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

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Vermont at last!

After a few days in the Amherst, MA area, I set off again northward today!  Lots to recount from my time there, but I just wanted to check in before getting some sleep now.  55+ miles today in spite of a long late start, and now I'm in Brattleboro, VT staying with the super fantastic inventors of circus yoga!  More details on the previous week to come!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

One Week In!!

Goodbye New York, hello Massachusetts!  I'm sitting in the Pittsfield, MA public library, belly full and muscles tired.  One week into the trip, with 5 of those on the bike.  I think that math works out ....

Because I'm at a library, no pictures for this entry, but they'll be coming.

Sometimes I start to feel really confident about my ability to make my home anywhere I am - pitch a tent and sleep peacefully every night.  And some mornings I wake up to find that I spent the night in a nest of poison ivy.  Like this morning!  With daylight waning yesterday, I was just heading out of Hudson, NY, and thought I'd try "Fish and Game Rd" as a possible place to find a campsite.  No public land, but there looked to be some stretches of forest.  Near the end of it, I found a nice big patch of woods, and (when no one was driving by) I dove into the thicket with my bike and packs.  Pushing through honeysuckle and rose bushes, I got to a beautiful little clearing under a humble cedar, and began unpacking.  As I got settled in to sleep, i was treated to the songs of first one then two barred owls in stereo, for a good 20 minutes!!  The only thing I had to worry about here, 40 yards off the road, was early-morning hunters stumbling across me.  The thicket was dense enough to indicate that no one had been in there in at least a couple years.  Slept great, then woke up noticing some 3-leafed yellow mittens.  And then every other form of poison ivy ... definitely walked around in it barefoot, had all of my gear rolling around in it, etc ... so we'll see soon enough if i'm still immune!

So, to back up a bit ....  I left Ithaca last Tuesday, October 8th.  Some garlic planted, the gardens in decent shape, and handed off to a capable zen student for a time.  Didn't get out the door in time to make my planned trip into Ithaca, so I just left straight from Danby.  Got about 45 miles to the northeast, passing through stereotypical central new york landscape ... cows, corn, silos, barns, perfect autumn colors, hawks, even a blue heron that flew right across the road behind me to a creek.  As it got late, and I realized that I was in fact quite tired from my longest ride in 3 years .. i checked out the map i had printed out.  I was right in the middle of many patches of state forest land, with only a climb out of the valley to get me there.  Climbing out of the valley is of course no small thing at the end of the day, and I even walked the steepest part as I watched the sun setting.  But state forest is such comfortably welcoming land, the peace of mind is worth a little extra effort.  A quiet and still night, to bed early and up with the sun.  Which means a solid 10+ hours of sleep this time of year!  Makes up the difference for what would be a less-than-restful sleep with only 1" of foam padding against the ground.  First night was in the mid-30s, but plenty warm in my tent cocoon and sleeping bag.

Second day much of the same, 45-50 northeast through Georgetown area and Madison to get to Clinton.  I reckon I had a lot of profound thoughts in the course of the ride.  In fact I know i had a lot of profound thoughts in the course of that ride, but darned if i can remember them now!!  Usually I'm good about keeping a journal on the road, but things were still pretty busy.  I got into my hometown of Clinton, closed my long-dormant bank account, and cycled around the school for nostalgic purposes.  Then I ran into Kathy Thompson who said she was "excited about tonight," meaning for the house concert that I thought was for sure the next day!  I was so sure it was the next day, that I had invited some of my most anticipated guests to come on Thursday, not Wednesday.  But my parents (who were hosting the concert), had invited most people for Wednesday, so I decided to forgo a trip to the neighbors' new goats, and head straight home to get ready to perform!  That's the beauty of house concerts, though, it's so informal that it feels pretty fine to just play in whatever state your in.  And after a second day of biking (and singing on the bike), I was in good shape to share music anyway!  There would just have to be a double-header, with a second performance on Thursday.

It's so nice to perform in peoples' homes, and a notch higher to perform in the home you grew up in - not to mention on the piano you grew up playing, and for people who watched you grow up.  A notable guest was my piano teacher from age 5-17, Kathy Austin.  If I spend more than a moment thinking about it, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for this woman who, through her patience, kindness, talent, creativity, and flexibility, gave more to me musically than any other individual.  To learn from someone once a week for 12 years is a marvelous gift, and I'd be nothing of the musician I am without her.  And now I'm getting tears on the library desk.  So, anyway, nice to perform with Mrs Austin there, and to catch up with her a little.

After performing the CD release show in Ithaca in what resembles (if it isn't actually) a huge masonic temple room (CSMA), singing in a living room was a big change.  I found I had to completely scale down my voice, and approach the performance with much more listening and calmness.  No set list, but I got to sing also to my little niece Morgan, who I met for the first time that day!!  Made sure to play enough piano to show Mrs Austin that I had made progress, enough banjo for everyone that had never heard me play, and also enough of the songs that my Mom likes.

Spent much of Thursday learning and notating the songs I would play at the wedding on Saturday.  Then got a new iPhone.  Oh dear ... i thought it would never happen!  Then a second concert at the house.  Fewer people but just as fun.  Even had my sister listening live through skype, which was funny.

Packed up and hit the road early Friday, to be able to meet my brother Sean for a ride to the wedding.  This was mostly along the Erie canal trail, after going through the city of Utica.  I was last on the canal trail on the second-to-last day of my trip 3 years ago, and many of the spots seemed amazingly familiar!  It's nice how flat it is, although the crushed gravel parts require a bit more muscle to get through than is ideal.  It makes the paved climbs seem easy, actually!  So, through the convenience of cellular devices, I met up with Sean a few miles before Amsterdam (about a 60-mile day).  We continued on down to High Falls, NY in the Hudson valley, near where the wedding of his friend Matt Gale would be.  I set up camp in the woods, and went to the wedding site for a late night rehearsal with the bride's brother on electric bass.  Giant wedding tent full of boisterously playful Gale grandchildren (Matt is the youngest of 10 children, and the Gales lived across the street from where we grew up).

The wedding was held at a lovely orchard and organic vegetable farm with pristine upstate fall aesthetics.  I played a few songs without then with bass before the ceremony, and finally "First Day of My Life" by Bright Eyes to open the ceremony with the groom's arrival.  Which was delayed .. for about an entire repetition of the tune!  But we made it work.  Then "I'm Sticking With You" by the Velvet Underground as the flower girls entered, and "Fidelity" by Regina Spektor as the bridesmaids and bride entered.  We were outside between gardens and under a large tree, by the way.  Midway through the ceremony, the sun came out to perfectly anoint the marrying couple.  Two beautiful readings, vows, etc, then "You Make My Dreams Come True" by Hall and Oates as a recessional, and "Man on Fire" by Edward Sharpe +co. as the whole wedding crew gathered for a picture.  More wedding things happened which I won't take the time to expand on here ....  I only have 9 minutes left!!!  Anyway, thank you to Matt and Serena for letting me take part in the ceremony and celebrations!

Sunday I spent a minute to do some yoga by the creek in High Falls, and hit the local food co-op, where I met a very sweet family who lives part-time there and in the city and likes planting native edibles.  The guy was a former? bicycle cop, and had this rad bike seat that supports both sides of your butt instead of a single piece to straddle.  A brilliant idea!

Made it almost to Woodstock, stopped at a Tibet-supporting thrift store, and camped along Ontearo lake on a steep rocky hill!  Went into Woodstock, which was pretty fun - it was a monday holiday, so there was a flea market going on and lots of people.  Nice cafes, and a top-notch bike shop where they gave me green tea!  Friendly people are the best, and there were tons of them in this particular town.  Also met a guy at a Tibetan store (tibet is a theme 'round here) who is a musician and suggested that I play in Hudson which is the up-and-coming new music scene!  He offered to sell some of my CDs after I had gifted him one.

3 minutes to go!

Um .... biked from Woodstock to ... oh, Catskill and Hudson NY - stopped into the place where I may play in the future, had a hard pear cider (and a tall glass of water!), and that brings us full circle to the poison-ivy location.  This narrative has very little of my metaphorical and philosophical musings, but now I feel up-to-date, more or less.  Met a nice Scottish couple on vacation here in Pittsfield, and ate Gluten-Free delights.  Okay, 30 seconds.  Gotta go!  See ya out there!  amherst tomorrow!!!

<3 travis

Monday, October 14, 2013

Woodstock quick update

Hi!  I'm in Woodstock, ny - it's been a whirlwind week so far, with 4 days on the bike, 2 house concerts, 1 wedding performance and celebration, and magnificent fall biking/camping weather!  I haven't had a chance to post a full blog yet, but it's coming.  One bit of news is that I just got my first smart phone, and I'm figuring out how to let that improve the quality of my experience on the road.  At least I could post this!  I'll check in soon, headed to Amherst, MA now.  Peace,

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Day 1: Into the Sunrise

puppy saying goodbye

 Bike is packed and I'm ready to take off on this crisp sunny morning!!!  Hard to leave in the middle of a tranquil Zen meditation retreat, but when it's time to go it's time to go!  First a final pass through Ithaca, then northeast towards Clinton.  It'll be two 45-mile days, with a night's camping in the middle.

My bags are a little heavier than i'd like (35# +), and the banjo is a tad awkward on top, but I think it's going to be a fine arrangement.  I have much more wisdom about pacing and pedaling technique than I did when I left 3 years ago, so this should be a great return to the cycling rhythm.

Oh, and my new CD is live to purchase online (for downloading or hard copies):

See you out there!

<3 travis

Zen Center Morning