Saturday, June 3, 2017

Plowville, PA to Philadelphia, PA: Right where I'm supposed to be

When we last left off, I was in dire need of a place to stay. Okay, not dire need (the sun wasn't going down yet), but I was tired and worried I was going to end up doing a door-to-door. I'm not particularly religious, but it seemed almost too coincidental that upon beginning to get despondent, a cyclist coming the other way cut across the road right in front me to open his mailbox. Right in front of me. On a bike. The mailbox by his house. Where he lives. On a bike.

“Hey, how's it going?” he said as I passed by.

“Good.” I guess I was feeling confident after my success at the fire station the night before, because I followed with, “Can I pitch my tent in your yard tonight?”

Almost without hesitation, he replied, “I don't see why not.”

I dismounted my bike and we began walking down the side road that his mailbox was on the end of.

“Where are you coming from?” he said.

“Minneapolis.” He looked questioningly at me, so I continued, “I quit my job to bike around the world.”

“I like you already. I'm Ben.” We shook hands. “The offer to stay is contingent on the approval of my wife.”

We talked more as we rode down the street, and he instructed me to find a place for my tent while he went inside to check with his wife. They both came out and she shook my hand. Thus began one of the best nights of my tour so far.

Ben and Stacey are as adventurous as I am. Ben is 27 (my age!) and has moved 26 times, so he's seen his share of this country in addition to a few others, and travel comes easily to him. Shortly after their marriage, Ben fixed up a camper van and the two of them vagabonded around the country. They had just moved into this house a month ago, and were, as Ben put it, “looking to return the kindness that was so immensely given to us when we traveled in our van.” Starting with me, apparently.

Like I said, I'm not particularly religious, but this was one of those things that just seemed too coincidental to have happened without intervention from some higher power.

They happened to have leftovers upon leftovers, so I was very, very well fed. I kept asking, “Are you sure it's okay if I eat all your food?” and they kept replying, “Eat all our food.” So, I did my best. I don't think I ate it all, but it took an extra hour to fall asleep that night because my stomach had so much work to do.

There was three helpings of squash spaghetti with vegetable sauce, salad, barbecue chicken, coleslaw, cookies, and oh... strawberries.

I forget to mention in my last post that I passed stand after stand of farms selling strawberries. But I also hadn't passed a single ATM since leaving DC, and I had exactly one dollar and some change aside from my cards. So every time I passed a strawberry stand, my mouth would water and I would think, “What would they do if I asked for a dollar of strawberries?” Fresh-picked strawberries would have really hit the spot. I had been feeling this way the entire day.

Ben and Stacey worked on a strawberry farm.

So, I ate their strawberries. And played my uke for them. There was a distinct moment when I was leaning back on the couch enjoying a strawberry that I thought to myself... this is right where I'm supposed to be. And that, I think, is the best feeling a host can give a guest.

To top things off, the forecast for that night had been midnight thunderstorms. When I checked just before going to bed to see if I had to put the fly on the tent, however, it had changed to partly cloudy. Every star seemed in alignment for me that night.

They even had a bathroom just for male cyclists.

As I was packing up the next morning, Ben came out with breakfast. We chatted for a bit, hugged, committed to keeping in touch, and he went off to work. I finished packing up, went inside to say goodbye to Stacey, and was presented with second breakfast. Stacey and I fantasized about meeting up somewhere in Europe, once she and Ben buy their second camper van to vagabond again, this time abroad... Ben would pick up the bass uke, and we'd start a traveling ukulele band: The Vagabond Strings. I would have been happy staying with them for quite a while. But, the time came when I had to leave.

These mailboxes will go down in history.

The rest of the day was beautiful. I hit 2000 miles...

...was overseen by Spock, which made me smile for miles...

...found a beautiful town beside a creek and had third breakfast there, seating myself next to another traveler for company (hi Greg!)...

…and passed through Valley Forge. As soon as I saw the words “George Washington,” my mind starting playing Hamilton: “We are outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered outplanned...” (here is that part of that song if you want the full Kyle mind meld experience).

Valley Forge was beautiful. Lots of history, lots of views, and a really cool church. The church was erected recently, but with the intent of honoring the revolution and the founding of our country. The attention to detail was incredible – every window was unique, each with a different theme. Every nook and cranny seemed to have an engraving, sculpting, or symbol of some kind to give it meaning. It felt almost overdone, but I still enjoyed seeing something that so much time was put into.

Passing through Conshohoken on the way into Philadelphia, I had some time to kill, so I stopped at a local coffee shop to start on my blog. Ray was there:

Notice the Hamilton tee. Clearly, Ray is my best friend in another life.

I also double-checked my schedule and learned that, after getting to New York, I would have three days to kill between then and my flight. Feeling bold from the past two nights, I asked Ray if I could stay with him.

I will probably do an entire post on this or include it as a Musing of the Road, but the bolder I become about asking people for help, the more I feel the world is truly full of kindness. Ray wasn't able to host me, but he did ask around for me. He didn't have to do that, but he did. The kindness of strangers is sometimes so surprising, in the best way. I'm doing this trip partly to see if the world really is as scary a place as our media portrays it to be. I don't believe it is. But to have that constantly validated over and over again... it moves something inside me.

Anyways, as I was leaving the coffee shop I ran into Susan and Helen-Marie who appeared to be setting up for an event of some kind. They enthusiastically asked me about my tour, and Helen-Marie confirmed what seemed to be the theme for that day: most people would probably let me pitch my tent in their yard. Sadly, as was also the theme, I had to depart what seemed like wonderful people. I got back on the trail...

...snapped this picture...

...and noticed that part of the trail was a towpath. My second towpath! (the first was from Cumberland to DC – blog post here if you missed it).

Philly was awesome to bike through: flat, bike lanes everywhere, and respectful drivers (for the most part). I could live here one day. My host for the night? A friend of my sister's from college, Justicia, who has done a tour of her own, and her partner, Courtney. We had chorizo nachos for dinner; then, we sat on the back porch for hours. Courtney and Justicia told story after story, building off of one another like fireworks. One story would lead to another, and like this they doted on each other, made each other laugh, and recounted the history between themselves and those of others: how they got where they were, how being fiercely genuine and true to themselves was the best thing they ever did. A few times we tried to call it quits, but the night seemed to melt endlessly into itself with laughter, love, and whiskey, and just the general feeling that I belonged right where I was.

Before I knew it, it was 10:30 (on tour, with the sun as my alarm clock, I am normally asleep by 9) and I was on the futon in the guest bedroom trying to document all the details of the night lest they became a dream. Some friends caught me while I was awake, and in catching up with them, I didn't end up getting to bed until past midnight.

The past 36 hours (since the writing of this post -- it won’t go live for another day, probably) have been ones to remember. I have met so many awesome people, received such kindness and caring, and heard so many good stories. If every day on tour was like this, I would never stop. This is what touring, to me, is all about.


  1. Beyond jelly. You're having an amazing experience man :)

  2. The stars must have aligned. Wonderful blog. Great experiences. Love you, Mom

  3. So grateful to have met you Kyle! I'm hooked on your story :) You've given me a new mantra: "I'll figure it out. " Thank you for that, I have some clearing to do. I have friends all over the world and would love to connect you! Glad you're liking it here in our neck of the woods. Enjoy the shore and safe flight! Looking forward to hearing more! Give us a colorful New York story... perhaps a Bronx tale? I used to teach there... would you be able to visit my old school before crossing the Atlantic?

    1. Hi Sue! Thanks so much for the comment. Yes, things usually work out, it seems (knock on wood...). I'll see what I can come up with for stories during my time in New York! What was your school? If it's on my route to JFK I'd be happy to snap a photo for you.

    2. It was in the Bronx, not sure the route covered it! Happy to read you're safely in Europe! It all worked out :)