Marquis De Sade Makes a Bed
The bed was soft. Soft yet firm, expansive, and white as snow. Decked with clean sheets and a fluffy comforter, the mattress stood four feet off the ground in the basement of the strangers house. A mirror hung directly above it. Whips hung from the walls. Chains. Leather. Hooks. Ball gags. Furry tails. And the cherry on top, a dozen LED candles glowing orange around the room.It would end up being the most comfortable bed we slept in across America and possibly the best bed wed ever sleep in, period. How did we get here?We had spent 13 days on the road the first 13 of more than 200. At times, wed thought ourselves simultaneously sadistic and masochistic, wondering why wed decide to submit ourselves and each other to anxiety, disgust, fear and painful blisters.But wed also experienced immense pleasure. Ice cream on the side of the road. Epic feasts laid by gracious hosts. Always a bed somewhere, somewhere to lay our heads and feet. Like the first day so daunting the first two weeks of our walk told us all wed need to know about the entire seven months: sometimes you have to suffer a little to know what sumptuous feels like.March 8Our second day on the walk was a breeze. We only had 11 miles to our next stop, a lovely, humble home in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, where Meryl, my former girlfriend and current colleague in cosmic exploration, grew up. Ironically, she wasnt there, but the rest of her family was: Elise, Meryls quieter, more mysterious twin sister; Nafi, their generous and opinionated father; and Nancy, the worrywart of a matriarch, sweeter than a Turkish delight, setting out a spread that made the rich offerings of Odysseus kingly hosts look like moldy cheese and stale bread. Though Natalie and I felt grateful for the hospitality after such an easy day, Nancy, the romantic, admitted disappointment: She wished she couldve hosted us a hundred or even a thousand miles away, when the weariness of the road had truly set in.March 9Day by day, New Jersey increased in beauty. The first day wed walked in the 30s, the second day in the 40s, and the third day in the 50s. The sun melted snow into countless rivulets as we strolled through quiet, pretty neighborhoods. Everything went perfectly until, as Natalie started pushing the buggy for the first time, a truck sped through a pothole filled with murky melted snow, raining black sludge all over us. Natalie was completely disgusted. Once I was sure she wouldnt cry, I died laughing.At the end of 14 miles, we arrived in New Brunswick, where we stayed with our first-ever Couchsurfing hosts. John and Martha were a young white couple, newly married and settled into an apartment with a view of the Freedom Tower glowing in the distance. Martha pointed out that shed just commuted from New York that very evening. After feeling so proud of having walked 42 miles from the city, I suddenly felt my pride deflating.March 10On the fourth day, Natalie and I narrowly escaped a rainy walk by leaving early and keeping a strong pace. The heavens started leaking just as we wearily wandered into a falafel shop in downtown Princeton. After lunch, we got ice cream at the Bent Spoon, famous for its offbeat flavors. I ordered one scoop of honey plus two scoops of earl grey like sipping on a cold cup of tea, a bit heavy on the cream.Our second-ever Couchsurfing host was a humble Finnish climatologist named Sampo, who conveniently lived in Palmer Square, right in the heart of Princeton. The size of the stairwell up to his apartment was equally inconvenient, but we managed to wrestle the buggy up anyway. The way it looked, we were to share the small single room with this strange man. Only then did we have some doubts. Though generally friendly, his bulky figure and awkward conversation (was that just cultural divide?) put us on guard.Im very particular about sounds, he said, before complaining to us about his noisy neighbors. Perhaps this was a warning to his two guests for the night.In the end, our fears were unfounded; it was our fortune to share his roof. Wed soon learn just fortunate, for under Sampos roof we experienced a new first: it was the first night we went to sleep not knowing where wed be sleeping the next. Our vague plan? Shoot for Washington Crossing, a state park whose campsites wouldnt open until the end of the month.March 11On the fifth day, we set a new record of 18 miles walked. Having secured another home for the night, we waited to meet our Couchsurfing host at the public library, basking in our achievement. Yes, we were only five days in, but our legs felt stronger than ever. The temperatures were rising, the snow was melting. Wed found hosts three nights in a row and we hadnt suffered any flat tires.Not everyone felt as we did. Earlier in the day, as we left a diner, one of the customers followed us out and asked, You guys walking?Yep, I said proudly. We made it from Brooklyn and were headed for San Francisco.Youll never make it, he scoffed.Thanks for the confidence, I smiled.Its just too far, he said, walking to his truck. Its a big country.What goes up, must come down. For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. And, perhaps, for every pessimist who has zero faith in your plans, there is a bright-eyed optimist who wouldnt question your chance of success. For us, that man was named Jacob.A man of the land, Jacob was tall and burly with a broad torso, long limbs, and hefty hands and feet. The man was just plain big, and he had a big old beating heart to match. He didnt doubt us for a moment, not just because of his heart but because of his experience: Once hed spent a month biking the entire west coast from Canada to Mexico.Jacob picked us up in downtown Lambertville, brought us back to the farmhouse, and introduced us to his housemates, including two farmer bros, who relished our gift of beer, and Chrissy, a Waldorf schoolteacher. Their humanity was refreshing, a whirlwind of joy and energy spinning around the large kitchen cooking up a variety of veggies and rice. After Chrissy and I jammed on a couple Gillian Welch songs, Natalie and I showered, did laundry, and then joined the house for the biggest damn feast of the trip yet: roasted kale, carrots, nettles, beets, apple salad, and fried rice with red peppers, red onions, and broccoli. Once emptied, our plates gleamed like paintings.March 12On the sixth day, we left New Jersey for Pennsylvania. After a short, 11-mile walk, home for the night was Doylestown, where we met some characters.First: At the public library, an elderly white woman who plopped down into her chair, huffing and puffing after a little too much walking.Then: At a run-down pizza spot downtown, a white, middle-aged man, bespectacled and balding, who complained about the inoperative WiFi, then proceeded to stand up his tablet on the table so he could watch music videos by 1980s divas.In the same place: A black girl employed by the pizza joint, shocked and awestruck by this mans existence.Finally: In their home, Jason and Ruth, young white newlyweds who together attended a hip hop dance class, where hip hop means Bruno Mars. We were grateful to them for opening up their home to us, and for the tennis ball they added to our pile of stuff.March 13On the seventh day, we did not rest. Instead, we achieved several milestones:We completed 100 miles of walking.For the first time, we walked over 20 miles in a day.For the first time on the walk, we camped in our tent.For the first time on the walk, we camped in a state park.For the first time on the walk, we camped in a state park illegally.It was all we could come up with. We scouted Evansburg State Park, plowed somewhere into the woods, and crawled into our tent. Though we were glad to be settled, I couldnt say we were comfortable. For one, the forecast called for a 100% chance of rain starting at night and continuing well through the morning. And I wasnt confident about the campsite I wasnt convinced that we were invisible to nosy, rule-enforcing rangers. On top of everything, a big tree leaned menacingly over our tent.In short, I was stressed out. And tired. And scared.But I had my lovely lady at my side. We had completed an entire week on the walk. And the next day we only had 10 miles to Royersford, where my dads coworker presumably had a massive mansion awaiting us, complete with spa treatment, foot massages, and xanax. Big rocky candy mountain.March 14Warm and drowsy, I eventually suppressed my anxiety long enough to fall asleep, only to be disturbed a few hours later by the pitter-patter of raindrops on the tent. We knew it was coming, I consoled myself, and so dipped back into sleep and dreams and wakefulness and sleep and dreams andNatalie! I said. This rain wont let up. Lets go.Everything was soaking, sopping, soggy. Our fleeces, our jackets, our ponchos, our tent, our buggy, its wheels, our spirits. And then with only a mile to go, our front tire went flat.It was the most unfortunate 24 hours of the walk yet.But then Tina opened the front door. Here was a kind, caring, soft-spoken woman middle-aged mother of three kids, colleague of my fathers. She was thoughtful, leaving water and biscotti in the guest room as if wed paid for it in advance. She shared in our worries, driving us all over town to pick up new tubes for our tires. And, in the evening, she treated us to an Indian dinner. In short, she couldve been our mother.March 15The night previous, I watched Tinas husband Eric patch up the flat tire. By the morning, it was already flat again. With Eric gone for the day, I took it as a sign: Maybe you should make sure you can actually patch the thing yourself before getting on the road again. So, while Tina and Natalie looked on, one worriedly and the other doubtfully, I patched the damn thing myself.Six hours and 18 miles later, we arrived at French Creek State Park, our snow-capped campsite 800 feet above sea level. And the tire was flat again. And the flimsy bike pump wed purchased from Walmart had already broken. And, for the life of me, I couldnt start a fire. And so I started crying.Only music could help me forget the despair of the past 48 hours. Lying in the sleeping bag in the dark with Natalie at my side, I pressed play on an album that had just been released that day: To Pimp a Butterfly.March 16And on the tenth day, we rested.We found ourselves in a gorgeous state park with all the trappings of highly developed campsites: parking spaces, fire pits, picnic tables, bathrooms, hot showers, kitchen sinks, water spigots, electricity, cottages, yurts, playgrounds, an amphitheater, and on and on.Stretching across an area of 7,730 acres, French Creek State Park is the largest block of contiguous forest between Washington D.C. and New York City. More important to me, it was peaceful. No wind, no rain. Just the swaying trees and overcast skies. In the morning, the crows slowly cawed us awake. All day long, migrating geese honked. Occasionally, the goofy quacking of ducks broke in.Our first full day of rest allowed me this much-needed moment for reflection. Time to handle the flat tire, and more: To recognize that we had walked for nearly two weeks, nearly 150 miles. That we had met dozens of amazing humans. That I had learned how to unclog a toilet without a plunger and how to repair a flat. That I had written postcards to friends and family, finished reading Middlemarch, and begun Leaves of Grass, the timeless poetry of Walt Whitman:I celebrate myself, and sing myself,And what I assume you shall assume,For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.As I wrote my journal entry for the night, I lay cooped up in the cozy red light of my tent, a lovely lady drifting into dreams at my side and Kendricks new future jazz streaming through my cans. A bounty of ghetto blood and love, his wasnt just the sound of truth; it was the sound of the west coast.First journal entry on a rest day. March 17In the morning, I learned that I only half knew how to fix a flat. The small one had held strong but the larger one hadnt.FUCK.Somehow, with deflated courage and confidence, we walked on. First to Morgantown, then to Churchtown, then to Goodville, then to Fetterville, then to East Earl, and finally to New Holland. Amish country.The highlight of the day arrived in the afternoon: blustery as the wind blew, the sun pierced through fluffy little clouds, illuminating rolling hills of farmland, clopping horses, shuddering carriages, and children biking home along country lanes. Glorious and pastoral, this scene unfurled as I stepped out of Shirks Bike Shop, whose employees all men, all white, all ages, all busy, all kind, and all donning striking suspenders had just helped clear a spike out of the problem tire and repaired the tube once and for all.In a quaint hotel room, likely inspired by the traditionalist Christians all around us, I wrote a simple prayer in my journal:may the rough patch please. for the love of God. end now. Amen.March 18We walked 14 more miles to Lancaster, the biggest city wed encountered in Pennsylvania yet. The larger population meant places to stay, and for this night it meant staying with a young white couple, Ion and Janna. Ion was particularly excited to host us because he was planning his own cross-country trip on bicycle slated to start in May.We drank. We smoked. We watched someone magically turn the bottom half of a beer bottle into a glass. We slept well but not as well as we would.March 19On the thirteenth day of the walk, throwing out potential names for our future children, we strolled into York, the city of the great bed.The soft bed. Soft, firm, expansive, and white as snow. Decked with clean sheets and a fluffy comforter, several feet off the ground in the basement of a strangers house. Suspended from the ceiling? Mirror parallel to the mattress. On the walls? Whips. Chains. Leather. Hooks. Ball gags. Furry tails. And a dozen cherries glowing orange, LED candles strewn around the roomÂ·RELATED QUESTIONWhats the difference between flannel bed sheets and jersey bed sheets?which flannel sheet set is best for summer?