October 9, Day 99 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014
With cold temperatures prevailing and over 4,000 miles on these two sets of 56-year-old legs, a tailwind suited us perfectly. It was very strong today, pushing us from Warren to Smethport on a day characterized by a long gradual ascent and a more rapid decline on the other side. Furthermore, Allegheny National Forest provided some privacy, subduing the oft present truck traffic. We started and ended the day at about the same elevation, yet we were 56 miles closer to the Atlantic Ocean. And the appeal of the fall foliage grew the farther east we traveled.
Bicycle Tourist Groupie
Shortly into our ride, a man garbed in a reflective yellow vest, such as construction workers wear, waved his arms at us and shouted, “Where did you come from?”
I yelled back, “Manzanita, Oregon.”
We weren’t about to stop this early in the day and allow our extremities to get cold. Plus, with the wind blowing us along so forcefully, we were more inclined to maximize its value rather than chew the fat. As I rode farther, I wondered if we should have stopped to engage with him, but we were too far down the road to turn around now. At this point in our ride, a tenth of a mile would have been too far!
Several more miles down the road, we stopped at a service station in a small town on Route 6 for a bathroom break. They had a restroom for their staff and were willing to share it, which we can no longer take for granted. Although Pennsylvania has declared Route 6 its official Bicycle Route Y, it hadn’t considered the adequacy of its service stops, nor advised area merchants to welcome cyclists into their establishments, whether they were there to spend money or simply relieve themselves.
After sharing TheHopeLine with the owner and the younger attendant, we exited the building, only to be greeted by the same man who tried to flag us down several miles back. He had hitched a ride in pursuit of us to learn more about our trip and us. He makes it a point to interview bicycle tourists who pass through his area. He even requested our picture. I don’t think he publishes any of his content; he’s also a bicyclist and he’s simply interested in bicycle touring. I felt better that we were able to engage with him after all, especially in light of how supportive and friendly he was, and how happy it made him.
The Face of Meth
We had another encounter later in the day at our lunch stop. Jack, I’ll call him, seemed an energetic young man, but had a toughened look to him, complete with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, teeth sorely in need of a dentist’s attention, a face full of acne, and a head of hair that hadn’t seen a comb in years . It was likely the face of meth. We’ve seen it before. And we’ve seen evidence of this problem in many parts of our country–on taxpayer-funded billboards, on makeshift signs from low-budget prevention advocates, and on the troubled faces of disheveled people in rundown surroundings to match. Those sights aren’t the material for cross-country bicycle touring photo shoots. Yet, we needn’t pretend they aren’t there.
Jack was most interested in what we were doing. He said he’d hitchhiked to northern Maine recently, and he wants to hitchhike to the Southwest to visit with his grandmother, whom he hasn’t seen in quite some time. He seemed very capable with good potential, yet misguided, aimless. I wanted to encourage him and coach him. He was with a friend and was about to return to work. Otherwise, we may have been able to engage with him further to find out what hitchhiking long distances has taught him about himself and life, and to discover what—or who—it was in his life that made him angry.
I shared cards with the phone number and URL for TheHopeLine with them, saying, “You may know someone who could use this.” However, I really wondered if they might call in or chat in themselves when desperation overtook them. As hope coaches, we’ll be talking to youth like them soon, when they’re ready to ask for help. Only the names will be different.
Our day ended well before dark. We had more miles within us, but for the fact that we’d booked a motel earlier in the day. Locals say the next several miles are filled with hills. We’ll save those for tomorrow.