24. Martinsburg: Cycles of Somnambulism


October 29, 2011


There’s been a light, cold, steady rain falling here for hours.


Yesterday there was a threat of rain changing to snow, but all I got on the top of my tent was a light rain – as I listened to every inning of that phenomenal game six of the World Series on my radio.


It was cold this morning as I sipped powdered coffee from my camp stove in the woods, but the sky was blue.


Now the weather forecast for Martinsburg, WV, says “mixed rain and snow overnight … [with] Rain and snow in the morning turning to all snow. Snow may be heavy at times in the afternoon … Snow accumulating 4 to 6 inches.”


When I got to Winchester around noon, something shut off inside me and I made up my mind to rent a car and drive straight home.


In fact, I was lucky again, in the sort of way that fairly often happens: by being stymied in what I thought I wanted.


I went after a cheap motel room, intending to watch the 7th game of the World Series and rent a car the following day. They said they had Internet wifi, but when I’d unpacked and set up in my room, the wifi wouldn’t work. So I asked for my money back and reloaded my bike – quite a chore – without the least irritation. They let me use the phone in their office to arrange for a rented car. If I had waited another day, the agency would have been closed for the weekend, and who knows what I would have done.


This is a good time for me to call it quits – rather than a day or three or five from now, out in the sticks someplace, on slippery and treacherous roads, in foul weather, with no public transportation or car rental agencies – many of which, incidentally, won’t rent in one direction. The first place I called this afternoon, Enterprise, would only rent for local use.


Discretion is the better part of valor. I’ve run up 2045 miles on my bicycle odometer, pushed myself and gotten by OK. I shouldn’t press my luck. It’s better to quit while I’m still ahead. I’m tired, more than ready to get back home and return to a semblance of normal living. So I feel good about this move, even though I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do. Or – who knows? – maybe I did, in some way I don’t yet understand.


I experienced a serious affliction this past week which slowed me up and had me calling ahead to the VA hospital here in Martinsburg.


That second night back at Gentry’s Landing campground, I felt a sore throat coming on. I didn’t take precautions to nip my illness in the bud. Starting back around Buchanan, my throat was so sore for a couple of days that it felt like I had a razor blade lodged in there. The pain was so acute one night that I could hardly sleep. I was coughing thick phlegm up from deep in my lungs, my muscles ached, and my energy was gone. For about three days, the trip was no fun at all.


Wednesday I stopped at a very shabby motel. Fortunately, the World Series game was canceled due to rain, and I went to bed early. My bed sheets got soaked with sweat in the first half of the night, but I turned a corner and felt I was getting better. There were moments as I lay there, drifting back to sleep after a trip to the bathroom, when I felt the stirrings of joy inside of me again. Later, on the road, I could feel my strength returning and, again, it made me smile just to gaze out on the open road winding over lovely autumn vistas, and to breathe the crisp air.


Now, there is another aspect to this whole adventure that I feel compelled to mention, only because I’ve experienced it so intensely.


I am not a spectator in any sense. Least of all do I follow professional sports. I generally regard public spectacles as a form of mass delusion, and I regret that so many of my contemporaries give so much of their energy and power away to these various distractions in the realm of entertainment. I think this is one of the principle reasons our world is in the dire situation that it’s in. Which is not to say that there’s anything inherently wrong with sports or film or entertainment or even spectatorship – but only with the deadly trap these pleasures have been fashioned into for the masses.


But consistency is the bugbear of small minds, and I began to indulge myself in a spectator’s passion for baseball when my hometown St. Louis Cardinals went into the playoffs against Philadelphia. At that time, I knew none of the players and nothing about the league competition up till then.


I did grow up in St. Louis, you know, perhaps the most passionate baseball city in the country. Baseball is the only professional sport I have the least interest in. I suddenly quit being an ardent fan in the early spring of 1965 – due to circumstances I wont digress into here – but I never lost my appreciation for the game.


So I have just finished watching the Cardinals win the World Series, here in this Martinsburg motel room, and I am very happy. This outcome is significantly associated with my journey – vulgar as that may sound – and I feel good about closing my bicycle adventure on this note.


The coming-from-behind, dark-horse aspect of the Cardinals’ whole run – during exactly the two-month period when I’ve been occupied with this excursion, leading up to their final triumph tonight – seems particularly meaningful.


The theme of late-bloomers and underdogs has been a keynote in my life. It’s characterized a lot of my favorite stories, personal myths and heroes, from childhood on. I would enjoy elaborating on that now, if only I had the time. I will limit myself to embellishing a single, loosely related observation.


As I sat for hours in my tent last night, feeling sure that the Cardinals had flubbed it, not once but repeatedly, that they were badly outplayed, even with the other team’s mistakes, I kept wondering why I didn’t just turn off the radio and go to sleep. I didn’t have an answer. They kept drawing back into the game … then getting knocked back down. And I was just inclined, I guess, to be a diehard.


During those last, incredible, late-inning comebacks, I won’t claim that I actually believed, but I did start saying to myself … if they can do that one more time, and actually win this game, I’ll believe that anything is possible.


There is something wonderful about taking that conviction back home with me tomorrow – to whatever it is that’s in the offing, in the various aspects of personal and public reality that I’ve been studying intensely now for … well, perhaps about half of the 10 years since 9-11 … that I’ve been experimenting with, dabbling in, puzzling over and wondering about in this particular, roughly coherent segment of my life.


I am still at a loss as to where I am going or what exactly is coming down around me in this immensely volatile world. Unlike my brother Tom, however, I still have the gift of life and health, I am still in play, and as my childhood baseball heroes proved to be these past two months, I am keyed up for my improbable existence right here on the edge – playing all out for total glory and ultimate triumph, whatever that may consist of – by letting the game unfold as it will and staying with it, one pitch, one batter, one inning at a time.


There is also an element of serendipity, or meaningful coincidence, in events as they unfold. This is a phenomenon I’ve observed for years now, and I think it’s something real, woven into the very structure of the Cosmos, if only we have eyes to see it, and the consciousness to look.


One of the seasoned announcers said last night that he’d never seen a game like that one the Cardinals won so unbelievably. I’m sure his statement was no exaggeration.


Now, I absolutely loathe commercials. I cannot abide manipulative sales pitches, yammering voices, hyped-up emotions … all of which could scarcely be more out of synch with whatever it is that you’re listening to that’s being interrupted. So I would turn off the radio between innings and read a few more paragraphs of The Sleepwalkers by Arthur Koestler, which I’ve been so slowly working my way through.


The book was reaching a sort of climax, halfway through, that reverberated in the most uncanny way with that – “immortal” – sixth game of the World Series, as I heard it described on television tonight. Koestler applies this same word, “immortal,” to Kepler’s Second Law (332). He sums up Kepler’s accomplishment in the following grandiose statement: “The great Ferris wheel of human delusion, with its celestial catwalks for the wandering planets, this phantasmagoria which had blocked man’s approach to nature for two thousand years, was destroyed” (338).


Recall now the title of Koestler’s book, and note the plural form of this noun. It doesn’t refer only to Johannes Kepler.


I can’t resist quoting the passage that I read, virtually awestruck, over and over again, during commercial breaks amidst the last three innings of last night’s wild, see-saw, error-ridden game:


Yet the last step which had got him out of the labyrinth had once again been a faulty step . . . . The correct result is even more miraculous than Kepler realized, for his explanation of the reasons why his errors cancel out was once again mistaken, and he got, in fact, so hopelessly confused that the argument is practically impossible to follow – as he himself admitted. And yet, by three incorrect steps and their even more incorrect defense, Kepler stumbled on the correct law. It is perhaps the most amazing sleepwalking performance in the history of science – except for the manner in which he found his First Law, to which we now turn (332-3).


Such are the greatest accomplishments of the greatest scientific minds of the ages, of the greatest athletes and sports teams, and … I suspect … of the rest of us more or less average folks, who may paradoxically exhibit our own greatness of spirit, albeit on the most minor and unlikely fields of endeavor.


However unnoted or inconsequential our most cherished deeds, doesn’t it happen, if we persist, that error compounds upon ridiculous error to yield the most magnificent results? It’s as if, on the most fundamental level, the miraculous is woven into the very fabric of the Cosmos; as if we are simultaneously confounded, directed, and benignly laughed at … while, in truth, anything is possible.


So I have unwound 2045 miles on my bicycle odometer. My improbable, oddball odyssey has suddenly reached an unanticipated finish line. Long before this hour tomorrow, I should be safely back at home.


I do need to get up very early. The agency in Clifton where I’ll return my rented car closes at 4 p.m. and doesn’t open again until Monday. So if I’m late, I’ll have to pay for three days instead of only one. No way I want that to happen!


Therefore, I’m going to call this a “posting,” or a “page.” I’ll attach several token photos from the past few days. Sometime after I’m settled back in at home – within a week, I would think – I’ll fill in the details of this last leg of my journey, and aim at putting closure on this entire ad hoc project.


  • #8820 – Relatively easy road, beautiful countryside, excellent weather. 24 Oct. 
  • #8841 – Main drag through exquisite, historic Lexington, site of Stonewall Jackson’s grave. 25 Oct. 
  • #8850 – At the edge of the Food Lion parking lot in Staunton. Garlic, honey, apple juice, squeezed lemon, fresh fruit … anything to blunt that murderous pain in my throat. As I was concocting my potion, a black guy drove up in a large, old, no longer sleek vehicle, his lady beside him, and asked if I was in trouble. “Do you need a couple of bucks?” I didn’t have enough of a voice left for him to hear, but I smiled and shook my head to convey polite refusal. I must have looked like a pretty sad hobo to earn that solicitation. 26 Oct. 
  • #8857 – Sunrise from the doorway of my skuzzy motel room on the south side of Harrisonburg. I knew by this moment that I was getting the better of my illness. 27 Oct. 
  • #8900 – Critical juncture. At Winchester, VA, this morning. 28 Oct. 
  •  #8903 – Ready to leave for Martinsburg, WV, to catch the ballgame on TV, to grab a bit of sleep, then make a 300-mile drive home tomorrow. 28 Oct. 


The light, cold, steady rain is falling. It’s almost 5 a.m. I’ll only sleep an hour before starting my drive home.

I continue to push myself … back and forth, between highways both metaphorical and physical.






  1. braindew says:

    A good Go player knows when to quit. 🙂

    It would have been nice if there was good weather for one more week, but since the weather vetoed you, it is better to choose to get home in one piece, and a healthy one.

    But even you quit before finish line, this is still a win 🙂

  2. It was a pleasure meeting you and hearing about your trip. I envy the courage it took to make such a trip, and am very glad that the outcome was good. I have been following your journey online and have found it interesting.

    Maxine Houser, Librarian, Golconda Public Library, Golconda, Il.

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