Thursday, July 26, 2012

The end of the road

There is too much to be said for the amount of time that I have not written.  The trip is officially over for now, and I am on a bus making my way slowly to Minnesota, where I will work for 3 weeks before heading back to California.

I have more emotion about this transition than I have had about anything in a long time.  I am feeling the effects of the trip in this moment, instead of looking back at what it meant, and feeling it later, which is the norm for me.  I am satisfied with what I have accomplished, and disappointed by what I skipped, and by how rushed I was most of the time.  I am so incredibly grateful to all of the wonderful people who helped me and hosted me and guided and entertained and loved me and adventured with me along the way.  Time has passed, and yet I feel as if I will be going back to life in California just as I left it.  The full strength of what the trip has meant to me will have to come out at another time, but for another quick taste, jump to the entry from 7/22/12. 


Rain, hills, vicious barking dogs, strong headwinds while riding uphill, roads which could hardly be called roads due the the river-boulder nature of their surface, biting black flies, missing turns and 94% humidity when it wasn't raining. And it was still a pretty good time. That was my day yesterday, after waking at 5:45 to catch a ride with Chris back to Belfast, ME. I agreed to stay an extra day in Bar Harbor so that we could go paddle-boarding and hiking, and it was well worth it. In return, Chris drove me out to Belfast, on a section of road which I had already ridden in the opposite direction 3 days previously, so I didn't feel so bad about not biking it again. It was the first time on my trip that I had taken a ride from anyone, aside from the bus trip which I planned and paid for.

Maine is beautiful. Full of natural lakes tucked into valleys of tall, green grass and hills covered in forests of a huge variety of trees. The roads are uncrowded, but drivers seem a little less cautious here than other places I have been. One guy on his cell phone almost hit me head-on while passing the car in front of him, headed in the opposite direction on a two lane road. There was no shoulder on that section of road, and I had nowhere to go. It was a close call.


The highlight of the day was here in camp at Groton State Forest. After finishing dinner, I looked for a good tree to throw up a line for a bear hang (a black bear had been spotted recently in the campground, but they have no bear boxes). A tall birch with a branch sticking out like a saguaro cactus was next to the road not too far from my tent, so I tied a rock to the end of my 35 ft parachute cord and tossed it up. I made it over the big branch on the first try, but the rock had gotten stuck in a small branch, and wouldn't budge.

I couldn't hang my food without having both ends of the rope, so I played with the rope a bit to try and get the rock to come down, but no luck. It became a challenge. I pulled on the line in every direction, walking big circles around the tree and pulling. I tied “bunny ears” into the end of the line so that I'd have 2 loops to grab onto, and I yanked with all my might, despite knowing that the rock could come loose and fly at me pretty fast. I even tied a loop up about 3ft from the ground, put my foot into it, and swung from the p-cord, but no luck. 2.5mm p-cord is rated to hold about 300 lbs, and it handled my weight no problem.
I needed more leverage. I wasn't just going to leave the whole cord dangling in the tree, even if I couldn't hang my food from it. I thought about cutting it as high as I could reach, and at least saving the bottom 8 or 10 feet, but I hadn't given up yet. Plus leaving a cord dangling in a tree is bad outdoor ethics. It occurred to me that this was the first real problem I had had to solve in a long time. I enjoyed the process.

My next idea involved tying the end of the cord to a fallen limb about 7 feet long and 4 inches in diameter. I then braced the middle of the limb against a tree and pushed on the far end, resulting in a lever with a stronger pull than I could do with just my body alone. I pushed so far that I walked all the way around the tree, and ended up wrapping the cord around with it. After the cord had wrapped 1.5 times around the tree, I think friction got the best of it, and it broke the end off of my limb.

My next line of thought went to the vehicle that got me here: the bicycle. I figured that if I could get going fast enough, the combined weight of myself and the bicycle at speed would be more than the p-cord could handle, and at least it would snap. I retrieved my trusty steed, loaded the rear panniers with big boulders (so much so that my rear tire was squashed!), and tied the end of the p-cord around the frame just below the seat post. The bike frame is very strong, but I was worried at first that with a sudden stop, the p-cord might just lift up the back of the bike and send me flying over the handlebars. The other end was 15 feet in the air, after all. On my first attempt, I rode slightly uphill on the dirt road that the tree stood next to, getting only about 12 feet before I felt the force of the line pull me sideways and backward, which caused me to fall over. I laughed and got back up, and this time headed downhill, toward the ditch in front of a water bar which I was hoping to avoid putting my front wheel into, because I predicted it was even more likely to result in an over-the-handlebar scenario. I rode more slowly, but was able to keep my balance when I felt the tug of the line on the bike, and kept going with all the weight of the rocks in my panniers holding my back wheel down. I was glad I had my helmet on in case the rock might suddenly release from the little branch it had wrapped around up in the tree, but instead, the line simply ripped the whole branch right off. P-cord is pretty strong stuff.

I felt victorious, but still had to get my food up in a tree. I found another branch not too far away that I thought might work, and wouldn't you know it, the rock got stuck again on the first throw. It took much less work to get it down the second time, using what I knew of the strength of the cord vs the strength of small dead branches, I was able to get the cord moving like a jump rope and twisted this second branch right off as well. I then said screw it, and called it a night. I hope I still have food in the morning.


 I set out on this trip to learn more about America and Americans. In my mind, I would meet people from all walks of life, talk to the rich and the poor, the old and the young, the African and Puerto Rican and Estonian immigrants, their descendants, and the native people of this land. Who I really ended up talking to, staying with, and getting to know is a much smaller slice of society, made up largely of people who share many of the same qualities that I have. College-educated people in their 20's and 30's, struggling to find a balance between fun, responsibility and freedom. In and out of relationships, jobs, and schools, juggling finances and busy schedules and time for self & friends. Often reluctantly settling for a job which makes money versus a hobby which brings great joy or self esteem. Often trying to figure out how to buy a house in today's economy. Really, the greatest difference between most of the young, smart, socially conscious individuals that I met is simply location.

People become connected to a place, and find it difficult to leave. Or they never saw a reason to leave in the first place. Some always had a dream of moving to a place, and when they got there, they stayed. And others who dreamed of a certain place arrived and found it not as they had hoped, and ended up realizing the joys of home. Many people settle close to their families, others close to their jobs or schools, where they have built a community of friends. I found so many happy little pockets of young people, starting to make a life for themselves, enriching communities with creative and positive energy, good will and economic ingenuity. So many places where I found myself thinking, “Hey, this place is alright...maybe I should spend some more time here.”

Much of that feeling often stemmed from the people I met and stayed with, be they friends or strangers, and the good times that they showed me in their communities. It makes me realize that for me, being happy is not necessarily about being in the right place, but about finding the right people, wherever I am. And realizing that some places definitely attract more of my kind of people than others, making the task of finding like-minded folk that much easier.


The mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire and northern New York were not kind to me.  I spent far too much time on sandy dirt roads, being chased by biting black flies in high humidity.  I practically broke into someone's cabin to get water one hot afternoon.  My knees and butt were unhappy, my crotch chaffed with the constant moisture from the high humidity, and my clothing has all begun to fall apart.  There wasn't even a real grocery store in one of the tourist towns I stopped in!  I had to make a 6 mile detour just to get food.  Access to recycling bins was almost non-existent, save for a few big towns.  It was a good time to be ready to be done.
     Thankfully, I spent wonderful time with several good friends as well.  South of Burlington, VT, Callie lives with her boyfriend Ross, and they both work in the organic garden at Shelbourne Farms.  Callie and I worked together at NAL in the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009, and talked at one point of trying to do "The Amazing Race" together, but it never materialized.  She is full of energy and life and  ideas for a wonderful future.  She and Ross live an active, healthy and busy lifestyle, while maintaining a strong connection to the natural world, and a solid social circle. I admired their lifestyle.  They took me to a BBQ, gave me a tour of their workplace (an amazing old estate), and we made a visit to the farmers market.  I stayed in a timber frame cabin that Callie and a friend had built out of recycled timbers several years ago.  It was ideal.

My last 2 nights, after passing through the Adirondacks, were spent in Dexter, NY with Brandon and Matt.  These are guys that I have worked with for several years now, at Wilderness Ventures and NAL, and both are raft-guiding this summer on the Black River.  I was lucky enough to jump on a boat with Brandon on my layover day, and ride the rapids of a very pretty river right through the middle of Watertown, NY.  We all hung out and talked about women and life on opposite coasts and the future.  I will be happy to see both of them again in the fall.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Turning around

Tomorrow, I head west!

Having reached the farthest eastern point of my travels here in Bar Harbor Maine (next door to Acadia National Park), I am turning around and beginning the journey "home."  My trip will end soon, and my mind has already wandered off to the next great adventure.

Upon passing through New Hampshire and Vermont, I will ride through the Adirondacks of upstate New York, and say goodbye to my bicycle in Watertown, NY.  I will ship it back to California, jump on a bus and visit a few more people and places on my way to Minnesota. There, I will work once again for Thistledew Programs on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Wilderness area or Voyageurs National Park for 3 weeks, followed by Burning Man, followed by a return to California for the fall season at Naturalists At Large.  Next year, I am planning on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail!

My original plan entailed biking all the way back to California as well, which may still happen at some point in the future, but not at this time.  Having accomplished nearly all of the goals that I set out to, I feel fairly complete, even though I have not yet been to Michigan, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma or Texas.  And I will not accept that there is nothing to see in those places, for I have learned that there are wonderful people and beautiful things in every place.  I will be most disappointed to have missed Michigan, which I hear is beautiful, and also has many long bike paths, and also Colorado and the southwest, where I have done a fair bit of travel, but was hoping to see several old friends who I will not make it to.

The last couple of days, I spent in Bar Harbor and in Acadia National Park, being hosted and shown a great time by Chris Strout, with whom I used to work at Redcliff Ascent in Utah.  Chris is now running his own paddle-boarding business here, and is doing quite well in his first summer as a business owner.  We paddled and hiked together, and he took me out for a fantastic lobster dinner - my first whole lobster ever.

On the way here, I stayed in Portland Maine with a wonderful French/American couple who fed me rhubarb crisp, and then called her parents further up the road and arranged a place for me to camp the next night.

I stopped at a rest area on one particularly hot day, and was headed to the restroom to fill up my water bottles when I was flagged down by a group of middle-aged folks who told me the water was no good for drinking.  There were signs up which proved them right, and they offered me 2 bottles of water, a gatorade and a sandwich, all of which I accepted, and sat down to have a meal with them.  They were a group of friends traveling by Harley and car to go see some music in a nearby town.  They had been to Acadia recently, and told me of its beauty.  They applauded my bicycle trip, and told me over and over, "do it while you're young!  No sense looking back and saying "I wish I had...""  They were a bit rough and raunchy and very entertaining and kind.


Martha's Vineyard: I went out to visit Winonah, a friend from high school, whom I had not seen since high school. We were surprisingly on the same plane of thought. She revealed to me that she became obsessed with buddhism and psychology at the age of 12, told me about her daughter and her daughter's daddy, and shared lots of life philosophy. She seemed confident, mature, capable and content. Still the same person, but so much more grown-up.

Martha's vineyard is someplace I never thought I'd go. Where presidents and other rich old white people go to get away from it all. Beyond the multimillion dollar homes and yachts, the clean-as-a-whistle artificial fishing villages and everyone thundering around in their SUVs, Martha's Vineyard still has a quiet side. With trees everywhere, cute old houses tucked into the the hearts of actual towns, sunsets on the beach and the serenity of the ocean, I can see why it has been a haven for so many. The birth place of Carly Simon, James Taylor and other artists, it still holds that peaceful, creative inspiration, and I'm glad I got to see and feel it.

Boston, home of 2 world-class Universities (Harvard and MIT), and probably a dozen others of very high quality, is a town of new and old. Skyscrapers loom over downtown, while ancient ships sit in harbors waiting for tourists to board. Bricks are everywhere, as are Americans. Boston strikes me somehow as attracting more Americans that internationals. It is not quite the melting pot that LA and NYC have become, and has a long history of very American attributes. It was not as easy to bike through as DC, but easier than NYC. I stayed with graduate students, who talked about what it was like to be a graduate student in Boston, where everyone they talked to didn't have a Boston accent. Connor, from Wisconsin, felt that he would be looked down on for talking in a Wisconsin accent.

I jumped into the ocean today, just after crossing from Massachusetts into New Hampshire. It was cool and clear and extremely refreshing. The Atlantic is warm so much higher in latitude than the Pacific. There is no way I'd be jumping into the ocean in Humboldt country right now.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Freedom in the Big Apple


The beach is the place to be on the 4th of July, and New York City is no different. I didn't even know that they had beaches in New York City until all of the people I was visiting mentioned the fact that they were going to the beach. I sort of figured that the ocean around NYC is dirty and cold and rocky and full of metal, but that is not entirely the case. What was the case, however, is that the entirety of NYC attempts to go to the beach on the 4th of July, and it was PACKED.

I found it ironic that on the day that represents independence and “freedom,” people were tucking themselves into an 8x8 foot plot of sand amongst the crowds of towels and umbrellas, plunging into an ocean carefully so as not to run into anyone else, people so thick that you could not see the water from the land side of the beach. It was a bit claustrophobic for me, and after biking 5+ miles of beachfront bike path, packed to the gills, I was almost ready to leave without even dipping my toes in the water, but I'm glad that I did. It was cool and refreshing, and the ocean breeze felt nice. The new friend that I finally managed to meet up with had found a not-quite-so packed area of the beach, and we walked and talked and enjoyed the sunny day.

The other “freedom” irony that I found on fourth of July is that of Americans who call themselves patriots, and then try to pass laws based primarily on religious dogma, in a country which was settled by those escaping religious law. Tomorrow, I will visit Plymouth rock, where the Pilgrims of the Mayflower landed in 1620, after fleeing England in the face of a religious government. I feel that it will somehow mean quite a lot to me.

I sit aboard a ferry to the island of Martha's Vineyard. Yesterday, I kayaked and snorkeled with friends in Connecticut after another ferry ride from the tip of Long Island the day before. I spent a night in the middle of long island with a man who flagged me down on the side of the road, told me that he had a place for me to sleep for the night, and led to me to his home to meet his fiance. They were lovely hosts.

Since I last wrote, my carbon footprint has increased significantly due to a cross-country flight to see my family in California, whom I had not visited since I left last year on July 6. I spent 5 incredible days on the family houseboat on Trinity Lake in Northern California, had a dinner with old friends, and spent some quality time with the grandparents. I then flew to Minneapolis, MN for 5 days, and reconnected with the great friends that I now have there. It was en excellent, fulfilling and jam-packed trip of fun and hugs.