Saturday, October 30, 2010

In our last episode: Your bold heroes were riding their steeds into the capital of our great nation. As the daylight grew dim, they found themselves with weary legs in unknown areas of the unfamiliar city. With over 70 miles of hilly terrain behind them, your heroes were faced with a decision: continue to pedal in through the dark streets of Washington, or hire a taxi to complete the ride in safety.

Well, we can no longer claim that we rode from Maine to Florida entirely on bicycles. We rode the last 5 miles to Craig's apartment on Capitol a taxi. This proved to be one of the best decisions we've (it was Vanessa's decision) made, because we would have ridden our bikes for at least another hour in the dark to find Craig's apartment. When we arrived, Craig did his best to pretend like we hadn't showered in ***** days (Editor's note: the number of days without shower has been withheld to protect the privacy of your heroes). We then showered, and proceeded to shindig at Capitol City Brewing Co. with a huge pile of friends. Shout out to
Jeff and Erica, their friends Jason and Susie, Shelley, Bobby Chiu!

The next day, Craig became a tour guide for us, and showed us some cool stuff around Capitol Hill that we would have never otherwise found. Our first notable event happened before we even arrived at our initial destination. As we walked past an average townhome, we saw a box set by the curb. The box whispered to us: "Search through me, and take whatever strikes your interest." So we searched. And we found treasure. I found a belt buckle with a built-in bottle opener. Vanessa found 5 seasons worth of Simpson's episodes on DVD. Score!

After our free junk score, we walked through Eastern Market and filled up on free apples,
crab cakes, empanadas, brownies, fried green tomatoes, and iced tea. We were able to justify our caloric intake by repeating to ourselves, "We be ridin' to Flawduh!" That afternoon, we took the Metro for the first time, and checked out Craig's law school, which is a few blocks from the White House and very nicely appointed. Not a bad location for mastery of The Law.

Our afternoon walking around D.C. left us famished. Before describing our dinner that night, I must point out that "ours is a nation of laws, not of men." One of these laws is "Upon sensation of the hunger, thou shalt fill thy belly with a chili dog from Ben's Chili Bowl." Fearing being branded an outlaw, I stopped at Ben's Chili Bowl to sample their chili smothered franks. Ben's is not a restaurant. It is an experience. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best hot dog in existence. Mindblowingly good.

15 minutes after the Ben's-induced out of body experience, we sat down at an Ethiopian restaurant, where we enjoyed the other best-meal-of-the-day that day. Ethiopian food is unlike anything I've eaten before, but the rosy and woozy feeling of satisfaction that I felt after stuffing myself is enough to convince me that Ethiopian food is good in a very serious way. Imagine Indian food with more spice served on a spongy, tangy bread. No need for utensils. A perfect meal!

Our last day in Washington began with more culinary escapades, and ended with more traditional tourism. To start the day, Vanessa, Bobby Chiu, and myself stumbled upon a Salvadoran pupuseria. A few months ago, Bobby showed me and Vanessa around Houston's chinatown, and we had some very memorable and delicious Chinese dishes (stinky tofu was delicious!). That day, Bobby and Vanessa got a taste of the mighty pupusa in......the middle of D.C. It was an unlikely place to find a huge concentration of Salvadoran folks, but the food was almost as good as back in El Salvador.

After the meal, Vanessa and I did like good tourists do and rode around all of the monuments. Normally, the typical monument isn't able to establish a dialogue with the present. They often embody only the days gone by, and their stories are only told by dusty history books. The monuments in Washington are different. They breathe.

As we rode from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, from the Roosevelt to the Jefferson, I felt a connection to those enshrined men. At the risk of sounding excessively reverent, this entire bike trip would have been an impossibility had it not been for the direction of Lincoln during the Civil War. To add some perspective, without Lincoln, we would have needed a passport to cross into Virginia. The leadership of those men in those days past has defined our lives in the present day, and, all political squabbling aside, we have much to be thankful for.

Recap: Philly to DC

Sorry for the lack of posts lately ... we've been camping a lot, thus, no internet access.  We're in Ashland, VA right now. It's a quaint little train town with a great coffee shop (The Station Cafe).

Back to where Ed left off in our last post...

So, we finally left Manayunk Brewery (much to our dismay) and it was about 4pm. We didn't have much daylight left, and ended up putting in a record-breaking 22 miles that day.  We camped in an abandoned civil war-era house (or what was left of it) near Valley Forge. We were awakened the next morning with a symphony of geese. Been seeing a lot of Canada geese up here.  We rode through Valley Forge, which was George Washington's winter encampment during the Revolutionary War.

Monument at Valley Forge.

Cannon at the monument.

Llamas (or alpacas?) were an interesting change of scenery from our usual horses and cows.

After Valley Forge, we rode a few days through the Pennsylvania countryside. We were both surprised at how much farmland we passed, and how hilly Pennsylvania was. We saw a lot of Mennonites and even a few Amish folks making their way through the towns.

We met a really nice older gentleman, Sam, who was curious about our bikes and talked us up a bit about traveling. Super friendly guy who built and restored antique furniture. It's always refreshing to meet such nice people along the way.

Some people have asked us if we ever have to worry about wild animals when we camp out. You know, racoons, deer, bears, etc. Well, we finally had our first animal encounter.  One particularly chilly evening, we were camped behind a church and we left some food in the vestibule of the tent (outside the tent but inside the rain fly) for breakfast in bed the next morning.  I woke up in the middle of the night to a strange crunching sound - it sounded like something was walking on the tarp that we put over our bikes.  I looked over and saw some kind of animal in the vestibule and I just about wet my sleeping bag.  I looked out of the rain fly in time to see a small stray cat dart under the tarp, about 5 feet from our tent. He had been munching on some tortillas that we had stashed for breakfast.  Relieved, I tossed them out of the tent so Kitty could finish his snack, and since then we've made sure to store all the food in dry bags away from where we're sleeping.

Sunrise (can you believe we were up early enough?)

After the cat-tortilla incident, we woke up and had breakfast (sans tortillas) and made our way to the Bethel United Methodist Church near New Bridgeville, PA.  We stopped in and asked for some water, and they happened to be having a rummage sale. We couldn't pass up the ham bean soup, nor the chicken corn soup. Yum! So good, especially on a cold day. We also had some great rice krispie treats and walnut pumpkin cookies. The nice church folks warned us about a killer hill that was coming up, and they weren't lying. Wow. Beautiful scenery, but we could have done without the hill!

Welcome to Maryland!

The first night we stayed in Maryland, we camped on a farm, and woke up to tractors running, as well as frost on our bags (a first for the trip). We're tired of the cold weather, by the way! Stopped in Glyndon, MD at an excellent grocery store for coffee, bagels, and egg sandwiches. We even picked up a box of girl scout cookies (I used to be a girl scout, if you'll believe that!). We had a big day of riding into DC that day, and rode about 20 miles of the way into town on bike trails as well as an awesome street that they close to car traffic on the weekend (it was a Saturday). Score!

Fixing wheels en route.

We made it to our friend Craig's house in time to take a much-needed shower and go out and get a beer and a burger with some of my friends! More on that in the next post. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The city of Brotherly Love should be called the city of Bicycle Love

The ride into Philly from our campsite by the railroad was something more than leisurely, and something less than muscle failure (see, e.g. the first day of Maine). The route into Philly came equipped with an optical illusion: we appeared to be riding downhill most of the way, but we only travelled at 8mph. After 20 miles of this, we became rather frustrated by our lack of progress. Then, Philly opened its big, bicycle friendly arms and embraced us with a smooth bike path down the Schyulkill (pronounced skoo-kl) right into the heart of downtown.

Across the Schyulkill was a mansion-turned-hostel where we spent two nights. The hostel was called Chamounix Mansion, and it was only a 5 mile ride from downtown. Not bad for $20 a night! Their cheap rates freed up some space in the ol' pocketbook for a night on the town! After the preceding statement, the readership would normally be treated to stories of extravagant limousine rides, libations, and celebrity sightings. Not so, readership.

After spending roughly a month on a bike lugging a trailer, we have developed a routine: ride bikes all day, go to bed at 8PM. We attempted to go to a brewpub, whereupon we would spend hours over beers and make dozens of new friends. We succeeded in arriving at a great beer place, but failed the second and third parts of the plan. We did, however, experience a veritable tabernacle of beers. Monk's Cafe comes as close as you can to worshipping beer without being accused of alcoholism. Interesting Beer of the Night Award went to Vanessa, who had an ale aged in Japanese sake casks.

The next day gave us a glimpse into Philly life in a way that no tour guide could. Liz planned to get back to her car back in Delaware Water Gap by Greyhound bus, which allowed her to take her bike only if she boxed it up. Thus began the scavenger hunt around Philly for a bike shop that had a box big enough for Liz's chariot. We rode around for a few hours, enjoying bike lanes almost the entire day, until we stumbled upon a most excellent and friendly bike shop that gave us a box. We strapped the box to my bike, which made me as wide as a car. They also pointed us in the direction of the Tattooed Mom, a great restaurant which had hundreds of those cheap, cheesy vending machine toys to play with while we waited for our food. We then wheeled the bike box over to the Greyhound station, and bid Liz adieu.

Enough with the play-by-play, and on with the color commentary. Philadelphia is not the murky, hostile town that I expected. From the moment we rode into the city. we all sensed a unique energy in the city. The city was busy, but not bustling. People were active, but not tediously so. We saw folks young and old in every manner of dress buzzing by in bike lanes on every style of bike imaginable (except pennyfarthings, which are weird). We saw rowers, hipsters, runners, lawyers, cyclists, immigrants, rollerbladers, and tourists, all of whom were actually friendly. Folks said hello, no cars honked at us, and the food was excellent. What more can you ask of a city?

Plenty, actually. You can ask the city, "Can you serve me a big plate of history?!" Philly served it up hot and fresh (actually, over 200 years old). We visited Independence Hall, which is the maternity ward into which our country was delivered. The building itself was innocuous and small, and looked like the hundreds of rural town halls that we had seen throughout New England. But once we were inside, we could almost see the ghosts of the founding fathers milling about and arguing over the language of the Declaration of Independence. If you, dear reader, find yourself yearning to connect with the spirit of independence and democracy, visit Philadelphia.

The room where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

The actual chair that George Washington sat in while delegates from the 13 states debated the Constitution.
The place where Jerry sits.

So strong was our desire to connect with the forefathers that the next day we were only able to ride 8 miles before we were drawn in by the smell of Ben Franklin's favorite drink: Ye Olde Beer. Early into our ride, we passed the smell of malted barley and beer-a-cooking. Naturally, we popped our heads into the Manayunk Brewing Co. to see what was brewing. As homebrewers, Vanessa and I take a purely scientific and culinary interest in beer. We ordered a flight of 2 oz. tasters of Manayunk Brewing Co.'s beers, which proved to be some of the Best Beer I've Ever Drank (seriously good beer). Given the quality of this beer, Vanessa and I "researched" the beer for the next 3 hours. During our research, we met the head brewer and chatted with him a bit. As we were about to leave, we began talking to a gentleman named Maurice about bikes and the insurance business, which helped extend our research for a bit longer. Needless to say, we didn't ride too far that day!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Can openers hate us

So... we're a little behind on the blog. Sorry! We haven't had much internet access. Anyways, today we had our 2nd day off in DC. We'll get there in a few more posts. In the mean time, I'll finish up where Ed left off last post..

In our lovely camping spot where we had pie (and beans...eventually) for dinner. Here's another picture of us with Liz:

Well, we've had a bit of trouble with our can opener. Our first one was an older one that I'd picked up somewhere fancy - like a gas station - and used to take on camping trips with me. It saw occasional use, but not every day. It was getting harder and harder for us to get a good clamp on the can. Not to mention, the mechanism holding the blade to the handle was plastic, so it (of course) split in half and suddenly became a really ugly paperweight.

We got to a grocery store in Belvidere (which, by the way, has one hotel on the bike map. We called thinking we'd stay there, and when I said 'bicycle', the guy almost hung up on me. I'm willing to bet he'd have slammed the door in our faces after we had ridden 60 miles uphill and in the rain, had we ridden 60 miles. Apparently the guy had a 'bad experience' with cyclists and doesn't let them stay any more. I'm serious. Lesson? Don't ever stay in Belvidere, NJ. Also, always call before staying at a hotel) and at this grocery store, we had a choice between two can openers... one for $3 and one for $8. Let's get the $8 one, we thought. It must be better-made and it has a nice twisty knob.

So, we get to camp and I have the privilege of testing our brand spankin' new can opener. Ooooohhh, it runs so smoothly and easily along the lip of the can for the first inch and a half. Until it falls apart in my hand. I'm not even joking. There were suddenly can opener bits all over the floor of my tent (yeah yeah, you're not supposed to eat in the tent. It was cold.) So, after a few attempts at repairing the thing, we gave up and used pliers on a multi tool and the knife on our wine opener (which, by the way, works like a champ). Score? Ed: 1. Can of beans: 0. Belvidere, NJ: -1000. Can openers: -1,000,000.

Begin rant: As an engineer, this kind of crappy design makes me furious. The problem was (if you care) that the outer guiding wheel was inside threaded and attached the sprocket and washer onto the body of the opener via the outer threaded screw in the twisty knob (yes, that's its scientific name). So, as you turn the twisty knob, the guiding wheel turns along the bottom of the lip of the can (like it's supposed to) and unscrews from the twisty knob, leaving parts of can opener all over your tent.  Since the thing was made of aluminum, the threads stripped very easily and couldn't go back together. Plus, you had maybe half a thread of attachment point in the first place, so voila... an $8 paperweight.  And superglue did nothing to help. We tried. (End rant)

Anyways, aside from can opener issues, we had a great time riding with Liz. It was fun making up songs and catching leaves while riding. There was more beautiful Delaware River scenery:

And then we came to Milford. We weren't expecting to start our BBQ tour so soon, but there was a couple there who had some stellar barbecue. We had pulled pork and beef sandwiches and cornbread that were out of sight. So good. They had two types of sauces: one that was molasses and tomato based (my favorite) and the other that was apple cider vinegar based. Yum.

We also stopped in Frenchtown, NJ, another cool town. Coffee, bike shop, back on the road. Had a nice bike lane for a while (wider than the cars' lane!) and then hopped on a bike-only trail for about 8 miles. We crossed into Pennsylvania (again..for the last time) in New Hope. Check it out:

We ended up camping near some railroad tracks (the local SPCA turned us down... but had a cute goat) that we were told were used by a steam locomotive that my dad would have loved between the hours of 11am-6pm. Perfect, we thought. They don't get an early start, and we can get some sleep. To be fair, we should have assumed there were other trains that might use the tracks. Around 9-10 pm (bedtime), we were awakened by a distant thundering that was slowly getting louder. Is that...what we think it is? Whoooooo whoooooo, went the whistle. Sure enough. We were hoping for some peace and quiet... we probably weren't supposed to be camping there. And we had about 3 meager trees hiding our two tents and three bikes. So the train stopped, right in front of our campsite. A couple minutes later, we heard voices. There were guys outside changing the cars around or switching the tracks or something. We got kind of scared.. what if they find us? What if they tell us to leave; where will we go? Finally, after what felt like eternity (it was probably 3 minutes total), the train pulled away and we were left in peace. Liz jumped into mine and Ed's two man tent in case the train guys came back. It was a little cozy, but it worked. Reminded me of Texas 4000! No more trains for us, though, thankfully. We were fine.

We rode our last 30-40 miles into Philadelphia, 11 of which were on a really nicely paved biking/running trail that led us right into the heart of Philly, where we had just enough time to meet up with Liz's sister, who happened to also be in town visiting some friends.

More about Philly in the next post (this one's long enough!)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Maryland! And over 1000 miles for the trip! Hoping for DC (and a few full blog posts) tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Left Philly today, got sidetracked 5 miles later at Manayunk brewery. Might be here for a while...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pie in my pocket

We had our first ride-a-long buddy today. Vanessa's friend Liz drove down from New Haven, CT with a bike and some panniers for a 3 day fun ride.
We started the day with a nutritious breakfast: hot dogs and pie. About .35 miles into our ride, we happened upon a mom and pop pie stand. We told ourselves that we are burning plenty of calories every day, so what's the harm in eating pie for breakfast? We also bought a strawberry rhubarb pie to eat for dinner. Liz decided to stow the pie that she bought in her jersey pocket. This choice in pie storage led to Liz writing a song about having a pie in her pocket.
Eventually, Liz came to depend upon her pocket for stowing fresh produce as well. That is a cucumber in her pocket.

Once we actually got on the road, we had some great weather and a friendly tail wind. The leaves were falling all around us, so we tried to catch the leaves as we passed. I only succeeded in catching the leaves in my face, though.

We rode alongside the Delaware River all day, so we didn't have to depend on the map as much as we normally do. Along the river, we saw the gigantic cooling towers of a nuclear (noo-cue-laar) power plant, which was an interesting break in the scenery.

All, in all, it was a very pleasant day of riding, all shared with good company. Towards the end of the day, we scouted out a great park for setting up camp, ate our pie for dinner, and slept like babies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fun Fact: The city of Delaware Water Gap is in New Jersey

In our last episode, your heroes were camped behind an elementary school in sub-arctic temperatures. They woke from their slumber early so that they would elude detection from the young scholars making their way to their morning lessons. This was the first mistake of the day for your intrepid heroes.

The idea was to get out of Cuddebackville early so that we could make it to Belvidere, NJ by the end of the day. However, our early departure led to the discovery of a scientific fact. It did not lead to our arrival in Belvidere. The fact: biking when it is cold leads to numbness of the extremities, and makes me a whiny, wimpy baby.

The temperature was barely warm enough for our water to be liquid, and the faster we pedaled, the more our eyes watered and the less we could feel our toes. We rode 2 miles in the cold, and I couldn't feel my hands or my feet. I began to convince myself that I had frostbite, and that I would have to ask Vanessa to amputate my toes.

So, 2 miles into our day, we stop at a tiny breakfast place to drink coffee, eat a bagel, and regain feeling in our extremities. This ritual was so comforting that it lasted for over an hour. We told ourselves, "Who cares if we lost a couple of hours of riding? It's better that we ride when the temperature is a bit warmer anyway. Besides, we'll be following the Delaware River all day today, so the terrain will be flat." Mistake #2. We expected the terrain to be something that it clearly was not.

We rode on a very isolated road for a good bit of the day, and the road was moderately flat. Flat, that is, until it got hilly. And rainy. On goes the rain gear. I had trouble seeing for most of the day because my glasses got wet and foggy. We also had trouble riding too, because the hills were steeeeeeeep! We'd climb a steep hill, and then get a gradual downhill for a few minutes. Then another monster of a hill. On the final monster hill, we decided that we would move faster and put our energy to better use if we just walked the bikes up the hill. I've never claimed to be a tough guy, but those hills proved that I am indeed not a tough guy.

We did meet a Real Life Tough Guy, though. We took a break on the side of an isolated road, and a gentleman passed by in a car and asked if we needed help. We told him that we were just relaxing, and he told us that he was a former touring cyclist himself. Jack had ridden his bike across just about every road in the United States. I would estimate that Jack has a few hundred thousand miles of cycling underneath his belt. He told us some great stories from his time on the road, and wished us well. He also told us to expect some more hills. Ugh.

If we remove the hills and the rain from the day, the ride was impressive in a serious way. The Delaware Water Gap gave my eyeballs all the fall colors they could take, even through the rainy muck. The clouds also played some interesting tricks by rolling down the sides of the river valley, almost like fog.

As we kept riding, we realized that we probably wouldn't make more than 55 miles that day, so Vanessa called her friend Liz to tell her that we wouldn't be able to make it the extra 15 miles to Belvidere, and we agreed to meet in the city of Delaware Water Gap, NJ. The Appalachian Trail runs through this city, and, since the hiking season is over, the hotel we got was cheap and empty. And when I say empty, I mean empty like The Shining. But, they had dry, warm beds, and insanely cheap rates. So, we ordered 4 pounds of buffalo wings, ate, and fell into some much needed comfortable sleep.

Tasty day!

October 13 2010

Today we left New Paltz, NY. What a cool town. It’s got some amazing scenery and it’s a funky little town where I could definitely see myself sometime in the future. The guy who owned New Paltz Hostel (super nice guy, by the way! And if you’re ever in the area, you should definitely stay there) said that they’re packed in the summer with folks who come to the area to climb the nearby Shawangunk Mountains. Check them out; they’re gorgeous. (I'll post pictures soon... too tired right now, sorry!)

We had a good day - late start (we saw frost on the cars when we got up this morning, so we weren’t exactly in a hurry. Then Ed got another flat tire…way to go. The flat tire count is Ed: 4. Vanessa: 2) and it was quite hilly at times, but we were treated to such a fantastic view of the mountains with all the beautiful colors that we had a hard time being too upset about the hills. Plus we talked to some horses and cows along the way.

On one of the hillier sections, we met up with a local cyclist who said hi and asked where we were headed. We chatted for a bit, then he zoomed off in a bolt of lightning. I’m pretty sure he broke the sound barrier, actually…. we were wondering where that sonic boom came from. (Or maybe it’s just that everyone seems super fast when you’re towing 70-lb trailers… we weighed them this morning.)

Our speedy cyclist buddy came back about 10 minutes later and asked if we needed to refill our water bottles or anything, and we said sure, since we were running low. He invited us back to his house, which was close by (and up a steep hill, of course, but totally worth it!). He introduced himself as Tony, and when we got back to his house, we met his wife Ann and his dog Kayla. We talked for a bit about cycling and about RAGBRAI, a week-long annual ride across Iowa (I was wearing my jersey today), and I hope I see them on next year’s ride!

Tony told us that he was also living the dream, like so many folks we’ve met on this trip. He’s just quit his “real” job to go into business selling his own special recipe of energy bars and granola, under the name Black Lab Naturals (named after his sweet dog Kayla). He said he’d been making it for years, and decided to start selling it full-time. He gave us a couple bags of granola and a box of energy bars made from nuts and dates, all of which are absolutely fantastic. Seriously. This stuff blows those Clif bars out of the water. And they’re cleverly named… “Date-a-nut”… which seems appropriate for me! The granola is so tasty and crunchy, we’re going to have to stop tomorrow and get some yogurt and fruit for this stuff. I’m planning to get some via mail order because it’s so good. Maybe I can talk some folks in Texas into distributing. And it’s all natural - you can pronounce all the ingredients and everything. Check out their website and get some for yourself: - you won’t be disappointed, I promise!!

We’re almost in New Jersey right now, camped out behind an elementary school in Cuddebackville, NY (what a name). Should be into Jersey early tomorrow (hopefully it won’t be very rainy, but it‘s in the forecast) and we’ll be meeting up with a friend of mine from Austin, Elizabeth, who is now in law school at Yale. I’m excited to have our first ride-along! It’ll be a great time! Stay tuned…
New jersey! (we think...there was no sign) and 700 miles for the trip, woo!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I love NY

So we had a lazy morning this morning (like most mornings, I suppose) and got on the road around 11. Stopped by a post office and mailed home more stuff we didn't need (bathing 50 degree weather? Not so useful) and we ran into the nicest lady who offered her place for us to do laundry and camp out. Unfortunately, we were only 5 miles into the day, so we had to politely decline.

Rode into New York on a sweet downhill and very shortly got onto a nice (beautiful) trail, the Harlem Valley Rail Trail.  Almost 9 miles of no cars, yay! Actually, most of the day was on low-traffic roads; we got to converse with cows, llamas, sheep, and horses today. And we had a pretty sweet lunch spot - what a great view! It was near the top of our elevation for the day, so we got treated to a fantastic view of the beautiful trees, which are all changing colors in quite a dramatic fashion.

 Welcome to New York!

 Harlem Valley Rail Trail

Nice view from our lunch spot.

We met a nice lady on the Rail Trail who had done some cycling through the US and England, and she was excited for us to be on this trip. Most folks we meet have said 'Oh, I wish that was something I'd done when I was young', so it was nice to meet a fellow (former) cyclist.

We crossed an awesome pedestrian bridge in Poughkeepsie - Walkway Over The Hudson - that had apparently just opened a year ago. Very popular, too; there were lots of folks going across. It gave great views of the Hudson and kept us off the busier bridge and away from the cars! A few photos from the Hudson bridge:

Now we're staying in the New Paltz Hostel talking politics with a few folks, doing laundry, and looking forward to sleeping in a bed tonight. There's a frost warning tonight, so it'll be nice to be indoors! Tomorrow, we're headed to New Jersey. Stay tuned!

Stardate: Oct. 12

Yesterday: Canton, CT to Salisbury, CT. A late start, a short day, and a great campsite.
The night before we left my Tio Donfer's house, there was a bit of a scare. Tia Ale got the phone call that no child's mother wants: one your child's friends has........lice. Meltdown initiation sequence: activated. The kids were promptly scrubbed down with lice genocide shampoo. Then, I noticed that I had an itch on my head. I thought for a split-second that I may be the most recent victim of an infestation. So Vanessa checked my scalp (see e.g., the Rhesus monkey), and I was infestation free. So, we got another night of great indoor sleep in preparation for a big day ahead.

The big day ahead began at 11AM-ish. 2.5 hours behind schedule. We were a little ways off route, so we used Googlemaps as our navigator and got back on route. We had an easy ride, and we took plenty of breaks. During one of the breaks, we sat on the lawn of a mechanic's shop to eat a scrumptious Clif bar when we were approached by a rather shy gentleman. He asked if we were riding our bikes. We answered in the affirmative. He then asked if we needed a yard to camp in and a place to do laundry. This was something of a mis-timed random act of generosity. It was roughly 1PM, and we had only ridden 20 miles. We politely declined, and I tried to prod the shy gentleman into conversation. I failed in this endeavor, and the gentleman disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.

We continued the ride, and took a small detour off of the main highway about 30 miles into the ride. The detour had three points of interest: a huge furnace from the industrial revolution, Land of Nod winery, and Mr. Awkward. The huge furnace was huge, and used to produce iron until 1912. The winery had a great blueberry wine, which we bought, and subsequently drank. Mr. Awkward was a man who rode up on a bike when we were at the furnace, and asked if we were Patty and Mike. No, sorry Mr. Awkward, we are not Patty and Mike. Why? Oh........I thought you were Patty and Mike......they have touring bikes too. Oh great, we say. There was a rather long pause, which, after a small amount of time, became awkward. Mr. Awkward asked us a few more questions, and we asked him a few questions, but conversation eventually fizzled out, and Mr. Awkward skittered away.

So, we keep riding.

40 miles in, and we cross the Appalachian Trail. I expected a big sign, a marching band, and legions of filthy hikers. Instead, we almost missed it. We had to turn around, and saw a very small sign, and a footpath about 1 foot wide. That was it. We decided to stop and walk down the trail for a bit.

*********NEWS ALERT**********

Not only are we biking across the U.S., but we have also hiked the Appalachian Trail. Booya.

Continuing our regularly scheduled programming: the Appalachian Trail spoke to us, so we decided to set up camp there. And camp we did.

Photographic evidence: Blast furnace
The AT

Excelsior! We are now in New York.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


So the Black Tavern turned out very well for us. We met some great folks, learned about history, and Bob even brought us some breakfast and coffee in the morning. (thanks!!) We met a few other members of the historical society who were arriving as we were packing up in the morning to help with renovations and upkeep on the tavern. I hope they didn't have to call a firetruck to get anyone off the roof!

We crossed into Connecticut about 3-4 miles after leaving the tavern, where we took this super awesome photo with the delay timer on the camera (okay, we weren't quite ready for the shot. We'll get the hang of this eventually). Upon entering Connecticut, we were greeted with beautiful scenery, demoralizing wind, and hellacious hills. It felt like we went uphill all day. I think I set a new low-speed record of 2.3 mph climbing one of these beasts.

We stopped for a drink and a snack at J&T's Tackle and Fly, where we were greeted by a ferocious-looking beagle and his owner. Really nice lady - we had a good conversation but we had to get back on the road.  We were hoping to make it to Ed's uncle's house for dinner.

We passed by a pumpkin patch and a Christmas tree farm, which were cool. Neither of us had ever actually seen a pumpkin patch before, and it was a nice distraction from the hills and the wind.

We passed by at least half a dozen of these huge fields just full of pumpkins. I wonder where they all will go.

Not sure what happened on the lighting on this one... maybe I can fix it later with some kind of photo editing software.

We ended up riding about 70 long miles on Friday. It was getting dark on us the last bit, but we ended up on a rail trail for about 7-8 miles (dedicated to bikes; no cars allowed!) and we were mostly in neighborhoods as well. We made it to Tio Donfer's house (everyone gets nicknames in Ed's family; when his uncle was little, they called him Don Fernando, which was shortened to Donfer. Ed is called Dito: his real name is Eduardo, and Dito is short for Eduardito), where we were greeted by two very excited little boys, Juan Marcos and Matias, Ed's cousins. (Ed's uncle, aunt, and aunt's sister were also there, but they weren't jumping around nearly as much as the boys) We were also greeted by a delicious lasagna dinner, a warm shower, and a beer. Fantastic!

Saturday we took the day off - Ed's littlest cousin, Valentina, was being baptized. The ceremony was nice but Valentina was not at all excited about the water from the baptism. She cheered right up after being fed. They had a nice party at the house after the ceremony - the kids played on a bouncy house, there was a ton of food and cake, and there was some wine and beer for the big kids. Tio Donfer's friends even sang and danced for us, and they got me speaking some Spanish. It was a really fun time.

Family photo with the priest. The boys had gone outside already to play.

Valentina, once again a happy baby.

Ed's cousins, Juan Marcos and Matias, in their Halloween costumes.

What baptism party is complete without a bouncy house?

Ed had this little ninja attached to his leg for at least 20 minutes.

Today we were treated to a tour of ESPN - Tio Donfer works for ESPN Deportes, the Spanish-speaking ESPN channel, so we got to check out some of the studios and wander around a few of the buildings on the campus. It was great! All the studios were really big and a little overwhelming. We didn't watch anything being filmed live, though. All the buildings had sports memorabilia, photos, jerseys, helmets, etc. all over the place too. We ran into Mike Ditka and Tim Hasselbeck as well. Check the photos on the Flickr photostream; I was able to snap a few with my phone.

All in all, it's been a really good time playing with the kids and hanging out with Ed's family. They've been great about taking us in and feeding us and entertaining us. Thanks so much! Come visit us in Texas when you get tired of all the snow this winter.

Living the dream

Today's forecast: a few well needed days off.

We set our first pseudo-deadline on Monday. We were going to ride a bit over 150 miles to get to my uncle's house in Connecticut by Friday. I anticipated an easy week of flat land and tail winds. A brief peek at the maps and the weather reports would have revealed that my anticipations were incorrect. We had a week of hills and headwinds and rain and hills, which made for a week of tired legs.

On Tuesday, our goal was to stay at the Friendly Crossways Hostel in Littleton, Massachussets. We woke up at our usual bright and early time, and we were greeted with a cold, consistent drizzle guessed it! Rain!

The rain did wonders for my mood, which was somewhere between grumpy and crotchety for most of the day. Up to this point, the sky had only graced us with sun for 2 and 1/2 days, and I was tired of being wet and cold. We rode 60 mildly unhappy and hilly miles to arrive at the hostel, and my mood took a turn for the better. We ran into Rene and Crystal Hoekstra, a Canadian couple who were also staying at the hostel. Rene and Crystal were 3 months into a year-long quest on their motorcycle, and I believe that it is safe to say that the Hoekstras are living the dream.

Here is their story, in thumbnail format: Crystal is a social worker, and she was given a year's leave, and Renee was dairy farmer. With the "now or never" timeline waning, they both dropped their workaday lives for a year on the road. They loaded up their Kawasaki motorcycle with camp gear, clothes, etc. (sounds familiar...) and plan on making their way around the U.S. and Canada. Check out the link to the left for more info on the cruising Canadians.

After the first night at the hostel, we scoped out the weather report, which told us that we would need gills to ride that day. Rain, rain, and rain. Say no more, Mr. Weatherman. I'll gladly oblige and take a day off and sit in bed and watch Arnold Schwarzneggar movies all day. And so went our Wednesday.

The day off put us in something of a bind. We needed to make roughly 130 miles now in 2 days. To make matters worse, the ride was going to be mainly uphill. Gameplan: wake up early, and pedal until the cows come home. On Thursday, only the second part of the plan was realized. We rode about 60 miles before it started getting dark, and we were nowhere near our scheduled campsite.

We spent a long half hour looking for a place to camp, and we finally came across a small field across the way from Nichols College in Dudley, MA. This field was adjacent to an old looking tavern. The porch of this tavern was populated by a man, a woman, and a dog with very big eyes. I asked the man if we could stay in the field, and he said that we should stay in the backyard of the tavern. The tavern turned out to be a 200 year old historical building and the current home of the Black Tavern Historical Society, and the man turned out to be Bob Ducharme, who was the live-in groundskeeper/history buff. The dog turned out to be, well, a dog. But a very friendly dog.

I believe that it is safe to say that Bob is also living the dream. After spending 37 years as a schoolteacher, and a similar amount of time as a passionate Civil War expert, he was presented with a great opportunity. The Black Tavern Historical Society needed a new groundskeeper, so they offered Bob the following opportunity: in exchange for your services as a history buff, you can live in the Black Tavern. In layman's terms, this means: "if you keep doing what you already do for fun, you can live in this completely cool house." Bob ran this proposition through the calculus of pros and cons, which revealed only 2 cons, and roughly one bazillion pros. He sold his house, and moved into the Tavern.

That night, Bob gave us a super secret tour of the Tavern, and a semester's worth of American Civil War history. All in all, a very, very cool way to end a day of riding.

We rode our bikes, and met some great people who know how to live the dream.

Tomorrow: 71 miles to my uncle's house in Connecticut!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

In Canton, CT - visiting Ed's relatives. Day off today and probably tomorrow. Full blog post coming soon!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pictures! And stuff!

At the pumpkin patch in Portsmouth, NH (The First United Methodist Church - see Ed's previous post). Thanks again for the strawberry rhubarb jelly... so good!

Riding through New Hampshire today (10/5/10), before we got rained on.

View from our campsite in Kingston, NH as the sun was going down.  Not too shabby!

Can't you tell? The sign behind us totally says 'Bienvenue. Welcome to
Massachusetts'. We gotta get better at the self-portrait thing.

So, I guess the photos kind of sum up the past few days.  We've been riding through a few tiny states, which gives us lots of opportunities to practice our picture taking, but doesn't give us much time to spend in each state. It would have been nicer to hang out more in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but every new state brings us closer to warm weather and (hopefully) less rain.

Also, wanted to mention the General Store in East Derry, NH. We rode past it, smelled something delicious, and turned around because the food smelled too good to pass up.  The pizza and calzones were fantastic, and we were really impressed with the beer selection!  Kind of wish I had my car with me so I could have gone shopping! And we had a great time talking to the chef (the cause of the delicious smell was pulled pork in the making, apparently) and some of the local folks.

Tonight we're staying near Littleton, Mass., apparently at the oldest continuously running hostel in the USA. Friendly folks! We also met some bikers (motorcyclists, that is) who are riding around the continent. They took a whole year off for their trip, too. I'm kinda jealous. Maybe next time!

Tomorrow we should be getting into Connecticut already. Pray for sun!

I may need to go to get me off of the strawberry-rhubarb jelly.

Seriously. This stuff is like candy, and I'm sure it just invites addiction.

I'll set the stage: we were moderately lost in Portsmouth, NH when we see no less than one zillion pumpkins arranged all over the lawn of a church. I thought that it would take divine intervention to even get such a quantity of pumpkin on a lawn, so we stopped to ask exactly what was going on.

We met a young lady named Ruth, who explained that the First United Methodist church holds an annual fundraiser this time of year. They have something of a pumpkin festival, and they also sell jams and jellies. This brings me to the title of this post. The strawberry-rhubarb jelly is unstoppable. We've already finished the jar we bought. Granted, we are eating more than normal, and the peanut butter/jelly sandwich is the best way to ingest maximum amounts of calories. But, a jar of that second-rate Smucker's lasts us at least 3 days. I'm no mathematician, but I believe that means that the strawberry-rhubarb jelly from the First United Methodist in Porstmouth, NH is at least 300% better than the leading competitor.

Beyond the delicious jellies and jams, the folks at First United were marvelous. We chatted for a bit, and they really sent us off in a great mood for riding. When you're pedaling up hill after steep hill in rainy and cold weather, it is easy to become a generally unpleasant person to be around. Thank you, First United parishioners for keeping our spirits high!

Monday, October 4, 2010

New Hampshire!

We just crossed into New Hampshire!  We're sitting in a coffee shop (Breaking New Grounds) in Portsmouth, NH. Tasty coffee and food! And free wifi.  There are a few pictures on the Flickr account (see the photo feed above) .. for some reason I couldn't upload them here.

We spent the last couple days enjoying nice weather (read: no rain), although it's been a little chilly. Ed can't handle the cold very well, poor guy.

I've been enjoying a new rain jacket - when we were in Freeport, Maine, I found a Patagonia store (maker of the jacket I started the trip with) and decided to ask them if they could do anything about the liner of my jacket (which is 5-6 years old, dirty, holey, and has been through a lot), which was starting to delaminate.  They said it was a warranty issue and that they'd replace it for free. So, thanks to Patagonia for the new jacket... it's great!

A couple days ago we stopped at a nice pub in Standish, ME and had some great beer while watching UT lose to Oklahoma. There's always next year, I guess.  Nice of those guys to let us watch the game that probably nobody else in Maine cared about (no comments from Ed's dad here!)

Today we've got a great tailwind so we're making good time so far. We stopped at the ocean this morning and it wasn't nearly as cold as I was expecting, although I didn't jump in or anything.  Hoping to make 50-60 miles today.  We'll probably be out of New Hampshire tomorrow...crazy! It seems like Maine took us forever.  All these tiny states are really a morale booster! Cheers!

On the seventh day, they rested.

Stardate: Oct 3, 2580

On the eighth day, they rode for a while, and then drank beer and watched college football in Standish, Maine. And they also ate seared ostrich. Short of winning the lottery, I struggle to imagine anything that could have made this day better (Editor’s note: Maine has a very…uhhh....interesting….song that they use to promote their lottery. Try searching “Maine lottery song.” Ugh).

The ride today was about 35 or 40 miles, but we were drenched in sun the whole way, and only had a handful of monster hills to tackle. A great day of riding makes for a rather boring blog post, so I’ll use this opportunity to discuss the finer points of touring on a bicycle: Mildewology 101.
First lesson: When you spend an entire week drenched from rain, your clothes, shoes, towels, duffle bags, etc. turn into a buffet for tiny microbes that eventually emit a very pervasive odor. There exists one (and only one) way to prevent this odor from becoming your scent of choice while on the road. USE DRY BAGS! A “waterproof” duffle bag will not prevent your gear from getting wet and stinky. Before we left, we picked up some dry bags at a boat supply store, and those have proven to be one of the best investments we have made so far. Our sleeping bags, pillows, and blankets are as dry as Ben Stein. So effective were these dry bags that I bought another one to house all of my clothes. Goodbye Stinkus-brand duffle bag. Hello luxurious dryness.

However, we’re still dealing with wet bike shoes, which appear to be an unsolvable problem. I guess we’ll just have to get used to squishing around whenever we’re off the bike.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Freeport, Maine

Today we took a much-needed day off. We’re in Freeport, which is apparently the home of LL Bean. Everyone has been telling us to stop by there, so I guess we’re somewhat obligated. The flagship store has its own parking garage, so I guess it’s pretty popular. This town is like an outlet mall turned quaint tourist town. Seriously, everything is an outlet. Clothes, shoes, chocolate, jewelry, housewares, wine. We stopped by an outlet wine store last night to pick up some tasty Cabernet Sauvignon, and talked with the lady working there, Deb. Nice lady. Thanks for the wine!

We heard today and tonight are supposed to be rainy, so we were excited to take the day off. We’re getting some laundry and grocery shopping done today (when it rains on you for a week straight, everything starts to smell like mildew. Especially Ed) and generally relaxing and not riding our bikes. We’re staying in a little cottage motel - it was the cheapest place we could find in the area. It’s cute but it has an interesting smell, and the whole cottage (which is approximately 12 square feet) is slanted. Oh well; it’s a roof and a bed, and that’s the important part.

Ed also wanted to watch the Aggies lose last night. To be fair, it was a really good game and I was convinced they were going to pull it off a couple times. Those QB turnovers were killer. Anyways, the weather tomorrow and the next few days is supposed to be better (sunny! Can you believe it?) so we’re excited to get back on the road. Hopefully we won’t run into too much of that weather that’s flooding the Carolinas and DC. Good thing we didn’t leave any earlier, I guess. We’re 2 or 3 days from leaving Maine, we think. We also have to stop tomorrow and watch my Longhorns play Oklahoma; our loss to UCLA last week was pretty nasty, so I’m not sure what to expect.

Yesterday we rode a nice route through some backroads. We stopped and talked with some chickens on a farm (see photo on Flickr) and we also stopped at a little organic farm and got about 6 or 7 different apples as well as some cider and cheese. Wish we had more space to carry stuff like this; I love stopping at those little roadside organic stands! We sat outside and taste-tested all the apples before we were on our way. We had about half an hour of rain yesterday - not too bad. The hills seem to have abated a little bit as we get into southwestern Maine - they’re not nearly as murderous as the ones we saw near Bangor and Bar Harbor. Or maybe we’ve been getting stronger?

We should be posting up some more pictures on the Flickr account today, so stay tuned, and pray for sun!

Mobile photography

This is the flag that goes on the back of our trailer. Visibility is a must.

Freeport's osteopathic manipulative medicine provider.

I'm not sure what Maine's transit authority was trying to accomplish by placing this sign here.