Day 23 of the 5,000-mile ride was a wild one. I started in Baytown, Texas, and headed east towards southern Louisiana; Sulphur, Louisiana, to be exact, some 115 miles away. It wasn’t the direct headwind or the lightening fast trucks screaming by on the highway, or even the wet-sauna-like conditions that made it wild, though. Nor was it the not-paved-since-the-1930’s roads, or the angry honking pickup trucks that rebelled against having to ease up for a second to pass me with all but a ¼ inch of clearance between their bumpers and me, or the biking in darkness that was wild. Today’s wild came in the distance that spanned the spectrum of humanity in the beings I encountered along the way.
At the one end of this spectrum stood an uninterested and unsympathetic gas station proprietor. He ran the only stop within 10-miles in any direction – and when you’re biking 10, 11-miles an hour, a 10-mile stretch between empty water bottles and filled ones is an endless stretch – and he could read the thirst on me as though I were a Route 66 neon sign. I filled three bottles with ice from the soda machine, grabbed and energy drink and a protein bar, and looked at him with shock when he returned only loose change from my damp $10 bill.
“How’s that 10 bucks?” I asked.
“Four for the energy drink, three for the bar, and three bottles of ice at 50 cents each. That’s how.” He grunted.
“Geez. No joke markup you got there,” I said. “And charging for ice for my bottles? You’re the first place in fifty, maybe a hundred stops that’s charged me for ice.”
He probably thought he should have charged me more.
At the other end of the spectrum stood Kallie, Shea, and Lejla. I finished biking at 8:30pm and the only non-fast food restaurant open in Sulphur at that hour was the soon to close Joe’s Pizza and Pasta. We (myself and my support crew, Chad) raced over to eat, sans shower. We were treated to smiles, a delicious and hearty Sicilian style dinner, and advice concerning the next few days’ route particulars. At the end of the meal, these ladies brought an envelope stuffed with $60 of their hard-earned money that they wanted to donate, and to top it all off, they ripped up our dinner bill.
The spectrum of humanity can expand a long ways, even only when witnessed along a 115-mile stretch of road smack in the heart of the Old South. I’ll endure a hundred unreasonable service station owners that attempt to rip away my belief in the decency of man, because I know there are always two or three hard-working restaurant servers up the road who are happily willing to fill the void.