Monday, July 30, 2007

Yes, it's my birthday.

I turned 38 today.

Yesterday, we had a celebratory Community Dinner, though the festivities were tempered somewhat by SiSi's continued illness. Preparation for the dinner was hectic all day, especially for my wife, and after dinner didn't get any less chaotic. I didn't even get to open my cards until the girls were well into the bedtime routine!

Maeve apologized yesterday, and WN did today, that my birthday was less than special. I think WN, particularly, hoped I'd get to enjoy more of the weekend than I did. Here's what I explained to Maeve, though: To me, a good birthday is when I get to live life and be happy in the company of people I love, and who love me. I did that. I got to grill for the house and extended chosen family. I love to do that! We all ate together outside, and there was lots of food. I got to have some quality time with Maeve, Caleb and Bess. I got to play games with KatieKathryn (6 well-played games of Pass the Pigs). I even got to do a little woodworking and check an item off my summer work list (I replaced the top on our picnic table)*. This is a quality day, by any of my standards, and let's be clear: The title of last year's post** nothwithstanding, I don't need (and rarely care for) a day that is all about me. I appreciate attention, sure, but really all I need is just to know I'm loved. A hug and kiss are good, tell me you love me, take a second sausage from the grill if you like them. Tell me you love me again. I really like to hear that a lot!

It was a good day. I'm happy. I'm 38.

* I checked one item off from that list to add another: Replace the bottom of the picnic table, which I discovered was rotted from age, water damage and ants. Figures.

** I never replied to the one comment from that post, but I'll smile coyly now and say, "Come back here and find out!"

A timely reply to (see below)... updated

PS: The story on the WWLP website was quietly corrected by the station on Tuesday, July 31. You can read it [HERE]. It's quite short, and no acknowedgement of the error was made by the station (none was truly expected). I'll admit I'm disappointed that they didn't take the chance to make a real story out of the issue. Seems like it'd be newsworthy, doesn't it?

Dear Mr. Wayfarer,

Thank you for your inquiry into Lt. Brown's position on roadside safety. I talked with Lt. Brown and he states that he was misquoted in his interview with Cy Becker. He stated that he told Mr. Becker that pedestrians should walk against traffic and all other forms of movement on the road should be with the flow of traffic. He is communicating with WWLP for clarification Of the issue.

Thank You,

Stephen M. Martin Fire Chief

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Letter to the Agawam Fire Dept.

To Whom It May Concern:

I was alarmed to read a story on the WWLP website which quoted Agawam Fire Dept. Lieutenant Jim Brown as saying, “anyone walking, or bicycle riding should always be heading in the direction facing traffic.” (see the link below for the story brief)

This information is correct as it relates to pedestrians, but wholly (and dangerously) incorrect for operators of wheeled vehicles, including cyclists. In Massachusetts, as in every other state, the law of the road concerning movement of vehicles is clear and unequivocal: bicycle = car. This means that you should operate your bicycle like a driver of a vehicle.

The same is true of people on skateboards, in-line skates and all other forms of small-wheeled vehicles--all traffic rules should be obeyed.

To have someone trained in safety make a statement to the contrary serves to make clear just how poorly understood these rules are. Yet, it is when people violate these rules that serious injuries are more likely to occur, so it is imperative that the misinformation be corrected publicly as soon as possible.

In the interest of safety, I have asked WWLP to verify that the quotation is correct, but I would strongly encourage the Agawam Fire Department to issue a clarification which includes a correct analysis of the rules of safety for pedestrians, and for cyclists, skateboards and others.



I'll post any replies I get.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control…

You will experience a delay in coverage of the Tour de la Campagne on this network. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

In lieu of standard programming today, we will explain briefly (and in popular bulleted form) just why your regularly scheduled blog topic has been changed:

1. The children are not in care. When papa is not in school, he gets to play with the girls when they have no care. In the past, this has not been often: A day here, a day there, but rarely for extended periods. This year, I’ve had them for two separate weeks (one right after school let out and this past week), and I’ve discovered that it puts a serious crimp in my personal productivity. It also, at the end of the week, pretty much toasts me on being a stay-at-home-papa (Chili and TMH, I bow to you and your endurance for such a career). By the end of the day, I just don’t have it in me to write much.

2. We have a “minor infestation”. Wifeness and I went up to NH for her 20th high school reunion and I stayed up there with the girls for several extra days. We stayed at Nana’s. She loves to have her grandchildren around her and the change of venue did us all some good. I, particularly, was getting bored with entertaining my children locally. On the last day we were there, Nana was primping the girls and noticed that my younger was itching her head a lot. Being a retired school nurse, she took a moment to search NiNi’s scalp and, sure enough, noticed the telltale signs of head lice. Where the little buggers came from is not certain, but the most likely possibility is one of the places we stayed when we were on vacation (the story of which, ironically, is on hold because of the very thing it would likely make clear). Nana removed what she could see, but we did a more thorough and exhaustive search of everyone once we got home.

It turned out that the women of the house all had them--even my darling wife. I, as it happened, did not. I’ll tell you, though, that my head itches in sympathy every time I think about it.

The battle against the bugs was taken to them immediately: Hair was combed and washed to within an inch of its life, all clothes, bedding and other laundry was washed with the 4,000ºF water direct from the boiler (that’s a hyperbolic 2,200ºC for those of you that do it right). Pillows were toasted in the dryer at the highest setting. The cream rinse that has lived in the cabinet for ages, waiting for just such an occasion, was put into action. No effort was spared. No prisoners were taken.

We seem to be winning. A recent reconnaisance of the battleground revealed no new lice of any kind (adults or eggs), but we will continue to monitor things to prevent an uprising.

3. SiSi has not been feeling at all well. She was complaining that her belly hurt a little on Thursday, and she didn’t eat a lot at supper. Yesterday, she woke up in discomfort, but also began to vomit. Not a lot, and mostly just clear, but I don’t make many distinctions where puke is concerned. Those of you who know me or read this blog understand that vomiting children do not pass GO. They do not collect $200. They go directly to the Mama. I get blood, guts, broken parts and boyfriends. Mama gets the vomit, especially if she wants to avoid the sympathetically vomitous husband to boot.

The thing is, however, that the Mama had to go to work, so NiNi and spent the day looking for ways to make SiSi feel better and take her mind off the fact that she was feeling nauseous off and on all day. We played games, watched some video, read books. NiNi even did an amazing job of having quiet time so her sister could rest when sleep overtook her. I tried to give her some fluid (water mostly, but we tried other stuff to help get her some electrolytes), but it wouldn’t stay down. We tried dry toast, but she just wouldn’t touch it. She didn’t eat all day. She had a full-blown case of the intestinal blahs. Poor baby!

Mama helped her get settled at the end of the day, but she didn’t sleep well, and kept vomiting every time she’d drink something. Then, WN noticed a little fleck of blood in it. It was so small, she wasn’t at all sure it even was blood, so she didn’t say anything at the time. That was appreciated, since it was 2am and I’d only gone to bed an hour before. At 4:30, however, SiSi “provided another sample” and there was what looked to someone who is not colorblind WN like a clot of dried blood.

OK. Now we’ve moved into a new category of medical issue. We called our pediatrician to alert them to the issue, and they told us what we already knew: This kind of thing is what emergency rooms are for. Thanks, guys! WN took her and I stayed, just in case NiNi should wake up. They got back a couple of hours ago and WN and I have been on rotating nap schedules since. SiSi still feels like crap, but she's at least resting.

You may wonder why it is that I’m blogging at all, and the answer is that I am up, but everyone else is down. I could be cleaning the kitchen, I suppose, but I’ve been trying to sit down and do some writing for the last several days. I needed to take the 30 minutes to do this. The kitchen can wait.

Your regularly scheduled program will resume as soon as possible. We appreciate your continued viewership.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Commercial break...

Just a brief preview of coming attractions here on Wayfarer Journal:

1. To the many of you whose blogs I read, but to whom I have posted no replies in the last several months, please accept my apologies. I intend (once again) to get around to each of you (and maybe some new ones, now that I expect to have time to write more) to catch up. Please don't take my lengthy silence for disinterest, but bear with me. I can only do so much blogging so fast.

2. My oldest daughter is now riding her bike without training wheels. We took them off on Monday and went to the big grassy field at the playpark to practice riding without them. She didn't fall once! She totally had it down in 6 assisted starts and now, at the end of the week, is able to go pretty much wherever she wants. This was an important moment in her life because she really likes watching me ride, and now we have that to share. More on that, and our connection to outdoors and activities, in a post coming soon.

3. My wife and her father are going to a big Harry Potter book event. I expect she'll post about this on her blog soon. Both of them really enjoy Harry Potter but, more importantly, it has been a great bonding experience for them. I'm glad she's going! It's inspired me to post some thoughts and experiences on the topic of parental relationships soon!

4. There has been a lengthy discussion at my school about the work I do as Coordinator of Athletics (what many high schools would call an Athletic Director), or, more particularly, whether and how much I should be paid for this work. It's been on my mind, so I'll vent just enough to say that, over the last four years, I've started a decent interscholastic sports and activities program at my school, and it's going to really torque me to see that effort wasted because of inconsiderate decision-making. I intend to share more about this later, but this is one of those occasions when the politics of education really get in the way of the work of educating.

5. If you are a woman and a reader of this blog, please raise your hand if shoes and handbags rated higher on your list of interests than dolls when you were a child. Coming soon, an explanation!

6. Go see Ratatouille!

Thank you for your kind attention. Coverage of the Tour de la Campagne will return shortly.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tour de la Campagne--Stage 2

Thursday, July 5

6h45: I am amazed that I’m awake now. I set my alarm for 7am, and I figured I’d have to drag my ass out of bed. Instead, I’m totally up and ready to go.

I’m not as sore now as I was at the end of the day yesterday. There are several reasons for this, I think. One was the long, hot shower I took after I got here. Just being able to warm up after having been cold and wet on the road for so long did a lot to relax me. Another was the walk I took to go down to find something to eat (there’s a nice little eatery tucked away behind the man on the bench). It helped to loosen up those parts of my body that were all tight from the ride. Then there were the nachos. Can I just say that there is nothing like the perfect food to satisfy a craving when you are ravenous? The nachos came on a plate the size of my bike piled high with chicken, beans, veggies and cheese. I could have done without the cheese, but I was in no mental state to pick it off just to save a few calories. I know I’ll burn through them today. Finally, a little Advil® took the edge off and allowed me to sleep after I’d done some chores.

I made it back to my hotel room with plenty of food for today’s ride, and I set straight away to trying to fit it into the limited space I have in my pack. It helps that I have pockets in the back of my jersey. There are three big pockets back there that can hold a lot of stuff. I keep my mp3 player in the center pocket, along with my phone (when I need to have it out). I put my maps, in the one on my left, where I can get at them most easily. The one on the right holds Power Bars and my handkerchief.

Everything fits where it needs to, but the pack is now heavier than it was yesterday. I decide not to wear it on my waist today, but to attach it to the aero bars on the front of my bike. I’ve experimented with this during training rides. I know it fits there, but this is not an ideal situation. If the pack is not on my body, it won’t put pressure on my hips and back, but I lose the ability to use my aero bars as a result. It’s not what you think. I do use the bars to tuck in and reduce wind resistance when I’m moving fast (an example of this is at right), but they are far more important to me as pain relief. I rely on them to take pressure off my upper back, shoulders and arms when they get tired, and to allow my body to shift in the saddle (you sit on different parts in a tuck than you do otherwise). Not being able to use them means that I will not be able to shift around as much, and I will get sore faster. It’s a decision based on how my hips and lower back feel today. The Advil helped last night, but I can really feel the pain deep this morning. I’m reluctant to abuse them more at such an early point in the journey. I’ll take the chance that my upper body will absorb everything, and the lower parts will appreciate the day’s rest.

Before I went to bed, I repaired the puncture in the tube I replaced. It took 10 minutes and I did it while watching fireworks on TV (sadly, there were none to be seen locally because of the rain). I also made sure my clothes--all of them--were well on the way to drying. My shorts, especially, need to be dry. Riding shorts that are wet on the inside will chafe instantly, no matter what creams you put on your parts.

8h30: It’s still raining as I head down to avail myself of some continental breakfast. The Weather Channel says it’s supposed to clear up soon. I think I’ll wait a bit, to see if it does. While I’m waiting, I’ll share with you some photos of Great Barrington.

This is the road into town. This picture is not noteworthy for anything except to show you the road shoulder. It looks nice and wide, doesn’t it? Wide enough for a car to pass a bike? I thought so, too. Then why did the driver last night whiz by me so close I could have touched him and HONK HIS HORN?

Road riding is filled with stuff like that. Drivers in this country simply don’t have an understanding of what that kind of behavior does to cyclists. I consider myself a veteran cyclist, but when someone blows their horn right next to me as they pass, I goddamn near jump out of my skin. I know less experienced cyclists who have crashed as a result of such things. Somewhere along the line, drivers have forgotten (did they ever learn it?) that they must have respect and attention for everything and everyone around them. We need to start educating people to do better. I am writing this to encourage you to spread the word, and to act by example. Give cyclists (and everyone else on the roads) space and lay off the fucking horn!

To be fair, it’s not all the fault of drivers. Cyclists, too, have forgotten their own obligations to road safety. I see cyclists routinely riding against the flow of traffic or darting across streets, not signalling or stopping at lights and not looking to see what cars are doing. I say it to you now: If you are riding a bicycle, you will lose every interaction you have with a car. Your best defense, your only defense, is to be as predictable as possible. Obey the rules of the road, and teach others by example.

This next photo (above) is for Fran. It’s St. James Episcopal Church, named (I must assume) for the same saint as the Episcopal church in my town. It’s quite majestic, and I thought I would share it with her because she likes beautiful buildings.

The photo below demonstrates what my pack looks like when installed on top of my aero bars. Can you see why I chose to put it there? It’s heavier than it looks. The gallery I’m parked in front of had some nice pieces on the walls. Mostly modern and probably overpriced, but nice to look at.


8h30: The rain has stopped. I decide to head out after a short walk to loosen up my muscles. I’ve had breakfast: A bagel with cream cheese, a banana and Gatorade. I know. It’s not my first choice either. The thing about Gatorade, though, is that it does an excellent job of replacing electrolytes lost through sweat. I need to replenish them regularly if I’m to avoid exhaustion or, worse, heat stroke. This wasn’t an issue yesterday, but it will definitely come into play as the temperature rises today and the sun breaks through the clouds.

I mount up and set off. It takes a minute for my legs to quit snivelling, but soon my cadence is up and I’m cruising along quite nicely. The roads are wet at first, but they dry quickly so I’m able to take advantage of the generally downhill grade of the road. Simply Red is playing on my mp3 player. It’s an exquisite morning!


9h05 (9 miles/42km//81 miles/142km total): I stop at the top of this hill to take things in for a moment. You can’t see it in the photo, but the fog disappears just off the top edge to reveal a mountain that pokes up another 500 ft/150m. The air is cool and heavy. There’s only the smallest hint of a breeze, but there is the promise of warmth held in it. The trees and plants along the edge of the road give off a cacophony of sweet and earthy smells, but there’s also the weighty aroma of asphalt serving as an undertone. The birds are busy chirping and calling back and forth, and something small is scurrying about just out of view in the underbrush. There’s a truck rumbling up the hill behind me, it’s engine bearing down as it sets to pushing its payload up the incline.

I wait for it to pass before setting off. A truck is broad and boxy, and is an excellent windbreak. If I stay about a car length behind it and just off to its side as it goes down the hill, I will get pulled along by the wake it produces in the air. This process, called drafting, is a great way to conserve effort because it removes the single biggest contributing factor to work in distance cycling: Wind resistance. The more you can make air work for you, the less you have to work to move the bike forward. It sort of works like surfing. If you can catch the wave just right, you can go a long way. Unfortunately, trucks go much faster down hills than bicycles, even racing bicycles, can so it’s not possible to draft for long. Even so, I’ll take every bit of help I can get.

As it turns out, I don’t make it down to the bottom of this hill before I see this sign.

I decide to stop and have the bike strike a pose. One state down, two to go.


9h25 (12 miles/19km//84 miles/135km total): My planned route takes me along a country road shortcut around the town of Hillsdale (in the distance in the photo, left). I debated whether to do this because one can never know what the road will be like. It could be really hilly, or the pavement could turn to dirt or be of a condition that otherwise makes it not suitable for skinny road bike tires. This choice turned out to be a great one. The road was in great condition, and it was quiet. There were beautiful farms along it and the views, as you can see from the photo, were were truly eye-catching. Relegated to the position of “nice afterthought” was the fact that this shortcut shaved two miles off my trip.


9h50 (16 miles/26km//88 miles/142km total): I make my next scheduled stop here, at the town of Copake. Please note the quaint clock located at the main intersection. I’m making decent time. If the roads stay as they are, I could be in Kingston by 2pm. That’d be nice! I’d have time to go exploring. After all, I’ve never been to Kingston. It might be a wonderful place!


10h15 (19 miles/31km//91 miles/147km total): I left Copake about 10 minutes ago, but forgot to look for a bathroom. It always pays to take the call to nature when you’re cycling because you never know how you’ll deal with it if you’re on the road when she calls. I’m faced with such a problem now. It’s not that I mind doing my business in the trees. It’s that there is no guarantee that one will find any that aren’t part of someone’s front yard. And let’s take a moment to remind everyone of an essential piece of wisdom from the saddle of distance cyclists everywhere: Bring your own tp. You will never regret the small amount of space it takes up.

Hey! There are some trees over there!


11h30 (30 miles/48km//102 miles/164km total: I almost missed this turn. The sign was partially hidden, as you can see, and I was looking down when I came upon it. Had I not looked up and seen that there was another sign facing the turn, I would have blown right by it. A lucky break! Speaking of breaks, I should take one. It’s about time for lunch.


13h20 (46 miles/74km//118 miles/190km total): I’ve pedaled straight since lunch and moved along at a nice, sibilant clip. The wind has picked up (see flag, right), but heavy traffic has helped mitigate that somewhat. I stop at the top of the Kingston Bridge to snap this pic (below, left). That’s the Hudson River. I’ve made it to the Hudson, people! I’m feeling pretty proud of myself right about now, then I remember that I haven’t been able to check in with Suzanne since noon. We had standing plans for me to call at 12pm and at 7pm, just to confirm I’m ok. There’s a reason behind this that some of you know. Perhaps I’ll post it sometime. Anyway, I tried calling her when I stopped for lunch, but there was no signal. I have tried every 5 miles or so after that, but with no better luck. It’s 1h30 now, and she’s probably freaking out. I’ll scoot to the other side of the river and try again from there. There’s a little rest area I can get to, I think. Before I go, though, I want to show you these mountains (below). Can you see them there in the distance? Yeah, those. That’s tomorrow’s fun. I ride right into those. Nice!


13:40 (not much farther than last time): I’ve arrived in Kingston, but I have to stop to deal with this.

Does everyone remember what this is a picture of? See Stage 1 for the answer. This time, it’s on the back tire. This is a bigger pain than simply changing the front because it’s greasier, but also because remounting the tire requires stretching the frame a little. This is a job that properly requires three hands, but I’m able to do it with two and several choice words to the cycling gods. I was fortunate that this happened in front a beautiful house with a small bench in the front yard. I was able to sit quite comfortably in the shade while I worked! I left the homeowners a small note of thanks.

I have a listing of cycle shops in the area, and one is supposed to be right close by. I think I’ll head over there to see if I can get another new tube. I’ve used the one new spare I brought with me, but with this flat, I’ll only have patched tires. These are perfectly good, you should understand, but I’d just feel more comfortable knowing I had an unrepaired safety net.

15h45 (61 miles/98km//143 miles/230km total): I rode over to where the bike shop was supposed to be, but it appears that they’re now a bunch of Asian women doing manicures and tanning. Who’d have guessed? I wonder for a second if I should work on my rather stark tan lines, since I’m here. I’ll never be able to wear sandals or sleeveless shirts until they fade, otherwise!

The tanning bed rejected, I head to the Sky Top motel, just west of town. It’s name, apparently, comes from its location at the top of this extreme hill (see right). The photo does not do this climb justice. It’s straight up! Just what I need at the end of a day’s ride.

After I check in and do laundry (see Stage 1), I get into street clothes to search for provisions and find pasta. I noticed as I was climbing up to the motel that the clouds coming over the mountains to the west were looking dark and ominous. I’m glad I beat them!
I’m sitting at a country diner enjoying a heaping bowl of linguine augustino as the clouds let loose. Again, the picture doesn’t quite do this torrent justice. The wind is howling outside and the rain is going horizontal. I’ll have to walk home in that eventually, but that’s much better than having to ride in it. I’ll just linger over this pasta a while, maybe get some dessert, too. I left my raincoat strapped to my pack. Does anyone here have an umbrella? How about a large garbage bag?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tour de la Campagne--Prologue and Stage 1

Prologue—Tuesday, July 3

I’m a little nervous, but only because I’m itching to get on the road. I finished my last training ride Sunday (a 35-mile trip into the Berkshires to practice hill climbing techniques), and now I’m resting my muscles. I don’t like the resting, but it is a necessary part of the preparation. There’s nothing to gain, and everything to lose, from training right before a long ride, but it screws with my metabolism. It’s like getting all wound up, but not releasing the tension. Still, I’d rather be antsy than injured.

My girls really get a kick out of their papa going cycling. Nieve thinks I look cool in my cycling shorts and jersey (ever the fashionista, that one) and SiSi likes to watch me do my pre-ride prep (put gear on the bike, get into my clothes, do equipment check, etc.) She gets very excited at the thought of riding her bike 400 miles (“when I get to be a bigger kid, right?”) I am excited at that thought, too, I guess. I haven’t challenged myself in this way in a very long time.

I’m really expecting to put myself to the test on this trip. It’s been a slow and laborious journey to get to a point of physical and mental fitness that will allow me to succeed, but whether it’s enough to do a trip like this, I just don’t know. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, though. Since Christmas, I’ve ridden over 800 miles in preparation for this trip. I’ve run, walked and lifted weights consistently as well, and I am finally beginning to reverse the effects of nearly fifteen years of bad diet and a less-than-active lifestyle. I’ve lost 30 pounds, which has been great, but I’m really more proud of the state of mind that has come from all that effort. For the first time in a very long while, I feel like I’m able to live a life that is nourishing to my body, mind and spirit. I’m feeling more powerful every day, too. I love that I’m beginning to remember what it feels like to run fast! Now that graduate school is done, I’m starting to feel alert and energetic, and not because of the coffee. Whether I end up completing this adventure or not, the yield from all this preparation will have been worth the effort.

I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t have any real expectations about my success. I could do very well (my training leaves me cautiously optimistic), but I’m not distressed by the possibility of failure. I’m doing this to find out what I’m capable of, not to have a particular result. Good adventures are much more about the journey than the destination, and this is no different. I just want to give the best I have to it, know inside that it really is the best I have, and see where that takes me. I wanted to do the same thing in graduate school, to demonstrate what my best really was. If it was good, then yay. If it wasn’t, at least I would know where I stood. It turns out people thought highly of my work, but that didn’t mean as much to me as the idea that *I* was proud of it. I have spent more time in my life than I have wanted on things that were less than true quality. On this effort, as with graduate school, I want to be able to say I did something I could be truly proud of.

Stage 1—Wednesday, July 4

It’s only 5:45am, but I’m up and futzing around putting things in order to leave. Yesterday, I packed all my gear, checked the bike over about 12 times and packed the bag that will go in the van, so I’ll have real clothes after the ride is done. I might look decent in bicycle shorts now, but they’re just not the kind of thing you wear around town all day.

OK. Everything’s ready. I’m ready. It’s all already ready, already! If it were just me here, I’d be on the road right now. I’d don my helmet, get saddled up take a deep, cleansing breath and, with no fanfare whatsoever, set out to do this thing. I’d do that if it were just me here, but it’s not. There is a house full of people that wants to see me off. I’m really flattered by the attention, and I’m grateful for their blessings, but it leaves me a little abashed. I’m not really good at accepting that kind of attention, and it’s a little unnerving to have everyone so interested in this trip. Maybe this means something to more than just me? Nah, probably it’s just curiosity. I can’t really think about that now, anyway. It’s too distracting, and I need to keep my head on what I know, not what might be.

I need to remind myself constantly that I know what I can do. I can climb hills. I can ride 75 miles, and more. I can handle the challenge of pushing myself beyond doubts and fears, misgivings and denials. I can live in the moment. I can keep a cool head in a crisis. I can read a map. I can read my body. I can totally. Fucking. Do this.

08h15: Finally, the rest of the house is up and I’m set to head out. I pick up my pack to put it on and I realize it’s heavier than I’ve trained with. It’s got some equipment I’ve added at the last minute and toiletries, so I sort of expected it to be, but I was imagining a few ounces, not what feels like pounds. Maybe it’s the extra food? Oh, well. It’s too late to deal with it now. I’ll have to work it out on the road. No problem, though. I can do this!

Caleb, Maeve and family come down to wish me luck, and the girls bring out their bikes as a show of support. There’s some chatting, a photo op with my groupies (right), and it’s time to go. The morning is sunny and cool, and there is a lightness to the air, despite the lingering humidity. It’s going to be a beautiful day to be on the road. I wave good-bye and pedal off.

The first 20 miles of this stage are familiar. I’ve ridden them numerous times and I allow myself to focus my attentions inward as I ride. How does everything feel? Are my muscles loosening up? Is anything rubbing that shouldn’t be? How’s my pacing? There are no issues, of course. Things are fine, so I just settle in and enjoy the experience. I come across a small group of women riders training for a triathlon, and we wish each other well. I also meet a woman out for a day ride on her mountain bike, and we chat about things for several miles before our paths diverge. By the time I stop at Haydenville an hour later to eat and apple and re-lube, I’m feeling really good about this trip. It’s only been 20 miles, but so far, so good!

10h15 (24 miles): The next hour takes me into new riding territory. I’ve never been on these roads before (the photo at left marks the farthest I've ever ridden) and it takes me a minute to find my way along the back roads I’ve marked on my map. I’m not taking bigger roads because, well, there aren’t any that go straight west. I have chosen to follow the older roads, the roads less travelled. They will take me into the heart of the Berkshires, where the first set of climbs awaits me. I’m not there yet, though. Right now, I have to figure out which of the innumerable forks in the road I’m supposed to take to get me there.

Why is it that in New England nothing is ever properly marked? I think it’s charming when I drive around my own part of the world, but when I’m trying to get somewhere on a bike (and trying not to be about it all day), it sure can be a pain in the patoot! I take one that felt like it was right (sometimes it just comes down to feel when the map doesn’t show what it should) and suddenly I’m cruising down this nice downhill. It makes me instantly nervous. I’m heading into the mountains. There’s not supposed to be a lot of downhill riding. I mean, if this turns out to be the wrong way, I’m going to have to climb back up to the top of this damn 2-mile hill!

12h45 (43 miles): The turn worked out, thank the gods! Now, I’m in the Berkshires, heading toward Blandford. I left Huntington just a while ago after a brief break for some water and grease up (see pic, at left). The climbs have become longer and much steeper. I’m standing in the pedals in places, and the weight of the pack pulls on my back and hips when I’m up out of the saddle. It is an accepted fact that, as you continue to ride, you get stronger and better able to climb hills without getting out of breath. That’ll be great in New York, but right now is when I need it. I’m getting my ass kicked a little, here! All the training I’ve put in and the first day’s ride is giving me trouble. How embarrassing. Good thing no one is around to see this.

I'm also glad no one was around to see this when it happened (see photo, at right). Why does the bike look like this, you ask? Well, the cause is a piece of glass this big--[]. That’s right. That's how big it was. My whole cycling life, I have never had a flat caused by glass. I have ridden over broken stuff more times than I can count. Never have I had one so much as scrape a tire. Now I'm sitting here at the bottom of a hill witha piece of glass you wouldn't notice if you stepped on it that has somehow managed to embed itself so deep in my tire that it punctured the tube. Unbelieveable! I won't take the time to repair the flat. I have a new tube in my pack, so I'll just use that. I can take time tonight to repair this one, and it'll be faster, easier and more comfortable that if I sat here.

The best way to find a puncture in a bike tube, if you never learned this during childhood, is to immerse the tube in water and look for the air bubbles. To do this on the side of the road is, to say the least, more irritating than to do it in the comfort of a hotel room with a sink. Also, the best way to repair said puncture is to buff the area, coat it with rubber cement and wait for it to dry before applying the patch, then put the . This doesn't take but a minute or so for a small hole like what I have, but I'd still rather do it while watching cable in a hotel room than I would sitting on a guard rail.

I set to work changing the tube. I'm pretty quick at it but, as I'm cleaning up and repacking things, I notice that it's starting to cloud over. I knew when I got up this morning there was was a chance of rain, but it’s looking pretty certain at this point that I’m going to get wet in a bit. Crap!

Riding in the rain sucks. It’s dangerous, too. The roads get slippery on skinny, smooth road tires and cars have a harder time reacting to cyclists because they can’t see them as well. I have reflectors and a light on the back, which help my visibility, but these roads are narrow and winding. I stop when the rain starts (in the middle of a climb—grrr!) so I can take off my sunglasses and stow the music. I brought my mp3 player with me on this trip. It has a radio, but it’s also loaded with 80’s hits! Just the thing to entertain while cruising along on a bike for 7 hours or more. I’ll need to be at my most alert right now, though, and that means making sure I can see and hear everything, even far away. It would not do to be in an accident on the first day, would it?

Now, to get back on the bike and get to the top of this hill…

14h55 (58 miles): Oh. My. God. I am so sore! I cannot believe how much it took out of me to get to this point. More than two hours to cover less than 15 miles?!?! Yes, it was all uphill at a nice 7-8% grade, but that was so much harder than it needed to be. And I still have another 10-15 miles to go. It’d better be all downhill from here…

16h55 (72 miles): I stopped in Monterey (61 miles, I forgot to take a picture), on the west side of the Berkshires, so I could get out of the saddle, stretch my legs and get a bite to eat. I was just too wiped from that climb to go much further, even though it turned out to be an easy ride. While I sat and ate my last apple and finished off a bag of pretzels, I had the chance to meet another cyclist on his way to Boston. He set out from Hyde Park this morning, and was looking to get as far as Springfield before it got too dark. We shared stories and advice while the rain clattered off the porch roof of the Monterey General Store (closed, according to the sign, so the proprietors could go see fireworks). It was just the thing I needed to remind me that I would get though the day. I wonder if there'll be fireworks tonight.

I tenderly mounted up again and finished the last 12 miles in good form. The rain even stopped just as I turned the corner to head into downtown Great Barrington. I checked in to the Day’s Inn, took a nice, long shower and washed out my riding clothes. This bit of laundry is a necessary ritual because dried sweat and salt can do awful things to lycra (in addition to making it smell horrendous). Apart from that, though, I had 20+ miles of road mud on everything, and I would never have been able to stand trying to put them on in the morning.

I’m in my spare set of clothes now, and I’m hungry enough to eat a horse. It’s only a short (rainy) walk to downtown from here. I’ll have to get provisions for tomorrow: Power Bars, pretzels, fruit and trail mix, as much as I can fit in my pack. Then I’m off to find some supper. I wonder if there’s a bar or a Mexican place. I’m feeling like nachos. A lot of nachos.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

La Fête Nationale de la France (Bastille Day)

Aujourd’hui est associée au défilé militaire du 14 juillet qui remonte les Champs Elysées. C'est aussi une fête populaire avec l'organisation de bals et feux d'artifices, mais le 14 juillet est avant tout une fête républicaine symbole de liberté.

Le 14 juillet est la date symbolique du passage de la monarchie à la république. Dans les premiers moments avant la révolution française en 1789, une grande agitation régnait partout en France. Le Tiers État (les représentants de la bourgeoisie) se sont opposés au Roi de France Louis XVI et ses abuses. Ils ont voulu de la liberté, égalite et la création d'une constitution. Le Roi a été totalement opposé, alors les députés du Tiers État ont fait, le 20 juin 1789, le serment du Jeu de Paume de "ne jamais se séparer jusqu'à ce que la Constitution fût établie".

Le peuple était mécontent, le peuple avait faim, il s’est soulevé avec les députés du Tiers Etat et il a décidé de marcher sur la Bastille, prison d'État qui a symbolisé l'absolutisme et l'arbitraire de l'Ancien Régime. C'était cette prise de la Bastille qui a commencé la revolution. Dès lors, la prise de la Bastille symbolise pour tous les Français la liberté, la démocratie et la lutte contre toutes les formes d'oppression.

...and now, in English...

Today we associate July 14 with the military procession that marches down the Champs Elysées. It’s also a popular festival for organizing parties and fireworks, but July 14 is first and foremost a symbol of freedom throughout the Francophone world.

July 14 is the symbolic date of France’s passage from a monarchy to a republic. In the time immediately preceding the French revolution in 1789, a great tension pervaded all of France. The Third State (representatives of the middle-class) were opposed to King de France Louis XVI and his abuses. They wanted liberty, equality and the creation of a constitution. The king opposed this, so the deputies of the Third Estate made, on June 20, 1789, what we know as the Tennis Court Oath “never to separate until the Constitution was established”.

People were dissatisfied, people was hungry and they raised themselves up with the deputies of the Third State and decided to march on the Bastille, a State prison which symbolized the absolutism and the capricious nature of the old ways. It was this storming of the Bastille which began the revolution. Therefore, for the French the storming of the Bastille symbolizes freedom, democracy and the fight against all the forms of oppression.

Here’s some basic stuff to learn more about France and Bastille Day:

Bastille Day—Standard wikipedia information on (easy to read and to understand, I think) is available [HERE]

Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen (the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen)—One of the fundamental human rights documents, together with the Bills of Rights of both England and the United States, and also the more recent Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations. Its text is originally in French, but an English translation may be read [HERE].

La Marseillaise—The French national anthem. Its lyrics in both French and English are [HERE].

La Marianne—Marianne, the national emblem of France, is a personification of the Republic, and holds a place of honor in many French monuments. A popular representation of her, by Eugène de la Croix, can be viewed [HERE].

The French Flag—The origins of le tricolore are said to be a rosette, which the king liked, that was created in July 1789 just at the start of the French Revolution. The combination of the colours, often credited to the Marquis de Lafayette (chief of the King’s Guard), is of the coat of arms of Paris (red and blue), symbolically separated by (some say surrounding) the royal colour, white.

Monday, July 9, 2007

I have just a moment to let you all know that I reached Lock Haven, PA, right in time for the bell tower to strike 12pm. It took six days and exactly 4oo miles to get there by bike , but I was not beaten by a single hill and there was no chafing (some mild bruising, muscle soreness, chapped lips and sunburn, but no chafing). I picked up my degree in person, and spent some time talking in person with my professors before my family met me right at the entrance to the university. I'll post details about the trip over the next several days (bear with me, please, because our next couple of stops are without WiFi). It was a lot of fun, and a great way to close out graduate school.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

All my bags are packed...

Well, actually, it's only one bag. It is packed, though, and I'm saddling up in about half an hour. If all goes well, I'll be in Great Barrington in time for fireworks. The weather is cloudy and rain threatens, but the reports say I should be fine for most of the day. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. That's then, of course. Right now, it is a quiet summer morning and I'm enjoying a cup of coffee and a banana before I go. I'm obviously not taking a computer with me and we won't have WiFi in all the hotels where we'll be, so you may not hear from me a lot during the next 10 days (not that you've been hearing from me a lot lately, anyway). I'll be taking lots of notes and pics, so I can share the adventure with you when I get back. See you then!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Lock Haven 2007—The Route

Several people have asked me how I’m getting there, so here’s what I’ve planned.

Day 1: Wayfarer House, MA to Great Barrington, MA—65 miles (105km). The first half of this route I’ve travelled before, and it poses no special challenges. The second half has a long, but gradual climb into the Berkshires with some expected steeper climbs around the ski areas between Otis and Great Barrington. You’ll notice that there are not many roads on the map where I’ve drawn lines. That’s because most of them are tertiary roads. The thing about this part of the route is that there is not truly direct route from start to finish. All the good roads run north/south, so moving laterally requires using back roads, the quality of which are always in question. I know which roads to take down as far as Northampton (I can get to Gardner State Park on roads with decent asphalt), but I have no idea what the roads are like after that. The bike clubs here have very little intelligence on them, so I’m winging it a little. I’m staying right in downtown Great Barrington, which should afford easy access to fireworks and food in the evening.

Day 2: Great Barrington to Kingston, NY—50 miles (80km). This route is the shortest of the lot because the next day takes me through the Pokono mountain range, and I want my legs to be as fresh as they can be to climb those hills. My path takes me through mostly open farm country in upstate New York, where the hills roll gently and the views go for miles. There are only occasional towns along the route I’m following, so I’ll need to make sure I’m loaded well with food, and I’ll want to fill up with water every chance I get. The biggest challenge of this day’s ride comes once I reach Kingston. I have to cross the bridge to get over the Hudson. This section of road is not bike-friendly, so I have to be alert, and I have to negotiate a ramp exit so I can get to Rt 32, which takes me into town. That’s where the urban riding skills come into play. I investigated several options that would take me around Kingston, but none of them put me easily where I need to be on the other side of town, so I decided to just bite it and ride through. Even so, I can’t get to Rt. 28 directly. I have to skirt the center of town (the roads there are 4-lane, and bikes are prohibited) and ride side streets, zigging and zagging, until I come out past my hotel, then I have to backtrack a mile or so. If I have any mechanical issues, this is where I’ll solve them. There’s not another bike shop for two days.

Day 3: Kingston, NY to Hancock, NY—65 miles (105km). This is where the fun starts! I haven’t climbed serious hills in more than 15 years and, while I believe I am prepared for these, one never really knows until one gets to them just how the body will do. I’m going into this with very little advance information about elevation changes and road conditions, so it promises to be a day full of mystery and surprise. If it wants to rain a little on the uphill parts to keep things cool, that’d be ok. The route on this day takes me by several reservoirs (I even get to cross a dam), and the scenery is expected to be spectacular. This is also the day where my family catches up to me. We’re staying at a small hotel off my planned route by several miles. Whether I go to the hotel directly or wait for them in Hancock will depend on how I feel.

Day 4: Hancock, NY to Montrose, PA—55 miles (90km). As the crow flies, the distance between these towns is only about 32 miles (52km) but, as on Day 1, there’s no good direct route. I’ve been researching a possible shortcut, but I may end up just sticking to the established route. I’ll ask locals once I get some distance past Hancock. They can tell me if the side roads are asphalt and passable with a road bike. The mountains become hills again, and the ride should be smooth if my legs have survived the day before. This is a part of the world I have never even driven through, however, so I have no idea what the scenery will be like. The hotel is in Hallstead, about 10 miles off the path.

Day 5: Montrose, PA to Hillsgrove, PA—70 miles (115km). This is the longest, but supposedly smoothest, day of the trip. There are no major elevation changes, and the roads are expected to be good the whole way. I had hoped to do the distance from Montrose to Lock Haven in a single day, but that’s around 110 miles (175km) and I was not convinced I’d make it. I may go further than Hillsgrove, though, since it doesn’t really matter where I stop at this point. The hotel where we’ll be staying is in Williamsport, so my family can come pick me up and drop me off wherever I end up stopping.

Day 6: Hillsgrove, PA to Lock Haven, PA—45 miles (70km). The last day of riding is also the shortest. I’m hoping to get into Lock Haven early, so I can stop by the registrar’s office and pick up my diploma (yay!) and arrange to visit my professors. I also want to explore the campus a bit. Everything I’ve seen of Lock Haven suggests that it is a beautiful place! I really have no idea what I’ll do once I’ve met everyone and taken care of the actual business I have there. If I’ve actually ridden the distance, I may just stand there for a while and bask in the sense of accomplishment. Maybe I’ll go find a pipe shop (more on that in another post).
So, there it is! What do you think?