Saturday, November 27, 2010

Home to Ithaca, Greetings and Thanks!

Well, here I am, again at the very site that I departed on August 23rd.  It was about 100 yds down the hill from the co-op house on Elm Street that I realized, "wait, this is where the trip started.  this must be the end of my trip!!"  I pulled in, soaking wet, after dark, to be greeted by the smell of dinner being prepared, and more familiar faces than I'd seen in months.  Turned into quite the welcome celebration, and it really felt like coming home.

I'll summarize the end of the trip, but my main hope for this entry is to give some gracious energy to every living being and situation that contributed to the goodness of my bicycle journey!

So, after almost a week in Clinton and some good visiting, I packed my bags again and hit the road.  Actually I packed the bags a little too much.  It would seem that the only thing I added was a full backpack to my packs, but I'm guessing I had about 60 lbs (up from ~35).  Poor decision #1.  Poor decision #2 was to choose Monday to travel (there were things to be done on sunny Sunday, but still ...) - when I knew there would be rain.  Sure enough, I hadn't even gotten out of Clinton before it began to sprinkle ... got the plastic bags out as the sun came up, and I realized I had set myself up for the most challenging day of travel yet - 85-90 miles with twice the normal weight, finger lakes hills, and chilly rain.  It took until about 30 miles before I finally got into a groove where I could feel good about what was going on.
Knowing Ithaca was at the end of the ride made the whole day quite possible.  Stopped at both Greenstar food co-ops in town, already seeing friends and familiar faces!  I was rather spent when I finally made the top of the hill, and ready to rest for a good long time.

My goal had been to get to Ithaca for Thanksgiving at my aunt Barb's house in Erin.  Turned out I helped to move a friend's piano to her house on the way!  Barb's is the quaintest home imaginable, with an A-frame cabin, wood stove, loft bedrooms, stone counters, delicious food and herb smells, chicken and turkey raising, woods, Tarzan the cat, Chauncey the dog, and one Jasz (storyteller and hunter/trapper extraordinaire).  The addition of a warm-sounding piano to the mix was just perfect.  Thanksgiving was as swell as ever, 34 people this year, darned good food, but of course all too short a time.

Now I'm staying in the guest room of the Elm St Co-op, where I had lived for almost 2 years.  2 nights here and 2 fantastic feasts/celebrations!  I'm of course confronted with actually deciding what happens with my life from here ....  To put it briefly, I have some traveling left in me, but my Achilles(es ... plural) need(s) some serious resting, and there are many people to catch up with here, exciting interests to explore, and it's just a nice place to hibernate/dream for the winter.  Looking into getting to the Pacific Northwest, and also some time in "the south."  Maybe with bike, maybe on foot, with some help from trains.  I'll put any traveling plans in the blog here ... even if it won't be bicycling.

But more importantly, onto the giving of thanks!!  This is in the form of a roughly chronological/geographical list, with some time/place-unspecific gratitude thrown in.  I imagine a map/timeline of my full route would make this easier to follow, so that may be in a forthcoming entry.  Here goes:

- first and foremost, I need to thank every single person who wished me safety.  that means you who are reading this, because I felt total support and blessings from all around.  most everyone I talked to, briefly or longer, looked me in the eye and said "Be Safe," or "Safe Travels."  I just had way too much positive support to even imagine that there could have been an accident.  In fact, the worst/only fall I had was on Day 2 in a parking lot, when, with my first push of the pedal, I got jammed up in the front fender and fell exactly sideways onto the gravel.  Must've looked pretty funny!  So thank you for wishings of safety.

- along similar lines, thank you to every single driver who passed me and did not hit me.  Most of you were indeed quite gentle and amazingly considerate of my presence on the road!  I send thanks also to those of you who passed more closely and quickly, because you knew your abilities and kept us all safe in the end.

- thank you to everyone who empowered me to get on the bike and dive into the wild paved yonder - John R and Aaron M for initial encouragement; Glenn S for the bike/gear and loads of advice; fellow down at Cayuga Cycles for his advice; Dan T for the helmet, riding bibs, and sleeping pad, plus coffee and advice; Brad and Monica for encouragement, stories, advice, tire irons, and a pair of gloves (which I lost more promptly than I can even admit); Ellen for keeping Dancing Turtle alive; members of "That House," who tended the home fire, and in fact tended its brilliant growth; Nathan and Julie for the filter and support; Mom and Dad for encouragement, minimal worrying, and keeping me honest about checking in; Barb for her protection; Everybody who came to my sendoff celebration (PM and AM) - talk about making a guy feel loved!

- Into the first days of the trip, thank you to Kelly and Frank for housing and feeding me in Weedsport after Day 1!; to George and Diane for the bed, food, entertainment, maps, and full moon in Caz; Mom  and Dad again, for helping me charge up and heal for a few days; Dad for the pump, and the gloves (this pair lasted a little longer); John C for pedaling/fit assistance

- Thanks to the railroad volunteer who guided me to a camp site just before the Adirondacks; to the friendly folks at the Inlet bike shop for air, conversation, advice, and well-wishings; Henry for some swift riding companionship, inspiration, plus a nice tenting setup; Blue Mtn Museum for letting me play the piano in the lobby; forked lake campsite attendant for suggestion on where to find a lean-to

- Thanks to all the bears and hungry creatures who left my food to me, all trip long.  To whatever powers heard and honored my requests for safety and peace every single night.

- Thank you to Phil and Heidi for stopping to visit at the Wild Center (and for the map, though I didn't end up using it!);  to the Wild Center for teaching such important ecology, etc, in such a relevant and fun way;

- Many thanks to everybody who offered directions and suggestions along the way!  I didn't necessarily use all of them, but I was set more on track with options, and uplifted by everyone's willingness to help.

At this point, I need to get to sleep ....  Part 2 of this Thanksgiving will be soon to come.

In another upcoming entry, I'll give some stats for the trip and assess whether some goals were met (I had goals, believe it or not!!)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Home to Clinton~! Sirius, Kripalu, Schenectady, and the Erie Canal

90+ miles today, the longest yet!  I'm resting at my parents' house, and it sure feels like home.  If I hadn't started my journey in Ithaca, I would feel like The Trip was over - but it isn't!  I'll be here for a week or so, then on to try the 1-day route to Ithaca.

To back up to Amherst, I ended up staying an extra day with Ryan and co. to help finish the sheet mulching, and also participate in a work day/meditation/lunch at Sirius Community.  Quite worthwhile, all of it.  Moving firewood around the property and clearing out light for the oldest being on the land - a regal and spreading mountain laurel.  There was a nice meditation of personal and planetary healing (this is a main focus of the community), then lunch with guests and community members.  At UMass, we got nearly finished with the garden, and celebrated in the dining hall overlooking the magnificent work.

Sunday morning I got going early, the first part of the ride a beautiful and swift descent from Shutesbury to Amherst on country roads.  The sun came out to present the most gorgeous of days ....  At the top of a hill 10 or 20 miles from Amherst, a fellow in a pickup stopped to tell me he had seen me pass his office, and was "very impressed!"  I'm not sure what exactly he was impressed with, but it was awfully nice of him to stop ... it made me think about the fact that maybe I have impressed or inspired far more people than I realize.  I hope this is the case!!

The Berkshires gave me the longest climbs I'd had since Vermont, but it seemed plenty doable.  I made it to Pittsfield, MA (~45 miles?) in good time, had a relaxing lunch, and wandered down to Lenox, where I had yet another great contact from my aunt Julie.  I got to Charlene and Felix's and spent a little time in the woods behind their house to roll in the dry leaves before they got home.  Swell folks and swell hosts!  We chatted and went to Kripalu (10 min drive!) for an extremely healthy dinner.  Quite the place, packed to the brim with yoga teachers and classes.  A bit glossy/commercial/pricey overall, but I think the teachings are sound otherwise.  I slept extremely well and got on the road early again, pre-dawn.

It was another climb to get through the rest of the Berkshires, though quite pretty.  Trees are mostly bare.  Then the hill turned downward, and as I was nearly flying, I gazed out on the most precious looking country-side hill.  It turned out I was looking at New York State!  "The Empire State," as I like to pretend it isn't called.  With the smells, flora, and taste of home so close, I pushed ahead on the bike to Albany.  I found a great trail up the Hudson, and started to dream that I would make it to Clinton that day - 150 miles, a few hours in the dark.  Well, the trail was going north, and I should have gone northwest ....  Discovering my folly and divergence from the prescribed route, I stopped in for directions (got more than I asked for, in about a half hour of explanations and computer musings from office workers looking for an excuse to not work!).  What I took from it got me on the right course, but I panicked and tried to get to 5W via rte 7W.  7W was a highway, felt like the interstate, in fact.  woops.  for about 10 miles, I got my legs into a perfect groove, and my concentration was intense.  every car or truck that passed felt too close, but I had to press on, so I surrounded myself in a protective bubble of white light, kept breathing, and made it off the interstate finally.  I stopped for a sandwich, and found myself shaking with adrenaline.  I knew something was up, because even all the city and car smells were pleasant to inhale.  i felt good, but had to chill out or risk burn out.

A few more miles (on mostly sidewalk, which was a pleasant relief, this time) got me to Schenectady where I again lost track of the route and was misled by sporadic Bike Trail signs.  I stopped into a gas station to look at a map (haven't carried a map since Maine ... it is what it is), and when it started raining and my muscles started tightening up, I decided to stop for the day, well short of my impossible goal.  My sister's fiance's mom Helga lives right near Union, so I called her, and she very graciously put me up, on zero notice.  Thanks Helga!  Really nice visiting, and I felt unfortunately rude to have to speed off again early in the morning.  But speed off I did, by 7 or so.

It was humid, cloudy, and unseasonably warm ... i found my way back to the trail, and got moving pretty well.  The Mohawk River and Erie Canal have large sections of bike path along them.  About 1/3rd of the length to Utica is paved, 1/3rd is unpaved, and 1/3rd is inaccessible.  More or less a flat day, with my only stops being to read the informational signs (canal history, some herb profiles, maps, etc), and check out General Herkimer's house.  The whole day was grey and heavy, which is how Utica/Syracuse/Ithaca seem to be so often after November.  But I had to remind myself it had been as beautifully clear and sunny here the week before as it was in MA.  Anyway, the canal is pretty cool, what with all the locks and water birds and outcroppings of cut-away hills.  A fascinating look at history, geology, and canal culture.  I've never been more glad to see Utica (and I understand its layout better than ever, just from one ride through).

Within 6 or 7 miles of Kellogg Street, it began to sprinkle, then rain.  I reluctantly put the covers on my bags, and hunkered down for the home stretch.  Most of the rest of the trip was uphill, making for a very humbling journey and arrival.  My dad passed me and honked, about 2 miles from home.  My glasses allowed limited vision, and I had to get into focused riding mode, rather than taking in the familiar scenes.  And then ... I made it home ... woo!  Things seem really well here, like there's a vibrant health about the place, people, and animals.  Good news.

My Achilles seemed at an all-time low point after Sunday's ride.  Then Monday I woke up and it felt better than ever!  Lots of theories, but as long as I kept tabs on it all day Mon and Tue while riding, it was quite strong.  Thank goodness, I feel hopeful for a real recovery.

I'm interested to see what the Canal culture develops into in the next decade or two ... I couldn't help but think about how great a completed bike/horse/pedestrian path would be, to link up the state further.  And though the water doesn't always look so inviting, boat transportation/recreation seems pleasant.  It was extremely coincidental that the headline of the Utica paper today was about canal traffic being up from last year!  We'll see.

A Thanksgiving entry is in line in the next couple days!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cape Cod and Sheet Mulching UMass

It's been quite a week!  I'm currently at the Sirius Community near Amherst, MA, staying with my permaculture friend Ryan Harb.  He's spearheading a campaign on the campus of UMass Amherst to sheet mulch a 1/4 acre plot outside a dining hall, and turn it into a permculture demonstration site.  So far, it's nothing but a huge success, and there's a huge buzz around campus and the community.  I've been on since Monday, sheet mulching with anywhere from 1 to 40 people on the site at once.  It's exactly the right work to be doing, it seems, lots of fun, attracting lots of positive attention from curious onlookers.  Folks are gaining immediately useful skills that can turn lawn into garden.  Read more about the project at

Sirius is a great community that's been around a few decades, and is largely based on the model of Findhorn in Scotland.  Ryan's place is a cozy apartment in the main building, with a wood stove and two kittens (not his).  It's an immensely peaceful place to return to after long days of shoveling and facilitating at the sheet mulching site.

To back up to the last blog entry, I spent a couple more days with Julie and Gail, relaxing on the ocean.  More fantastic sunsets, exploring P-town, helping a little at Twist'd Sisters, and a great walk in the Beech Forest with Julie.  Thank you guys for a really swell time!  I left early Wednesday morning, more or less backtracking toward the base of the Cape.  A little colder, but no problem ... I took the rail trail as much as I could, and eventually made it to Camp Burgess, where my childhood friend Mike Thompson was leading teen outdoor expeditions all summer.

The camp was pretty quiet, as it's the end of the summer camp season.  There were some really neat woods here, as the soil is stronger than out at the end of the Cape.  I rested up my Achilles while it rained, took some nice walks, met Mike's fellow counselors, went to hear some great music nearby, and found a copy of Harry Potter VII.  I started reading, and was drawn in for good ....  What a nice world to be transported to, to remember some magic and nostalgia for a subconscious comfort.  I got on the road early Saturday, throwing myself recklessly toward Amherst, MA.  After a wrong turn or two in the dark, I got on track, pedaling to East Providence.  It was of course a beautiful sunny day for cycling.

Then I arrived at the Blackstone River Bikeway, and I realized this was my destination for the day - it was the perfect bike trail on a sunny fall day in New England, gliding past a marsh and down a river, leaves more brown and burgundy than the more brilliant oranges and yellows of earlier in the fall.  At this point, I think I had biked about 75 miles, and had taken almost no time off the bike and eaten almost no food.  I was feeling light and grounded, and inexplicably blissful ... the air was all just more delicious than I could take in, and the world seemed all just as it should be.  As the sun began to sink lower, I just kept on pedaling, trying to make as much of the 150 miles to Amherst as I could in Day 1 (when all was said and done, I think I did 90 miles, a new record again!!).

I ran into a tricky spot, as the supposed Southern New England Trunkline Trail had no entry where my Google directions said it should.  In fact, there was just a little footpath down to a railroad bridge with no top to it.  In my blissful state, I briefly considered walking across the foot-wide I-beam, but the bike made that a foolish impossibility.  I managed to find roads around to another entrance to the Trail, and immediately found it to be more of a horse/atv trail, mostly sand, mud, rocks, and water.  Still, it was through some really nice woods, and I didn't feel like finding a detour.  I plunged ahead onto the trail, and in the waning light I pushed my bike about a mile in before deciding to camp.  I climbed up the ledge to one side, and pitched my tent in a little depression out of site from most directions.  It never seemed to get fully dark, and I was immediately and persistently surrounded by what sounded like 3 plump and cute woodland creatures scurrying about my campsite.  At one point in the middle of the night, a motorbike's headlights roared past, and then an hour later back the other way, and I just had to trust I had picked a totally invisible site.

It must've gotten below freezing, though I hardly felt it somehow, even with the tent's fly off.  In the morning I pushed and rode another couple of miles on the dirt trail before deciding it to be too slow going and detrimental for my bike.  Finding a detour was no problem, and I was quickly on my way into central MA.  I dipped down through CT, and then northward through some nice little towns.  When I made it to the UMass campus and tracked down Ryan, he was in a circle with his "dream team" permaculture student committee/class, at the half-finished sheet mulching site.  Now, 5 days later, the sheet mulching is nearly finished (250,000 lbs of organic matter distributed!), and the design phase of the garden can begin for the winter.

I'm planning to hit the road again tomorrow morning, westward, and within real striking distance of my parents' house in Clinton, NY.  It feels exactly right to be heading for Clinton and Ithaca right now, as this journey eases to a close.  About 200 miles to Clinton, and another 85 to Ithaca.  Woo!