The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Long Road East, which chronicles my friend Sam and I riding our bikes 1,800 miles from St. Cloud, Minnesota out east to Portland, Maine over the course of seven weeks.
Many thanks to the people who have already expressed an interest in wanting to purchase this next book!
“I made pancakes,” Paula says as I walk into the kitchen.
“Oh nice. What kind?”
“Apple. They’re the best.”
“Perfect. And how’s your morning go so far? Ready to start your day?”
“Absolutely,” Paula says.
I eat ten scrumptious pancakes as Paula explains that she can treat her type 2 diabetes better than her doctor.
“How is that possible?” I ask.
“I know my body better than he does,” she replies confidently.
“Interesting. I don’t know much about medicine, but I am surprised that you know more than your doctor,” I remark.
“You wouldn’t believe it by looking at me, but I’m actually healthy,” Paula claims, her hulking presence casting a shadow over the counter she stands behind.
“Right. Well, look, Paula, I have to go to the bathroom. Thank you so much for breakfast. It was fantastic.”
Sam is picking the last remnants of cat hair off his socks when I begin trying to usher him out the door. I really don’t want to get stuck behind his morning routine that consists of a thirty-minute bathroom break and small talk with the host.
“This is disgusting,” he says, holding up a black sock that looks like it was drowned in a litter box.
“Geez, yeah it is, but will you be ready to go soon? I have had enough of this place.”
“Fuck me, this is gross,” he says. Sam looks at the floor and then the dirty sock. “Yeah, I’ll be ready. Just give me a minute. Gotta clean up this mess.”
A short while later we begin our long trek to the city of Lyons.
“What did you think of Paula’s claim about being healthy?” I ask.
“Look, I know where you are going with this, so don’t even start,” Sam says.
“What do you mean, bro?”
“Q, sometimes you just have to let people have their moment.”
“Yeah, but, man, the things she was saying—”
“Look, obviously, Paula is a little ahead of herself, but again, there is no need to discuss this. I’m not going to fight with you.”
“We’re not fighting. We’re just talking,” I reply with joy, looking up from the road to see if perhaps we will end up bickering about someone else’s life, but Sam begins riding ahead.
That day, as we ride out of Rochester, the GPS starts faltering. “This thing is on crack today,” Sam complains as we bike in circles around a park.
A mile later we come to a construction sign. It’s telling us to turn around. Another decision has to be made. We normally disregard construction signs, but this one is blocking a bike path.
“What do you think?” I ask in the tone reserved for questions with obvious answers.
“Let’s just see what’s ahead,” Sam ushers, but he seems less sure than he historically does about these kinds of things.
A couple minutes past the sign, Sam pulls off and talks with two people seated underneath a bridge. The entire scene feels sketchy.
“I just talked to some people,” Sam starts when he comes back, oblivious to the fact I saw everything he just did. “They said we should be fine.”
“They? You mean the people hanging out under that bridge?”
“Yeah. Why? Is there a problem?”
“Do you actually trust them?” I ask.
“What do you mean?”
“What do I mean? Sam, you just asked two people underneath a bridge for directions, or does that not seem strange to you?”
“It’ll be fine. Relax,” he says, but Sam’s intention to inspire confidence is drawing little faith.
We pull ahead a few hundred yards and are instantly met with heavy machinery and no way through.
“Looks like we are taking the detour,” I acknowledge.
We turn around, and the two individuals have moved from the darkness. Both have lines on their faces, like the Javier Bardem character after he takes out his teeth in the James Bond movie Skyfall. Their faces look ragged, to the point I grip my handlebars tighter and adrenaline kicks in. They stand next to the trail to watch us pass, their eyes revealing a desire for something greater than what the present has offered them.
“We’re lucky they didn’t try to stab us or something,” Sam says after we get back to a road.
“Sam, you’re too trusting. We’re in goddamn New York.”
“Bro, you can’t be asking people who live under bridges for help. It’s that simple.”
“They didn’t do anything though, and you don’t know where they live.”
“Sam, you saw how they looked. I shouldn’t need to say anything else.”
Out here, my feelings of vulnerability have amplified. I don’t have a logical reason for these emotions, other than every day we move closer to New York City it’s conjunctively exciting and worrisome. I don’t know what to expect, and that notion doesn’t sound as romantic as it once did.
“What would you say if I met up with some chick for a couple hours?” I ask Sam during a break.
“You know how I feel about hypotheticals. Talk to me when you have actual plans.”
“But I don’t want to make plans and leave you out of the loop,” I urge.
“I don’t want to talk hypotheticals, Q.”
“So you’d be cool if I asked you to wait for a few hours while I did my thing?”
“Well, no. I’d like a heads-up.”
“But that’s what I’m doing now!” I holler, completely confused.
Something changed in the last year with Sam. Before that he used to be down with chasing women. He was wild, that being one of the few things we had in common. I could count on him to say yes to virtually everything, but over time, that stance changed. He spoke with more clairvoyance, exercising a special ability to see a life beyond drinking, liberated women, and adventure. He began to talk more about his desire for steady employment, a clean place to live, and a woman to share his life with. It was becoming clear that Sam was, gulp, maturing.
“I’ll let you know if anything comes to fruition with this chick,” I say before we get back on our bikes and continue.
We aren’t far from the city of Lyons when we take another break. My mind is going crazy. I slam peanut butter crackers, and a chemical inside my brain is released when cell phone service crops up because now I can check Tinder.
“You’re not looking for a relationship?” a mildly attractive woman asks when I invite her to meet up.
“I’m on a bike tour. I can’t do a relationship.”
“Fuck. I just wasted a superlike on you,” she says.
Deleting Tinder would save me a few headaches, but I’m not ready to stop swiping and give up on what I want.
After we pull into the driveway of hosts Harold and Nora, it feels good to be off the bikes. After eighty-five miles, my legs are sore; and since we have another long pull tomorrow, I’m going to unapologetically eat the ass end of a boar pig tonight.
“I was just telling Sam,” Nora begins while I stand in her kitchen after taking a shower. “You guys are going to have to leave by six thirty tomorrow morning.”
My head starts to hurt.
“Maybe I could stretch it to six forty,” she says with a smile that feels inappropriate.
I know it as soon as Sam shoots me that look, the one that is wondering if I concealed the early-morning wakeup from him. Had I known an early morning awaited, we wouldn’t be standing in this house.
In piling on more miles, sleep becomes more imperative, but those hours have been difficult to come by. Being out east, everything is more hurried. People have places to be, and gone are the days of playing on my phone for an hour before breakfast.
Nora’s husband Harold instantly weirds me out when the four of us sit down for dinner. He doesn’t offer Sam a beer, he’s wearing overalls, and his eyes tell a story different from the words coming out of his mouth.
“I look at my neighbor every day. He mows his lawn, and he has a horse,” Harold starts. He then looks at me like I can finish the story for him. “Anyway, he cuts his lawn and then buys food for his horse.”
Everyone is still not following.
“His horse could eat the grass he is mowing!” Harold clamors, his voice now slightly below a yell.
My eyes are trying to plead ignorance, to no avail.
“And everyone else,” Harold continues. “They mow their lawns, so they use gas purely for vanity. You don’t need to mow your lawn, and you also don’t need to use gas to do it,” he says, going on to talk about a tool that cuts grass without oil.
Harold’s message may be accurate, but his delivery is nothing short of R. L. Stine.
“That, that…that sounds interesting,” I stutter, hoping he won’t ask if I have ever mowed a lawn before.
I am still hungry after devouring the paleo dinner Nora had served. Going to bed hungry is horrible, but the sooner I get out of Harold’s clutches, the better.
“Do you still want to see that chicken coop?” Nora asks Sam.
“Of course,” he replies, leaving me alone with the eco-crazed Harold.
“You married, Quentin?” he asks.
“No, I’m not,” I reply.
“I don’t know if I’m going to get married. I mean, I might, but not right now.”
Harold’s face wrinkles with disappointment.
“Besides, it seems like a broken system. I have no interest in getting divorced,” I say.
“How would you start a family?” Harold then asks.
“I guess, I would just start a family.”
“Out of wedlock?”
“I’m not very religious, Harold, but truthfully I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
“If everyone did what you are proposing, we would have all these broken homes and unsolidified families.”
“Just because people aren’t married?”
“Well, I personally don’t believe you have to be married to be a good parent. Look at all the divorced couples who make it work.”
“Those kids are miserable,” he says.
“Maybe. I don’t really know. It’s not something I’ve thought a lot about.”
Harold looks at me with concern, our generational gap only fueling the molten fire embedded in his eyes.
“I’m going to go to bed,” he says, then rises and walks out of the dining room without making any more eye contact.
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