Fond Memories of the Last Catastrophe

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?

In case you forgot what that time was all about…

My Career in the News Business

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. 

Getting Hired

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.

Getting Paid

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.”

Thomas Jefferson
Listen to this story on My Plan C Podcast.

The Thrills and Chills of 13 Bumps

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.

Feltville Becomes a Ghost Town

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.”

A Review of The Road to San Donato

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!


The Road to San Donato: Fathers, Sons, and Cycling Across ItalyThe Road to San Donato: Fathers, Sons, and Cycling Across Italy by Robert Cocuzzo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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.

View all my reviews

You’re Never Too Old

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.

  • Here’s one of her quotes I love.

“At every phase in your life, look at your options. Please, do not select boring ones.”

New School Commencement Address 2017

Listen to this article on the My Plan C podcast.

You're Never Too Old My Plan C

A few thoughts on an example of someone getting old and not giving up. This episode is also available as a blog post: https://myplanc.blog/2019/11/27/youre-never-too-old/

Discovering Alice in Wonderland

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.

My new found legendary friend, Bill Russell was part of the mid-1960’s scene in Stockbridge.

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.

Album cover of 1969 recording of Alice’s Restaurant.

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.

NPR This I Believe – Alice Brock on her philosophy of life and cooking.

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.

Arlo Guthrie has continued his tradition of touring and singing Alice’s Restaurant for 52 years (see current schedule). This year 2019 is said to be his last year culminating with his last show at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, November 30th.

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.

Original recording of Alice’s Restaurant

How the sausage is made…part 3

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.

The Bike

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 Schawalbe Marathon Supreme 700 X 35c tubeless 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

Huge breakfast was a treat in Woodstock VT.
  • 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.

General Schedule

  • 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.

Lodging

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.

One of the nicest airbnb’s was in Bennington VT in the main house on a tree farm.

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

Riding on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in Adams MA

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.

One of the rougher roads to roll through. Nice change of scenery but slowed me down. Thanks Google!

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.

Confessions of a Drug Smuggler

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.

Public water fountain with image of Chief Konkapot the Mohegan chief who sold much of Berkshire county to colonial settlers in 1722. (His name today seems oddly ironic!)

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?

Canna LogoSynapses 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.

Canna Provisions represents a new kind of business in old historic state.

Heart of Gold Revisited

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.

Striking Gold

undefinedOccasionally, 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 Auditorium in 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.

One of These Days – one of my favorite songs on Prairie Wind in harmony with my Reunion Tour.

Memory Motel

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”.

Trivets from the three states that meant the most to me appeared on the table. A good sign, indeed.

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.

This house keeps lots of memories frozen in time.

New-Age Kathy

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.

Biker Debbie

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.

Nurse Elizabeth

Sharing coffee and stories with Elizabeth, an inspiration of hard work and persistence.

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.

Lasting Memories

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.

The Memory Motel still creates memories-Montauk Bar/Motel made famous by the Rolling Stones

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.