Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It was sad leaving Tree (short for Teresa). She and her roommates had tolerated me for a full week while it rained and rained in Springfield and the mountains to the west. At a time when camping would have been miserable, I had a cozy house to stay in. And Ferdinand the cockatiel, whom I could teach Bach.

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny morning. I took Tree out to breakfast, loaded my bike, and off I went. I knew I was climbing out of Pioneer Valley, and I knew it would all be up. And it was. 43 miles of up, into the Berkshires.

For mountains that still have trees at their summits, it was an impressive amount of up. It was my first day of biking virtually without incident, and 43 miles is a short distance, but it was still tiring and still took a large chunk of the day.

I got to Beartown, where I was planning to camp, sweaty and panting. Pulling all your belongings with you up a mountain is HARD. I went straight off to find a lake, and did.

Thankfully, I sat down and ate some trail mix before I planned to change into my bathing suit. By the time I was done eating, the cold wind had gotten through to me and I realized I probably shouldn't go swimming.

Instead I pitched my tent while it was still light out. I was glad I'd gone to Salisbury, because I'd now refreshed my memory enough to be able to do this more or less smoothly. Things like putting an initial stake into the ground when it's windy.....stake? Where were the stakes, anyway?

I looked through my stuff and couldn't find them. What the ____ had I done with them? Whatever, another item on my shopping list. But in the meantime....

I thought I remembered seeing a truck in the woods nearby. I'd wanted to investigate and meet the person, but hadn't been able to find a good pretext.

I walked back there, and sure enough, there was a guy camping. I walked over.

"How are you doing?"

"How are YOU doing?"

"Oh, I'm all right. You wouldn't happen to have any extra stakes, would you?"

"Like.....camping stakes?"

No, like cow steaks. "Yeah."

"I think I only have one."

"For tonight, that would be better than none."

He smiled.

"I have no idea what I did with mine."

"Tell you what, you can have three. It's not that windy tonight." He pulled out two of the stakes that were holding his tent.

"You'll be OK like that?"


He had a fire going, so we talked for a bit. He was maintaining the Appalachian Trail, which passed nearby. (I had actually noticed when I crossed it, and was surprised by how tiny and unceremonious the signs for it were; I almost missed it.) I, as always, was biking to Oregon.

After sunset, I thanked him, took the three stakes, and erected my own dark but cozy home.


I had to question some things about myself when I realized that one of my first thoughts, alone in the tent, was "Man, taking off my pants has never felt so good." I've only encountered a few cyclists, but of them, a lot have asked how—and why—in the world I bike in long, thick work pants. I bike in them because I'd have to bring them anyway, and I want to have minimal stuff to pack. But wow, my legs needed some air.

With no phone signal—and thus no access to the internet— I went to sleep as soon as it got dark. I slept over 9 hours and woke up at an alarmingly late 5:28 AM. I loosened the cocoon of my sleeping bag and climbed out, and that was when the brutal cold hit me.

The combination of the numbing cold and the smell of day-old sweat reminded me of why I wasn't a big fan of camping as a kid. I have to say I still see it as a last resort—but a wonderfully versatile last resort, that gives one much more freedom to travel.

I got up and slowly packed it away. I went over to where the other guy was camping (I somehow assumed he'd already be up) and used returning the stakes as a pretext to talk some more.

And so, I departed. I zipped a few miles at a clip of 40 to 50 mph, and suddenly....what the ____, uphill AGAIN?

It was an unexpected uphill trek to Stockbridge, and from there to West Stockbridge, but I did finally make it.

Interestingly enough, as soon as I crossed the border, the feel of the landscape changed. It was the same landscape I had known in college, when I would bike all over New York, even though this was a totally different part of New York.

I was getting hungry, so I started looking for places to eat. I rode a bit down Flint's Crossing Road. Farms. Miles down Peaceful Valley Road. Farms. I started to think about just asking a farmer. Miles and miles down Frisbee Street. Farms.

SKIPPABLE PARAGRAPH: I, by the way, liked the name of that street as much as anyone who partakes of the sport probably does, but I'm willing to bet it's a coincidence. The original game was played with empty tins from the Frisbie Pie Company, started by Russel Frisbie. Frisbie/Frisbee/Frisby is a pretty normal surname with a normal suffix, shared by other surnames such as Applebie/Applebee/Appleby. I'm tempted to say the one in question has something to do with Frisia, but I have no sources to cite. The street was probably named after a totally different Frisbee.

I passed East Chatham. One general store, closed Mondays. I passed Malden Bridge. Nothing but a post office. Suddenly, I looked at my shadow and realized I was going south, which was NOT the direction I wanted to go. I checked my map and realized I couldn't figure out where I was. Around me were just farms.

I walked over and looked at an old farmer mowing his grass by the road. He looked up at me and looked back down. I continued looking at him. He looked up again, then looked back down and turned his back. I really wanted to know where I was.

"Excuse me, sir!"

He ignored me.

"Excuse me, sir!"

He looked at me and looked back down.

"Excuse me, sir!"

He shut off the lawnmower and threw his hands up in the air. "What do you want?"

"Is this NY-66?"

"Can't hear you."

"Is this NY-66?"

"Can't hear you."

"Is this NY-66?"

"Can't hear you, get over here. I sure as hell ain't walking over to you."

Now that I had permission, I walked onto his territory. "Is this NY-66?"

"Yes, and Malden Bridge is that way."

"Does it go to Nassau the other way?"

He made a face. "You'll have to take a right.....later."

"Thank you."

He turned away and started the lawn mower again. My stomach was churning, but even I didn't have it in me to interrupt him again and ask where I could eat.

I rode onward. I hit an intersection. I took a right. Five miles up, I realized I wasn't approaching Nassau, and it probably wasn't the right he meant.

I checked the direction of my shadow and took a left. The road curved in the wrong direction. I passed a pond that wasn't supposed to be there.

I pinpointed the pond on the map, turned around and headed in the opposite direction. By what gears I was using, I could tell hunger was getting the best of me.

On a bridge, I waved to a biker going in the opposite direction. As he passed me, he yelled to me, and we both stopped.

"Where are you going?" He was looking at my gear.

"Oregon, eventually."

"I mean today."


"Where are you coming from?"

"I was camping in the Berkshires."

"I mean originally."

"On the coast, just north of Boston."

"Oh, really? My friend did a trip last year from Oregon to Maine. But it was a supported trip, he didn't have to carry any gear."

I laughed. "That would definitely help."

"Yeah, I imagine so."

"Do they get served food, too? I wish someone would serve me food right now. I haven't eaten since I ate some nuts, raspberries and chocolate at 6 AM, and it's going on late afternoon."

"Oh, if you keep going up this street the way you're going and then take a left, there are some diners and stuff."

"You mean Route 20?"

"That's the one."

"Perfect, that's what I was hoping. Thank you."

I had three miles to go up the street to get to 20. It was getting really tough to pedal. Stupid idiot, eating all the food yesterday so the bears don't come for it. I will need to do better with food.

I managed to knock down two miles. The last mile was interminable. I had to stop and rest several times, even though the hill up which I was going was quite small.

Finally, I got to 20. It wasn't even marked. Finally, it sloped sharply downhill into the Hudson Valley. I'd been waiting for this.

The road looked much like an interstate, and cars sped down it accordingly. But with the downhill, I was able to keep right up with the cars in the right lane.

There were no diners. I still don't know what he was talking about. For miles, there were only woods and auto parts stores. I felt like I was going to die. When I saw a Hess gas station, I pulled right in. I bought a big Rice Krispies Treat, an creme egg, and two hot dogs. I wolfed them down in that order. It didn't fill me up—not even close— but it permitted me to keep going.

Now I would even get into the left lane to pass cars. I zipped along. It didn't take much more than 10 minutes. I just shot by the signs, first "ALBANY 8," then "ALBANY 4," and then into Rensselaer, where the downhill slope finally ended and I swerved into town to get on the walkway that went along the Dunn Memorial Bridge, allowing me to cross the Hudson.

I was really hungry. I needed a buffet. I looked one up in the yellow pages via my phone. It was 3.4 miles away, on the other side of town. I started heading that way.

Downtown Albany disappeared behind me. Potholes and boarded-up windows appeared. I stopped and got directions to the buffet again, just to see how much distance was left. 3.8 miles. What? I'd gone the wrong way. I turned around.

I turned at an intersection and saw a big man coming at me on his own bike. I signaled which side I was going to pass him on. He misinterpreted it and swung over that way. Next thing I knew, he smashed into me and we, as well as our bikes, were on the pavement.

I'm really, really glad I wear those work clothes that other bikers have no idea why and how I wear. I got up practically without a scratch.

"Are you OK?" I asked him.

He staggered onto his feet. "My fault."

I started gathering my gear, which was strewn all over the intersection. He got on his bike and rode away. I had to tinker with my gears a little to get my bike to ride, but it worked well enough that I headed back downtown. I'll have to take it to a shop tomorrow to have a look. (It certainly now needs a front derailer adjustment and an adjustment of a small part of the rack that got bent into the gears, as well as an investigation into what causes the new squeaking inside the gears.)

I checked out the beautiful park just up from downtown. Then I met Juliana, at whose place I'll stay a couple of nights here while I sort out stuff with the bike and go shopping for stuff I need. Her roommate made me some pretty awesome dinner, of which I had all the helpings I wanted. Who needs the buffet?

Hopefully soon I'll stop in a city again and do some work for a while. I hate the feeling of a deficit.

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