Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Check out this halloween card received by my great aunt in 1912!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New England bike trip October 27-28, 1985 -- Pennsylvania

Sunday October 27, 1985.

Early in the morning I stumbled out the back door of the ambulance station into bright sunlight. There I found two of the ambulance guys, packing up to leave. They were suspicious to see me, a stranger, emerging from their building. I explained whole deal. That's when they told me they'd been there at 4:30am, banging around to go out on a call. All of us were surprised I had slept through the whole thing!

The ambulance station on google streetview today...

(above and below)

The St. Clair main street was quiet and still. I bought a box of cornflakes and milk at a small store and went back to my "quarters" and devoured all of it, milk too.

And soon I was on the road again. Followed a not-so-pretty main highway south through Pottsville and Schuylkill Haven. The deep blue and ginormous broad mountain ridges ahead were beautiful though. Well-rested and well-fed (not to mention really pleased with the unique memories I'd forever have of St. Clair), I was looking forward to climbing again. I have always liked cycling uphill. Running uphill too. Call me crazy. All good for me there in PA; it had plenty of hill to offer!

Big climb south of Schuylkill Haven, PA. October 27, 1985.

Appalachian Trail crossing. October 27, 1985.

Many I'll walk it someday?

Atop the first big ridge I crossed the Appalachian Trail. On the other side, a terrific descent to the intersection with I-78. I kept south on state route 419 to Womelsdorf. All of a sudden I was in "PA Dutch" country. There were German names everywhere ("Dutch" is a misnomer; it's supposed to be "Deutsch"). Rehrersburg, Schaefferstown, Kleinfeltersville, etc.

Not long after, I was in Amish country too. I was now in Lancaster County, and horse & buggy combos became more and more frequent. I had never seen this before. It was sort of hard to believe. Eventually I made my way to Bowmansville, home of the PA Dutch youth hostel.

Lancaster County, PA. October 27, 1985.

Bowmansville, PA. October 27, 1985.

Which looks more ancient--the buggy or the car??

I had some hours to wait before they opened at 5, time I spent hanging out in front of the general store nearby. Reading, eating, and people-watching. Horse & buggy watching too. The Amish and Mennonites wore traditional plain clothing. Young men around my age were clad much different than I, and much different than in the blue collar mining towns I'd been in earlier. Many of them were cruising around on 5-speed bikes with upright handlebars. Seemed like the "cool" thing for that demographic! They waved when they saw me with my bike. Wish I had a photo of one or more of those guys. I noticed too that cars were very bike-tolerant.

The hostel had a barn for parking bikes. They also had plenty of interesting reading material from which I learned the histories of the local people, the difference between Amish and Mennonites and various orders of each. I enjoyed talking with the man who ran the hostel, Carl. He was a teacher at a Mennonite school in nearby Euphrata, PA.

Monday October 28, 1985.

I took a day off from riding on October 28th. The plan for the day was to explore Lancaster County using their excellent public bus system and my feet! I was armed with a county map. Carl gave me a ride to his school in the morning. From there I walked a couple miles along quite roads to Euphrata, where I could catch the bus. I rode it into the city of Lancaster. En route I saw a farmer working his field with a team of horses pulling all the equipment.

In the city I was disappointed that the farmer's market wasn't open on Mondays. But I found a 25¢ macaroon at a little store. That plus some apple sauce earlier was all I ate 'til lunch. I was saving my stomach. Had a plan, see. After a bit of walking in Lancaster I hopped another bus east to New Holland, PA. From there I walked a couple miles out of town to where I planned to EAT a very large amount of food. My destination was the Shady Maple Smorgasbord, recommended by Carl. Oh my, it was great. $6 for all I could eat. Breads, soups, vegetables, meats, casseroles, desserts. I took my time, read the local paper, and ate a lot. Highlight dessert: traditional shoo-fly pie.

(Why I took no pictures of the place, or the food, I'll never know. Not too late, though! They're still there! Prices ain't $6 no mo but it looks right reasonable.

Horses & buggies parked near the Shady Maple (above & below). October 28, 1985. Again, observed the fuel-efficient super-compact 80's cars!

From the Shady Maple it was about six miles to the hostel. I decided to walk it, taking in some more scenery. The map got me onto more quiet, pretty farm-country roads. After four miles or so, I was thinking I'd like a little more reading time at the hostel. So I put out the ol' thumb and hitched a ride the rest of the way. Great day. Only way it coulda been better is if I'd had time to get to the pretzel factory in the town of Lititz.

Along my walk back toward Bowmansville. October 28, 1985.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New England bike trip October 26, 1985 -- buckwheat pancakes, haunted house, ambulance station!

The 26th was sunny again, and my day's ride started with a huge downhill with a 10% grade, down off the mountain to the "town" of Red Rock. There wasn't much there… a gas station, some junked out cars… and Zel's Restaurant! Mike the Ranger told me to go there for sure, for they served "the best pancakes I ever had." Indeed they were fine! I had sourdough buckwheat cakes and two big hunks of sausage for a very reasonable price.

The restaurant had only one table--a big long one where everyone sat together. Beside me were some folks who, according to my journal from the day, were "local-looking." (What exactly did I mean by that, I wonder???) Across the table was a couple from Harrisburg who said they went out of their way to eat at Zel's when they could. They informed me that Zel was in her 80s but still cooking up a storm.

Me out front of Zel's Restaurant.

Red Rock, PA. October 26, 1985.

25 miles later I arrived in Bloomsburg. I knew I was getting close to the Appalachian Trail and hoped I could find a campsite or a hiker's shelter up there to sleep in. A sporting goods store called up a local hiking club, and I learned there were no shelters. Uh, bummer.

North of Bloomsburg, PA. October 26, 1985.

For the rest of the day I had some pretty long grinding climbs. It was one big tall Pennsylvania ridge after another. Good downhills of course, but more time was spent climbing! I descended through the coal mining town of Centralia and eventually reached the town of Ashland.

Centralia, PA. October 26, 1985.

Mike the Ranger was not the only source of good food tips at the state park. Norman the bachelor supplied me with the knowledge of Snyder's ice cream shop, in Ashland. I went straight there and had me a terrific banana split. Never turn down local food advice! [2010 web search reveals that Snyder's is still around, but not Zel's. 'Magine she done passed on……. R.I.P. ]

Snyder's Ice Cream. Ashland, PA. October 26, 1985.

I went on, laboring up another big climb toward Frackville. I was pretty beat. I was having that uncertainty problem, about where I'd sleep that night. There were some state parks in the area but they were closed for the season! So I chose to ride a larger road, in hopes of finding some kind of commercial campground or RV park or something. I went on and on but found nothing.

Soon it was starting to get dark, and I made it to the town of St. Clair. I started asking around about camping spots but there really wasn't anything there. I even called some motels but their prices were too steep for me. I was determined to find something. Someone told me about a small town park, but it was closed after dark. I had camped in town parks in small towns in the past, so I figured I'd just go ask the police department's permission. Found the the police station but no one was there! It was getting darker… Strangely, despite nowhere to go, I felt calmly assured that this was going to work out. So, why not sit and read? That's what I did, assuming someone would show up sooner or later.

Sure enough, after awhile along came the Police Chief himself, Tom Maley. I asked him about camping in the park, and he didn't hesitate to say yes. But he said I might not be very happy over there, because there'd probably be beer-drinkers 'n' hellraisers around (sorry, couldn't resist slipping in a l'il ZZ Top reference…). So he said "Why don't you just stay in here?" and led me into the ambulance station next door. He was also director of the ambulance service. I couldn't have imagined a better "campsite." The chief of police had personality invited me to stay in a large lounge, with heat, couch, fridge, and color TV! No one stayed there overnight normally -- they were an "on-call" ambulance service.

Across the street I found a place to buy a hamburger. There was local beer and a Penn State football schedule on the wall.

The ambulance lounge *was* used buy community groups at times, and that night 'til 9pm there was a group in there registering floats etc. for an upcoming parade. Not many people came in. The ladies in there insisted I should go down the street to see the local "haunted house," set up in the church. I wasn't so keen to go but one of them pulled out a dollar bill for my admission ticket! I guess I could said no, but where's the fun in that? I felt a little more into it given her generosity. I walked over and found myself in a loooong line to get in. Mostly it was teenagers, and I was the only one nobody knew. It was sort of amusing because you could tell they were trying to figure out "Who's THAT guy?" The haunted house was actually really good. Kids dressed in black with white face paint and red lips and whatever all would jump out and scare you, laughing evilly.

Back at the ambulance station, the ladies were closing down their gig. The wished me luck and gave me three more dollars for my breakfast the next day. I tried to decline, explaining I was fine, etc. But they wouldn't let me refuse. So, I accepted and said thanks and resigned myself to paying the world back some day.

I settled down to watch Game 6 of the World Series, eating cookies and milk. This was good living indeed! I was tired but the game drew me in. I stayed up 'til the bloody end, watching Kansas City come back late to beat the Cardinals and tie the Series. (The next day, they won it…) I then fell sound asleep, so asleep that I did not hear the ambulance dudes come into the building and drive out on a 4:30am call!

St. Clair, Pennsylvania, early the next morning.

Ambulance station somewhere in there on the left :)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

New England bike trip October 19-25, 1985 -- Central NY and down to PA

Saturday October 19, 1985.

Yes, it was raining in the morning. Check-out time for the motel was 11am. I intended to stay 'til 10:59. There was some hope of rain ending in the afternoon, said my TV. Took a long shower, killed more time in front of the TV. Eventually it was time to go, rain or not, with great uncertainty about that night. Found my way west along small road to the town of West Milton. Drip, drip, drip. Puddles. Wet. Smell of worms. Pretty, I guess... don't recall for sure, and since it was wet I wasn't digging the camera out to take shots.

Along small roads, asking about directions becomes routine. Hard to tell which road to take in real life out of one town if your aim is to be on that little gray line on the map between This dot and That dot. I loved "gray roads" though so it was worth the trouble. A store clerk in West Milton got me steered correctly onto Galway Road, west to (yep) Galway and eventually (after the road changed names a couple times) to Perth. I took shelter from the rain under a gas station canopy for a while. I met some high school kids there and we struck up a good conversation. Later, down the road, they passed me in their car, honking and waving.

Around 1:30pm I rolled into Johnstown, New York. I was looking for a grocery store for lunch supplies, but didn't see any along the main street. So I turned down a side street. There I saw a woman out walking her dog. For some reason she did not look all that approachable. I almost rode on past her. But, I stopped and asked her where I could find a store. And then I learned my own lesson in not judging a book by its cover!

The woman told me where a nearby grocery was, but quickly began to ask questions about my trip, about the rain, and where I was going today. I didn't really know so I said I was heading "west" and camping somewhere. No sooner had I said this when she mused "You know... (pause)... if you stayed here 'til six you could get a warm meal at the church." I didn't think much of it right then, wanting to put some more miles in that day and not knowing what I'd do til 6, let alone after... But then the offer expanded quickly to include camping out in this lady's garage! (Dry!) Hmmmm......

I pondered. She asked, "Would you like an apple, anyway...?" Well, sure I would. And before I knew it, I was inside a local funeral home. Say HUH? OK, backing up now: Eleanor, my latest kind stranger, was the mother of the proprietor (family business). She was minding the fort that day. So there I was eating her apple, my leftover bagels, etc, and pouring over maps in a funeral parlor. Well now, life is full of surprises. I soon enough realized that staying was practical--it just meant a longish next day's ride to a youth hostel on my radar screen for the next night. It was wet out. It was getting on in the day. Why not stay? I did.

I helped Eleanor prepare candied carrots and an apple salad for the potluck. We went to pick up an 86-year-old friend of hers en route to the dinner. I helped her down the front steps to the car. Soon there was crowd, and a fine spread of meatloaf, scalloped potatoes, fruit salads, green salads, casseroles… and lots of desserts. A not-very-good clown+magic act provided entertainment for the kids. The dude was funny because he made numerous mistakes but just sorta laughed them off and the kids never knew the difference.

We sat next to Eleanor's neighbors, Doris and 16-yr-old son Jeff. Jeff was a ski-crazy guy who was very pleased to talk with a guy from Colorado. Eleanor explained the garage plan to Doris while I was up getting food, and Doris wouldn't hear of it. She had empty beds (older kids off in college) and insisted I sleep in one! Boy, and uncertain rainy day had certainly taken quite a turn.

Jeff, Doris and Eleanor.

Johnstown, NY. October 19, 1985.

That night Jeff & I ate leftover cake, and Doris and I talked. I found out I was not the first person they'd taken in. Not long before some Syrian students had been in town for school, and found themselves with an expiring apartment lease… Doris and her husband brought them home for a couple months! Wow.

Sunday October 20, 1985

Doris' husband Bob came home as I was readying to leave. He'd been away on a trip. "See, we take in Americans too!" Doris said.

After many thanks all around, I rode off west along the Mohawk River. I crossed over it at a Palatine Bridge. I climbed out of the river valley and began a stretch off big wide rolling ridges. Really pretty in there, and I was riding small county roads to boot. This made for some navigation challenges as I didn't have a detailed map. With the help of passersby for directions it always worked out though.

Palatine Bridge, NY. October 20, 1985.

Two views SW of Palatine Bridge, NY. October 20, 1985.

Also I had a good bit of dog combat that day. Sprayed a lot of them in the face with my water bottle as they came alongside me, all barking and fangy. I met some cyclists that day who actually carried mace to fend of dogs! They told me there was a NY state law that if you got bit by a dog on a public rode, the dog could be euthanized at your discretion. Pretty serious law!

Eventually I rode south along the east side of Lake Oswego to Cooperstown. There I for some reason declined to go in and see the Baseball Hall of Fame, choosing instead to enjoy the sun in the park, eating some gooey apple pastry stuff and some bananas while writing for a bit. Also spent time talking to a number of people who happened by. A loaded bicycle is always a conversation starter. People just walk right up and ask where you're from, where you're going, etc. -- and the conversation goes from there. I met an art student, a couple from NYC, and a girl my age from there in town who told me all about her solo travels in Brazil.

Outside of town I busted another spoke. It was actually my second of the day. I was pissed. But I fixed it and forged on. [In retrospect, this broken spoke plague I'd been dealing with is a rare thing. Clearly the wheel was doomed and I should've pitched it and started over with a new one! Guess I was too stubborn or too limited of budget to go that route…]

I was aiming for a youth hostel in Gilbertsville, NY, 30-35 miles southwest of Cooperstown. I continued on small county roads. There were only teeny towns along my route, so grocery options were limited. I was hoping to pick up some lightweight Ramen noodles but ended up having to settle for a heavy can of soup. I had managed to spend a little too much time lunching and talking. That plus all the time spend fixing broken spokes all added up, and it was starting to get dark before I reached Gilbertsville. It got so dark by the time I was approaching the town, I almost didn't see some camo-clad hunters walking home along the road. I stopped and confirmed my sketchy directions with them, and continued along in the dark, flashlight in my hand! I actually didn't keep it on; I only flicked it on when a car was coming to make sure they saw me. It was cold and I had gloves on, making switching the flashlight on sort of challenging.

Finally I arrived at the hostel, a house tucked alongside a print shop. The owners were Debbie, a headstart teacher, and her daughter Karen, a junior at Antioch College. They greeted me with dinner! (I'd made a reservation so they knew I was on the way.) It was falafel on pita with vegetables. Chocolate fudge sundaes later! I did the dishes to say thanks, and asked Karen about Antioch. This was a "primitive" hostel, I should say. Meaning, there was an outhouse instead of a bathroom. And the shower was cold-only (!), and the place was heated (sort of?) by a wood-burning stove. No matter, sleeping bag was plenty warm. And it only cost $2.50 to stay there. Sort of inconceivable today.

Monday October 21, 1985.

Next morning I cooked some oatmeal and got on the road again, headed west. It was sunny again. Good riding on more small local roads, surrounded by pretty farms. Uphill, downhill. Some were pretty steep. Occasionally a tiny town. I stopped in one of them, McDonough, which wasn't even marked on my map. I sat in front of the general store to eat lunch. I wrote postcards showing the same store in black & white decades earlier. I marked an "x" on them where I sat!

A sunny day west of Gilbertsville, NY. October 21, 1985.

Pit stop in McDonough, NY. October 21, 1985.

My destination that afternoon was another hostel, near the town of Willet, NY. I asked someone where the hostel was. "Down the road about 1/4 mile to the first dirt road, take a right, and it's the only house up there." It was WAY up there. I had to push the bike a good 3/4 mile up the dirt road.

A small brown farmhouse awaited me. Nobody was home except four cats. I didn't see any AYH signs around (American Youth Hostel), so I wasn't even sure this was the right place. But I peered in the window and saw hostel materials inside. I didn't go in; figured it'd be best to wait 'til someone came home. IF they came home, that is. The Gilbertsville people told me they'd had people stay at their place who reported the Willet hostel was deserted. It was unlocked, so they had just used it anyway, without disturbing anything. I figured I could do the same but felt I should wait outside as long as possible. It was nice and sunny anyway, so I just enjoyed that. The cats (three were kittens) piled onto me in one big purring mass and slept.

Youth hostel home near Willet, NY. October 21, 1985.

The Willet hostel cats. October 21, 1985.

Last light of day near Willet, NY. October 21, 1985.

After about 3 hours, the sun had set and nobody had come home. Odd, because the AYH handbook for 1985 listed the place as "open" at this time of year, and said no reservations were required. So, I went on in. It looked pretty lived in. But the cats seemed hungry, like they hadn't been fed in awhile. ??!??!? Hmmm. There was no running water here. I had to get water from the well out front, lowering the bucket about 30 feet on a rope to get some. Just to be safe I boiled the water before using any. I went to sleep about 10pm. Around midnight, I was awakened by the sound of someone coming in the front door! The owner was home at last! He was surprised to find me but luckily quite understanding and cool about it. A weird situation! I was out the door the next morning before he ever got up. I left him a note apologizing for the surprise but also suggesting he might like to change his hostel's listing in the AYH handbook! About a year later I received the AYH magazine in the mail and noticed that he'd withdrawn his place from the hostel list! :)

Tuesday October 22, 1985.

I walked down the long dirt road into the chilly valley below. In Willet I found that the little store there served breakfast, so I bought the special. Two eggs, toast, and milk for 99¢. Later I visit the bathroom in the shed out back. Man, I was if this area of New York wasn't "the boonies," I dunno what was. Brushed my teeth at the laundromat sink next door, because the bathroom in the shed had no sink!

It was cold, but sunny. Rode more ups and downs… no major climbs, just lots of small and medium hills. About 8 miles away I reached the town of Marathon. Stopped for a little rest, sitting on a guardrail watching traffic whizz past. I was feeling low, wondering what the hell I was doing out here, sort of the same alone and uncertain feeling I'd had on the bus to Maine a couple weeks earlier. Part of it was the Willet hostel incident, and part of it was the Great Unkown of Pennsylvania. I had no idea where I'd stay, all the way across that really big state. I even contemplated taking a bus across Pennsylvania, but never too seriously.

Onward I went, west to Ithaca via Hartford and Caroline. There was a BIG downhill into Ithaca, with a very pretty view of the valley. I quickly found Ithaca Commons, an outdoor pedestrian zone. It was a lot like the Pearl Street Mall in my hometown of Boulder, so I felt at home walking along pushing my bike, happier than I'd been a few hours before. I went to a book store and had to go up a San Francisco-steep kind of street to get there. I would've happily tried to tackle the hill on my bike but it was so steep I feared breaking more spokes on my notorious wheel. So I walked it.

Ithaca, NY. October 22, 1985.

Ithaca, NY. October 22, 1985.

I also visited a bike shop to do some basic lubing and maintenance. Busted a toe clip so bought a new one. Didn't buy a new wheel though, nope, just went on tempting fate………. :) At the shop I met Phillip, an eye surgeon who loved cycling and was real interested in asking about my trip. He had done several trips before, staying in motels and eating in restaurants all along the way. He obviously didn't have my budget limitations! It's fun to compare and contrast the travel styles of Phillip and Mark! To each their own, for sure.

Phillip soon offered to play host for my stay in Ithaca. Once again, the generosity of people shone brightly. He guided me through the Cornell campus to his family's home in Cayuga Heights. His wife Lessly and school-age kids were equally welcoming. We sat on the back porch eating pomegranates in the sun, enjoying the view of Cayuga Lake. They too had an older child off at college, so I was installed into his room! Lessly insisted on adding my laundry to her pile. They served a lovely dinner of warm tuna-apple salad, dark bread, and broccoli, with rich chocolate cake afterward.

After dinner I went around town with Phillip running various errands while he showed me the sights. Among other things he pointed out Carl Sagan's house. He said he was acquainted with Carl but that they had "violent political differences."

Wednesday October 23, 1985.

Early in the morning I was up to thank Phillip for everything and see him off to work at 6:30. Lessly and I had some cereal for breakfast. I hauled their trash cans down to the curb for pick up that day. I wanted to help out in some way in thanks for their kindness. Soon, I was off again. Lessly told me to "be sure an write your mother!"

I spent a good part of the day exploring Ithaca some more. I went to the post office to pick up more mail. By prior arrangement, my mom had mailed me a packet of traveler's checks. I guess I didn't want to carry all of my stash at once, in case I lost 'em! So here was my infusion of funds. Certainly not the way I'd operate today in the ATM age. I went to the Ithaca farmer's market where I found a great loaf of banana bread and a dude selling hot veggie egg rolls.

Also I met with some people at Cornell to learn about graduate programs there, chemistry and environmental science if I remember right. Seems funny to think of that now because it must've been soon after then that I decided lab science was not part of my future. Perhaps fueled by all the great people contact of travel, I determined that people-work was my future. In the next years I became a teacher, my "first career." The thread continues today as a physician assistant.

Mid-afternoon I aimed the wheels northwest, just a short ride of less than 20>

A view of Cayuga Lake. October 23, 1985.

Creek near Trumansburg, NY. October 23, 1985.

From there I picked my way over to the intersection of Cold Springs Road and Podunk Road, where I found the hostel. The sign outside said "Podunk Cross Country Ski Center," indicating the winter use of the place. The hostel quarters were in the "ski lodge," a converted barn. Again there was an outhouse rather than an actual bathroom. There were ski posters everywhere, making me wish it were winter for a day and that I had my skis along. There was an old pool table and a hot plate for making hot drinks or soup.

I went a couple miles into Trumansburg to pick up some food but decided to "eat out." I found a bar with a nice soup and sandwich combo and washed it down with a couple beers.

Podunk Cross Country Ski Center / Youth Hostel. October 23, 1985.

Thursday October 24, 1985

I used the hot plate to heat water for oatmeal for breakfast. I was in a hurry to get going because it was gray out again and I wanted to get as many dry miles in as I could. But the drops began to fall as soon as I mounted the bike! Oh well.

My route took me 17 miles south to Odessa, NY and then another 17 southeast to Van Etten. There I got out of the rain for awhile, finding refuge in a small restaurant. They had sandwiches for $2, and if you paid $1 more the all-you-can-eat salad bar came with it. Yeah, baby! If all their customers were cyclists they could not stay in business. I had a very good Reuben and fries and a ton of lettuce salad, macaroni salad, potato salad, and fruit salad.

I had to fix another broken spoke before riding on south, but at least the rain had let up. It was a straight shot down a gorgeous valley lined with bronze and yellow trees to the Pennsylvania state line, another 16 miles south. [A 50-mile day was, for many years, about what seemed comfortable on these trips. First trip I did, in 1981 with my friend Dave, we average 85 a day or something. It was do-able but we were basically exhausted all the time. I had learned it was better to chill out and ride less. Now, 20-30 a day sounds more like it!]

South of Van Etten, NY. October 24, 1985.

At the border the towns of Waverly, NY and Sayre, Pennsylvania were basically one and the same. I found a grocery store. Then I went off to the sleeping spot I'd spied coming into town: the dugout of a softball field! It was soggy out, and the infield was all mud and puddles. There were certainly no softball games going down that day, and for some reason the dugout beckoned to me.

It was a great sleeping spot, quiet and sheltered. Didn't figure I'd have anyone bother me, but I stayed sorta low anyway. Somewhere far away, another dugout was bustling and in the limelight. In St. Louis, Missouri, game 5 of the '85 World Series was underway. Tim McCarver, who calls the games on Fox with Joe Buck these days, was calling his first World Series on TV, alongside Al Michaels and Jim Palmer. I was glad to have a roof, because true to the forecast it rained some more overnight. I was cozy and dry, though, and felt it was kind of fitting to be crashed out in a dugout on a World Series night!

Dry sleeping spot, Waverly, NY. October 24, 1985.

Friday October 25, 1985.

It was a great and sunny day for my first foray into PA. I got myself to the east side of the Susquehanna River (here in it's skinnier upper stretches), where there was much quieter road than the major U.S. highway on the other side. There were ups and downs and nice views of the water. In Towanda, PA, I sat in the sun eating Fig Newtons and bananas. I watched a couple about my age with a small baby and a beat up car and mused about how different their lives were from mine.

Sayre, Pennsylvania railyard. October 25, 1985.

Susquehanna River south of Sayre, Pennsylvania. October 25, 1985.

Near Towanda, Pennsylvania. October 25, 1985.

South of there I had to get on U.S. 220 for about 20 miles because there just weren't any better options. In the town of Dushore, my bike began to feel weird and bouncy. I looked down and saw why: rear tire was soft, squishing flat with every pedal stroke. I'd fixed a pile of broken spokes, but this was the first flat tire of the whole trip! I fixed it quickly and then escaped the traffic back to smaller roads again.

South of Dushore, Pennsylvania. October 25, 1985.

From there I seemed to be climbing pretty steadily. Trees seemed grayer because more leaves had fallen off. I passed through the towns of Mildred and Lopez. Before long I made it to my day's destination, Ricketts Glen State Park. I'd pulled a little more mileage than usual this day, around 60-65 miles.

I set up my tent in the campground. I soon met my neighbor, Norman, an older man (and proud bachelor) from Leesport, PA. He shared some iced tea and really great Keystone Dutch pretzels (the big soft kind) with me. Later I cooked up a batch of Ramen noodles for dinner with a slew of added carrots. After dark I washed dishes and showered at the bathhouse. I then went to the park office to sit in the light and read, but ended up instead talking to Mike the Ranger for about two hours. He was friendly dude with a big beard and horn-rimmed glasses. He had key breakfast advice for the next morning.

Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania. October 25, 1985.

Monday, October 18, 2010

New England bike trip October 17-18, 1985 - onward to New York!

On Thursday the 17th, I headed west over Brandon Gap. 'Twas a sweet climb, not as hard as people had told me it'd be. On top I stopped and put a ton of clothes on: sweater, jacket, windpants over lycra tights I was already riding, ear covers, gloves. The descent was long, fun … and cold! The clothes were all worth it.

The road to Brandon Gap, October 17, 1985.

A photo before donning the warm gear!

Brandon Gap, Vermont. October 17, 1985.

This put not far from Middlebury, Vermont, which I was curious to see. But it was out of the way and I was keen to see Fort Ticonderoga, scene of a favorite childhood book about French and British and Indians and fighting and all that stuff 4th grade boys in particular are fond of. So onward west I rode, across beautiful farmland. The views were framed by the Adirondacks ahead of me and the Green Mountains behind me. Sunshine dominated the day.

Looking back at Brandon Gap and the Green Mountains. October 17, 1985.

Near Shoreham, Vermont. October 17, 1985.

Near Shoreham, Vermont. October 17, 1985.

Near Shoreham, Vermont. October 17, 1985.

There was another fun ferry ride, this time across Lake Champlain to the state of New York. Had to wait for it for a bit. Ate a lunch of peanut butter and English muffins and played with a kitten while I waited. Once I crossed, Fort Ticonderoga was only a short distance away.

Waiting for the Lake Champlain Ferry.

Note cat atop bike! October 17, 1985.

Welcome to NY. October 17, 1985.

Wild Man Mark at Fort Ticonderoga. October 17, 1985.

At the fort, I met another bicyclist--also named Mark. I will just summarize right now that he was One Wacky Dude. Eccentric, generally in a good way. Definitely his own man. Though we had spirited debate about a few differences, I really liked him. He had paid the $5 to see the inside of Fort Ticonderoga and didn't think it was worth it. So I skipped it and was happy with looking in over the fence.

What we had in common was a joy of being on the road, travel by the power of our own legs, living cheap, and paying attention to small details in the nature around us. We had a similar sense of humor, kind of fueled by left-of-center, skeptical-of-mainstream thinking. But wow, he took things to an extreme I couldn't quite wrap my head around.

Let's start with equipment. Me: Panniers bought from a bike shop, bike shorts & helmet & gloves, tent (albeit droopy) and sleeping bag. Fairly conventional T-shirts 'n' "football" style jersey. Wild Man Mark: Instead of panniers, two $5.99 backpacks from K-Mart attached to a cheap rack with bungee cords, with a larger backpack clamped on top. No helmet. An old black pair of pants, big boots (!), weird (at least to me) shirts. Um, and for sleeping, he had a cheap tent that doubled as a sleeping bag. Meaning, he just laid it out on the ground and rolled up in the damn thing. I could never have done it that way but I was sort of tickled that he was doing it. And clearly having a great time every bit as much as me.

Next consider our respective ways of solving the "Where Am I Going To Sleep Tonight?" question. You have already seen (and will see further later) that I was, well, let's say "flexible," about where I'd sleep. But Mr. Mark, his favorite was sneaking into churches to sleep. That might be misrepresenting it a little, but he'd done it. Me, I'd rather ask permission to pitch a tent on someone's property. He objected to this, saying it puts people "on the spot" and also makes them feel as if they're expected to invite you into their home for dinner and such.

I suppose he had a point there to a degree, though I was always careful to make clear that I had food, had a stove, was headed to the store for food, whatever. That is, I literally did not expect anyone to "take me in" -- but without question I was appreciative when people did. Over years of cycle touring in the 80s and early 90s, it happened many times but never once where I felt the host didn't thoroughly enjoy the experience made possible by their spontaneous generosity. Mark, though, summarized his feelings by saying "I'd rather steal a dollar than accept $100." Wow, we were different on this one. Thinking more on it later, I felt like he was comparing things of way unequal comparison. I thought that maybe "steal a dollar vs. accepting $5" might be a more reasonable analogy.

Well anyway. We had enjoyed running into one another and were headed in the same direction. So we saddled up the horses and struck out together toward the town of Lake George, NY, 38 miles south. We were on a newly-paved section of highway 9N, which made for nice smooth riding. The town of Lake George is on the south tip of the loooong lake of the same name, so we were riding alongside the lake for some time. It's a pretty lake, but the whole area was a bit to developed/touristy for either of our tastes.

A view of Lake George, October 17, 1985.

During one stretch, the road left the short and went up... and up... and up... a thing called Tongue Mountain. This was without question the toughest climb of the trip so far. I had no tiny chainring, like is standard on most mountain bikes and many road bikes today. I just had two chainrings, equivalent of the bigger two out of three on today's bikes. On Tongue Mountain, was out of the saddle and standing in the lowest gear I did have for a good two miles. It was very steep, steep enough to even make me think of giving up and walking it! I was close to doing so.... "OK, if the top isn't around three more corners...." You'd go around a corner and look up only to see another... and another. I made it up though. Mark's gears were less-suited to the climb than mine, even, so I got up way in front of him.

After doing all this work, the road plunged right back down to the lake shore a little further south! We got to the town of Bolton Landing as it was starting to get dark. We found a store, bought some good white bread and a couple cans of baked beans. I had some leftover chili mix. There was a picnic table right there next to the store's parking lot. We sat there and I used my stove to heat beans mixed with the chili stuff. Poured that over the bread and feasted. A hail road food! Best tasting stuff anywhere!

Once our bellies were full, we went into the local library to read. Mark was reading a tiny (two inches high) book of Shakespeare. Nice warm place to hang out 'til they closed at 9pm!

Just to experience the way Mark operated, I decided to go ahead and find a sleeping spot his way for one night. What the hell. Sleeping in a church sounded sorta fun. We checked several but not one was unlocked. However, we'd spotted a place under some trees earlier, so we went there and crashed out. No tent for me -- it was dry. Mark rolled up in his :) A ton of stars were out. Not bad!

Next morning, Friday the 18th, we were up at first light. We went back to the same store and picked up some rolls for breakfast. And then off we went to the actual town of Lake George, 10 miles away. I picked up some "General Delivery" mail at the post office there (do they still do that these days?!?). From here my plan was to go west into the heart of the Adirondacks, whereas Mark was going south. We thus said goodbye to one another there, agreeing that we'd enjoyed the brief travel together.

Next comes the hamburger story, one of my favorites for some reason. I was sitting on a park bench by the lake reading my mail and writing some. A couple folks from Boston came up and spoke with me. I assumed they were husband and wife but it turned out they were brother and sister. They were part of a tour bus group that had stopped. They soon had to go hop on the bus. As the left the lady said to me "Well, you look like a nice good clean-cut American boy. Enjoy your trip." I was tickled then and I am still tickled today by this description of me. After all, I had been checking church doors the night before! I just didn't exactly think of myself on those terms. But I took it as a pleasant compliment... if they found me polite and enjoyable to talk to, I was good with that. As if for punctuation, the man was suddenly was waving a five-dollar bill in front of me, sort of pressing it into my hand and not letting me even begin to refuse. The lady looked at me an winked and smiled and said "Now you go have yourself a hamburger or something."

My oh my, I was blown away. The generosity of strangers never ceases to amaze me. This and many other experiences over the years have had a huge influence on me. They really caused me to have a great faith in people, generally. They made me want to treat others with kindness, care, respect. I mean, I think I got that stuff raised up by my Mom (thanks Mom) ... but these types of experiences magnified it.

Some things crossed my mind. Would my friend Mark have accepted the $5? "I'd rather steal a dollar than accept $100" flashed through my mind. How strange, I'd been with Mark only an hour before! Also, would this couple have treated Mark the same way? That made me think a lot too, because although Mark was clearly a good soul, he might not have looked as "approachable" as I did. Hmmm, how much of how we look is facade? Was I less "clean-cut" than I looked? Was Mark nicer than his unusual clothing might suggest? How much of who we really are is hidden by appearances--for me, for him, for anyone? Fabulous food for thought even 25 years later.

With this making my head spin, I set out westward. It was suddenly windy. And dusty. And as I started to climb a hill, SPROING! Another broken spoke! Dammit. I turned around. This wheel thing was not going to work in the middle of the Adirondacks. So I went south to Glens Falls, a decent-sized town. I had to find a bike shop, again. As I pulled into town, another spoke broke. Once one goes out, others are stressed and more likely to go. Found a small bike shop where the guy quick popped a couple new spokes in and trued up the wheel, no charge. I crossed my fingers and headed to Saratoga Springs, 20 miles further south. Not a very scenic road. I literally did stop and have that hamburger, at some Burger King along the way. One cheery something in the midst of a suddenly dreary mood.

The weather forecast added to the dreariness. Close to 100% chance of rain that night and most of the next day. This sent me running for a motel, willing to spend some bucks but too budget-wary to do the place that was $30 for the night. But eventually I found the Whispering Pines Motor Inn for $18. (Wonder if they are there today....) I dragged my bike into the room and went to a nearby grocery called Price Chopper. Got me some bagels to go with my peanut butter, and some bananas and yogurt for breakfast. I used the pay phone outside to call home. Later I settled in front of the TV in my room to watch the gloomy weather forecast. (I believe it might have even been The Weather Channel, maybe the first time I'd ever seen that. It was sorta new then, I think.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New England bike trip October 15-16, 1985 - Central Vermont

October 15, 1985 was another rainy day in central Vermont! Guess I was learning why Vermont is so green…. It was pouring right from the start. There was no option of hanging around the hostel either… it was closed during the day, starting at 9:00am. Luckily, there was another hostel 45 miles south, down route 100 in Rochester, Vermont. I had a reservation even. Knowing I'd be dry at night made it not so bad to just go on an ride in it. I was soaked within a few miles, but as long as I was actively riding I was not cold. In fact, I only stopped once. At the Warren General Store (Warren, Vermont) I found 4 day-old rolls/pastries for $1.20. That plus water was lunch! Didn't stop for long, because I started feeling chilled in my wet clothes.

For those wondering, my gear was generally kept pretty dry but lining my panniers (saddle bags) with multiple plastic bags. Also, tent and sleeping bag were inside a massive thick plastic bag and lashed onto the back of the bike above the rear wheel.

When I set off, the rain had let up and I had a stretch of uphill to do. This got me warmed up quickly. But within minutes it was raining even harder than before! So, when I got to Rochester, I went directly to a laundromat. It was warm in there, and washing all my damp stuff was in order. Great way to kill a little time. It was only 1pm and the nearby hostel didn't open 'til 5pm.

While my wash was running I noticed two loaded bikes across the street! I went across and found their owners in a cafĂ©, eating fries and drinking hot coffee. Their names were Mark and Jim, two 30-ish guys who'd been doing trips together for about 10 years. They were headed for Boston. But first they were headed to the laundromat--for the same reason as me--and then the hostel. As was Luke the red-poncho'd hitchhiker who was also planning to stay at the hostel. Laundromat on a rainy day = precursor to "social media" for travelers… ?

Mark and Jim, stalwart Midwesterners.

October 15, 1985 in Rochester, Vermont.

Sitting on a bag of peat moss, waiting for my dryer-load to finish.

October 15, 1985 in Rochester, Vermont.

Eventually the crowd moved from the laundromat to the Schoolhouse Hostel. All these dudes plus one more, photographer John from L.A., were staying there. We all ate a big dinner of spaghetti and/or mac & cheese. And then went to the Eagle's Nest bar to drink beer and watch baseball.

Schoolhouse Hostel on a less rainy day!

Rochester, Vermont, October 16, 1985

On October 16 did a "day ride." Instead of moving on with a full load, I left most my stuff in the hostel for the day, and rode my unloaded bike on a big relaxing 45-mile loop. Nice to have a "day off" but still get to explore. And a dry, partly-sunny day was a welcome change!

Near Stockbridge, October 16, 1985

Apples & cows near Barnard, October 16, 1985.

Barnard, Vermont. October 16, 1985.

Bethel Mountain Road, October 16, 1985

Jennie from Philadelphia up on Bethel Mtn Rd.

Bethel Mountain trees..... October 16, 1985.

Back at the hostel later on, it was Ramen noodles with poncho man Luke for dinner, and another trip to the bar for baseball and beer.