Bench sitting is a second job in the drudgery of bike touring. Just about the time when the imprint of the Broooks logo fades from the insides of my thighs, the striations of wood grain begin to make their mark. The bench job is, in theory, a nice distraction from the main occupation, but the pay is worse and the working conditions can occasionally be quite foul.
It is often at this time, as I air out the tent or some wet clothing, charge electronics, or prepare a cup of coffee that someone marches straight into my office. My secretary hates this.
Beginning with the obvious, “Looks like you got a lotta stuff.”
I know better than to argue. Diplomatically, “Yup.”
And then, “where ya goin?”.
“Wow, really?….no way. On that bi-cycle?”
Yup. (I refrain from telling him that I am doing this solely to impress small town couples and that eventually I am going to Mexico.)
“I could never do that. Not with one of them pedal bikes.” (laughs)
“Hey, Marge. This kid’s gonna ride his bi-cycle all the way to…where was that? Canada.” (now he’s proud of me, showing me off or something) “Hey Willis; Hey Red, this kid…”
Marge: “Ya don’t say.” (disinterested)
I fiddle with some things, desperately hoping to look like the workload is killing me– a figurative deskload of paperwork. I might stuff a sandwich into my mouth; wring my wet socks and hang some underwear over the bench; realign unmentionables– anything. Like raccoons at state park campsites, they are only drawn nearer to my heap of junk. Should I roll a few somersaults and ask for a buck?
“Where you gonna sleep?”
I don’t know, outside. (Is this an invitation to stay?)
“Hmm, what do ya eat? Do you have to eat special food?” (An invitation to dinner?)
Cheeseburgers, cereal, ice cream, beer, candy, chips, sandwiches, apples, milk, donuts, raisins, bananas, cookies, peanuts…lentils and rice. What do you…
“Lentils are gross. I couldn’t do that.”
“How far do you go every day?”
40 miles, or 100 miles. I don’t know.
“Wow, a hundred miles! Hey Marge…”
Do you get a lot of blowouts? You must go through a lot of tires? How much stuff you had to fix?”
Blowouts don’t really happen, but sometimes the tube gets a hole from glass and I fix it. Tires? None, but this one has over 8000 miles. My bike doesn’t really break.
“Well, my truck has 195,000 miles on it. Good thing you got an extra tire.”
Yup. (I hate carrying a spare tire because it feeds the image that bicycles are fragile, uncapable machines.) Now that I am a verifiable idiot, the abuse begins…
“You know, there are a lotta weirdos out there that you gotta look out for. It’s not really safe doin’ that. Are you gonna ride on the interstate?”
People aren’t so bad. And it’s illegal to ride on most interstate highways, not that i would want to, but there are a lot of nice smaller roads like Rte. 2. There’s even a paved bike trail out of town.
“Rte. 2! People drive crazy on that road. You better watch out. Bike trail? Not here. I’ve lived here all my life.” (Read: I drive crazy on that road. Look out for a rusted blue Chevy pickup. There is a bike trail, and this section of Rte 2 has a generous lane-sized shoulder. I don’t care if cars pass at 200 mph, I got eight feet.)
An interview for a job I didn’t apply for, the abuse is almost over.
“Oh, what kinda bike you got?”
Oh, well it’s an old Schwinn High Sierra from 1985. I love these old bikes. Old mountain bikes are really great for…
“Schwinn? Yeah, Schwinn’s good bikes. I got one just like yours; Marge does too. Matching, with spring shocks and a nice big seat, not like yours. Looks like it hurts, that seat and those racing handlebars. Got mine at Wal-Mart. Real tough bikes. Marge’s is a girls bike, though.”
At last, I am speechless and out of diplomatic gas.
“Well, be safe.” (Disapprovingly; this is termed ‘insult to injury’, and ‘getting the last word’.)
With wounded pride, cold coffee and half-an-hour less daylight I slowly pack up my things, the way the circus always takes longer to leave town on Monday than it does to unfold on Friday morning.
These days, I trade my wood-grained office chair for saddle sores. Some towns just aren’t worth the stop.
The trail: On the Mesabi Trail, which will eventually link Grand Rapids, MN to Ely, MN. The trail is composed of a wide variety of facilities, but is well signed and exhibits some neat iron-age towns, not unlike Michigan’s Iron Range (Marquette, through Ishpeming and further east). Connecting “the Mississippi headwaters with the Boundary Waters”, a full report of the Mesabi Trail will follow. Most people are real nice. I have this conversation almost every day. Although a bit of a chore, I mostly get a huge kick out it.