Ride from Hell


I recently rode my bike to Green Bay from Chicago and back. The ride up was pretty uneventful, but the ride back turned into a disaster. This is what happened:

               Ride from Hell

I can’t go back; so I just keep pedaling. It’s too hot for a long distance ride but I have no choice. My over-judgmental mother has nearly driven me mad and the deafening boredom of the Oneida reservation isn’t helping. I had planned to leave tomorrow, but I’m already on my bike, so I make a break for home. I stop at the first McDonald’s I see because the phone part of my phone doesn’t work and I can only access google maps with WiFi. As a world traveler, McDonald’s is my best friend; sure, I’m against their unlivable minimum wage and weapons-grade food, but it’s hard to stay mad at anyone {Citizens United} who gives you easy-access bathrooms, nearly free food, and free WiFi, when you’re lost and indigent in a foreign land. Even during Occupy Wall Street, as we protested the coup from multinational corporations and mega-agribusinesses, McDonald’s was the only 24 hour establishment within walking distance with toilets, coffee, and the WiFi we were using to coup back.

I find my route home to Chicago, and hop back on, though my body is not nearly ready for the 200 mile bike ride. I’m sweating and gasping and my legs are already sore a few miles in. The mental stress is the hardest. Knowing that the pain and Boredom has only begun– looking at my progress on the map to find I’m hardly a tenth there. I’ll have to do all that again. And again, and again… If I hope to make it to tonight’s destination.  And then there’s tomorrow.

Everywhere I go, These Wisconsinites glare at my bike like I’m the devil, returned to turn them all gay and drag them to hell. My Brown skin and slightly fashionable eyeglass frames make me indistinguishable from Kim Kardashian to these good ole boys and gals. I’m the only one who ordered a tea instead of Coors Lite at the Supper Club. I was the only one who was using the phrase “he don’t know shit from Shinola” with a tad of irony.

Since I’m not uncomfortable enough, two wild dogs start chasing me down. Technically, they weren’t wild– they belonged to the farmer who’s farm I was passing. But I’m from Chicago; if there is no barrier between my leg and your dog’s teeth, that beast is wild. One dog wouldn’t bother me much; I’d just dismount and keep the bike between us and jab until the dog takes a sharp pedal to the gums–but with two, it’s much harder to keep them both on the bite-less side of the bike. As the lead canine snapped closer and closer like the t-Rex/jeep scene from Jurassic Park, I swerve to beat the teeth, into the gravel on the side of the road, which quickly slides me into a deep ditch, head first, with two angry dogs growling at me. My stationary, supine pose is confusing the dogs, who 4-legged moonwalk back to the farm, still yapping.

My body is lucky to have missed the steel drainage pipe, but my bike isn’t so. Only 50 miles into my ride, my front tire is flat, rim twisted, both brakes dysfunctional and worst of all, the fork supporting my front wheel is bent back so far that it is essentially connected to the frame and completely unrideable. I tamper with it for a while, but there isn’t anything I can do. I have to carry the bike leaning on one wheel like a wheelbarrow. Holding the rest of the bike up gets heavier and heavier, block by block. My arms are too tired to keep this up so I have to either ditch the bike on the side of the road or find a random metal pole that my lock could wrap it’s arms around, in the middle of a cornfield.

The next house has its lights on. It’s nine pm, which is midnight on farmer time, so I’m surprised anyone’s awake. I knock on the door and the third attack dog of the soiree comes a barkin’.  There’s only one, so this Irish Setter has no chance in this fight.  The human comes to the door and I ask if he can call the sheriff or someone who might be able to take me to the nearest dog-less oasis.  Fortunately, the nice cheese-head was pretty handy and helped bend my fork back to a rideable angle, by pulling it.

I got back on the bike but my tire was still flat and, without the granted lights of a city, changing the flat was out of the question. I had to pump up the tire at the end of every mile.  My weather app had forsaken me and it was too cold to ride in my minimal attire, so I got off and walked. Sans the slightest clue where to stay, after an hour and a half in the stabbing cold, hypothermia began to crack in. I see a McDonald’s, where I stop and look up the location of the nearest hospital.

Heading toward the hospital, it’s getting colder by the minute and the 20 degree discrepancy between the forecast and tonight’s cold makes it clear I should have made this journey on a different day, more prepared. Finally, I reach the hospital. It’s closed. The lights are off. No one in sight. There are no bars or Walmarts or any place that might be open at midnight. I’m panicking now. I begin to circle the campus to find closed door after closed door. A sign appears, “In emergency —>”.  I find the small emergency room in the corner of the campus and enter with a shiver of relief. I sit down in the waiting room and begin to thaw. Luckily, no one bothers me for a few hours, but eventually a woman approaches me to ask, “are you waiting for someone?”. I reply, “No. I just need some shelter. I’m riding my bike to Chicago and got in an accident. I’ll take off as soon as it warms up a bit.” She smiles and walks away sweetly.

After trying to sleep sitting up in a chair, failing, I lay on the ground. It’s too uncomfortable to sleep but at least I’m out of the cold. As soon as the sun gains the horizon, I head back to the road. It’s still cold, my bike is still not fully functional, and now I’m more exhausted than ever, sleepless in Sheboygan. Two blocks in, I’m confronted by the highest, steepest mountain of a hill yet. I get off and walk. The hill is so far up that I can’t see around the bend. There are no sidewalks, so as I trudge through the shin-high grass, the lake of dew soaks through my canvas shoes, my socks and toes. I am already out of breath and energy, one mile in.

At the top of the hill I find another McDonald’s, where I stop to regroup and plan. I search for trains and buses to Milwaukee, where I’d have a place to stay, but there are zero. I can’t go any further. My body is broken. My bike is broken. My mind is delirious with exhaustion. I call my sister, my father. I can’t stand to give up–I don’t want to ruin anyone’s day to pick me up, but I’m desperate. I have no more money, no energy, my ankle was sprained in the accident and my muscles are on fire. I go stand in the road with my thumb up, but no one picks up hitchhikers in our paranoid, isolated culture–especially when that hobo is a roughed up brown man with a giant helmet who looks like I can’t even walk safely (my bike was back at McDonald’s, locked up). No one so much as made eye contact with me. I have no idea why, but I felt ashamed, like I was doing something wrong. Standing in the middle of the road, my begging thumb felt like a dunce cap.

I return to to my booth with a cheeseburger and wait for my dad’s girlfriend, who lives closer to the Wisconsin border and doesn’t have work today. I feel so helpless. Hopeless. Broke and broken. What was I thinking? What made me think I could ride to Green Bay and back, without money, food or a place to stay? God, I feel stupid. I begin to weep. Disturbing the happy fast-food patrons with my despair. I’m overwhelmed both with the sadness of a shipwrecked father and the grace of the people who love me so much to make sure nothing happens to me–who would drive to Wisconsin at the drop of a hat to pick me up. I want to save my tears for my reunion with my family, so they could see just how moved I am by their unbelievable love. I can’t help it though and I continue to let my tears salt my half-eaten BigMac as I wait for my ride to arrive and take me home.


4 thoughts on “Ride from Hell

  1. Hey, don’t beat yourself up! You achieved something amazing that I know I could never have done. You’re journey back may have had a few ‘Bumps in the Road’ but you overcame them. I’m proud of you – you should be proud of yourself too x x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Man that sounds like one helluva ride.I’m going to look on McDonald’s with some favor. Uncle rich recommends next overnight adventure be accompanied with flashlight and sleeping bag. Good luck on next ride!


  3. Jeesh, sounds like a crappy trip but I’m still pretty impressed at your gumption (not to mention that the ride out went well, I assume). While I wish you super successful rides in the future, can I just say there was something cathartic about reading about this bad one. Long distance bike rides aren’t always great, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a cyclist admit that. So, cheers to happy rides to come. And to honesty.

    Liked by 1 person

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