Mike Potter: Stopping by Lewes on a blowy evening
Mike Potter and his fat-tired Surly bicycle, loaded with 65 pounds of clothes, camping gear and electronics, rocked and rolled their way across the mouth of Delaware Bay last Saturday evening. With a bright moon and telephone maps to guide him, Potter gladly disembarked from the swaying vessel and made his way into Cape Henlopen State Park. He followed the bicycle trail a ways, hunkered down in his bivy-sack tent beside a big pine in the duney forest, and fell into a fitful sleep.
Searching for a comfortable position - turning left and right and facing straight up - Potter and his closed eyes couldn’t escape the cold bright light of the January moon pouring down on him from every direction. His thoughts rolled this way and that, like the ferry buffeted by Saturday’s northwest winds.
Or, as Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead sang many times: “My mind was wandering like the wild geese in the west.”
He remembered months before, pedaling through a rough Native American reservation in Browning, Montana, watching an angry mob of young men burning down a municipal building. “I videoed it as I pedaled out of town. A ball of flames. Helicopters and black SUVs came racing by me for the next couple of hours.”
In North Dakota he found a freshly killed bald eagle beside the road. A dead deer lying several paces away. Potter guessed the eagle had gorged itself on venison. Then, when a rare truck came hurtling across that desolate terrain, the eagle tried to fly and couldn’t lift itself above the speeding truck. He remembered tugging with all his might to snag one of the brilliantly golden feathers, but to no avail. Just as well, he thought; it’s illegal to possess the feathers of an eagle.
He remembered the sting of the cold in Portland, Maine, and the warmth of a woman in New York City, riding those busy streets, amazed at the friendliness of the people, walking with his friend and his bicycle through Central Park, staying in the city 21 days. Much longer than he planned. Then down the Jersey shore through Point Pleasant to see the destruction of Hurricane Sandy before making his way to Cape May and across to Delaware.
By morning, the northwest wind that tossed the bay the day before was only a memory. Snug in the cocoon that has steadily sheltered him since last September, assured by the earliest light spreading in from the east, Potter fell into that deep, dreamy sleep that comes only in the last couple of hours before we crawl, reluctantly, from our beds.
“It’s so nice to sleep in,” said Potter. Grinning, and with his watch cap pulled firmly down on his head like a permanent fixture, he reminded me of a latter-day hobbit, off on a magnificent adventure.
Abraxas finds a kindred spirit
Artist Abraxas, himself an adventurer and wanderer, called to tell me this Tolkien-like character was passing though Lewes. Potter is helping Brax rebuild his website. Brax is paying him a few dollars and food, shelter and shower.
A high school football linebacker in Whitefish, Montana. A physical fitness trainer for several years, then a 37-year-old inductee who embedded himself in the Army to see what it was like.
After a two-year stint and two semesters at media school in Hawaii on the GI bill, Potter went home in 2007. He started a community newspaper which he sold five years later. That’s when he bicycled out of Montana and headed east, aiming to ride the perimeter of the U.S. It’s silly to ask why. Obviously, because he wants to. “The bear went over the mountain . . . “
From Lewes, Potter has set his compass south, continuing his clockwise journey around the continent. Florida’s Keys are calling him. He’ll ride down Delmarva, making 40 or 50 miles a day at four or five miles an hour. This side of the bridge tunnel, he’ll stop at the visitor center, and he knows - with the same certainty that he knows the sun’s coming up each day - that someone with a truck will be more than happy to carry him and his two-wheeled home across the mouth of the Chesapeake.
It doesn’t sound like Mike’s in much of a hurry. But he actually is. Something’s pulling him.
He ticks off Florida and sees himself pedaling westward, across Texas and New Mexico. Then he’ll turn north up the Pacific coast, to California and Oregon. I tell him Becky and I plan to start riding east from Oregon in May, and Potter’s eyes light up. “Maybe we’ll cross paths in Oregon. Mayish. That sounds about right.” But he’ll keep on north from there, feeling the same pull that we will be feeling as we pedal east.
All the way to the upper tip of Washington state. Neah Bay, just south of Canada’s Vancouver Island. Then Potter will turn east once again, crossing the Cascades, the Rockies and the great wheat-growing plains of Washington’s Palouse, before crossing the border back into Montana.
“I have to get there by summer,” said Potter, a little wistfully. “Montana in the summer ... well, it’s like Hawaii in the winter. I have to be back to Whitefish by summer.”
See more about Potter at relaxedchaos.com.