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..