Friday, May 17, 2013

**** Night Not Needed

I was Somewhere west of Buckhannon, WV, wet, cold and bundled in a sleeping bag in a rural bus stop as traffic speeds by on's the best option I have. Since leaving Elkins this morning, I have been soaked and chilled to the bone. I dried myself out and the rain began again. Then this bus shelter appeared. I thought, "Why not?" Just sit it out for a while. The truth is it is wonderful. This sleeping bag is very cozy. I'd never considered the good a bus shelter offers. Lots of cars are passing but none have the curiosity to stop.

This cold rain could persist all day and all night so a warm dry room would be great. Very unpredictable weather. A motel couldn't be more than 15 miles I told myself. And it wasn't. The motel 8 at I-79 was the closest place with a room. "It's Strawberry Festival Time, hotels are full. Half this motel is closed for renovations," the desk clerk (who looked sketchy) said. "There aren't rooms."

A family with a barking dog occupied the room next to the coin laundry which was only important to me because everything I owned was wet. The kids belonging to this room played in the lobby and laundry creating a public housing feel to the place. It felt real. Their adult family members came and went. This didn't appear to be just one night for this family. The kids were curious about traveling on a bike. They had never heard of Vermont or Canada. They hung on the vending machines.

I came to appreciate the sketchy guy on duty at the desk for being kind and patient with theses two kids...where else could they go? Could I be that kind, I wondered. You face yourself when you're on the road in ways that you can ignore when you're at home. Some people can be extraordinarily kind.

I've yet to stay in a motel on this trip that smelled like an Indian Restaurant. I think word has reached Indian
managers because they're all still there but the smells aren't. The $45-$70 rates at these mom and pop's keep me within my $100 per day budget. A shameful amount compared to the $10 per day budget of the Canadian Couple cycling towards Brazil. And I imagine all the ways the kids' parents could blow this monstrous daily amount. My minimalist style still beats $300 and up for fully pampered touring cyclists who carry nothing but themselves and only experience a raindrop until the nearby sag wagon returns them to a **** B&B. Help is never far away for the pampered.

The experience of the road can be destroyed by too much help. You don't want to be a casualty but expecting others to protect and filter your world isn't living. As an international aid worker, I had drivers, translators, and handlers who made sure my assignment was not too much of an adventure. One time, bored and frustrated by this situation, I swam across a river between Slovakia and Hungry. It brought an element of adventure to that trip and made my handlers crazy...oh how I promised to never do that again.

I can peddle down the road and find a place to sleep. I can appreciate and learn from the imperfect as much as I can from a four star night.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Day With Charlie in Hampshire County

My new friend Charlie included me in his day. This meant I got to go to the Hampshire County Health Center. I got to swim and then put some water bottle holders onto Greg Lemond training cycles. Charlie's a volunteer at the fitness center and maintains equipment. In the afternoon I went with him on the roof of his house where he had begun the installation of a solar water heater. His son Brian helped and the three of us moved that project forward a bit. Later we went to an area restaurant in the evening and then toured  Hampshire County.

From Augusta to Petersburg
We took a picture together then I took off. Charlie and Susan are successful Boomers managing life's challenges and being supportive of their kids. They are true angels on Route 50 for cyclists from all over the planet. I felt honored to meet and spend time with them.

Me, Susan, and Charlie

The road was fairly good, light traffic, lots of cows and views. It Compares very favorably to Vermont. Not much happened; I watched the front wheel turn and looked at scenery.

I Made it to Petersburg and stayed at the Hermitage which is just opening for the season under new management. The clerk tried to charge me $70 plus tax. I suggested $50 was my limit and she accepted. The room wasn't worth $50.

Petersburg to Elkins
Reached Seneca Rocks which has atmosphere of its own. I had lunch at an upstairs general store restaurant facing the rocks cliffs. There were no climbers in sight. The afternoon's Challenge was route 33 to Elkins. There are 40 miles of Mountains with switchbacks, hairpins, three plus mile climbs and 10% grades. In most stretches the road doesn't offer pavement for cycling any wider than this iPad.

Seneca Rocks

When I left Charlie's yesterday morning it was 28 degrees. Today it's 85+ degrees on this pavement. In the first ten afternoon miles I came upon an overturned tractor trailer with gas leaking onto the road. It would be ten minutes before the responders arrived from Seneca Rocks. The driver crawled out of the truck and went down the hill with another driver. The heat was making this very difficult. I moved on from this scene which I assumed wasn't all that unusual for these parts.

I literally rolled into Harmon. At the end of the town at the last gas station before Elkins I could see the sign it read Elkins 22 miles. Its all mountains, all heat, tractor trailers loaded with logs wanting to get to the end of their day's work and me taking nothing but the edges of the road. My boomer brain said, "Use judgement."  The elder lady casually hanging over antique gas station the counter said. "Someone will give you a ride."  Someone did who needed the $15 I gave him. Tim got an additional $20 on his grandmas gas account. He was starting a job as a union laborer in the morning. He was worried about the supervisor whom he had words with on a past job. In less than 30 minutes, I was safe, comfortable and grateful for Tim's help. I was on the edge of Elkins at the Iron Rail Inn.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Towards the Shenandoah Valley and WV. Saturday

Up and down and up and down. Way too much grass to mow, I think to myself. I come upon a scene out of a Civil War movie. It's re-enactors. Horses, flags, soldiers for both the North the South, women in hooped black dresses, children dressed of the era, Boy and Girl Scouts and onlookers of suburban variety all standing around in a graveyard. A bag-piper plays and someone reads the names of deceased confederate soldiers.

This scene is played out with a high degree of accuracy until a suburban woman faints and a paramedic team with its high tech equipment is brought into the mix and by this time it is clear that her problem was standing in the heat.

I go downstairs in the church and have some good church lady food, then peddle on towards Winchester where I happily take a motel and all its comforts. This iPad and its bicycle app seem to think that from where I sit I should go to Augusta and Romney and then drop down to Elkins. Looks like a good idea.

From the Metro to the C&O Canal

A smoking cab driver with lots to say took across the Bay Bridge to the outskirts of Annapolis. It's idyllic in and around the Academy. However, The pastoral agricultural scene on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay has given way to Metro DC. Annapolis reminded me of reaching Danbury, Connecticut where it appears idyllic and green, but the driving style becomes aggressive and impatient and that if a bicycle is present it may slow things up. On this trip I have found the suburban driver to be among the most impatient. So much time spent in the car getting to and from.

Too close to DC for comfort.

I made it to a town called Bowie and Camped in a forest full of curious deer. In the morning I rode as far as I could into the District then took the Metro which should  have been fast but for a three hour wait to let the rush hour get over. The Metro workers were among the least helpful people I've met on this trip. I asked about attitudes of metro people from a Retired Lt Col I would later meet cycling. "I've lived in both NYC and DC and there is no comparison. NYC folks are much more pleasant...they will look at you. Here, people are looking down."

It was a warm sunshiny day. I took few pictures and made my way towards the Potomac and the C&O canal path. The path was busy with folks who made their way out for the day to run, skate, walk or cycle. No touring cyclists the first ten miles of this winding canal, dreamed of by George Washington but ground broken by John Quincy Adams in 1828 ....but by 1850 railroads had made this an impractical system of lock houses, locks, mosquitoes and mud.

Six guys in ages ranging from early boomer to late boomers with shiny bikes and expensive equipment were just starting out making the trip from Georgetown to Pittsburgh. The rains of recent days had left the path fairly muddy. The paces varied. In the next twenty five miles I would be asked by various of these riders if and how long ago others had passed. Towards sunset, one early boomer appeared to be interested in pushing the group onward to Whites Ferry where I would eventually spend the night.

Luckily, I did just that because the heavens opened and further messed up the trail. I decided I had experienced enough of the trail and wanted a non-mud route. I had seen turtles sunning themselves, great gray herons, deer, snakes, enormous carp sloshing in the muck of the canal. It was good for 35 miles but no more given the extra miles, mud and lack of services.

Whites Ferry is Just that. Mr.White operates the last of its kind and his employees take you on a ferry attached to a wire and a tractor to save thirty miles. No bridge, and people in these parts--although close to DC--like it at way. Except with flooding today there is no I go towards Winchester Va.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Getting over the Bay Bridge and Delaware...

I'd portaged through NYC Port Authority, passed through the dregs of Atlantic City, Crossed the Delaware from Cape May; the sun was out, the road ahead flat and straight, no problems. Life was good And i was Out on Del 16 when a loose end of a bungee cord caught a spoke then wrapped itself into the rear gears.
Everything came to a halt. I quickly realized I was over my head.

No bike shop open before 11:00 and if it doesn't carry Cannondale parts I'll have to go to Annapolis. That's $395 in a cab. The Motel desk clerk is online doing a bicycle tutorial. He comes out with pliers and the two of us bend and tug and jointly acknowledge a bicycle mechanic is needed. I call the bush pilot/cyclist Dan in Calif who is from Lewes about his thoughts; this guy is so on the ball. "Hold on I'm calling my brother. He's taking his wife to Annapolis today." A Delaware Trooper gets in on it. Then drives off. The Indian housekeepers are hanging on the balcony speaking Hindi. Dan calls back. "There's a shop a quarter mile down the road.  Let me know if you need anything else." The motel clerk is back online. "25 miles," he says. After no more than 1/4 mile, I hear a whistle, its the bike mechanic across the divided highway. Dan had called him.

Shaeffers Bicycle doesn't inspire confidence. It's a series of connected metal warehouses piled floor to ceiling with everything bicycle new and old, more than I have ever see in my life...more than most anyone could even imagine.

Wally and Cindy - my heroes.

"If you can get this fixed, you're my heroes," I say up front and meaning it. They pull out old parts and jointly do what was happening back at the motel talking all the while.

Cindy's husband, thirty her senior, died in 2010 and left her with two sons that sleep late and the bike Store. Wally has a wife in Tenn. twenty years his senior whom he hopes to get back to. A scruffy dog in a beat up chair barks when the door opens. "hush up Jacky". Cindy says, I'll be out in a minute."...Customers are just people who stop by at Shaeffers Bike Shop. If they happen to spend money, that's okay too.

Cindy is a self-confessed hoarder. She says her husband was too. She announces, "I'm going to clean this place up one day. I have a man friend in Florida I thought about going there."   She directs and fine tunes Wally's work. From this chaos comes a repair that works as good as new and I have two heroes and its not yet noon.

The rest of Delaware I found exceptionally dull. It explains how after all these years I didn't have much of an impression about the place. In the two days I've been here, I've read more signs or heard more references to the way to get OUT of Delaware....THE BRIDGE, THE FERRY.  The land is flat, fertile, and highly farmed. The roads are straight and flat. There don't appear to be a lot of dogs, horses or public parks or places to go. The food is hoagies and pizzas. Nothing too interesting in the way of housing. The states history with George Washington throwing the coin across the Delaware is manufactured. Oh, well. There are two heroes at Shaeffers Bike Shop in Lewes, Delaware and that's enough for one day. Away I ride toward the Chesapeake bay bridge,

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Delaware Crossing, Part II

You have to love a summer place. There is an intentional disregard for much that consumes 12 month homes and towns.  The colors become less serious. They seem to be set up with no work in mind but sitting, relaxing, and, if you're lucky, just gazing at the ocean. Some creative methods are employed to get folks a peek at the surf.  The widow's walk is a modern variation atop three story homes here otherwise blocked from an ocean view.


I can't imagine these places as entirely useful for aging boomers. Most of the newer homes have garages on the first floor and living space on the next two and use every square inch of property for building these enormous homes. If rental property can be packaged into the deal, all the better.

I promise my wife I will visit her shore town of Stone Harbor. It is a very pleasant family-oriented  town with lovely shops on a Main Street--or that was the way it was remembered. Word had reached Karen that her family's little Cape Cod style house had been sold once since her Mother sold it around 1980 for just above seven figures. This seemed unimaginable. The real estate market and what it does with ocean view property is, well.... Stupid! One day before too long it will be underwater in all ways.

Karen's place in Stone Harbor

I make it in time for the last Ferry at six. The 18 mile/80 minute crossing not only saves time but offers an exotic feel to a trip. Dolphins jump and dance as this steel hulk pulls out the harbor.  "Don't feed the sea gulls," the signs read. Encouraging them could cause a kid with a hot dog to get a real scare. The winds have the surf up and even this ship capable of carrying 100 vehicles had passengers going for the sea sickness bags.

I'm stationary and people come by and ask standard questions. "Where did you start?"  "Where are you going?"  "Where do you sleep?"  "How do you eat?" I like to give short answers because folks want to talk of their adventures. I like to hear their stories.  It seems to encourage their sense of adventure. They remember what it was like to take chances, to feel youthful.

Wifi is everywhere including this boat. I decide to e-mail Warm Showers, a bicycle home share that I've hosted but never been a guest of.  Here's one: A guy who's crossed  both the US and Canada on bike. Oh, he's been a pilot for humanitarian causes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It is nearly dark by the time the boat gets to Lewes, Delaware.  It looks it could rain any moment and it is getting dark fast. I start down the road assessing all the options including any place that is dry where I wouldn't be conspicuous or pulled in as a vagrant. I think this undignified for someone my age but there aren't a lot of options now. I ride for maybe six to ten miles. I don't have a computerized odometer--they made me obsessive. It's getting real dark. Finally, I come upon a pleasant motel set back and I settle in.  Just as I'm closing my eyes the cell rings and its Dan the bush pilot.  He's on the west coast working.

 "Sure the place is my parents' down the road and they gladly said they would take a guest. It's their payback for all the nice folks who took me in when I crossed Canada and the US. " Total strangers, we chatted.  Then  rolled over and went to sleep.

Dry Delaware night - in the hotel.

Atlantic City to Ferry and Across the Delaware; 63 miles

No visibility.  Fog and light rain were the prediction.  I had to backtrack through an area of Atlantic City.  As a child, Atlantic City came up at Miss America time in the fall. There was one TV in the house and it would have been unthinkable--Un-American--for a patriotic family to pass on host Bert Parks from Atlantic City with 50 or 51 beauties in the Miss America Pageant. Mothers and daughters would cry  when he would sing.

That was a more innocent time that would bore most younger people; Atlantic City was a dream place then.  The boardwalk and hotels were elegant and an enormous source of pride for New Jersey. It had something that neighboring New York didn't.

I'm sorry Chris Christie, I hope everything works out for you.  You probably want to be President and your weight would undoubtedly be an issue....  I see it is a national point of discussion today. Many boomers remember the glory and Donald Trump can't make it better. Enough.

Atlantic, Baltic, Ventnor. Oh, Monopoly must been inspired by this place!

The town of Ventnor is next. I had a roommate, Rizzo from Philadelphia. His parents had a giant summer house here. This was long before The Sopranos, but the pieces started coming together.

There are a thousand or more intersections between Atlantic City and Cape May at the southern tip of NJ. On a bicycle, every intersection could be a problem. I've drawn the free from jail card: there is almost no traffic.

The giant brick homes of Ventnor and Margate set on postage stamp lots become wood by Ocean City.

I turn and go a couple blocks and ride the boardwalk. The Atlantic to my left, a wall of two- to three-storey perfectly kept summer homes mile after mile after mile. This is the scene for nearly sixty miles except for estuaries and bridges that cars pay $1.50 to cross between towns. I relish my cyclist status, passing free through tolls.

Sandy's impact not as great as closer to NYC but it explains the small army of contractors in panel trucks and pickups that are painting, sawing, and generally readying homes and rentals for next month.  That's  about all the human activity here this time of year in this weather  Flat as a pancake, good tailwind, no traffic or rain.

My way of crossing the Delaware.