Dan Hoyt

Web developer/designer

No Takebacks 1997: The City

September (?), 1997

I rode a little bit every day while visiting my brother, and when I finally headed out, I hit the trail as hard as I could. I made crazy good time through the milder slopes of eastern Pennsylvania. Traffic picked up a bit and I made the New Jersey line. From there, I discovered that my expectations were way off.

New Jersey deserves its title as the Garden State. It is has a subdued beauty, and the people I met were just as civil and friendly as anywhere else. But the roads and traffic were a world altogether different.

I made it into an outburb as I approached the great metropolis for my first time. If New Jersey was anything like television, I would be taking my chances knocking on doors asking for a place to camp.

As it turned out, I just had the door laughingly closed on me a couple of times. As in, "Are you freakin' kiddin' me, man? You want to camp in my backyard? Yeah, that's a no on that one."

So as I considered my options, a young couple saw me riding through their neighborhood and waved me down. "Do you need a place to stay? You can stay with us."

The situation was very amenable, with my own guest room. In New Jersey! My prejudices were blasted apart.

There was, of course, a price to pay. First came the conversation about beliefs. Then they plied me with tracts for their particular flavor. In the morning, the husband looked as though he had not slept. I knew there was a good chance he'd lain awake all night, wondering if I was, in fact, a serial killer. And in the morning, he seemed to hinge on whether I had read the tracts. "It was definitely interesting reading," I lied, and he knew it. I felt bad for him.

September (?), 1997

I rode through suburbs and industrial areas, not feeling the threat level that I expected to encounter. In truth, I'm not sure anything would have made me feel unsafe as long as I had the saddle underneath me. I had not yet experienced little children throwing things at me, which is probably the only situation I still don't know how to cope with. (Like, what are you supposed to do besides ride off? All of my defenses are nullified!)

A call to a bicycling contact in the Bronx (she was ready to cut my throat until she remembered who I was) advised me to take the Staten Island route. As it turned out, the access bridge from the mainland was prohibited for bicyclists. A minivan pulled over and gave me a ride across. I took it without question, and thanked the driver heartily. He dropped me off on the other side of what I recall being a toll collection point.

From there, it was a pleasant ride to the free ferry. I realized that my trip was officially over when I made land on Manhattan.

I was done. The trek was completed. There is a page in my journal dedicated to this personal celebration, an introvert's party where I've drawn some fireworks. In truth I was unexcited and very even-keeled. As it turned out, my boat wouldn't rock until my feet hit land.

Amid the press of commuters, I stepped aside and phoned my friend's sister for directions to her place. My understanding of the City's geography is essentially one of distance and direction from Central Park. She lived on the east side of it, about half the way up. Of course she gave me more specific directions, but all I needed was the address. I told her I'd be biking there presently.

"Wait, you're going to ride your bike the entire way?"

"Uh, yeah. I mean, I just rode here from Texas."

"Okay, wow, I just figured you'd take a taxi or something once you got here. You're like the PowerBar guy."

That damn PowerBar commercial! People had been making comparisons to it the whole trip. I tried one. Ain't no cause to be hating life like that. Fortunately, food alchemy has improved since then.*

Riding in New York City was fun. A taxi driver rolled down his window to shout, "I can tell you're not from here. You stop at the red lights!"

I spent five or six days there, and did not make a dent in my knowledge of the city at all. I only began to realize the vast complexity of it.

The weather was perfect all week. No rain, no wind, no miserable people in layers of trench coats. But I did notice everyone was nicely dressed, and only tourists wore t-shirts and blue jeans. Tourists like me. It would be the first time in my life I felt naked with clothes on.

I fell for a few gimmicks. I saw a restaurant with a poster for an inexpensive breakfast with a full spread. As I sipped the shot glass of orange juice and nibbled the sand dollar pancake, I realized that it also came with a free side of wisdom.

At long last, it was time to go. I loaded the rig and set out for the bus station. On the ride home, I fought tooth and nail to keep that bike safe. There was a big blunder somewhere, and then I was routed onto an express bus half-way through, but not before an attendant tried to extract a bribe over the bike. I blew up and he relented.

* I remain a steadfast advocate of gas station snack crackers. Fight me.

September 30, 1997: Debrief

Back in Austin at last, after visiting with my parents for a few days.

My bike mechanic friend hosted a dinner for me at a nice restaurant, and our friends from work joined us. It was good to be back. Stories were told, the kind that I won't share on the same web site where I keep my resume.

I landed my old job for some part time work. Spring semester registration was coming up, and I soon would be back in classes.

I had power, light, warmth, air conditioning, and a bed. I also had a lease and a job. I felt safely anchored, but more than a little unsettled. Should I have stayed on the bike?

The trip took a toll on me financially and scholastically. It extracted a much larger share on the health of my parents, who of course worried constantly.

Some of my friends had already graduated, and had moved on to a more mature reality that involved hard work and tough bosses. They tired of the endless references to the bike trip.

Worse still, I would soon discover that another trip was all I could think about. I disconnected from academic interests even though a degree was within sight; the diploma would wait until 1999. A couple of my professors sought me out to ask why I'd dropped out just before finals; one offered to help me get back on the path. It was too late and my mind was made up.

The Dread Summer of 1998 was going to put me in my place.

Going forward

If you're interested in my other tours, I plan on writing about these in the near future.