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My memoir, Hangry is about this whole “Create a billion dollar startup, and then punt it to go for a bike ride” thing. Sign up here to get a preorder link and get monthly updates on my publishing journey.
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It stinks. That’s the thing about a well-loved camp stove. Weeks of heavy use has transmuted sterile aluminum into some new thing, not known by the annals of science. The alchemy is bone deep. Only the fires of mount doom could cleanse it.
Steam pushes aside the Jetboil’s flimsy lid. I sit hunched over the contraption, bathed in the wafting steam. There’s the hint of couscous with raisins I had for 2nd lunch. Layered underneath that is the 1st lunch of cheese quesadillas. The vinegar-pepper smell of Cholula that ends up on everything is in there somewhere. Deeper down, there’s breakfast — apple cinnamon oatmeal.
My current meal has notes dishwater and steamed noodles.
I’ve ridden my bike two thousand miles. The Appalachians are behind me. I crossed the Mississippi. The Ozarks? Good riddance.
Today, I rode one hundred thirty miles across the Kansas plain. Surprisingly, it wasn’t really flat. I discovered the Flint Hills. Presumably, someone knew they were there. They have a name after all.
But I’m done with hills and discoveries. At least for today. Now, I’m reclining in my tent, anticipating the gastronomic masterpiece before me. Once I finish this, I’ll make a valiant, if short lived, attempt to read. Then, I’ll sleep like the dead until a blue tinted dawn filters through the tent wall.
Since crossing the Mississippi, many of these western towns have let me plop my stuff down in the city square and camp out for the night. Many, but not all. It isn’t entirely clear if I’m allowed to be in this park. It would’ve been nice to have a tree or something to set my tent behind, but this far west in Kansas, the vegetation has started to thin, and while there’s plenty of scraggly brush, it doesn’t provide much cover.
I’m wearing my bike clothes, but they aren’t really “bike clothes,” at least not the embarrassing spandex type. My shorts are the reinforced fabric used on motorbike racing circuits. They come down just past my knees. They were black, back in Virginia, but they’ve been sun bleached, and turned a weird splotchy purple. Remember jams from back in the 80s? Yeah, like that. On top, I’m sporting a long sleeve wool shirt. It’s blue, a bit lighter than my tent. Smurflike.
I am hungry all the time. But not usually like this. It was a long day of riding. Finishing before twilight was the goal, so I skipped dinners today, both of them.
Now I’ve got that bone deep, ravenous, six thousand calories a day hunger. It obliterates rational thought. I’d be a demon to everyone around me, but thankfully, there’s not a soul around.
“Hi there mister.”
Not this kid again. Of course, it’s not the same kid. It’s been weeks since I had an interaction with a human being that didn’t start with an introduction. But this kid shows up in every third town. He’s sincere, and kind, and generous. He wants to know if I’m hungry. He’s got a sandwich right here. And do I, perhaps, know Jesus as my personal lord and savior?
But fuck this kid.
I’ve got six hundred eighty calories of mac and cheese that is quickly passing al dente on the way to inedible mush.
But I’m supposed to be getting better at this. That was the point, after all. I was this kid, once, a lifetime ago. Before GrubHub, I didn’t take myself too seriously. I was sincere and kind and patient. Well, patient-ish, maybe.
I want to be this kid again.
Instead, I’ve become an angry, foul mouthed, impatient asshole that wants to be nothing more than the vagrant he appears to be. Such vagrants often invite a visit from the local constabulary, so, let’s just keep our shit together here, shall we?
I fiddle with the dial on the Jetboil. I grab it by its insulated sleeve, forgetting that it slips easily. I burn myself. Again. Holding the lid, gingerly with the box turned potholder, I pour out the gray water. It splashes. The too-close-too-kind kid jumps back a foot.
I mix in the cheese packet. I pour on the Cholula. Pour. Not dab. Not dash. Pour.
I close my eyes and take that first bite.
My taste buds explode. The salt-fat-carb-cheese-Cholula explosion rocks my soul. My shoulders relax. My stomach unclenches. The demon inside me retracts its claws, powerless against pasta.
“You want this sandwich?”
“Sure, that’d be great.” I manage this last with a smile. See? That’s not too bad!
The urchin is emboldened.
“We’ve got a bible study at the church, just over there. You’re welcome, if you’d like to join us.”
“I might stop by. Thanks for the invite.”
He shares some juicy verses. I grunt and chew.
Blessedly, he walks away.
I make short work of the mac and cheese. My blood sugar rises quickly. My hanger subsides. I reflect that I am, in fact, still very much an asshole.
I check the math.
I have ridden my bicycle across half the country. But I’m still 100% asshole. I should have lost half that assholery by now. I should be down to just one cheek’s worth.
I unwrap the PB&J. It looks pretty good.
A memory of another meal, just weeks earlier, bubbles to the surface.
I’m sitting comfortably in a leather chair, at forty thousand feet. The captain has just told me that he’s expecting a smooth flight to New York. He hasn’t mentioned this over the intercom. No, he stepped out of the cockpit to let me know this personally. Don’t worry, the copilot has everything well in hand.
After some idle chit chat, he assures me that I am in good hands with the stewardess. Oh, but the way, our friends at Citibank have arranged a special meal for me.
What follows is the utter definition of decadence. Lobster tail. Steak tartare. Shrimp cocktail. Dom Pérignon Charcuterie. Delightfully warm chocolate chip cookies.
In time, the private jet lands at Teterboro. I disembark. A pair of jet-black SUVs are waiting twelve steps away. The freshness of spring mixes with jet fuel on an exquisite blue-sky day. Attendants stand by with umbrellas, just in case. It would be unconscionable for us to be exposed to the elements.
I am whisked to the W hotel, not far from the intersection of Wall and Broad streets, where the GrubHub Initial Public Offering will be happening in two days. There are sixteen-dollar cashews in the mini bar. I eat two cans.
A month later and a world apart, reclining contentedly in my tent, I chew slowly, savoring the sandwich from the generous kid. This PB&J is excellent. The church sprang for crunchy peanut butter.