Tuesday, November 1, 2016

posted on 11/01/2016

New England 2016

Boston-Littleton, 7th October 2016

We had the usual adventurous night at the Boston hostel. I was sharing a little dorm room with five other guys and well prepared by past grim experience I had come equipped with a pair of indispensable ear plugs. These proved not up to the task as I still woke up to various snores and groans making their way past them. The real fun part started around 5:15 when the first mobile phone chime sat off on a gentle but loud lullaby. Pleasing at first, the blighted melody lasted good ten minutes and triggered a search for the culprit. From my top bunk position I started noticing people crawling on all fours trying to figure out direction, location and nature of the instrument and ways to silence it. It was all in vain, the carillon went on unperturbed, announcing joyfully that it was time to get up. The only person sound asleep was Brad from Austin Texas and it was clear that his alarm was not going to wake him up. The general commotion ended when unconscious and half asleep he somehow managed to silence it, bringing sighs of relief. Ten minutes had hardly passed when another chime went off and another one while Brad was gently asleep. On the fourth round there was a sense of doom and despair and even the so far quiet Chinese bloke started cursing loudly in mandarin while I couldn't stop laughing at it all. Youth hostels consistently deliver good stories to compensate for the lack of sleep. Boston was bright and sunny and cycling around most of the morning I got a glimpse of its charm. Bronte and the judge were proudly setting off. I always wanted to be able to say 'I have gone to Harvard' and as it was on the way, I paid MIT a visit too. Not all was well in Harvard. The leafy college yard bustling with tourists and proud looking students carrying loads of books, was rattled by a protest march with loudspeakers. You know the type that goes along the lines that whatever they wanted they wanted it now sort of thing... no patience whatsoever. The countryside loomed, with a string of idyllic villages but little to keep the inspector busy. It was interesting to see Walden pond where Thoreau wrote his most famous book and lived for two years testing self sufficiency and peace. Nearby Concord was also worth a stop with its history of battles for independence and literary heritage. Foliage was having a bad day in Massachusetts, maybe feeling a tad shy by his passing. Harsh as it seemed he cycled on unperturbed and awarded none.

Littleton-Goffstown, 8th October 2016

Heading north once reached Ayer, I took the Nashua River Rail Trail. Quite a mouthful, but thanks to David, my host last night, I had a peaceful cycle ride on what used to be a railway track, that took me across an invisible border into New Hampshire. Happy to leave Massachusetts behind, nothing personal against the state, only the fact I won't have to try spelling it again. It consistently gets me on the second s you see...most annoying. New Hampshire motto stated on every car registration plate is an uncompromising 'live free or die'. Nashua was the first city I crossed and it became apparent how the motto had seriously backfired. It seemed to have been taken literally by many as be free to eat as much junk food and pies, get seriously fat and die young in the process. After all if you can have both why chose just one? At a red light on Main Street I saw the largest human being I have ever seen. A woman crossing the street slouched on an oversized electric wheelchair filled with meat to the brim, the poor soul obviously unable to carry all that freedom on her own legs! Nashua had definitely a serious obesity problem. This turned out handy at the large grocery store where they were dishing out pizza samples that looked as large as the real thing and turned into a main course of my lunch! On a more positive note New Hampshire seemed to put a lot more passion and effort in its leaves. The judge was treated to the first hints of autumn as it should be and awarded 1 Michelin leaf each to New Boston and Goffstown. Stingy to say the least but the trip has just started and was he to be over eager he would soon run out of leaves. As the sun was setting and the shadows got long it was time to find a field to pitch my tent for a first night under bright shining stars.

Goffstown-Laconia, 9th October 2016

Central heating and all the kind of comforts I take for granted can only be appreciated once lost. Last night camping in the fields could not have been a starker reminder. As expected It was bitterly cold, freezing my butt after subjecting it to long days on a stiff Brooks saddle. Temperatures are on a rollercoaster, when the sun is out I roast, morning and evenings you mostly find me spinning my legs real fast to keep warm. It is at these times when I wish I was into surfing rather than autumn leaves. Still the colours I see for hours each day make it all so much worth it. New Hampshire trees are on fire, painted all shades of red, orange, yellows and greens. Passing by the state capital Concord and noticing more extra large sizes I realised what the other big culprit is. If food is to blame a second close place must go to drive ins. You drive in to eat, go to a drive in bank, a drive in cinema I even noticed a sign for a drive in theatre. No need to ever use a pair of legs anymore. It's election year in the US next month and signs of candidates for presidency, senate, county are littering most houses front yards. When I can't see leaves I add up signs and run a very unofficial cycling poll. If Massachusetts (not again...) seemed to favour Clinton, New Hampshire seems much tighter with a lot of Trumps. In a. A couple more days counting and I'll announce who takes the state. Today I also figured out a neat trick to find out how long it takes to get somewhere in the US. Ask a man how long it takes to cycle from A to B and you mostly get a blank. Now ask the same man how long it takes him to drive from A to B, multiply by 3.54666 and you get your answer. As for learning, visiting Canterbury Shaker village was really inspiring, they seemed a very decent lot; all that remains of all those inspired and hard working men and women, are three sisters in a community in Maine. Canterbury also got the judge to work. Amazing display of foliage, 2 Michelin leaves dispensed and so much deserved!

Laconia-Wolfeboro, 10th October 2016

The tail end of hurricane Matthews made it to New Hampshire and messed up my day. Nothing dramatic, only my lucky sunny streak came to an abrupt halt and I got drenched! I had to cut my day short and seek cover in a motel in Wolfeboro, proudly boasting to be the first summer resort in the US history. It welcomed me on a rainy autumn day instead. The weather man though is hopeful and says that tomorrow and for the next three days I will be busking in the sun again and be chilled at night and defrosted again the following morning. White Mountains National Park is around the corner and rumours I picked up at cafes, say it is gorgeous and at its peak up there. The lack of vistas due to the weather made me turn to politics again. Sadly Laconia went to Trump with a tally of 8 signs to 5. Wolfeboro is to close to call, will see if I get new sights upon leaving in the morning. The other focus was on trying to find the best reward a cyclist can find on the road, a car registration plate. I would love one of those 'live free or die' but all I could see by the side of the road were mushrooms, basking and happy in the rain...at least it was good for some. I happen to have an expensive view on a beautiful lake tonight and by evening the clouds suddenly parted and I was able to admire a breathtaking sunset and enjoy the presidential debate.

Wolfeboro-Conway, 11th October 2016

Winepessaukee lake woke up with clear blue skies and a temperature, after the storm, definitely much fresher than it had been so far. Still after yesterday wash out there was a definite change of mood, wolfeboro was upbeat, with plenty of smiles and good mornings. I first thought it might have been the debate where trumpy had shown once again its limits but then I realised this Monday was Columbus Day and a national holiday. Sandwich, one of the nicest villages passed so far had its annual autumn fair which turned out to be far too crowded to visit. The display if trees around was a far better reason to stroll around and as half New Hampshire seemed to be there I enjoyed some really quiet roads with no traffic at all. 2 Michelin stars were awarded to the village, the inspector was really pleased. Exactly on the 12th October 1492 Columbus first set foot on the eastern coast of America, I am just trying to figure out how excited he must have been by the discovery given that I am still so excited to be here after 500 years... By Tamworth library where I was desperately searching for some wifi signal I met a man called John who had obviously be sent by providence. As I was approaching the White Mountains, planning to take the Kancagamus Highway, John wouldn't let me and began a thirty minutes informed thesis on why I should take the smaller Passaconaway road instead. His knowledge of these mountains was far to vast to argue with so I followed his advice and started this peaceful scenic road up the mountain. I soon found a pleasant spot in the forest to pitch my tent and get ready for tomorrow where the mountain climb will begin.

Conway-Franconia Notch, 12th October 2016

Common sense lost in Conway. I imagined it a nice big town with all kind of restaurants where I could enjoy plenty of delicious junk food and buy supplies but it turned up to be nothing like that. The place was just residential while the real large town called Conway North was 8 km north and out of my planned route. Now couldn't we all agree that North Conway should be really Conway while the real Conway should be Conway South? Buying some groceries in the only little store there was I found a mysterious drink with a very cute name, Pumpkin Eggnog. I like pumpkins, I like Eggs, the only iffy part was the nog bit. I asked the store owner, a lovely lady of Indian origin, what it was and she tried to waffle her way around it before admitting that although she was selling it, she did not have the slightest clue. Intrigued, I bought and made it part of my dinner while camping. It immediately seemed to be pretty sweet and concentrated to be drank plain but still I had all the justifications to get lots of calories and it tasted pretty good. At night though my stomach started wondering what was going on and I woke up with a slight burning, I blamed it on the nog. Whatever the concoction was in the morning the big climb up the top of White Mountains went swiftly. Legs were spinning, the old lungs had enough for a whistle too and there was certainly some extra umphhh. The only thing slowing me down we're the countless beautiful views that demanded I stop, look, take one more picture or one more video. On top of Kancagamus Pass a crew with large cameras were shooting a commercial and so I had the pleasure to ask for their expertise in shooting a video of me and Bronte proudly reaching the top. It went all downhill from there, literally! The multitude of stops chatting to people and taking the views meant that I was far behind my planned schedule and it was getting late. Eagerness to catch up with lost time and the light starting to get dimmer and dimmer the rebel in me took over, I pretended to have lost track of the winding bike route and off I was on Freeway 93, ignoring all warning signs that bikes, mopeds, pedestrians were not allowed to enter. Traffic was light but it was getting seriously dark and admitting defeat I just went off in a grassy ditch, pitched up my tent and put to good use those earplugs meant for youth hostels.

Franconia Notch-Danville, 13th October 2016

Hectic night as you can imagine. Earplugs failed to cope with large trucks snoring up the hill. I woke up at dawn quickly packed my tent and shame and traced my way back to a campsite I had passed, determined to start the day on a high, with a nice hot shower. The sun was rising above Franconia Notch State Park and in the morning I could finally see what I could only get a glimpse of the previous evening. Mountains completely painted in all shades of red, oranges, yellows and green. The inspector, stingy so far, dropped on his knees sang an hallelujah and awarded three Michelin leaves to Franconia, a hard act to follow. The sadness of running out of Eggnog was overcome in Littleton where the local laundromat was put to good use and returned a chirpy and clean cyclist to the road. Following a local recommendation I ended up having the best burrito I have ever had. Life was beautiful and birds singing loud. Past More dam the excitement of a border crossing into Vermont loomed close, my third state so far. New Hampshire treated me and Bronte with great respect, we lived free therefore didn't die. Cycling presidential polls, sadly in the end gave the state to trumpy by a small margin. At 15:13 on a sunny afternoon we crossed into Vermont and its rather gentler moto 'Green mountains State'. Here of course life stopped at Bernie and all the signs are out as if he was still running for president. St Johnsbury welcomed me with a well meaning 'where rivers and people come together'. After last night shameful disaster I changed camping tactics. I found an ideal spot in a farm first and then asked permission to Anne, the owner who gently allowed me to set my tent with a warning; there is dog around that is large but kind and that if he finds me he'll jump on me but only out of affection and with the best of meanings... I quietly set up camp, ducking behind a bush so far successfully avoiding being spotted by the friendly beast. Good night.

Danville-Stowe, 14th October 2016

The dog missed his chance and in the early hours of the morning I quietly packed up and flew down Olde Farm Road. For a couple of hours while looking to buy some water or a sweet pastry and coffee, all I could find along the road, were places selling maple syrup, selling it by the gallon. Surely the state is proud about its Maple syrup production and I would admit it tastes nice on a morning pancake yet nobody can survive on the stuff! To sustain one existence much more than maple syrup is needed and I am sure that a few bakeries, a cafe and a few restaurants along the road would go a long way enhancing the quality of life. Six hundred kilometres cycled so far both bike and cyclist are chirpy and in good form. Days of searching registration plates in vain gave me the idea to walk into a car garage asking for one. The guy asked me if Vermont was fine and in a minute cheerfully produced a green mountain state plate, registration FRM 274! Bronte was overwhelmed by the gift and now all legal and registered we are ready to head south, looking for more leaves, direction the big Apple.

Stowe-Stockbridge, 15th October 2016

Fantastic day that started well, with a double raspberries and cheesecake Ben and Jerry ice cream at the factory! This is where it all started and about twenty people joined the half an hour tour. You go through the usual history of how Ben and Jerry started it all in a van kind of thing but like the protesters at Harvard all that we wanted was ice cream and we wanted it now! A Vermont registration plate and a few drops of oil on the old chain and Bronte was in top notch form, speeding effortlessly down scenic route 100. Ben and Jerry is popular all over the world and it needs lots of black and white Holstein cows in a good mood, to produce the goodies. They were definitely in good form this morning enjoying the sun and the grazing. I entered Green Mountain National Park and was again treated by a spectacle of colours. Peak time was a week ago here it seems but it has also been one of the best years according to locals and I wouldn't know it if I hadn't heard it! The inspector after awarding Stowe and Warren with two leaves each, had to drop three more for the National Park too and is now running out of awards. I cycled down Mad River Valley along a river that seemed to have overcome his quirky side and made a lot of sense to me. Quiet roads too, I wonder if the weekend will change things... It's going to be zero degrees tonight but dry therefore it's been decided that camping is on. Looking for a place to pitch my tent I found a little pearl in Heather who runs this most interesting cafe along the road and has live music tonight! Mostly she allows me to put my tent on her grounds so that I can make the most of her dinner and music. What more can one ask? After the music the plan is to cross the road and hide in my tent wearing my entire mobile wardrobe. The earplugs for once will not be for the noise but to stop the cold draft passing through my head, a kind of plump Michelin tyre man.

Stockbridge-Londonderry, 16th October 2016

As I emerged from my tent in the morning, it wasn't a pretty sight! The tent was solid frozen into a free standing piece, covered in an icy white layer; same fate for poor Bronte who'd been left shivering out there, all night long. As far as Michelin man goes he was zippy to start with but packing the icy tent in the freezing cold, that I later found out to be -2 degrees, turned me into an icicle. Wondering if the bike will even be able to be unfolded I thought the best would be to start pedalling in order to warm up. It worked for the leggy bits but despite wearing gloves my hands didn't agree with the plot. Providence is good and I wondered what I would have made of a Ben and Jerry raspberry and cheesecake ice cream this morning... After ten minutes I found some relief in the Swiss Farm Inn and had a hearty breakfast for the first time in my life appreciating a cup of coffee more for its hand warming properties than flavour. I emerged a new man while the sun had also started to work heating up a notch this winter wonderland. Three days cycling in Vermont and I honestly do not know if I will ever be able to poll... The sample is way too small with trumpy on 4 and Clinton on 1. Vermonters, make peace with the fact that Bernie Sanders is gone, you are electing a president after all, show some passion! The inspector has run out of leaves today and declared a tie between the Green Mountains and Franconia Notch. In the village category the winners were Canterbury, New Hampshire, Warren and Waterbury Vermont. To all those deserving that could not get any leaves, best wishes and sincere apologies. Tonight only a minimum of 6 degrees was forecasted so unfazed by past traumas, I pitched my tent on a well trimmed lawn, in what turned out to be the local 3 holes practice golf course...

Londonderry-Woodford State Park, 17th October 2016

Still on the frosty side this morning. Having to evacuate the golf course early just in case I got another round of the chills. Being Sunday morning I pondered a quick conversion to the evangelicals, joining prayers at Our Lady of Ephesus. I am sure all the singing and central heating would have done a good job but In a fluorescent green jacket and shorts It would have hardly been appropriate. The Londonderry Inn a quick trip down the road seemed a better idea. As I opened the door on the verge of hypothermia Brian the owner, rather coldly informed me that breakfast was only for guests. As I was about to reconsider mass, lovely Maya came through the reception and declared that I would be made an exception and I was welcomed. As I enjoyed breakfast soaking heat by the chimney the guests trickled slowly to the breakfast room. Three bagels, two cake slices, two fried eggs and two coffees later and I was best friend with them all. I was formally introduced to each one of them as they entered the room. An 87 years old born in Weston Vermont but living in Colorado most of his life was complaining that now more man than cows seemed to be roaming the place, most upsetting. As elderly tend to do he was keen on old time stories, how hard life was, his farmer duties which sounded gruesome and involved things like castrating bulls or the fact that they went to school barefoot. From the sound of things a life I wouldn't endure one morning. Then Andrew came down and he was talking as if he hadn't met a human being for weeks. A New Yorker, he was a retired correspondent for the New York Times. He lived in London, Brazil, France and sailed all over the Mediterranean. He was part of a group of ex Yale graduate who used to be part of a choir. Once a year they would meet up rehearse and give a little concert somewhere. Of course even though retired he seemed to be on top of his business, news. I was pleased when he confirmed my cycling polls were pretty accurate. Massachusetts to Clinton, New Hampshire to Trumpy, Vermont nobody can tell as they just don't seem to care! A balmy minimum of 14 degrees tonight means camping again! After all the chatting I was rather late with my cycling but I finally found Woodford State Park although closed. I passed the barrier knocked on the ranger's house, was told the camping season is over but as a cyclist he allowed me to stay! I pitched my tent in almost complete darkness and will have Woodford State Park all for myself tonight.

Woodford State Park-Great Barrington, 18th October 2016

Blessed by summer like night temperatures it rained during the night. When the tent holds, it is a peaceful sound to hear. Last night the ranger asked me to leave by seven so I was up early and opening my tent I found out the whole national park wrapped in a thick fog. So thick it could be cut with a knife and spread like butter so to say. You aren't a real bike tourer until the sight of a laundromat makes you emotional and can bring you to the brink of tears. This morning was no exception and as soon as I survived it down the mountain foggy road I was ready to drop quarters and dry my tent in Bennington. A good breakfast restored the spirit with the best muffin ever. The Berkshires, where rich New Yorkers and Bostonian buy their third or fourth country pads, put up quite a show. I can see that I am not far from the big apple, I started to see lots of New York licence plates. From the little I have seen so far, they don't make for fine mountain drivers! Used to straight and right angles driving, they are obviously out of their comfort zone; going around a bend seems a new experience and each time I spot a yellow 'empire state' plate I stay well clear! While I thought the leaves highlights were over, mild climate and little rain meant that the mountains were as spectacular as I had ever seen. I crossed back into Massachusetts and the search for a new licence plate was on but the result was nothing, zero, zilch! In Stockbridge while taking some pictures I was approached by Alan, whom I found out was a keen cyclist and he had done lots of tours himself. In a minute he offered me to stay at his place but it was not meant as I was so desperate for a shower and fed up with baby wipes that I had booked a hotel room earlier on. Clearly addicted , I tried my luck and did ask him where to get a licence plate. He said I've got one...so up we were cycling this steep hill to get this plate from his house! A little diversion that brought today to 111 km and ever closer to Wassaic where my train to New York will depart.

Great Barrington-Wassaic, 19th October 2016

Finally a clean and shaven cyclist was returned to the road. I followed Edward suggested route 41 and in a morning of cycling had the pleasure to cross three state borders, Massachusetts, Connecticut and finally New York. The early morning fog allowed countless photo opportunities and some of the best pictures I have taken on this trip. Connecticut was an unexpected surprise with beautiful countryside scattered by tidy little villages and extremely friendly folks. It was a quick dash through the Constitution State but two hours were enough for the polling cyclist to assign Connecticut to Hillary. She was scattered and plastered all over the place while Ronald McDonald was nowhere to be seen! 1053 kilometres later all that remains is a quick train transfer to New York City where Bronte will proudly parade through Central Park and roam freely around some of the best city sights. We would like to thank a couple of apps... Google Maps for keeping us un-lost and Weather for ensuring we stayed mostly dry...