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

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