France

America Jr. and Growing Up

“How interesting it is that men seldom find the true value of life until they are faced with death… We all have but a short time on this earth. As slow as time can be it as also fast, swift, furious and mighty and then it’s over. Jack Kerouac is dead. Andy Warhol is dead. Garry Winogrand is dead. Lee Friedlander, Stephen Shore and William Eggleston are not dead yet, but probably will be at some point. Charles Bukowski once said that endurance was more important than truth. Charles Bukowski’s now dead. When I’m not taking or processing the pictures I’m mostly thinking about the pictures.” ~ The Happiness of Pursuit

While this quote is a segment from two separate parts of the text I found them both telling the same story to some extent and reflective of the same message my day showed me. Even though he ends up talking about the arts and photography in particular it made me think of the idea of fragility. Its no surprise that sudden shock or fear can make someone suddenly see life in a new way, that happened to me years ago when I almost died in a car accident caused by falling asleep at the wheel. Over the years though not so dramatic moments have forced me to take a look at my life and realize what’s important. The biggest though was probably realizing not that I almost died in some way, which I have multiple times, but realizing my life as I thought it would be was dead. I always thought that I would have children, be a parent, an amazing parent, an amazing grandparent, etc. That I could essentially fix all my stuff by being a solid parent. I hinged everything on that. Then doctors told me it would never happen. I fell into a dark hole and proceeded to destroy the world around me. It took time to come out of the depression, more time to begin to heal, more time to stop being angry, more time to stop feeling sorry for myself, and finally time to be okay with the person I was and be happy with who I am. See, this was a loss of my dream life, the imagined, the hope. Losing hope is a powerful thing and it can rock your world. I lashed out in ways that weren’t me, until I figured out it was me. This was who I am, and I was complete the way I was. That embracing my flaws was as important as my strengths. It wasn’t death I was afraid of, but life. I was afraid of living an unfulfilled life, especially in the way I imagined it should play out. For me it was about knowing that life can be fulfilling in so many ways and seeking out what fulfilled me positively. That was my quest for the moment, my journey was one of setting new goals and challenges that would begin to shape my new path and finding contentment within that. Though it was also about learning that I couldn’t allow my happiness to be singularly defined by one incident or stage in life, that it was a play waiting to be acted out, not a single scene or act that meant success or failure. It took a long time to learn that, I think I’m honestly just learning that finally within the past year… and that’s okay. Acceptance isn’t always a settling, but often a challenge of its own. 

Day Nine Many years ago, when the Simpsons used to be a show worth watching on a regular basis they once had a joke where they referred to Canada as America Jr. I’m not sure why, but for some reason this stuck and I found it hilarious. That being said, I unfairly refer to Canada, still as America Jr at times and I think based on my new experiences in Montreal, I need to apologize to the Canadian people. You’re a highly diverse country and not like America at all, you actually seem to all get along without the overt racism and ugliness. Kudos to you Canada, especially Montreal with your plethora of ethnic peoples living harmoniously amongst one another. Clearly we have it wrong, maybe we should be eating way more poutine… is that the secret, gravy and cheese curds? Either way you were awesome. Now I’m onto Toronto.

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A necessary stop before leaving the city, and the country. Harley Davidson Montreal for souvenirs for my road family. 

Today was a fairly dull day. No grand adventures planned just headed up and out to Toronto, actually just outside the city into Brampton and doing the Airbnb thing for the night. I just want a night to relax and sleep, do some laundry since I’m down to my last pair of underpants (something to really think about when on the road) and get an early start for the states tomorrow. Especially since I’m going out of my way and backtracking a little to get to Niagara Falls before heading for Detroit.

That being said, I got on the road early morning and got up and out. Yesterday was a great day in the city, Montreal definitely feels like a weird mini-Paris and that was exciting, I miss France and it was a nice little taste of that world again.

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Airbnb treated me right last night!

I ended doing the Airbnb thing again, and up stayed at the home of a woman from Jamaica named Shelrica, and it was an awesome stay. She was very welcoming, immediately threw my laundry in the wash for me and was as pleasant as can be. 20170722_082511 I couldn’t have had a better stay, the place was super comfy and the other guy staying in the house who had been here for a while was also a huge help, David. This was a good stay.

The only downfall to this evening was I was hoping to catch up with my friend Matt from the area. He’s a carpenter who does high end furnishing, carpentry, and art pieces – really an all around awesome dude. He’s a former skater who loves his kids and has a web series called Bluebird on YouTube that’s worth checking out, it’s oddly quirky and weird, in other words right up my alley (check the trailer here, though it’s on episode 5 already: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNB8HFp4ND0). Nonetheless, Matt was the other one of the roomies from my semester abroad in France back in 97, Ed being the other roommate who I stayed with a few days again in Jersey City. So these last few days have kind of been a crazy reunion and French throwback for me to say the least. They were actually filming episode 5 today so they went late into the night and we missed each other. Which really stinks, he’s one of the most genuine guys I know, unabashedly himself which is a great person to have in your life. So next time.

Really that was about it for the day, other than a quick run for a bite. Mediterranean was just what I needed to hit the spot, shawarma and baklava did me right. In the end I was just thankful to have a simple day under my belt. It was a decent ride here for the day, a little longer than I thought at 4 hours before hitting rush hour traffic outside of Toronto, so it ended up being about 5 with a little change. I can’t really complain. Along the way I even met some good guys riding home to the area, they kindly informed me that my estimation of the kph to mph ration was highly wrong. I guessed that the speed I was holding around 85mph was close to the 100kph speed limit, damn metric system. I was wrong.

The riders, Dino and Kelvin, informed me I was doing closer to 160kph, and that the Canadian highway patrol is severe so I should slow down. Not too mention that pretty much anything over 50kph speeding will get your bike impounded for a week… no sir. So after marking the limit on my speedometer with a grease pencil I finished up the rest of the ride here under control and in good standing with the CHP. I also at a block of cheese while on the road and a few croissants, today was alright. Tomorrow I’m making room for some family time, so it’s time to call it and be ready to make moves in the morning.

Day Ten Today was an interesting day as I battled rain throughout most of the day but also was all over the place to see the sites and try to wisely maneuver the roads of Canada to avoid the toll road, because who bothers to carry cash nowadays, especially Canadian dollars. That’s crazy talk. First thing is first, the rain was already creeping toward me as soon as I got on the road as early as 8am, but I had plans I was going to keep no matter what. I was off for the falls and a place I hadn’t seen in probably 10 years, but this time from the Canadian side. At about the hour mark of the ride the rain started, not a downpour but enough that I had to throw on the full leathers. An hour later I pulled up into Niagara Falls and it was already crawling with tourists. I knew I wasn’t going to stay very long because I wanted to get to Detroit sooner rather than later. A little driving around showed me that parking was going to be a beast and I was going to have to get inventive if I was going to find something close to the falls themself. So a quick illegal parking job on the end of a row allowed for a quick street crossing and being right at the horseshoe of the falls.

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I have been to Toronto multiple times so I didn’t feel the need to do much in the city this time, in much the same way that even though it had been years since I was in Niagara I didn’t feel the need to do a boat tour or anything crazy. I just wanted to walk the street a bit and see the falls and this side of the water. I will say though that Niagara is pretty cool, the falls are massive, it doesn’t matter where you see it from. That in itself makes you respect the power and majesty of it all. Every now and then when I see something this physically impactful you just have to appreciate it differently when here, it’s not like a photo or digital image, it’s the real deal. Not too mention you get wet where we were, that spray was something else. 20170722_104659 This was a pretty good stop besides the construction on the road that was a little frustrating getting here. Now it’s time to head toward home.

After heading out of downtown Niagara and getting onto the highway again I had to backtrack the 95 miles back toward Toronto and then course correct myself toward Detroit. There’s two ways to do this, the most popular and direct being one that brings you in through the Windsor Tunnel and as I said earlier, through Canadian toll roads. I thought I’d avoid this and try something new, the ferry at Walpole Island that crosses directly over to Algonac, MI over the St. Clair river. I figured this would be a mini adventure and I was right.

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Looking out to the St. Claire river

The ride to the ferry was a four hour journey of rain, back roads and rural highways. Not exactly the ride I thought I’d be taking through Canada, and definitely a test of my “when you’re lost, just keep driving” theory. The back ways of Ontario are once again like much of the Midwest, cornfields, and sketchy looking small towns that had me a little concerned but I kept on until I hit Walpole Island, followed the signs and eventually to the ferry stop / border crossing.

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Walpole Island, Canada… time to make the crossing.

This was actually a nice opportunity to put some of my gear away and take a break to cool down and the ferry was across the river still and I could afford some water as well as time to post a video to the Facebook page. When the ferry got back across, they unloaded all the cars coming over and then loaded us up. I was ready to be home.

This is where it got a little weird. Before loading the ferry I looked for signs about a fee or for more info, there was nothing around there and really nothing in the area. The crossing was in the middle of nowhere, so you it was a bit of a surprise when the operator asked for $5, U.S. or Canadian, it was all the same. Which makes no sense! I mean the exchange rate should count for something! Alas, I’m complaining about nothing since I had no cash at all, just a pocket full of just under $2 in change. He told me the captain may decide to take me back over and I’d have to get money and come back, I asked if I could hop off and run across the street and get cash and come back as I saw there were stores just across the river, he didn’t think that would work either. I was in a bit of a pinch.

Ultimately this guy was pretty cool and he agreed to cover my fee for me with the promise that I did something to help someone else out. Which I like to think I look for the opportunity when it arises, so I’m continuing to do the same as I always do, but trying to be more aware. It’s good to see there’s still good people out there who like to help and encourage others to do the same. At that point it was a quick unloading and a fast check back in at the border and with directions to Detroit under my belt I hit the road.

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Back on U.S. soil and in the hand shaped state of Michigan!

My family in Detroit is awesome, they’re definitely some of my favorite people and always have been. We’ve lost some of them over the past 10 years or so and that always hurts my heart. I love these people. So it was on the road through Detroit and to Southfield where I was staying with the family. Originally there were a number of the cousins coming to get together at the house, I’m not sure what happened but it ended up just being me and the family that I was staying with. That was okay though, I haven’t seen my cousin Holly in a while, especially outside of a funeral or sorrowful occasion that left much time to talk. So it was good to spend it with her family, her daughters and husband were welcoming, full of questions about the bike, and this all reminded me why I love my family. I felt at home from the first second. Her oldest daughter Chris just turned 27 and Jean her youngest is 12, that’s crazy… I barely remember them as babies and little kids. I think this was also the most I had ever spoken to her husband and that was great to get to know him better. It’s a reminder for me that I need to stay better in touch with family, and friends for that matter. You never know where the time will go.

 

Quick background, Hope and Holly are twins, Ricky is their older brother. Growing up we used to take the train to Detroit to visit and we thought it was amazing. That train station was something special. Now it like much of the city is in bad shape and needs saving, in this case after a water main broke beneath it and the station and they never repaired it due to cost and left it essentially underwater for years. Either way, they were always my favorite cousins, I loved spending the night there and hanging with them, while only 10 years older they felt much closer and to me they were always the coolest to me. Their mother Jean helped me make the area my own during grad school and I miss her still. It was good to come back and be reminded of all the good memories of going around town with them and taking in the sights before the city fully hit the place it’s in now.  Now of course everyone is married, moving, has kids, etc., it’s good to see them all and remember what’s important.

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The family, minus one 27 year old, but including an intense card playing little girl!

First it was catching up, getting settled in for the night, and moved my stuff off the bike, and then after a meal off the grill we laughed and joked. We talked about the trip more, the family back home, my cousin’s random need to collect things and had lots of laughs on top of great food. Lastly to end the day we broke out the cards, definitely a family thing no matter where I am. Usually spades would be the game of choice but it was high time I learned to play, badly, but learned to play bid whist. I’ve never seen a 12 year old get so worked up over cards, Jean is definitely one of us and this was definitely a great end to the day. A solid ride today, at least 3 distinct bouts of heavy rain, a border crossing, some serious heat from the sun, but it was all worth it for moments like this.

Brampton to Detroit

Day Ten: Actual Mileage – 389 miles Best Moment of the Day – when my boots dried out Best Song of the Day – Nelly “Air Force Ones” Best Meal – home cooking by family!

I’m going to try to bring this full circle and reconnect to my reflection here a bit. In the end, today was a reminder about what’s important in life. Valuing those we have while we have them and focusing on the things that can be fleeting. Recently someone important has come into, back into, made their presence / role more distinctly important in my life, so this had me thinking about her. In the past I’d have fought something that caught me off guard or by surprise, I’d guard my heart. I feel like I can’t do that anymore. If I’m going to embrace risk and chance, change, then I have to do that completely. Especially when it’s someone who has been in your life for so long and just arm’s length away, sometimes you have to grab on, and hang on tightly, cherish it while you can. I’ve lost a number of people who meant so much to me in the past few years, but more so throughout my adult life. Those all hurt, still. I can’t imagine anymore not taking the chance to tell someone how important they are no matter the outcome. In 10 years friends become confidantes, confidantes become special, and special becomes loved. Never take those people for granted, truly special people in our lives (whatever their role) are a rarity. Life is too fragile. I’m not holding back anymore. I’m all in. 

Tomorrow I head to see my family back home and I can’t wait. Indy bound, Midwest boy coming home.

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Northernmost Points

“Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” ~ Romans 13:14

Change of pace today as I felt like my devotional was more reflective of the recent experience of the trip. It went on to talk about how the idea of how we as Christians should aim to appear as Christ, basically living and representing ourselves appropriately, hopefully in the goal of demonstrating the role of our faith in life and maybe giving the opportunity to speak about Christ in some way. Now most who know me in my faith know that this is a challenge. My faith is deeply personal and I generally choose not to share it unless a specific opportunity arises. I’m not one to feel the desire to try and convert others, but I will talk about my faith in depth if I’m given an open door and mind to do so. What this did make me think of though was crossing the border. That I and many of my friends, and others have been profiled, because we looked like bikers. It seems that no matter where I go I can’t escape being judged because of who I am, whether it be as a black man, or a biker in this case. It’s painful to realize that we are rarely ever seen for who we are, but instead who people are afraid that we will turn out to be without ever giving us a chance to prove ourselves. I’ve been a victim of being too judgemental myself, but I’m trying. I really am. I try to be open minded, and when I sense I’m unfairly thinking negatively I try to change that. The way we dress or the color of my skin are not a reason to fear us or treat us differently. Just like neither is a handicap, language difference, or anything else that separates us somehow. It pains me but I don’t think the world will ever get to a place where we stop judging people from the outside, that saddens me. I’ve tried to do my part, to change the way people look at us, taken jobs where I know I’ll be the only black person, I’ve hoped that my role will make it easier for the next person. Be a positive model for my students to potentially change how they view race, but in the end I don’t know how much good I can do. Or if there’s anything any of us can do. 

Day Seven Today I hit the road from Massachusetts heading for Montreal, Canada. This may be my shortest post yet because I want to get right to the nitty-gritty of the day and the most anticipated and dreaded moment of this trip. We’ll get to that though.

This day took me through what was some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever rode through. The hills and mountains of Northern Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont are stunning. 20170719_092358 Traveling through the north during the morning fog and breaking afternoon sun makes for moments of incredible beauty and that feeling where it seems that you’re closer to nature than ever, and as close to a religious experience that being on the open road can give. The only trick is you’re in the middle of nowhere for a lot of that time, and when in the middle of nowhere it’s easy to think you’re lost or off course. I think I’ve finally figured out the way around that. Ride until you think you’re lost, ride about 45 more minutes and you’ll usually hit your next destination. So far it’s been working out!

Either way during the drive I met some friendly faces and saw what was as much as I can call it the most impressive babbling brook, maybe only babbling brook, that I’ve ever come across just outside of Vermont. Now mind you the last time I was in Vermont for any time, I was with my friend Jamie in undergrad. While we were out photographing I slipped almost went through the ice into a frozen river. He reached out and grabbed me just in time to save me from nothing more than wet pants. Cold and wet was a fair exchange for the save, in place of under the ice and pulled by the current, banging on the ice from below TV movie style. Needless to say this trip was a little more dry and warm along the mountain passes and well worth the trip. So after a few more gas stops and more mountainous roads that twisted and turned their way north I found myself finally hitting the Canadian border. At this rate I’d be in Montreal by 2pm with almost a full day of exploring ahead.

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The infamous babbling brook

I decided to cross at a smaller crossing because frankly I wanted something more rural as an experience. I had heard from multiple people that bikers were treated harshly at the border if they appeared to be a part of a club, and in full dress, colors, etc. Even to the point of having guys I know get turned away. So I packed up the vest and leathers, and went across as bare as I could. As I got to the crossing I realized there was a crazy long line and I’d be sitting in the sun for a little bit, but at least it was dry. So I decided to take off the helmet and just try to pace myself, take a few photos of bikers in line, the flags, random stuff for the blog…. Let’s get to the point though, the adventure of it all.

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The last remaining photo of anything other than random shots of my bike

Apparently the photos were the first mistake. As I got up to the border, after about an hour plus in line the agent begins with all the normal questions. Why I’m there, where I’m coming from, how long I’ll be there. Etc. Then they get interesting, why were you just in Thailand (seen in the Visa on my passport), why were you taking photographs in line? That was my mistake, apparently it’s illegal to take photos at a border crossing, but what else would a photography teacher do sitting outside for over an hour! Well, I was cool about it, I offered to delete the images and I understand the policy. I thought it was over, nope. I was asked off to the side and told that an officer would be with me. So I park, and two officers come over and they were pleasant. They said they had to see the images on the phone and I had to delete them (and again be told the rule on photos), I also had to have the bike searched. Every bag, nook and cranny was searched, as was I, questioned about every obvious tattoo, meaning behind my rings, anything that remotely looked like a biker. Then I was asked to come inside. Sitting for another 30 minutes, I was called up asked a few questions and then told to take a seat, 30 minutes later more questions and another seat. Finally I’m called up again, now almost 2 1/2 hours in and questioned again. They’ve at this point run a FBI background record on me, question me one more time, and proceed tell me that normally photographing alone is enough reason to turn me away but in this case they’re letting me cross only because I’m a high school photography teacher so it makes sense. Eventually all my items are returned to me and I’m back on the road. With two hours left, this will pretty much end my day.

Oddly the rural areas of Quebec look a lot like the Midwest. Corn, soybean, and cattle sprinkle the landscape, and the roads are just as bad.

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I guess that’s a difference, snowmobile crossings.

At least I felt like I was home. Two hours later and heavy traffic, I roll into Montreal, find my Airbnb and go check in. Despite an initial hiccup in checking in we got it worked out. I then went to find parking for the bike at a local garage a few doors down and walked to grab a bite to end the night. It looks like the exploring has been reduced to a single day to begin in the morning. Though I did get to sneak in a pretty solid burger before calling it a night, complete with some delicious onions rings and beers.

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DeVille, Bar and Grill in downtown Montreal

Day Eight I thought I should at least try to catch up on the blog a little bit today. So after sleeping in a bit I wrote and posted for the day. Did a little reading and my devotionals to get the day started and then headed up and out. What do you do when you’re in a city like Montreal for a day and want to figure out the lay of the land a bit and see what it has to offer. After having a few friends here this summer, I realized the city has good museums, food, sights, all the things you could want. Though after a few days of eating a haphazard or subpar meal at the end of the day I decided clearly the best way to experience the place was to eat my way through the day, so a plan was made. First coffee was needed. A rare treat for myself, so a trip to the corner coffee shop, and an order placed in French as I felt the need to practice my well worn grasp of the language. My day was planned as such; coffee and a pastry, poutine and beer at La Banquise, cheese at La Fromagerie at Atwater Market, walk around to the Jean Talon Market and buy more pastries for the morning, snack and beers at 3 Brasseurs, dinner at Joe Beef.

Meal One: I was off for the day of eats, via Uber. I couldn’t figure the best way to park the bike over and over and I just felt like I needed to take it easy. La Banquise put a hurting on me. I went for the bacon, swiss, scallions, and peppers poutine… which is topped on top of the already cheese curds and gravy. Along with a porter it was a great but heavy meal, even the smaller size. I couldn’t finish it because I knew I had to pace myself.

Today was a marathon, not a sprint. It really was an experience though, I can’t recommend it enough, the best poutine I’ve ever had, and their options are vast and the local beer selections are limited but perfect for the meal. A quick walk around the neighborhood after eating closed this chapter of the day. Time to continue my gluttonous journey.

Cheese: So if you know me well, or just slightly, you may know of my passionate affinity for cheese. So the idea of French cheeses at a French-Canadian market are right up my alley. La  Fromagerie Atwater came recommended so I won’t pass it up. A quick uber over to the market and I was in cheese heaven.

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I want all the cheeses… ALL THE CHEESES.

Not too mention the glorious selection of meats and a variety of other delicacies. Now this is also a good time to mention that I hate Foie Gras. Many friends love it, I am not one of them. As much as I’m encouraged to eat it, and I will eat most anything I couldn’t do it again. Once was enough. The texture was enough to turn me off. Either way, hard to get items like this were in high quantity at the shop and of course I thought of my friends back home who’d kill to be here.

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Get in my belly!

Either way I was here for cheese, and after what had to of been a frustrating experience for the cheesemonger letting me taste everything I inquired about, I saw my holy grail of French cheese, Beaufort d’Alpage. It’s a hard cheese with hints of sweet, nuttiness, slightly grassy and a smooth finish. It’s the perfect cheese in my opinion and it would be mine. So a hunk of cheese later I was on my way out knowing I’d devour this whole block on the way to Toronto tomorrow.

Exploring through Snacking: Jean Talon Market is your classic outdoor, open air market with a number of vendors and fruit and vegetable stands. It also has a number of shops, pastry, cafes, butchers, ice cream, and a broad variety of options inside, and surrounded by shops on all sides make it a great location. I couldn’t resist snacking on pastries and trying cheeses and meats along the way through the market as well as tasting some of the fruit that was cut up. I also popped into a great bakery and grabbed croissants and pain chocolat for the next morning and the ride. Combined with my next stop this was essentially another meal for the day.

Beer O’Clock: I had heard from a good friend that 3 Brasseurs had great food, but I also knew they were a brewery so it seemed like an idea stop for the afternoon. Well here’s the plus. The beer was awesome. They had a special stout on tap that was out of this world. I also had a taste for a classic, french onion soup and along with soft pretzels, that was a perfect round out to meal two for the day.

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Minus the french onion soup because I ate it, this was a perfect finish to a hodge-podge meal

Plus there’s nothing like real french onion soup, there’s something about the way they handle its preparation that just seems right. Now it was time for a walk back to my Airbnb, put my purchased food away and wait to head out to dinner after resting off my meal a bit and some light reading. It was also good to walk and explore a bit. I was staying downtown so it was a real hustle and bustle kind of place that reminds me a lot of Chicago as a city, even with the suburbs just outside the city, even though the brownstones remind me more of a Brooklyn style housing with deco flair. It’s a great city so far.

I’ll also sidebar and say on the way to 3 Brasseurs, I had the greatest uber driver ever. He was Haitian and grew up in Montreal. We joked around and he told me about the areas we passed through, looked at grafitti as we passed by them and talked about living in the states versus there. When he found out I was from the U.S. the first thing he said was, “where they kill black people without reason.” Good to know this is our reputation. We also talked about the diversity of the city which is one of the things that I found really pleasant, everyone seems to get along. I know it’s a city and everyone has their issues, but it’s nice to not feel like that tension is palpable. The topper to the ride was him asking if I wanted to play music off my phone, which leads us down a path of old school hip hop conversation and when “I Got 5 On It” comes on we’re both singing at the top of our lungs. Solid trip.

Final Meal: The stunner for the day and my triumph was a two part effort. Joe Beef is one of the hottest spots in the city. It took 4 phone calls to get a reservation and I think they took pity on me and just squeezed in one seat for me. But after four calls, one reservation request placed in French, one in bad French, two in English, I finally got a yes for 8:30pm. 20170720_203107 Upon arrival my table wasn’t ready, but they took me out to the garden to wait along with a beer, their own Joe Beef ale. An outdoor kitchen caught my eye as much as the garden where they grow their own salad items and vegetables. They also work with locally sourced foods to create weekly changing seasonal menus. 20170720_202353 Once I was called in to seat they offered me the bar or continue waiting for a table. I took the bar and got the rundown on the days meal options from the bartender. I went for the fresh salad to start and for my entree, filet de cheval… filet of horse. While waiting two kind women from NY sat down next to me and we struck up conversation, which undoubtedly led to me about to eat a horse. Literally. The portions are all huge, which is a great start and the salad was delicious, the meal came out and was as beautiful as I could have imagined. The filet was served with peas and diced ham in a parmesan cream sauce, it was so very tasty. The filet itself was topped with escargot and a fried egg, all served with a red wine bearnaise sauce. Here’s the thing. It was maybe the greatest meal I’ve ever had. EVER. It knocked me off my feet.

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Joe Beef… I can’t even. Hands down a stellar meal and thoroughly the best food experience I’ve ever had. A filet of horse… so good, I’d literally fight a grown man for this meal. Literally.

I talked the hesitant women next to me into trying it and they regretted nothing other than their choice of meals that didn’t compare to a HORSE STEAK! The ladies had steak and lobster spaghetti, Joe Beef classics and they kindly offered a taste, they were good, but nothing in comparison to mine. Needless to say by the end of the meal I was in food euphoria. I couldn’t help but go for dessert. A sundae of twisted brioche and berry sorbets mixed with meringue and topped in raspberry compote. I was through, it’s a wrap, take my chips I’m all in. Montreal wins.

After some late night conversation the day was done. Again, I can’t even begin to say enough how well this city treated me today. Maybe next time I’ll look at some art, bring some company, really enjoy it for a few days. This was just a taste of things to come. Terrible pun intended.

 

Worcester to Montreal

Day Seven: Exact mileage – 357 miles, Best Site of the day – babbling brook, Best Song of the Day – “Baby” by Ghostface Killah, Best Random Person Met – Mark: delivery man for a dairy farm, met in Fitzwilliam, NH

Strange Yet Familiar

Discontent is a powerful spark. When you’re filled with a sense of dissatisfaction that isn’t easily resolved, you may start wondering about making some changes. On its own however, discontent is not sufficient to start a fire – or inspire a quest….” ~ The Happiness of Pursuit

So this statement sat with me a bit. Discontentment. I think there is some of that involved here. I’m not sure completely in what fashion or if I’m dissatisfied with life, but I will say that I’m not happy in all components of life. Which is maybe impossible. I get that that everything isn’t going to be perfect, I’m okay with that. But I don’t like the lingering sense of incompleteness. That’s what I feel like is the issue right now, I feel like there’s something in my life that’s not where it needs to be as of yet. I thought it was my career for a long time. That teaching wasn’t where I was supposed to be, just where I ended up. I’ve come to find that’s not really the case. I like what I do, I’m good at it. I serve a purpose for a reason, that serves beyond myself. I think the problem is I’m searching for that thing that I find in myself is lacking and I’m not sure what that is. So it’s possible discontentment is in the not knowing, that I look into myself and I know there’s more to be found, more to dig into, more to put out into the world – but I’m unsure how to do that or what to do about it. I think maybe it has to do something with the world right now. I feel like I’ve taken some of the issues in society really personally recently (as many of us have) and that I feel lost and disenchanted, discontent, almost alienated at times. That’s painful, at the same time when I feel that because of where I am, I feel alone and I fall into my own pain and dig deeper into the hurt instead of being able to vent and find the other side of it until it works it out on it’s own. Maybe that’s part of this quest of mine, the trip becomes a searching for self not who I am, but who I’m not in some way. Or maybe who I am as part of a larger whole. I don’t really know. I feel like I’m being challenged to look at my faults and be real with them, own them, or confront and change them.

Day Five Today begins the haul north. I’m heading out from Frederick, MD and had all intentions on seeing the ride through to Worcester, MA. Though a repeated look at the weather and an overwhelming tiredness took a little of my steam and I also wanted to make a special stop I have heard about which was a little out of the way. So I decided instead of heading as far up as expected, I’d try to catch up with a friend who lives in the Baltimore / Annapolis area for a bite and head further north to an undetermined location for the night. After a start for the day and a little bit of riding I found that after some texts we realized with her work schedule for the day we weren’t going to catch up, at least for lunch and I didn’t want to end my riding for the day that shortly into the trip. So we decided to try and meet up some other time and make a special weekend of hanging out, I think it would make a good weekend trip to D.C. anyway as I’ve been wanting to go to the African American History Museum, I think I could even talk someone into making a road trip with me and have a solid weekend of fun. That being said we figured it was just a better stop for another time and northward I would head.

I had been hearing of a place outside of Lancaster, PA called Shady Maple, a crazy huge Pennsylvania Dutch buffet. A student told me about it years ago and I still haven’t been so this seemed like the perfect occasion. Even though it was a little out of the way I figured this was a great stopping point for a bite and to figure out my next move. So besides the threat of rain, I headed on out and up. The ride to Lancaster got a little wet along the way. There were sporadic showers, and then a downpour. I rode through it all and kept trudging along toward the meal I had heard about years before and somewhat for the novelty of it all and somewhat for the need to put food in my face hole. Onward I went, and eventually after the rural roads of Pennsylvania I ended up at Shady Maple, and having dried out from the first rounds of rain for the day I was ready to sit down to a meal.

What I was unprepared for was the sheer massive scale of the Shady Maple enterprise. It’s not just a buffet, but an enormous banquet hall and a “campus” of areas for shopping, farmers market, crafting, and a number of other things helpful things for the residents in the area, I’m assuming in particular the Pennsylvania Dutch / Amish community in the area, and in that sense I guess I understand the magnitude of the place.  20170717_153659I still must say I found it surprising though. Either way the meal was subpar at best and while the selection was huge, it felt like a lot of mediocrity versus items of quality. There were some things that were better than your usual neighborhood buffet or local spot and the desserts were on point for real. I kept it to a minimum though since I had to keep riding for the day, at least a few more hours. During the meal I sent a message to my friend from undergrad, Ed, and asked if they could put me up for the night. Kindly he said yes, and the plan to Jersey City was underway.

When I left the restaurant I could see the rain was coming and by the time I got the bike ready to head out again it was on me. So bundling up for the wet weather I got ready to hit the road. Headed to Jersey City I couldn’t help but think of the situation I was heading into. Which don’t get me wrong, is a great one. Ed was my friend from undergrad in Cleveland, OH and we (by happenstance) went to France together for the first time for a semester while in school. We ended up roommates while there, eventually along with two other guys and it was a life changing experience for me that’s led to multiple times abroad and an understanding of life that I never would have had otherwise that’s made me a better person. Nevertheless for Ed it was life changing in a different way because while there he met his would-be-wife Bilyana and the rest has been history. A life together they’ve built has brought a wonderful little girl, successful careers in the NY area in photography, design, activism to some extent and the laying down of roots of a beautiful family.

Looking at the situation from the outside. It’s odd that it’s something that I always wanted, and I see it in my friends, that family. For so long I wanted that, for so long I built and hinged everything on that until I fell apart when I felt that I couldn’t have it. So over the years it’s taken a lot to move beyond that to realize that what I want is what I have. That I’ve been given plenty and I’m happy and blessed to have it, even if it’s not what I imagined, but that in itself gives me the ability to have a much deeper appreciation for those in my life who do have it. Instead of being jealous and or hurt, I finally find myself at a point in life where I feel like I can enjoy their happiness genuinely and deeply, not too mention experience that happiness through and for them.

So the remainder of the ride I was looking forward to this time with old friends who I hadn’t seen since about 2009. Unfortunately New Jersey was not going to make it easy on me, particularly the turnpike. While there was some confusion in getting to the right road, there was also some confusion on the turnpike. While most highways have mile markers and exits that align, for some reason the turnpike has about 19 miles between exits! Essentially making what I thought was going to be a 20 mile road into a nearly 80 mile one. Thanks Jersey. So between that and then navigating the city traffic once I got into the area at evening rush hour I was a little frustrated with the road. Between Philly and Jersey traffic was a beast and the bike was getting hot sitting in that sun as anyone who’s ridden long and sat long knows. Needless to say I was glad to pull up at their apartment.

I have to say that it ended up a perfect stop though. They have a beautiful place and even though there wasn’t a bed, there was a crazy comfortable big couch and delicious salad which I hadn’t had in way too long. There was also of course plenty of laughs and good times catching up. Not too mention a beautiful bubbly little girl who I had never met and a overexcited dog who made the stay feel welcoming and warm.  Emma and PupAfter a night of stories and reminiscing about the time at Lacoste, dreams of going back, and filling in the gaps of the years since its been a great end to the day. It reminds me that the bike life isn’t just about the bike, but about all the stuff that it opens up the doors to, like reconnecting with old friends and parts of yourself that you lost somewhere along the way. Hopefully this time we can manage to keep them intact.

20170718_105458Day Six puts me back on track is a rather uneventful day other than getting my butt up to Massachusetts. It’s a catch up day as yesterday the original plan was to end up here, but the stop in Jersey changed that. It’s okay though, an early afternoon departure got me onto the NY Turnpike and headed north. Along the way I have to admit that once you get out of the city it’s a pretty drive, and headed up that way you can’t help but notice the fading of the city and the increase of nature coming back into its own. I really can’t complain, it’s a pretty sight. On the road I met a great guy enjoying a cigar, taking a break on his drive home. Bill, a retiree from Old Saybrook, CT. We talked about photography, his wife and their sons move to North Carolina, his friend in Clemson, SC, and a little about the idea of taking time to enjoy life before it’s too late. It was a good midpoint of the day on the way to Mass. The ride was good, but hot, the sun was no joke today and I got the color to show it. My normal milk chocolate has quickly worked its way to a rich bitter dark chocolate with the farmers tan in full effect to go with it. I still have yet to figure out this whole, “how often to put on sunscreen thing.” Black people problems. Lol

I did the Air BnB thing again making it a few uses already on this trip. I can’t say enough about that service, for a quick overnight stay it really is a perfect situation. I’m staying in a family’s home and that’s always weird, but a private bathroom usually wins me over. The reason I’m going up that way though is it’s a good stopping point before heading to Canada and it also isn’t far from Woonsocket, Rhode Island where a company is that I do some technical work for from time to time. My boss lives just outside of the city so we’re meeting for dinner. She’s one of the best people I know, as far as having a heart that would give the skin off her back if she could and you needed it. Unfortunately she gets taken advantage of from time to time, as anyone in her position would. When you run a company people want to cling on, and you always have a few of those until you shake them off. She’s a great woman though and an inspiration in her own way. Honda 4 She’s also a stockpile of photographic knowledge which is always fun for a photo geek like me. She also has an old bike in the garage, a ’72 Honda Four with a copper tank that I’m trying to get my hands on. A man can always dream!

Either way I got to town after racing the rain for awhile. I also got a great shot of a young couple about an hour outside of town who more than happy to pose for me. So after quickly getting settled in having waited out a little rain in Connecticut I was pushing for time a bit. I changed and headed to meet for dinner. She had just moved back into her house after doing some remodeling and wanted to show me around. While I have seen it before it was nice seeing it all complete and cleared out of things she was getting rid of and all the amazing art on the walls. Its interesting seeing all of the different types of neighborhoods and homes on a trip like this. From Midwestern suburbs to New England classic home styles, it’s such a huge variety and a nice representation of time seen in the styles. The inspiration of English classics being represented in the U.S., to the functional family farm homes of the Maryland countryside, down to the affordably manufactured pre-fabs of new neighborhood developments in the Midwest. That could be a photo project all in itself. Once I arrived though, dinner was the first thing on the agenda and after a quick tour and dodge of the many cats, we headed out.

We sat down at Bella’s, one of her local favorite Italian places that had been there for decades. Since we were on a short schedule, we ordered quick, plus she knows the menu like the back of her hand. Spicy calamari, and zucchini flowers for appetizers… who knew you could eat zucchini flowers!? I mean what isn’t edible though when wrapped around proscuitto, fresh mozzarella, and then flash fried. Followed up by a meal of salad, vegetables, roasted potatoes, and a boneless ribeye topped with a garlic chili butter sauce. 20170718_172711 Can’t complain at all… not even after she forced me to take home some Tiramisu. Twist my arm, fine! After getting back to her place the rain clouds were starting again as were the sprinkles so I got myself back up north for the night. All in all not a bad day, time for a shower, decent night sleep, catching up on conversations, and prepping for a ride into another country in the morning.

On a side note, I have to say the best part about this trip so far is the worst part of this blog. Not saying that I don’t enjoy writing it because I do. But it’s not quite as full of the turmoil and misery of last time and that makes for a very different writing experience, the struggle isn’t in the day to day chance of moving forward, but in the long haul of exhaustion. I can tell you, I don’t sleep great. I’m on teacher hours and like it or not I wake by 6:30 every morning if I’m lucky. So a late night means I sleep less and I’m exhausted in the morning. I’m barely hanging in there on some days but either way I ride. So this is turning out to be a trip about perseverance. Some days, especially in someone else’s home, I don’t sleep well at times, so 4 hours of sleep doesn’t do a lot. Some would say I’m adverse to sleep as it is, which isn’t true. I just don’t generally require as much as some people to function, repeatedly it takes its toll though and I’m beginning to feel it. Even before this though I was getting up at 5am, and heading to the gym almost daily to jog a few miles (slowly but still doing it) and get a solid workout in. I’m trying to change myself for the better, that can’t just happen on one level. I’m realizing as I get older I need to be serious, not that I want to be a different person, I just want to be a healthier person. So starting small and building up. For months I’ve been at this and somedays I feel great and other days like I’m what the cat dragged in and threw up on the living room carpet. I guess change is never easy, of any kind. I’ve always been the big guy, I don’t mind that. Though I do want to be the big guy who doesn’t want to die at the top of a hill. Haha. I honestly started working out to prepare for Thailand this past February. I knew I’d be walking and would probably climb some ridiculous high temple steps. I did both of those things, and on a torn meniscus it’s not easy. Neither is feeling like the world is passing you by though. Life was starting to tell me I needed to change, my body, my mind, my heart, all of it needed a transformation. I’m hoping that this is just one step in that process.

I guess there’s a little bit of something to learning when to listen to outside forces though and the toll they take on you, they lead you. If you let them. Last time it was the bike and I fought it to a failing end, this time it’s my body and I won’t fail, even if it means going to bed early on occasion and continuing to wake up early to take my ass to the gym. On as side note, who’d have thought at 41 years old I’d still be fighting sleep. Shenanigans.