Sunday, September 13, 2015

Time to blow off the cobwebs

Meet Char-Lee

When last I wrote in this space, I was dropping the blinds and extinguishing the lights on this blog, Karlee having been sold off to serve duties as the "dog car."  I did, however, threaten to renew the adventures, and while it may have taken a few years to again ramble more than a few days at a time, those years did pass and the time has come.  So, please say hello to Karlee's replacement, and in keeping with the allusion to Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley," this Asian built touring bike is hereby christened Char-Lee.  Let the touring begin!

So, this past Wednesday, I departed west after a few days reconnecting with family and friends in Connecticut.  My first day on the road was hot, but even so, a pleasure, following a route out through the Litchfield hills.  In Litchfield proper, it was time for a water stop, and when the town library didn't immediately present itself, I happened upon Daniel, an exuberantly friendly fellow on a park bench who was more than happy to point me in the right direction, with face alight, asking my name, and tales of pretty librarians.  Thank you, Daniel, thank you, on behalf of mankind.

Crossing into NY, I stopped for a refreshing swim in the rushing Housatonic River, cooling down as prep for the series of rises and descents that would eventually take me to the Hudson River Valley, drivers who don't seem to be sure what to make of a bicycle on the road (to the driver who decided to pass at the moment of their right turn: thank you for all the room, but I'm afraid physics wasn't on your side with the attempted turn that followed), and my first stop: a steamy night in Beacon on the east side of the Newburgh bridge.  Thanks to Greg who put me up for the night despite just returning home after a journalism gig in Israel.  We did our best to think cool thoughts and talk about skiing.

Thursday may have been the highlight for scenic riding on quiet roads thus far.  New Jersey was beautiful.  Yes, you read that correctly, New Jersey was beautiful, from just south of Port Jervis to where I-80 crosses the Delaware River, an exquisite roll through the Delaware Water Gap national recreation area.  I'd made a few probes into this area in years past, but a pass through the full height confirms I'll need to return and spend a few days.  Unfortunately, Thursday was also my longest day, a 110 mile push to stay with Zach atop the Pocono plateau.  To add a little extra challenge to the climb to 1,800 feet, the skies opened as I reached the Delaware River, eventually unleashing a deluge that had small rivers running down the roadside.  Still, timing was perfect, with my arrival at Zach's all of 30 seconds before he rolled in on his bicycle commuting home from work.

It appears Zach loves bikes and ridding.  I can't fault him for that.  Much to our surprise, we discovered he was riding through NH about 5 miles to the north of me on the day I departed North Conway a week or so ago.  Well, our paths eventually crossed at least, and I think I easily talked him into making a pilgrimage north for next year's Detour de Connecticut!  Many thanks again for an excellent evening and equally good venison and garden veggie pizza.

After two days and about 205 miles, Friday I settled in to enjoy a sub 80 mile day.  Before starting out, this had been my goal versus most of my past touring: a little less mileage and a lot more stopping.  It was a glorious, and I had a lovely day meandering through Hickory Run state park, a section of the Lehigh Gorge rail trail, lots of great back roads, and I even raced a train along the Susquehanna Valley (I won, but to put it in perspective, I'm travelling light--not the picture above--and trains tend to travel VERY HEAVY).  The day ended in West Milton, where Sue put me up for the night with more good conversation and a yummy vegetarian chili.

Of note, Sue is not a member of, the connection for my other host, but rather a friend of the member Misha who was not available but offered to help me find an alternative.  Where's Misha?  Headed to North Conway, of course!

And lest I forget, Friday also gave me a unique perspective on the scale of my undertaking with this tour.  Ambling along a quiet section of two lane blacktop amidst the farms west of Bloomsburg, I saw a walker up the road headed toward me.  I could just make out that he was pulling something, and as I drew near, it turned out to be a single wheeled bike trailer that he had connected in some fashion to his waist, and when I spotted a dry bag and bear canister in the load, it was obvious he's out for the long haul, and when I asked where he was headed, we both enjoyed a chuckle: he's headed for my departure state of Connecticut!

Saturday I woke under heavy skies to depart for the last day of this leg, the trip out to visit Lora and Dave in State College, PA.  As on Thursday, I stayed dry until roughly midday before the rain started, although it never reached the same intensity.  If anything, the weather made for some beautiful fog formations clinging to the narrow gaps in the ridges along the Susquehanna River valley, and at least I wasn't hot.  Dave did proffer (in a much appreciated nod to Douglas Adams) that I might be a rain god, a theory that was further tested today when the dry-all-day skies finally found a little sprinkle for me on my ride home from the market.

So far, so good.  The impetus of this trip was connecting with old friends and furthermore, the scope of the travel in distance and time will exceed any prior bike trip I've made.  While I do have specific destinations, my only deadline is returning to North Conway to build in the spring, and while I don't expect to be on the road until then, any sense of urgency, and more importantly, goal, has been erased.  It feels less like a trip and more like a lifestyle I'm adopting for a few month.  I am so relaxed.

From here, after a few days to explore State College, I'll continue west for the lucky chance to meet up with Tim and Nicki, friends of mine from cooking with Food Not Bombs, who moved away to Florida a few years back but I just learn have returned north to California, PA (yes, there is such a place).  As an added bonus, that will situate me well to join the Allegheny Pass trail and then the C&O Canal Path.  Yippee!

To close, a note on the allusion in the title of this blog.  "Travels with Charley," for those who don't know it, is some of the less well known Steinbeck.  It is his nonfiction account of exploring the United States in a truck and camper combo in the company of a poodle, Charley.  Beyond its subject matter, I feel a special affinity for this book.  Many years back, I received in the mail a wonderfully battered and duct taped copy of "East of Eden" from Steve (whom I'll see later this trip) with the simple instruction: "Read this."  It launched a summer of reading my way through all of Steinbeck, and by fall, the last to go was the less common "Travels with Charley."  I finally found my copy in a used book store while visiting my mother in the Seattle area.

Patiently, I set it aside, continued my visit, and waited until the bus ride east to enjoy my new found travelling companion.  Now, Steinbeck's journey started on the east coast and headed west by a similar route to the one which would return me home, and as I rode east, Steinbeck and I travelled towards each other, eventually crossing paths somewhere in the midwest.  If my life had a more mystical screenwriter, I'd have looked up at that moment and seen through the expanse of Greyhound glass, the ghostly image of a bearded gent in a old camper truck, working his way west in the company of a faithful grey poodle.  Maybe we'd wave.  Oh well, perhaps it'll make it into the movie version.

And yes, I still have a thing for bridges.

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