On August 18, 2021 all rides and adventures stopped for Iohan Gueorguiev. But his legend and spirit lives on in his videos and our fond memory of him.
While browsing the New York Times’ website in August of 2021 I came across a link to an article that immediately caught my attention. The link read, “Iohan Gueorguiev, ‘Bike Wanderer’ of the Wilderness, Dies at 33.” It was probably the combination of his odd name, his given title and the fact that he lived a short life that drove me to find out more.
In his short life, and in particular his last seven years, he rode over 60,000 miles, rode in 19 countries, climbed mountains, paddled rivers and experienced all sorts of discomfort, pain and pleasure along the way. Fortunately for us, he documented much of his accomplishments in a collection of over 70 YouTube videos which have had over 7 million views. His “See the World” YouTube channel was basically the travelogue of his adventures. Iohan was chasing a dream of biking from Canada’s Arctic Circle to the tip of Argentina. He almost made it.
Iohan was not unique in the adventure sport of bikepacking. But through his videos you would find that there was no one quite like him. He consistently held a positive and humble attitude as he would bravely move forward through snow, ice, wind, rain, heat, rough terrain and the highest mountains. His videos are evidence that he saw himself not as a super hero, but as a witness to a world we never see. Through him, we could vicariously conquer the harshest conditions, see the beauty on those backroads and meet the real local people (and animals) along the way.
During his last two years, Covid restrictions and logistics got in the way. But, at the end, it was the physical condition of obstructive sleep apnea which led to insomnia and then depression causing him to give up his dream and his life. His abrupt final end seemed like the ultimate paradox to a life that always found a way to overcome all obstacles.
Riding Into the Rabbit Hole
With my own experience cycling and touring on a bike, I was especially intrigued about his crazy adventures and the effect he had on others. I began pouring over one video to the next for months until I had followed his seven- year journey . From the beginning, he chose not to be the ultra-prepared, technical sportsman but to rely on on basic knowledge, a positive attitude, his intuition, friendly spirit and his ability to improvise in a McGiver-ish way. He became the “everyman adventurer” I so admired.
With no detailed plan he set out to experience the world, not to conquer it. Each trip over the years he would gain knowledge of bikes, tires, roads, weather, sponsors, photography, travel, native languages and native people. Starting with a basic GoPro camera and simple mountain bike in the Yukon he films the icy frontier and finishes his travelogue on a fat bike taking stunning drone videos of the high mountain desert of Patagonia and some of the highest peaks in the world.
The videos are not about him but about what he sees. Iohan shot and edited all the video while laying down a beautiful sound-track for each of them. They are a pleasure to watch, listen to and dream about.
The popularity of his videos and comments about his death seemed outsized for what he accomplished. Many, including me, felt like we had met him, or at least understood him. His many experiences with people and animals, especially dogs, are in those videos as evidence of a kind and caring person you could not help but admire.
The Butterfly Effect
There is a popular notion in chaos theory that some very small action can cause something great to happen called the “butterfly effect.” A story often told is that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings may eventually cause a change in the weather. I would like to think that Iohan is that butterfly for thousands of us.
His many followers vicariously lived an adventure by meeting him or experiencing his videos. I know that the hours of video I watched changed my impression of bike touring, the natural world beyond and the people we never get to meet, but wish we could – from the top of North America to bottom of South America.
I have no doubt that some of Iohan’s fans will embark on similar journeys, share friendships with others and take joy in the natural world around us because of Iohan and the work and experiences he left behind. The fluttering I hear is the sound of a bike pedal.
Lessons from another pandemic and unpredictable year. Being thankful for the good things that still happen.
A similar story was originally written a year ago as part of my Storyworth writing project. I'm updating it for our unique times in February 2022. These essays reflect personal thoughts that are written and collected to be passed on later to the family. I include this story in this blog to help remember and savor the simple and good things that we were able to enjoy and are often overlooked. As we work our way through another pandemic year in 2022, we are optimistic that the Covid Omicron variant is passing. But we still need to slowly adjust our behavior and come back to a "normal" lifestyle.
The writing challenge was to discuss, “What simple pleasures in life do you enjoy?” This question forced me to think about what I take for granted and yet value, even if they seem like small parts of my life. Unfortunately, you soon realize that many simple pleasures have had to be forgone or change over the last two years. You can find my thoughts on this same question a year ago here. Here’s to recognizing and enjoying them lately and again in the near future.
Hugging the Kiddies: Upgraded 👍
Throughout last year we made great progress, or so it seemed, until December 2021 when we had to change our behavior again! Still, there was progress – in spite of contradictory advice, vaccines, sicknesses, trial and error, minor emergencies, masks, and taking reasonable risk. No one in our family got Covid, even though there was plenty of it around us!
What that meant for me was that I gradually got to get back to a normal show of hugs and kisses to all my eight grandkids. Mary Ann and I are still cautious, often seeking news of local covid cases and at-home tests, all of which reduce stress somewhat. Probably the peak of the year was the summer season where we all got together at the Jersey shore, including our two newest members of the family: Maeve and Claire, who reached their first birthday unscathed by pandemic times. Its still not unbridled love and happiness but I’m grateful for what we have.
Live Music: It’s Still Alive 👏
While YouTube did offer some recordings and virtual streaming of performances, it was still nothing like being part of a live audience. Some concerts were held after vaccines became available and they usually required showing proof of vaccination or recent negative testing. Attendance at these concerts was often limited and sometimes attendees were spaced apart. But, it seemed that musicians and venues were ready to make up for lost time.
That summer MaryAnn and I usually played it safe and only occasionally dropped by Ruthie’s in Montclair for some live Blues played outside. There was ample room behind this juke joint and we were feeling good about the possibilities of overcoming Covid by the end of the summer. Here’s one of the very informal, fun and cool presentations of a musician we both like, Dean Shot.
On a whim, my son Ethan who lives in Lexington, MA, suggested I join him and his friend Andy at the Leader Bank Pavilion in Boston for a Wilco concert. Luckily, I was able to book cheap $29 Amtrak tickets from Metropark to South Station (one of the few benefits of this pandemic) and effortlessly traveled to Boston and back home within 24 hours! Besides getting to see him and his family, this was my first live large concert in years with about 3,000 fans in a 5,000 seat open air seasonal arena.
Maybe it was just the freedom to travel or the rarity of such an opportunity but the band and everyone there seemed to really appreciate being part of the event. The following video was a tribute to the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts who had just passed away two days before.
Over the last two years I’ve gained an appreciation of how hard it must be to be an artist, especially in a restricted world. We all need to show those that work for almost nothing these days that their efforts count. I’ve decided to actively click that pervasive “like” button or give a little to my favorite artists, like Sean Tobin, through Patreon and play a small part in helping keep music alive.
Riding a Bike: Born-to-Ride + Gravel 💪
I consider myself lucky that I chose cycling as my primary exercise sport, especially as I get older and especially in these times. Besides the obvious cardio workout, it probably is the best sport for a pandemic. Cyclist can chose to ride anywhere a road or path takes you. And, we, who are notorious for gathering in groups, can usually safely exercise together without masks because of the space and moving air between us. The Omicron wave, however, challenged even those assumptions last year. Donning a mask when we end a ride at our favorite coffee stop is not a big ask at all.
Born to Ride
I’ve organized a long distance (85 miles), end-of-season (early October) bike ride for several years called “Born to Ride” which wraps up the regular cycling season. After taking a year off because of Covid, our group managed to get the ride going again. The ride idea started about 10 years ago on a wave of Bruce Springsteen nostalgia. This year we targeted spots along the route from Ortley Beach to Sandy Hook and back that had some connection with Bruce. (BTW – We have no idea whether Bruce rides a bike. It always seemed like he should.) It was the highlight of my cycling activity for the year.
Over the last few years, a new popular trend has developed in cycling called gravel or multi-surface riding. When I had a custom designed Seven Cycles bike built a few years ago for my 1,600 mile Epic Ride, we chose a design that would allow touring and as a “cross” bike, i.e., a sturdier frameset that could ride well on-road and off-road.
Riding gravel usually means choosing a route that is primarily an unpaved dirt or gravel road. Where I live in Morristown almost all roads are paved. However, only 10 or 15 miles away I have discovered extensive areas of dirt roads, usually around farms, estates or wooded trails. Gravel riding is usually slower, bumpier and requires more attention. But the benefit is seeing and being in nature – and maybe best of all; little or no traffic. I hope riding gravel will add to my interest and options for cycling for years to come.
Walking: The Routine Exercise 🚶🏻♂️
Walking seems to be a good compliment to cycling and universally accepted. It’s low impact, anybody can do it and it adds a nice social element. Mary Ann and I have developed a daily routine of a one hour walk, usually in town, but sometimes on a trail. Walking is a great way to just get out of our rut and get back into the world. Interestingly, I notice more cyclists lately are also walking as a low intensity alternative exercise.
My history of leading the FreeWalkers, the long distance organization that I created over 1o years ago, is now a past fond memory. Although I have walked with them and will again in the future, these pandemic times have still limited my involvement which feels appropriate right now.
Sunrises and Sunsets: A Better Show 😎
There must be an explanation for it. Sunsets seemed to have been consistently outstanding this year, in particular this past fall and winter. The cloud formations and low horizon light have been stunning. It’s a welcome consolation for a trying year.
Gardening: Bumper Crop 🍅 🥕 🧑🌾
My community garden plot grew a bumper crop this past year. Most gardeners would agree that the weather conditions were near perfect. There was sufficient precipitation and seasonal temperatures. Insects seemed controllable. Lots of tomatoes and other vegetables. While cucumbers had a bad year for some reason, my grandson Jack’s sunflower seeds became the tallest plants in the whole garden with giant 18 inch heads!
Dining Out: Fun While it Lasted 🍝🦞🍔🍕
Over the past year, we gradually adventured out to restaurants where there was outdoor seating. By the summer, we had a few chosen spots near Morristown and at the shore where we felt comfortable enough to eat outside weather permitting. But by December, that seemed like a dream between the weather and the threat of Omicron, we have not eaten out in several months. We are now plotting our next meal, possibly indoors, as the threat seems to recently be reduced.
Short Hiking Getaways 🚶🏻♂️
Round Valley Camping
In the spring, son Justin, granddaughters Charlotte and Anna and granddog Arlo hiked five miles with packs for an overnight camping adventure at Round Valley Reservoir. It felt great to do an outdoor adventure again, especially with people you love and admire.
Hiking the Berkshires
In the fall, I managed to get away to Williamstown for a few days, hike Mt. Greylock (highest point in Massachusetts) and see a little bit of the Berkshires with my old friend Mike Kennedy. It was great to just get away, see something new and feel some freedom again.
Playing Handyman: Renovations 🔨🪚🔩🧰
It was well past time to renovate our master bathroom, particularly the formica double vanity. Many years ago when I was younger I enjoyed rebuilding kitchens, baths and other rooms in the house. Watching This Old House was the closest I got to a major construction project in decades. So, retirement offered an opportunity to see if I still remembered skills like plumbing, electricity, carpentry and painting.
Mary Ann found a great deal on a double vanity. After planning this out I got to demolish the current setup, install the vanity and rebuild a set of fixtures. Luckily the rest of the bathroom was fairly modern looking and only required minor improvements. It took a couple months to complete but came with great satisfaction. So much so that I recently switched the vanity in the powder room downstairs and refinished our farmhouse kitchen table. I had forgotten how much satisfaction you can get by doing a project on your own.
And a few other things…
In summary, I have a lot to be thankful for. Here’s a few more to add to the list of what I was able to enjoy this past year….
The benefits of upgrading to a new iPhone 13
The warmth and convenience of converting our wood fireplace to gas
The challenge of finishing jigsaw puzzles
Helping to build and share our ancestry roots with the family
Watching the grandkids enjoy and improve in sports
Reading other people’s life stories (shoutout to Bob, Loredana and Barb!)
Recording the family talent show “Live From Lavalette 2021” (sample below)
Here’s some memories of Christmas when I was a kid. Originally written for my Storyworth project in January 2020.
This recollection of Christmas as a child was written a year ago as part of my Storyworth writing project. These are essays reflecting personal thoughts that are written and collected to be passed on later to the family. I believe we all have fond memories at this time of the year.
I include this story in this blog to help remember and savor those simple and good times as a child, especially as we work our way to the end of another tough year in 2021. Many traditions will be paused or changed due to Covid this year. I trust children will still see the best in this holiday season and remember it fondly anyway, even if it's not all it could be.
Christmastime brings back old memories more than any other time of the year. Regardless of how old you are (I’m 72 as I write this), or where you were that Christmas, there’s always a warm memory of giving and sharing with others. It’s a time of mystery, music and carrying forth customs from long ago. Even corny decorations, questionable food choices and extreme commercialization can’t get in the way of enjoying the spirit of the season, especially as a child.
For as long as I can remember, Christmas has been a personal family tradition that we gratefully accept, look forward to and even add to as the years go on. Some Christmas traditions fade over time. And, rightly so. This year we have been forced to change or eliminate many routines that might be called traditions. Hopefully, good old traditions will make it back in future years. Or, we move on with new traditions, still keeping fragments of memories of what used to be.
Here’s some of my memories of Christmas before I turned into a teenager and became a product of the 1960’s. By then I think we had our mind on other things but we always looked forward to coming home for Christmas.
Christmas Presents at Christmas
Some of my oldest memories as a kid were of toys and presents of the day. Boys wanted guns and outfits like those worn in westerns or the military. We wanted to look like Davy Crockett or The Lone Ranger. We took our play seriously with cool toys and games that were interactive. At the time, Monopoly, Electric Football and Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots were popular. Girls wished for dolls that shed tears like Tiny Tears or talked like Chatty Cathy by pulling on a string or those that looked like a teenage Barbie.
My brother John (two years older) and I had hobbies that kept us busy over many years; collecting stamps, coins, trading cards and building our HO train set in the basement. Stamp collecting, filling coin books and collecting baseball cards were ongoing, year-round projects. While that miniature HO town spent much of the year in storage. It came to life in glorious detail, like a lot of things do, each Christmas season.
When I was very young, we rode trains, buses or walked more than we used cars. Most major highways had yet to be built. My father and mother moved to Roselle from Jersey City when I was just a few years old but still connected to family using the Jersey Central Railroad. They did not even have a drivers license or car for several years.
It was easy to see how you could build a miniature imaginative city around a HO train line including a smoking engine, switch tracks, an elevated trestle, street lights, miniature farms, factories and parks. We plowed back the money we made on our newspaper routes into our growing town, which became really special at Christmas.
Hobby stores were fairly common businesses in those days and a great place for gifts. There were Revell plastic model kits that taught you the parts of a 32’ Duce Coup, a B-52 bomber or even the parts of a body like “The Visible Man” (or Visible Woman). You could even get creative by customizing your “Hot Rod” car with paint, decals and optional parts like fender skirts and a continental kit.
As we got older there were more challenging kits to build working models like airplanes, boats and cars. Companies like Heathkit and Radio Shack encouraged building real electronic devices that worked, like transistor radios and TVs. Model kits helped us understand a complicated world but one where you could still take something apart – to learn how it works – or to fix it.
Christmas represented a once-a-year chance to earn some real cash for a pre-teen with a newspaper route. It instilled in me a love of being an entrepreneur and learning customer service and how to interact with adults. You would be extra careful each year at this time to deliver your papers on time and at the doorstep. Of course, you would sneak a Christmas card into the newspaper a couple weeks before to butter up your clients. In those days, you went door-to-door each month collecting, hopefully receiving a special season tip or gift from many of your customers. This bonus money would help fund our ongoing interests in trains, stamps, trading cards, coins and sports equipment.
As I got a bit older, I added to my resume selling Christmas trees. Our Stewart’s Root Beer drive-in, a couple blocks away, sold trees during the holiday and I quickly learned that there were big tips to be had for a kid with a little hustle.
Decking the Halls
A string of lights, a big illuminated Santa face on the front door and plastic statues of carolers decorated the outside of our house at 626 East 2nd Ave. The Christmas tree took up a third of the living room with its soft glowing screw-in light bulbs, shining glass ornaments and silver tinsel or garland. Of course, there was the nativity scene with plaster-cast characters of wisemen, shepherds and the holy family, which always seemed to need some glue repair from the previous year’s wear.
Holiday Music in the Air
At least as important as the tree was the Sylvania TV to see the holiday specials and the sounds of our our Zenith stereo set with its radio, record player with odd-looking cone speakers.
These were the early days of 33 1⁄3 rpm LP vinyl record albums. Ordinary people obsessed over “stereo” and “high fidelity” and improving sound quality with the right “diamond” needle that played in the record grooves. We bought our “stereo” at a local radio/TV store to provide the best holiday music. And, in our family it was watching Christmas specials or playing albums of Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Mitch Miller, and of course, Lawrence Welk.
My father, an amateur harmonica player (learned in the Army), believed in the beauty of music and wouldn’t mind singing along if the occasion called for it. The popular musical instrument to learn at the time, especially if you were Polish, was the accordian.
One year the family broke down and bought a Yamaha organ which my youngest sister Carolyn (11 years younger than me) took lessons. My other sisters, Christine and Barbara and even Mom and Dad took some free lessons but did not get far. John and I were not motivated enough to learn any instrument. In time, the musical fad faded and I think we passed the organ to an aspiring neighbor, which probably became a tradition. I’m still wondering how it fit in that small living room.
Christmas Mass was always a center of time during the holiday. I remember in grade school being in the special Christmas choir dressed in a red cassock, starched collar and a big bow. Our parish, St. Joseph’s, took this seriously. It was probably a Latin mass at that time. Also, an altar boy, you had to know the Latin responses during the Mass, but we had no idea what they translated to. We typically went to either the special Christmas Eve mass with the singing or midnight Mass which was “Standing Room Only”.
A Polish Christmas Eve
Since my Mom (Stella) and Dad (John, Sr.) had very ethnic and religious childhoods growing up in Jersey City, there was a strong desire to carry on some of the sacred Polish traditions at Christmas. My Dad was the youngest of 9 children. My Mom was an only child. Dad’s closest siblings were aunt (Polish: “Cioci”) Frances and aunt Josephine who lived next door to us in Roselle.
His oldest brother, Father Al, a well-respected priest and pastor at St. Casmir’s and Sacred Heart in Newark, his cousin Joe and his sister Mary “May” Slawinski with her family might visit and we usually made the long journey out to Jersey City to visit them after Christmas.
As kids, holiday old country traditions were almost dreaded. It was hard to be on your best behavior with the company of strange food, a strange language being spoken and relatives that seemed to come from a different world. Jersey City was rough, noisy and crowded. We wondered why everyone lived there in small apartments when they could move out to the suburbs. Little did I know then that my son Justin and daughter Alison would gladly choose to settle there once they started their careers.
My uncle Stan (Slawinski, Sr., husband of May) was a jolly old, stout guy. He set a light hearted-tone for their family and our gatherings. He had a distinctive mustache, much like Charlie Chaplin. I do remember vaguely (spoiler alert) that he showed up at our place on at least one Christmas Eve dressed perfectly as the real Santa Claus. Can you imagine that!
For our family there was probably no tradition more memorable than the Christmas Eve celebration otherwise known as Wigilia. With aunts Frances and Josephine next door in Roselle, we ate this sacred meal either at home or at their place. Cousin Joe or Father Al might drop by. This is a time where it is traditional to get together and invite others for a polish meal with 12 meatless dishes (12 signifying the 12 apostles). It’s also a tradition to set an extra empty plate for anyone who might drop by representing a true Christmas spirit.
But the first thing that night was to say a family prayer and share opłatek, the Christmas communion wafer. The custom is to take a larger piece and allow each person to break off a piece of yours and eat it, while you do the same to theirs. This commemorates the Last Supper and is a nice social way to wish everyone individually a Merry Christmas.
The meal began late because, as I learned recently, it was customary to start when “the first star can be seen” commemorating the Star of Bethlehem. The two most prominent dishes were a beet borscht soup and fish. Mushroom dishes (Poles are big on mushrooms) were many and varied. First, was the deep red beet soup served with potato dumplings then fried fish, then a mushroom dish. Pickled herring was also an option as it was seen as a sign of good luck for the new year.
Needless to say once the borscht and fish came out, all the kids would bolt away from the table or eat little, until better choices arrived like pierogis and/or potato pancakes (placki). Our favorite polish foods like kielbasa or gołąbki, stuffed cabbage, could not be served, at least not today. We were fasting from meat. Somewhere between dishes we were probably singing or at least listening to Polish and English Christmas songs.
My fondest food memory of the season was probably the buttery kolaczki cookies for dessert made by my Aunt Frances with raspberry, apricot, poppy and prune filling. With 12 dishes to get through, conversation and some drinking it was a sit-down party lasted late into the night as we were sent to bed with beautiful visions of Santa on his sleigh and nightmares of borscht and fish in our heads.
Tradition Continues at Christmas
Old rituals that have stayed the same or maybe improved over time are especially significant to me as I get older. As kids, I’d like to think we behaved a little bit better during the season and learned the valuable lessons of giving and receiving . All this we experienced through the same legends of a jolly old man and a baby being born and through the lens of our own family customs. Tradition helps make the magic.
We might not have understood these mysteries, but we instinctively respected the forces around us and solemnness of the season. Christmastime is still the best of times which we continue to cherish and hope to pass on to other generations.
There are not many moments in life where you find yourself witnessing and participating in a significant historical event. You know it even then because there has never been anything like it before. You are gobsmacked with what you see, hear and feel. And, to top it off, all this happens accidentally by a fortunate set of circumstances.
It was on August 15, 1965 that the Beatles were scheduled to play Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows, New York. My sisters Chris and Barbara and their friend Gail were rabid Beatle fans and they made sure they had their tickets as well as their white go-go boots ready. These were the days when large concerts were rare. This one would be their second tour of the U.S. but the first-ever “stadium concert” and the largest concert crowd (55,600) at any concert at that time.
Strangers in a Strange Land
Shea was completed only a year before and as the latest project promoted by Robert Moses, the famed New York City planner, to develop the Queens area. It was located in Flushing Meadows next to the grounds of the World’s Fair of 1964-65 in Corona Park.
Most of us had visited the World’s Fair the year before and marveled at exhibitions. It was a fascinating look at the future and and offered a taste of other countries. I still remember the Lowenbräu beer pavilion where we could drink beer freely, just like being in Bavaria, even though we were underaged and about as naive as we could be about the rest of the world. It seemed like we were moving into the future and becoming part of a bigger world.
Accepting the Mission
In the original plan, my dad was supposed to drive my sisters to and from Shea since they were young teens not old enough to drive. Well, it turned out my buddy Mike Hayser and I were hanging around my house that hazy 80-degree Sunday with nothing particular to do so we volunteered to take them instead. Why my father allowed us to drive I’ll never know but probably the long ride and the need to wait for them were factors. And, it was, after all, the 1960’s and there was a certain freedom and permission that’s hard to reconcile with today’s helicopter parenting.
We didn’t even think about how crazy this could be with thousands of screaming fans. But we sensed that there would be lots of girls and a great adventure awaiting. Little did we know we would be driving directly into history.
At 17 years old I considered my six months of experience enough to tackle the big-game driving in New York City’s traffic and its strange mysterious boroughs. Shea was then a big new and bold stadium. It was built to last for the New York Mets franchise, which started only a few years before. Both the stadium and the team represented new hope for us bitter and abandoned ex-Brooklyn Dodger fans.
The Way to Shea
This was my longest and most challenging drive with my hand-painted blue 56’ Chevy. Living in Roselle, the best way to get to Shea was to take the Goethals Bridge from Elizabeth to Staten Island and drive across the new and mammoth Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (which was another Robert Moses project.). The bridge had just opened in January 1964 and was an instant success allowing traffic to Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island via the Belt and Grand Central Parkways. To us on the Jersey side, these were legendary roads where we were warned daily of horrendous traffic conditions on the radio and assumed only brave and crazy drivers dare go. So, why not try?
The only way to get somewhere far away in those days was to rely on old-fashioned, artfully folded paper maps. Every car had dozens of maps in the glove compartment which were free to grab at any gas station. We relied on maps, intuition and signs (if they were still there) to find where we were going. So, we grabbed a map of New York and headed out like modern explorers to find Shea Stadium and experience the wild urban frontier.
Going with the Flow
As we approached Shea the traffic became heavy and led to a stop. A tremendous crowd was moving toward the stadium so we decided to find a parking spot along the road and walk to the stadium, even though our mission was to deliver my sisters and kill some time exploring the area – later to pick them up somehow. My sisters found the gates where ticket holders entered moving rapidly. Mike and I realized at this point that the action was inside the stadium and our best move would be to try and get in.
We studied the situation and realized that this was a sellout and there no tickets (Box seats cost $5.65 apiece!) to be bought and the security staff seemed only half-interested in checking tickets. So, we approached a guard to tell the story of our good deed of taking my sisters to the concert; only to be left outside waiting. Let’s just say on that day everyone was in a good mood. They turned away as we freely walked into the most important concert of our lives, without a ticket.
The Beatles had only broken into the U.S. market a couple years ago but by now they were known worldwide having created over a half-dozen albums and two films. This was the beginning of their North America tour having just released their album and film “Help!” less than two weeks ago and had appeared on the Ed Sullivan show the night before.
Pop concerts were not that common and were not believed to be big revenue generators. All that changed at Shea. The concert at Shea Stadium set a world record for attendance and gross revenue. The Beatles got $160,000 of the $304,000 box office sales and proved that there was money and other benefits in staging large concerts.
Lead off acts included Brenda Holloway, King Curtis, Sounds Incorporated, Killer Joe Piro and The Discothèque Dancers, The Young Rascals and Cannibal & the Headhunters. Hosts included Murray the K and Cousin Brucie Morrow. Television host Ed Sullivan introduced the band when they took the stage: “Now, ladies and gentlemen, honored by their country, decorated by their Queen, and loved here in America, here are The Beatles!”
The concert was ahead of the audio technology at the time and could not properly project the music in the massive stadium. Powerful stage amplifiers couldn’t play louder than the screaming crowd. Even the stadium’s P.A. system, normally used by baseball announcers, was also employed to help project the band’s sound. But, the roar of the crowd could be heard throughout their appearance.
Once the Beatles started playing, it didn’t matter where your tickets were or if you had one. Everyone spilled into the lower levels and stood for the entire concert in awe of the band and the crowd of frenzied fans. They continued to play 12 songs lasting about an hour. We had traveled two hours, witnessed the largest crowd we had ever seen, managed to crash the gate and listen to some great music. But, nothing compared to the electric reaction of this huge crowd. Girls were out of control and screaming everywhere. I remember getting goosebumps by just witnessing the joy and excitement that was beyond our imagination. It was obvious that Beatles were having as great a time as their audience.
After the concert fans stormed the field and we made our way out. I’m still not sure how we found my sisters in that crowd of over 55,000. I don’t remember a thing about the ride home but I’m sure we basked in the good vibes of the event knowing that we were there for a very special event with memories that will last a lifetime.
The Concert at Shea in the Beatles’ Words…
“I think we just went a bit hysterical that night; we couldn’t believe where we were and what was going on, we couldn’t hear a bloody thing and we thought ‘This isn’t very good, but it’s going down great.’ The hysteria started to kick in. That was a great one.”
Paul McCartney, Back To The World tour book
“Once you know you’ve filled a place that size, it’s magic; just walls of people. Half the fun was being involved in this gigantic event ourselves.”
Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible
“What I remember most about the concert was that we were so far away from the audience. . . And screaming had become the thing to do. . . Everybody screamed. If you look at the footage, you can see how we reacted to the place. It was very big and very strange.”
Ringo Starr, The Beatles Anthology
“At Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain.”
John Lennon, recalling the show in 1970 in a TV interview
It’s interesting to note that at the time of the concert the Watts Los Angeles riots were taking place with the black community angry about the police brutality and civil rights. Meanwhile, President Johnson signed the Voting Act of 1965 that very afternoon establishing new laws that were meant to provide free and fair elections forever.
The mighty Shea was demolished forty seven years later replaced by Citi Field, but the same roads and bridges remain. The Beatles were only in their 20s and at the height of their careers in 1965 but played their last concert together in 1970, just five years later. That last concert and the Beatles legend is still being explored with the release of the new Peter Jackson/Disney+ retrospective on the Beatles last project together, the making of “Get Back.”
History, it seems, is never written in stone and just takes time to understand and appreciate.
The Beatles at Shea Stadium Video
The following video was purchased years ago online and represents a rough cut of the original special recording which appeared on British and American TV as a special. It is approximately 52 minutes long.
Living through a year of self-inflicted quarantine has been tough. Then, I remembered we had it rough before and made it thru.
This post is a story I wrote for my Storyworth project. It represents an installment of a personal compilation of stories I hope to complete this year. While the Covid pandemic has delayed long bike trips, I guess I have no excuse to stop writing.
How quickly we forget.
Its been a year living through the Covid-19 pandemic. Our lives have been altered to avoid contracting the disease and to protect others from its spread. Basically, we have led a life that was 90% isolated except for a few selected safe relationships and occasional adventurous activities outside of our homes. Someday soon I hope we can look back on this with some nostalgia. But, not right now.
Ironically, I just came across a note I wrote in 2012 during the last crisis we faced. I’m not even sure why I wrote the note or if I ever published it or showed it to anyone, but it struck me as oddly meaningful today.
At that time, thank God, we did not have our Ortley Beach home when Hurricane Sandy hit. Still, after our Morristown home power lines went out and we tried living in a cold, dark house for days we decided to seek shelter. Ours was by no means the worse thing that happened at that time so we steeled ourselves and made the best of it.
Mary Ann’s mom Caroline, in her mid 80’s at the time and who has since passed, was living alone and independently in her home in Lake Parsippany. She welcomed company and we needed a lifeline.
As I remember it, it was a great relief to be in a warm home where mom appreciated the company and we sure appreciated the roof over our heads. This would do until the chaos passed and we could return to normal. It was not a perfect situation but we were all in this together.
Here’s the note I wrote around mid November 2012 as our power was about to be restored after 12 days or so in my mother-in-law’s home:
It made me think that in any catastrophe there are those that suffer much worse than I. Also, overcoming the challenge can lead to good outcomes. Who knew that someday we would all look back on those days when being together in any form would be better than being alone?
My career in the news business was on a roll until I outgrew it. But there were valuable life lessons and skills learned. Where have all the paperboys gone?
This post is a story I wrote for my Storyworth project. It represents an installment of a personal compilation of stories I hope to complete this year. While the Covid pandemic has delayed long bike trips, I guess I have no excuse to stop writing.
Sometime around 1960 I began my career in business. I was gladly working as a 12-year old paperboy (carrier) for the Newark Star-Ledger. This was my first job and real-life classroom on how to make money and work for a boss. My boss, the local circulation manager, was Mr. Danz, who was like a coach for a team of child laborers. Along with baby-sitting, acting and family farming, having a paper route has been one of a very few regular jobs that the Federal Government exempts from the child labor laws.
This was the heyday of print journalism. All families relied on the newspaper as the single most informative and trustworthy source of information. Television and radio, of course, were also important. But, newspapers delivered a long, dependable and regular flow of detailed national, regional and local news that you could choose to read when you wanted. Newspaper outlets were like nodes on the information network of the day. It seemed like delivering the news on my bike was a pretty important job as well as profitable and fun.
Back then, most families would either buy the paper at a local corner store or subscribe to “home delivery”. In the 1950’s and 1960’s it seemed pre-teen and early teenage boys would deliver most newspapers including morning and afternoon papers. Newspapers advertised for “carriers” as a way to earn some money and be independent. Parents agreed and encouraged their kids to take on a paper route.
A paper route taught a young kid lessons in responsibility, accounting, customer service, sales and marketing. Best of all, most of time you were independent and on your own as long as you lived up to the responsibilities .
Learning Customer Service
Every day a bundle of 50 Star-Ledger newspapers were dropped at the curb in front of my house in the middle of the night or very early morning, with a thud. With newspapers to deliver in the morning before school, I would get up early at 6:00 a.m., break open the bundle and start folding or rubber banding each newspaper. There was an art to a simple fold when the weather was good and the paper was of a reasonable size. There was a feel and smell to the damp news that was evident by the newsprint left on your hands.
If the weather was bad, we wrapped the paper in wax paper (the use of plastics bags came years later). For Sunday, early sections had to be assembled with the latest news that arrived early Sunday morning. Sunday papers were usually an inch or more thick so they required special attention and more delivery time.
Developing Job Skills
The key to a successful paperboy route was preparation and developing a good toss. Because newspapers were so popular your route would usually be in your neighborhood or close by with maybe 33%-50% of the houses as your customers. It was my responsibility to get up early enough to deliver the newspaper before everyone was out the door. Come rain or come shine. No one wanted a late newspaper, one that landed too far away from the front door, or one that was wet. Failure to deliver under these standards could affect tips or worse yet – a complaint to the my boss, the circulation manager.
The “toss” was a zen-like skill that could be honed to perfection. It required executing the principles of balance, aerodynamics, centrifugal force, wind adjustments and deadly aim. While riding and steering the bike with one hand, you would grab a single newspaper and perform a toss across your body, thus causing a backhand spin so that the paper would float to the stairs near the front door. If done properly it was a thing of beauty and a gratifying experience.
Driving the Delivery Vehicle
Most of the time my black Columbia cruiser bike with fenders and a big basket was all I needed. As soon as all papers were bound or folded I’d load up the bike and head out to work.
Bad or cold weather could be an obstacle and often would require my father to drive me around in the two-tone 55’ Ford before he went to work.
You had to get to know your customers and often their particular service requests, like where to deliver the paper and which customer got the paper on certain days, like weekdays or Sundays.
Collecting for the Boss
Near the end of the week was collection day. I’m pretty sure I collected every every couple weeks or maybe monthly. But it was by personal visit to each customer. I would carry around a large ring binder with one card for each customer. I would punch a hole for the weeks paid by that customer as I collected the cash.
On Saturday afternoon, Mr Danz would come by to pick up the payments I collected along with discussing problem customers, any complaints that might have come to him and any new contests I could win for getting new subscribers to sign up.
I was paid only on the number of customers I had and collected. Hey, looking back at this now, it seems like a whole lot like a junior bookie operation – working for the Star-Ledger gang. I remember Mr. Danz as being a nice guy but there was a certain amount of intimidation as a kid answering to an adult of authority.
In the newspaper delivery business, it was customary to give tips but papers were not expensive. As I remember it, we earned about $20 to $30 per week between a fee per paper delivered and tips. You would lay out your customer cards and count you money less your tips in front of Mr. Danz and officially get paid. It was enough to be proud and make a small profit after considering expenses. You also learned that no one delivering newspapers was going to make a fortune. But you did learn some business skills, a few life lessons and a way to buy a few things on your own or learn how to save money.
Witnessing the Extinction
There has been cultural changes over the years. What used to be an admirable job for young kid began to be seen as potentially dangerous. Children’s freedom became even more restricted. Perhaps, more was given to them rather than requiring them to earn it. In any case, it would be rare to see a child delivering newspapers these days. Selling cookies or popcorn is the extent of our early real-life work experiences that we permit today.
But, beyond the cultural change the Internet has been the major disrupter of paper-based news. Today most news publishing companies rely on subscription service websites and online advertising. The change in the public’s choice of media has caused print ad spending to move to online advertising and news resources given to online stories. Meanwhile, the world of home delivery has changed too. We are consuming less print media and have less of a need for an actual newspaper to be delivered.
The Star Ledger in 1960 cost just $.10 per daily and $.25 per Sunday edition at the newsstand – and that did not change until 1980! In 1960 the typical delivery customer was paying something like $1 to $2 per week. Today, the newsstand cost is $3.00 per daily and $5.00 per Sunday with much less content. The paper is now owned by Advance Local Media LLC which promotes NJ.com as its digital partner preferring to promote a paper and virtual “home delivery” subscription of around $500 per year.
That’s a lot of money for the news to be delivered to you. If you chose to receive a physical newspaper, chances are it would be delivered by a man, or woman, throwing a paper out a car window randomly in the wee hours and whom you would never expect to meet. While there are plenty of reasons, including environmental ones, that make the old model unworkable today, there are also plenty of reasons that we should have thought more about what we lost in automating our news.
Today’s mishmash of online neighborhoods and social networks fracture the delivery of local and regional news. We now have to find where the news is and choose only the news we want. And, our sources are no longer unbiased or represent a higher ideal of truth. Are we getting more information delivered to us or are we less informed than we were 60 years ago?
And so it goes…
My career in the news business lasted a few years but helped me build an interest in business and an entrepreneurial spirit which lasts until today. Today, it seems the only news job a young adult can participate in is creating content for YouTube. That may seem strange but it’s where the eyeballs, fun and excitement are these days. As we move beyond the printing press, let us remember those heady days when newspapers were the boss!
“Were it left to me to decide if we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
As teens, we were looking for thrills and adventure. We found it along Route 22 and the Watchung mountains. Then, I found there was more to the story.
Get Your Kicks on Route 22
Maybe it was the radical change in the landscape with an abrupt rise of 500 feet that led to its reputation of mystery. Stories would be told of interesting places to visit in the mountains out west along the infamous Route 22. This road was our version of “Route 66”, a highway leading east to west across New Jersey to Pennsylvania and beyond. This was a time before the Interstate Highway system would speed travelers across the state by adding Routes 80 and 78, but bypass many local towns and areas of interest.
Before the age of shopping malls, Route 22 was a destination for shopping and entertainment. For the emerging automobile generation, there were large “discount stores” like Two Guys and E. J. Korvettes you could drive to and avoid the inconvenience of going into the city.
Route 22 had restaurants, gas stations, small and large businesses all along the road from Hillside to Somerville. There was even a night club turned into a clothing store built like a “Flagship.” . Back then, diners, drive-in theaters, bowling lanes, golf ranges and even an amusement park caused lots of driver distractions. Its unique commercial island between east and west traffic allowed right and left lane access adding to the driving danger that was Route 22. For us, the stories of accidents and fatalities on Route 22 only added to its challenging allure.
Bumps in the Road
One memorable destination worthy of a car trip out west was a road known as “13 Bumps.” To get there required about a 10 mile trip on Route 22 to the town of Scotch Plains, at the base of the Watchung Mountains. 13 Bumps was actually another name for Johnston Drive, a narrow two-lane road that paralleled Route 22 for a couple miles but rose several hundred feet above along the mountain ridge. A ride on Johnston Drive offered two unique benefits; a spectacular southern view of the suburban towns below and a place to experience a unique joy ride over 13 large bumps to the bottom.
As a teenager, with a car, a place to park with a view meant a high potential “make out” area for a date. Johnston Drive was a sparsely residential road then with houses built into the cliff and a few turnouts that could provide short-term parking with a view. With no authorized spot to linger and no shoulder, it would not be long before a cop would chase us away. That was probably a good thing. It was not uncommon for guys and girls to meet at Jahn’s in Union and adventure together on Route 22 to 13 Bumps, especially on a moonlit night ripe for the promise of adventure.
Of course, the proof of the quality of any ride was how much you would feel that tickle in your stomach as your organs try to defy gravity. Then, again and again, seconds apart. After each bump the custom was to count out loud the number of the bump until you reached “13” near the bottom of the road. 13 Bumps was our version of a DIY amusement ride which we usually repeated several times on any given night.
Falling into the Rabbit Hole
When I started thinking about 13 Bumps as a story, I decided to look online to see if others in the mid-1960’s had the same memories and experiences. But, what I found was that and more. It seems that Johnston Drive originated back in the mid 1800’s and legend has it that it used to be a unique carriage road that was always associated with mystery.
In 1845 a man by the name of David Felt built a small utopian industrial village in the Watchung’s called “Feltville” to support his printing business. To his disciplined and religious community he was known as “King David”. Feltville grew to over 175 residents in the first five years. Then, legend has it that in the next two years 11 children were captured from the town, mutilated, and died near the outskirts of the village.
As deaths appeared, most of the town believed the attacks to be animal related but the killings never stopped. Families began to turn on one other. They then blamed the murders on devils and demons. But, eventually, they blamed a family of 13 sisters who had lost both their parents at a young age. Because this mysterious family did not seem to be affected by the killings, their farm prospered and there were “13” sisters. the town claimed that they were “witches” who sacrificed the children to pagan gods for the good of their crops.
After a long trial the entire family of sisters were found guilty as witches and were hanged. As a reminder of the crimes. the bodies were buried along a local road creating 13 bumps which is now known as Johnston Drive. A rumor followed that before their death, the sisters put a curse on Feltville that would doom the village. However, no record of this murder spree is in the historical record, but remains an urban legend.
Update on the Witches of Watchung
First, let me tell you that the 13 Bumps are no longer there! I recently took a ride on Johnston Drive and there’s good news and bad. The good news is that it’s still a nice country road with magnificent houses and a great view. The bad news is that while the road is not perfectly smooth, you would not know that the bumps ever existed.
The municipalities of Scotch Plains and Watchung realized that the road was a problem over the years and attempted to flatten and repave the road multiple times. Locals claim even so, the bumps continued to mysteriously re-appear over the years. The last paving was over ten years ago. Maybe they got the paving right this time. Or, are they destined to come back? It’s possible I suppose that the curse has been finally lifted. Or, Maybe this urban legend is just an old version of “Fake News.”
I recommend this book to my cycling friends and every father and son that I know. It’s a story of fathers and sons, a cycling adventure and the importance of family and community. Besides that, it’s a fun and fast read!
If life is a journey, then the best moments happen when we have the courage to take a different route. This is a story of a coming of age for three men. The author, Rob, convinces his dad, Stephen, to join him on a discovery bike trip through Italy with the goal of visiting their ancestral village, San Donato. Rob’s grandfather (“Papa”) is seriously ill and is near the end of his life. While Papa was part of a first born generation in the U.S., many of the people that settled in their Brighton neighborhood had come from the same village. Rob concocts the idea of a bike trip to understand Papa’s family background and vicariously provide a trip for Papa before it is too late.
While Rob seems to have a good relationship with dad, it’s obvious that Stephen is not your average father. He’s extremely independent, has obsessive habits and tends to love wild challenges, even at the age of 64. He also manages to commute to work on a “fixie”, which is a sure mark that he is already a badass cyclist. The image we get is of an aged-out hippie that is true to his core of beliefs who is a great father, but is not fully understood by Rob. With Papa slipping away and dad becoming a senior citizen, Rob sees the serendipity of the moment to enlist his father as his companion on a 500 mile trip from Florence to San Donato. As Rob says to Stephen, “We’ll go for Papa.”
While the experiences in the towns along the way are brief and somewhat interesting the real benefit is in overcoming the physical and mental challenges along the way. Once at San Donato, the revealing of the family history and the gracious hospitality there is an unexpected reward. Within a few days in the village, they have a change of perspective and a different appreciation for the importance of history and our ancestry. The village has a surprise story of courage and community during the days of Fascism that brings wonder and pride to both father and son.
I’ve taken a couple long distance bike rides over the past few years. Riding with others can be difficult because of the push and pull of each rider’s skills and conditioning. But, the reward is to discover more about that person, share your own personal story and to motivate each other. There can be no better pairing than father and son to benefit from this opportunity. Any son or father naturally looks back at the mystery of each other and desires at some point to know and understand more – even though that always has its limits. Each fact we discover inevitably reveals something about ourselves too.
The author has a casual style of writing which exposes a mixture of personal feelings and humor which makes for an easy and enjoyable read. The pace of the book and its subject matter is fast and complete as it goes from the start of the idea of the trip to its final conclusion and slightly beyond leaving a very satisfying ending.
The New York Times noted Barbara Hillary passed away recently at age 88. This incredible person was the first black woman to reach the North and South Poles – and doing so while in her mid-70’s! These two feats and many others were accomplished in spite of her having breast cancer in her 20s and lung cancer in her 60s. Eventually, her adventures and travels led to becoming a motivational speaker and lecturer on climate change.
As a nurse in her mid 50’s her life took a different course as she took on these personal challenges which seemed to motivate her and bring such joy.
How I fell into a rabbit hole and ended up in the mid-1960’s
On the 10th day of my New England Reunion Bike Tour, I was waiting out the rain in Lee, Massachusetts. I set out for my last meal in town before I was to leave the next morning. This area is known for its history and its embrace of mystery and new-age trends. Here’s what happens when my course collides with local forces.
The Salmon Run Fish House. It sounded out of place here in Western Massachusetts. Sometimes all you want, and really need, is something good to eat and the Yelp reviews were good. But, there was more than food to be found here. It was a rabbit hole of sorts taking me on a journey back to a different time.
Being a Bar Fly
I was kind of stuck in Lee, MA on that rainy evening so I did not mind settling into a comfortable place for a couple hours. The Salmon Run Fish House restaurant was an old, narrow, dated place with paneled walls, maybe a dozen booths and a small bar. The waitress strongly suggested I might want to take a seat at the bar since booths were reserved and they would be occupied soon (Got it! I’m sure they did not want one person in a booth). Or, maybe it was just fate to sit at the bar that night.
A couple sat at the bar near me and we began a conversation about local craft beers. I recommended the beer I was drinking called Two Roads: Road 2 Ruin. It’s a mighty good double IPA brewed in Stratford CT. Their marketing tag “The Road Less Traveled” seemed like the perfect motto for my adventure.
My new bar new friend, Bill Russell, was a pleasant, seasoned guy, 73 years old with an attractive wife. Although they now live in Lenox, he likes to come to this place for the food and atmosphere. He’s retired now but has a couple of unique interests and a memorable past.
Where it All Began
Bill used to live in nearby Stockbridge, a fairly famous artsy destination in the Berkshires. At least one reason for its recognition is that it was the scene for Arlo Guthrie‘s famous song and story telling adventure called Alice’s Restaurant(actually titled Alice’s Restaurant Massacree).
It turns out there once was a restaurant called The Back Room owned by Alice Brock and her husband Ray Brock in Stockbridge. The 18-minute song and 111-minute movie made from it are largely based on actual events outside of the restaurant and Bill Russell was part of that whole scene.
Bill grew up in Delaware but was sent by his parents as a teenager to the Stockbridge School in 1964 because of behavioral issues. It was a coincidence of time and place that Alice and Ray re-located to the the area from New York City. She became the school librarian and Ray taught shop at the school. Ray was an eclectic charismatic character who was an architect and talented woodworker. He quickly became an outspoken leader of an anti-establishment community which drew students from the school, including Bill and Arlo Guthrie. This was a turbulent time of radical social change, drugs and the Vietnam War.
Cooking Up Alice’s Restaurant
The story of “Alice’s Restaurant” is about a memorable Thanksgiving dinner in 1965 when Alice and Ray invited everyone they knew to a big feast in their newly bought deconsecrated church in Great Barrington which they converted to a commune-like place for young students and bohemian friends to meet, to discuss ideas and to party.
Arlo and friend Richard Robbins decided to help clean up after the Thanksgiving meal and headed to the town dump after dinner to cart off garbage. But the dump was closed. They unloaded the garbage where they should not have and are eventually caught and fined in an overly dramatic police arrest. Later the next year, Arlo was called up for his Vietnam-era draft physical in New York City. Much to his surprise he was re-classified. He had dodged the draft – not because of behavioral or physical issues – but because he had been arrested for littering!
Ironically, Arlo’s dad, famed folksinger Woody Guthrie, was on his deathbed at the time suffering from Huntington’s Disease, a rare genetic disease that Arlo inherited but was fortunate not to suffer from.
A Legend is Born
Bill was one among the dozens that attended that fateful 1965 Thanksgiving Dinner. Alice opened a real restaurant in Stockbridge afterwards which was a brief success before she became fed up with the business and with Ray. They split up a couple years later. Arlo Guthrie wrote Alice’s Restaurant as more a storytelling than a song. But it was to become a perfect humorous symbol of the times.
A movie deal followed the song’s success. It was not one of famed director Arthur Penn‘s greatest films. The movie was shot in the Stockbridge area and expanded the story with added fiction but it could not save it from a poor script and mediocre acting. Many of the original friends of Alice and Ray got walk-on parts, including Bill Russell.
Bill Russell ended up living in a room near the restaurant in Stockbridge and got to know Alice well. He learned the craft of woodworking and ended up moving to New York City where he bought a shop at a time and place when it was affordable. He lived there for 25 years but eventually came back to Stockbridge. He continues to live off the income from properties including his NYC building which once was his workshop.
When Bill and I parted company that night he told me he would be heading to Provincetown on Thanksgiving Day, as he has for many years. Alice Brock is still carrying on their tradition by hosting a dinner for her close friends, including Bill.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Bill was like the Mad Hatter in Alice In Wonderland. He showed me the rabbit hole and I could not help but go in.
I learned Alice opened and closed several restaurants, wrote a few cookbooks and a biography called “My Life As a Restaurant“. Still, she’s always had a love/hate relationship with running a restaurant. She preferred a creative free-form style of cooking. Here’s an audio recipe for Salt and Pepper Soup recorded at NPR.
Today, Alice Brock (alicebrock.com) lives in Provincetown, MA and sells beach stones (painted stones meant to be hidden in strategic places) and other personal artwork through her website. Her former husband, Ray Brock, passed away in 1979. The deconsecrated church in Great Barrington was bought by Arlo Guthrie and is now the Guthrie Center at Old Trinity Church. where people people of all religions are welcome, musical events still occur and a large, open Thanksgiving dinner is served each year.
After googling the incident, characters and times, I viewed the movie Alice’s Restaurant on a library DVD. It brought back old memories including the strange times we lived through in the 60’s, including my own draft physical in Newark, New Jersey about that same year.
Its fair to say that listening to this song has become an American tradition for many of us – linked with Thanksgiving, story-telling humor, questioning authority and an ability to laugh at the absurdities of life. To me it’s become as timeless and strange as Alice in Wonderland.
For all those who sweat over the details… Here’s how this bike tour was done. Each time I learn a little more.
This post will answer some questions on how I ride these bike tours. It is a fresh update to my previous posts for my Epic Bike Tour. That tour I rode my bike from Key West to Morristown (home). Here, I’ll discuss the differences in this recent New England tour I called the Reunion Tour from Burlington VT to Morristown NJ, 18 months later.
In last year’s posts of “How the Sausage is made”…#1, #2 – I discussed the following relating to my east coast bike tour:
my bike setup
how I navigate
where I spend money
how I eat.
I applied what learned in April 2018 to this trip and avoided some of the pitfalls. Here’s some of the differences and what I discovered along the way.
My bike (named “Silver”) is a custom-built model called an Expat S, titanium gravel/touring bike by Seven Cycles. It is an 11-speed using Sram Force 22 components with gearing of 50/34 front and a 28/14 rear. For more tech details click here. It weighed in at 22 lbs with Portland Design Works aluminum fenders, and Iberia rear rack system and bags. I used 2 panniers, commuter bag and top tube bag. All total about 40 extra pounds to carry in bags. I decided early-on that I would not camp this trip so I did not take as much gear as I did on the Epic Tour.
All other components were the same from last year except I replaced the cassette and chain and switched to a tubeless tire setup. The Seven had come with the lastest Mavic UST tubeless rims. After testing tubeless road tires and reading reviews, I decided to take a risk and go the with SchawalbeMarathon Supreme 700 X 35ctubeless tires for a smoother, safer and more reliable ride. They worked perfectly this time inflated to about 60 psi.
I realized on this trip the importance of disk brakes for this kind of riding. With the extra weight going down monster hills, the bike was easy to control, even in wet weather.
Comparing Tours (East Coast vs. New England)
The goal of this trip was to ride about 525 miles through the mountains of New England within a two-week timeframe while visiting a few friends along the way. That’s much less mileage than the 1,600 flat miles for the U.S. east coast tour in 2018.
As I did in the Epic Tour, I wanted to do this by transporting my bike to the farthest point of the route and then find an interesting way back home by bike. Amtrak provided a convenient way to port the bike to Burlington without breaking it down.
I still averaged the same amount of mileage each day (roughly 65 miles each day) but each day presented a climbing challenge (averaging over 3,000 feet of climbing per day). The trip was tougher on a day-to-day basis but at least as enjoyable, due to beautiful fall scenery and visits with friends.
I’ve learned quickly that whether you are a person who likes routines or not, it is essential to bike touring. Doing otherwise causes wasted time, confusion and lost items behind. Here’s some of my standard routines:
My Daily Start Up Routine
Wake up – between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. depending on what day’s challenge is ahead. Normal bathroom routine. Includes applying lotions (sunscreen (at times), chamois creme, glide, etc.), take routine vitamin supplements.
Suit up – with usually base layer top, jersey, shorts, leg warmers, socks, gloves, arm warmers, helmet and wind vest. For this NE trip, at times I needed to wear a light winter jacket, shoe covers and long finger gloves for the cold days in early October. One morning started at 29 degrees! I also wore a chest heart rate monitor to monitor physical effort for the day. I purposely wear colors that stand out to be seen for safety for this type of riding.
Routine bike check – tires, screws tightened, rear light on and bike computer. I’ll use a front flashing light and extra rear lights if visibility is poor.
Check top bar bag – make sure I have flat kit, air inflators, anti-theft lock and chain.
Pack 3 Bags Pannier #1 – Casual clothes – 2 t-shirts, underwear, button-down shirt, running shorts, jeans, socks, sandals, light fleece. Toiletries. Portable computer. (total less than 15 lbs.) Pannier #2 – Cycling clothes – 2 jerseys, 2 shorts, 2 socks, extra gloves, arm warmers, leg warmers, cap, warm riding jacket (doubles as casual jacket), shoe covers. Rain gear – pants, water-resistant jacket, helmet cover, water repellent shoe covers. (less than 15 lbs.) Commuter Bag – hard shell bottom with compartments that locks on top of the rear bike rack. Great for everything else and to take into town to carry food back to where I’m staying. Includes everything I might need along the way. Energy food, camera and equipment, misc. electronics (chargers, cables, etc.), papers, bungie cords, wallet/money/ID.
Install bags on bike – panniers on the sides and commuter bag on top.
My Eating Routine
Pre-Ride – eat something light like cereal, bagel, donut and coffee. Coffee is my most important item at this point. If nothing available at start I would search out a place to get something.
Breakfast – optional depending on what I’ve eaten earlier or the length of the ride. I have dabbled in bigger breakfasts and then skip lunch.
Lunch – optional. If it looks like a long hard day, I’ll go for a lunch. A Foot-long Subway Veggie Delight is my preference.
Late Afternoon Snack – I like to stop for Gatorade and some chips or pretzels or nuts. Something salty.
Dinner -For this trip, I either ate with friends or went out to a local inexpensive place that looked interesting based on suggestions from my hosts, people I met or something suggested on Google. Because of the area’s reputation for fine craft beers, I made a point of sampling some fine beers along the way.
Wake up 5:30 a.m.
Breakfast 9:00 a.m.
Lunch 11:30 a.m.
Snack stop 1:00 p.m.
Arrive at lodging 2:00 p.m.
Shower / change 3:00 p.m.
Ride or walk the area 4:00 p.m.
Dinner 6:00 p.m.
Blog / email / phone calls 8:00 p.m.
Lights out 10:00 p.m.
I’ve learned to make the most of Airbnb.com locations for great places to stay at reasonable prices. You can also usually book within a short time frame if you are traveling off-season. For this trip, I used a combination of staying 5 nights with friends and 7 nights at airbnb’s.
One of my main concerns was the weather forecast. While I was prepared to ride in the rain, I was able to plan to avoid a full day of rain near the end of the trip. Sitting out a day of rain means that your schedule would need to be reset for an extra day and can throw off all your plans and reservations. That’s why except for the first week, I delayed reserving the mid-part of the trip until a few days before that day so I could be relatively sure I would be riding that day. I have also found that with a day of riding and being alone, I enjoyed the company of others and the opportunity to learn more about the area from the airbnb hosts.
Here’s the rundown on my stays. The locations are first based on finding an area near my route and about 50 to 70 miles from my previous stay, The most important factors are 1) how close is the place to my route 2) How expensive – with all other fees included 3) What ratings the host had from previous guests. Here’s where I stayed and the total cost of the stay (1-person):
Sep 28 – Burlington, VT = $81.77
Sep 29 – Burlington, VT = $81.77
Sep 30 – Mike Kennedy’s – Barnet, VT
Oct 1 – Mike Kennedy’s – Barnet, VT
Oct 2 – Mike Kennedy’s – Barnet, VT
Oct 3 – Hanover, NH = $73.84
Oct 4 – West Rutland, VT = $60.95
Oct 5 – Bennington, VT – $67.48
Oct 6 – Lee, MA = $60.53
Oct 7 – Lee, MA = $45.00
Oct 8 – Mike Hayser – Sherman, CT
Oct 9 – Tom Siccardi – Chester, NY
TOTAL = 12 nights, 7 @ airbnb lodging = $471.34
Riding the Roads
Probably the most asked about question is what roads I took. As I have mentioned, I tend to use Google Maps / Bicycle routes from one place to another. But Google provides no information on what the roads will be like. Here in Vermont and other places along the way, I was often taken off state roads and guided toward well-meaning country roads. I can only guess that there is some algorithm that decides what might be best for an average cyclist to see and experience. My priorities were 1) to get to the next location as efficiently and safe as possible 2) to see some of the local areas I was traveling through. Google and I were not always on the same wavelength.
My first day on the bike from Burlington, the western part of the state to the eastern part in Barnet, was the hardest day (see more here on that here). With a variety of roads from nicely paved highways with adequate shoulders to busy highways with rumble strips and speeding cars and trucks. This type of trip is not for anyone that panics in traffic. Or, sometimes dirt and gravel roads led to trails more for suited mountain bike. Luckily, the bike and tires were strong enough to take a beating and still roll well on paved roads.
There were rail trails and pure dirt double-track trails in the woods where I would see no one for hours. Many times I was not sure where the road was taking me. I guess that’s part of the excitement of the journey. Eventually, you have to come out somewhere where you can re-calibrate.
For this journey, I relied on Google maps with earphones to tell me when to turn. I normally never ride with earphones. My son Ethan’s friend did provide a route that I did use to get from Burlington to Barnet which did help for that segment. I did not search out other posted cycling maps since I could not know what maps might be best for my objectives. Researching this, especially if I had to change plans along the way would be inefficient.
Electrical power to keep my cell phone and bike computer going was critical. I relied on two back-up sources and every day had to go to back up power shortly after lunchtime. One backup source was a solar cell on the rear of my bike. On that first long day of riding I ran completely out of all power, in the dark, but I was right in front of my friend’s house. Whew! That was close.
There were only three places where I had to actually walk my bike up the hill either because of the steep elevation and/or conditions of the road or the fatigue I was experiencing. While I was avoiding the steepest areas, I think my body adjusted to carrying the extra weight and pacing myself with the hills. It was a personally satisfying achievement and proved that I was capable of doing more than I thought.
What you are about to read may or may not be fiction. I say this so I am not implicated in the crime I may or may not have committed. My intentions were honorable AND I needed content for this blog.This is about a brave new world we’ll all soon be facing.
It didn’t have to be this way. I could have rolled through Lee, Massachusetts just like I’ve done before on my bike through dozens of towns on my way back home from Vermont on my Reunion Tour. But, curiosity got the best of me. I chose to break the law. Luckily, I did not get caught this time. Here’s my warning to all of you who pass this way again.
I had booked an Airbnb stay in Lee(a Berkshire, new-age kind of town) on fairly busy Housatonic Street. My M.O. for a typical day of tour riding is to get to where I’ll be staying by 3:00 p.m. then take a ride or walk around to see what might be interesting in the area and where I might eat later on. Lee seemed rainy, quiet and pretty unassuming.
As I did reconnaissance on the main commercial street leading into town, I noticed an odd-looking, newly renovated commercial building. Despite being set back a bit, there were plenty of signs welcoming you to turn into Canna Provisions. But, why? My usual connection to the word “Provisions” is for food. About a dozen people were lined up at the time apparently waiting to get in. How good could the food be?
Synapses in my brain must have been exploding when I saw a subtle logo on a sign and made the connection. We were in Massachusetts and pot was now legal here as of last summer. Is this a store that sells to the public? If so, is this what an official dispensary looks like.
Curiosity got the best of me as I turned my bike around and coasted toward the entrance. The building looked almost antiseptic except for covered windows, a disabled ramp, steel door entrance and line of people waiting to get in. Then, there was that minder with clipboard and walkie-talkie-like phone that convinced me that I was approaching a strange new world. That steel door was a portal into a world I knew nothing about.
Entering a Brave New World
Marijuana is now legal in Massachusetts if you are over 21. You can possess up to 1 oz on you and up to 10 oz in your home. You can grow up to 6 plants in your home per adult.
The greeter at the entrance was an average, middle age woman who was happy to answer my questions and encouraged me to come in and view what they were selling. I decided to chain-up my bike and take a look at how marijuana is sold and what kind of people are now buying this stuff. Trust me, my intentions were naive and innocent.
My first surprise is the amount of security needed to get into this dispensary store. After presenting my drivers license to the woman I needed to wait on line outside the store. I noticed this was an odd group from young to old, equal number of men and women, sick-looking to healthy. If marijuana is known as a palliative for pain and source of pleasure, it was a small but representative group.
Once I reached the head of the line the door was opened and I entered a small holding area with another secure locked door. I was told to present my driver’s license again to someone behind a bullet-proof window. I’m pretty sure that a full criminal check of my background was made. A few minutes later the inside door was opened and I met my attractive young female sales representative who would explain the cannabis products and the “Menu.” It was too late to turn back. Nor, did I want to.
A variety of products were on attractive display shelves. There were at least a dozen or so people near the sales area and five cash registers. They are prepared for crowds. It was a relief to know that there was more options available than buying a joint. But the number of choices was confounding – flower, pre-roll, tinctures, concentrates, topicals, and edibles.
This is all compounded by the the quantity and potency of marijuana (THC – illegal in most states) and hemp-related products (CBD – legal and becoming common). I had to learn a new vocabulary if I was to buy something here.
Making the Sale
I convinced myself that up until now I was just here to observe this new business and social phenomenon as a researcher. Now, my sales rep was asking me what I would like to purchase. Two thoughts immediately came to mind. My wife Mary Ann has been suffering with sciatica lately and might benefit from a topical. I also needed to buy a gift for Mike Hayser, one of my reunion friends who I would be visiting the next day in Connecticut. Mike had an affinity to smoking a joint now and then over the years and I was pretty sure he would appreciate any product that Canna offered.
Payment could only be made by cash or debit card. Because marijuana is still listed as a federal drug, I was told that credit transactions are subject to government scrutiny, so not an option. Lastly, I asked the question about traveling with the products. There’s no problem with possession in Massachusetts and a few other states where it was legal, but the rep said, “If you told me you were going to Connecticut or New York with the product, I would not be able to sell it to you.” Needless to say, I said nothing.
Crossing the Border
I quickly considered that the $100 I had just spent on drugs might get me into a whole other world of trouble caused by the one I just exited. I buried the loot in the bottom of one of my panniers the next day and set off to cross the New York border and later the borders of Connecticut and soon New Jersey. No one was there to nab me at any state border.Laws on this subject are destined for the ashtray of history.
Whether legalization and dispensaries will be successful is an unanswered question. To me, the dispensary is similar to a state-run liquor store. Lots of regulations might change over time or remain the same as we live out legalization. Can the government really control the marijuana genie once it’s out of the bottle?
Back to Reality
As for my post purchase thinking on this, Mary Ann’s Nordic Goddess ointment has not seemed to do much and a better choice for Mike might have been a joint. Although, he says he can buy it cheaper through his own source! As for me, I probably should have bought a joint for me just to add to the interest of this story, but I did not. Maybe next time I pass this way, or go through Massachusetts.It’s a brave new world out there once you cross the border.
A great concert for the ages. Neil Young at the Ryman Auditorium.
We’re taking a slight “detour” here from my Reunion Tour bike trip blogging to comment on and recommend a movie that brought home some of my personal feelings as of late. It’s one of the best concert movies I have ever seen.
Occasionally, out of the blue, something appears as a selection on one of my 60+ streaming TV channels that really, really is worth watching. That happened last night when I selected from Kanopy the 2006 Neil Young: Heart of Gold documentary directed by Jonathan Demme. Its themes, music and point in Neil’s life tie right into my 13-day, 500+mile bike tour I completed last week. The message sent to me was clear – others pass this way too.
This is the thoughtful and everyman Neil Young performing songs for the first time from his Prairie Wind album which was critically acclaimed and nominated for 2 Grammys. It was a different turn toward an Americana sound somewhat like country, bluegrass and folk ballads. It reminded me of the music I heard in Vermont that just tell simple stories well. I loved the album at the time but had totally forgotten about it. This is the same Neil Young who once sang, “It’s better to burn out than fade away.”
You’re Never too Young
Young wrote most of the songs after his father’s death a few months before. At the time, he was diagnosed with a treatable brain aneurysm. Yet, he opened a tour of the album at the famed 2,600-seat Ryman Auditoriumin Nashville, the shrine and home of the original Grand Ole Opry. At the time he was all too aware of the fragility of life.
The songs are about growing up in Alberta, his father, his daughter, his god, and even his guitar. It’s a beautiful positive ode to the basic important things in life. While I’m not a country music fan, the emotional connection that a good country song brings is in this music, in spades.
Young is reverent to all the places, old times and everyone he has known. The heartfelt lyrics and sound are true and played to perfection with great musicians, including Emmy Lou Harris and with artistic and minimalist filming. Neil never looked more like the musical genius he is than in this work.
If you’ve read other posts on my blog myplanc.blog, you know its about getting older and in appreciating and discovering joy in everyday things. This documentary did just that for me and helped me bask a bit longer in the good vibes I got from visiting some old friends – and having the unforgettable opportunity to reminisce about good old times.
Some memories of people are etched in our minds. Some of places. And, some memories have both.
It was a rainy day, exactly as forecast. I enjoyed sleeping late that morning at my airbnb in Lee, Massachusetts. I had decided that after 10 days on the road and only 3 more to go to complete my Reunion Tour, it would be wise to avoid riding my bike through the light, steady rain.
25 Housatonic Street is conveniently located near the town center and is large enough for to host at least a few guests in some old period rooms as well as accommodate the owner’s family and grandkids on an occasional visit. Definitely not a motel. It was, as they claimed in the airbnb listing, “Comfortable Living in 1870’s House”.
I was sitting alone in a shared guest area that offered coffee, food, and information. There were obviously lots of memories made and shared in this home. The creaky floors and the numerous tsotchkes here seemed to prove that beyond a doubt. But people make memories and I was fortunate to meet a few.
I had met Kathy yesterday when I arrived. She was also a guest for the upcoming week, here for the Women’s Week program at Kripalu in nearby Stockbridge. It is the largest yoga retreat in North America. Her upbeat conversation reflected my understanding that this area of the Berkshires is known for its new-age thinking. She had come to gain a new enlightenment, become an instructor and to meet up with other yoga friends. Later, she said the program was everything she expected and more.
Later that day I met Dave and Debbie, who were my thoughtful and friendly hosts. Debbie was probably near my age and had been a competitive cyclist who also organized mountain biking races in the Kingdom Trails Burke Mountain area for several years – where I had visited a few days ago. It was obvious she had lots of old memories of those past glory days. Now, she and her husband still ride on tamer local trails and enjoyed walking. Funny, how easily it can be to relate to memories from people we might not have otherwise met.
But, that rainy morning I also met Elizabeth who was a regular boarder here and not your usual airbnb guest. After a friendly greeting I noticed she had a slight European accent. She began to explain she actually lived here 3 days a week to accommodate her job as an emergency room registered nurse in a Pittsfield hospital. Obviously, being an EMT nurse requires a certain type of individual.
You probably know that nurses are in high demand these days but their salaries do not necessarily reflect that. Apparently, Massachusetts hospitals pay much better than upstate New York. Elizabeth’s home is about 25 miles west of Albany so rather than travel 80 miles each way for 3 days, she stays here. This way she can have 4 days off to take care of her home and farm animals.
It turns out Elizabeth was born in Poland in an area known as Galacia that is the same area where my ancestors are from. Yet, her family began their American odyssey first in Bayonne, New Jersey, as many Poles did over the last century. Her family was able to begin immigration in the 1940’s after the war when sympathetic Polish troops allowed Poles to cross the border into Austria despite a Russian blockade. Later, the border closed and the family was denied entry until Glasnost occurred in Russia.
As was the custom of the time and place in Poland, Elizabeth married a neighbor in what might be called a pre-arranged marriage which she fought. Eventually, Elizabeth immigrated and worked through marital difficulties, earned here RN degree and raised three daughters (all now in their 20’s) that are doing very well, including one who is a pre-med student. Her’s is a story of a successful persistent immigrant and of one woman’s strength. I could not help but feel her story is not over yet and wondered what memories were ahead for her.
Nearly a week after my stay in Lee, I found myself on a weekend away in the Hamptons with my wife, kids, their spouses and the grandkids. It was to celebrate my wife Mary Ann’s 70th birthday. Yes, we were making our own memories too. Accidentally, a moment came a few days ago that brought a flood of memories back from that day in Lee, MA.
In 1975 Mick Jagger was escaping a busy schedule of North American shows and a productive period of new music. Mick and Kieth Richards escaped to Andy Warhol‘s Montauk vacation home for a break. During that stay, Mick had a fling with a strong-willed woman. They would later name her as Hannah in a song he and Kieth wrote called the Memory Motel. (lyrics here) Some consider it one of their longest anb best ballads.
It’s speculation that the basis of the song then was Carly Simon, who Mick had a relationship with (Of course, it’s no secret that Carly got back at Mick with her hit single “You’re So Vane“). But the famous photographer Annie Leibovitz was also know as Hannah. So, let’s just say Memory Motel it was about remarkable women.
As we traveled through Montauk, we passed the actual Memory Motel. I did a double-take remembering the name but not realizing its history at the time. Apparently, there’s still a dive bar and beat up motel that lives on as a monument to memories past and those that can still be created.
Just like my stay at 25 Housatonic, some memories are just burned-in and will never leave. Rightly so. Chief among them are hard-headed women that make a difference and special places that we never forget.
There’s a world-class playground for mountain bikers here in the Northeast Kingdom. I gotta come back.
I have long thought myself a “roadie” cyclist – meaning my preferred biking is on paved roads with plenty of room to speed and go for miles. Lately, I’m not so sure. It may be a combination of age and looking for new challenges that has got me thinking and behaving differently.
This Reunion Tour I just finished yesterday was a pure solo touring adventure that challenged my endurance, planning, reacting and social skills. It forced me out of my comfort zone for 13 days. And, I totally enjoyed the experience even if it was difficult many times.
On the second day of my visit with my old friend Mike Kennedy in Barnet, VT, he took me to a special area about 25 miles away near the Canadian border that he said was know as a mecca for mountain biking. By far, more people mountain bike in Vermont than road bike.
Burke Mountain is a well know professional skiing area in the winter and is home to Burke Mountain Academy where the best young skiers, like new super star Mikaela Shiffrin, have gone to school while training.
Even with its history and cred as a skiing area its perhaps better know as an elaborate playground for mountain bikers called the Kingdom Trails, a non-profit group that manages the trails. They say that almost every day in the summer and on weekends before the snow comes, thousands come here to ride the trails.
We went into the information building at the base of Burke and got the basic idea of how this works. You can ride the 60 miles of trail for $15 per day or $75 membership per year. There’s trails of every skill level and the grounds are beautiful. The concept they perfected is to build trails using easements from nearby land owners. So the place is sprawling and everyone is happy.
Mike and I visited a special bike shop that gets 5 stars from everyone called Village Sports Shop. It’s dedicated to mountain biking and provides a great variety of bikes. It has the greatest panoramic view of the area and is right on the trail. You can rent daily from $40 to $100, from a basic hardtail to a double suspension, carbon fiber, disk brake model. Besides the convenience and great staff there’s a full coffee/kambutcha/beer/wine and food bar right in the store and is probably the most popular place to start and end your ride.
We walked around the area then settled in for a craft brew. We talked with some new friends about biking the trails, jobs in Vermont and local music. I started thinking how great it would be to come back here another time with a group of friends and shred some dirt, enjoy the many local brews and the friendly vibes of Vermont. I’m not a skier these days but I think I could easily be a happy mountain biker in Vermont.
It’s time to get back to work. Here’s what it’s like to ride the roads of Vermont.
Let me switch back to riding this time. On Thursday, Oct 3rd I needed to leave Barnet VT and work my way down to NJ. The next stage of the tour looked to be easier as it followed the Connecticut River which divides VT from NH. My only problem was starting. The following is a description of the next two days riding to Hanover and the Rutland area. I was soon to find out there is no easy days on this tour.
It’s worthy to note that there is a great variety of roads here for cyclists:
Highways (hopefully with some shoulder)
State roads (e.g., Route 5 or 7)
Local roads (paved streets)
Dirt roads (unpaved roads)
Rough roads (rutted, stone and dirt)
Bike trails (cleared and sometimes paved roads for bike and pedestrians)
Mountain Bike Trails (rough dirt trails, rutted, stones, turns, etc.)
While I rely on Google Maps (chosing “bicycle” as my means of transport), you can never be sure what kind of blend of roads it will create as a route. There often is a variety of roads and trails. Dirt roads are slower to travel, are bumpier and are usually more remote. However, they can be more peaceful and relaxing away from traffic. Note: As a rule I don’t use earphones while riding but they are almost necessary if you follow a route on Google Maps.
Starting out I could see the route while at Mike’s house via an Internet conection, but I could not follow the route when moving because I lost cell service. Long story short, I eventually managed to pick up Google again which suggested a more bike-friendly route. I complied. I should have known better.
The first ten miles took me in a dirt-road circle back to where I started. I had lost at least an hour of precious time. I quickly decided to chuck Google Maps and just follow Route 5 to Hanover NH, where I had planned my next airbnb stay.
While the rest of the trip was long (56 miles – over 5 hours), peaceful (low traffic), but remote miles, Hanover NH is diiferent. Its the home of Darmouth University and is somewhat lively, especially from where I had been.
Dartmouth is an Ivy League school but the town is not as vibrant commercially as Harvard or even Princeton. I had to search around to find even decent pizza and a beer. But I salavged the night with maybe the best gellato I’ve ever had.
While I thought about touring the campus I quickly lost interest. Mary Ann, Justin and I had toured it years ago when he was interested in Dartmouth. But sometimes things just work out differently – and maybe for the better.
I started out the next day toward West Rutland,VT which is near some big skiing areas like Killington and Okemo. Thinking about that I knew it would be a rough ride wth increasing altitude. Also Mike had mentioned that there are far fewer roads going across the state than north and south. There are chunks of mountain ranges that are just harder to cross.
In this mid-state area, route 4 is the heaviest commercial highway from east to west. So, I opted for a more local route which turned out harder and steeper to climb. The ride was beautiful and scenic for much of it.
However, I had to ride about 25 miles on route 130, a newer state road built for trucks and high speed cars certanly not pedestrians and cyclists. I needed nerves of steel and legs like pistons on this autobahn. Then, I could see that the last 15 miles or so were not near highways. That could be good news or could be bad. It turned out both.
First, my exit off of Rt 130 was into a dirt road where even cars were not permitted. Then, there were a series of complicated turns down paved roads. This went back and forth for miles. Finally, I was within 10 miles. The roads were no longer numbered but named (was not sure that was good or bad). West Rutland was farm country and roads are of various conditions.
Near the end was Walker Mountain Road and it seemed paved. I should have known by the name that I had a challenge ahead and I was already pooped. This baby went up, turned and went up again and again until there had to be a 20% grade near the top. I gave up and walked the bike the last several hundred feet. Even that was hard!
Finally, I rolled down Walker Mountain and shortly came to my airbnb. It was the late afternoon around 4:00. I had just ridden 67 miles in about 8 hours. I eaten a hugh breakfast but no lunch so I quickly unpacked and rode another couple miles into the only commercial intersection around and stocked up on food and drink at the local gas station/convenience store.
It was a tough day but not unlike others when you are doing road work on this tour.
I spent two totally enjoyable days with my friend Mike Kennedy and his wife Kristen in Barnet VT, which is in the Harvey Lake area – in the northeast section of Vermont also known as The Northeast Kingdom. Here’s some of the highlights of my first day visiting this special place.
The beauty of having a friend in a far-away place is that you have a built-in desire (maybe a need) to get there someday. I often thought that a visit to see my old high school friend Mike Kennedy might not happen. Afterall, Vermont is an out-of-the-way place. Its on the way to nowhere. Whereas New Jersey always seems to be in the middle of everywhere. Mike had visited my area several times in the past few years.
With the dual personal opportunities of retirement and long distance bike riding, the idea of me visiting Mike seemed to make a lot of sense. And, if not now while I still am healthy and have the time, then when?
Welcome to Vermont
Mike and Kristen are very kind and open people who easily welcomed me to their home. It was an open-ended plan to just crash there for two days. I arrived the evening of October 1 in pretty bad shape from my long 96-mile ride from Burlington across the state and was looking forward to some recovery and company. My objective was to get to know the area and how life was in the part of the country.
Building Takes Craft and Sweat
First, a little background on his place. I believe it was about 15 years ago while living in the area, they bought the property with the idea of building a house. To most people, that would mean getting contractors to do the whole thing. But up here it’s often considering first what can be done on your own.
They decided to clear the land, set up temporary shelter and built a house that would surpass most contractors. This house is tightly insulated, has double-thick walls and has a floor heating system, all of which Mike either designed, contracted or installed himself. More work, pain and inconvenience than anyone could imagine. But it’s their effort and sacrifice that made it happen.
Off to the Lake
Mike amd I started my first day there kayaking on Harvey Lake, which is only a few hundred feet from his house. It’s a beautiful vacation area for many who have large lakefront homes. But the area is remote enough that you still cannot get a cell signal.
Today it seemed nearly deserted. We rowed around the lake and looked for loons who spend a great deal of their time under water catching fish and occasionally popping up, honking or flying away. One of Harvey Lake’s claim to fame is it is where Jaques Cousteau made his first dive in deep water that inspired his career.
Land of The Rich & Famous
After lunch, Mike and I took a ride to the Mount Washington Hotel in nearby New Hampshire to visit this grand hotel and admire the views.
The Mt. Washington Hotel is consider one of “grand hotels” of the area harkening back to the guilded age where the monied class would spend summers with nature and the priveledged. It is also famed for the Bretton Woods meeting that started the InternationaI Monetary Fund (IMF). It is a unique historical site that seems beautiful but out of place in such a raw environent.
Mike has had a fairly regular gig a few times a year playing his Americana music and storytelling there. It would seem a bit offbeat for this kind of place, but this too is a strange blend of basic Vermont living combined with an upper class lifestyle. This day the top of Mt. Washington (supposedly once marked as having the highest speed wind on the planet) was covered with clouds. Still the White Mountains were beyond impressive.
Going back to Mike’s place in Barnet we bought some prepared food and planned to spend the night catching up and listening to music.
Mike is a born performer with a love of all sorts of music but particularly a folkish blend of old folk ballads, bluegrass, countryish songs with lyrics that tell a story. I’d say somewhere between Woodie Gutherie and Wilco.
Mike dubbed the music he favors as “Americana”. Sometimes it’s music with a message and sometimes music with strange old instruments. He talks of legendary local musicians, special venues and times of simply great music. And, I’ve found that same love and respect of music wherever I have gone in Vermont. Maybe its a holdover from those old hippie days that the rest of us have forgotten.
After a few outstanding local craft beers and a lot of singing we called it a night. Tomorrow was another day in the Kingdom.
For me, Vermont holds on to the past but cares about the future. My stay in Vermont reminded me of what’s important. There’s beauty in this struggle with nature.
How does someone you know change over 50 years? Especially if he was a hippie!
I recently spent 2 days with my friend Mike Kennedy and his wife Kristen in Barnet, VT. Here is one of a couple of memories to share before I move on to my bike ride.
Many years ago, in a different time and place, there once was a guy who I would consider among my closest friends who decided he had had enough of the bullshit of Viet Nam, politics, religion, etc. Back then in 1970 or so you had a new choice of protesting and dropping out or going mainstream. Much of it was based on the draft and extreme politics and social norms of day. Most of us were not motivated or had the courage enough to do something about it. But Mike Kennedy was.
While we had graduated Roselle Catholic High School in 1966 together, he had chosen to go to Wilkes College in PA. The rest of his close friends took various college paths. While we were told college was important, we mostly went to local colleges to stay out of the draft and maybe find a direction for a career.
Mike rebelled with his new college friends. This led him to “Tune-in, turn-on and drop-out”. Or, as we would say “He freaked out!” Most of us lost touch with him and his life was directed more on a set of principles than reality. He hoped to find – or create – the ideal lifestyle in Vermont. And, he was not alone. Like it or not, it was a noble goal at the time.
Some statistics have shown that Vermont was poorly populated at that time with less than a million people when an influx of 70,000 in one year was to come with similar motivations. Imagine this as a 1970’s version of a migrant invasion. It was to change Vermont forever.
Despite the harsh environment of Vermont, Mike strugggled, worked, got married, had a family (wife and 2 sons), continued his personal interest as a musician and evenually became a person familiar to us again. But, with a Vermont flavor. Vermonters are tough, versitile, independent, empathetic, socially conscious and caring individuals that have a problem with authority. It looks like Mike found exactly the place where he belongs.
Over the years, Mike lived in a treehouse, ran a local movie theater, built houses, performed as a musician and story teller, learned carpentry, built his own house and gravitated toward a career in planned housing and environmental engineering. He helped build a regional housing project for seniors still in use today in this remote area of Vermont. What I leaned is that today Mike is not unlike you and me. We have just been in two different orbits that have finally met. Maybe because time is the great equalizer
It seems we both have similar life experiences and wishes for today and the future. We might have been on different planets for a while but we all have landed in the same place. I learned that Vermont is both about living a dream and facing a harsh reality. We still dream of what could be and share the principles of the past.
My 96-mile bike journey West to East across Vermont.
After a day of rest in Burlington it was time to tackle what I planned to be the hardest part of this trip – riding across Vermont from west to east near New Hampshire. The train I took from NYC yesterday got me as far north as I needed but now I had to go west to get to Mike Kennedy‘s home in Barnet aka Harvey Lake area. This is just minutes from the NH border and the White Mountains.
Pain or Gain?
As you might know, I’ve been relying on Google Maps / cycling option to help figure out the best route. Mostly. it works but I’ve had lots of problems in their choice of routes too. Everyone I spoke to suggested staying off the main commercial highways like Rt 2 if possible. Google had a 75-route suggestion but a good part highway.
For this trip my son Ethan’s friend Arthur, who live in the Montpelier region, had a recommended alternative 93-mile route which involved more local roads, “dirt” roads, and trails. The problem was what exactly is the condition of those roads and the volume of traffic? There’s a trade-off here in terms of safety vs. extra time needed on dirt or gravel sections. Also, this was a matter 25% more altitude to climb on a bike carrying my extra 40 lbs of baggage.
Anyway, doing a quick analysis I went for the alternate longer route knowing that probably my biggest personal challenge would be how long it would take, how steep the climbs were and if I would have enough daylight and power to keep my bike computer and cell phone going.
On the Road Again
I started out of Burlngton following the pre-set route that appears on my Garmin 1000. It’s a great resource that tells you when to turn but it has problems sometimes with precision and accuracy. It uses GPS so all I had to do was keep it going. No worry about cell signals. As a backup I still had my Google maps which relies on cell if I needed it. The challenge was to keep power going and use backup when needed.
The route started in the reverse order of last night as I headed back to the train station I left last night and then continued northeast. The first 30 miles or so was on typical state roads through small towns like Jericho and Underhill following state highway route 15 a fairly busy road. The payoff was there was lots of beautiful siights along the way in this early Fall.
The Grass is Greener in Vermont
A few hours into the ride I noticed a strange looking farm with plants that grew about 3 feet high into narrow thick bushes lined up almost like tomato plants. Then, I started to smell a vaguely familiar odor and did a double-take of the plants while riding. Two men were placing a black plastic trash bag over one plant. Riding a little close to the edge of the farm I suddenly saw the spiky long narrow leaves. Could this be marijuana? I thought possibly since this was Vermont after all.
I later found out that the latest business craze here was to legally grow hemp which is a close cousin. Hemp has many uses but currently its primary draw is for CBD, which alledgedly has a milder affect and claims to have many benefits. You can only imagine where this might go in the future. The times, they are a changin.
All Roads Lead Somewhere
Anyway, up until about a 1/3 rd of the way, it was all asphalt roads. Then, the directions took me to a network of trails. Trails and roads here in Vermont can mean many things. One of the first trails I took was called the “Lendway Trail” which was a straight dirt and gravel shot across numerous farms and fields. Other trails switched to hard packed dirt roads which were almost as good as asphalt but a bit bumpier.
The trails were a great relief from the boredom and danger of riding the roads. Most of the trails were based on old rail lines that no longer existed. One called the Lemoille Trail was probably 20+ miles, some parts currently broken but will evenually be a great long alternate route across a good part of the state.
Captain we’re losing power!
The last third of the ride was dicey. I rode pieces of trails, picked up long dirt roads and sometimes followed the highway, getting slightly lost many times. Around 5 p.m. I started to realize that I was both running out of time and power – and I was already on backup. Luckily, I had a solar panel I could use to continue to power either my bike computer (with directions where I was going) or my cell phone, but not both. On top of that my bike lights were discharged having been used all day. But, I had one extra tailight that I was able to use.
As the sun was going down around, I literally was at low power mode on my iPhone, my bike computer shut down and I had nothing else left but to take a best guess on some roads. Google Maps then says the most beautful words I have heard in a long time, “You have arrived”. I found Mike’s house just in time.
The first and probably the hardest part of this trip was over. It turned out to be over 96 miles and about 11 hours of riding with only a few brief stops. I felt like I was now beginning to appreciate the beauty and vastness of this state. I’d like to say it’s all downhill from here, but we are in Vermont.
My cool clear day started with a ride for coffee. Sounds easy. But, these days not so much. Google maps seems to specialize in coffee shops and cafes where you can get coffee from every country, free-trade, etc. only problems is deciding which method of brewing or flavor nuances. Ugh! Let’s not blame Burlington for that. Luckily I stumbled upon Meyers Bagels.
If you were permitted to call a bagel artesian, this would be the one. They were planted behind an industrial area by the lake and displayed how bagels are made with a 100-lb dough ball being kneaded, a open-fire wood-burning oven, and hundreds of crusty bagels with a surface I last saw on an artesian pizza. It was a good start with a cup of French Roast and a bagel with a shmear. Hard to compare to a good New York bagel. But maybe that was the point. Things are different here in Vermont.
The obvious signs around here point to the Burlington Bikeway. It’s and impressive 20-mile or so 10-ft wide paved trail that is known and beloved. Perhaps because it hugs the coastline of Lake Champlain and is widely used. It was perfect for this high-50s kind of day.
Tonight I found myself at a good place for great beer and some interesting food – American Flatbread. I would say mainly it was a brew pub but with some interesting pizza and an average Burlington crowd and a waiting line
If you are like me, I’m a bit torn about sitting at a bar with almost a need to talk to the next someone who sits down. In my situation, that may be a good thing.
Eventually, a guy sits down and orders and we get talking. Interestingly, my new bar mate is Mike Sheridan who is from Ridgewood, NJ helping his son who is a good long distance runner and senior, tour UVM. He’s going through that old familiar college tour routine. It brought back so many memories. In fact, Mike’s son was also interested in Loyola Baltimore which my daughter had loved and attended – its a very small world, indeed.
Mike has another younger son and daughter and is anticipating the same thing for them. I guess I talked too much about those years and what’s ahead after that. Those 4 go so quick. What do you do as a parent to help make this kind of decision? And, how important is the result in the years ahead? These are unanswerable questions but I have no doubt that he’s doing at least as well as I did during those challenging times. All will work out well.
To put in a plug for my new-found bar buddy, Mike… He is the Executive Producer of a new series on murder mysteries called “The Truth About Murder” coming up on the ID Channel in October. Check it out. I know I will be.
Of course, you can’t leave Burlington without a visit to Ben & Jerry’s. A pretty unassuming place with still the best ice cream and the only ice cream place I know with an acutal VW buggy bus in its store. Peace!
Starting a new biking adventure by riding the Vermonter to Burlington.
Greetings fellow virtual travelers. It’s been a while since I posted to this blog but if you are interested in my latest retirement biking journey – The Reunion Tour – Vermont & New England back to NJ read along. I’ll be attempting to post daily my 10 days of stays and cycling adventure (or whatever comes along). This is the first post of the journey. More background on the trip.
I discovered traveling long distances by train can be a great advantage. Yes, it generally takes longer than flying and you will experience numerous inconveniences due to a lack of consideration for bicycles. But once you are onboard the seats are more comfortable, the ride smooth and relaxing, free WiFi and at least for my Amtrak train today – The Vermonter – a simple bike rack storage so you can transport the bike without breaking it apart, as you would need to do for a flight. And, with my current sub-theme of ecology let’s give it up for trains which consume a whole lot less carbon than the other alternatives. All good reasons to promote train transportation, in my mind.
But, the most convincing argument for a train ride is that a one-way train ticket is a whole lot cheaper at $58 for me, plus $20 for “Silver” my bike. That’s cheaper and easier than flying (need to dis-assemble/re-assemble, pack/unpack), driving there (need to return with the car too) or shipping the bike to a shop and having it re-assembled there.
Planning the trip to Burlington, VT where I’ll get off was a bit of a challenge. The Vermonter originates at Penn Station NY. So, I needed a way to get me and my bike to NYC to catch the train. I could have literally rode from my house to the Morristown NJ Transit station then to NYC except for the fact that on weekends, bikes need to arrive at Penn NY before 10:00 or they are not permitted! That would have meant leaving very early. Instead Mary Ann drove me at 9:00 a.m. to Newark Penn where I planned on catching the PATH train to Penn NY. My bike weighs about 24 lbs. My panniers and rear bag add about 40 extra unsteady lbs. making it unwieldy.
My first problem was getting my bike and 3 bags up an escalator since the Newark Penn elevator was not working! I saw a bike messenger just taking the escalator up so I followed. Bam! The bike was highly uncooperative and flipped backwards throwing the bags off it. But just then a woman appears watching this and says “I’ll get you up to the platform.” What! She advises taking the 3 bags up while she watches the bike, then walking the bike up the stairs where she instructs me on where to pick up the next PATH train. Beautiful. She was sent from heaven, I’m sure.
The PATH train continues to Journal Square where I transfer to another train. By now, its around 10 am and trains are getting crowded with me and my bike taking up too much room. We finally make it to 33rd St. Now its a matter of finding elevators you never knew about to take you up to the street then back down to Penn Station. After waiting about ½ hour the Vermonter appears on the board. This is the only train to Burlington. Each day it leaves at 11:30 a.m. and arrives 9 hours later 7 miles outside of Burlington in Essex Junction, VT.
Another elevator ride down is requried to the track #8. Then, finally, the conductor needed to figure out what car had the rack where I could put my bike. The Vermonter only allows 3 bikes at a time on the whole train.
I’m in Springfield MA as I write this with another 4 hours to go. Then, I need to reset the bike and make my way to my airbnb stay for 2 nights. Looking forward to getting there and concluding today in one piece. All Aboard?
Well Amtrak did its best to live up to its reputation and came in 3o minutes late. We departed the train at about 8:50 and the rest was up to Google Maps. I’m a seasoned enough rider to take on a challenge riding in the dark but it was relatively easy to follow the online guidance direct to my stay 7 miles away.
And, a good stay it was at an airbnb at 32 Spruce St. A few convenient blocks from the city activity and close to the lake but far enough to be very calm and peaceful. Starved, I headed out to a corner “Gastro Pub” to get a couple beers and a burger. All was right with the world again.