Friday, October 1, 2010

Filling in stories, from Burlington to Unity

Rain and wind are converging upon a balmy (70 degrees) central Maine, and I am safe at the home of Sarah an Chip, near Solon.  It's basically this really pleasant yurt complex in the woods, with really pleasant residents (2 dogs included).  The main yurt (out of a few) has an "inner yurt," with a meditation room above, bed and storage below.  Incredible craftsmanship that got this place together, complete with rounded furniture built largely from these woods.

Taking advantage of the adverse weather conditions, I'm hanging out here until a workshop on Oct. 2nd, nearby.  This allows me the opportunity to flip back through my memory (and journal) to recall some stories of the last couple weeks that got lost in the movement of the trip:

Excitement about the Art Hop just kept building, as I helped to create and install some guerrilla art pieces for the South End Arts District.  Good fun with this.  I got to go to a soccer practice, too, make some new aunts, and tour the Intervale (a wonderful valley of agriculture right outside of Burlington.  Quaint, productive, fertile, and educational.).  The night of the Art Hop, my college friend/roomate/Ithacappellamate Lloyd Dugger came over from his home in Montpellier.  After managing to find eachother on Church st., we had a drink and hit the Hop.  At Marie's studio, she had a guitar, so Lloyd and I sat down to sing a song or two for gallery-goers.  And man, it was fun!  So we sang some more!  and some more!  really great to just play around with songs we both knew, singing harmonies, trading lines, improvising things, and getting the audience into it.  I think we just know one another musically and vocally, and it was simply a ball.  This is up there for one of the best parts of my trip ... thanks Lloyd!

On Saturday, I returned to my bike, and left Burlington.  Must have met a dozen bicyclists just on my way out of town, all of them cheery.  I stopped in Vergennes at a thrift store, where the only wind pants they had were creamsicle orange ... so now all of my outer garments are bright orange, and i stick out no matter where i am.  When I got to Middlebury, I was a little let down ....  I have fond memories of the place from when my sister went to school there, but now I didn't get a sense that folks were all that excited about things.  Coulda just been the day, I guess.  So I got some food, and head for the mountains.  But I didn't get far, because my rear tire was completely flat.  Got some help at the bike shop in town, and it turns out I had a piece of metal inside the tire that had given me 3 flat tires in the same exact place.  Good to get that figured out!

I was unable to resist a stop at the A+W roller-skate service drive up (this is fun as a biker, because you're all alone when everyone else is in their cars).  Then through East Middlebury, and the climb began.  I made it a couple miles before it became too dark, and I pulled off to sleep in the woods.  Mossy woods here in the Green Mountains.  The next day I was up and biking early, stopped into a general store, passed Bread Loaf (again not as magical as it 'used to' be), and before I knew it I was at the top of Middlebury Pass - 2100+ ft.  Popped into one side of the Long Trail (part of the AT), decided I need to travel on foot so I can really be in the woods, then began the descent.  I spent the rest of the day in deep valleys of the Green Mountains, stopping at little towns, admiring the walls of trees, and pushing to get to Hartland where my next contact would be.

Coming down the homestretch, Nancy and Karen (my new hosts) pulled up in a car, and directed me the last few miles to the house.  When I got to their road, it really felt like a fall Vermont country home.  Very cozy, and then the golden retriever (Maya) enthusiastically met me in the driveway.  See my entry "In the Hartland" for more ....

I got packed to leave after a second night with Nancy and Karen, and as soon as I was on the road, my rear wheel loosened and was way offset.  I struggled with it for a while, found a temporary solution (tighten the spindle w/o aid of the "quick release"), and made it to White River Junction pretty swiftly.  This was a neat little town, and I stopped into the food co-op.  met a fellow, Colin, self-described "happy hobo," young cheery fellow.  he gave me the scoop on the town, and led me to a bike place where I could buy a new spindle.  then off across the bridge into New Hampshire.

I had decided at this point to skip the scenic Kancamangus Highway, in favor of a much more level route, south of the Whites and north of Winnipesauke.  This was the right choice, I think, for my body's sake.  Every decision is the right one, on this trip!  Things just keep working out!

I ended up riding on a rail trail, shortly after I got into NH, and it was a great break from highways.  Now I could be in the woods where it was quiet and peaceful, and still move forward on the journey.  just as i got on the trail, I met a nice woman who was on her bike for the first time in 30 years!  working on her "bucket  list" (a reference to a movie I haven't heard of, but a good concept).  Good company, until she turned back after a few miles.  Once I got about 10 miles, i realized it was taking a long time ... pedalling is difficult on gravel.  so i returned to pavement, and relished the ease of gliding without pedaling!

ended up under a pavillion to eat dinner, as rain came.  then all these 5 and 6 year olds showed up!  it was a birthday party, complete with games led by a PE instructor.  pizza and cupcakes (which they offered to me, also!).  one of the parents was interested in my trip, and offered a dry place to stay - her parents' barn, down the road a little ways.  there was no one living there, and I had the place to myself for the evening (besides the bat and squirel residents).  from all the signs in the barn, I could tell this was the annual site of a big summer party, complete with games, swimming, votes, meals, and family.  i slept well.

The next day, I stopped in several New Hampshire towns, and it began to get more vacation-y.  People here are nice, like Minnesota.  You know, there are nice people everywhere, it's good to remember.  Really genuinely nice people.  Anyway, it was getting into the evening, and I had no idea where i'd camp, and if there would even be suitable places to tent.  I was on a road with no shoulder and heavy traffic, pulling off the road frequently to let cars pass.  sometimes this ends up with stalling out in the sand ... and i gave up and walked for a ways.  found a vegetable stand/nursery/farm, and figured I'd ask if I could tent there.  Good lesson of the trip for me: always stop at farms and farm-like places to find good people!  the cashier had done a cross-country bike tour, and the owner assured me that I'd have a ball at the Common Ground Fair.  he told me I should camp down by the lake, on a beach just up ahead.  so I got some green beans and went over there (help from a couple people to find the road ... the number of individuals who go out of their way to be helpful ... it's becoming hard to keep track!).

I found myself standing in a huge clearing, looking out on a broad cloud-splotched sky, and some islands in a still lake.  I parked my bike and went up the shore to see where a good camp site would be.  On the way, I passed a man with his dog sitting up on a rock.  With encouragement, the little golden stayed still as I passed.  When I came back, I commented that this was test #2, and the dog bounded down to play!  We got talking (Steve), and he had moved up here with his family, and gotten a place as close to the water as they could.  He spoke very fondly of the lake, and had lots of history and suggestions too.  This was Winnipesauke, I found out, funny that I didn't realize!  I guess I just didn't see Bill Muray anywhere, so I had no clue.

Anyway, Steve offered that I could camp in his yard, and I declined in favor of being by the water and swimming, etc.  But later he mentioned that it was going to get pretty cold, and offered his basement ... I couldn't really refuse!  He said his family might think he was crazy, but I shouldn't worry about it.  I parked my bike at his house, took a swim/bath totally alone on this expansive lake, as the sun set in magenta, and the water temperature became warmer than the air.  As I got back to the house, I thought I saw someone pacing angrily, awaiting the return of this stranger.  I went to the basement door, and Steve's son Scott popped out to say hi, and I knew the family was a good one!  There was a filling dinner, and Steve's wife and her mom were reading my blog to me!  (a good way to background check!)  I had plenty of great laughs with these guys, good for the soul.  we even watched "america's got talent" together, and Office with Scott.  i slept quite well in the finished basement, and said goodbye in the morning, with another few pounds of food they had sent with me. thank you, winnipesauke family!

Due to the flatness of these parts of New Hampshire, I was able to make good time, and was at the Maine border by afternoon (only 2 nights in NH).  This guy who lived right before the border was out moving rocks around in a tractor, and I asked him if he'd take my picture with the ME sign.  He did me three better, by taking my picture on both sides of the sign (NH/ME), offering me his riverside picnic area to eat lunch, and then finding a map of Maine to give me for the next part of my trip!  Just across the border, I stopped to get an ear of corn at a farm stand (getting just one ear is kind of impolite, I realized ... as I had made the fellow get out of his car and go in the cooler, for a 50 cent sale).  I thought maybe I was in a new country, because I could hardly understand the man!  and he was hard of hearing!  thick, thick maine accent, but I haven't yet encountered anyone with such a thick accent here.  I tried to ask when the first frost was around here, and once he understood what I meant, he said "oh, anytime."  that's a challenge!  welcome to maine agriculture!

Stopped at a swell small-town library in Kezar Falls, made it to Cornish by evening, and remembered an apple orchard I had seen on the map.  I backtracked a little on a side road, to get to Apple Acres, and got to see some nice countryside.  It was past business hours, so I knocked at the house across the street, and found the owners at the door.  Bill Johnson (most common name in America, he says!) was friendly, and said I could put the tent anywhere.  I ended up in the hay shed, because rain was coming.  And that was a lucky place to be, for sure, because we got some good rain!  I think i ruined a mouse nest, though, because as I was sleeping, I could hear/feel burrowing coming straight at my head!  once I finally switched my head with my feet, I heard the mouse squeeking like an abandoned child :-(  poor thing.  I think it was okay, in the end, though.

In the morning, I awoke to 15 acres of apples, a pond, woods, gift shop, cider press ....  I had offered to help out in the morning, and Bill said he could pay $8 cash.  good a deal as any, so I ended up labeling cider bottles (first pressing day!) for most of the day.  oh, and Bill and his wife Marilyn had me in for a luxurious breakfast before the work day began!  such hospitality!  then cider donuts, fresh cider, fudge bowls to lick, pizza with the crew, and some fun characters.  loaded up several apples and a liter of cider, and got moving by late afternoon.  probably could have stayed here longer, happily, but the weather was too good not to bike.

I made it as far as Sebago Lake, which is a huge round pond of a lake in western maine.  i kept trying to get glimpses through the trees, but it was all private homes ....  Starting to seriously consider tenting sites, I found myself getting passed by huge trucks on a narrow road.  I heard a beep from behind, and a toyota prius was basically setting a pick for me, so I could get off the road to let an 18-wheeler pass.  He turned into his driveway up ahead (had a bike rack on the car), and I stopped nearby to look at a map.  An older guy, with longer grey hair ... we started talking, and I went over to chat ... he very quickly offered that I could stay at his place (understanding the touring bicyclists needs).  Then offered I should swim on his beach.  And did I want some soap?  And a bath robe?  I washed off in this secluded cove overlooking the western shore of the lake.  the water was quite cold, but pleasant once I got fully in.  then my host came out and offered me a drink, and we chatted and watched the sun go down.  Lovely!  Nice to find someone who thinks about ecology and balance and culture in the same way I do.

the cottage was extremely quaint, and had been in the family since the first half of last century ("1940" doesn't sound as long ago).  wood stove, lots of family objects and pictures and furniture, but Tee (that's his name) lived there by himself.  big place, too.  he made us one of the healthier meals I had had thusfar in the trip.  for sleeping arrangements, I think he had just moved two twin beds apart in his bedroom. so it was a little strange to sleep in such proximity to someone I'd just met, but it was fine.  I felt lucky to be dry and inside and warm again, on a chilly night.  The next day, I helped Tee move a big rock from up on the mountain into his car (for landscaping purposes), and got a glimpse at the view of the lake.  To the road again ....

On the bike, I found myself clumsy and easily frustrated .. a rare sensation for this trip!  Missed a turn, added some miles to the route ....  I pulled into a public accounant's home/office to ask for directions and fill my water bottle.  the business looked to be based in the garage, and as I approached, I'm fairly certain I heard one guy whisper to the accountant, "It's another immigrant!"  I smiled at him, to confirm that I had heard his joke, but he didn't smile back ....  I asked if he had called me an immigrant, and he said, "I sure did."  I told him that we're all bloody immigrants, and he told me to shove off.  I asked if he was going to make me leave, and he said he planned to.  So I kicked him in the knee cap.  By then, the accountant had put down his feather quill, and walked up to my bike, which he promptly smashed with a baseball bat.  Luckily, I drew the styrofoam sword from my baggage, and lept off to the side to defend my pride.  Okay, sorry, enough of that ... none of this happened.  Well, the guy did whisper "It's another immigrant," and i did smile at him to confirm that I had heard his joke, and he didn't smile back.  But then I just asked the accountant if such and such a road was up ahead, and it was.  I asked him if I could refill my water, and he looked around in a panic, apparently eager to get me to leave, and produced a mini bottled water from a mini-fridge.  What made that more entertaining was the fact that we were a few miles from Poland Springs.  Ironically, not only did he not have fresh water to offer, it was water bottled in another country.  I left promptly and thanked him for the cold water (I was totally out, so it was very helpful!).  I stopped a little while later and asked a nice younger couple (working on home repairs) for a simple direction, and they said "thanks for the easy one!"  In Auburn/Lewiston, I found myself in a neighborhood with women walking around calmly in groups wearing gorgeous bright robes - I later learned that they're part of a large Somali population in the city.

In getting to Maine quickly, I could really take my time in getting to Unity.  The next place I stopped was Willow Pond Farm, where I found good company and fun work.  I got in before sunset, pitched my tent under a picturesque apple tree beside a pond and the woods, and then hung out in the apprentice's kitchen.  Melissa was canning tomatoes, because there were tons of tomatoes!  I made myself some dinner, and had lovely conversation with melissa and becky.  it's still surprising to me when I find folks who are thinking about the world in ways that I jive with!  the next morning, becky showed me a prime mushroom-watching woods, and then I worked a little at the farm.  spread a cover crop of rye and cut corn stalks to sell as decoration.  threw older corn to the pigs, which delighted them greatly!

Took off from the farm in the afternoon, and made it to Hallowell.  This is one of the coolest little towns I've ever seen ... right on the river, and they got a conservation easement of some sort in the 60's.  so it's still a quaint river town!  a dozen bars and live music in half of them, on a weekday.  i popped into one to ask for a piano, and found a great band playing.  had a drink and some soup, and this super chill fellow sat down and started chatting.  He seemed to know the music in the area well, and was part of the Kennebec Conservatory.  Here's a fellow who's really working hard to keep the teaching of music going outside of public schools, and doing it well!  I asked if I could stop by the next day to record part of a song I'd been thinking about, and he gave me directions.

From the bar, I was given a suggestion to camp at the Augusta arboritum.  Great suggestion!  No one around, but tons of nice plantings and nice woods.  even an american chestnut grove!  I was totally alone, only a couple miles from the city, and quite at peace.  In the morning, I went to the library, got air for my tire, had a quick meal, and went to the conservatory.  Jason (who I'd met at the pub) was sanding the body of an electric guitar, and graciously took the next hour or more to chat, record, and listen to some of my music.  real genuine listening!  i somehow forgot to hear his music and play some things together ... i guess i didn't want to keep him from work or something silly like that ....  He pointed me to Dave's bike shop up the street - another standup swell fellow.  it was a cheerful sendoff from Augusta!

Waterville was a neat little city, and i stopped at the co-op there for a meal.  Everything local!  Finally, turned East across the river, and head for Unity.  I was warned that it was a hilly ride, and it wasn't exactly an easy final leg.  But I made it smoothly and happily, and ended up in what I was pretty sure was downtown Unity.  There was no parade to welcome me, but "Unity" was my (originally arbitrary) destination, after all!  I felt some celebration in my heart, anyway!  I went to a little cafe/bakery/local foods "hub," had some tasty dinner treats, and met some nice folks.  A couple were part of the Maine Primitives School, teaching/learning primitive skills ....  William, who was working at the cafe, offered that I could camp in his backyard (rather than try to get to Unity College in the dark to camp).  This was a welcome offer, for sure.  He's a Minnesota transplant, nice!  I could even do some much-needed laundry in the basement.  Felt good and secure here, and the moon was spectacular.

The next day I head up to the Common Ground Fair to help with set-up  -  but these stories will have to wait for another entry!  I've spent far too long at the computer, and I'm feeling offensively anti-social (and tired of computer vibes)!  Short version: the Fair was incredibly fun!  Maybe I wrote that already ....  And check out my facebook page for a few pictures I've put up .... 

Greetings and Thanks to everybody!

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