Thursday, July 25, 2002

Cal's and Beyond

I must admit I'm having trouble coming up with profound thoughts so far on this trip. Even worse, I have promised a lot of people that I would be posting interesting, scintillating reports from my ride from Minneapolis to Chicago. So far, I have sent only one, and it was embarrassingly lacking in carriage returns, which caused all the text to read like a Faulknerian stream of consciousness, unfortunately without Faulkner's mastery of the form.

As you can see, I have corrected this faux pas, but the lack of inspiration remains. So until the travel muse returns to me, you will have to be content with a dry record of facts.

To take up where I left off yesterday, after the encounter with Amtrak security, George and I had an hour to kill before the train left, so we rode out bikes over to Cal's Bar, on Van Buren and Wells, a few blocks from Union Station.

I wanted George to meet Mike, the bartender, who just returned from a trip to Brazil. He was doing research with the idea of starting a bicycle touring operation there. I figured George would be a good resource in this endeavor, given the fact that George has taken at least one 1,000 mile bike trip per year for the last 25 years.

George is in his third decade as a Chicago bike messenger. He works three to six months, and spends the rest of the year traveling. A short list of places he has biked includes every country in Central America except Nicaragua; every country in South America except Uruguay, Venezuela and the Guineas; India, Nepal, Morocco, and Australia. He had biked across three continents and one subcontinent.

His last trip was to Bolivia. He would occasionally send out e-mails describing his adventures, and I was on his mailing list. I was quite impressed, not only with the sheer gutsiness of a 51-year old pedaling alone through the Andes with all his camping gear, but his elaborately detailed reports as well. I would print them out and read them to my wife and daughter at the dinner table.

I have had inclinations along these lines myself, so as I was planning the current trip, George naturally came to mind as a traveling companion. It was not without some apprehension that I considered this idea. As you probably know, traveling companions are not to be lightly-considered. I have witnessed relationships disintegrate between good friends, even lovers, under the stress of traveling together, and I myself have experienced this phenomenon.

I hardly knew George, except through his emails. As part of the Critical Mass-inspired Chicago cycling community, we had a number of mutual friends, but his actual temperament was unknown to me. But I did know he was an independent spirit with a zest for adventure, and knew how to write about it. I figured I had much to learn from him. Which is what has brought us to Cal's Bar this Tuesday afternoon where I'm having one last decent beer before being faced with the impoverished offerings of the Amtrak snack bar.

By the time I had finished my Three Floyds, George and Mike had swapped a few travel stories and it was only 45 minutes 'til departure time, and we still had to get our bikes boxed up. So off we went toward Union Station in somewhat of a rush. Watching George weave through Chicago Loop traffic humbled me, and I understood how he could make enough money as a bike messenger in three months to travel the rest of the year.

These events occurred two days ago, but I swear it seems like a month.

I'm writing this in Merrick State Park, 140 miles south of Minneapolis, while George builds a fire to cook the food given to us by our gracious campground hosts, Ken and Carol Johnson. They also just brought us leftovers--a special bacon-lettuce-tomato-pasta salad--from a campground staff picnic. Life is good this evening on the Upper Mississippi.

Coming up in the next installment: camping in the Minneapolis State Fairgrounds parking field, a conversation with the city manager of Prescott, Wis. and the Diamond Bluff Methodist Church ice cream social


No comments: