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Rocking it across the South

On the way to Oberlin. One of the days of my epic bicycle journey.

By Oleksandr MatvyeyevPublished 9 months ago 8 min read

Mark decided to show me the old way out of Baton Rouge. As we wavered through the bushes my escort spilled some morning sailor's wisdom “We are better than everybody!" Then he added:" But in fact, we are just like everybody else”. What can I say? I am just a guy from Ukraine on a journey to find my vocation. After about one hour it was time to say goodbye to each other and part our ways. I sure wished Mark to go on his own journey.

Clear path

After I crossed a giant bridge with yellow cables I remember seeing a kingsnake gracefully crossing under a nearly fully flooded overpass. It was the first live snake I saw since I got off the train in Jacksonville. About thirty feet later I saw somebody’s drive-in gate with a strange yellow sign that said “No drugs”. I decided to stop and take a picture since it struck me as something unusual. I took my shoes off to get my feet wet. It felt nice and cool on a hot humid day in Louisiana. I wondered what was if the gate were protecting a meth lab. It would prove the most unusual approach to deceptive security. I decided not to cast aspersions at the sinister gate and let the mystery behind it remain untouched I went back on my path again.

Before making my last effort to reach the town of Oberlin I needed to stop and have lunch in Mamou, LA. It was such a small town that there was only one store that combined all the candy you could imagine under $3. Add to that a local butcher's shop under one roof and you will get the picture. Since I had no skillet for BBQ I only bought candy and a bottle of iced tea to chug it all down. It was ridiculous to me that it was all they had in that store and I even made fun of it. I found a spot in the shade to deal with my frustration and began to eat the candy. It was sickening to have to eat so much sugar during a hundred-degree heat and then go cycle one more hour. Later I realized that the store I went to was all they had in this town. The number of hurricanes they had to suffer devastated their economy as well as their hearts. I felt bitter and embarrassed because I was quick to judge. It was not a good call.

I was only one hour away from my destination where I would be hosted at the local Visitors Center but the sun would not wait on me, so I continued my journey. It was pretty boring and hot at first. I even stopped to pick up a turtle that was crawling in the opposite direction. I pet it and let it go back on its journey.

A turtle

At first, I couldn’t believe it was a road, no wonder there was so much dust coming on the horizon. I mistook that dust was coming from grain facilities every time they opened the hatch to fill up the truck from above. I was moving my feet through this sea of pebbles at a mere five miles per hour. I needed to speed up since it was already after 5 PM and I should have been in Oberlin by that time(or by then). I was tired and pissed and the current rate of my progress. In fact, I was so pissed that I took a shit on the side of that road where stones were the size of a walnut and even trucks were doing 20 miles per hour. I got so hot you could probably cook a meal on my skin. Mosquitos thought I was ready to serve. Every time I stopped to have a sip of water they would swarm around me from everywhere thirsty for my blood. It was probably the only insect I truly hated at the moment since it just wouldn’t let me live. I thought of turning around and going back but I felt like I got to the point of no return, plus I don’t like going back.

It was crucifying how much beating my bike was taking. I was grateful to whoever invented Marathon Plus tires. That person is a genius. My bicycle went through fourteen miles of hell. I even remembered the road sign before I started taking this beating. It said: “You can’t write a testimony without going through a test ”. I still laugh in pain when I think of that moment.

My mind wondered if there would be any more trucks passing by, so I could ask them for a lift and go through this place like a knife through butter. But no, of course not, I still had a testimony to write. I began looking for more flat areas to see if I could gain a little more speed. I even thought I saw a road on the horizon next to a rice field. As I came closer I realized that it was just the pebbles that got smaller throwing my steering all over the place. It was extremely uncomfortable. My hands were constantly shaking and all I could do was to keep it balanced like sailing during a storm. I began laughing hysterically and was momentarily relieved. Whenever I had clay instead of sand and stones I would go as fast as ten miles per hour, which was my record in those lands. I kept thinking about time. It was close to six and then I would have only one hour before it got darker. The urgency pushed me to go faster and I knew it was careless. My bike was taking all the punishment as I thought of the possible upcoming repairs of wheels after this rock concert was over.

I know it doesn't look like much, but when I saw it I was grateful.

I exited the woods area and saw the light of a sunset caressing the paved road that unfolded in front of me. I stopped, carefully got off my bike, got down on my knees, and kissed the land. For a moment I forgot about how far I had to go, the quality of the road, I was just happy to see the pavement. Life can be so simple when you live it in the moment. It smelled of engine oil mixed with gasoline and burnt rubber. My moment of triumph was bleak. The intimacy got interrupted(or intervened)by a distant rolling(not subtle enough with “rolling” or it’s okay?) sound. I got off my knees and turned around to make sure I actually heard it. Thunder.

There was an enormous cloud approaching from the southwest, beautiful and mysterious. I pedaled as if I had a torpedo up my ass. It was nearly shocking how after eight and a half hours including that hell of a road I did not care either about fatigue or whining dull pain in my back. I just did twenty miles per hour and made sure it stayed that way. I caught my second wind. Occasionally I was checking my phone to make sure I was getting closer to Oberlin. I still admired how beautiful the sky was on that day when beams of sunshine were still cutting through the curly clouds, and even though the storm seemed far, the race against it was not over yet.

I saw small houses along the roads, mostly trailers, which attracted my eye and made me slow down, but the fear of losing my energy and getting hit by lightning kept me on the edge. I checked the time again and it was only twenty minutes between me and my Warmshowers host Adagria. A meeting I was looking forward to. Suddenly I became a lucky witness to an unusual sight. A herd of black cows standing in front of the approaching rainstorm. I passed them, then made an exclusion from my rules and stopped, turned around, and went back. I was grateful I did that, it was simply a beautiful moment and it was worth coming back to. After I enjoyed the view I turned around and went forward once again. There were five turns left and fifteen minutes total.

Memory worth coming back to

I slowed down on the first turn, to let a truck behind me pass. Suddenly two humongous unchained dogs started chasing me. My heart went back to racing mode and I left them behind as fast as I could. The truck that previously passed me stopped and the driver got out to get something underneath the tarp cover in the truck bed. “Wanna beer?” He said in a carefree manner while holding a beer can out as I passed him. “No, thanks,” I said curtly. I was preoccupied with a black rogue cloud that was growing closer every minute. I made it to the second turn and sighed with relief as the storm was now farther. The same truck was approaching from behind and the passenger window rolled down. “Are you sure you don’t want a beer?” the same man from before suggested while holding a can in one hand and steering wheel in another. He was about 60 years old, with a white beard, and looked like a lighthouse keeper, Peter Mullan type. “I still have to get to the place” I refused his tenacious offer, “I wish you offered me a ride and then I would have that beer,” I thought to myself. I could feel he needed a company and probably would be hard to get a move on from due to his persistence. “ You only have two and a half miles to go,” He said reassuringly.

“I still gotta get there” kept my eyes steady on the road.

“Where are you coming from?”- he inquired, occasionally sipping on his beer and looking at the road.

“Jacksonville, Florida”- I yammered back.

“Jacksonville, Florida?” - I could hear his surprised voice.

“Where are you headed to?” He asked while smiling with curiosity.

“San Diego”- I said coldly.

“San Diego”?- He followed in awe.

“You sure as hell have more heart than me, kid! I mean I could drive there…” A sudden phone call broke into our conversation. He kept the same speed as he pulled his phone out to answer the call. We waved each other goodbye as he passed me to go on about his business and left me alone with that same rogue cloud staring at me again.”Not yet” I whispered to myself praying to avoid getting hit by lightning. I even looked the other way as I took the third turn. The cloud also went along with the rest of the thunderstorm. It was getting dark and started to rain. I was two turns away from my tonight’s destination. I turned my light on and kept pedaling.

Some days are chaotic and it has nothing to do with you. You can only decide whether you keep on going and how you choose to handle what is in front of you.

War Memorial home POST 144

After I crossed the main town road and found the cannon memorial I texted Adagria. She came to pick me up and guided me to the visitors center where she told me about what they do over a small bowl of warm chili and a chocolate chip cookie. Then I fell asleep on a porch in my sleeping bag under the moonlight and distant flashes of passing storm, leaving its soothing trace of ozone smell.

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About the Creator

Oleksandr Matvyeyev


I am an actor and a writer. I began to write since the pandemic began back in March of notorious 2020. I've crossed the South of the US on my bicycle and went home to Ukraine for 4 months. I have a lot to say, so let's begin.

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    Oleksandr MatvyeyevWritten by Oleksandr Matvyeyev

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