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 PiƱata 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!