While we had tons of fun with Alex and Sarah in Pittsburgh, it was unfortunately a short stay. I didn’t have a single spare minute to skate this one hill I had picked out the last time I was there- when I was there before, I only had my long distance setup and this time I only had my fun tech sliding setup. We crashed at whatever time we did, sharing a couch. I slept perfectly fine, but Caroline did not.

We were up and ready to go at 7am, when it was still dark. Caroline still wanted to drive despite being crushed between myself and the backing of the couch all night. Besides, I was feeling violently ill. I had that returning gut pain I get from time to time, complete with bouts of diarrhea, likely still stemming from my encounter in Wyoming with Giardia. I had read that I would face issues anywhere from three months to three years- it seems as though anytime I eat “too much” pizza (is there such a thing?) I end up spending half of the next day on the toilet. This was no different.

Almost as soon as we left the city I had her pull over at a Starbucks location. I was grateful for gender neutral bathrooms, which is undoubtedly something you just don’t run into that often. For someone like me, it lets out such a relief. That breath of fresh air takes an immense strain off my psyche- I typically enter bathrooms (men’s or women’s) once I’m aware that either nobody is in there or everybody is in a stall. I never pee standing up. I try to match my stream of hot piss to sound like the women’s (did you know a woman’s stream is significantly stronger- and louder than a man’s?), and once I’m done I always wait until I can’t see any feet or hear anyone in the room with me. Its tantalizing- as if I don’t know I don’t fit into what’s expected to be the appearance of a woman or man, I doubt myself and anxiety rises through the roof. A gender neutral, single toilet bathroom entirely alleviates that stress. Yet, despite any of this- gut pain or fear of human interaction, I was only able to sit on the toilet and fart. Nothing came out, and I still felt sick.

We didn’t get much further down the road before I made her stop at the West Virginia Welcome Center. Luckily it was only 8am and there wasn’t many, or any, people there. I did my business (sans details of my furious liquid excrement), and we left. I felt much better. I practiced standing and sitting just to make sure it wasn’t going to strike again. Was it food poisoning? Or just the aftershocks of Giardia, 5 months later?

We carried on. It was pretty neat that I experienced deja vu once in the Ohio area. We ended up needing a rest stop in the exact same Sheetz location I stopped at on my cross country adventure back in November. It was surreal to be there again. I was feeling nostalgic and ordered myself a breakfast sandwich. It was too early for pizza, though I was craving it. A return trip to the Sheetz bathroom reminded me that I didn’t need any more pizza.

As we made our way through Ohio, Indiana and eventually Illinois, we stopped at a small town called Casey to visit the world’s largest wind chime. Obviously that doesn’t sound exciting in the least bit, but between my girlfriend and I, we adore taking pleasure in anything slightly inconsistent to the norm. The wind chime was smaller than I thought, and the wind wasn’t strong enough to move the tubes to hear it. There was a pulley system to activate it, and as soon as it happened it was over. Behind us was the world’s largest rocking chair, which was undoubtedly more impressive. It was too bad we couldn’t sit on it- however we were able to go inside the world’s largest mailbox, conveniently located right down the street. Caroline took an interest in a giant sized bird cage on the same street, complete with a swing inside. I adore her laugh and cuteness when it comes to anything slightly uncanny. Without her, I would have never gone out of my way or even taken an interest in these large objects, but with her laughing beside me everything was just that much more exciting.

As we continued on, the weather declined. Apparently the person who I was staying with in St. Louis, MO had thought I was going to be skating there and didnt expect that I would be driving with my girlfriend. He kept telling me that the weather was bad and I would hate it there- my response was, “Okay, I mean I’m sure I’ll be fine in a car…” but it never clicked. I napped on the ride and woke up to find Caroline extremely tired- I offered to drive thinking that my short rest would have prepared me for driving, but it didn’t.

When I switched to the drivers seat for the first time it was like I had forgotten how to drive. Outside of occasionally borrowing a car for an errand, I hadn’t driven a car since December of 2016 in California. Besides that, I was still extremely lethargic. It could have been from the pot I smoked earlier, but it also could have been because I’m known to experience narcoleptic episodes- Caroline calls it Highway Hypnosis. I could never forget the time I drove to Vermont and back for a company I worked for and fell asleep at the wheel, conveniently driving straight into an empty gas station parking lot. Or, the time I careened a work van off the highway and into a ditch prior to an important job. Dangerous doesn’t begin to describe it.

I felt so heavy in my eyes. “Just three hours,” I kept telling myself. I shook my head, opened the window, sang to some music, and slapped my face to no avail. Caroline was instantly passed out from driving, but awoke to see that snow and moisture had accumulated, and I was going 90mph with my eyes closed. She instantly freaked on me, telling me to pull over. I hated that- I wanted to do something nice by giving her a chance to rest before seeing my friend in St. Louis. I failed. I ruined it by telling her I wouldn’t stop, and tried to make it the rest of the way but just couldn’t.

With only 40 minutes to our destination, we switched seats again. Caroline’s anxiety had driven her to tears because of how much danger I put us in. It was something new for me to have that affect on someone. In all fairness, I just wanted to do something nice but how foolish I was to throw caution to the wind because of it. She looked so cute and exhausted when she slept.

We stopped at Nolan’s work, a unique comic shop in downtown St. Louis. Having never been to St. Louis before, I was pretty surprised to see how updated everything was. Maybe it was my own ignorance, but I assumed it was another dumpy Midwestern city with the attractiveness of Baltimore. With all due respect, I still wouldn’t come back for any reason other than a pit stop. When I skated through cities I often fell in love with them. It’s difficult to gain that same appreciation for a location when you’re just blowing through. Caroline and I really only wanted to eat and sleep.

We ran into another issue where we couldn’t figure out what to eat because of her dietary restrictions. It doesn’t bother me in the least- in fact, if anything I find it admirable to stay that strong even when unaccommodated. We settled on an Irish pub across the street so we could try out St. Louis’ famous toasted raviolis.

Thinking we would get away with eating a small appetizer to pass the time until Nolan’s wife served us dinner, we were instantly wronged when we learned the toasted raviolis were beef. It was my own neglect. I felt terrible. Luckily Caroline was able to eat a grilled cheese and tomato soup, and I ordered a buffalo chicken wrap instead, giving the appetizer to Nolan and his coworkers.

A few beers and a lot of food later, we racked up way too high of a bill for a pit stop location, and were completely tired beyond any means. All we wanted to do was sleep. Nolan treated me to two Supergirl comics, a gift I will always treasure. It was extremely thoughtful. Since I began being a “sponsored skater” I haven’t had much opportunity to be the Supergirl I always feel like I am. He always casually reminds me of what kept me pushing in the first place.

Once Nolan finished work, we went to his apartment in a really, really nice unit in the nice side of town. We insulted his wife by not eating, but we just didn’t have the energy or stomachs for it. As soon as we hit his couch, I was nodding off and Caroline was finding her comfort. We hardly engaged in conversation- Nolan put on an anime show that we ended up really liking and it occupied our minds as brain fodder. In and out of sleep, I occasionally hit the bong, which added to my sleepiness. Who knew that both driving and being a passenger made us both equally tired.

We were just excited to be off the road, safe, and comfortable. Up next was Amarillo, Texas and I knew that I wouldn’t find the same acceptance I did in our first two stops. When they say “Don’t Mess With Texas,” all I can think it means is, “You’re bummed if you aren’t straight and white.”