Monday, December 16, 2013

Kindness and Rain - Athens to Milledgeville, GA

When I last wrote I was in Athens, GA preparing to ride southeast toward the coast of Georgia.  Right now as I write, I'm riding an Amtrak train from Savannah GA to New York City.  I completed the whole trip of riding safely and happily!  Okay, that's the spoiler, now you basically know the ending.

I had stayed an extra day (last Sunday) in Athens to try to wait out the rain and cold, but it wasn't totally successful.  Once I got packed up and removed the (tiny tiny) piece of metal from my rear tire - that had caused two flats - it was still in the 30's and so cloudy/humid that it would be a miracle if it didn't rain.  No miracle luck on this day.  Not in that way, at least!

Within 15 minutes I was glad I had already put on my rain covers, and was wearing contact lenses (glasses in the rain gets troublesome).  It was pouring and I wasn't even out if town yet!  But on I pedaled, and I had the relief of knowing that I had a Warmshowers host in 70 short miles (Milledgeville).  But this felt surely like a low moment in the trip.  Having seen Rising Appalachia already, and with no destination for 250 miles, it felt odd to just keep plunging forward, especially in less-than-pleasant weather.

15 or 20 miles into the ride, I stopped in to a gas station for a snack and to warm up. Sometimes stopping is risky when you're cold and wet, because your body temperature stays higher if you keep moving.  But I needed a morale break.  I paced around eating a granola bar, and eventually the cashier offered me a warm beverage on the house.  That was such a lovely gesture! and one that may not happen in the same context up north.  But maybe it would ....

Hot chocolate had me much warmer, and i got back on the bike.  What happened next was possibly the most unexpectedly generous act of kindness to come my way on the trip, and certainly got me through to the end of that day!
It wasn't much above 40 degrees and the rain hadn't let up.  As I biked through a small town, probably with as close to a frown as I am capable of, I heard from the sidewalk, "Hey Sir!"  He had to yell over the rain and cars.  "Hey Sir, do you need anything?!"  He was a tall man in his 30's with thick round black glasses and a long plaid jacket and hat.  Could have stopped out of a Dick Tracey scene.  A little surprised by this stranger reaching out, I told him, in genuine response, that "Nope, I think I've got everything that I could need!"  He said gently, "Well, I saw you riding back there, and just in case ..." and he handed me a folded up $5 bill.  Now I didn't need $5, but i sure needed that unsolicited encouragement at just that moment. Talk about guardian angels.  A bit of money was the tool this fellow needed to express his support of a fellow human being doing something less than ordinary and maybe a bit challenging.  And part of my traveling intention is to humbly accept and receive help and generosity.  It was a perfect exchange of humanity, and I pedaled off smiling with humbled disbelief, and the rain turning salty on my cheeks.

One thing working very much in my favor was that the further south and east I traveled, the flatter the terrain became.  I was starting to make 12 or 13 miles per hour instead of 9 or 10.  About halfway through the day I was passing my chance to turn toward Atlanta and catch a train home.  Spurred on by support from locals, and by the thought of getting to the Hostel in the Forest in Brunswick, I stayed the course.  Talking on the phone to my Warmshowers host Frank, I realized I was coming into a new accent region of the country!  A little slower and deeper southern drawl than in the mountains of Western NC.  When I got within a couple miles of Frank's home, it was getting dark and still raining, and the shoulder was narrowing.  I called, as requested, and he was already on his way to pick me up and save me riding in rush hour traffic at dusk with no safe lane to occupy.  In the time it took me to cross the 4-lane highway to a parking lot, Frank had arrived - we threw my bike in the bed of his pickup and headed to his home.

I think you would be hard-pressed to find a nicer couple than Frank and his wife Susan, and I felt so lucky to have crossed paths with them.  Before we even got in from the garage, Frank was assessing how he could help fix my bike.  Among other things, my pedal had nearly broken off in the last few miles.  He offered his as a replacement, and tried - in vain, as I had in VT - to remove my pedal.  We left the maintenance for later, and I got so thankfully showered and dry.  Did a load of laundry, had a beer.  These things are so exciting and luxurious when you've ridden all day, in the rain especially (and compared to soggy stealth camping ...).

Susan made a large and delicious dinner, and we had plenty of delightful conversation.  The two of them, in their 60's or so, are planning for a cross-country cycling tour in March - across the southern tier of the US to San Diego.  Daily training and extensive map planning - not the way I usually do it, but they have all winter to get ready so why not be totally prepared!  They ride a lot but this will be their first long tour.  Very exciting. After dinner we fixed my pedal and Frank helped me clean the  whole bike and chain!  Then I played a couple songs on the banjo and we hung out talking until later than I realized.  Off to bed, because I needed to leave by sunrise to make 100 miles to Vidalia by 4pm.  Sounded daunting, but worth it to have a place to stay in central Georgia where I really don't know the scene enough to confidently pitch a tent in any old piece of woods.  This entry ends here.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Time Travel. Georgia. Rising Appalachia.

I'm going to break away from chronology now, so I can write a little more about what's fresh.  I also noticed that 100 people read my last entry, so I really ought to keep up to date and keep posting!!

I am currently in Athens, GA, where I last night saw my truly favorite band, Rising Appalachia.  Before I get into all that though, I'll briefly note what I've been doing and haven't yet written about:

• Rode 4 days from York, PA to Baltimore, MD and D.C. and Leesburg, VA with my cousin Tim - his first ever bike touring!
• Rode through Winchester, VA and the entirety of Skyline Drive (most challenging terrain I had ever done)
• Rode the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping in Waynesboro, Roanoake, and Floyd VA (slightly more challenging than Skyline...), then descended the crest of the mountains - fending off dogs and darkness - to Black Mountain, NC
• Longest day ever, 125 miles
• Lived in Asheville, NC for a couple weeks, after 12 straight days of cycling
• Biked to Franklin, NC, then on to Athens, GA

Caught up!  Probably 1,000-1,500 miles total at this point, but no math done yet.  I'll fill in details on all those things, and I'll put together a photo journal of it once I'm home.

So when I pulled into Athens, GA, it was Friday afternoon.  I did my best to find hopping downtown areas, and scoped out the area for good street singing spots.  Well, first I took advantage of a bike pump outside a shop to keep my rear tire reasonably inflated.  Slow leak I was riding out, rather than fixing.  I finally decided on a corner of a slow street with wide sidewalks and cafés/pubs/shops near the edge of the University of Georgia.  I checked with the store I was in front of (an oft-appreciated gesture), and they were just glad I wasn't drumming.  Within a minute or two of singing, folks were stopping to listen and drop a dollar in the case.  Lots if smiles and words of encouragement, so I sang right through until after dark.  My favorite feedback was from the meter maid-man who enjoyed my upbeat rendition of "For What It's Worth."  As usual, the more lively songs seem to get people more inspired.

When I finally stopped singing, I discovered that my hosts (as of then still strangers) were having a vegan potluck, apparently due to my arrival.  And I was 2 hours late for my own party!  So I rushed over and was warmly received by Jul and Justin, their family, pets, friends, and everyone's children!  There was plenty to eat and good conversation with inspired kind folks.  I feel so lucky to be dropping into such fantastic communities of people everywhere I go.  I hung out and changed my flat tire - someone found the hole in the busted one for me :) - played some banjo and sang, and then excused myself later on to go back downtown because Victor Wooten and his brothers were playing in town!

Once I got to the theater, I realized I had no key for my bike lock, so I couldn't go inside.  And it turned out I wasn't in the mood for the music they were playing anyway!  I went on to a Phish tribute band that was way too loud, and waited out the rain before biking home.  Grateful for a dry warm place to land.

Saturday, I went to the Farmers' Market nearby, had some good agricultural conversation (Osage orange wood, Yacon, peanuts, rosemary, shiitake, etc ...), and went on to an outdoor craft fair also nearby.  Met some fun vendors there including a sweet Brazilian and Peruvian couple selling flutes and jewelry, a young woman making bicycling bags, and a woman selling stingray leather jewelry, among others.  Bought my first ever crystal, a fine piece of Moldavite.

Then I went back to the same busking spot as the day before, but there was a grumpy woman there asking for change who gave me a good long glare and grumble.  I looked around for another spot, but it really was the only one worth spending time at.  Plus I was feeling discouraged by and annoyed with the similarities of busking and panhandling.  So I sat and drank tea.

Finally it was time for the festivities to begin at New Earth Music Hall, in preparation for the Rising Appalachia show.  It began with me wandering in as the band was arriving and setting up.  I felt this amazing sense of being starstruck as I haven't before ... Seeing these talented and wonderful folks who I had only before seen in videos, thinking, "I know you, you're the guy who plays djembe!!  And you, you sing like an earthen angel!  You're real and we're standing on the same ground 10 feet away from each other!"  But I've never been the intrusive type, so I tried to remain cool while I went through the motions of this nice dream.  A group gathered to practice chi gong and yoga, which was a great way to ground, as well as meet some folks there for similar reasons.  Then we moved outside for an anthropological discussion about media, images, neurobiology, and philosophy.  Again, a nice way to see and connect with the gathering crowd - even though I didn't much feel like contributing to the discussion!  And I was admittedly distracted by the soundcheck going on inside.

When the doors opened, I was sure to stake out a spot up front.  The music began with Rahasya, an Athens group that shared kirtan-style chanting, which began very mellow and eased ever-so-slowly into a good long groove.  Perfect warm-up, and ended quickly (half hour?) - but there was a lot of music to come still!  Another local fellow Carl Lindberg took the stage next and kinda tore it up with his killer blues/soul voice, distorted upright bass, and warm heart.  Touring with Rising Appalachia was Theresa Davis, a spoken word artist of the highest level.  She had the audience sipping every syllable as she wound words around education, puberty, women's rights, death, romance, childhood, and parenthood.

With the stage now properly prepared, Rising Appalachia came out to step things up still one notch higher.  I quickly made peace with my ecstatic realization of the moment, and off we went.  They started in with two or three traditional tunes from New Orleans, first a cappella ("Mississippi Song"), then with their essential percussion-driven banjo groove ("St. James Infirmary").  Sisters Chloe and Leah have impeccably uplifting harmonies together, that weave around to sound like often 3 or 4 voices.  And when they're moving together, they're So together ... like a single being making sound from the same breath.  Leah and Chloe pass the banjo back and forth on various songs, Chloe often is playing fiddle or guitar, Leah often has a tambourine ....  Biko was rocking out the djembe, congas, and the inverted bowl drum with a serious bass mic pumping it out.  Completely solid drummer that you could trust your life with, adding just enough invigorating embellishment to get everyone dancing just a little harder.  David went back and forth between acoustic guitar and upright bass.

Now, I wish I could remember the whole set list, especially because I could read it clearly from where I was standing.  But it all whirled into one wave of bliss and dancing.  "Honey Babe Blues" was near the beginning, and so was "Filthy Dirty South" - anthem title track of their latest album.  A pleasant rendition of Buena Vista Social Club's "El Quarto de Tula."  "SuNu" whose lyrics translate into 'dance, beautiful women,' 'everyone dance your butts off' or something to that effect.  "Pretty Lil' Foot."  "Cumberland Gap," another traditional.  By now things were in full swing, Oh what joy!  The band even seemed to forget that most of them apparently had the flu.

Then the sultry "Swoon," "Oh, Death" with Theresa Davis' poetry returning to the stage as the three women traded off mics.  And the most wonderful surprise to me- "Sometimes I," which steadied the whole room as soon as the banjo and guitar delicately opened the song.  Green heart light beaming down on the stage, Leah sang first, then Chloe in response, and they traded back and forth most tenderly.  The most introspective song of the evening, and everyone seemed slightly dizzy with some sort of nostalgia or hope or nostalgic hopeful loving amazed contentment.  And then the drums/bass kicked in and the whole song went to a sweet and deep groove that had everyone dancing in a way that you only can when you get there from soul of the beginning of the tune.

From then it all felt like a bonus.  I'm gonna go ahead and cut myself off from further music critic-style gushing.  I also forget what the songs were from then out, just that we kept on moving and getting down properly.  A quick-paced "Scale Down" was the encore, quite fine indeed.

Yes, I'm sure I forgot some things, but oh well.  It was a very full-feeling show, haven't felt anything so sustainably satisfying and grounding.  You know, amazing without being impossible to hold on to.

Afterwards, Kalimba Man took the stage with one thumb piano and began rocking.  So compellingly, in fact, that there formed a fantastic posse of blissful dancers (I among them), now with space to move a bit more!  He was using a loop pedal to layer not only acoustic metal twangs, but also deep whacks to the wooden sides of his instrument, complex drum pad beats, and later on thumb-tapped distortion and synth sounds.  This fellow was so fun that I danced away the period of time in which the band mingles with everyone as they wrap up and leave.  I had at least some vague intention of sharing my gratitude directly with the band, if only briefly.  In a perfect world, I would have had them sign my banjo in gratitude for inspiring me to start playing it, or sign my bicycle for inspiring me to ride through Appalachia, or sign my album for inspiring the creation of my song "Permaculture Saints."  Signatures of course being just silly selfish symbols, but the real medicine being the gratitude I feel for these top-notch performers and entertainers and human beings ....

But I had waited so long to stop dancing that the band was already packed up and congregating at their white touring van to leave.  I powered through my desire to not be a needy pushy fan, and courageously, casually, walked over to the band.  I stumbled awkwardly around, not wanting to interfere with the poignant personal exchanges happening between musicians/poet/managers, found David the guitarist/bassist free for a moment to shake his hand and say thank you - then I succumbed to my desire to not be a needy pushy fan.  And I instead turned into the slightly awkward fan that stands watching from almost too close while the band huddles and does a wonderful little tour-ending celebration jig.  I fought the urge to race back inside, and at least stood somewhat firmly to send the van off with a grateful little bow, a peace sign, a smile, and a hoot.

What could it be that turned this self-confident and steady individual (me) and competent musician into a bumbling fool?  Partially, I'm enamored with the soulful skill and beauty of these musicians; and partially, I feel the strong urge to be part of something so very much like Rising Appalachia - to be on stage playing tight music with a high vibe and message, while people dance and connect to a deep source and community.  What a useful lesson and inspiration!  I won't be ashamed to be the true fanatic that I am, and I will carry this strength in my heart forward and outward.

Bicycled home, after connecting with some new friends.  Slept well, again warm and dry.  Up with the family to discover that it was in fact cold and wet out, and that I ought to wait a day to begin biking again.  So I had a casual day of catching up on things like this blog.  Sat at the food co-op for a while, and got talking with a fellow who stopped to chat the first day i was singing in town.  Lovely guy and he could tell me a lot about old time music and the banjo.  He reminded me that Richie Stearns is kind of a legend, and happens to live in Ithaca, and I ought to see if he's teaching lessons these days!  Soon enough.  Then I went to The Globe, a Public House with an Irish session going on.  And scotch flights.  A pleasant evening.  Home here again, and .. this is what things start to sound like when I blog about the too-recent past.  I'll recount every step I took from living room to kitchen, etc, so ... it's time to call it a night.  Up early for a 70-mile day tomorrow to Milledgeville!  Hoping the pieces of metal falling apart on my bike's rear pannier rack won't be a problem.  And that I can find whatever is causing the slow leak in the new rear tube.  Goodnight!


Monday, November 25, 2013

Pennsylvania Amish and Not-Stealthy-Enough Camping

Riding from Kennett Square, PA, to Lancaster, PA and beyond towards York, I was mostly in the middle of several interconnected Amish communities.  It was really a treat.  At first I was noticing lots of horses around, and healthy looking crop fields.  Then there was the distinctive laundry on clotheslines that seems to mark the homes like Tibetan prayer flags.  As soon as I first saw a yellow "horse carriage" traffic sign, I found myself catching up to a black coach pulled by a single horse.  We were going downhill, but as soon as we started going uphill, the horse had much more power than I did!  So I played this game on many roads, passing and being passed by one- or two-horse carriages, depending on the hill.  It got me brainstorming about a horse/wagon/bicycle caravan.  That's gonna be a fun adventure someday!

One small herd (most of the livestock herds were relatively small) of cows was grazing on the most luscious field of thick dark deep grass you could possibly imagine.  A few separate homes and barns were under construction.  I passed at least 3 schoolyards, or community buildings where there were young kids out playing - running, laughing, screaming.  Seemed pretty swell, and I got a lot of friendly waves and smiles.  One particularly kind smile from a red-bearded horse driver.  I was also happy to see that on any given road, there seemed to be many trades represented - leatherworker here, blacksmith in the next home, a wood mill in the next ....

When I got to Lancaster, I stopped in a swell new local foods store and cafe.  I forget the name now ... but i guess it's an up-and-coming town.  Took off quickly, because my destination was a County Park near York, PA, and I wanted to set up before it was too dark.  I got there shortly after sunset, and found that there were houses much closer than I would prefer to camp near.  To go further into the park was a steep steep hike, plus it was the beginning of hunting season.  So i stuck near the edge, maybe 50 yards from the road, and about as far from neighboring houses to either side.  Only behind me up the hill was dark woods.  Bright moon was coming out.

By the time my tent was pitched, the streetlights were on across the street, and it started to get chilly.  I hopped into my tent, head sticking out the top as I sat inside.  I made a phone call, but within a few minutes, I think I saw a flashlight shining at my tent!  I immediately stopped talking and got still.  Not much to be done except sit and keep quiet ....  A few minutes later, as I was lying still, I heard some very loud footsteps coming through the leaves just uphill from me, where I couldn't see through the wall of my tent.  The footsteps, which seemed like a person very uninterested in secrecy, stopped just behind my tent, about 10 feet away.  That's the moment that the heart starts beating really fast!  I knew for sure I was seen.  The footsteps started and stopped again right away.  Then, after a pause, ran off away and up the hill!

Now I was going to sleep with my glasses on and flashlight attached to me.  When the footsteps returned, with no flashlight, I was able to quietly sit up and stick my head out the screen roof.  The footsteps advanced, and got sufficiently close for me to go into defense mode - so I mustered the gruffest "hey!" I could manage.  And instant before I even made a sound, the footsteps started off up the hill.  This time I could make out a figure in the darkness, that looked about twice the size of a black house cat.  Very clumsy house cat.  That's more relieving than a person, really, though I had no idea what it could have been ....  The best guess the next day (Tim's guess) was a small black bear, which would have those loud heavy padded footsteps.

So between a person shining a flashlight at me, and a creature that could have been the Blue Devil for all I knew, I was a little on alert.  Some deer passing through had a familiar sound, but then a fellow walking his dog spent a long time looking my way.  It didn't seem that the park was supposed to be open after dark, so I stayed alert but dozing until probably midnight!  I spent the time transforming my fearful worried thoughts ("someone's going to sneak up and shine a light in my face and make me leave," or "someone's going to walk by and lift my bike," or "some animal's going to rip through my tent and eat my toes" ...) into rational easy thoughts ("Even if that person saw me, they probably don't care much that I'm here," or "those animals and people are more afraid of me, hidden in a tent, than I am of them" or "everything's fine, just relax and sleep").  Worked out fine.

Rain/snow was in the forecast, but it held off until morning.  And nobody bothered me, so it was a fine night all in all.  I got up well before light, so I could make it to York before the precipitation.  I found a nice coffee shop, got a mocha, and sat to write a blog entry before my cousin Tim came to meet me at 9am!  We were gonna do some good wholesome family riding for the next few days!  It began snowing just as I arrived, and then it let up before we got riding.  That's the next entry, though, I get ahead of myself ....  Cheers, -travis in Asheville NC

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Philly to Longwood, Pennsylvania Day 1

Today I biked 125 miles, in 14 hours. I'll tell the whole story later.  I've learned that it's good to let an experience settle into your bones before you go telling people about it.

Tonight is the second night in a row (and ever on a bike trip) that I've gotten a motel.  I secretly love motels, and if I could afford to, I'd go to them all the time!  Yesterday I biked a hard 70 miles on the parkway, and it started to rain right when I saw a Food sign a little ways from where I'd stopped.  Had a bite and decided to in fact stay at the motel, because there are many things I can do at a motel that I cannot in a stealth camping situation.  To name a few (and set aside the incomparable connection-to-the-natural-world aspect of sleeping outside):

Take off the soggy clothes I'd had on for two days and nights.
Call my mother (the last time I tried calling while camping behind some houses, I got a flashlight shined at me; and during the day I need to bike!)
Blog - minimal service, battery saving, and no lights that would draw attention to my tent!
Play banjo and sing and write songs
Sleep in past sunrise
Actually sleep instead of readjusting all night
Start the day with warm toes
Not worry if I'm allowed to be where I am, if anyone will find me, if animals will eat my food, if it will rain, if my bike is safe, etc ...
Sew my pants and shirt (again the light thing)
Eat food at night (animal thing)
Put arnica oil on my poor knees and calendula oil on my poor seat.
Drink mediocre coffee in the morning
Spread my stuff out everywhere!

That was quite the list ... Now back to the story.

Vicky dropped me in Philadelphia, after showing me her hometown of Old Lyme, CT, and the awesome trees and people she grew up with.  Her brother is building a very impressive off-grid wooden lodge, hand-hewing and pounding wooden pegs, etc.  the site looks out over the Lt River, and you could see all the way to Long Island from one of those hills.

So in Philly, we park and walk a ways to find a nice organic bite to eat.  It's a very nice city!  The park we went to eat at had smiling happy people sitting around, and a swing dance session, a ukulele playing singer, and an accordion-playing singer.  Accordion-playing singer was particularly compelling - forgot to get her name and her band's name!  Drop me a line if you read this please!!
I had this a strange feeling of familiarity with the park, and didn't remember until the next day that it was nearby the site of the Asbell wedding from my last bike tour!  Oh, and the most memorable moment of the park was when Vicky went to sit up on a stone wall/railing, kicked her foot back for leverage, found only the space between railings, and fell like a sandbag flat forward.  She was immediately laughing hysterically, which is why it was a funny moment and not a terrible one.  Man was it funny.  Looked like her whole torso and face hit the ground at the same time, but apparently she caught herself with her hands.  Style points for hilarious dismount.

I had a friend to stay with about 40 miles west of Phila, near the Longwood Gardens of DuPont fame.  That meant 4 hours of cycling ahead, and I preferred to not bike at night.  Cut it close though, and hit the road by 1 or so.  It was a pretty uneventful ride through some kind of rough neighborhoods, so I just kept moving.  A lot of riding at the side of two- or four- lane roads with broken glass near the curb.  It opened up a little as I got out of the city limits, but I was still on highway when I put on my blinky red light and busted out my LED work light/head light.  But as it really got dark, I pulled off onto country roads that I only wish I could have seen in daylight!  Thick hollows with creeks, tall trees, and fat vines.  There was a smell of grass burning the whole way through this part.  Maybe leaf burning?  Either way, sweet and pleasant.

I pulled into Joyce's driveway, and she answered the door warmly.  It's so rewarding to see a familiar face at the end of a long ride!  Cleaned myself up and played the piano for a bit.  Checked out the map and checked in with my cousin to see if he would still be coming to ride with me!  Part of my trajectory was to head thru York PA to meet him from his home in Harrisburg.

Joyce had another guest who was at the end of touring her new book about an epic World War II civilian escape across frozen sea in Prussia, with horses.  I was gifted a hardcover copy of it that I've been riding with, but haven't begun reading.  The two of them had been doing a pretty intense workshop the previous days.  I set out early in the morning, grateful for a cozy home, sad Joyce and I didn't have time to go garden touring, but I had to get to within striking distance of York, and set up camp.  That'll be the next entry, when I biked 60 miles thru Amish country, racing horse carriages and smiling at playing children!  Cheers, -travis

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Burlington and Montpelier

Blog VT

So one day ("95 wet chilly miles ...") got its very own blog entry, and now two and a half weeks will also get just one entry.  My blog, my rules :)

Once I got to Montpelier and ate a warm wonderful meal with Twylla, I was whisked up to her house in the hills where she lives with her partner Casey, two cats, and one old Siena dog.  It's a lively and cozy home with a view of a classic Vermont mountain valley.  I would be spending the next two and a half weeks between this home and a couple in Burlington.  For the ease of reading and writing this long blog, I will divide it into thematic sections as follows (rather than chronologically):

Banjo and Busking
The one thing I did the most in VT, besides spending time with Twylla, Casey, and Vicky (another Body Mind Staffer), was singing with my banjo on church street in Burlington. The very first day I arrived to town, I found out the regulations, then went to audition for a permit.  I just so happened to be there at the one time of the week that such auditions are available, so it seemed auspicious enough!  After I sat and played a song for the permit-granting committee, one man said, "is that a song of yours?  Do you have a CD I can buy?!"  I figured they would let me hang around!

Armed with my daily permit (you need to get daily permits for the first few times you play, before you can get an annual one), I set out to find a place to sing.  Church street is a 5-block pedestrian mall, with slow traffic crossing every block.  Because it was getting chilly out, fewer establishments has outdoor seating, so I would just set up where it felt nice and quiet but traveled.

To sum it up, I challenged myself to adapt all the songs I could to the banjo, and as a result definitely picked up my banjo chops (at least as an accompanying instrument).  I remember the last time i busked in Boston when I was 20, and made a consistent $5/hr.  I was happy to find a very receptive audience on church st, and would make $50-100 for just an hour or two of playing!   It helps having a CD to sell.  Weekends were of course busier, and I can only imagine what it's like in the summer!

The best part of busking is that you get to really connect with people who connect with the music you're making.  So many people stop and smile and dance that it becomes highly nourishing to the entertainer.  Kids and grandparents and teenagers and college students and babies, tourists and homeless folks, everyone is on the same plane on the street.  What a gift to get to sing hopeful or danceable or moving songs for everyone!

Sometimes I'd get nice gifts in my banjo case, like a full box of artisan chocolates from the store next door, or a matchbox cover that gives a compelling definition of happiness (I don't smoke it's brought a couple smiles to people who have asked me for a light!). But the best was a paper box - with a beautiful poem on it, sealed at each corner with a fancy sticker, and filled with raspberries, a pastry, and a green Vermont sticker (now on my banjo case) - from a neighboring vendor on my first day.

Vicky wasn't in town until my second week, but she would come sing with me sometimes.  Which was fun because I could just play banjo or sing harmonies, and also fun because people who know her haven't heard her sing before!  It's a great venue.

The only time I performed in a traditional venue was at RadioBean in Burlington.  It's a great cafe and bar with often several music acts every day!  When I played on a Sunday evening, there were a few friends who came to see me, and many people who just happened to be there and were listening quite intently!  Played the entire set on banjo, which was a good first.  Oh and someone actually bought a cd without hearing a single note (I hope he enjoyed it).  Oh and maybe now is a good moment to mention to anyone who got a CD from me along these travels - please drop a line, I would love to hear from you!  I don't even care if you liked the album or not!

So yes, busking was great, probably went out 7 or 8 times.  Hoping to do more elsewhere, but Burlington may have spoiled me!

Land, Horses, and Hot Tub
Twylla and Casey just got a big piece of land near Montpelier, and seeing it was a big motivation for me to get up there.  They have a small high-efficiency off-grid house in the works, and a large barn following close behind.  Should be a great home.

The land is bordered by state forest land and Hunger Mtn.  We took a couple great hikes toward the mountain, and also a walk up the perennial creek on the land.  Didn't spend quite as much time exploring the land, because we took on building a wood-fired hot tub kit.  It was an endeavor, though quite fun, but let's just say that the instructions weren't in touch with reality at all times.  Like when it said "2 ppl 4-6 hrs" (actually 3-4 ppl 4-6 hrs for 3 or 4 days?), or "use all except for the one extra stave of wood" (actually use them all).  I left having filled it a couple times to seal the cracks, and lit one fire, but no soak!

I got to meet the two horses who will soon inhabit the barn, one stubborn older and experienced horse and one super-affectionate colt.  Hazel and Zelda.

I didn't spend a lot of time in vt's capital city, but the very last day I was there, I discovered the most fantastic tea room and herbal apothecary.  Can't recall the name now.  Oh, Tulsi Tea Room.  Go there, can't get much better.  I'm no restaurant critic though so I'll leave it at that.

Speaking of tea rooms, Dobra tea in Burlington is amazing.  Eastern vibe, cozy, enormous tea selection, good music, etc ... I would go there every day of my life if I could.  Or to Tulsi ....  So it is.

VT Vices
So Vermont has a strong culture of pride in its local foods.  It's an incredible thing, and I absolutely stuffed myself with wholesome local staples and treats.  But it's also problematic when there I'd such abundance of high quality chocolates, ciders, gluten free baked goods, gf beers, meat meat meat, coffee, etc ....  If I lived in Vermont I would have to change my policy of, if it's local and well-made, you should eat it.  Lines must be drawn for health's sake.  Oh and a whole shelf of sake selections at the co-op, that's just not fair.

I was convinced to stay a little longer so that I could take part in Halloween celebrations.  Not my favorite holiday, but this was a nice one i spent as a garden gnome.  Who turned out to be a British gnome when Harry Potter (Twylla) showed up.  And a ninja (Vicky) had our backs.  We were also rolling with Slash and a Piñata for a while.

Circus and Big Freedia
A Montreal circus came to town, which was completely mind-blowing.  Cirque Eloize .... I can't even begin ... The second scene involved a woman spinning like a coin, holding herself inside a giant hula hoop, and for uncertain reasons it was the most moving piece of dance I've ever seen.  Then everyone proceeded to defy physics and normal capacity of the human body.  That's as much of a review as I can give, I'll look for a video to share later.

We also ended up at a Big Freedia show, which is beyond words in another way.  A lot (a lot) of booty shaking and some incredible dancers.

Other highlights:
Saw my friend Lloyd who just got engaged! We had a good sing-a along and caught up.

Wrote one full song and a chorus of another!

Climbed mt philo on a beautiful windy evening, and went to the lake front a couple different places.  Cartwheels and yoga with Twylla and Vicky!

Updated my very cold sneakers to very warn and waterproof hiking boots!

Sent home to myself a solid 10 lbs of weight from my bike load.

Change of plans to escape VT
So I had planned to hop on an amtrak train to Baltimore, and even went to find a free cardboard bicycle box so I could try to play by their rules. But their rules are not exactly encouraging to cyclists.  Anyway, I couldn't even get my pedals off to disassemble my bike, and so I reassessed.  Looked for rides on craigslist, and eventually just caught a ride with Vicky to Philadelphia, via her lively hometown in CT.

I must say that trying to do this blogging on a phone is not easy or conducive to me telling full stories.  And I'm really itching to tell about my days currently on the Blue Ridge Parkway!  It's great out here ....  Well, cheers for now!  Next entry will cover Philly to Winchester and start of the blue ridge.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

95 Chilly Wet Miles to Montpelier Family

[began writing Tue. Nov. 12, about the date Wed. Oct. 23rd.  Finished today Nov. 17th]

Well, here we are ... Nearly 3 weeks behind on my log, but it'll have to do!  I'm sitting now at coffee shop in York, PA waiting for my cousin Tim to meet me from Harrisburg.  Snow this morning, which turns out to be much easier than rain to deal with!  I've also given in to blogging from my phone because it's most often available to me when there's time to write.  Just like writing by hand or with a typewriter leads to different styles, we'll see how it goes!

So the adventure left off in the Green Mountain nat'l Forest near Weston, VT on October 23rd.  Got up around 5:30, packed and rolling by 6:30.  It's nice being up before most folks, and with the glow of the moon I barely needed my flashlight to light the road.   Because I was up on a significant hill, I had the joy of coasting for a good mile downhill.  Well, joyful in the lack of pedaling, but freezing to my fingers and toes, from the wind chill of such dazzling speeds.  Ha, no, I never go super fast, especially in low light.  But I got down into the valley and on my way.  Sun eventually rising over the hills.

The first town I came to, I stopped into a gas station to warm my toes and charge my phone.  Now that I'm navigating with a phone, it's crucial to keep it charged.  But there are also plenty of places with no service, so I need to somehow keep the map available, too.  Haven't yet been clever (wise) enough to set myself up with a backup paper map.  The gas station attendant informed me that the night ahead would be the first night that Killington ski resort would be making snow at the top of the mountain.  Part of the reason for my hurry!

Now a 50% chance of rain means that with conditions like the previous day's, 50% of the days following had rain.  It doesn't necessarily mean it will rain half of the day.  If fact it could mean that it will rain most of the day.  Which was the case on this day.  When I started in the morning, I wanted to believe there would be no rain, so I hadn't put any of the covers on my bags or shoes.  When it started sprinkling, after daylight came, I immediately pulled off the road under some dry cedars, and got everything covered. Except I couldn't locate my rubber shoe covers, and since it was only raining lightly I figured I'd get away with none.  When I pulled into the next town, my feet were quite cold, and the general store I stopped into had neither a seat, nor an outlet, nor public water, nor a friendly employee!  So I kept on going, and luckily found this lovely bike shop near Killington with very sweet folks working there, and they were happy to let me sit to warm my chilled feet.  I got some snacks and rubbed the feeling back into my toes, while enjoying the coming and going of friendly locals just stopping by to chat.  I left them my CD and gave up on the rain letting up, and pushed onward.

The bike store proprietor reminded me of a more level and direct route past the ski mountain - which I knew about from googlemaps, but it's always nice to have human confirmation of such things.   Routes with names like "river road" or "creek road" are always promising because it usually means a steady climb or steady descent at the grade of the river. So the river road shortcut worked out nicely, though the rain got harder.  Back on rt 100N, with a wide shoulder, I at least began to get in a good pedaling groove. I saw a trucker stopped taking a picture of a huge skiing bear statue, so I pulled off to offer to take his picture with it.  When I asked, he responded with neither words nor gesture.  Puzzled, I asked again, this time he kind of made a motion, but still no real communication.  Finally I gestured taking a picture, and he spoke unintelligibly and gestured his agreement that it was a good idea (and why hadn't I gotten the message earlier?).  Took his picture and he seemed pleased, and I got back on the road.  Shortly thereafter, I saw a bearded cyclist ahead in the far lane, with saddle bags (maybe touring, maybe commuting), and he crossed over 4 lanes of traffic in the pouring rain to end up right next to me.  We slowed down, and he said, "just wanted to say, Way to go brother!" and we high-fived without barely stopping, then he was on his way.  A little stunned, but very glad for such enthusiastic encouragement, I turned behind me and thought, wait, I'd like to know that guy!!  But on we biked ... So if you happen to read this, thank you bearded biker man!

Stopped in Hancock and Granville, still sprinkling, but in the groove.  A couple delicious sandwiches were eaten, because gluten free bread is now a normal thing in Vermont!  Actually I think Granville may have been where I got some hot coffee and used the wifi in a cozy cafe bookstore.  Without service in these little mountain villages, I decided to write my directions down on paper (connected with wi-fi).  A fellow i got talking with asked what route I was taking to Montpelier, and explained there would be a tough climb to go over the Roxbury pass, but here was a case where I trusted googlemaps to be taking me the most level route.  Another couple people seemed concerned that I would be crossing Roxbury mountain, so it seemed to be helpful collective knowledge!

At one point, still on rt 100, I started to wonder if I was in fact on the right road.  It was along a beautiful creek and the traffic had greatly diminished.  I was headed upstream, as it seemed I had been doing all day!  And it was perfectly scenic.  I startled a great blue heron in the creek (Mad River), and he took off straight in front of me.  He soared gently up the curves of the narrow clearing that contained the road and river, and I watched him until he was out of sight.  Actually I kept an eye on the water, hopeful I'd catch him again.  Herons are absolutely my favorite bird.  As my left knee began to feel more and more strained, along with my confidence in the road, I exhaled heavily and began a loud wordless chant to keep me going up the river.  With no one around, it felt great to sing to myself and the trees.  Shortly, I came to the turn I had been waiting for.  I'm still not great at knowing how far I've pedaled, especially when going uphill.  So I was now on the right road for sure, plunkton, but I was still going up!  And my knee still hurt and I couldn't feel my toes for real, and the rain was still going off and on, in spite of the sunshine that was breaking through the clouds to light up the forest around me and offer glimmers of hope!  I kept singing my chant, and adding words too. The song definitely got me through this section, and I was writing and singing it for the rest of the day's journey.  ("Straight up ahead is where you are going; straight up ahead is all you need to know ....")

Finally to a high level spot, sun becoming more prominent as it got lower in the sky, I decided that I was risking frostbite if I didn't warm my feet.  I resolved to stop at the next house I passed to appeal for a warm room to sit in for a minute or 3.  I pulled into a quaint driveway with a yippy dog, and immediately saw just around the corner a co-op food market and community space!  So no enjoyment of the kindness of strangers, but salvation indeed! The shop was of course laden with gluten free treats and healthy things.  An excited worker-owner convinced me to take a good deal on their last 4-pack of gluten-free beer.  Not that I needed the weight or had the space, but it seemed like a great thing to look forward to at the end of the ride.  So sat in the upstairs community space of the old church, snacking and rubbing life back into my white toes.  I was really regretting my footwear choice, because my soccer flats were thin and held cold water against my feet.  That would have to be a gear upgrade in Burlington.

So I happened to be on the Roxbury mountain road, and a couple old hunters told me it would be a tough climb!  But I of course was going along the side of the valley, riding north with the sunset sneaking below the clouds, ahead to my left.  [finishing blog 11/17]  It was pastoral and finally not raining for good, and the climbs were gentle.  As I pulled up to a crossroads, a local cyclist was just turning around to go the way I was headed.  She slowed down so we could chat and ride - turns out I was in the Mad River Valley, where apparently everyone gets out walking and biking on the roads!  I think it was a Sunday afternoon, so that may have had something to do with it.  Anyway, this cyclist (I can't remember your name, if you read this, thank you and drop me a line!) told me I would soon be down the hill to rte 100B, and it would be easy riding from then out.  Very welcome news.

As it got dark and I put my lights on, began curving eastward to follow the river to Montpelier.  It was fully dark when I was on the country roads that paralleled the highway and the river all at once, about 1/2 mile away from them.  Still chanting and singing - finished adding enough words to get me through the ride!  It became a song in the following couple of days when I added a banjo part, and the two were wed.  But yes, it was flat and dark, and I was propelled forward by the thought of dinner with my friend Twylla, one of the most shining humans to ever walk this earth.  Plus she'd be giving me a ride up the hill her home outside of Montpelier!  Maybe 2 hours riding in the dark, in total.  Making it to the 3 Penny Taproom, I was even a few minutes earlier than I had anticipated.  I stretched for a while waiting for Twylla, and we sat in the very warm restaurant and caught up a bit and my toes again regained feeling.

The following blog entry will detail the ensuing 2.5 weeks spent in Montpelier and Burlington.  Oh, I hope I can remember everything!!  Thanks for your patience as I catch up to the present day!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pittsfield, MA - Amherst - Halfway up VT

        Getting my blogging self together - It's been almost a week since I began the following entry, so here is 
        last week's!  More to follow shortly, I do hope :)

Okay, Hello!  It looks like I have a weekly thing going on now, for updates.
Yesterday I bicycled for my longest day ever (95 miles), in order to get to friends in Montpelier by nightfall.  It was such an epic day that I'll give it its own entry after I catch up to today!

 So last I left the narrative, I was in Pittsfield, MA.  I biked a bit more that day, and made it to my route following Route 9 towards Amherst.  I camped off of a side road, again down the side of a mountain, and on land that wasn't necessarily public.  But it seemed to be marked as a public train off of a dirt road near the General Bates Estate, so .. i made myself cozy and out of the way under some small hemlocks and large oaks.  Another moon-lit night, then up at dawn.  I haven't been keeping a journal, and my memory of this day has faded away ... but when I got to Northhampton I was on a bike trail, which is super nice.  Nothing better than Rail Trails.

In Amherst, I made it just in time to my friend Ryan's birthday gathering - which began with a couple hours of working on his front lawn Permaculture Garden!  Ryan has headed up the permaculture movement at UMass, and on my last bike trip, I stopped in to help sheet mulch a campus dining hall lawn to be turned into a garden.  This time it was working on the homestead, with a night full of healthy potluck food and enthusiastic song-singing around the fire!  A great way to come into town!

The next day, after sleeping on a couch (not the ground!) on an outdoor porch, I got to catch up with Ryan, and then head to Sirius Ecovillage.  Some folks helped set up an impromptu dinner concert, so I got to sing for maybe 25 very enthusiastic and like-minded folks, young and old.  I love Sirius, by the way - it has a very rustic feel, composting toilets in every bedroom, a labyrinth of rooms in the main building, and an octagonal common room downstairs that houses a meditation and meeting room directly above (so it's the same octagon shape).  Very comfortable energy here.  So yes, played a few songs while folks ate healthy food.  There was a film crew there from Montreal (, and one of them offered to make a quick music video of my song "The Water" before they left the next morning!  So I stayed over in one of the cozy hobbit rooms, and woke up to get some video of me playing The Water in the octagon room.  And then "Child of a Bright New Way" and "Won't Go to Sleep" filmed in the vegetable garden.  Can't wait to share some of these!!

Did some work on the Sirius vegetable garden (which is very directly descended from the Findhorn gardens), hauling manure and weeding beds to be put to sleep for the winter.  Basically what I would have been doing at the Zen Center at this time!  So it feels good to be doing the same work just elsewhere on the planet.  And did some dinner prep work, too!  That night my friend Linda picked me up to go to the Montague Book Mill for a vampire film.  Now, I never go to horror movies, but I had just met this swell fellow Roger who was screening his first film "Moonshine," which went to Sundance.  So it seemed like a good idea!  And it was extremely well made, and i'm just scrubbing my mind out of the more gruesome images and feelings from the movie, so I can go about my life again.  The Book Mill was a rad place, too, including excessively tasty Kilbasa in the downstairs pub.  Where I ran into my permaculture teacher Dave Jacke!  Didn't know he lived right up the road.  Got to visit his home on my way out of town a few days later.

Saturday was a recharge and do nothing day - except for eat gluten free donuts and Mexican food with Linda in Amherst.  She took me with my bike down to Northampton to stay with a connection from my home town.  Great folks and kids, though I had to leave early in the morning after a good evening visit.  Oh, but first, in North Hampton - I came across gluten free pizza, went into explore, and found a piano!  I played for an hour and sang (to the apparent delight of the kitchen staff, and passers-by), and put out CDs until the scheduled musician showed up at 6:00.  Then a healthy beverage down the road - Northampton is a swell spot, I'll be sure to return.  And now I know where the piano is!

So Sunday I met for breakfast with Seph who was considering riding to VT with me, but then decided his bike was in too poor shape for a long trip.  Another time!  He set me off in the right direction, and I passed through Amherst on my way north.  A couple last gluten free donuts (i found i needed to be riding away from the store with one in hand in order to not go back in for another), and I was on my way.  Stopped at Dave's homestead for a visit and to explore his new edible landscaping situation.  It was beautiful riding that day (and just about every day, really .. besides yesterday).  Ended up following the Connecticut River, which is quite a lovely corridor.  Oh, I can't wait until I can share some pictures, I'll work on that. 

Made it to Brattleboro, VT - crossed two bridges from NH, met the Amtrak train, and rolled up the hill to a food co-op - as the sun was setting.  I had schemed about busking when I got there, or finding a piano play on, and then asking someone for a lawn to pitch my tent on.  But through a series of decisions, I ended up exploring town for a minute, then warming up while I ate at the co-op until about 8.  Then I head up to West Brattleboro - tested out my night-biking skills - to stay with circus friends.  It was quite a bit of climbing, including a wrong turn that led me up what Erin and Kevin called the most challenging hill in town, Union Street.  My knee was really starting to not like climbing hills.  But I made it, after zooming past a big dark secluded cemetery ... remember that Vampire movie?!  there were definitely two stout hooded figures looming at the edge of the road, and I didn't stop to confirm that they were actually well-shaped twin evergreen trees.  Erin and Kevin welcomed me warmly, and fed me the healthiest food of my trip thus-far.  Fantastic conversation and company, and a super-soft bed (complete with cuddling kitten) where I slept my best sleep in weeks.

After exploring the garden (and visiting the calendula plant I had started from seed in March that Erin took home from Ithaca) and harvesting a bit, I got on the road by late morning, and was on my way to Montpelier.  I had nowhere to stop in particular, and 140 miles to go.  That meant two 70 mile days, which was pushing my limit (considering the short days), but I just went for it.  I also chose a slightly longer route that hugs the eastern side of the National and State Forests of Vermont - a decision that was so worthwhile ... continuing up the Connecticut River valley would have been fine and quick, but nothing beats the Green Mountains!!

Brattleboro has the feel more of Western Massachusetts, but as I edged northward, it began to feel like I was finally in Vermont.  Vermont is a dear love of mine.  Every time I cross the border into VT, my heart warms a bit.  Many of my semi-recent ancestors (18th/19th c.) lived there, and I feel a nostalgic rooting without knowing why.

So there was one portion of the route that I ought to have researched better.  I noticed on some road maps that there was no road between Jamaica VT and rte 100 that I would pick up 10-20 miles north of there.  But Googlemaps bike map had me heading due north on a route that it declared may be "closed seasonally."  I eventually found the "West River Trail," with the enthusiastic help of a park-goer who told me it was indeed bikable because it was an old railroad bed.  Which was delightfully true .. for the first 2 miles.  It was fast going through the woods with no traffic and an occasional hiker.  Then I came to part where it seemed to be more of a hiking trail, and I had to carry my bike up a quick hill with some rocks and small boulders.  Continued on flat, and then again it was a rocky climb.  I guess I thought i was too far in to turn back, so I plunged ahead.  Coming to a clearing, I found myself face-to-face with a 250-foot dam!

The trail seemed to go down to the creek, and not up or out the deep gorge in which I found myself.  Feeling a tad let down by GoogleBikeMaps, I stopped for a minute, and noticed what appeared to be a series of switchbacks leading up the side of the dam.  "Hooray, a way out!" and "Rats, I've got to climb that?!"  It seriously looked and felt like a trail leading into the Misty Mountains, only those hobbits weren't foolish enough to bring 65lbs of bicycle and bags with them.  Every other switchback was shallow enough of a slope that I could, with a careful but forceful push, mount the bike and ride as far as the next turn.  And every other switchback I had to just lean in and push up hill.  It was a good 20 minutes uphill in this way, with the top getting steeper (and unrideable).  Needless to say, it was a marvelous sense of accomplishment, and a fine view both up- and downstream.

Again, sweat now pouring down my face, I saw no obvious trail.  But an access road led out past the dam's control tower, so I head that way and eventually found a trail map along the road.  For a very serious moment I considered continuing ahead on the hiking trail, but the words "...considered the most challenging part of the trail" - referring to what lay ahead - convinced me to take the road route (which was maybe 20 predictable miles instead of 7 unpredictable ones on the trail).

So, with the afternoon getting on into evening, I enjoyed the ease of being back on pavement, and tried to make up for a lot of lost time.  But really i just surrendered to the fact that I was going to have to do much more than 70 miles the following day to get to Montpelier.  The benefit of the Green Mountains route is that it hugs lots of national forest land, so I was able to easily find some public land to camp on (near Weston, VT) as the sun went down.  Actually I biked up a hill for a couple miles, waiting for the houses to end before I realized that one side of the road was private properties and one side was Nat'l forest.  I was kind of perched on a dry mound in the middle of a swampier hemlock grove.  Very cozy.

It was probably in the mid-30's, and i didn't even need to sleep in my clothes, in my sleeping bag and solo tent setup.  I could still leave the rain cover off, and the moon came into my view on this very clear night sometime after midnight.  I decided that I was determined to make it to Montpelier, and that I would get up before dawn to break down camp and get riding.  95 miles ahead, and only 10 hours of good daylight.  That would mean no stopping all day at my usual 10mph pace.  So at 5:30 I got out of my tent and packed by moonlight.  It was going to be a good day!!  That'll be the next entry.  Tah tah for now, -t