July 18 - The Grand Duke of the Hoboes

After our "rest" at King's Island amusement park, our plan was to go from the northeast suburbs of Cincinnati to Seymour, IN in one day. Cheryl would ride the early morning leg only, and then go on with the kids to spend the day with her parents at her aunt's home just outside of town.

Knowing that we had over 100 miles to bike, we tried to get an early start. Sunrise is at 6:30, and we left at 7. We followed a set of "biking suitability" maps provided by the OKI (OH-KY-IN) Council of Governments for the four counties around the city. Recommended roads were in blue, tolerable roads were in yellow, no-nos were in black dashes, and freeways were thin black lines, almost invisible. We traced a "blue" route south of Hamilton and then down the Great Miami River to Cleves, where we would hit US 50 for 70+ miles into Seymour.

The maps worked perfectly, and the roads were as advertised. Because it was rush hour, there was some traffic, but nothing thick or difficult. Most of the rip was through farms or developing suburbs. The last 10-15 miles down the East River Road were entirely quiet, and the trees canopied over us, giving some shade from the intensifying sun.

We said good-by to Cheryl at Harrison Rd. Cody started baking biscuits, his favorite morning snack. "Look at how the grease just oozes out of them, " he said as he checked them for brownness. A little fight erupted among our three kids over who would have how many, and of which shape, but by their lunch stop at Seymour, things were fine again.

Will and I switched gear from the tandem to the singles, loaded up Camelbacks and water bottles, and took off. We had shade for about an hour more, until we hit the Indiana state line and a four lane road. Traffic was still light; this highway had been in major use before Interstates, but now qualified as a back country road.

The temperature quickly climbed from 85 to 93 F, with few to no clouds. A pace of 15-20 miles provided the usual breeze; coupled with the developing headwind and constant fluid intake, we felt we could tolerate the day. We stopped every 10-12 miles not to rest muscles, but just to find shade, wipe of sweat, and cool down a bit. We ended our second 35 mile segment after 43 miles (estimates of mileage always vary from the actual) in Versailles, where we found a less than palatial McDonalds, and drowned ourselves in ice tea (me), and Coke (Will), with s supplemental shake, fries, and burger. An hour there revived our internal thermostats sufficiently so we could continue. Although it seemed like a full enough day already, we still had over 30 miles to go.

Ten miles down the road, in Nebraska, IN, I pulled off the road under a stand of trees to finish the last of my ice tea I'd stashed from McDonald's in my water bottle. This franchise had featured a "hostess", who looked an awful lot like a Wal-Mart "greeter". She met us at the door where we were locking our bikes together. "I really don't think you'll need to lock those. We never have any trouble with anybody taking any bikes."

"Well, we're just going to lock them together, remove any temptation..." I said. I didn't want to go into our utter reliance on them, to say nothing of the combined price tag, which made us a little more nervous than the average 12 year-old Huffy owner.

During lunch, she kept coming over, asking if we could use anything. Will took her up on her offer of ice for his Camelback. I took the second 32 oz ice tea, drank some, and put the rest, with ice, into my water bottle. It lasted less than an hour on the road.

As I squeezed out the final dregs of tea, I noticed we'd stopped by a chicken wire fence. Inside, a stout but calm black dog observed us with a languor only that heat could produce. He looked like he really wanted to bark at us, to let us know just where his yard ended, but he couldn't get it out between pants. He needed that tongue hanging out constantly to keep cool, I guess. So he just sort of smiled at us, and followed us with his eyes.

As we watched the dog, we saw a man come limping over to us from the small store near the grove. Although walking with a cane, he seemed to be coming towards us with a purpose at a fair clip. We'd stopped next to a 25' travel trailer, and worried that he was going to shoo us out of the shade, off his land. Pre-emptively, I said, "Hi!."

"Where you boys headed on them bikes?" he asked in a curious tone. He wore a checked shirt with a blue feed cap. I notice he also had an undershirt on in the heat.

"Well, we're headed to Seymour today," I ventured.

"You know, last week some boys came through here on bicycles, I think they were from Kentucky, looked like college boys, said they were on their way to California," he started. He had one tooth, off center on the bottom. His nose was a bit bulbous, and sort of puffed out with a divot missing near one nostril. He looked about 75 years old.

"We're going to Washington State, going across the country." I kept my answers short. He repeated what I said ("Washington State"), to let me know he'd heard and understood.

"I bet you don't know you're talking to the Grand Duke of the Hoboes." I repeated that, to let him know I understood him, which was kind of tough, him having only one tooth and all. I'd taken my shirt off as usual at this stop, and started to put it back on, in deference to his status. "Yep, went out to Iowa for the national [train] convention, and got elected Grand Duke, You know, every year, they elect a King and Queen of the Hoboes..." He then launched into an incomprehensible story of two recent royalty, whom he apparently knew personally. Since I'd not made their acquaintance, I had trouble following him.

Then he got back to biking, which perked my interest again. "Yep, last week these young fellows came through here on their way to California, from Kentucky, I think." We talked a bit about the weather they might encounter this time of year on their route, and he said, "They were going some special way to avoid the climbs. They said they'd send me post cards from where they went. People pass through here all the time, send me post cards; I've got 'em from all over."

I noticed his shirt pocket was stuffed with about 10 blank post cards, and other papers. "Well, give me your address, and I'll be sure to write you one when we get back, from Gig Harbor." He whipped out a pen, for me to write down his address. It took about 4 minutes for this, as he interrupted his address three times with new stories, one to tell me about his time as postmaster at Nebraska (IN), before they closed the office, now its Butlerville 4 miles down the road...

I handed him one of our Bikrutz cards, showed him our names and where we were going (but didn't point out the web address). I doubt he could read anything on the card; Cody made them, based on his 16-yr old eyes, and this man did not have any glasses on. I promised to send him a card from Miles City.

As we started to hop on our bikes, he began to tell me about his time as a cook and roustabout with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. I quizzed him for a bit about this, but the road was pulling us out, and the promise of a cold beer and warm shower. As I pedaled off, I mused that maybe it would be more efficient just to shower in the beer.

Miles: Will, 115; Al (Tandem & single) 115; Cheryl (Tandem) 35.

Total miles: 1088

**Next Day's Journal**

-Al Bikrutz