Dan Hoyt

Web developer/designer

No Takebacks 1997: Rustbelt Flyer

August 29, 1997

Conditions were excellent to put miles between me and Chicago, and I absolutely flew down US 30. Traffic was dense but the shoulder was adequate and weather accommodating, if not warm or sunny. I made the Ohio border either this day or early the next.

The roads in Indiana were heavily wooded along the frontage, giving me more impetus to escape. It's a common complaint from folks west of the Mississippi that the roads in the eastern half of the US are shielded by woods, preventing the entertainment of a good view. However, Ohio would have no such problem.

I don't remember where I camped the first night. I vaguely recall being soaked in the morning that followed.

August 30, 1997

By mid-afternoon I was in Ohio. The woods faded from the highway, and US 30 opened up to sweeping views of farmland and grain towers again. The air was cool and moist. Rains were touching down on and off during the day, and would continue for some time to come.

US 30 would carry me through most of the state, but at times the shoulder disappeared entirely and I found myself flush with motorist traffic. Semis and heavy trucks would brush past with inches to spare. The hairs on the back of my neck were on constant alert.

Sometimes the highway transitioned into a limited access freeway with access ramps. Although these typically have wide shoulders and make for excellent speed, the access ramps were dangerous. I'd have to stop and wait for incoming and exiting traffic. Although I was only mildly inconvenienced, civic authorities often put up signage prohibiting bicycle access. However, I was already on the road when these zones appeared. I don't doubt a good lawyer could have navigated it for me if I ended up arguing the issue, but I was never harassed by cops about it.

Now that cell phones are common, I doubt I'd be able to go a single mile without cops being called out.

I knew that I could probably find a parallel road but it was a gamble. It simply didn't occur to me to swing by a bike shop and ask.

In small towns, there was an abundance of aging structures with elegant but discolored facades. Sometimes they were ethereally skinny, their companions having long since collapsed, like pillars in canyonlands that have resisted erosion.

Again, no recollection of where I camped on the second night in.

August 31, 1997

The first sunny day in long weeks of gloom. At a downtown square in Mansfield, I lay down on the grass next to my bike and spread out like a solar panel. A pair of young people walked up, maybe a little younger than me, and asked if I could spare a moment for a survey. While I lay in the sun.

I sat up. "Sure. Hit me."

"What would you say is the greatest problem facing young people in the world today?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know, drugs, AIDS, teen pregnancy."

I gave an answer. I may as well have picked one at random.

"What would you tell a young person who comes to you asking about God?"

Dammit, I knew it. As the telemarketer is to the homeowner, the proselytizers are to the traveler. The solo types will preach directly—I can respect that—but the teams use tricks like this to lock you down.

They're prepared for most exit strategies. They're trained to weaponize your social graces. As such, repeat "No thank you, I'm not interested" as many times as you need to. Conserve energy for more important tasks.

Made it to Orrville, Ohio. Sort of a namesake town, as my middle name is the same. Not quite the mark of Cain, but best kept mum, thanks to the popularity of their popcorn mascot.

They welcomed me with more pamphlets and religious tracts here. I slept the night on the concrete of a church pavilion after securing permission. Turnabout is fair play?

September 1, 1997

Another day of cool temps, rainy skies and narrow escapes.

As I huddled beneath an overhang of a drugstore while the rain came down, a man in a suit with his daughter approached quietly and handed me some pamphlets without saying anything, and walked off. So they load them up with flyers at church and send them out on bombing runs. Do they dive bomb the town bully and his toadies, or the kids driving mom's mini-van, or the working stiffs or the cops? Nope. They go straight to me. Bombs away.

The pamphlet is "David & Bathsheba" by Chick Publications. These are the benign variety, scripture-based and not pushing overt political agendas, the kind that conventional churches order for good works. These days the goofy comics seem almost quaint.

Later, huddled again under the shelter of a K-Mart, I called a friend from a pay phone with a calling card and we caught up. The laughs lifted my spirits after so many days of rain.

During the late nineties, long distance calling cards were popular. Load them up with some money at pre-set rates, then make long distance calls from any pay phone. I made constant use of them, and I recommended them in place of gifts.

Towards the evening, I took a wrong turn somewhere and wound my way through a hilly section of Ohio as I approached the eastern border. At a crossroad I found a tiny pavilion park with no screen from the highway. This was not stealth camping. I slept curled up like a pretzel as the temperatures dipped into the low…50s? I wrote down 50s in the journal but just to be curious I checked the almanac and it says 60.

September 2, 1997

For lunch I encountered a group of college students heading down to Athens. They invited me to lunch, and I was self-conscious about smelling like I'd been on the road for a while, but got the cool guy treatment. We hung out for a bit in their hotel, and then they were on the road to Athens. Immediately after they left, the glory faded and I felt terribly lonely.

I crossed the Ohio River at Wheeling, where an older America's history calls out from beneath the rust.

In Pennsylvania, I celebrated leaving behind Ohio. It didn't take long before I wound through hills and woods on quieter roads. I left behind US 30 in Ohio and I don't recall which road I took, but I was on a path to Pittsburgh. It felt good.

An ice cream and mini-golf vendor let me camp on his property in the woods. I was happy that moment, in my tent, not hiding, not laying on concrete or a bench, just listening to bugs and water dripping from leaves as a near perfect darkness put me to sleep.

Next: Appalachian Upthrust