Friday, September 25, 2009

Along the Way

Passing the country by at 12 mph has its advantages. For instance, you probably won’t miss that gorgeous meadow of sunflowers - nor will the chance to savor the pungent aroma of skunk escape you. I’ve described it as the perfect balance of speed between walking and driving. Recently, while sight seeing, we paused to marvel at the largest dog I’ve ever seen. A Newfoundland, the beast weighed in at nearly 200 pounds and was considerably larger than the woman walking him. Affectionately called “Bear,” he fit his name perfectly.

At the end of one such picturesque riding day we found ourselves in Norfolk, Connecticut. As we sat ready to prepare a PB and J dinner just before nightfall, a group ride of road cyclists stopped to talk to us. We were pleasantly surprised since it is no easy chore to bring that many riders to a halt on a whim. A gentleman by the name of Mark introduced himself and inquired about our lodging arrangements. After we explained that we were looking for an out-of-the-way camp spot and had rolled into town in hopes of finding an open grocery store (no such luck) he was quick to explain that his son was at home preparing pasta for all the bikers. “Just head on up to this address and we’ll see you there in about an hour,” chimed Mark. Did we ever light up. Upon arrival we met Dawson, master pasta maker, who promptly offered us a Guinness which we could not refuse - after all, we didn’t want to offend our new hosts! In no time at all we found ourselves visiting with the whole gang over a delicious meal. They enjoyed hearing about our trip but I think we got even more enjoyment hearing about some of their group rides. Most recently they had all cycled up Mt. Washington in Vermont, a grueling seven mile ascent with an average gradient of 12% and a maximum of 22%. Just to give you an idea, when we start up a 12% grade we travel at less than 5 mph and are standing up, attempting to smash the pedals with the bikes and our bodies groaning all the while. Mark had finished with the top time, under 1.25 hours. Truly impressive. The group was also in the process of putting on a benefit ride for a fellow cyclist that had been struck by a drunk driver - compassionate to boot! Also worth mentioning: Mark and his wife Leeann had gorgeous bicycles in every room of the house. Many were made by a custom builder in Rhode Island by the name of Circle A Cycles. They looked liked the most fun you could have with clothes on.

In the morning we embarked to Hyde Park, home of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library (the first presidential library) as well as historic mansions for people that possessed more money than they could spend. One such mansion (pictured) owned by Ruth Livingston Mills was upgraded from an inadequate 25 rooms to a much more suitable 79 suites after it became “…neither sufficiently commodious nor impressive enough for her society visitors.” Talk about a party; I’d hate to get the housekeeping bill.

That evening we sat in a country store watching the wind blow the pouring rain sideways during a tornado warning. Late that night we were awakened by the sound of a torrential downpour. I kept checking the weather forecast on my phone, half expecting to be caught in a storm of epic proportions. Luckily, flash flood warnings were only issued from two to four AM with severe thunderstorm warnings forecasted for the following day. I suppose the news should have helped us sleep better but it didn’t do much to muffle the sound of the monsoon-like rain. Thank goodness for shelter, dryness, and warmth!

The following day we found ourselves in the Delaware Water Gap. What a gorgeous area (pictured). The peaceful Delaware River wandered so calmly through the lush countryside that you wondered if it would ever reach the ocean. It was here that our path crossed the Appalachian Trail once again. Let me tell you -just when you think you are doing something over-the-top someone comes along and one-ups you. How does hiking 2,000 miles from Maine to Georgia sound? That’s 100+ days of lugging a backpack with all your food, clothing, and camp items nearly 20 miles a day. We had the pleasure of meeting and staying with three such hikers at a mountain hostel in town. Steve, Jessica, and Tyler were all exceptional folks with amazing stories to tell. Jessica had bicycled cross country twice already and had plans for a third go-round! A fun quirk: each of them had earned trail names (it’s a hiker thing) like Jelly Bean, Six String, and Ram Rod. Clancy cleverly signed the hostel guest book as “Rubber Foot.” I wasn’t feeling as creative - I’m still looking for my bicyclist name. I’ve pondered over "Crash" and “Sir Flats-a-Lot” but nothing has stuck so far.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


This is the biggest little city we have peddled into for a long time. The route that we took was a combination of super highways and four lane streets which made entering very challenging. It was definitely worth all the trouble because Boston was the top city so far in my opinion.

There is so much history in this town that it is quite overwhelming without some structure. We saw a tour that had just started and joined up. This was the freedom trail tour that covered everything from the North Church (think Paul Revere, “One if by land, two if by sea”) to the floating legion - the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) to Old Mother Goose’s grave. It was truly amazing and I would strongly recommend you read about it. A couple of things that stuck out were Bunker Hill Monument (pictured) that we climbed and also seeing where the Constitution was first read in front of the old capitol building (also site of the “Boston Massacre“). Talk about history.

A place that stood out was Faneuil Hall/Quincy market - all the presidents of the United States of America have spoken here at some point in time. It was quite breathtaking. Outside of the building was a street performer that really earned his money by putting on a great show. He had an act with a ladder that was really cool. He would block unknowing passersby with this prop, all the while the whole audience laughed wildly. It was great.

Academia is quite prevalent in Boston; from what I’ve been told over 120 institutes of higher education reside in the greater Boston area (20 mile radius). We decided to visit the most popular one of all and quite possibly the prettiest campus I’ve seen yet, Harvard. It also is one of the oldest colleges in the USA, making it a great place to visit. The famous law school building was very impressive with all the pillars and statues.

Having been in the sun all day sightseeing, we rode down from Harvard Square to the community pool to cool off and boy did it feel good. We felt much better getting cleaned up prior to meeting up with our newly found friends Elliott and Erin for dinner. After they spoiled us with food and drink we went back to their house and played ladder ball, a new game to us but very fun nonetheless. In the morning we helped them move out of their house which was good because we like to pull our weight but it never happens.

Over all I think Boston is one of the best cities that we have traveled through in a long time. Second only to Gold Hill perhaps?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

More Maine!

Done with our fun in Acadia, we began backtracking down the beautiful coastline. Along the way we couldn’t help but notice how incredibly uncreative Maine business owners tend to be. The first sign I saw for “Maine-ly Meat BBQ” made me smile. The second sign for “Maine-ly Realty” was cute. The third sign, “Maine-ly Gifts” was getting obnoxious. The 500th Maine-ly sign I saw made me want to burn it to the ground. Luckily, the other scenery proved more diverse.

Our route took us back through Fort Knox, a historic Civil War reinforcement that we had visited previously. This time around we were able to tour the fort in the dark, an element that changed the atmosphere entirely. Something about wandering around in cold, unlit stone corridors with nothing but the sound of your heartbeat makes ghost hunting believable. Nonetheless, in the sunlight or under the blanket of night, Fort Knox is a magnificent sight to behold. Make sure to check the photos page for more Fort Knox images.

It didn’t take us much longer to reach Camden, Maine. It was here that we had previously met Jack, a motorcycle enthusiast that I began chatting with after seeing his bike parked on the street. His trick looking Hawk GT had so many aftermarket goodies that I simply had to inquire. Not only was Jack happy to talk bikes, he said he had 17 of them in his stable at home! He had given us his number for when we came back through town and we gave him a call upon our return. In no time at all we were getting the full tour of his beautiful house and his exquisite bike fleet. True to his word, nearly 20 bikes were parked here and there - in the garage, in the workshop, and even in the house. I was envious! Highlights of the collection included an MV Augusta, a BMW, a Triumph Bonneville, and two 2-stroke 250cc race bikes - one of which was an Aprillia cup bike (pictured here with Jack). He fired this little screamer up and it sounded like a dirt bike straight out of hell. What a cool toy. The next day Jack even let me take his Honda Hawk GT out for a spin. What a treat it was to be back on two wheels (with a motor that is!). He also shared with us two films: Faster, a documentary on Moto GP racing and Children of Men, a Clive Owen flick. Both were terrific movies and welcome additions to our otherwise lacking pop-culture portfolios. Jack was a filmmaker before retirement so he was able to give us a ton of insight into both of these fantastic pieces. Staying with Jack was a true joy. He is an awesome, friendly character with a fabulous life philosophy - cheers Jack!

It was also in Camden that we had the pleasure of meeting a fellow named Rick. “You guys gunna be around tomorrow?” he asked over dinner, “I’ll take you out for a sail if you’d like.” Lifting my chin from the table I managed to reply “Y…Yea…Yeah, really? Are you serious? That would be great!” You see, I’ve had this incredible inclination to take a spin on sailboat for the past couple months - seeing yacht clubs as we travel has only fueled the desire. The next morning we met up with Rick and his friend Dee and motored out to the marina where a gorgeous 43 foot yacht awaited us. Once we got out into the harbor Rick showed us how to ready the sails - we killed the diesel motor and harnessed the power of the wind. Clipping along at five knots with nothing but the sound of waves against the side of the boat proved to be a most serene and therapeutic experience. In the couple of hours spent in the harbor both Clancy and I had the chance to take the wheel of the ship. Sailing was everything we hoped it might be and so much more. As if our day hadn’t been made already, Dee took us over to check out the Mary Day once we were dockside. The Mary Day was once a working schooner that has since been semi-retired in that the only cargo it hauls these days are people. The boat gives paying passengers multi-day retreats in which they learn about the art of sailing on a historic vessel. Dee knew the owners of the ship and kindly introduced us. She might have helped us express interest in working on such a boat. Hmm…Let me just check my day planner for next summer… Rick and Dee - two fantastically awesome people without a doubt.

After leaving Camden we gobbled up more Maine coastline and eventually hit Portland. The weather turned south in a hurry and we found ourselves getting rained on with booming thunderclaps just overhead. Almost instantaneously, a car pulled over and the woman inside asked “Do you guys need a place to stay?” Louise was her name and she turned out to be quite an adventurer herself. In addition to bicycle touring, she had traveled and sailed to many parts of the world - the Mediterranean most extensively. She showed us around her oh so quaint cabin where she was in the process of moving out. “The place is yours for tonight and tomorrow, you can stay as long as you want.” Then she left us with a bottle of wine and a fantastic CD collection to enjoy the night. The experience reminded us of Steve, a gentleman that had let us stay alone in his house for sale earlier on the trip. He brought us a cooler of ice, some movies to watch, and some magazines to read. I’m really not sure why people are so good to us - I just hope our luck doesn’t run out any time soon.