “candy bar” for “whenever you felt like having some candy.”

For me, being on bike tour and all, that was very often.

I can’t really sum up exactly how much these people meant to me. Or how hard it was to leave. Or how serendipitous it all was. No words could really explain it. By the end I felt to close to them that it just felt wrong to leave.

Needless to say, you all, Katie, LeeAnn and company, do mean a lot to me and I will be back. I feel like I need you guys now, you just brought such wonderful energy into my life.

 

I left on Tuesday, April 13th, and headed for Alabama.

On the way I broke two spokes, but really had no option but to keep riding until I got to a shop (same problem with removing the gears.) I ended up riding up Lookout mountain on my last leg, and took an old back road until Mentone. I didn’t even know I was in Alabama until I stopped, I thought I was way behind schedule. As it turns out, I had been in Alabama for “quite a while,” according to the shopkeep at the Mentone Market.

 It was a cute town, mostly a tourist and summer camp kind of place, with kitschy mountain arts shops and restaurants. The whole area was beautiful. I talked with a few locals at the market for a while and the owner, Tom, offered up his treehouse for the night. His mom and kids came by for dinner and offered me some meatballs and strawberry shortcake. His kids Byrum and Saddler, had a ton of questions for me.

“So, when do you shower?”

It was a cold but comfortable night up there in the trees.

I left around 9 with the intention of making it all the way to Huntsville by evening.

It was a mostly downhill day, my last mountain in the Appalachians, and the heat was mild.

I stopped at a little store just outside Scotsoro.

“You’re riding all the way across? Do you have a gun?”

“No.”

“Go’an get yourself a gun in Huntsville.”

They offered a $100 reward for the name of the person who stole their confederate flag.

I ended up in Huntsville around 4:30, way earlier than I expected. It was about an 80 mile ride, I think. Or I might be being gracious. Either way it hurt.

I found a little bikeshop, the Trailhead, where they made me feel at home and put my bike right up on the stand. No one there could get my gearset off; they said the head mechanic would be there in the morning. I left for coffee.

Huntsville is in a way like Raleigh. The people don’t have accents and it wants to be a big northern city more than it wants to be Alabama. “Hippies and hipsters,” said Stu from the Trailhead.

I spent the evening the staff of Trailhead. They get together every Wednesday for something like an extended staff meeting. Which means pizza and beer. They were good souls, and gave me equally a hard time and excessive encouragement. I could see them wince when they looked at my bike. They just wanted to take care of her.

I stayed the night with Stu and am heading out in a minute to check up on my bike and head out.

I hope to be in old Mississippi by Saturday.

This has nothing to do with bike tour:

I recently found this video from my first ever public solo performance. Casale Monferrato. Enjoy!

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2 Responses to “Between hours: a toast to losing control with grace.”

  1. Al Comanchero said

    Damn, a travel writer and an expat picker, too.
    Gets more interesting by the day.

  2. Miss Michigan Misses You said

    Can I get the lyrics to that song?

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