I cross the Rhode Island border into Connecticut, push onto New Haven, and check into my room in a Motel 6 on Route 1. I am back in the NYC Metro area. My bottom bracket is creaking and clicking. The bearings in my hubs need to be repacked. I have pushed my $810 dollar aluminum road bike to the limit. It will need a complete overhall. Tomorrow I will jump on the Metro North at New Haven, take the the train to Grand Central, then switch to New Jersey Transit for the final 12 miles home. The ride through the Bronx and across the New Jersey Meadowlands will have to wait. There’s no way to schedule it without riding either at rush hour or at night, both of which would involve traffic too dangerous at the end of a long, grueling trip.
I go back outside to buy a bottle of Diet Coke and a can of beer. A women, a middle-aged, overweight, pallid Irish American asks me for change. I give her a single dollar. She thanks me and tells me she’s homeless and lives in a hotel. I wonder for a moment if she’s staying at the same hotel I am. I look at her flabby body and puffy cheeks. Oddly enough , at the end of a 600 mile, unsupported cycling expedition through New England, I identify with this unhealthy looking women. Staying in flea bag hotels in the middle of nowhere, eating at McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts, I understand how difficult it is to stay healthy on the road. Having been lost in the chilly, rainy dark of a New England October, and having felt relieved to see my hotel, finally, at the end of the road at Midnight, I wonder what it would be like not to have a hotel room at the end of the road at Midnight. The single dollar I gave the women feels obscenely ungenerous. I dig into my wallet for more, but she’s gone. I will pay a karmic price for denying her.
I also realize I haven’t taken enough photos. Cycling 100 miles a day has made me a slave to the road, and to the obsession with not getting lost. I will take trips like this again, but it be at a slower pace, 40 or 50 miles a day instead of 90 or 100, and I will try to do it as part of a group. I will at least try to bring GPS or a smart phone. I will also try to find the money for a good steel touring bike instead of s cheap aluminum road bike. Don’t get me wrong. The Giant Contend 1 didn’the fail me once. But I badly needed panniers or a rack trunk. When the weather turned suddenly warm, I realized I did have space in my backpack for both the my flannel shirt and hoodie. I briefly considered tossing one onto the railing alongside the footpath over the Thames River in New London. I am glad I did not. That hoodie, purchased for 12 dollars at a Family Dollar Store in Westfield, Massachussets, is now a precious possession. It didn’t exactly save my life, but it did keep me from shaking violently during the 25 mile ride from Westfield to Chicopee in the driving rain.
I think of that night of fear and loneliness. I think of the woman to whom I gave only a single dollar. I think of King Lear on the heath.
Poor naked wretches, whereso’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.