Monday, October 28, 2013

Connecticut Hills, Lots of Conversations, and Three Andrew's

Alright, so I'm in a hurry, but I've got to get this written and over with. 

I started out in Connecticut on Monday morning. The pastor I was staying with, as mentioned, was leaving his district that morning, so they emptied some of their pantry into my bike as we were about to leave - lots of dried fruit, some pre-cooked Indian food...

Now, this might not sound believable, but Connecticut has presented me with the most challenging hills of this entire trip. In combination with darkness coming early, there have been days where just 40 miles was a huge struggle, And I stopped after dark.
The ubiquitous stone walls..
I guess some French people were here once.
Fortunately I hit a rail trail that took me 15 miles on Monday - meaning I could maintain a constant speed for a couple hours. Because I was riding at a pretty constant pace, without needing to make any turns for a while, I took the time to call a couple of my grandmas while I was riding. I guess it did drain my battery a bit..

You can almost get the sense of how much of a raised trail this is here.. At this point the fill was close to 30 feet high. 
Oh, speaking of battery, this week I've been reviewing the NewTrent NT120R, a 12,000 mAh battery pack from which one can charge their phone or tablet, or anything else you can charge from a USB port. If you have a need for a battery extension, this, or the non-weather proof version at least, could be just what you need.

This guy is about 3 inches long.
And while I'm in a reviewing mode, I just finished reading the book Tschiffely's Ride, about Aimé Tschiffely, who, between 1925 and 1928 rode two horses 10,000 miles from Buenos Aries to Washington DC - a book that really puts into perspective what I'm doing, and also a fascinating book about a man and two horses, and the distinctive personalities and trail hardiness of the two.

But back to my week.
The worst section of trail I've been on. It would have been easier had the leaves not obscured the large potato sized rocks..
Coming to this sight, after the above picture, made me wonder if it was really necessary to have traveled the last quarter mile. This is obviously a stretch of road well traveled by vehicle traffic.
I'm starting to do better at finding places to stop each night, one of the most intimidating things about traveling on a budget, being reluctant to ask people directly, and not really planning my days out in advance generally. WarmShowers doesn't have people everywhere, and out this way there's no real "empty space" for worry free (or quiet) stealth camping, so quite frequently on this trip I've found myself sleeping out back of a church somewhere or other. Somehow church property seems to be the most public of all private property, and I've never had any problems. Consequently, I've spent three nights in this past week out back of a church somewhere. 

Sandy Hook, of school shooting fame..

Tuesday night, on a slightly rougher than average rail trail (as determined by the fact that the on and off ramps, when crossing roads, were almost like pushing my bike up stairs, and some of the road surface was a little on the sandy side..), I ended up camping right along the trail. Actually, I laid out my sleeping bag on the trail it's self, as I though the rather soft sand would be better suited for sleeping on than riding on. Nonetheless, I was awakened in the morning by two early riser bicyclists, who apparently thought the trail was just great. Yeah, well, they weren't riding a 120 pound bike with slick tires...
You can almost get an idea, thanks to the fence, just how steep of a road this is, though this picture doesn't show the traffic volume.
This house extends off the frame in both directions.
Thursday morning I intended to take a ferry across the Hudson river. The challenge was that the passenger ferry only ran during rush hour, meaning I needed to spend the night somewhere close, or I'd lose a day. Unfortunately, I hadn't been making as good of time as I needed to be the last couple days, and had a bit extra distance ahead of me that night. Fortunately, I had a WarmShowers contact who had no problem coming out with his Dodge Sprinter to pick me up - on a busy 2 lane highway with sometimes narrow shoulders, just after dark.. it was much safer even if I could have pushed through that night. 

When I got to the ferry Thursday morning, after worrying I was lost, and finally having to turn around, I made it to the dock just as the passengers were disembarking (I watched the ferry port, as I headed that way), so was able to almost get on without stopping - for the last ferry of the morning. I happened to be about one of 2 passengers..

Now, I've got to say, I love New York, and on my third pass, it remains my favorite state to date to ride through. It seems that New York has, in general, better shoulders than most states I've been through, and seems to have spent more money on grading the road, so hills aren't as steep. (I wonder if Connecticut does any cuts or fills..) Apparently not all are in agreement, but on Thursday enjoying New York's roads (and then New Jersey), after first stopping at a store and making the ferry, I made the longest ride of the week, in better time, and was less tired at the end.

I was told that New Jersey was a hilly state.. after Connecticut, I think I'd call it flat. 

On Friday I again found myself on a long stretch of rail trail. At one road crossing, I met Stewart, another biker, who had apparently done some touring at some point in his life, and so asked a bunch of questions, leading to the longest and most interesting conversation I've had with someone I just met on the road.

While we were talking, a couple guys on racing bikes stopped at the gate and waited for me, and ended up riding with me for about 6 miles - the first time anyone has ridden with me at all. Just riding with them, they setting their pace to me, I was able to pick up my travel rate by about 15%. Then I had to stop for a moment, and they got ahead, so I pushed myself for at least half a mile at 13-15 miles per hour (where my cruising speed is 10) to catch up. Being able to talk with someone while riding, someone who's physically there, really gives a boost to performance.

Friday night I went to the church I intended to go to the next day. Having failed to make any contacts in Princeton, I thought I'd just camp out back again. There were only two things, one I wanted a shower, and two, it's been a little cold lately, and I really wanted to sleep inside. Well, as it turns out, the back door was wide open (though the glass screen door was closed). I went inside, but found no one. Eventually, after much work, I located a phone number and called someone, who informed me that no one lived close enough to come and lock the door, and since I was there, I may as well sleep inside. So, after taking a bucket bath, that's what I did. 

Being a college town, there were more college age people than normal, though apparently Princeton had some break that weekend, so a bunch of students were away. Still, the student/retirement age people gap was about the narrowest I've seen on this trip. 

After church, I went home with Andrew and Janelle, who, complicatedly, are unrelated but are practically brother and sister, and live with Andrew's aunt and uncle. Somehow the three of us got along well, and it was hard to believe we'd only been friends for a few hours.

That evening we went out to a bonfire, taking another Andrew with us, which, in spite of the fact I only knew 2 people there, felt so much like other bonfires I've been at with so many friends over the years that it felt so familiar, and, in a way, at home.
Andrew H., Andrew C., and Andrew A.

After returning to the uncle's house, I spent a couple hours talking mostly about photography and metallurgy, before he went to bed, then me and Andrew, also 20, talked well into the night..

I think that's the longest conversation I've ever had with a person who was actually the same age as myself.. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Montague Corporation, and Staring Down the Sun

This last week started off by getting a late start. I took forever to finish my last blog update, then when I went to load up my bike, found I had a flat tire. I was afraid I had more holes than patches at one point, but I ended up randomly selecting the only hole that was actually leaking, and so was able to make a good early start Tuesday, the next morning.

But I did have to make it to one last hardy Howe breakfast first..
Inside pictures of the cabin I stayed in.

After 3000 miles it was about time to replace my tires. Portland, Maine is the only city I will ride my bike through twice, and so it was a perfect opportunity to order in and replace my tires. I went with the same tires I'd had before, but being brand new, the rolling surface is noticeably reduced, improving my average speed a little.
The Bowdoin College campus - a highly selective (15% acceptance rate) liberal arts institution.
And, while I was at it, I put on new rear brakes, noticing that one pad had worn through and was putting a grove into my rim.
New England businesses seem to particularly like puns.

Low tide

I did get off as quickly as I could...
After not sleeping outside in nearly two weeks, I made it as far as I could on Wednesday, then found a church along my route where I might be able to camp out inconspicuously. It looked a little large, but I didn't expect that to be a problem. About half an hour away, I realized that it was Wednesday night, meaning there probably would be be people present. Arriving at 6:30, I was amazed at the traffic volume flowing in, and out, of the parking lot. After taking some time to summon my courage, being somewhat intimidated by the number of people present, I finally rode into the parking lot and went inside, to see if I could sleep outside that night. I think that's the most full parking lot I've ever seen on a Wednesday night..

On making it inside, I was quickly put in touch with Scott, who showed me around, and pointed out a place I could camp out of the way, giving me a card in case the police on driving through saw me and wondered what I was doing. That wouldn't be a problem, though, as I found a place out of sight enough no one could have seen me without really looking.

That night it was lightly overcast, with a full moon, and with the reflection off the nearby towns/factories/whatever it was, it was almost too bright for me to sleep. 
Vibrant colors in southern New England.
Having almost reversed my direction has taken some time to adjust. For some reason it doesn't seem right to have the ocean to my left, and I'm feeling much more disoriented than when my direction of travel was always on average east. That, and I really didn't mind having the sun at my back in the late afternoon...
The Gibbs Quadski - a $40,000 BMW powered ATV, capable of speeds up to 45 mph on ground or water.

So I'm taking this cross country bike trip, not on a highly refined road bike, or a tough and simple purpose built road bike, but rather a folding mountain bike, outfitted with road tires, racks, fenders, a leather seat, and cool handlebars. I actually still use the more traditionally mountain bike grip shifters even. Having a folding bike has been a great asset, as I've managed to come up with so many reasons so far for sticking my bike into various people's cars along the way.

At any rate, the people at Montague Corporation, the makers of my bike, on hearing about my trip, and realizing that I really was serious and was going to follow through with my plan, told me if I made it to the Boston area I should definitely stop by on my way through. So I did. I arrived at their headquarters - a 3 room suite in a two story office building complex that used to be a shoe factory - at about 4:00, and they came out to meet me, took a few pictures, and took me in to the office to work on my bike. 
Arriving at Montague. The first picture of me actually riding my bike.
Me and Dave Montague, the inventor of my bike's folding mechanism, and founder of the ensuing company. 
Montague is not a huge company, having only about half a dozen employees, of which I met the majority - manufacturing being outsourced. On working on my bike, they said they were surprised how good of shape it was in, spending most of their time either tinkering with new bikes, or dealing with warranty issues on heavily abused bikes. 

While I was there, they replaced the bottom bracket (where the peddles turn), gave me a new brake pad, adjusted the brakes, fixed my shifter, and put on new peddles and grips. As I was about to leave, Dave handed me $200, in case I needed to do something further down the line.

As we were getting ready to leave - by the time they were done with my bike it was time to go home - I mentioned that I'd not yet managed to find a place to spend the night. Ryan, the guy who did most of the work on my bike, offered his couch for me to sleep on, in the house he shared with 3 other guys, so I followed him home. Of course, I, pushing 120 pounds, did have a little difficulty keeping up with him on a light commuter bike.

We went out for pizza and watched the Red Socks playoff with a house mate, then after doing a lot of not much, some of the guys started watching a movie about midnight, in the room where I'd have been sleeping, so I asked if there was a quieter place, ending up on the floor in Ryan's room.

Well, after putting 5 days of riding into 4 days, I was getting pretty tired. After getting a short ride the last bit on Friday, I stayed the night with Claire, before going to the church on Sabbath. 
The church interior. The organ seldom gets played, being rather loud..
 The Adventist church was originally a Methodist church, and so has a grand stone exterior, and wood interior. As it turned out, I happened to there for the pastor's last sermon before leaving his district of 14 years. In the course of things, I somehow became part of special music, playing my harmonica with a violin, keyboard, and another harmonica, and singing my first ever public solo, which I was slightly nervous about, having not actually rehearsed beforehand. 
With Charley, the other harmonica player. 
Being the last Sabbath, everyone had to give their farewell words, and it was clear that this pastor was well loved in his district.. 
The pastor and wife in the middle, flanked by a deaf couple, two ASL interpreters, and other church members. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Last Week Eastbound

Starting this next week I will no longer be traveling north east, but rather south west for the next month and a half. 

But before I get to that detail...

I started this week in Rutland, Vermont, where I stayed, first in a hotel room, then I was picked up by Stewart and Lois Griffin, who I'd met at church. They drove me to the 15 room, 3 story house they were house sitting - big enough I about got lost a couple times. In fact, the house was big enough to virtually have three separate living spaces within it. An apartment, separated by a locked door (locked from the main house side), was where I slept. 

Apologies to my readers, I completely spaced on taking a picture of the place.

The next day as I started out for the week was a little on the humid side.. I didn't get rained on particularly heavy, but I did pick up a lot of fine gravel off the road. About 20 miles out, a familiar van passed me, and stopped ahead. Apparently Griffin's had nothing really to do that day, so came to see how far I'd made it. Having a mini-van sans back and one middle seat, and since I'd been making less than wonderful time that day, we rolled my bike through the back door, and they drove me 20 miles up the road, giving me a guided tour along the way.

As we drove, I saw three toppled houses, and plenty of carved out river banks, left over from hurricane Irene in 2011. They told me most of the road was new since then..

And again I didn't get a picture. 
An old covered bridge. Actually, the only one I've seen on this trip.

After a while, they dropped me off, we said goodbye again, and I went to eat lunch and trade out my inner tube - second flat. It was good I had the ride, as it bought me enough time to take care of the tire, though I may have loitered around too long..

It rained lightly on and off for a while, then a few miles from my destination, a storm came up. I was soaked through in a matter of minutes, and the bike trail I was on became almost a river. I heard a crash, looked, and saw a tree get blown over. The trail I was on went under the Interstate, so I stopped to take shelter for a few minutes, till the storm subsided a little. 

Within an hour of the tree being blown down, it was down to a drizzle and light wind. I was surprised when I first saw another person riding a bike, then someone jogging on the same trail as myself. I guess people are tougher out here..

The next day, in attempting to take a shorter route, I took a chance and went on roads I was informed were soft gravel to begin with. Then, after some time on less than wonderful yet still not terrible roads, I turned onto a seasonally open road - the type of one lane gravel road defined by two ruts, which get perhaps as much water traffic as vehicle traffic. 

Then this hill just suddenly drops right over the side of the hill - estimated 10-14% grade. 

Now, a detail I'd left out - by this point, my front brake cable had broken, my back tire was about worn out, and my rear brake wasn't pulling at full power. 

And the road surface was both loose and wet. 
It may look like perspective, but that's really the steepness of the road. Notice the angle of difference between the road and power line.
In order to get down  I used my foot as an auxiliary brake, and would swing my bike sideways from time to time to stop. 

It was the most exciting experience of this trip.

Fortunately that night I managed to make it to a house where I found a replacement cable and housing, tightened up my brakes, and rotated my tires so the worn (threads showing) one was in front. 
The day after "The Hill". I made it through alright, however..
Now, I don't really mind camping out, but sometimes others would just as soon go out of their way to find somewhere for me to stay, and this was what happened Wednesday night. Once again, I wasn't making as good a time as I'd hoped (seems to be an on going theme). Lois Griffin, who I'd stayed with earlier in the week called the Northern New England Conference, to see if there were any church contacts where I'd be. There weren't, but soon a plan developed. Scott would come from the office, drive an hour, pick me up, take me to Portland, then I'd stay with someone in town that night.
Stone walls are to the north east what round hay bails are to the western midwest.
I was 3 miles from the Maine boarder when Scott caught up with me. While we were driving, spending most of the time talking about writing, he mentioned that in the 12 years he lived in his house, he'd never had a front door key, consequently never locking the house, as the previous owner, also never locking his door, had lost the key at some point. 
Since I was with someone else at this point, we stopped to take a picture.
It turned out to be a blessing I made it to Portland, as I needed a tire for my bike, but it had to be ordered in, meaning I have to pick it up on the way back through. Portland, Maine will be the only city on this trip I will ride through twice. 
This structure is made completely out of bicycle rims and tires. 
After some difficulty, with roads being closed and such, I eventually made it to my weekend destination - the Howe's estate. I first met Dr. and Mrs. Howe before I started on this trip, through my good friend Elwyn, who used to live up this way. When we met, they told me that if I made it to their area to stop by, so I did. 
At Land's End, Harpswell, Maine, looking south. 
Honestly, this has been perhaps my most favorite stop on this trip. I can't think of somewhere I'd rather be for the end of traveling east, and the beginning of the southward leg. I wasn't the only guest here. The first night I was one of four, the others being two girls working at a nearby restaurant, and Nellie, a 4th year French-Canadian medical student, who looks half her age. 

On Friday I rode my bike down to the end of the island, to see the Atlantic. Riding without weight must improve my efficiency by 50%.

I wonder if they had to custom make this sign..

Apparently the longest bridge of this construction in the world. 
While there, I took my first ever opportunity to go kayaking, and took some pictures of the glassy surface while I was at it. Nellie came out with a canoe, and, I didn't realize till later, never moved her paddle from the left side of the boat in half an hour.  
Kayaking with a camera, it's easy to get water on the lens..

Howe's home, with the golden windows. If you look carefully, you can see two cabins in the woods. The one I stayed in is to the far left. 

Helping in the garden on Sunday was a nice shift from the ordinary ride-eat-sleep-ride routine. It's nice to stop and do something useful, something productive, and just to stop and work along side people for a change..

In the evening, I went to help bring in the sailboat for the winter, making for the first time ever I've been on a sail boat. Unfortunately, it had already been pulled out of the water by the time I got there..

Beautiful sunset, right off the porch.
I'll have to come back here some time. The Howe's hospitality is inspiring, their food wonderful, their estate beautiful..