Friday, November 18, 2011

The Hoppy Wanderer

Friends: The Don had an epiphany in Clinton, Arkansas, the evening after we went our separate ways and has adopted another identity, "The Hoppy Wanderer." Here he recounts how it came to be, a moment he refers to as the "Immaculate Conception."

Standing out front of a Motel 6 in a dry county in Arkansas is an unlikely place to start the "Hoppy Wanderer" project, but something about pavement as far as the eye can see inspired me: a landscape of McDonald's, Hardees, Taco Bell, and, just over the horizon, a Super Walmart, all joined by the lifeline of petroleum: the vehicles, corpuscles in the asphalt veins that supply these organs of commerce with their nutrients.

But beyond the neon clutter I could see a backdrop forming. I raised my right hand to shield my eyes from the glare of the Waffle House parking lot lights to see the sunset, and a welcome sight appeared in the foreground: a bottle of Shiner Bock from Spoetzle Brewery (est. 1909) in Texas. I held it high and the sunset became a new dawning: the birth of the age of the Hoppy Wanderer. I had just pulled the Bock from the bottom of my right pannier, attached to my Cannondale mountain bike, in my room (#116, complete with HDTV, microwave, and, conveniently, a refrigerator). This bottle, and five of its companions, along with one renegade Samuel Adams Stout, had been buried there since leaving Pinewood Cabins in Mountain View, two dry counties and two days ride north.

How did that beer end up in your pannier in a dry county? you may ask the Hoppy Wanderer. This is a good question because not even the non-God-fearing minority of store owners responded as desired to my knowing wink and "under the counter" hand motion when asking "Oh, come on. Really? Just how dry IS this county, my friend?"

My last bicycle tour with George Christensen, a fellow Chicago cyclist, was from Minneapolis to Chicago, ten years ago. Since then he's toured all over the world, and I bought a hotel in Ecuador. Now we're on a "reunion" tour from St. Louis to Little Rock, through the Ozark Mountains. An unlikely riding partner for the Hoppy Wanderer, since George neither mountain bikes or drinks beer or smokes, all vices hard-wired into the Hoppy Wanderer's knees, stomach, and lungs, respectively.

But ya basta this digression: the point is George does not like to live a day off his bike, so when I told him I planned to spend the day doing single track through the Fall colors of the Ozark National Forest, he offered to make a "beer run" from this "black hole for alcohol" (as he so alliteratively put in his blog) to the nearest liquid oasis at the Baxter county line, twenty miles away. If I hadn't already been convinced of the existence of a God by the clever Bible snippets on a multitude of holy highway marquees we'd passed, I was when I returned to Pinewood Cabins after the eight-mile single track loop to a refrigerator with a six-pack of Sam Adams Stout and one of Shiner Boch, the last of which I'm shading my eyes with as I watch the sunset.

My life was surely blessed, if not by God, then at least by George, but as frequently happens, I had to make a difficult choice: which to open first? Unlike the Bock, the Stout had twist-off caps. This wouldn't normally be an issue but my Leatherman was obviously not designed with the Hoppy Wanderer in mind, and has no bottle opener. So the choice was manifest. Thus, destiny determined, by elimination, that Shiner Bock, was to be the inaugural brew of the Hoppy Wanderer's many future bike & brew product investigations, in a dry county in the Bible Belt. An Immaculate Conception if ever there was One!


"Drank One, Thanked One"

Cameron, the U.S. Marine, and his girlfriend just returned from a cigarette run in their Hummer and I'm sitting with them at the Capprichio Bar in the Peabody Hotel in downtown Little Rock because they just bought me a Diamond Bear Pale Ale, locally brewed 2 blocks away. ( "A balanced classic English Ale, medium bodied with both sweetness from the malt and a pleasant hoppy aroma. O.G. 13.4P, I.B.U. 33") They're looking at the 10ft by 20ft mirror on the wall behind the bar and fantasizing about having it on the ceiling of their bedroom.

I tried that one go and order another Diamond Bear. Am I really sitting here drinking with a Marine Bud-Liter with a Hummer? Travel, especially doing micro-brew research alone by bike, sometimes yields strange bar-fellows. Cameron and Shiela are at the Peabody because they were attendees at the Marine Ball last night, and it appears have been drinking ever since.

We all go for a smoke outside and Cameron gives a homeless man $20 and tells him to go get drunk. He asks me for a cigarette and I say I only got non-filter Camels is that OK? "Beggars can't be choosers," the beggar says.

To spark conversation I tell Cameron I live in Ecuador, expecting the usual puzzled look. But he knows that's where the Galapagos are and goes into a creationist lament about how he was raised a Southern Baptist but on the other hand Darwin had some good points.

Back at the bar, in front of the big mirror, he introduces me to his friend, Tracy, also a Marine. But he's studying Geology at Hendrix College in Conway, an upscale suburb of Little Rock I had just ridden through on my way in. ("Does that make you a Marine Geologist?" I asked). He notices I'm the only bar-fellow having micro-brew and he tells me about Bosco's, a brewpub down the street. I'm out the door and when he and Sheila join me later I've already half-glassed their Hop Harvest Porter, dark and full-bodied, brewed with "citra" hops, "cones" fresh out of the field, dried and cured. (O.G. 1062, I.B.U. 35).

As I contemplate the porter in my glass I'm reminded of mountain biking in the Ozarks last week, and an especially contemplative moment when I stopped to sit on a rock outcropping I assumed was an ancient granite slab, the bedrock underlying the trail I'd been riding. Across the valley (or "holler" as they say here) the trees were still in foliage and a slight breeze was making them shimmer, as if alive (well, they are, aren't they?) in the sun, itself receding to the southwest. Since I happened to be sitting next to a geologist, I mentioned the rock to him, curious if he had any idea how old it might be. He said the rocks in the Ozarks aren't granite at all, but sedimentary, formed under ancient oceans and revealed when the oceans receded. A little more Ozarkian geology-talk and my porter-level recedes and reveals the bottom of the glass, and I have to get to the Amtrak station to head to Chicago so so-long Tracy come down to Ecuador to study volcanoes sometime. "Drank One."

The train's 30 minutes away and the harried ticket agent's got a bike box, but no tools and I'm on my own as far as boxing the bike. Twenty minutes away and I have no pedal wrench. Fifteen minutes away and where's my allen wrench? I'm trying to remove the pedals with the pliers on my Leatherman when an Amtrak porter shows up with a 15-mm open-end and removes the pedals. Five minutes away and a young Amish man helps me put the bike in the box. But no tape! The train's loading and where's the ticket agent to check the bike? The porter says maybe he can send the bike on the next train and runs to find out. He can't find the ticket master, and I'm watching the train pull out. But the porter went beyond the normal porter duties, and I thank him. "Thanked one."

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