Riding a bike is a seriously different experience than driving in a car, especially when it comes to small towns. In a car you blink and you have passed through small towns. Especially the really small ones, you barely ever stop unless it is to use the restroom or stock up on gas. On a bicycle however you actually get to experience small towns on a minuscule level. For one thing you actually see and observe the people living there. You see the kids hanging out at the grocery store and can make out their mullet hair cuts and poorly applied make up. You see the crazy looking guys with the greasy hair cooking meth behind his trailer while you pedal in absolute fear from his pitbull who starts chasing you down the road. You have to answer the curious gas station attendants question when you go in to refill on water and cliff bars and have to endure the various comments people yell at you from their pick ups while passing you on the highway.
Curiously, the two most common questions have been: are you married? And, are you a communist?
Seriously. What is it about small town Americans being weird? It is like the chicken and the egg dilemma: do small towns make Americans weird or do weird Americans just like to hang out in small towns?
Either way it is this odd mixture of of depressing, fascinating and eye opening. Because despite my predjudices and perhaps slightly classist ideas about small towns, cycling has actually given me more of an opportunity to interact with small town Americans than I ever would driving by. And there have been an equal amount of eye opening experiences that have changed my views slightly. Because for every meth cooking greasy whacko you have an equally weird but super nice gas station attendant that drives 5 miles after you to return those water bottles you forgot, or who gives me a free sandwich cause I must be hungry and his BBQ sauce is the best in the valley or offers to drive me over the next hill because why would I cycle if I could drive?
And maybe that is a little bit more of what we need. We get such fleeting and one-sided impressions while driving. Once you slow down and are forced to observe and interact with people they become a little bit less of a circus freak show and a bit more just like people trying to make their way in the world. So while I still find the small towns a bit depressing, alienating and weird they are my reality for the next while and in the end, weird makes a way better story and experience than normal.