I’m Back in the Saddle Again

Song of the day: Gene Autry – Back in the Saddle Again. http://youtu.be/80NoPLp-Zl0

I crossed the industrial looking bridge from the super hip Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and into Maine, my eighth state so far. The weather was pleasant, the coastal route was flat, and traffic was mostly easy to deal with. Lots of people out this way, so lots of photos and impromptu Q&A sessions. We stopped lots along the beaches for walks, snacks, photos, and languidly rolled along. 

  
 

It was just a nice day out with my buddy Petunia. I’m feeling a bit self-conscious about all my ramblings, so I’ll just post some photos and spare the details, but it was a low-mileage day, including hitting the 500 mile mark today. We’re camped out behind a fire department in Goodwins Mills, Maine, with permission! There are a lot of ticks out here and I’ve brushed a few off both Tunes and myself already, but luckily they hadn’t bitten yet, they were just gross and crawling, sticking to us. Blech. 

  
       

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From MA to NH

I’m convinced there’s not a better way to start a day of bicycle touring than with puppy kisses, and the warm smell of sweet, homemade waffles coming puffing up and off the griddle in the morning. Tom made the batter from scratch using eggs fresh from the happy chickens in their handmade backyard coop. Kathy and I talked about her work as a technical writer and interest in creative writing, and she showed me a funny video of their corgi, Bryn, being introduced to a realiasticallly scaled metal corgi statue, in which the live one olfactorily greeted the replica in the usual dog manner.  

Pedaling away just a mile or so down the road, I noticed Tom’s turquoise car pulling to a stop just ahead of me, and he hopped out to give me a few things I’d left behind. The memory of those nearly-lost items made me recall that I’d also left my quick-drying scrubby washcloth behind as well, which had been very useful, and so I pedaled back to retrieve it as well. Such a kindness was greatly appreciated– I started off with a paltry number of relatively good-quality clothing items and equipment, and even though losing some things here and there wouldn’t end my journey, I’ve had to laugh at myself for ruminating on such oversights when I left things behind on my last adventure. Like, let’s just say for example, a newly purchased pair of good quality lightweight hiking/walking shoes now sitting at the bottom of a mountain somewhere in the Appalachians. I bought a pair of convenience store flip-flops that lasted across another half of the country, and then another pair when one of those went AWOL. This is why we can’t have nice things.

 
  

The weather was perfect for spending the day moving around outside: sunny, with an impression of a breeze, and a comfortable 70.º A soundtrack of classical music came in with nearly perfect reception on my little haldheld radio in the handlebar bag, and the Wagner and Rachmaninoff pieces were complementary to the woodsy tableau. There were not hills, only lumps, and I stopped a lot along the way so that we could both enjoy the sights and smells in the woods. A 7-mile stretch on the scenic Nashua River trail in Ayer meant time to slow down and go at Petunia’s pace, as she frolicked alongside in the shade of the canopy-covered soft gravel path. In the next town of Groton, a migration of double-file 5th-graders bounced down the sidewalk, waving and calling to me, pointing and gasping at Petunia. Including the chaperones and teachers in the line, all were dressed in revolutionary war costumes, including boys in three-cornered black hats and girls in white bonnets and blouses, solid dark-colored long dresses, very colonial New England-like. My route bisected their ant-trail like procession, and I smiled and waved back, an odd little parade.

 We crossed the Merrimack River and passed the border into New Hampshire, our 7th state in 13 days of riding (plus 5 days of not-riding).   

   
Petunia had a hot dog and puppy ice cream at a little spot just past the border, and we tookthe obligatory border photo, including the severest state motto ever. 

 

Into the state towards Nashua, the traffic picked up a bit on the secondary roads without shoulders and road safety vigilance was commanding my full attention, constantly shifting my awareness from my rearview mirror to scanning the roads for potholes and glass to avoid, sizing up terrain and staying on top of the shifting, rather than let the gears get on top of me. 

  
On the country roads to Derry and Kingston, front yards full of chopped, stacked wood were ready and actively being readied for home heating or doomsday, depending on the size of the yard. Home were alternately quite rustic to stately. Traffic got heavy close to Exeter, and later I found myself in Dover staying with a friend who lives in town not far from the college. There’s lots to do here, the weather’s fine, and I rode another 70ish miles yesterday, so it’s a great day to rest, do laundry, and let the pups play. Headed into Maine tomorrow.

  

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Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free

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.

  
There were some really great views today, but it wasn’t a good picture taking day. I was kind of caught up in  enjoying the moments out there with Tunes.

 

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!

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The only home I’ve ever known / was a suitcase and the open road

Song of the day: Many a Mile by Buffy Sainte-Marie http://youtu.be/MSYYNRdteNg

With the torrential rains of the past two days behind me and ideal bike weather ahead, I dragged my bike from the shed, made a few feeble motions that resembled stretching, and hugged and kissed my mom and brother goodbye. After five days of lounging about, reading books, leisurely identifying birds by sight and song with my new app from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, and eating everything in sight, I set off with the understanding that even if I pulled only 20 miles today, I would be happy just to have moved exuberantly and with great delight with the sun on my cheeks and my bestest buddy on the open road.

  
  
Leaving Bloomfield, I decided to join up with the ACA route by way of my own little nostalgia trail, the Bike Ride that Started It All. One summer day when I was 13 or so, I hopped on my wintergreen hand me down bike that usually got me to and from the town swimming pool most days, and for whatever reason, I decided to go for an unusual ride. I took it out of town into neighboring Windsor, past a boat launch by the Connecticut River, and up and over the protected pedestrian lane of the Bissell bridge. From there, I followed “Bike Route” signs all the way to Manchester, had a drink of water in the fabric store near the mall, and sat with my thoughts for a second. I felt a tingle of freedom and accomplishment, and a strong desire to go farther, to explore the boundaries of this sort of travel. And because I hadn’t told anyone where I was going, I felt somewhat independent, like I had arrived at a mileage post of maturity. Maybe it was only a 15 mile marker, but it felt like something. Oh, and there were 15 miles to ride home, too, so I found one of the last working pay-phones of the era and called home to say I’d be a bit late for supper.

   
 

Having crossed memory lane, I considered my GPS to plot my next turn to join back up with the map route. Paul from Windsor rode with me a few miles on his recumbent on bike, sporting a Long Trail jersey and sipping from a water bladder he had mounted on a rear rack of sorts. “There’s road work up ahead which cuts my ride short by 2 miles, which is sort of annoying, because ordinarily this ride, from my house to the end of the bike route, is an even 20 miles. A perfect 20. But anyway, you can turn down this side street to get to where you’re headed.”

  
   
 
For the most part, there were gentle hills with a few 10-12% grade kickers. I stopped in Stafford Springs for lunch at the suggestion of a woman with a gravelley voice, pushing a cute child in a stroller down what appeared to be the main strip of town. She said she was from central Maine once she heard I was going that way, and told me to be sure I went to Cadillac Mountain, and Acadia, citing some place near the water that sounded like an earthquake when the waves hit rocks. I ordered a very reasonably priced special, a chicken dish with mixed veggies over rice, slathered in some sort of “Asian” sauce, and took Tunes to the park nearby to eat and play for a bit. 

A bigger black and white dog was bounding around the baseball field, chasing tennis balls her owner was pinging to her with a racket. “Friendly?” I called over from far outfield before letting Tunes off her leash. “Oh yes, very. That’s Sarah,” her owner shouted back from second base. Once unhooked, Tunes literally ran circles around her new playmate with gusto and great agility. “I guess she’s done that once or twice before, huh?” Mister Owner laughed. I beamed, confirming that sprinting was one of Petunia’s greatest joys, and the dogs played together for a bit. “Can you believe,” the owner said after a few minutes, standing nearby now so that we weren’t shouting, “that she was just 4 hours away from being put down? It’s crazy. That dog is just so full of life.” I commended Sarah’s dad for being her rescuer, and soon they packed up into their pickup truck and headed off. I ate better than half of my large dish, shared some chicken with Tunes and we made our way up some more hills. A teenager on the sidewalk pumped a solidarity fist into the air and hooted, “You’re awesome! Oh, and CUTE DOG!” as I cranked through town. That always makes me smile, and never gets old.

   
 
A quick stop at Bigelow Hollow state park was a nice diversion, and I dipped my hands in the clear pond, took a few photos, and wandered around on foot with Tune for a bit. I felt my lips were a bit dry, tender and puffy– way too much salt in that lunch– and I suspected I looked like I was sporting a trout-pout As Seen On TV. Yuck. I downed the rest of my water as we strolled around the empty grounds. Leaving the park was a little tricky, as the road was narrow, steep!, and virtually shoulderless. I held up traffic a few times, especially on the way down the long hills. The roads were a bit bumpy and uneven, and going downhill, I tried to let some of the all-day pressure off my bum by riding like a jockey– staying light and lithe, hovering just over the saddle, tucking in to prevent much air resistance from slowing me down, as my horse number 520 galloped and bounced me around just a bit, but I keep it tightly under my control. And taking up the lane all to myself! I was doing just about the speed limit anyway, but I didn’t want to kill my brakes. So a couple of cars waited. People were nice. Nice is good.

 
I touched the border of MA, but dipped shallowly back into northernmost CT around 6:30 PM, the witching hour for rogue camping days. I had to start assessing the local situation to determine where I might post up for the night before it got too dark and buggy, and I could feel the temperature dropping slowly and steadily. If I had hope for any type of makeshift shower, it was going to have to happen soonish. At a corner pub and restaurant, I entered with a couple of empty bottles, hoping to top off in case my unknown camping digs did not include water access. The restaurant half of the building, with repulsively colored vinyl booths and a rather warn out industrial gray carpet, appeared to be strictly for show as it was was totally dormant, but every seat at the horseshoe shaped bar was full of raucous diners and drinkers. A party of 6 was just leaving, shouting their goobyes at each other, and I backed out of the way to and waitied for them to bumble past. Finally, the bartender made her way over to me without looking up and asked flatly, “Need a menu?”  I explained that I was just hoping to fill my bottles with simple tap water. She half-frowned and thought about this for a second, until a regular there in a faded trucker hat and shirt as ugly as the seating piped up, “Sure, it’s alright! You wanna Budweiser too? Ah I bet you don’t even drink noway. Saw you ride up on your bike.” Trying to deflect the questions I guessed were coming, I asked if he noticed my little guard dog on the back as well. He whooped, “No way! I can’t believe it!”  “It’s true, I saw that there dog on her bike just as she came on the lot,” agreed another patron gripping her American beer. “Well how ’bout that?” the first one said, and for a moment I wondered if I’d taken a wrong turn out of Bloomfield and ended up in Virginia or Kentucky again. I definitely wasn’t making that good time. I grabbed my water bottles, thanked the waitress-bartender sincerely, smiled politely at the noisy crew and took off. Before I made it to the door, trucker hat bellered, “So whaddya camping or something?” “Yup! We’re on our way there now. Have a good night, y’all,” I grinned and ducked out.

Not far down the road was the road, I noticed a favorite road sign (besides the ones telling the grade of the coming downhill rides), a yellow diamond with a black firetruck in the middle. Bingo! A couple tenths of a mile away stood the local fire department, a shiny big building built in 2008, according to the sign above the door that I noticed while I was casing the joint. I knocked at the doors, but there wasn’t anyone around. Behind the building was a little alcove with just enough space and privacy to be considered a perfect spot. Plus, they had running water on the front of the building, and even an electical outle that I likely wouldn’t even need. So I set up tent, took Tunes for a last stroll, ate my leftovers from lunch and a big handfull of almonds, cashews, and dried cranberries, and set about doing my evening cleanup. After my makeshift and refreshing shower, I went to refill the bottles, and realized that the water had been sitting in the pipes all day and was really warm. Drat, coulda had a warm scrub. I’ll have to remember to check first next time. The temps were still falling, so I pulled on a wool overshirt, and snuggled in for the night, listening to the mechanical sounds of some machinery clicking on and off, a fan running, and whatever kinds of noises were coming from the cell phone tower that I appeared to be under. It was a safe home for the night, I was clean, I rode a solid 53 miles (33 more than I hoped!), and that was good enough for me. 

  
  

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Diversions in the Land of the Lotus-Eaters

The layover in central Connecticut included not only adequate rest and abundant socialization opportunities with family members I don’t often get to connect with, but I’ve eaten so many delectable dishes that I’ve restored any weight that I lost over the five days of pedaling to get here. Yesterday, Petunia and I changed modes of transportation, opting for a watercraft intstead. My dear friend and TouringTunes fanclub president Pam picked us up in her convertible and we spent the afternoon at Bolton Lake, joined by my cousin Helen and her sweet, trained therapy pitbull, Diesel. 

  

   


Petunia wasn’t so sure about Diesel at first, the latter K9 being a bigger and very affectionate, playful boy, and once she gave him a single, firm bark to establish her power in this dynamic, they easily warmed up to each other.

   

Outfitted in his stylish yellow Personal Floatation Device, “D” enjoyed a kayak cruise with his mom, and Pam went out on a nice yellow kayak, although she left her two aquatically disinclined kitties at home. I attempted to stand-up paddleboard with a kayak paddle and then a short paddle before ultimately taking a seat to avoid accidental cow-tipping, as Tunes was between my feet.   

    

  

          

We paddled across the lake and made it to a small beach, where Tunes and D bonded over their shared love of running in huge circles and bounding along invisible racetracks, enthusiastically welcoming the opportunity to play on dry land. Still wearing their PFDs, they were quite a sight, these two happy dogs in puffy vests, careening around patches of trees and over sandy beachfront. 

 The rest of the afternoon was equally blissful, with a fantastic dinner on the water (including half of this rather uterine-tessellated watermelon), quinoa with tofu and tomato sauce, spicy green chips that were like healthy Doritos, and all sorts of tasty goodness.      

  
Following that, I had a lovely visit with my Aunt Pam and her partner Tim, and we caught up on life and travels and she made me a delicious gelato dessert with whipped cream and fresh raspberries. Mmmm. I was certainly not going hungry, but I felt like I’d need to get back on the bicycle soon before all of these treats caught up with my waistline.

As for now, the day’s intermittent rain just concluded with a huge storm crackling with thunder, lightning, strong winds, the whole bit. Tunes was actually pretty nervous, so she was glad we weren’t out in the tenements of the tent and elements. I took some time to visit with Aunt Nancy and her dog Willow, had an indoor cookout feast with my mother and my brother Greg, and read up on my maps to discover that I’d eventually be facing the task of summiting Kancamagus Pass in NH, at over 2,800 feet in elevation (starting from just ~400′ at the start of the 34 mile highway). On the heels of that revelation, I also took some time to re-evaluate my pack load, relinquishing even more camera equipment and cables, batteries, personal care items, a book, and my first completed map in the set of 12.

I have a lot to look forward to and I am eager to pedal on to new pastures. But meanwhile, I haven’t been bored in the past couple of days here, and with the forecast of steady and needed rain for the next 48 hours, I may find myself some other temporary adventures, if I don’t ship out before then. It’s been fun to remain open to the possibilities!

Week 1 TL;DR: (Too Long; Didn’t Read): a bit under 300 miles covered from central-western NJ to central CT, adventure, farms, hills, wild camping, new friends, great times with family and old friends, decadent comestibles, fantastic weather, including the large, loud storm that just wrapped up this otherwise drizzly day. 


PS: Aw yeah, nothing like a Connecticut grinder. 

Song of the Day: Watching the Wheels, acoustic version, by John Lennon. 

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