September 25, 2012
Being sprayed last night had an effect on how we felt on waking. Christof had a headache and his allergies reappeared. For the first time since we have been sleeping outside, I felt arthritic, my joints ached and I felt stiff although it hadn’t been a cold night.
We got off at 8:30 and had a few good hours of riding before the heat set in.
When I feel like I’m incapable of pedaling, I don’t need to look at my watch to know it’s 11:00. Between 11:00 and 4:00 p.m. it is so hot that any sensible person would stay out of the sun. While planning this trip we didn’t realize how early it gets dark in the USA, and during the first few days we were still out searching for a place to sleep at nightfall. Now we like to be at our destination by 5:00 p.m. which doesn’t leave many cool hours for traveling.
Today the landscape was rolling, filled with tree farms and trucks transporting skinny pine trees. Others, loaded with chickens on the way to the slaughter house, left a disgustingly sour odor in the air long after passing. The sight and smell upset Christof who is now considering vegetarianism!
In Madison, the wonderful smell of food permeated the air as we rode into town. The parking lot in front a modest wooden house -advertising home cooking – was crowded with cars. Inside, mismatched tables and chairs, arranged randomly in a large room, gave the impression of a poor church charity. The overcrowded, steamy room was jam-packed with people from two retirement homes, the Lions Club, and sundry local people, obviously the place to eat in Madison. The main attraction was the buffet – home cooked – for $7.99, including a drink with refills and coffee.
An elderly, black woman – dressed in a stylish, long-out-of-fashion suit with a hat to match – a church- going outfit? -assumed that the buffet included service, and ordered me to fill her plate. Seeing how difficult it was for her to maneuver through the crowds, I did so accompanying her back to her table.
Exhausted and starved, I attacked the buffet like a wild animal guzzling down two full plates and three desserts. The ensuing stomach ache brought back memories of overeating as a child on Thanksgiving. Continuing on after the meal was uncomfortable, because the elastic on my bike shorts pinched my stomach.
We arranged to spend the night on Bluebird Meadow Farm in Monticello, an address we found on the warmshowers.com website.
At the end of the day we rode up a long, grassy driveway and came to a freshly mowed meadow with many different buildings and vehicles and standing in front of the house. The porch was closed off by a fence to keep animals in, so I walked around looking for another entrance. Unsuccessful, I pushed the gate aside to knock on the front door, which alerted both a dog in the kennel – and what sounded like a horde of dogs in the house – to our presence. A TV was on and someone stirred, moving towards the door I had knocked on. When Maria – our host for the evening – opened it I was shocked by her appearance. She was disheveled and her speech slurred. After shouting at a crowd of small dogs that were japing at us, and herding them back inside the house, she reappeared to welcome us. We said – feeling ill at ease, and unsure of her trustworthiness – that we didn’t want to be a burden and would gladly camp in the meadow.
She wouldn’t hear of it, and after clearing a track through the clutter blocking the stairs, lead us to the room she insisted we take. It was done completely in blue, the walls, the bedcover, the curtains and the frilly cushions piled on the bed in baroque heaps. We politely declined and repeated our wish to set up camp outside.
– This is not how things are done in my house, Maria told us emphatically, leaving us no choice but to accept the room.
She took us around the property on a golf cart, and greeted every animal on the place with the same endearment:
– Hello boo boo head!
The horse stables were empty and the chicken sheds full. She told us about the competition she and her partner are having – just for the fun of it – to see whose chickens will lay the most eggs.
– Who is winning, I asked?
– I am, Maria answered, laughing, Diane’s chickens all got mites. See those white spots where their feathers are growing back? I had to treat them with medicine.
Of the three ‘trial goats’ grazing, two were pregnant. They had tetanus in their fields and had to wait two years for it to clear off, before getting these goats. If the newborns survive, they will know that the fields are tetanus-free, and can finally start a new herd.
The eight dogs they have were given to them by people who knew that they can’t refuse a maltreated animal, and will do everything they can to nurse it back to health.
We invited our hosts for pizza, but Maria said Diane would pick some up on her way home from work.
We showered – a pile of little soaps and soft fluffy towels had been laid out for us – and she offered us the use of her van so we could shop in town. Exhausted, we declined, happy to sit and visit with her in the living room instead.
A few years ago – when Maria had both the financial resources and the time to do something for herself – she decided to go on a bicycle tour. She bought a trailer, loaded it up and hitched it to her bicycle, wondering, as she rode off, why she had trouble steering. It couldn’t be the trailer – a stable two-wheeler – that was causing the sense of imbalance, but none the less she kept falling off her bicycle. It felt like she was drunk – and although she hadn’t touched a drop – she couldn’t ride in a straight line to save her life. After swerving back and forth across the road and landing in the ditch more often than she likes to remember, she called Diane to come and get her, relinquishing her dreams of freedom and adventure only eight miles from home.
Shortly after this, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
– Now, she said, I get to hear about being out on the trail from the bicyclists that come here through warmshowers. There is only one condition to being a guest in this house, whenever you get where you are going, send me a post card!
She showed us a box filled to the brim with cards; many were photos of tanned, relaxed-looking bicyclists, smiling at the camera, from exotic destinations around the globe.
– One day, she said shutting the box, I will put these in an album.
We couldn’t help feeling downcast, knowing that this day may never come.
Diane came home bringing two large pizzas along from Pizza Hut. We ate in front of the TV with the sound turned down to enable conversation, so the ladies could sit in their comfortable recliner chairs.
Maria is Puerto Rican and has often been a victim of racism. The worst experience she had was going into a shop to buy an expensive pair of shoes with a relatively new credit card. Because the card wasn’t accepted at the cash register, the credit card company was called for verification, which was quickly given. Oddly though, the sale didn’t progress, and Maria, frustrated by the amount of time she had been waiting, turned to leave the store.
– I’ve changed my mind, she told the salesman, I don’t want the shoes after all.
The salesman asked her to wait just a moment longer, and thinking that the credit card problem had been solved, she did.
Suddenly two police officers appeared and hand-cuffed her. Mortified, she begged them to cover her hands, since they were in a mall where she feared being seen by people from work. Ignoring her request, she was exposed to the indignity of being dragged through the mall like a criminal.
Diane is a lawyer and immediately rescued her, furious at the way Maria had been treated.
Although Maria is an American citizen and has lived here for years, she has been repeatedly exposed to unfriendly behaviors because of her Hispanic background.
She can’t get a good seat in a restaurant – without Diane at her side – she is invariably relegated to the back tables next to the kitchen, and in stores she is completely ignored.
Diane and Maria built the farm and the house they live in with their own hands. Since both of them had full time jobs, they did the work during the evening.
They bred Tennessee Steppers for years in the now empty stables, special high-stepping horses who either walk or gallop, never deigning to trot. Occasionally they made money on a horse but more often took losses. After switching to goat farming – the sanctioned meat for the Muslim and Jewish communities – they discovered the market to be competitive and hard to break into.
During all this activity they adopted a family of four Mexican children from Arizona, since same-sex couples can’t adopt children in the State of Florida. Maria moved to Arizona for half-a-year, and Diane spent a month there, in order to qualify for the adoption.
The children had been victims of severe sexual abuse, so the State of Arizona was happy to find a couple willing to take all four of them. Although they invested everything they had to help them, psychiatrists and tutors for each child, setting up a program of chores and homework to teach responsibility and to help stabilize them, the children – especially the eldest – tried to shake off the regiment by telling the authorities lies about their caregivers. They accused them of sexual abuse, which backfired when the ladies refused to be blackmailed by their teenagers. They wanted to keep the youngest, but were unwilling to continue raising the older children. The state of Arizona said it was all or nothing – so, unfortunately, the adoption was terminated.
The children are still attached to both Maria and Diane today, visiting them for Christmas and staying in touch by telephone and email.
Before their intestinal bypass operations, Maria and Diane were ‘tubbies’ weighing in at between 200 and 300 pounds!
They literally broke their backs doing the hard physical labour on the farm, and both of them suffer today from the pain and immobility that the accidents caused.
Christof thanked them for their hospitality and spoke of their generosity and altruism in caring for animals, children and cyclists.
Diane waved his words away saying they aren’t altruistic because they enjoy what they do.
Maria is happy to have people bringing in stories about their cycling adventures because she can no longer get out, and through them is vicariously connected to the world.