Song of the day: [post title], instrumental version by Mark Geilson & Geoff Groberg. http://youtu.be/a0rWtSprRg8
It was a nippy start to a June day, waking up at 5AM to 45 degree weather and seeing my breath hang in the air while layering on my wool clothes. Petunia was still roaming around our makeshift campsite in her pink wooly sweater while I attempted to shake off the unexpected midnight downpour from the tent and ground cover. In the middle of a weird dream, I’d bolted upright when I heard heavy amounts of water pounding on the waterproof nylon shell above me. It hadn’t been forecasted to rain, but I put the rainfly and had covered all the panniers preventatively anyway because I knew it was going to be a cold one. But when I unzipped the door and stuck my hand out… nothing. Not a drop. But the water was pouring down, and I realized it was mostly falling on the foot of my tent. Popping on the headlamp and going out to investigate, I saw that a huge pipe just along the wall where I’d pitched my tent was pumping some mystery water down it, and it had a hole just big enough and positioned precisely in a way that sent a heavy spray my way. So there I was at midnight, schlepping the tent away from my “perfect” nook, and getting resettled in for the night. Despite the cold and wet start to the day, it was sunny and I was getting an early start, which is always a nice advantage and a great way to begin the day.
I pedaled a bit out of my way to hit a Dunkin Donuts embedded in a gas station mart, ordered an egg and cheese bagel for me and a big side of bacon for my buddy. A woman in a decked out black Jeep pulled up with a license plate holder that said “Connecticut: The Unconstitutional State,” and when she walked into the store, I noticed the back of her shirt said “Now I lay me down to sleep, beside my bed a gun I keep.” She smiled at Petunia and rumbled away, exhaust blowing around like a in a movie. A few people chatted with me while we ate outside. We were ready to go and it was barely 8 AM.
I left CT, dipped into the northwestern corner of Rhode Island, and enjoyed some of the quietest roads and cleanest smelling air yet. There’s something so wonderful about getting that arboreal lungfulll, the nose/mouthfeel of the woods, that is absolutely magical. It’s also physiologically beneficial, as well:
Exposure to forests boosts our immune system. While we breathe in the fresh air, we breathe in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells or NK. These cells kill tumor- and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study, increased NK activity from a 3-day, 2-night forest bathing trip lasted for more than 30 days. Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.
The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” and no matter how sweaty and pollen covered I get, I’m a big believer in this medicine.
Leaving RI, I began heading northeast into MA, and in Witinsville, I rather loathed to do it, but I stopped at a Walmart because not many big box stores ever show up on my route, and I needed a couple of things.
First off, I upgraded my shoe inserts, as my bike shoes now had over 5,000 miles cranked out in them (and hosted one frog overnight, too). I bought a sort of decent pair, removed the old ones, and voila! I found the hidden $20 from last year’s ride, looking tattered, blackened, and possibly untenderable.
I also grabbed a big veggie-heavy grinder from the chain sandwich shop attached to the store, and fed Tunes the cheese and meat while I chowed down on the rest and perused the maps, trying to figure out where to stay later on. The next few stops seemed to be bigger towns/cities, like Framingham, so I suspected with a higher population density, it might be harder to rogue camp. So I sent a couple of last minute long shot requests out on Warm Showers. I also got a minute to call my Great Uncle Bill, from Natick, to see if I could swing by and say hello, but he sounded tired and explained that his apartment didn’t allow dogs, so it might be a complicated trip. I felt badly for not being able to see him and my Great Aunt Laura, like I felt bummed that I missed the opportunity to swing by my Aunt Terry’s workplace when I rode through Ellington, CT, but at least I got to talk to him, and Terry was in my thoughts (still have to call her and Uncle Fester, though. If you’re reading, hello, Looke family!).
A few minutes after pushing off toward Upton, I got a response from a WS host who was only ~30 miles from me. I’d already done a not-easy 30, with some painful spots already, but I thought it was early enough and I could make it. I spoke with Tom on the phone, who agreed to meet me near his job and offered to ride back with me on his bicycle to his home to meet his wife Kathy, their Corgi, and crash there for the night.
When I finally got to the Westborough/Marlborough area at the Assabet Valley Rail Trail after huffing and puffing up one last ledge, I saw a friendly face waiting patiently to greet me. Tom was on a Trek also, and it was outfitted with a high-visibility tall flag, two bright red rear flashers, a large organe circle blinker like the kind on traffic cones sometimes, and a blinking red rearlight system. Easy to talk to and genuine, he was also very knowledgeable about the area, and on the scenic cruise downhill, he explained a bit about the history of the rail trail that we were on, the town, the military bunkers we rode past in the woods, and about some of the wildlife in the area. I also learned about his own epic cross-country ride from Alaska to Florida! Epic. His wife Kathy had also traveled part of the TransAm around the time of the Bikecentennial. I felt so lucky to have been given the opportnity to be welcomed by such cool and interesting people.
And then we got to this lovely house in the woods, and they had a POOL. Oh yes I was definitely jumping in, even though I’d been warned it was only 61º. It was a good shock to the system after all of those sweaty hills climbed. Tom had also told me some about contra dances and that there was a great one happening tonight nearby. Even though I’d cycled 68 miles, hitting the 400 total mile marker today, there was no way that I was going to miss this!
First, Petunia played with her new friend and did some running too, and my generous host prepared a lovely dish of whole wheat pasta, sauce with yummy tempeh, and a side of califlower. With a delectable nutrient rush filling my veins, I had a nice warm shower, changed into a tee shirt, shorts, and my non-bike shoes, and away we went!
I’ve never square danced or contra danced, but I’ve always enjoyed dancing and live music, and so I was ready to jump in with both feet. I forgot to take my camera with me, but that was great, because I totally lived and loved the moment. A fiddle, a guitar, and a clarinet player were on stage playing some great tunes, and Tom offered to help me out since I had no idea what I was doing. The room was packed with people of all ages– young guys in skirts and kilts, women in flowy 50’s style polka dotted dresses and vintage saddle shoes, perspiring older men in t-shirts and jeans, a young woman with vividly blue hair, a 10 year old girl in playclothes, and everywhere in between. It was hoppin, and some people really had all the moves down and then some, but others were just as lost as I was, switching partners with the wrong person, stumbling around and knocking into people during the hay move where you weave through 3 other people’s sidesteps, and giggling nervously. But everyone–and I mean everyone!– was smiling, laughing, encouraging, and gently guided me to where I needed to be. Some offered helpful tips, and some were just receptive and understanding of my blunders while making their own. It was so much fun, and I am so glad that I went! Such a beautifully serendipitous evening. To check out the contra dances at this particular venue, see this link for a fun video: http://youtu.be/beOFeIIk4KY
When we got back, we stayed up and chatted touring stories and other lively tales for a while, and Kathy and Tom were even nice enough to watch my little TouringTune2015 video. It was such a fabulous evening, that any aches and pains of the day have all faded away. There is hope for more joy tomorrow, when we ride again!