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.

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.

Happy Trails to You

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.

Info center for Kingdom 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.

Panoramic view from lodge at Burke Mountain

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.

Doing Road Work

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.

Hey, didn’t you pass this way before?

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.

The Little Buzz, a cute little coffee shop in Bradford along the way. I needed that.

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’m the “old man” on campus at Dartmouth quad.

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.

How beautiful is this? Non-stop scenery. In this case, on a far away country road.

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.

Stunning sights on what was to turn out my sunniest day.

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.

Vermont rt 130
My “nerves of steel” challenge. When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing left to lose.

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.

Strava Rides:

October 3, 2019 – Barnet to Hanover – https://www.strava.com/activities/2760383365

October 4, 2019 – Hanover to West Rutland
https://www.strava.com/activities/2763049140

A Day in the Magical Kingdom

Experiencing life in the Northeast Kingdom .

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.

Me with Kristen, MIke and Quokka (aka beloved dog)

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.

Harvey Lake – deep and almost famous

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.

Tonight’s Show

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.

My Hippie Friend

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.

Mike at the guitar playing Americana music. Equally talented on the concertina (squeeze box) and musical saw.

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.

Mike Kennedy’s beautiful house he built in Barnet / Harvey Lake VT

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.

Clear Across the State

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.

Hemp farm called Valley Dream Farm in Pleasant Valley

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.

https://www.strava.com/activities/2754411546

Riding the Vermonter

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. 

NY Penn Station waiting room.

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?

Afterword

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.

Local IPA craft brew to bring me back to life.
The neighborhood “Gastro Pub”. A converted candy store with a relaxed feel and plenty of choices of beer and burgers.

A 4,000-mile West Africa Ride

An interesting article on a verrry long bike ride through rough territory.

Ah, brings back old memories of last year. I’m feeling like a poser compared to these riders.

“…most in their 50s and older, many from North America and Europe, and a third of them women.”

“It’s like when you discover something you didn’t know you could do; then it’s so funny to explore how far you can go,” she said.

“Ordinary people doing extraordinary things every day,”

“It really reduces your day to the bare necessities,” she said. “It’s a total reset.”

“I often tell my kids that cycling is very much like life,” Ms. Viviers, 56, a retired telecom consultant, said later. “If you see a hill, it always looks worse than it is. You just take it in small chunks.”

 

Walking with Walt

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.

Colleen and Me
Colleen and Me

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.

Used to be a busy bridle path
Forbidden Drive

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.

Walt Dinda
Walt Dinda, 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.

Making friends along the way.
One of Walt’s buddies asks about the health of an 87 year old mutual friend.

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.

Tammy, Connor and Walt
Tammy, Connor and Walt on Forbidden Drive