October 23, 2010


One week ago today I crashed my bike.  Before you read any further know that I am totally and completely fine. Other that a couple of small Al Caponesq scars there is no lasting damage.  

Here’s the long version of what happened:  I left Myrtle Beach Friday at noon and was biking really fast and enjoying myself, despite the fact that the road I was biking on (rt 17) was a pretty shitty.  The reason I was biking on this bike-unfriendly road, rather than the route my new Adventure Cycling maps recommended, was because I had decided to go to Myrtle Beach to couch surf, and from there I was planning on going straight to Charleston to see Phish, and this was the only way to connect those dots.   Side note:  couch surfing was awesome. I stayed with two beautiful girls my age, who had two of their beautiful girl friends staying in the apartment too.  All of them were going to the Phish show, and I had a blast hanging out with them for two nights.  Check out the website they run together about the jam band scene and social consciousness and whatnot www.sparkleberrylane.com. 

So anyway, after about 20 miles the road left all commercial and residential buildings behind and became a non stop highway.  It had a line of grooved pavement (the bumps that wake you up if you fall asleep and drift off the road) over the white shoulder line and then about two feet of pavement before the grass.  Not a lot, but enough.  I had to cross over the grooved pavement now and then, and every time I did the whole rig shook like a mechanical bull.  This road wasn’t the first time I had to deal with these evil grooves, so I knew what to expect.  The grooves are spaced in an even fraction of my wheelbase, which means that the whole bike jumps up and down in sync.  Also, the radius of the arcs of each groove are almost exactly the same as my lovely 27” wheels, which makes them really slam into each groove and jump out with a lot of force.  So, aware of the evil grooves to my left, I just tracked a really solid straight line (something that I’ve gotten quite good at) and got into a good zone (mentally and physically).

As I was entering Georgetown S.C., where I would be able to get off of rt 17 and take some better roads to Charleston, I had to cross a bridge over a big river.  It was a fairly long bridge, with a high arch to it, but not a suspension or truss bridge or anything like that.  It was a really beautiful view, and as I granny geared my way up the first half I really took it in.   The pavement on the bridge was concrete, and there were no evil grooves, although there were lots of metal debris and evil teeth (the joints that prevent a bridge from cracking when it freezes are nasty wheel traps if you have skinny tires).  Coming down the second half of the bridge I went kinda fast, nothing crazy though, no more than 23mpg according to my bike computer.  I stayed within my allotted two feet of shoulder because there was fairly heavy traffic, but as the concrete pavement ended, and the evil grooves returned I noticed there was a large bush and some debris blocking my precious two feet, and a metal guardrail blocking my escape to the right.  I didn’t have time too look behind me to check if there was a car in the right lane, but the traffic was heavy enough to just assume that there was, so I was forced into the grooves.  I thought I would be able to just coast through them like I had done many times before, but something about my speed, and the fact that I was carving a turn made that impossible.  I remember hitting the grooves and knowing immediately that I was going to crash. 

After that, I don’t remember much.  However, based on my CSI like forensic investigation of all of my cuts, road rash, and damage to my bike I’ve come to the conclusion that as I was turning back into the safe part of the shoulder my front wheel got airborne for an instant and turned to the right to become perpendicular to the ground.  When my front wheel caught the pavement it tacoed and my bike fell over to the left and I fell to my right (probably with a lot of forward momentum too).  My bike received some scrapes to the left brake lever, my rack got a bit bent, and the front wheel was totaled (although I kept the hub) but other than that it was fine.  The big man little man is a beast.  Meanwhile, I gracefully braced my fall by catching the steel guardrail with my face.  I received a deep cut next to my ear, just below my temple, and another one on my chin as well as a good amount of road rash on my face, shoulder, arm, back, and leg.  The blow to the noggin left me completely unconscious, which honestly was probably a good thing since I don’t remember being in any pain at all.   The highway patrol found me out cold in a pool of blood.  I know this because the officer called me a few days later to tell me.  I slowly regained consciousness on the ambulance and was very confused, I didn’t know where I was, and I couldn’t answer any questions about where I had come from or how long I had been biking.  I still didn’t feel all that much pain though, and I enjoyed slowly remembering all the details of my bike trip, and sharing them with the EMTs.  It was like remembering a dream.   In fact, I remember telling the EMTs some pretty funny stories, but my bleeding face probably took away from my witty, off the cuff humor. 

Once I got to the hospital I was fully conscious, but still pretty dazed.  I felt like I was on drugs, and perhaps I was, I don’t know.  I had no idea how badly hurt I was, I could feel pain but it was more like a vague “everything hurts” kind of pain.  I was strapped down to a stretcher with my head immobilized, stuck in the up position, forced to stare at the florescent lights zip by as I was rushed somewhere.  It reminded me of a scene from a movie, and in my dazed state I made sure to note the trippyness of the experience.  I got a bunch of CAT scans and X-rays and was then sent to a specialist ear nose and throat doc.  The CAT scans suggested that my cut had penetrated my ear canal, but luckily it didn’t.  Instead my ear canal was only slightly torn from the stretching that happened when my face took the blow.  The other lucky thing was that the deep cut just barely missed my facial nerve, which, if severed, would have caused my whole face to become paralyzed.  Instead of that I just have some tingly feelings and numbness above my ear, and that is rapidly improving.  So yeah, I got really lucky.

As my wounds were being cleaned and my cuts were being stitched my parents were notified.  I got to talk to them soon after to quell their panic, but they were still freaking out.  My dad booked a flight immediately, and met me at the hospital around 1am.   It would've been really hard to do anything if he hadn’t flown down to meet me.  I could barely move my head, I had no means of transportation, and nowhere to go.  My bike was “towed” (I use the word “towed” because I was charged a $160 towing fee) to a local redneck car shop, and I had nothing but my torn spandex, phone, and wallet with me.  Trying to recall the chain of events with my dad, again, felt like remembering a dream.  In fact it took a while to convince myself that certain snippets of memory were not a dream, and it was only because of logic that I accepted the memories as true events that happened.  The earliest snippet still feels like a dream, if not a dream within a dream.  I remember the mosquitoes were swarming like crazy around me, and as I was woken up and put into the ambulance all the mosquitos followed me into the ambulance, continuing to feast.  I remember trying to make small talk with the EMT by saying “these mosquitoes are insane”.   For a while I didn’t notice all the bites, probably masked by the road rash, and I truly believed that memory was from a dream I had a few nights earlier while camped out in an equally heavily populated mosquito city.  It wasn’t until I noticed the mosaic of bug bites all over my body that logic forced me to accept that memory as fact. 

My dad and I checked into a hotel and after dealing with getting my bike back and bringing it to a bike shop, we actually had a pretty good time in Georgetown.  We got to see a historic wooden boat show / town fair, and I got some really good meals.  Since I could barely open my mouth I was really able to savor each tiny miniscule bite.   It also felt … interesting… looking so messed up while interacting with society.  After a good father son weekend my dad went home and checked me into a cheap, but surprisingly clean motel, where I have achieved my full snorlax / dulfus potential by watching rediculus amounts of TV and lying in bed all day.  Yesterday I saw the ear nose and throat doc again to have my stiches removed and my ear checked out.  I’ve completely regained the hearing in my right ear after all the blood clots were removed.  Good as new.  The stiffness in my back, neck and jaw are much better now, and today I emerged from my snorlax den and jogged / walked 15 miles to get my bike from the bike shop and rode back to the hotel in Georgetown, along rt 17 the whole way.  I stopped to examine the crash site on my way there, but after about 30 seconds the mosquitos got too insane and I just kept running, it didn’t look like anything happened anyway.  On my way back the fact that this trip is inherently and unavoidably dangerous sunk in.  I definitely don’t want to crash again, but other than avoiding roads like, this its hard for me to come up with a concrete lesson that I can learn from this crash.  As I biked over the bridge again I looked over my shoulder and safely merged into the car lane then back into the shoulder at the first gap in the grooves, like I would have done the first time if I had carefully examined the area from a few hundred feet away giving me enough time to make the merge.  Tomorrow I’ll be packing up all my stuff and on Sunday I’m hitting the road again.  I certainly have a slightly elevated level of fear, but I’m still looking forward to biking again, and I think after a good day on the road I’ll be feeling back to normal.

October 21, 2010

Pee Paw's Scramblies

From the beginning of the trip I thought it would be cool to find a band of hippies living off the land and join them, a la Easy Rider.   Wwoofing at Old Oak Homestead fulfilled that desire.  I “wwoofed” (see www.wwoof.org) at Old Oak for three weeks, giving me plenty of time to get to know the other people at the homestead, and some people from another homestead, as well as getting a good feel for the nearby town.   Old Oak was a fairly small property, with one house, a barn, and two small huts, trailer, 10 chickens, a vegetable garden, greenhouse, and an awesome dog named Buster.  When I arrived I was greeted by the other wwoofers, Matt and Meg (and Buster).  They showed me around and got me situated in the loft in the barn, which I shared with Matt.  Meg lived in the old trailer which was abandoned by a bunch of hunters who stayed here for a few weeks a few years ago.  It still had wheels, but it wasn’t going anywhere.  After a cold outdoor shower, and an equally cold beer, I got to meet Barb, Kenny and Joe. 

Barb (Barbra Trent: Academy Award winning documentarian) owned the place, and was more or less our “boss”.  She was more than a little bit crazy, but we all loved her.  I’d say she was in her mid 60s, and she was still living in the mid (19)60s.  The first thing that struck me about Barb was her sleep schedule:  Awake by noon, in bed by 3am, perfect for life on a farm.  She would often come mozey over to our outdoor kitchen/living room/patio with a martini in hand at midnight when we were getting ready to go to bed and start talking about our plans for tomorrow, or sometimes just wanting a snack.  She was certainly knowledgeable about organic gardening though, and she treated all the crops, and even the pests, with great respect, like she had personal relationships with every plant.  Actually she did, she told me all about them.   Barb also partied more than anyone I knew at college (except for freshmen year), and she could put all the tam-tams dancers to shame with her groovetastic shakes jiggles and twirls.  The other wwoofers seemed to get a bit annoyed with her nonsensical requests and never-ending presence, but I thought it was just hilarious.

Kenny was the other permanent resident at Old Oak.  He lived in a small hut which he was still building while I was there.  Kenny was a master of wood:  Lumberjack, carpenter, fire tender, and collector.  Kenny respected wood in all its forms, and despite being in the business of felling trees, he would often refuse to cut a tree down if he felt it wasn’t right.  Hanging out with Kenny I learned how to split wood, and use a chain saw, and had a lot of fun doing it.   Kenny kept all of his tools in perfect condition, and truly believed that if you show your tools love, they will show you love right back.  One of the best days there was when Kenny and I biked into town for the Carrboro music festival.  To tell the story properly you first need to know what Carrboro is like:  Hippie Heaven.   Everything was local, organic, fair trade, and vegan, and everyone in town seemed to somehow have enough cash to support all these crazy businesses.  Imagine if everyone in Vermont won the lotto and started speaking with a southern drawl, that’s what Carrboro was.  Also, everyone seemed to have awesome bikes like this one http://yubaride.com/utility-bicycles-models.html.   The Carrboro music festival was a pretty big deal, and although it started raining mid day and all the outdoor venues were shut down, there was still a bunch of music going on.  Kenny and I went to pretty much every venue, and at least three times Kenny accidentally walked back stage with the band, I guess he just looked so much like a musician that nobody questioned him.   We saw some shitty bands, and some decent ones, but my favorite was a sick ska band (whose name I forget) who played at a really cool venue named Cats Cradle.  After a long day of drinking, rocking out, etc., I was ready to try to find a car to throw our bikes into, but Kenny had his heart set on biking back, so we did. 7 miles back to the homestead in the pouring rain at midnight along dark, misty country roads with only my tail light.  It was awesome.

The other wwoofers, Matt and Meg were my age, and we got along well.  They were both really chill, and fun to hang out with.  Matt was really smart, and knew a lot about pretty much everything, especially organic gardening and bees.  He was living a debt free life by not going to college, not owning a car, not paying rent and not paying for food, and he was really making it work.  Meg was a really nice person, and really funny too.  A lot of our humor was like the blue color comedy tour, only in a sarcastic hipster kind of way… if that makes any sense.  Meg also worked at a hippie grocery store in town, and every time she got back from work she would bring all sorts of amazing treats home, diverted from the trash (actually Weaver Street Market composted its expired food).  We ate really well, mostly because of Meg.  We ate Scramblies for every meal, just like Pee-Paw used to make.  Scramblies consisted of whatever vegetables and greens we harvested from the garden scrambled together with rice and beans from Costco, and sometimes served with fancy bread from Weaver Street.  Our best scramblies was when Meg brought home a pound of fresh alfredo sauce and homemade pasta which we mixed with sweat potatoes, okra, tomatoes, jalapeƱos, string beans, and some other stuff.   We imagined opening up a food truck in Carrboro which sold nothing but the daily Pee Paw’s Scramblies, and the fact is, it probably would have been successful.  The only thing about eating at Old Oak was that I ate more than Matt and Meg combined, which got kinda awkward at times, but I simply explained to them that I will never let food go to waste, and therefore, out of precaution, I will just simply eat all the food before it has a chance to go bad.

The small community surrounding Old Oak was very inclusive.  Everybody knew everybody, and everybody was pretty cool.  Joe was a guitar teacher who lived down the road and left his dog buddy with us every day.  Nearly every night when Joe got back from work to pick up buddy he would come by with a 6 pack and a pipe to share.  He carried around a ukulele and used it to play name the tune / stump the band all the time.  He also sang songs with an Elmer Fudd voice extremely well.  Very close to us was another farm which I had applied to wwoof at, called Picards Mountain.  It was owned by a multi millionaire who designed an environmentalist's mecca.  It was a really cool place, and we got together with the wwoofers there to cook pizzas in their earth oven and hang out a few times.  The two people I got to know best there was Rachel and Daniel.  Daniel was a dreadlocked vegan, who drove a purple Caravan, fresh out of highschool and learning how to live completely off the land.  He and Rachel both knew pretty much every wild plant and if it was edible or usefull or not.  The three of us had a great walk in the rain one day identifying herbs and such.  Daniel was the only wwoofer I met who actually had a solid life plan: Go to California and grow weed, make weed butter, and use the weed butter to operate a gourmet catering company for rich potheads.  Everyone else, including me, had no idea what they wanted to do with their life.  In fact, none of the other wwoofers at Old Oak and Picards Mountain knew what they wanted to do after wwoofing.  Rachel was a really cool down to earth person, and she ended up biking with me for two days after I left.

Moral of the story is wwoofing is great, and I plan on doing more of it.  I basically spent about $30 for the entire 3 weeks, and that was entirely on beer.  I met a lot of cool people, got some experience working in an organic garden, and did a lot of chilling out.  I already made some contacts with some farms in Florida.