Life and adventures from a high school perspective
An avid cyclist, rock climber, and all around adventurer, Francis Davis is taking to the internet to share his stories of cycling, climbing, and adventuring.
The alarm went off early. I was already half awake from the suns orange rays shining through the window, not to mention the constant trains passing by. We packed quickly, but not too quickly. Breakfast, we both agreed, for the first time, was to be one of four oatmeal rations that we had packed for the trip. The stove was set up, the water measured, and the bags packed. “Where’s the lighter?” Matt asked. I looked back at him sheepishly, already knowing that we were going out again for breakfast. The result: the finest $2 Pennsylvania gas station sandwiches that I’d ever had. I guess that’s not entire true. I ate 3. Six dollars.
We were both looking forward to this day’s ride: about 20 more miles of a mild uphill gradient until we hit the Eastern Continental Divide, and then a relative plummet into Maryland, losing all of the elevation that we had gained over the last days. In the first 20 miles we met a retired veteran who claimed to be the first Navy S.E.A.L. Interesting. He wanted to tell his story, and had found a captive audience in cyclists on the GAP looking for a break from the gravel grind. We continued on, mindful of time, and the 20 miles of downhill easy pedaling was rewarding. We plunged towards Cumberland.
After Cumberland the plan was to push on about 15 more miles to a primitive hiker-biker campground on the C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal trail, the second and final trail that we were to take into D.C. That 15 miles never happened, but we did make it to Cumberland, deciding quite nicely on a place called “Queen City Creamery” for lunch. Good call.
Deli sandwich, peanut butter milkshake, cafe au lait, and cinnamon roll. One of the upshots of spending so much time biking is being able to eat four full meals a day, plus snacks, with absolutely no inhibitions and no poor effects. As we were eating lunch, the rain started.
Earlier in the morning, a more optimistic cycling duo had planned to don rain attire, and grin our way through the rain. 44 miles in, the desire had evaporated. Matt was having some mild knee issues, and we were both sore, achy, tired. The decision was made that a shower and bed for the night would be the best course of action. We were fortunate to find a nice AirBnB in Cumberland to lay our heads for the night. Another good call.
The hosts, Daniel and Donae were beyond welcoming. They were travelers too. Europe, Asia, and North America extensively. As interested as we were in talking to them, the siren call of the pillow would have been foolish to ignore. I started with an hour-long nap. Then I decided to bike the mile back into town to pick up some zucchini to compliment our freeze dried dinner. With full stomachs, we headed to bed in preparation for tomorrow’s unshifting miles plus the 15 that we had neglected that day.
Don'As the semester winds down, my eye is placed keenly towards this summer's work. There are many interesting endeavours this summer, but I am going to highlight the second moped, my first motorcycle, and my internship at Skidmark Garage in downtown Cleveland.
Moped #2: a 1980 blue Motobecane, deluxe edition. One year younger than my first, 1981 Motobecane. This one is a group project, me and my friend Matt Dierker are stripping everything down to the frame, cleaning everything, and thinking about some mild performance mods with the engine. It's going to be a lot of fun. It's fantastic that I know a lot about these bikes now, having spent countless hours on my first. Everything seems to be going more efficiently, and with a greater degree of confidence. Don't worry, we will start to mess up at some point.
Bridgestone Motorcycle: a 1971 200cc Bridgestone motorcycle. Somewhat rare. Dierker found this one on Facebook Marketplace, the seller wanted $100. As the price indicates, this bike needs an extensive amount of work. I don't even know where to begin. But that's why we're doing this project at Skidmark garage.
Skidmark garage is a community motorcycle garage in an old Cleveland warehouse, supposedly one out of forty such garages in the world. The concept is simple, members pay a monthly or yearly fee in exchange for access to tools, welders, metal benders, and most importantly, community. Skidmark is a gathering place for people with varying degrees of experience to gather, work on projects, and get their hands dirty.
Skidmark is a gruff, no B.S. work environment. The floors are greasy, and the occasional patches of sawdust indicate past oil / gas spills. It's well lit but dark in the corners. And the smells of degreaser, exhaust, and 20th century warehouse perfuse the air. I couldn't think of a better place to spend the summer. In exchange for about sixteen hours a month or more, I am benefitting from a free membership.
The people are interesting too, and that is the biggest reason to be at the garage. Being in a sea of knowledge instead of dithering about by yourself is really fantastic. Of course there is still room to mess up and fix stuff on your own, but it's really fantastic to know that the safety net exists. Last night my friend Matt and I were tearing down the moped. An older gentleman wearing a scraggly beard, camouflage MAGA hat, and the odor of cigarettes came over to compliment us on the project. He said that his cousin used to race 50cc mopeds in Europe - crazy stuff. It was a great interaction and I am excited to have many more of them!
I've been fortunate enough to have a four day weekend to commemorate the end of the semester and prepare for my intensive (journalism). After an absolute rollercoaster of events the last few weeks, I was looking forward to slowing down, enjoying coffee instead of just drinking it, and spending some quality time in the garage.
Yesterday was my day. Waking up fairly, early, I completed just enough of my homework to smother some of the guilt before I went outside. Today's task was rewiring the moped. Admittedly, I'm not great with electric so I watched a YouTube video to brush up. The journey started with the cliché run to the parts store, AutoZone. Except in this case it wasn't just AutoZone. It was two AutoZone's and a Home Depot stop later that I finally got to work, and the rhythym set in. I wanted to replace every single 40 year old wire. I worked systematically, starting with the ignition wiring and moving onto lights. The system is actually quite simple, just like everything else on that bike - easy to learn on. Every single connection went through a process. Strip the wire, flux, crimp, solder, dielectric grease, and heat shrink tubing. I enjoyed the process, the fine dielectric anti-corrosion and waterproofing electric grease permeating my hands, creating a fine film that I just could not wipe off on my jeans. I maintain that things are going well if your hands are dirty.
I stopped for lunch, driving a few minutes to our favorite neighborhood hamburger bar, Stevenson's. I hadn't been there for a while, and it was abolsutely fantastic. I replaced the dielectric grease on my hands with other grease, and all was well with the world - and yes, I sat at the bar.
With an end in sight, I carried on with the wiring. "I'm stopping at 4:00" I told myself. 4 came around, and I decided to wire the rear light too, reasoning that I should just get it all done. 9:00 rolled around, as it always does, and the bike was done. I wheeled it outside, and the new ignition cables worked quite well. The bike was quite literally - brilliant. Eagerly, I dashed back into the garage and grabbed a helmet, ready to feel the cool night air on my sweaty face. just for a quick spin around the block. I had the throttle pegged, the bike emitting its patent weedwhacker noise. The lights got really bright, then - pop, pop, pop, pop. All 4 bulbs blew. The engine still ran. One more thing to replace.
In bed, I smiled. Success always comes with failure, and now I have something to do this weekend.
This trip has been a lot of fun so far. Seeing new sights, eating good food, and relaxing in the car; all great outlets. On Tuesday night, Mom and I stayed with some old family friends outside of Portland. It was a truly excellent evening, with food, fire and company. It was also our first home-cooked meal on the trip, and that made it special. Unfortunately our visit was too fleeting, and early Wednesday morning (following a breakfast of bacon and eggs) Mom and I had to bid farewell to our friends and start the commute into Portland. Wednesday mom and I toured Reed College and Lewis & Clark University in Portland, Oregon. Both were nice, but I thought that Reed stood out with its academic rigor and unique approach with the honor code. Yesterday, we looked at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. Apparently, they don’t offer information sessions over spring break; that was very disappointing. Nevertheless, I got a good taste for the campus. Founded in 1963, it’s the newest college that we have looked at. The buildings are really beautiful, and environmental sustainability is a core of their mission. They also have a really cool dedicated bicycle workshop. Today, Mom and I are headed towards San Francisco. We are about to look at UC Santa Cruz, then University of San Francisco tomorrow. It will be really nice to be in San Francisco again as well. I should be meeting up with my friend, Matthew, for lunch, or at least coffee while we are there. Going from college to college is getting a bit routine for my taste, but I am starting to see some of the larger opportunity emerge.
Sometimes when I’m in bed late at night, just about to fall asleep, I think about the wonder of it all. In a bit over a year I could be going to school on the West Coast. In some ways, this is a really big step. In others, it seems only to be a natural continuation. I think about how independent I already am, and how I have benefitted from this independence. Spending so much time planning and executing bicycle trips and rock climbing escapades really helps me to feel confident in my abilities and in many different surroundings. In that respect, I am not at all concerned about going to college. Some of my peers are concerned with not seeing their parents or being away from home for such a long period of time. Or even having to make decisions, even easy ones like where to get food or what to do in the afternoon. Fortunately, I’m not so concerned with these aspects of going away. Concern isn’t really the right word, anyway, I think it’s more of the finality that I am in awe of. I’ve long been going on adventures, exploring the boundaries of childhood, and I think that all of it was in pursuit of a greater preparation. A preparation for the real world and all that it had to offer. Now, on this trip, the eventuality of access to the real world seems to be coming within reach. It’s tough, because I know that I’m not going to be leaving for another year and a half. And yet, seeing these colleges, touring the coast, and exploring each city, I can start to envision myself here. It’s really exciting. I’m not even sure how much I’m looking forward to it, at least now. I feel prepared, I feel excited, but I think it’s too early to really want the change. For now, the trick is enjoying the rest of it. The rest of high school, the rest of Cleveland, the rest of childhood. Ultimately, the trick is not to let the rest of these moments pass fleetingly. As good as it is to look forward; it’s just as important to enjoy what is now and enjoy what will be later. I’m not sure if that makes sense.