Thursday, April 30, 2009


Budget: ~$150

As I pulled into South Main, the region of Worcester where Clark University is, the maps on my phone showed lots of parks. I went to check one out. As soon as I turned off of Main St onto a side street, however, I noticed that the buildings on either side were fenced off, and behind the broken windows, one could see only blackened wood and ashes. I continued up the road. The pavement ended and it led up a hill into the woods. Toward the top, I caught a glimpse of more burnt houses.

Nice park.

I started checking out parks and asking people about them. The answers varied from "That's the place where high school kids do drugs at night" to "I'd never heard of it until someone got killed there a few months ago."

I grabbed lunch on a bench by Dead Hooker Pond, as it was known to the locals. Then I met Bridget, who is just finishing up at Clark, and at whose place I'm staying now.

We went out with her friends last night, which was a fun time until finally I just fell asleep.

I don't plan to stay here too long, so I don't think I'll get work here (I checked some places yesterday, but they wanted me for two weeks, min). Today I'll readjust the gears and derailers on my bike and replace the spare tube I used up fixing the flat. Tomorrow it will rain and I'll use the day to relax, and maybe hang out somewhere and meet people if I can borrow an umbrella. By Sunday, I should be gone.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Lucky Day

Budget: ~$160

Around 6 AM, I hugged Dan goodbye in front of the Atlantic

and took off. Despite traffic, potholes, closed bridges, and having to pull over and walk back every now and then to retrieve a fallen pannier, I zipped through the most densely populated area of the state without any trouble, and was in Waltham by 9 AM. I couldn't believe what good time I was making. My friend Heather drove down to Waltham to intercept me, and we sat around and had tea. For three hours. I felt I could easily get to Worcester by the afternoon.

Until I biked out of Waltham. It wasn't morning anymore. It was 90 degrees out. I biked into Weston. Road construction. The kind that makes the wheels skid sideways and wipe out. I tried the sidewalk, but it was covered with sand and blocked off by "road construction" signs.

I biked into Wayland. I've mostly biked either loops or coastlines, and they've spoiled me. For every uphill on those, there's a corresponding downhill. Not when I'm biking steadily away from the ocean. It was just up, up, up, and the heat wasn't helping.

By the time I got to Sudbury, I was really not feeling well, and drinking water wasn't making it better. I pulled into a Comfort Inn and asked the concierge if I could just stand in the lobby for a bit.

"Sure, have a seat on the couch. Not a good day for biking today."

I sat on the couch, chatting with him and drinking every drop in all four of my water bottles. I refilled them at the water fountain and drank more. For some reason now that I was in the air conditioned lobby, I had started to sweat—profusely—and felt much, much better. Four miles to Marlborough, 20 to Worcester. I got back on the bike and started pedaling.

Up, up, up. The road just kept going. It felt like I had done more than the 25 miles to Waltham, and yet I hadn't completed the 4 miles to Marlborough.

I felt like I was dying again. Stupid heat. I'm going to look into better ways to stay cool. (Drinking gallons of water had always done the trick, but not this time, and I don't know why.) I saw a Chinese buffet. Brilliant. With the calories I was burning and would need to replenish, buffet was the way to go.

Every time I stop, I have to take all my gear off the bike (since I can't lock it). With the backpack on my back, a double pannier in one arm, a tent and sleeping bag in another, and a pump and water bottles distributed among my hands—effectively carrying my whole current life on my person—I walk into places.

I didn't see myself in a mirror when I walked into the buffet, but I wish I had, because a girl who saw me ran to get me some ice water. Then I got a plate of just chicken and beef. And another plate. And another plate. And another. And then a plate of rice. And another. And so on and so forth.

I asked for the check. "Aren't you going to have any fruit?" the waitress asked. Not a bad idea. I got two plates of fruit and tipped her 30%. Then I ate my fortune cookie and read my fortune: "Today is your lucky day."

Wondering what luck awaited me, I walked out with all my stuff, loaded the bike, and did a routine tire pressure test. The back tire was flat. I pumped it up. It went soft again. A real, bona fide flat.


The heat started getting to me again. I wasn't going to fix this flat on the black pavement in the heat. I walked the bike. Walking it uphill was a real pain. Lucky day, all right.

Eventually, I made it to Marlborough. I clearly wasn't going to make it to Worcester. A woman with a bike pulled up next to me at an intersection, waiting for the cars. Bingo.

"What's up with the heat?" I asked.


"It's like there's no such thing as spring anymore. Weren't we freezing just last week?"

She laughed. "Yeah, you're right!"

"Did you have to go a long way?"

And so I got my segue into topics that will generally result in being offered lodging. Too bad she was visiting someone herself and had already overstayed her welcome.

I did a search on my phone for hotels in Marlborough. NONE. The closest ones were miles away, and I couldn't ride on a flat. I tried a rooming house. They sent me to a different rooming house.

I walked into that one behind a man, and asked him if he knows how to get a room for a night. He sent me to a door in the hallway that looked just like the rest of the doors. I knocked.

It was opened by an old man. He was completely naked. Every inch of his body was covered with tattoos.

"What do you want?"

"Just a room for the night."

"Don't have any."

"I really need one. Do you know any place that does?"

"Lincoln Inn, up around the corner."

"Which corner?"

He just stared at me.

"Do you know the address?"

"I told you. Around the corner."

"So do I go left or right when I come out of here?"

He slammed the door.

I took out my phone. According to Google and 411, the Lincoln Inn didn't exist.

I tried going around the corner. There was nothing there. I asked a guy, first in English, then in Spanish, if he knew where the Lincoln Inn was. He said there wasn't anything like that around there. I asked him where I could spend the night.

"If you go up this street past the second light, there will be a Mexican restaurant on your left. A few houses down, there will be a church. One, two, three.....five houses down from that, there will be a red and white house. You can try there."

I walked down there. I nodded to a man who looked about 60, smoking on his porch at the fourth house down. The next house over, red and white, was covered with "PRIVATE PROPERTY / NO TRESPASSING" signs. Lucky day, all right.

I walked over to the guy smoking on his porch. "You think they'll give me a room for the night there?"

He looked at me for a second. "That's a sober house."

"I take it that's a no."

He shook his head.

"Man, this flat tire killed me. Now I'm stuck here and there's nowhere to even stay."

He just looked at me. Come on, man, I thought, you know what I'm aiming at here. I had to break the tension.

"You think it's OK to pitch a tent on the rail trail?"

He still just looked. I let about ten seconds pass, and finally, a smile crept on his face.

"How much are you looking to spend?"

I smiled too. Finally! "What are you suggesting?"

"You can stay here for...." He thought about it for a bit. "$40."

"$40? You got it."

I walked over to a 7-11, got $40, and brought it to him. The sight of the cash clearly excited him.

His name was Donald. We sat up that night and he told me his story, from the 16-year-old daughter who overdosed on drugs two years ago to how he works for the landlord and is trying to paint the house to his girlfriend who was in the hospital.

"I'm sorry the house is such a mess. Do you want some chicken? I'm sorry I don't have much."

He made me crispy chicken. I practically inhaled it.

"I need to call my girlfriend." He picked up the phone and dialed the hospital. The phone was so loud I could hear the other end of the conversation.

"I started drinking again."


"The landlord just had me so pissed off, I couldn't take it anymore." He sipped on his beer.

"Well, be careful."

"OK. I got a guy here. I'm letting him spend the night."


He moved the phone away from his ear. "Here, you talk to her."

I wasn't going to fight him.

"Hello, ma'am."


"I was passing by on my bike and got a flat tire. Tomorrow I'll fix the flat and be gone."


I gave the phone back to him. He pretty quickly hung up.

"You're not some serial killer, are you?"

"I was going to ask you the same thing."


The next morning, I fixed my flat. It was a tear near the valve, so I couldn't patch it. I threw out the tube and put in a new one.

"You hungry? You want to open the Trix?"

I hadn't had Trix in probably something like 15 years. I opened it.

"Here, take the whole box with you."

"I have nowhere to fit it."

"You want me to go to the store and get you something?"

"No, I'm all good."

"The 40 bucks would more than cover it. I can help you out."

"You've already helped me out."

"You've helped me out too. I really needed that money."


I got on my bike and pulled away. The new tube and cooler weather made an enormous difference. I zipped along at speeds up to 50 miles per hour on downhills (though I walked some uphills), and arrived in Worcester in no time.

Monday, April 27, 2009

And So, I Depart

Budget: $150.24

Spent tonight at a bar in Salem, saying goodbye to friends. Said goodbye to relatives earlier. Old Not-So-Rusty is beefed up and outfitted for a long-distance trip. Tomorrow, I'll go get my glimpse of the Atlantic, and then head to Worcester, my first stop on the "real" trip.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Salisbury: Lessons on Camping

Budget: ~$400

It was an uneventful ride to Salisbury, through the flat marshland of northern Massachusetts,

occasionally dotted with towns like Rowley.

There was a brutal headwind, and occasional rain, but the rain clouds were generally small enough to be seen in their entirety.

We stopped at a small farm, bought watermelon, and ate it right there.

I'm starting to find that it's exciting to see a sign saying you've arrived somewhere even when there are still miles to go.

I had, for the first time, actually loaded up the bike in addition to carrying a backpack,

and to my surprise, it didn't make it really any harder. Or maybe that was because Dan, starting some 20 miles into the trip, had us stop every few miles to rest.

Turned out it wasn't just us suffering from the wind, too. When we finally made it to Salisbury for real

and got on the road to the beach,

the gusts became unbelievable. I barely managed to close the door to the office when I came in.

"Do you need electric hookups?"




"Roughing it, huh?"

"I guess you can say that."

"OK. Can I have the registration of your vehicle?"


I let the blank stare last a few seconds, then smiled.

"I've only got a bike."

" you're just looking to pitch a tent?"

"Yeah." There followed a silence for a few seconds again, except for the deafening howling and wailing of the wind.

"Don't get blown away."

"I'll do my best, believe me."

The campground was empty.

I tried to set up the tent, but it was so freaking windy, I couldn't do it. It was acting more like a kite than a tent, and the situation seemed hopeless. I wasn't getting much help, either,

I finally did yell at him to help, and then realized I'd been making a fundamental mistake 1, which I fixed, and got the tent set up. I did have to put stakes in "prematurely" to hold down corners of the tent while I was working on other corners.

More rain came in,

but it wasn't all bad.


And then we had a problem.

We wanted to go somewhere and grab dinner. But the wind was blowing so hard that despite the stakes, we were afraid that if we were gone for two or three hours, we'd be facing an empty plot on our return. We tossed all our stuff that didn't contain food (except the bikes) into the tent, but the wind gusts still tossed parts of it around in such a way that it was truly amazing that the stakes were holding it at all, and we were afraid to leave it unattended.

So much for dinner. We sat at the picnic table by the tent and ate granola bars. The time was 6:30 PM. Our options were to

  1. sit and guard the tent.
  2. go to sleep and add our weight to the thing.

We chose option 2, which worked fine despite the extremely abusive beating the tent got that night.


...and we woke up completely refreshed after ten hours of sleep. At 4:30 AM.

We rolled up and packed all our stuff. It was very hard to fit it back. Some stuff just didn't fit. Now everything I have has more realistic bulk for when I'm packing it for real.

We tried to fold the tent nicely, but the wind kept getting in the way.

You can't change the world, said Robert Kiyosaki once (paraphrase), but you can take advantage of it the way it is. He was talking about financially coming out the winner in an unjust world. We used the principle to make the wind help us spread out the tent for folding.

Then, despite the obscene cold right after sunrise, we went to check out Butler's Toothpick.

This is all at the mouth of the Merrimack, by the way, the same river that flows through Lowell, just miles and miles downstream.

We followed it all the way out to the ocean.

Then we got on our bikes and headed back.


Important things to take with me from this trip:

  • Some minor lessons on properly setting up a tent
  • My new sleeping bag can be adjusted once I'm in it so that I am entirely hidden within it except a small opening for my face. Even so, however, if it's a cold night, my nose will get cold.
  • It is a good idea to unpack things from their factory packaging and try to repack them as best one can. You often can't repack it quite the same way with your hands, and you end up with a better idea of the true bulk of what you're taking with you.

Hopefully these lessons will give me enough of a start that I won't be hideously unprepared at some point on the road.

1Never, ever hook a pole to the corners of a dome tent before you've put the other pole through the sleeve. You need to induce curvature in both poles simultaneously.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bulk of Equipment Purchased

Budget: ~$400

I'm buying up stuff so quickly that the budget is in a state of flux in which I've lost track of it. I'll have it back to the penny once the dust settles.

I got a spare tire and spare tubes for the bike.

The little boxes in the middle contain the collapsed tubes. So now if I get some ridiculous puncture that I can't patch (which, no doubt, at some point I will), I'll have a recourse. I also ordered panniers and a rain cover for the bike, which should arrive at the shop by the end of the week.

I got some camping equipment. I paid extra for compactness; it will be worth it. I tossed a boot into the photo for size comparison.

The long rectangular package is the tent. It'll be barely big enough to hold me lengthwise when set up, but barely is still big enough. The big green roll on the left is the sleeping bag. The small one on the right is a pad to put under the sleeping bag.

I never thought the pad was important until I once camped without one. It was almost like sleeping on the ground. I wondered all night why I even brought a tent. In fact, I now actually think the opposite—that if the weather were really nice, I'd potentially be willing to leave the tent packed and just put the pad on the ground and the sleeping bag on it. (Probably not, though; the tent does a good job of screening one from small animals.)

I still need:

  • A couple of good bike locks
  • Pepper spray and bear spray
  • First aid
  • Simple stuff like sunscreen, sunglasses, etc.


So tomorrow, I'm grabbing my little brother and we're biking up to Salisbury, where we'll sleep in my new tent and try it out. Tonight, I was thinking about getting there, and realized....Oh, crap! How am I going to attach stuff to the rack?

So I had to borrow some bungee cords.

I'll need to buy some of my own before departing for real.

Salisbury should be a good time.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Impressions of Lowell

Budget: $690

Realizing tomorrow is a holiday, I decided it was time to fold, and left Lowell. I zipped pretty quickly through towns like Tewksbury

and cities like Reading.

I stopped at a bench on a lake in Wakefield for lunch.

My mood was generally good. I'd had a decently good time, and at the same time, I was glad to have left. Having no work the first day had been OK—I'd just walked around the city, exploring—but by the second day it was lonely. ("It's easy, so long as you can deal with the loneliness," said Charlee, a man who had saved up the money and toured for nearly a year on his bike without working.)

I'd spent the weekend partying with the people I'd stayed with and their friends, and it was a fun time, but I figured there would be plenty of time to do that on the road.


On the way out, I was on a bike for the first time after winter, and it was a new one. By the time I was on the way back, I was again able to signal to motorists, let the uncooperative ones by, signal my thank-yous, and shoot diagonally through a complicated intersection without having gotten off the bike. On the way there, it took much longer, because I kept having to get off the bike, and walk it not only through intersections, but also down miles of sidewalks on roads where the traffic scared me.

The new bike was a road bike, so the brakes weren't where I was used to having them, the gear shift wasn't where I was used to having it, and by the time I learned how to pedal so as to keep my pants out of the gears, it was a bit too late for that pair of pants.

They're my work pants, though, so they'll be fine like that.

I was quite happy to finally see the sign,

but it was miles more before I caught a glimpse of the actual city.

Lowell has a bad rap in Massachusetts, and I firmly believe it deserves it.

However, I was impressed by how nice parts of it were. Lowell used to be a mill city, and to power the mills, there are canals all over the place.

There are gatehouses on every canal,

and I picked one a ways off as a place to eat lunch on days when it's nice out.

The canals had been dug by Irishmen, mill work itself being reserved for those born in America. I wondered where all the rocks from the canals had gone. There was usually some site where such things had been dumped, and, to my surprise, I found it, though it was a bit unexpected:

The mills themselves are completely ubiquitous. Everywhere you go, there's a mill.

I found it interesting to walk around the old, largely abandoned mills, remembering books like Lyddie, which I'd read in middle school, and compare the work there to work today.

The bell tower in the above photo was to signal when workers could leave and when they had to return. The gate on the left was where they walked in and out, and it was locked promptly after time was up. Anybody who came in late had to us the side entrance on the right (now the entrance to the museum), where an official would take down the worker's name and either dock his pay or fire him. The hours were long, and work was six days a week.

Part of why I had decided to take this trip was because of the liberating nature of day work: just because I work today doesn't mean there's any expectation that I will come tomorrow. But I think even the most "oppressive" employment today doesn't take over one's life the way mill work in the 1840s did. I've done day jobs in dusty, murky environments, but I don't see myself lasting long at a job where I'm expected to show up regularly and am threatened with that kind of punishment for being a few minutes late.

I walked around an abandoned mill, thinking about that.

I think it's important to note that the primary workers' right, courtesy of capitalism, existed even then: the right to quit. We take it for granted here, but in the USSR, that right didn't exist. Also, unlike in a benefits-based system like Soviet socialism, in a money-based, capitalist system, one who saves or invests well gets to keep what he earned at work even after being dismissed (whereas benefits can terminate immediately).

The reason the workers chose to stay at the mills was because mills paid more than other jobs. The dream was to save up money and then leave.

With modern innovation, it takes less work to achieve the same quality of life, and even people who have no education and work relatively little have things like flushing toilets and electricity that, a few hundred years ago, kings wouldn't have dreamt of (in the US, even completely impoverished people, unable or unwilling to work at all, have such amenities, but that is only thanks to subsidies from the taxes others pay). Used to the life we have, we view conditions in the mills as an abomination and a horror, and are glad it is safely in the past, smashed and shuttered away.


I walked along the Merrimack River,

thinking about that, and about how amazingly integrated "pretty Lowell" and "real Lowell" are.

With the work I was going to try to get, I was going to be familiar with a very different Lowell.

My mind shifted to modern 9-5 office jobs, and I wondered what our descendants 200 years down the line will think of them.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Survival in Lowell

Budget: &728.36

Getting lodging in Lowell was pretty easy. I met Jen, who was excited about my trip but didn't have her own place, and then met her friend Olivia who did, with her roommates Sarah and Bobby. It's been an easy life crashing with them.

Yesterday I went out to look for work, but there was none to be had. By 7 AM, Sonia, who seems to be the one who mostly deals with such workers here, came by and said "All right, boys, let's call it a day."

"At least you had a warm place to sleep," another guy who didn't get any work that day told me. "Mah b__ch wouldn' even let me in. Had to sleep out in the hallway. It was COLD out there."

"Why wouldn't she let you in?"

"Because," he said, making a drinking motion, "I'd been drinkin'. She don't like that. I don't get it myself. I'm going out every day, bustin' mah ass, sometimes for nothin', to pay the rent, and here she is tellin' me I can't come in."

I spent the rest of the day wandering around Lowell, whilstling libiamo from La Traviata and enjoying the weather. I'll post my impressions as soon as I can get the photos off the camera. Then I went back "home" to walk a dog with Sarah and just hang out, hoping I'd get work the next day (today).

No such luck. I got up at 4:30 again and headed over, and we just stood around in the cold. Sonia came by around 5:30, but left at 5:50 to drive one of us (out of about 10) to a job site. By 7:30, most guys had given up and left.

"What do you do once you leave?" I asked a guy.


"I can't believe some of the guys who just keep coming year after year," said Derek, another guy who was waiting. "It's so touch and go. And then you don't get work Friday, and your weekend's f___ed. No money."

Derek ran a business once, selling construction equipment. "It just folded a couple of years ago. We were had. Someone in Nigeria. We shipped off the merchandise, they sent a bad check."

I didn't start asking him about questionable business practices or how one bad check could crash the whole business. I just let him ask me about my story.

"Oh, that's cool, man. You'll show 'em we're not just helpless bums on welfare. We're honest folk who can work and take care of ourselves."

By 8:30, I was the only person left waiting for work, and Sonia came by and told me to give it up. I walked off for half an hour (the weather was getting really nice), then came back at 9 and hung out, making some phone calls. At 10 I gave up. Lowell is a horrible place to look for work. I'll try again Monday.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Made it to Lowell

Budget: $730.44

Well, biking to Lowell wasn't so bad. As I rode, I remembered what traffic in eastern Massachusetts means (very, very different from upstate New York). I also realized that I'd ridden the same bike for so many years it was going to take a bit to adjust to a new one. I had pictures of specific problems, but they won't be posted right now. For a stupid reason.

I realized as I was biking that I had, in fact, forgotten two things.

  1. The wire to connect my camera to a USB port
  2. My social security card

The former is pretty simple: if I really want to describe my trip to Lowell and don't have much new stuff to talk about, I can take the camera to any convenience store and put the photos on a CD and post them.

The latter, however, is going to require me to REALLY milk my charms while I'm here. I've already circumvented the need for the card once since my arrival, and may have a (taxable) job waiting for me tomorrow. But in general, while I like to rely on my charms, it'll probably be a good idea to carry that thing around with me in the future.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Feds Pay Up

Budget: $630.44

For some reason I assumed the Feds would take even longer to pay than the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I was dead wrong. Hopefully I'll make some more money in Lowell and then go on a shopping spree that should leave me ready to leave.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Old Not-So-Rusty Commissioned

Budget: -$30.56

I picked up the "new" bike today. It was also rather old, not looking too different from Old Rusty, but what was inside was now guaranteed. And since I was buying it from the bike shop, they did a complete tune-up for free. When I came in to get it, it didn't look anything like Old Rusty anymore, to the point where I was afraid it might now be more likely to get stolen.

The new tires and new tape on the handlebars made an ENORMOUS difference.

On Wednesday morning, I plan to get on it and ride it to Lowell, MA, where I will spend a few days (maybe a week or so) trying to work, and hopefully making enough money to buy more equipment when I come back. That will be the real test of how well it works.

Tip From Along the Way

Budget: -$30.56

If a check arrives for you and you're not there to deposit it, someone else can deposit it for you. They can just take it to a teller, along with your account number. On the back of the check, instead of your endorsement, they can write "FOR DEPOSIT ONLY". Obviously, they can't collect any part of it in cash. They also obviously can't make the deposit at an ATM.

I learned this as I looked for a solution to the problem that I will have checks arriving from non-tech-savvy clients for prior services after I've departed for the trip. As long as I have someone who has physical access to the checks, problem solved.


As I learn stuff that's potentially useful throughout the preparation and trip, I'll try to post it in this fashion. Hopefully there will be many such things, and hopefully they'll be helpful to somebody.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Old Rusty Decommissioned

Budget: -$8.61

I had really wanted to take Old Rusty. But something came up that was actually serious.


I got up at 4:30 AM again this morning, and went back to Lynn to look for work. I wasn't really practicing this week, but I figured I could use some more cash. But with things heading towards Easter, everything was really slow, and it became clear that work was not to be had. No problem. I called and made an appointment with a client. It will pay off later, once I'm (hopefully) long out of here.

I headed over to the ocean

and took a walk up the coast.

Then I headed back to the bike shop.


I'd intended to just buy some stuff, but Mark suggested we look at Old Rusty, if only to have another laugh. We went to the back and looked at it. It did look funny among the other bikes. We rolled it out.

And suddenly we weren't laughing. Mark pointed to the fork, to which the front wheel was attached. "That can't be normal."

The fork looked as if it might have been bent forward. I took a closer look at the paint and noticed not only normal, longitudinal scratches, but also a linear, lateral clumping. The fork had gotten bent, at some point after the bike had last been painted.

"What if that breaks?" said Mark. "That would be a horrible accident."

Yeah, it would be. We went down to the basement to look at some other old bikes, and picked one out that wouldn't attract attention but would be in good riding shape. I bought it. I plan to pick it up on Monday.


I had a bit left in my budget, so I got some tools for the road.

On the left is the pump. I got a long one so I can pump faster. In the center is the lube, which I'll be using once a week or so on the chain. I'll need to stop once a month or so to lube up the derailleurs, for which I'll need a spray (which I opted not to carry, because aerosol cans are bulky). On the right is a set of tire irons and a patch kit. I'll need to get some spare tubes, too, once the budget is positive again.

I also got a pair of bike shorts.

They're a lot like boxer briefs, but the way this photo is taken, you can see the padding in them. It complements the padding of the seat.

Every now and then, you hear about someone becoming impotent from riding a bike with insufficient padding over a long period of time. That's some irreplaceable machinery down there. If you're riding a bike and start feeling numb there, definitely make sure you've got enough padding.