Thursday, July 31, 2008

Down East

We're now in Durham NH about to start the 2008 Eastern Tandem Rally. We left Concord MA via Louise's home town of Weston, described in our last entry, and stayed with two more tandem couples courtesy of the Hospitality Host program of the Tandem Club of America.

Harry in Lexington MA was temporarily soloing while wife and stoker Gail was out of town. Before leaving for work in the morning he showed us his 'bent bike' (cycling jargon for a recumbent). Check out the length of that chain (he needs 3 standard chains to make the full reach)! Harry is into ultramarathoning when he isn't tandeming, and rode 120 miles each way the previous weekend to visit friends in Connecticut! We don't do that many miles in a week!

Our last hospitality hosts for this trip were Emery and Anne in Marblehead.
They drove us by car on some of their favorite cycling back roads to Ipswich for the best fried clams we've had since our last visit to New England 13 years ago. Not clam strips but whole clams, fat soft bellies and all. They were SOOOOO good we had lunch here a second time a few days later, en route north on our tandem. As with all our other hospitality hosts, it was exciting to exchange stories about our passion for tandem touring with another couple who share that love.

It was also great to be back at the beach once again. From Boston north all the way to Canada, the coast is largely rocky, with relatively short sandy beaches here and there. We again touched the ocean here in Lynn, then rode into rocky Marblehead.
Across the harbor you can see the tower of Town Hall,
which holds one of the most famous images of the American Revolution, the painting called "Yankee Doodle," plus this
imaginative version of Washington crossing a river about 10 times wider than the Delaware (you can check out the actual site in our blog entry called "Whither and Weather").

Next stop was Salem Mass., famous as an early seaport -- symbolized at a federal historic site by this reproduction sailing vessel and by the Custom House behind to the right, where Nathanial Hawthorne worked while writing The Scarlet Letter -- and infamous of course for the witchcraft trials of 1692. On the tacky side were the Witch Museum, the Witch House, and the Witch City Dry Cleaners. It's a close contest whether Salem has more businesses with "Witch" or Key West with "Southernmost." We found about 20 in the Salem phone book that start with "Witch," don't know how many others have "witch" elsewhere in the name.
On the more profound side was this simple memorial to the 19 victims, each one symbolized by a seat
set into the stone wall next to the graveyard. And what a graveyard it was -- here are just two of the more interesting stones. The witchcraft victims of course were not buried here,
for this was "consecrated ground" unfit for such evildoers. BTW, you can click on these or any other pictures in the blog to enlarge them, should you want to see more detail, then hit the back button on your browser to return to the blog.

Our next stop was Gloucester, home port of the Andrea Gale of Perfect Storm fame. Jeff biked to Gloucester several times in the '60s and remembers a grittier town then than now.
Some of the fish packing plants are still there, some have closed, the fishing fleet is almost as decimated as the once-bountiful Grand Banks, and yuppie restaurants are creeping in. Wow, there goes the neighborhood! Our B&B was almost across the street from the famous statue dedicated to those who "go down to the sea in ships." About five years ago it gained a neighbor
dedicated to those who wait behind, perhaps the more profound and certainly the more poignant of the two. We stayed two nights in Gloucester, giving us a chance to do a ride without luggage out to Rockport and one of the most-painted-and-photographed buildings in the country, the shack known locally as "Motif No. 1."
When in Rome ... So here are our two contributions to the world's collection of Motif No. 1 images.
It's alongside Bearskin Neck, a short peninsula jam-packed with restaurants and shops and looking an awful lot like a Japanese shopping street, but with about a half million fewer shoppers.

Heading north we stopped at that great fried clam restaurant in Ipswich after first cruising around town calling out dates to each other -- 1758, 1702, 1714, 1685, 1698, 1661. Ipswich claims to have more buildings predating 1720 than any other in America, and anecdotally that seems quite believable, as we went past several dozen, including the Whipple House of 1677 seen here. We followed this with a tour of the entire coast of New Hampshire, all 18 miles of it, ending in Portsmouth.
A fair amount of it is beach, looking much like many other resort beaches along the Atlantic, but with a lot of French in the air, as this is a favorite summer destination for Les Quebecois. We spent three nights in Portsmouth to fully explore it on foot, and it is indeed a quaint small city
with yet another amazingly old cemetery, streets of 18th century homes,
and views across the Piscataqua River such as this one past a wharf full of lobster traps to the Portsmouth Navy Yard (which is actually in Kittery Maine).

As a sort of small-scale preparation for our coming voyage to New Zealand in September, we took a much smaller boat past the Route 1 bridge and 6 miles out to the Isle of Shoals, a group of half a dozen small islands and a handful of rocky ledges
not quite up to island status. There's an interesting conference center there -- that's the group of white buildings --
an oceanographic research station for Cornell University, and the site of an infamous 19th century murder that Anita Shreve weaves into her novel The Weight of Water. Even before we were half-way out to the Shoals, it was amazing to see how quickly our complex terrestial world of greens, browns, tans and so many other colors, so complex and three-dimensional,
becomes reduced to such a thin gray line on the horizon of a glassy blue world divided in half between sea and sky. We're looking forward already to our first view of Hawaii after 5 days and nights out of sight of land, anticipating the wonder of a return to the familiar world of color and shape.

While in Portsmouth we had two reunions over meals, and how different they were! Jeff taught at nearby Berwick Academy in the mid-70s and fellow-teachers Jim and Diane Dean drove over to Portsmouth for dinner, then the next morning our Ithaca family stopped by for
breakfast at IHOP en route to Ray's mom's house in Maine. One meal involved experimentation with the effect of gravity on food and silverware and other topics of the now, the other with stories of the past both distant and recent -- and we imagine it's not hard to figure out which meal was which. Needless to say, both were great fun.

We still had a few days to kill before the rally, so we headed "Down East," so-called because sailing ships in days of yore followed the prevailing winds and Gulf Stream current northeasterly,
or fought their way "up" if coming back to Boston or points further south. This is the premiere part of the Maine Coast, and it took a bit of research to find affordable nice places to stay, but we succeeded in finding a cozy cottage in Kennebunkport from which we took another easy luggage-less ride up past George H. W. Bush's place on Walker Point, and elsewhere along this scenic coast, then moved on to Parson's Post House, a comfy B&B in the heart of Ogunquit. If you want to find a single town in Maine that has beach, stores, good restaurants, and traffic jams to write home about, this would be it. That glorious beach
running north for a few miles could be reached in a ten-minute walk from our B&B, as well as this rocky outcropping of classic Maine Coast on a walking path that started almost across the street from our place.
We had a delicious seafood dinner at the Old Village Inn one night, a restaurant where Jeff worked in the kitchen one summer 32 years ago, saving up money for graduate school, and another in a Thai restaurant that was to die for. Althogether, we had a great stay in Ogunquit.

We've taken it a little easy the last few days to have enough energy for this tandem rally. We're hoping to ride some 160 miles in the next three days with 120 other tandem teams. We'll write next time to tell you how it went.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Little More Massachusetts

We left you last at Newfound Lake, which drains into one of the two rivers that eventually become the Merrimack. It's not a long river, but an historically significant one, as falls on the Merrimack made 19th century New England one of the great textile centers of the world. We cycled down the Merrimac to Manchester NH and rode for one mile past mill building after mill building that once was the Amoskeag Mills. For a time, more cotton cloth was woven there than in any other city on the globe. We were pleased to discover that about 75% of the mill buildings are still there, and being put to new uses as offices and warehouses.

Further downstream are four more powerhouses of the industrial revolution in America, Nashua, Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill, but we chose to turn off at Nashua for Concord Massachusetts, instead. Four decades ago, Jeff used to bike 20 miles from Boston College out to Concord to go canoeing from the South Bridge Boat House, and as we rode into town we swung by to see it and nothing had changed but the prices.
We planned on a 3-day stay in Concord but loved the town and the Mill Brook B&B and its owners Kathy and Jean Paul so much that we extended our stay another night, only the second time since January we've spent that many nights under the same roof.

Concord today is a peaceful town well-deserving its name, but on April 19, 1775 it was anything but. Those of you who remember your Longfellow ("On the 18th of April in '75 / Hardly a man is now alive / Who remembers the famous day and year / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere...") will recall that Paul Revere, Charles Dawes and other patriots spread word overnight of the approaching Redcoats across Middlesex County. At Lexington Green, which we visited the day after Concord, some 70 patriots stood up to the 700 British troops, but neither side formed a battle line. The Minutemen were just trying to make a statement, not start a battle in which they would be vastly outnumbered. However someone -- it's never been determined who or from which side -- fired a shot, and in moments the Redcoats started firing without an order to do so, and killed 8 Lexington men.

On they went to Concord, searching for hidden arms and gunpowder. They split up into small detachments, and one group was guarding the Old North Bridge
when smoke was seen from town, a half-mile away. A group of patriots confronting them on the opposite shore thought that Concord was being torched (actually it was only some gun carriages on fire in the town square), and for the first time an order was given to Americans to fire on the King's troops.
Some years later, Concord resident Ralph Waldo Emerson immortalized this moment as "The shot heard 'round the world," and later still sculptor Daniel Chester French (yet another resident of this talent-rich town) symbolized the start of the Revolution with his powerful symbol of the citizen-soldier. Three Redcoats died at Old North Bridge, the first of five dozen that day
(and another 200 wounded) as the patriots followed them, fighting guerrilla-style, back to Boston.

As if this wasn't enough history for the town, it went on to become the focus of a philosophical revolution six decades later, Transcendentalism. Ralph Waldo Emerson was the central figure and a link between the two movements, as his grandfather's home was next door to the Old North Bridge and Emerson was the chosen speaker at Concord's Bicentennial Celebration (in 1835!), a few Minutemen sharing the dais with him. But it was Emerson's friends friends and neighbors Henry David Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott who are better remembered today.

While Ms. Alcott's home is open for tours, it's Thoreau
who gets noticed more, with Thoreau Street a major street in town and Walden Street and Walden Pond reminding people of his most famous work. We walked down to Walden and around what is almost certainly the most famous pond in America. In winter it
looks much like it did 172 years ago when Henry built a small cabin and spent time there thinking and writing (across the road is this recreation of his cabin, set up as he describes it in his book), but in summer this is Concord's town beach!
Nonetheless, extensive hiking paths along the pond and in the nearby woods were mostly quiet and still suitable for thinking and writing for those so inclined.

Back at the Boathouse, we took a second canoe trip up the Sudbury River past extensive wetlands full of wildlife and water lilies,
and Jeff went back a third time on our extra day in Concord for a solo kayak trip
while Louise went by car 20 miles with our innkeeper to her hairdresser for a much needed visit. It was nice to be able to go to someone that was recommended in the best possible way -- by patronage.

Properly cleaned up (Jeff visited Jean Paul's barber as well, though it was an easier trip there -- 3 doors down from the B&B), we set out for Louise's ancestral home of Weston Massachusetts. We went down the street she grew up on from age 11 on (the house she lived in before that was demolished to build a toll plaza on the Massachusetts Turnpike in 1956), and many of the houses had disappeared and been replaced with much larger versions of themselves as Weston follows the megamansion building pattern of wealthy suburbia.
But the old homestead -- if you can call a mid-50s split level that -- was much as she remembered it. We then rode over to the town cemetery to pay our respects to her parents and to other Cutter relatives,
including these two Cutter men who paid the ultimate price in the Civil War.

It's now back to the shore once again, this time to the rocky coast of Massachusetts north of Boston, followed by a ride north along New Hampshire's short coastline and into southern Maine before we do a dog-leg left to Durham NH and the Eastern Tandem Rally on August 1. We'll try to post one more time before the rally, if we can get computer time at a library or elsewhere.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Classic New England

We've spent the past two weeks exploring not only the geography but just as much the iconography of New England, starting with some wonderful stone walls that Robert Frost himself would have loved. New England's famous stone walls reflect Yankee economy of motion, clearing the land of loose pieces of Canada brought south by the glaciers and simultaneously marking out fields with free fence-building material. This one was on land that was grazed a century ago, and like much of New England has gone back to forest. Indeed, there is more forest today in these six states than there was 100, 200 or even 300 years ago!

As we traveled up the Connecticut River we came to Gillette Castle, built by the actor of that name who made his mark playing Sherlock Holmes -- a few thousand times, from the 1890s into the 1920s. That funny-looking hat that every Sherlock Holmes you've ever seen is wearing?
His idea. He put his considerable earnings -- no starving artist, this guy -- into this modern-day castle,
replete with quirky features like this device to hold windows open at an angle in the strongest breeze, or hand-carved doors (no 2 are alike in the entire place!). And then there is the view, iconic if you will, of the Connecticut River and the ferry down below
that has run continuously since the early 1700s.

And what would a trip to New England be without a visit to a cemetery? Here's one of many interesting stones in one in southern Connecticut. We've been passing them almost every day, stones all akimbo, many no longer legible, but decorated with those intriguing symbols of death and life.

In New Britain we went to the art museum and it was as impressive a small museum as almost any in the country. Here is one of their luxuriant Childe Hassams, and an Eric Sloane that was in a traveling show. Sloane loved old barns like this, and crafted the frames for his paintings himself out of recycled wood from
-- old barns! We've ridden past many of these as well, though with the limited farming still being done in New England, most appear to be in use as decoration more than as functioning work buildings. Perhaps that's why they look so good.

On our route north we followed two railtrails. On the Farmington River Trail Jeff was checking the tire pressure and saw something that didn't look right. Closer examination of the rim revealed three places where cracks were developing near the spoke nipples.
This is a serious issue -- the rim can crack and collapse! For the next hour he was on our cell phone alternating between the shop in Seattle that built our bike and one in Brattleboro Vermont that we hoped would be able to build us a new wheel,
assuming we made it another 100 miles there in one piece. As it turned out we did, and when Tim the bike mechanic at Brattleboro Bike Shop showed us the inside of the old rim, it had an even more ominous crack there as well! Needless to say, we replaced the rim with something tougher.

We took another happier railtrail from Northampton MA to Amherst MA and met up with Ted and Robin, who were on a 35-mile training ride to get ready for their first tour in the Napa valley two weeks later. We got to chatting and before long were invited to stay with them. Ted got off to work the next day before Jeff woke up enough to pull out his camera, but we did get this photo of Robin
and a Ted-substitute to remember them by (sorry, our camera hiccuped on the photo, this is the best it would do). We had a great time as they and we exchanged insights into our different lifestyles, and hope we left them with some ideas to better their upcoming bike trip in exchange for their gracious meals and lodging.

A trip up the Connecticut could hardly avoid our next stop, Deerfield. In the late 1600s this was the raw edge of English civilization, the frontier. Out there in the woods were Indians unhappy about the British attitude toward their land rights, and French unhappy about almost anything British.
Deerfield was attacked several times, most famously in 1704 when some 85 of its citizens were killed and 112 taken into captivity by the French and their Indian allies. While many were eventually able to return, several young girls were acculturated into Indian families in Canada and married Indian men. The British colonists never did understand their decisions to stay in Canada.
Today Deerfield is a mile-long street of homes from the 1700s, some incorporated into private school Deerfield Academy, others into Historic Deerfield, something like Williamsburg but very low-key, mostly run with volunteer help. We enjoyed it so much we ended up spending two nights at Victorian-era Deerfield Inn.
We were pleased to see the museum explaining things in a balanced way, and correcting some of the racism and stereotyping of past eras in explaining Deerfield's interesting history.

One of the skills that gets sadly neglected in discussions of bike touring is finding potty stops. We're proud to say that we've become quite expert at scanning a park to see if it has restrooms, or sizing up a convenience store before stopping, deciding if it looks like it will have a public toilet. In yuppie areas we've even gotten good at finding major house remodels, with a port-a-potty usually nearby for the workmen. Out in the woodsy areas, however, these methods fail, so we start scouting for old logging roads running off from the road we're on, or a patch of forest that meets the Goldilocks standards -- not too dense, so we can get through, not too thin, so we don't get arrested for indecent exposure, but just right for a pair of desperate cyclists.

Now we like to think of these stops as beneficent to the bushes, "watering the shrubbery" and all that.
However, we're not so certain any more that the foliage agrees, as the vegetation struck back last week at Jeff with a vengeance. This is the back of Jeff's left calf two weeks later, after the desire to massage it with sandpaper subsided to once or twice a day instead of every 5 minutes. So watch out folks, don't mess with Mother Nature or she'll send some poison ivy after you too!

In Bellows Falls VT we decided to take the train.
A little tourist train runs 15 miles up to the hill town of Chester, and they advertise a one-way fare for passenger and bike.
Don't think they've ever loaded a tandem before, but no problem, they gave it its own car, loading from the end of the train, and we did have a nice ride back to the Connecticut the next day.
We had been worried about finding lodging on the 4th of July weekend, but the 250-year-old inn we stayed at on the village green in Chester had 22 rooms, only 3 of them occupied. Go figure! Apparently they make their real money during leaf-peeping season, as it's called here.

From the train we saw not one but two covered bridges,
and have seen so many more in the past week that we're not taking any more photos.
Here are two others of note, however: the inside of the bridge at Windsor VT that is the longest covered bridge in the US, and the lovely red bridge outside Woodstock VT that we passed on a quiet country road on another side trip from the Connecticut Valley.

After ascending the Connecticut over half its 400-mile length, we turned right and headed into New Hampshire and up into the hills to Cardigan Mountain Lodge,
1400' above sea level and seemingly miles from civilization. This is a hiker's heaven built about 1940 by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Jeff was an AMC cross-country ski trip leader there and elsewhere in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the 1970s. Our room had two sets of bunk beds and a twin, but mid-week it was quiet so we had the room to ourselves. For about $130/day for the two of us we had the room, breakfast, trail lunch and dinner, and a nightly serenade by frogs in the nearby swimming pond. It is simply astounding how much noise a bunch of frogs can make! For only the second or third time this trip, Jeff found himself using earplugs in order to sleep!

We were too protective of our knees to want to climb another 1800' to the top of Mt. Cardigan while on an extended bike trip, but we did do a five-mile hike on each of our two "rest" days there,
one to a beaver dam and beaver lodge. You can see beaver-bitten logs near our hiking companion Kathleen and our naturalist guide Meaghan in one photo, and the lodge across the beaver pond in the next.
Meaghan even just happened to have a beaver skull with her to show us! Both that day and next, we also hiked past cellar holes,
remnants of homes built by settlers in the 1700s or 1800s and abandoned when better farming land lured them westward in the later 1800s. Looking at the forest today, it's hard to imagine that the land around these cellar holes was all farmland only a few generations ago!

With no access to electronic distractions like cell phones or WiFi, we each read an entire book in our considerable down time of two days off the bike, and then heading downhill to Newfound Lake,
where we continued relaxing at the Inn at Newfound Lake, a place set up as a stagecoach inn in the 1840s. On yet another rest day -- this is meant to be a vacation, not an endurance contest -- fellow guest Cat asked us to join her on a car trip around the lake, with a stop at the Audubon Center for a walk in the woods. We found the elusive Indian Pipestem and
a not-so-elusive glacial erratic, i.e. a larger-than-usual chunk of someplace north of here that one of the glaciers brought along and dropped in the woods. We also got a nice view of a dream home on its own island, although it got us to thinking,
how do you flush the toilet on an island that's only about twice the size of your house? Oh, the problem of dream homes!

Well, it's been nice relaxing in the foothills of the White Mountains. It's back south now along the Merrimac and Concord Rivers to a town full of history, from the Minutemen of 1775 to Thoreau and his Transcendentalist friends in the 1800s, Concord Mass. Who knows, perhaps we'll even see a moose on the way!