So there I was, exhausted, in my new tent on the first night. With the last of my phone’s battery power escaping into the aether, I observed the incoming storm. It looked like rain was going to hit at about 10pm. I climbed out of the tent just as the sun was setting, I installed the bright orange rain fly and climbed back in. I felt good only that I had succeeded in starting the journey and that I had continued in pain. I have two busted disks in my spine, so, every physical movement I make is actually a work-around to not hurt my back or to keep the nerve from getting pinched. There is a nerve in my lower back, originating between disks 4 and 5 that runs down my left leg. When that nerve gets pinched I am a goner. Literally, it feels like I am being electrocuted. Steroids were able to calm that beast a few years ago, unfortunately there remains uncomfortable twitching in that leg when stressed. The nerve that runs down my left arm from my neck is the same, the workarounds for keeping that from being pinched mostly have to do with sleeping positions, no pillows. At any rate, I was lying there feeling the nerves acting up. This creates anxiety in my mood. There was a dog barking a few hundred yards away. The deet that I had put on my face to deter ticks was stinging my eyes and I was afraid to touch anywhere near my face because the stuff is so powerful, at 100%. Could the dog smell me? Would the owners of the dog get suspicious, that someone was illegally camping in the nature preserve? Or worse, would the dog come and search me out? Would drinking teenagers come along in the night and decide to play cruel games with the stranger in their neighborhood?
The sky opened up with explosions and buckets of water, no lie. Just look up the weather report for the evening of May 15th in the area of New York State just north of Lake Carmel. The nearest town was Ludingtonville on route 52. I realized right away that no one would be exploring the nature preserve at night in the pouring rain, and in that way, I was able to rest. I fell asleep with the sound of the rain on the tent. I was dry and snug as a bug.
In the morning, at about 530am, I awoke and felt surprisingly rested. I had made it through my first night. It doesn’t sound like that big a deal, but in my mind, I had built it up to huge proportions. I had only gone about 50, out of what would turn out to be more than 5000 miles. At that one percent mark, I was devastated by what the journey had extracted from my soul and my body. I escaped the preserve and made it back out onto route 52. My next goal was Stormville which seamed appropriately named given my mood. I went down a huge hill. Maybe I hit 45 miles per hour, maybe faster. I was aware that I had been climbing all day the day before and now I was giving up all that elevation, making it harder to return to Westport, should I give up and decide to return home.
I was so excited to find a gas station that sported an electrical outlet so that I could charge up my phone. I drank coffee and took stock. I was already spending too much money. But coffee, that was needed. No getting around that. I popped and a generic Advil, chomped a B12 1000 micrograms chewable and thought about my prospects. I felt lucky to have found a gas station to charge up at. I had a portable solar panel in the side-bag but the sun wasn’t quite up yet and without google maps one is lost. I felt awkward standing in front of the gas station. Time to move on. I got lost in Stormville, even with GPS and waved down an older gentleman, who was up early, for directions.
“Well, where you going,” I remember he asked me through his pickup truck window.
“Poughkeepsie, ” I said
“Wow, that far?” he responded. it didn’t seem that far to me. The man was not able to fathom that I was riding all the way to Poughkeepsie.
“Why you want to go there, ” he asked.
“Isn’t there a bike path?” I pleaded.
“Well, yes there is,” he explained.
I didn’t have the guts to tell him I was planning on going all the way across the country, and that Poughkeepsie was just the first town along the way. It felt like an impossible dream at this early stage.
I was having doubts. Self-doubt. Mission doubt. This whole thing was crazy. But the bike was still working. I didn’t have a good enough excuse to quit, however, I was definitely looking for one. The tent had kept me dry, the phone was giving me directions and the bike was working. I didn’t have much waiting for me at home, save for my girlfriend who was not acting very happy about me or us, she was glad to see me gone I’m sure, after two months being locked up together, slowly but surely getting on each other’s nerves.
Money was an issue. I didn’t have that much money for food. I needed to really scrimp. Just in the first day I was flying through cash. I had eaten the bagel with cream cheese. There was that soda, and the coffee. I had plenty of energy bars in the bag but I was already sick of those and they weren’t proving enough energy. The money issue was could be my excuse!
Then I saw it. I was cutting through a gas station almost at the bike path that led to Poughkeepsie. On the ground was a twenty-dollar bill. I snatched up that 20 so fast a rabbit doesn’t move as quick.
This was the first sign!
I had more money in my pocket than when I had left. I hadn’t even been out there for 24 hours but it felt like a lifetime. I had experienced so much. Leaving home for strange unknown lands under my own power. The world was on lockdown. It felt like apocalyptic conditions. The Zombie Apocolypse was underway. But the 20 dollar bill was a sign. I had been thinking about the money, and then money was just sitting there on the ground. I decided to trust the will of the Gods and continue. I found that path to Poughkeepsie in Hopewell Junction and experienced my first truly enjoyable moments of the journey.