Trip Log – Day 12 –Slingerlands, NY to Cobleskill, NY

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 8.12.29 PMMiles Today: 37

Miles to Date: 731

May 17, 2015 – Sunny, 80 degrees

 

 

A cycling fact: fifty miles before noon is easier than thirty miles after noon. I got off to a late start, on purpose, because I went to church with Dave Gibson and his family. It was a worthwhile experience, but put my on the road after noon. I planned a short day, but was lethargic all afternoon. Perhaps it was the eighty-degree weather and the saturated sun. Perhaps it was the fragrant abundance of lilacs. Perhaps it was the cotton candy clouds. Perhaps it was the long swales of blacktop that lulled me into reverie. Perhaps it was the cultural rhythm of Sunday as a day of rest. All of that combined to wedge the song “Lazy Afternoon” in my head.

IMG_1875Though I lacked energy, I also had ample excuses to stop. The entire world was out on this gorgeous day. Fellow cyclists passed me, which didn’t bother me since I’m about distance over speed. I stopped along the road to talk with people out walking. Bob and Pat from Altamont explained the virtues of tacking Alaska on to my trip. Myrna stopped working her hay farm to chat. Judy Lawyer hailed me from her seat in the shade of her open garage door and offered me cold water. She and her husband Bill have lived in the same house along New York Route 7 since they were married, on property her parents gave them next to the house where Judy grew up. Now, with three grown sons of their own, they spend a good amount of time watching the road and reporting tales of travellers. One couple’s RV broke down in front of their house; they stayed in Judy’s yard for two week while it was repaired. I gave them a card, but Judy and Bill aren’t Internet people. I imagine the next vagabond that comes their way will hear about the cyclist with the question mark on his chest.

IMG_1871I stopped at Stewart’s for lunch. Not because it’s good, but because I have an unreasonable devotion to the Albany-area convenience chain. There was nothing remarkable about my roast beef sub, Stewart’s cola, or dish of salted mochachinno ice cream, except that I loved observing the disorder of Stewart’s home-made signs, paper cups of condiments, and zig-zaggy counters. Every aspect of the place screams out for orderly, but therein lays the charm.

IMG_1878Somehow, I got a room at a too-good hotel, which means no door directly to the outside. It’s awkward to roll a bicycle through a hotel corridor. Also, there is no desk. Why do all basic hotel rooms have desks, while the next level up have upholstered chairs and too high tables?

While I’m ruminating on minutiae, here’s a chilling reality. When we get directions from A to B on Google, it gives us the predicted travel time. Pretty easy in a car, where almost everyone drives the speed limit when they can. They do the same thing for bicycle routes. Bicyclists ride at a much wider range of speeds, yet the ride times that Google gives me a spot on to my usual speed. Are Google’s ride timScreen Shot 2015-05-17 at 9.17.20 PMes customized to my own riding habits? Does my computer somehow know how fast (or slow) I cycle? This is where I stop humming “Lazy Afternoon” and start to whistle “The Twilight Zone”.

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Trip Log – Day 11 – Manchester, VT to Slingerlands, NY

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 8.11.38 PMMiles Today: 72

Miles to Date: 694

May 17, 2015 – Cloudy, 60 degrees

 

IMG_1856Nature is breaking me into her fury in a most gentle way. After encountering no rain for ten days, this morning’s forecast called for a few hours of showers. Reality turned out to be a gentle mist and steamy fog rising off of Mount Equinox as I pedaled south from Manchester.

Rolling through Arlington brought forth memories of many good times there with my housemate Paul, who had a house there for years. I rode past his old house, the park where we walked his dog, Silas, and the covered bridge over the Battenkill where we taught Silas how to swim. Since he got used to the water, that dog dives into any pool or puddle he can find.

IMG_1860The metaphor of the Empire State in decline was too obvious to ignore as I passed the state line and the solid road, pristine gentlemen farms, and well proportioned white houses of Vermont yielded to cracked blacktop and farms past luster. Still, New York’s countryside is beautiful and the expanses of planted fields already further along than those I saw north and east only a few days ago.

I plan to be in New York State about a week, cutting a swath through the center of the state. I traversed the Erie Canal, Mohawk Valley, and Western New York on my last bike trip, and will spend time in the Big Apple on my return. There is a lot to see in New York.

IMG_1863I stopped for breakfast at the Country Gal’s Cafe in Cambridge. There’s nothing like it in Cambridge, MA for sure. That gave me plenty of energy to push through to Saint Joseph’s Provincial House in Latham for lunch, where I met with my aunt, a 93-year-old nun, and her fellow sisters to talk about tomorrow.

 

IMG_1864I also realized that I was passing out of Red Sox Nation and entering Yankee territory, though the Country Gal’s Cafe hedged their bets.

IMG_1861Am I the only one who thinks this is funny?

 

 

 

I took an easy ride to the other side of Albany to stay with my friend Dave Gibson, his wife Chris, and the three children they still have at home. They have ten children in total and several grandchildren to boot. We made flatbread pizzas on the grille and ate on the deck overlooking their wooded yard. As old friends do, we talked until nearly midnight – very late for this cyclist, but a great time to catch up.

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Trip Log – Day 10 – Norwich, VT to Manchester, VT

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 6.31.15 PMMiles Today: 82

Miles to Date: 622

May 15, 2015 – Sunny, 60 degrees

 

I had a big task today: 82 miles plus over 4,000 feet in elevation change. So, I abandoned my custom of a long afternoon break and took short but frequent stops instead. I got a bag of GORP, which I ate every ten miles or so. That, along with a breakfast bagel sandwich, sausage and pepper sub, 2 diet cokes, a quart of Powerade and a big cookie, were all consumed by the time I got to my destination shortly after 4 p.m. This proved a better strategy for long distance days than arriving after five or six.

IMG_1841-1The first third of my route was a beautiful ride along US Route 5 through the Connecticut River Valley. I passed large farms, rocky waterfalls, and travelled through many lovely towns. Windsor is particularly charming, and was the place where Vermont’s Constitution was signed. I never knew that Vermont was an independent country from 1777 until it joined the union as the fourteenth state in 1791.

IMG_1850Then came a series of rises through Springfield, Chester and Londonderry. The greens were amazing, the yard sculptures odd, and the forest so dense the wind was never a factor.

The last section took me over Bromley Mountain and back down into Manchester. The climb was fine though long. The decent – over three miles of 8% grade – was all the thrill ride I ever need.

My housemate Paul is from this part of Vermont, so I know it well. I stopped at his usual grocery, got take-out for dinner, and was happy to be in my motel room on the far side of town for a relaxing evening.

 

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Trip Log – Day 9 – Dorchester, NH to Norwich, VT

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 6.14.41 PMMiles Today: 37

Miles to Date: 540

May 14, 2015 – Sunny, 70 degrees (eventually)

 

IMG_1828Like most optimists, I look at the high temperature forecast for the day and figure, oh, that’s good. I need to start looking at the morning temperature as well. It was beautiful today – sunny skies and crisp, but it was only 29 degrees when I went speeding away from D Acres at 6:30 a.m. By the time that I realized my hands were freezing, despite Goretex gloves, I was almost halfway to breakfast and decided against stopping to fish out the hand warmers in the deepest pouch of my ‘wet’ pannier. By the time I pulled up at the diner in Canaan, my fingers were numb. Lesson learned – check the morning temp and keep my hand warmers near the top of my stuff.

IMG_1834The next twenty miles through Enfield and Lebanon were much more pleasant. I arrived at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center by 10:30 a.m. to meet with folks from facilities and their arts program. After a great lunch that included fresh local fiddleheads and wheat berries on my salad, I spent most of the afternoon catching up on writing at a window with a great view of the inpatient pavilion I designed over twenty-five years ago. The pod form is dated, but the building still looks great.

 

 

IMG_1835Late afternoon I pedaled through Hanover, where the undergraduates were enjoying the day on the lawns, and crossed the bridge into Vermont.

 

 

 

IMG_1838I stopped at the Appalachian Trail maker to acknowledge that five years ago my son Andy walked across this bridge in the opposite direction on his way from Georgia to Maine. Now I am traveling west on two wheels. That trip shaped much of Andy’s life, and inspired me to be ore adventurous myself. I owe many thanks to Andy.

I spent the night at the home of Marianne and Dave Barthel, and their daughters Fiona and Ophelia. We enjoyed wonderful turkey burritos from Paul Prudhomme’s Fork in the Road Cookbook – low fat versions of his dishes that taste anything but.

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Trip Log – Day 8 – Conway, NH to Dorchester, NH

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.35.18 PMMiles Today: 69

Miles to Date: 503

May 13, 2015 – Partly cloudy, 65 degrees

 

IMG_1813Nature’s first green is gold

Her hardest hue to hold.

Alas, Robert Frost’s words proved true overnight. The budding trees that stood along the side of the road in Maine are flush with leaves; still small, yet soft green and distinctly shaped. Spring is on the move, the earth pulses with energy.

I started the day as a fly on the wall in a local convenience store, devouring an egg and bacon sandwich and coffee cake muffin while locals filtered in, bought their coffee and cigarettes and shot the breeze with the two proprietors, who knew everyone by name and their order preferences without asking. One guy bought three packs and said he was heading for New York. “Be careful not to sell any singles there. They shoot people there for that.” Like all good jokes, the reference to Eric Garner got s laugh, even as it stung. A few miles down the road I passed a Dunkin’ Donuts with a line of cars in the drive-through. The price of getting our coffee without getting out of our vehicle is human distance.

IMG_1807A morning mist turned into passing clouds and then sun, Brilliant rays streamed through the forest as I headed west on a series of lightly travelled roads. Outside Ossipee I stopped by a covered bridge under construction and got a lesson in timber frame restoration. Sandwich is a picturesque village where every building is classic white. The lakes were pristine; a few fishermen braved the cold water.

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After lunch at a sandwich shop along Squam Lake, I headed north, through the cool college town of Plymouth. I had reservations to stay at D Acres, an organic demonstration farm and hostel in Dorchester, the next town over. Turning west on the Tenney Mountain Highway the entire scale of my day went skew. Suddenly, I was on a busy road with wide shoulders and the usual assortment of big box stores. Since there were no major towns behind me, and none ahead, I was baffled where all these people and cars came from. But we are bees to honey when it comes to shopping, and for a few miles I was on a shopping strip as busy as any despite being in rural New Hampshire.

IMG_1824Eventually the stores ended, but the road kept on, and on, and on. My GPS directions were off and the headwind was not my friend. After much longer than I anticipated, I took Route 118 south and climbed to D Acres, a fascinating hybrid of counter-culture agriculture and funky retreat. The main house is full of gorgeously detailed rooms and fine crafted furnishings. The double-headed shower room with integral seat and glass blocks is opulent as any spa. Balance that with the composting toilets and hand painted agricultural and political slogans on the walls. Joshua Trought, the titular owner and main farmer, wrote a book about the place, The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm.

D Acres can accommodate up to 10IMG_18270 guests, but was pretty empty this early in spring. A dozen or so staff and visitors shared dinner, an incredible buffet of beef ragout, diced potatoes, parsnips, greens with tahini, and rice with mushrooms and nettles. All I could eat for $12.

Its turkey-hunting season in New Hampshire, and wild turkeys are as rampant around D Acres as they have become in Cambridge. Josh and his crew shot four in and around the property today. After dinner they defeathered, scalded, and gutted the birds prior to freezing. Anything that a half dozen people do together can turn into fun, and I got a very hands-on look at life on a community farm, though I did not stick my mitts in the mix.

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Trip Log – Day 7 – Auburn, ME to Conway, NH

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 5.19.57 PMMiles Today: 59

Miles to Date: 434

May 12, 2015 – Partly cloudy, 65 degrees

 

I woke up hungry on the edge of town, unsure where I might find any food heading west. Fortunately I came upon a fresh farm stand where I got a couple of bananas, tangerines, a hunk of cheese and a container of GORP. That put me in good shape to tackle 30 miles of rolling countryside through Maine’s Lake Country.

IMG_1774My fascination with ‘stuff’ in Maine struck a new high today. All along the road from Auburn through Minot people had set giant piles of brush, lumber, old furniture, car parts and mildewed clothing by the curb. At one point I came upon a convoy of four orange dump trucks and a shovel truck. A team of sanitation workers in jump suits put whatever people had piled into the trucks. I am sure that this was not a typical trash day, but it was amazing to see how much stuff was headed to its final resting place buried in a landfill.

IMG_1775The narrow roads of back woods Maine are more like Appalachia than any other area of the East Coast I’ve ever seen. Houses with plastic covered windows and rusted trailer homes are littered with all kinds of yard stuff. Dogs bark loud, but fortunately, they’re tied tight. Towns and lakes with a tourist bent are pristine, but the back roads are cluttered with stuff past use, churches with an evangelical bent, country music references, and American flag motifs.

 

IMG_1792I stopped at Ricky’s Diner in Bridgton for lunch; patty melt with fries and a brownie sundae dessert. The waitress worked the room like a professional entertainer, brought extra napkins and exclaimed, “If it’s not messy, it’s not good.” Most of the patrons were older than me, and a good deal heftier. But it didn’t take long for folks to talk across tables, and soon I was passing out my card and asking people about tomorrow. Exactly how I imagined engaging people from a different perspective when I planned this trip. One guy with a deep, percussive voice turned out to be a bluegrass guitarist and singer. Jack D. Jolie has a great YouTube rendition of Bill Monroe’s Old, Old House.

IMG_1800The road to Fryeburg is perfect – a wide shoulder and fresh blacktop through a forest of gorgeous golden buds on black-trunked trees. The rise into Conway, NH is gradual. As I left Maine behind I realized what good luck I’ve had in traveling safe, meeting great people, and enjoying good cycling weather. It will be tough for other states to be as accommodating as Maine.

imagesWhen I pedaled up to the White Mountain Hostel I realized I’d been here before – 40 years ago on a college ski trip. Then, the place buzzed with winter activity. Now, I am between seasons and it’s very quiet. Still, it’s clean and friendlier than a motel. They gave me a prime room. The view out my window shows the sharp silhouette of the mountains. Tomorrow I am going to live in low gear.

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Trip Log – Day 6 – Waterville, ME to Auburn, ME

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 5.23.23 PMMiles Today: 60

Miles to Date: 375

May 10, 2015 – Overcast, 55 degrees

 

If the early bird gets the worm, I have a belly full of ‘em. My alarm went off – too loud – at 4:30 a.m. I was on the Surly in the early dawn, rolling through Waterville to get to MaineGeneral Medical Center for a 7:00 a.m. tour by CEO Chuck Hays. Most of the route was along a ridge road named Middle Street, which gave the gray morning a Zen quality.

The bulk of my career was in healthcare design, and I was fortunate to be involved in three greenfield hospital projects. Completely new hospitals are uncommon, and for an architect to have a hand in three is rare. During my journey I plan to visit them all: MaineGeneral (Augusta, ME, 2013), Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (Lebanon, NH 1991) and Bronson Healthcare (Kalamazoo, MI 1999). Each were state-of-the-art when designed and built, so visiting three facilities spaced about a decade apart should give some sense of how healthcare design has evolved.

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Chuck showed me the high points of the completed facility, but what struck me most about his tour was that Chuck greeted every employee we met by name. He spent extra attention describing the staff communication systems and the focus on quality food. When we finished, I rushed back to the cafeteria and devoured two bowls of steel cut oats with fresh fruit and brown sugar. After being up more than three hours and riding over twenty miles, I was hungry.

IMG_1763The ride to Lewiston was uneventful. The weather was nippy, Dense trees in every shade of green stood tight to the road, from golden buds to deep evergreens, but the diffuse light softened their variety.

 

 

IMG_1771Lewiston is a former mill town. Although Bates College has a beautiful campus and the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is remarkable downtown is struggling. I met with Muhidin Libah, Executive Director of SBCMALA (Somali Bantu Community of Lewiston, ME) in the two-room suite on an upper floor of a grimy, aging edifice.

It was after three when I rode to a motel in the direction of tomorrow’s ride. This was my first night in a motel, and my first night staying with proprietor Patel! On my last long trip, I discovered that Indian’s rule the locally owned motel world, and many of them are named Patel. At least in Maine, that has not changed. I was too beat to venture out for dinner, but my steel cut oats were still stuck to my belly.

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