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.
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.
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.
Learning life lessons from the Ambassador of Forbidden Drive.
It’s not uncommon to meet people along a trail when you are on a walk. My theory is that there are almost always interesting people there to meet, if you care to engage. Walkers are not alike but we all understand the benefit of a good long walk.
Fellow FreeWalker, Colleen Griglock, and I, along with a couple dozen other FreeWalkers and EverWalk members were strolling a drop-dead gorgeous trail on a beautiful Fall day this past Saturday. It was the last few miles of the FreeWalkers (13.1 half) Marathon Walk on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
The trail we were on has ironically been known as “Forbidden Drive” since the 1920s when automobiles were first banned from this gravel road. Now, it’s a popular wide trail that follows Wissahickon Creek Northwest of the city. It was recently named “Trail of Year 2018” by Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources. And, it’s a most inviting trail to pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians with plenty of room for everyone.
We approached a gentleman walking briskly and confidently with a cane and struck up a conversation. There was something about his smile and energy that belied his years. (Hey, I just joined the Septuagenarian club and and am curious when I sense someone has a secret aging process going.)Walt Dinda is an 83 year-young, long time resident of the area and a regular walker on these trails. I would call him the Ambassador of Forbidden Drive.
As an attorney, he and his wife raised a family of 6 children which has now grown to 19 grandkids, with the hope of great-grandkids in the near future. I can relate to all this having 6 grandkids myself and looking forward to the possibilities.
Walt is wearing his Penn State hat he says he “borrowed” from his son. Everyone seems to be connected to Penn State here, including most of his family. As Colleen suggests, most fans make the pilgrimage to Happy Valley (Penn State) this time of year. Maybe, one not so big secret here is Pennsylvanians love their communities.
Walt began telling us about the trail and the area before greetings came from others along the way. It seems Walt has been walking Forbidden Drive for years. He even credits this particular walk for much of the good things in his life.
“Walking this trail has taught me more about life than any classroom or degree I ever got. And I continue to learn from it.”
Walt has met hundreds of people of all types on the trail over the years and he has gotten to know and care about them. Walt’s parents were Eastern European immigrants that came to this country and settled in the area. His father initially had a hard time finding work and his mother worked as a domestic for a wealthy family in Philadelphia. Walt goes on,
“I’m basically a conservative guy, but I have learned to accept and embrace others.”
It appears there are many regulars on the trail that he checks in on, or asks about. They are true trail buddies whose lives revolve around the trail.
So, the trail is Walt’s extended family. Add a couple dozen of these trail friends to his already large family and the complexity of relationships in his life is astounding. But, I believe it might be the secret to his longevity, or at least his happiness. Walt goes on to say,
“If only the rest of the world had more caring. Caring like we have with friends and family. Most of the problems of the world could be solved or would not exist if we saw each other as part of a family.”
I think it’s fair to say that Walt had a certain personal chemistry that attracted people to him. Or, maybe there was something about walking this particular trail. But, I was fascinated by his story. After talking to him about careers and kids for 15 minutes or so, his daughter in law and grandson showed up giving each other a great big hug. This is what we all want – love and understanding. Walt has earned it in spades and has reminded me how best to grow old.