It’s The Run The Biker Off The Road Game Again

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Lake Michigan photos (photos from here on do not necessarily correspond with blogs)

Winnipeg, Manitoba

July 21, ‘80

Well here I am sitting in the Winnipeg youth hostel. I spent the last two nights and most of yesterday lying in my sleeping bag on the floor of that vacated granary shed. I couldn’t leave because of the rain, and now I have pleurisy. Anything more than shallow breathing causes pain—no fun. The worst part of getting to Winnipeg was when I hit the urban areas. That’s when traffic picked up. In fact, I had to take an alternative route in order to avoid a couple nasty truck drivers. Well, I didn’t really avoid the nasty one, but before I tell that story I need to log in my dietary experiment.

I began the day by thinking I wasn’t getting enough roughage, so I bought a stalk of celery and a jar of peanut butter. By afternoon I had half the celery gone, and I was beginning to experience severe stomach craps. I found an outhouse and, over a thirty-minute period, lost my guts. I never really felt sick, though, so I knew it wasn’t food poisoning. But for that short period, I was in a lot of pain. I passed by another picnic area where I spent some more time relieving myself and then things started to get better. Well, better until I encountered that nasty trucker.

I was keeping to my six inches of pavement when two sixteen wheelers rolled up behind me and started playing that old game of “who can be the first to run the biker into the ditch.” It was potash country and the trucks were loaded. The first trucker started horning me from about a quarter mile back. Then he pulled up right on my tail and laid on his horn. I was riding on a suicide shoulder already. The edge of the road dropped off into six inches of loose gravel. At any speed that transition was dangerous, but at fifteen miles an hour, on a fully loaded ten-speed, that fall would have resulted in a bloody mixture of flesh, dirt, stone and mangled bicycle.

While the asshole honked, I filled my head with nam myho renge kyo, and finally he flinched first. As he slowly inched his way past me, I had already made up my mind that I would not flinch, and I didn’t. I took a deep breath, and readied myself for the second trucker. He gave me a couple warning honks and drove on by. He had probably already won his buddy’s money—I was still there. I wasn’t about to hang around for a three peat, though. I turned south at the first opportunity.

I still had a ways to go before Winnipeg, and I was looking for a place to camp when I met another truck driver–a nice one—at a truck stop. He asked me if I wanted a lift into town. I told him sure, and I arrived in Winnipeg around 9 p.m. He even dropped me off right at the youth hostel where I checked in and immediately took a shower. If it weren’t for that 90-kilometer truck ride, that shower would have had to wait for another full day of biking.

Groomed and clean, I went for a walk downtown. I didn’t run across any bars that I wanted to drink in, but I did take a walk up some stairs and paid $5. for a backrub from a topless woman from Trinidad. The price went up with added stimulation. I had already satisfied my curiosity, though, and that was really all I wanted to do. Actually, I really enjoyed just talking with her. She was a very nice, dark skinned woman, and, I believe, she enjoyed my company also.

July 23

Before I left Winnipeg, I exchanged my Canadian money for U.S. currency. When I came to the last major town before the border, after a hot, sunny, day of bicycling, I stopped at a pub and spent all but my last five Canadian dollars. Knowing that I had to drink four or five beers and eat onion rings was a delightful experience.

My evening bicycle ride was super. I was in the wilderness again, no traffic, soft yellow sun at my back, pine trees and aspen all around me, and best of all I was biking on a newly paved highway. When I came to a picnic area in the middle of nowhere I immediately set up camp. It was pancakes for dinner, and in the waning daylight, coyotes serenaded me—fantastic.

I’m presently finishing up my morning pancakes and coffee. Yesterday I took my limit on sunshine and today its supposed to rise to 30 degrees centigrade, again. If I’m not careful I could overdose. To complicate matters, I just discovered a hole in the bottom of my canteen. Except for those few hassles, I have no worries at all. I’ll be riding my bike in the States come evening.

Four Heart Attacks In A Year, It Was Still Cigs And Salted Beer For Harry

Virginia, Minnesota

July 26, ‘80

It was sunny and windy. I survived both. I camped at a state forest campground in the most northern part of Minnesota. I didn’t make my usual 80 miles.

The next day it rained, almost all day. The rain and highway (worst since Prince Rupert) made bicycling impossible, so I gave up the effort, and pulled into a grocery store. When I started eating crackers and honey under the protective awning, a customer asked me where I was heading. After I gave him a brief trip summary, he said, “If you can get your bike in my car, I’ll drop you off at the Fall’s turn off.” I was trying to reach International Falls before I gave up hope. I made it to town just in time to make my purchases—dry slide (for my chain), a canteen, and one bicycle tire. The rain had finally stopped, so I proceeded to replace a tire and clean my bicycle. After that I stopped at a local bar to celebrate my arrival in the States. I had three beers, and watched Buck Rogers on TV. I camped around eight miles down the highway.

In the morning, bicycling was excellent–sunny, but not real hot, on a good to great highway with moderate traffic, through very nice northern Minnesota scenery. When I arrived in Virginia around six o’clock, I inquired at a gas station about a campground with shower. The boys hanging out at the gas station were sympathetic. They didn’t know of any, but they told me about a swimming hole not far from where I was. I really needed a shower, and I didn’t want to rent a room, so off I went, backtracking to find the dirt trail that would take me to the swimming hole. The sun was still hot, and the water wasn’t all that cold. The boys were right; it was a nice spot to swim.

Clean once again, I went looking for a laundry mat, and stumbled upon a baseball field that I thought would substitute nicely for a campsite. (I wanted to camp close to town because I had made a morning appointment to have my bearings greased or replaced). It looked good, but I didn’t want to make my presence known until after dark. I needed to find something to do until then. As I was walking my bike on the sidewalk, making my way to the street that would take me to the main part of town, I noticed a blinking bar sign in a window of a house, or at least I thought it was a house. I had never experienced a bar, if indeed it was a bar, in a residential district before. But then again, I had never experienced northern Minnesota before, either.

When I climbed the three or four steps up to the screen door and looked in, I saw two men and three ladies, all old people sitting at a bar. I knew of neighborhood bars, but this was more like a hallway bar. I made a head turning entrance, and as I walked past the ladies and sat down on a barstool between the two men, the bartender put his huge hands on the bar and said, “What’ll it be?” I said, “How about a Papst.” He said, “No Pabst,” so I asked, “What’s on tap?” “Miller,” came the reply, “This bar only serves Miller.” “Okay,” I replied, “give me one of those.” I got the message; if you wanted a beer in this bar it had to be a Miller. Four unoccupied stools remained at the bar, and there was a man and woman sitting in one of the three booths situated on the adjacent wall. The best part of the place was that if you happened to fall off your bar stool, for whatever reason, you would probably end up in one of the unoccupied booths; I mean the place was that narrow, that small.

By the end of my second draft, things relaxed a bit. The large chap behind the bar even asked me if I was new in town. When I told him about my trip, everybody got real friendly. I became just one of them after that—a good feeling. The guy sitting to my left even moved over a stool, and proceeded to fill me in on the history of the place. According to him, the place was Dick’s hobby. Dick was the bartender. In fact, everybody in the place lived close enough to the sign in the window to see when he was open. “That’s why we’re here,” Harry said, “we saw the light, and lucky for us too, because it’s the cheapest beer in town. When Dick turned on the light, it meant that he and his wife were fighting, or that he was lonely and just wanted some company.” Harry was right about the beer–thirty-five cent drafts were cheap.

Before I left the bar, I bought Dick a beer. “I’ve had four heart attacks within the last year,” he said. You wouldn’t know it to look at him, though. His huge mid ‘50’s frame looked healthy, except maybe for the telltale sadness in his eyes. You couldn’t even tell that he was working. He had a beer in hand the whole time. “The doctors told me to quite drinking, smoking and eating salt, but here I am enjoying this cigarette and beer, with my friends,” he said, as he salted down the head of his just poured beer. “So what do I care if I don’t make it through the night. At least I’ll go happy.” Harry later informed me that Dick took seriously the part about drinking with friends. According to Harry, if Dick didn’t like you, he cut you off, and getting cut off at Dick’s meant stay away. “You’re lucky,” Harry said. “He likes you.” Yes, I was lucky, and Dick was a likable guy. It was a pleasure to meet him. Getting drunk
with him was a bonus.

It was midnight when Harry and I staggered down the steps of the hallway bar. Harry invited me to spend the night at his place and I happily accepted. In the morning, after eating breakfast (Harry lived alone), I left to go to Western auto where I had my bearings greased on both wheels. I needed new cones on my front wheel, but nobody had any, so I just had to hope the new bearings and grease would get me back home.

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One Response to “It’s The Run The Biker Off The Road Game Again”

  1. wings Says:

    I like the way you “capture” people. Shining a bit of light in on them and inviting us to see. You painted a good one of Dick & Co. here. Yep. Made me stop and look and think for a bit.

    Art and humanity in the journal entries of traveller.

    Thanks for how you share the road.

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