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Oberlin of Dreams

Leaving downtown Cleveland, I saw this courthouse. One idea from the bicycle trip was that Albany, Buffalo, and Cleveland have great city-scape features that would make any cyclist proud to be an American. Aside from the chaos in the streets, I was feeling at home wherever I went and more so, the further west I traveled. I felt every town to be more American than the previous ones. Obviously, some towns have unique features as such we will be discussing Photo: Todd Tracy/ For Odyssey X — Cleveland, Ohio May 30, 2020

In my mind, Oberlin was a music school that I had thought about, over the years. My first career was that of a musician. There were a small few music schools under my radar. My radar included Oberlin because everything I had read about it seemed to ring true to me, as I had thought about the art form, earlier in my career. Oberlin was a pre-Hollywood idea, in my development as a musician. It represented pure musical health, to me personally because of some immature cultural fad probably, but I still wonder what it would be like to go there. One idea that stuck about Oberlin, was that I probably would never be able to get into the school.

I also figured that a college town might provide the kind of external input, to serve as a contrast, from the cities. The countryside just outside of Cleveland, filtered out into a long boulevard. I had found Ithaca to be a major inspiration, there was a lot out there, to ride and see. Making it to Ithaca was the first big leg of my journey. I was hoping that maybe Oberlin could be cool. But I was becoming increasingly aware that I was never sure what to expect.

A town would be thought about for hundreds or thousands of miles. But when one got there, they were always completely different than great expectations. So it was always a mind fuck, when I would finally get to a town. Because I never knew what to expect. I had to shift my attention to my always changing surroundings.

When I was finally out of the city, I came upon a town called Rocky River, Ohio. I pulled into the gas station right off the main road from Cleveland,  the proscribed route out of the city by the SWAT personnel, confirmed by the state cops positioned along the main roadway. Apparently, there was only one way for me to go because I was pointed that very way, by multiple authorities at the big intersections all along, and they all pointed me in that one same direction.

Rocky River was it. I had the benefit of being able to continue moving, on the bicycle for mile after mile, and now day after day. I started meeting people right away. It was the friendliest city or small town I had ever been to. The guy who ran the gas station said I could hang out and charge up my phone. Everybody from the entire town stopped by,  and into that gas station while I sat out front drinking the coffee that I had wanted all day. I had started in Ashtabula, and then through Cleveland, and now in the outskirts, where I felt like it was a good place to stop, mostly because everyone was so friendly. I could have lived easily, it was like the Westport of Cleveland. I felt at home.

I finally had to move on after everybody passed on their good vibes to me. There were seemingly endless shopping centers. It got dark. I remember now that I was more than a little concerned about it getting chilly. You will remember that I had sent my sleeping bag and jacket back to Connecticut, out of an abundance of weight-saving concern. I went into a Walgreens right before they closed and bought some clothes. All they had was an Ohio t-shirt. I continued on, I wasn’t really tired. Eventually, and I mean after midnight, I found a bike path that was to take me straight to Oberlin.

I can remember being in my late teens and looking into Oberlin School of Music. And I can remember, this was pre-internet, reading about the town where the school was located and the wonderful descriptions of the town. I can’t remember the exact words but only the impact those words had upon my imagination. The words must have been powerful enough to bring me all the way there.

My view of Oberlin, Ohio as the sun began to rise on the morning of May 31, 2020. Photo: Todd Tracy / Odyssey X

The town was deserted. It was really cold. I had to keep peddling to stay warm. I got off the path and was transported to a downtown. I could see the university buildings. Everything was closed, save for one gas station. In the middle of the night, there was nothing for me to do there. Because of the pandemic, all the students had gone to their respective homes around the world.

I sat on a park bench trying to remember the description of the town from so many years ago. Slowly that description was being replaced by my new ex[periences of the town itself. I wanted to hang out at the school but it was closed. I wanted to sleep but there was no0where to set up the tent. I wanted to rest because I had about 24 hours in on this leg of the trip, but it was too cold to stop. I moved on.

Just as I was leaving Oberlin, Ohio I saw this building. Photo: Todd Tracy

The sun popped as I was leaving Oberlin, the town of my dreams and aspirations.

The reality was that I had been able to skip formal music education and move right into the Hollywood music scene as a producer and musician. Oberlin had been an idea for a vehicle to make that happen but I had made it happen without Oberlin, or USLA Composition, or the Disney art school just outside of LA. Hollywood in my 20’s was the kind of place where enthusiasm could take one places.

Now I was in my fifties and I was looking to get that enthusiasm going again. Bike riding was providing that spark to my soul. Music had burned a hole in my soul and bicycling was filling it back in.

At this stage of the journey, I was beginning to feel rather strong. I had made it through Brewster, Poughkeepsie, Albany, Utica, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Cleveland, and now past Oberlin.

I still hadn’t mapped out my route across the country. But that morning I decided that Des Moines, Iowa was the place I needed to get to. It was 680 miles away from Oberlin. If I could get to Des Moines I could make it to Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain in Colorado, or Glacier in Montana. Either way, I had to make the 600 miles to Des Moines.

Right away the morning opened up to the mid-west. I was now in a different region of the country. The great plains opened up before my eyes. The towns became separated by huge fields. This was the real America.

I found another bike path. Ohio was great for bike paths. So far everywhere I had been was super-friendly to bicyclists. It was weird that because of the pandemic I was the only bicyclist out there. I never ran into another cyclist. I did feel alone.

I was in touch with my friends through Facebook. In fact, if it wasn’t for them the journey would not have been possible. I talked to my girlfriend back home in Fairfield about every other day. My sisters were following my adventure on the internet and were intent on making sure I was okay.

But still, I was all alone out there, in the middle of America. I found a path. I found a small town out in the middle of Ohio. I never really found a good place to set up the tent. I kept going and going until the trail finally ended at a town called Bellevue. I was starving and managed to make it to a Mcdonald’s. One wasn’t allowed to sit inside because of Covid. The heat of the day had returned and I had not frozen in the night but I had not slept either. I was able to charge up a little outside the Mcdonald’s. I was shot. I had seen the VFW about a quarter of a mile back up the very busy road. There was a park bench and a huge field behind the VFW building. The building was closed, all bars and meeting houses were closed. I lay down in the parking lot behind the dumpster hoping no one would stumble upon me. I needed rest big time. I had pushed a little too far. That day was Ashtabula, Geneva on the Lake, Cleveland, Rocky River, Oberlin, Norwalk, and now Bellevue

I got a strange idea. For the very first time, I thought maybe I should get a hotel. I typed into google, “motel near me.” A result came up! 1000 feet away was a motel for 50 bucks. Jesus. Right there. This was a sign. I walked the bike over to the motor-lodge. The host took me right in and gave me a room. He said that because I had ridden the bike all that way, he was going to give me the extra big room with all the extras, for the little room price!

In a moment I was transported into another world. A world of luxury and cleanliness. I took a really long shower. My wounds were pretty bad. My hand had started to heal but the layer of skin on my left palm was still quite thin. I realized then the anti-infection cream was working. I had a major rash on my ass that was still getting worse.

I saw the George Floyd video on TV for the first time. I hadn’t been sure what to make of the protest or riots. I still wasn’t sure what to make of any of it. The video was terrible. I didn’t enjoy getting the news update. America was erupting in violence, in all the major cities. There was a cultural shift happening, just in the couple of weeks I had been out there. May 31, 2020, was the day I checked into my first hotel, I had left Westport, Connecticut on the 15th of May after two complete months of lockdown.