Massachussets

Love to Hate: There and Back Again

“I write because I’m too afraid to steal, too ugly to act, too weak to fight, and too stupid in math to be a Cosmologist.” ~ Paul Beatty

 I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to change our nature, to do something drastic to better oneself. What comes with that and how it effects things around us. In turn I’ve also been thinking about one of my favorite poets and what his writing meant to me the first time I read it. So I’ve been delving into some of those readings and some new things here and there. To some extent the past few months to a year have been interesting. Life has changed a lot. Change used to frighten me, I downright hated it. More the unknowing nature of it and what it meant to give up a space where you are comfortable and know the world around you, how it operates, and how to bend it to your will to some extent. What I realized though is that fear was based way more on thinking I had a vision for my life, for who I was, or maybe should be. When it came down to it I am what the Lord made me to be, no more, no less, and that’s okay. What I came to see is that sometimes you have to give up comfort to learn who you’re meant to be. Comfort can make us complacent and complacency can often be an anchor weighing us down. Now I’m trying to see what it means to carry that weight around (no pun intended) daily, and make it part of me, allowing it to strengthen me each step along the way.

“But in that coming day no weapon formed against you will succeed. You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you.” – Isaiah 54:17

 

I have a ride planned in a few days. I can’t say I’m terribly excited about going, which is strange for me. Its not that I think it won’t be enjoyable, but its real hot outside, and its real far, and I’ve done nothing but travel the past two months. Family stuff and helping out some people I love has kept me moving, but that’s okay. It’s been worth it because its for people important to me. It all started a few weeks ago with a trip planned over a year ago.

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I’ve luckily connected with some riders online and over the years we’ve followed one another, talked, and checked-in. This of course is a strange extension of the nature of riding with others, many times you form bonds that seem to go beyond location and familiarity. Last year they planned “Top to Bottom” ride, leaving at the end of June 2019 for 4 days, beginning in Ft. Kent, Maine and ending in Key West, Florida. Essentially this ride would run the entire course of US-1 from its 0 mile to 0 mile markers. This would be an undertaking to explore the twists and curves of the northeast coast and cutting inland before back out again. K-Solo and Reef, managed to bring a number of riders, though only 5 of us actually set out on the eventual journey due to to weather, mechanical issues, and other concerns.

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Lets back up for a second. The two of them ride like no one I’ve ever known, particularly Solo. This dude will be on one coast one day and the other two days later. I don’t get it. He just rode to Deadhorse, Alaska… seriously look that up on a map, I still can’t wrap my brain around it. I’m honestly not sure these two have a life outside of riding. Lol. Anyway, that information will come into play later.

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For me this meant this trip didn’t start in Ft. Kent, it started with wrapping up teaching a workshop, and MFA courses in Nashville and literally leaving from class to start my trip north. My stops along the way were Cleveland OH, Littleton MA, and onto Ft. Kent. Along the way I ordered a new rain suit and had it sent ahead to Massachusetts. Luckily I had some real friends who came through and let me stay along the way, special thanks to Alicia and her husband in Mass who I haven’t seen in years but opened their home, garage (basically auto shop) and fridge to me as long as needed. Having other friends with bikes is awesome, and even better when it comes as an unexpected surprise.

The day came to head up to Maine, which was big for me as its the only state in the Northeast I haven’t rode through. Unfortunately waiting for the rain suit held me up a bit and I got underway late. Maine was a beast that day, rain, cold, heavy fog and highways that didn’t offer much of anything in visibility. I pushed as hard as I could but realizing I was another 3 hours out, I realized my safety was a reality. This was the moment I came to a realization in life, at least in my motorcycle life. I love what I do, but I don’t have anything to prove to anyone… not even myself. The hardest decision to make is sometimes knowing that you’ve done enough, even when you naturally feel the need to do more. Bangor, Maine was the furthest north I could safely make so that would have to be it, and I was okay with that.

After getting in touch with Reef and preparing to meet up the next morning, I had the opportunity to run some quick errands. Getting some new hex wrenches for the bike, tightening a few bolts, getting glove liners, and topping off tire pressure. I was lucky to meet George McNeese, a gentleman in his late 80’s headed to Jacksonville to visit his daughter. He’s been riding for almost 70 years and has covered most of the United States, we chatted and laughed, photographed one another, and as he wandered across the street to grab a bite with some of the Harley Davidson employees I thought how rare it is to have these moments to meet someone like him. Someone so different than me, connected by this passion and that supersedes everything else.

I’d learn this even further as I would head to meet up with the crew for the rest of the ride. Heading out a few short hours northeast I pulled into Ruth and Wimpy’s parking lot ready to begin the official Top to Bottom.

I’m not going to go very far into details of the trip itself. Let’s just say it was more than I expected. If you can imagine, up in the northeast US-1 is curvaceous, its winding roads, and small town stops and starts. You can ride 6 hours and only have gotten 150 miles under your belt. That’s a struggle both physically and mentally after doing that for 18 hours. The trick was we had just over 3 days to complete the trip, so every mile and every hour counted. Day one ended with 12 hours of riding and 3 tired bikers in Warwick, RI… and two crazy men ready to push on.

There were 5 of us; Solo, Reef, Paul, Matt and myself. Coming together from various parts of the country meant some riding had already been done to get here, and most of them made it to Maine some time ago and explored Southeastern Canada and got to know one another if they hadn’t already. Paul and Matt knew each other, Solo and Reef, Solo and I online, but I felt somewhat like odd man out. I usually do in situations like this, the whole getting to know new people falls into that change category I mentioned earlier. Usually I’m in control of a classroom or situation somewhat, here I was thrown into the mix. Midway through day two we were still weaving hard and fast down the coast, and as the day came to a close the frustration was mounting. 18 hours ended us just outside of Baltimore, MD, it was 2am and we wanted to sleep. No hotel rooms available, exhaustion full on set in, Matt, Paul, and I needed to sleep. Some phone calls ended us at some pretty questionable motels in Perryville. Needless to say I didn’t question for one moment this motel is where I’d end up in a shoot out or a serial killer would come for me in my sleep through a hatch in the floor… the Relax Inn was far from that.

The morning came quick and we were down one man. Matt was done. Bike issues with a tire and exhaustion had taken its toll, at 6am we pressed on. Virginia was the first sign of relief. As we questioned how we would ever pull off the timing to Key West, the roads began to straighten and open up. Day three was much more mileage friendly. Stopping briefly in South Hill, VA for lunch at a great Mexican restaurant, El Saucito was a much needed break from the heat that was now beating down. IMG_20190625_142853_371

It was picturesque as well, so it was nice to get a moment to myself for some shots, but it was also the first time I began to connect with everyone else. Nothing like a meal to make this happen. Not to mention Paul vocalizing his need to have a bed to lay in that evening for more than 3 hours. I had found a kindred spirit and co-conspirator! The day would “end” in Jacksonville, FL, 19 hours after it had begun.

Now this is where the previously mentioned information on Reef and Solo is essential. Day three, hour 17, Paul and I had formed an alliance. We were traveling at our own pace and looking forward to a good night of sleep somewhere. We’d catch up and stand our ground, we were going to sleep. Reef and Solo were ready to roll through the night, apparently sleep is completely optional for them or they’re literally the undead and require no rest whatsoever. Lol. After agreeing to disagree at midnight, they rode on while Paul and I found rooms a short few hours ahead, and energizing for a final push for the evening. 2 hours later we were in Jacksonville and checking into a motel for what was the full night of sleep we needed. To make a long story short, the next morning we picked up another rider (Snoop, Reef’s cousin) and the three of us ended the day at mile marker 0 in Key West just before midnight after another 15 hour riding day.

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Due to the distance over the timeframe we pushed hard everyday. All in all this was the hardest ride I’ve ever done, in the sense of being physically, mentally, and emotionally drained by the end. Key West was a relief, and a day to take it all in was just what I needed. While everyone else got back on the road, I enjoyed a day on my own taking in the city and recuperating. While its not the longest trip I’ve done in time or distance it as the most time sensitive and that was exhausting. At times I was uncomfortable, frustrated, angry, and baffled by components of the trip. Other times I was blissfully at ease, or laughing with strangers quickly becoming friends. It was a strangely and positively bi-polar experience that forced me out of my comfort zone and into the control of someone else. This may have been the most valuable part of the experience as a whole. While I was walking away a mixed bag of feelings, I found myself joking with someone that drove me crazy a few days before, discovered someone else who carries their own toilet paper, and overall gained 4 brothers on the road.

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Being forced out of my control and comfort meant I had to adapt. I couldn’t let a situation break me, I have to learn to bend. Bending allows you to flex without failing. For this lesson I’m thankful. What was by far one of the hardest trip, maybe turned out to be one of the most important in many ways.

Now back to this week, tomorrow morning actually. I’ll be taking off for the National Biker Roundup, this year in Gulfport, Mississippi. I’m riding with a friend from Woodbridge State Burners and in classic fashion we can’t do anything easy. Instead of heading straight there, we’re going first to Denver, CO then to Las Vegas, NV then after tiptoeing into California, turning and burning across the Southwest and South to Mississippi. Yeah, we may be crazy people. But we’re crazy people on a mission apparently. There will be some more long days ahead, but this time in a little more of our control as we’re hoping to just enjoy the ride and head to some places we’ve never been. Catching up with old friends along the way, and undoubtedly making some new ones. If you see us be sure to say hey.

July 2019 Route

Ps. Special shout out to Sid’s Cycles here in Nashville who got me in real quick today and replaced my rear tire and pads. Definitely makes peace of mind a little more solid for the 9 days ahead!

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.