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.

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