The Notier Notes
Our Sunday Scoop
It had been a tough choice, but Tim and I finally decided that it was time to go home. We hadn't had a winter in Chicago in four years, and the truth was, we hadn't had a winter at all during that time. We'd been chasing summer throughout our travels, first wintering in Mexico, then in Peru and Bolivia, and finally we spent two winters in Africa - in Tanzania and Kenya. But now that our travel funds were coming to an end, and our bike was in desperate need of repair, plus it was getting a bit too cold for traveling in the northern US, we knew it was time to start heading home.
Now we just had to hope that we could get there without too much mishap.
The previous day had been rough. It was so bad, that we figured there was no way things could get any worse. We'd been having the time of our lives riding the Northeast BDR backroad through the Catskill Mountains of New York state, when we hit a particularly nasty section of loose rocks hidden under fallen leaves. And we fell.
That wasn't the real problem though. The falls were fine, and besides a bit of a busted lip that I got from hitting the windshield, we were uninjured. But on one of these drops, the bike wouldn't start again once we got her uprighted. It was that same electrical issue that we'd been having for months, actually ever since we started off on our journeys and broke down over the Mississippi River. It had all the symptoms of that problem that we thought we'd fixed out in Utah. And so far, everything had gone fine.
But now as we stared at the flashing error codes, we knew the problem was back. And our hearts sank.
We did get her started again though. And after finding our way back to a hotel through some torrential rain, we had a discussion about what to do next. Since the weather was getting fairly cold anyway, we felt that this was the right time to go back home to Chicago and spend the winter working odd jobs in order to build up some cash for our next journey (Alaska!!!).
It was disappointing, to say the least. We had dreams of scaling Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, and of possibly finishing the Northeast BDR that would end in Maine. We had plans to visit my friend Kim in Vermont, and perhaps taking the Canadian road back to Chicago and see our friends Phil and Sapna (who we traveled with in Central America), and if we were lucky, Craig and Michelle (who we traveled with in Ecuador). But the bike was telling us that it needed a rest (and a good mechanic to look at it), and so none of these dreams were going to happen now that we were just going to be heading home.
But if there's one thing we've learned from traveling, it's that you can't plan too much and too far ahead. Something will always divert your plans, and it's best to not resist it. Just go with the flow.
So the next morning we headed off from New York, and rode into Pennsylvania. We passed an area where the Pennsylvania Dutch lived, clearly marked by their antique-looking signs displaying windmills, and their horse and buggies trotting along the road. We almost made it out of the state and into Ohio, but after an exhausting and frigidly cold day of riding on noisy highways for hours on end, we decided to stop at a hotel near the border for the night.
But as we were turning on the heat in the room and getting ready to take a nice shower, Tim said to me, "What's this?" He could feel something on his skin under his left armpit. But as he pulled up his shirt, I gasped with horror.
"Oh my God!" I cried.
"What?! WHAT?!" Tim shouted, and tried his best to see his back in the mirror.
"Wait, stop, let me look at it!" I held him still. "It's a tick bite, but it's the worst tick bite I've ever seen."
Now, it's a sad thing to say, but I am VERY familiar with ticks and all their different bites. I've had hundreds of ticks on me, if not thousands in my years of traveling. One day in particular, a whole tick bomb of hundreds of baby ticks had gotten under my socks and pants when going through a corn field in Guatemala. Like out of a nightmare, they swarmed up my body in an instant (it's surprising how fast they are). I spent over a month pulling ticks out of random places on my body, including in my hair on my head.
I had also lived in rural Maine for years, and I had many friends (and even my dog) who had gotten Lyme disease. I knew its tell-tale bullseye sign, I knew what type of ticks carried it, and I knew it was no joke.
Unfortunately, the tick that had now buried itself deep into Tim's flesh was definitely a female deer tick (the ones that carry Lyme disease), it was definitely deep, and the wound area was definitely all red and pussy. But the bullseye wasn't there (it doesn't have to for it to still be Lyme disease), and strangely enough, the entire area of the bite itself was black.
I had never seen this type of black rotting skin before in the States. In fact, the only time I'd seen it was when Tim had gotten African Tick Bite Fever (ah yes, another horrific tick experience) while we traveled in South Africa and Lesotho. That was a flesh-eating necrosis disease that Tim still has scars from. This looked like that, but it couldn't be. We weren't in Africa (we had cured Tim of it years ago), and this was a different tick. I was completely stumped as to what was going on.
I did my best right there in the bathroom to pull the tick out gently to get its full head, but it was so deep, it was the first time in my life that I couldn't get everything out. The whole thing ripped in half, and I just stood there shaking my head. "We need to get you to a doctor as soon as possible," I told Tim.
If we had been back in Illinois, this wouldn't have been a big deal. But we were on the road in rural Pennsylvania, still many days' ride away from home in Chicago. We knew we needed to find a doctor before getting home, because if this was Lyme disease, time was of the essence.
The next morning, we made all sorts of phone calls, and found a walk-in clinic in Akron, Ohio, not too far away. So we zoomed over there as quickly as we could, and Tim was taken right in.
While I waited in the seating area, he texted me updates.
"The doctor says she doesn't think it's Lyme disease, but as a precaution, I'll be taking a round of antibiotics just in case. But she does say it's badly infected," Tim texted.
Then he shot over a picture of him with his shirt up and a scary looking scalpel being shoved in the direction of the bite. "She's going to dig out all the pieces with a scalpel!" he texted, punctuated by a TOTALLY-FREAKED-OUT emoji.
Poor Tim. I guess even when just coming home, there's never a dull moment.
While Tim underwent his surgery, the waiting room filled up with anxious patients. The receptionist told every new entry, "It's going to be several hours because the doctor is dealing with a very difficult patient right now." Then she corrected herself, "I mean, not difficult, but just the situation is difficult."
Yup. I knew that was Tim.
Finally he was released, missing a whole chunk of his shoulder blade's flesh like he was the Merchant of Venice. His expression looked like he had just gone into battle. He told me, "She said she kept finding pieces, that tick was so deep in there."
"But you're feeling all right?" I asked.
"Yeah." He gave me a weak smile. "Let's go home."
It was another two days of riding through Ohio and Indiana until we finally made it back to Illinois and Chicago. We were cold, tired, and in desperate need of a good rest.
Once home, Tim picked up his cat Moto again, and gave him a big squeeze. "Oh, it's never felt better to be back!" he said. And I couldn't have agreed more.
That was late October. Since then, we've gotten jobs for the winter, seen our friends and family, and have caught up on all the rest we needed after our travels. And most importantly, Tim did not get Lyme disease.
The bike is in the shop under a different type of scalpel doing surgery on it, and we're making exciting plans for our spring and summer trip to Alaska.
So I'm sad to say, but this will be my last Sunday Scoop for the winter until the spring, or unless we have any updates we'd like to tell you guys. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and if you'd like to see our adventures in more detail, keep checking our YouTube channel as we'll be uploading new videos every Saturday morning. Below is our latest episode on a challenging ride in Canyonlands that had once gotten the best of us.
Thank you for staying tuned to all our adventures, and for being a supporter of our journeys.
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