Mountains

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

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Days Behind, Days Ahead

Addendum: So I decided to try and post every 2 – 3 days instead of daily. So when I drop a post it’ll cover a few things. I just can’t keep up with the travel, visiting with people, exploring and writing all in the same day, everyday. I’m not the young spry man that I used to be after all! Haha! 

Day Three and Four

“Quest brings meaning and fulfillment to our lives…. A quest has a few key features, including a clear goal, a real challenge, and a set of milestones along the way.” ~ The Happiness of Pursuit

I guess that’s what this is all about in the end, the long and short of it. I feel like I’m finishing something I started but never completed, even though its wholly different. That regret. I don’t want to live with that. My mother recently began reading my posts and in reference to one from the last time told me “I get it, I get you.” She meant the living with regrets, that life isn’t to be looked back on wondering what if, and she understood my need to fulfill this goal. For me that goal is completing the ride. The place is rather secondary to the effort. The challenge is all the stuff that comes with it, the prep, maintenance, funding, endurance. The milestones are all the things that I try and accomplish along the way including this blog, reconnecting with friends and family, etc. What I find odd though is that is maybe the first time I feel like my mother has ever really “gotten me”. Not in a negative way, but we just have very different paths in life that we took, though I think my path in the arts was one that she once shared and therefore encouraged mine. But she mentioned how at the end of her life my grandmother had regretted not trying to open a restaurant and sharing her cooking with the public. She lived and passed with that regret and my mother felt it when they talked about it. See, I think regret isn’t just something we live with, but something we pass to others by not encouraging the ability to take risks and try new things. My grandmother was a woman of her era and I can’t and won’t question why she wouldn’t have tried to step out into the world. My mother took her own risks with going back to school, divorcing and raising us kids though some were already out of the house, getting her theology degree, becoming a minister. Her risk and her success inspired me, but more than her success it was the goal, the effort, the challenge that she set and didn’t back down. I don’t know if I’ve ever really told her how proud she’s made me to see her achieve these things. Maybe the best way I can show it is to continue to strive to live up to the challenges I set for myself, but most importantly keep setting them. Maybe that’s the key to being fulfilled, always being challenged beyond complacency. 

Day Three Well today was something else. We started a little slow as we slept in, me and Big Red shared a room and cut up a little last night with some of his people. Ended up at a local dive bar, but the wings were 50 cents and bangin! So the night ended well, a day with my ace since I was 16 and kicking it on two’s together. Really it doesn’t get better than that. Having dudes like this in my life are what it’s all about. He’s my brother as much as anyone blood could ever be. Thank God I have a few of those to keep my in line and share life’s walk with. Back to today though. After pulling ourselves together for the day we waited for the rest of the crew, RealWun out of Rochester with his cats MJ and Cee, and O’Buddha out of Woodbridge with his dude T-Loc. Once they hit the room it was on. First the jokes, then the drinks, then the stories, then the hunger, after clowning around for about two hours it was time to start riding with the crew. Cee, MJ, and T-Loc I had never met, but some I had heard about before. From the moment they touched down it was like family though. One of the many reasons why I love this bike life.

 

We rallied up and made a run to Iron Pony, this crazy motorcycle superstore. I’ve made a stop here in Westerville years ago just for this place and it never fails to have me find something I want, whether I need it or not.

So after some of us spent way more than planned… RealWun, we caught up some more and headed to grab a bite at what turned out to be a closed down Champs. So Steak n Shake met its match instead. T-Loc at more chili than one man ever should in a fortnight (however long that is). Between the chili, joking with the staff, each other, we’re lucky we weren’t asked to leave. It was all good though, afterward we rolled out to meet up with one of the crew from the night before who happens to be O’Buddha’s sister. Scooping her up from work we all then went back to the spot from the night before and got into it. The rounds were flowing, the laughs were going and it was on. Our boy is from the area, so his family is there, and he remembered the area so it was good having some tour guides per se.

Now mind you it’s now almost 4:30pm and we came for a club event, that we have yet to attend. It was quickly becoming clear that this is what we actually came for, togetherness. So we kept at it. Bon Aire, was a trip. Robbie was cleaning off the pool sticks with wet wipes, since the dude we saw yesterday eating wings, licking his fingers, then shooting stick was burned into our minds it seemed the right thing to do! We had more chicken wings for the tables than we could count and we had more family as the day rolled on. Aunts, cousins, daughters, everyone came down to catch us and kick it. Once the lady came over selling Nike’s that may have “fallen off the back of a truck” then it was officially a wrap on that event and this was going to be our day.

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I said, “if this woman starts selling shoes in here I’m done.” 20 minutes later I was done!

We kept at it for a while longer, shots were had, jokes at each others expense, but it was all love. After we ate more and worked our way back to riding shape down from a chicken wing and cheap beer filled euphoria it was time to head back to the hotel. Not too mention somehow during this I got talked into a weight loss challenge by Buddha and RealWun. They gonna learn that Big Red and I ain’t got money to lose so we gonna put it in. Not too mention both these dudes gained last time they tried! Shenanigans!

Now after a family discussion on the the aunts invites us back to their place to end the night. Once that happens you have no choice but to go. So family always wins. Though it was a perfect end.

We definitely got it in and had a good time. Half the neighborhood ended up coming over to kick it with us and it was well worth it. It was a veritable round 3 on the day, more drinks (though we took it easy since we had to ride out in the morning), lots of laughs, good music, and did I mention spades!? For those of y’all who don’t know, for us playing spades is like a religion, you may end praying a lot and someone is taking that good book. Aunt Linda and I held court on that table! Anytime you and your first time partner run a 10 book hand without question, set them multiple times, and make them throw in a whole hand halfway through then you know you did work. Don’t come up here if you ain’t ready, this isn’t a game!

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Round Three: We weren’t even in rare form yet. Those cards had yet to make their way out but the neighborhood is rolling in.

From there the night was a wrap, getting tired after a few more hours of time we needed to shut it down. We mounted up and headed back to the hotel where pizza helped end all our nights on the right note. A quick phone call topped it off in perfection and signaled the end of what was a most successful and needed weekend. I don’t know if there’s a better way to kick off my travels alone than a solid two days of time with the guys who brought me into this life, welcomed me, showed me the ropes, taught me, teased me, but in the end ushered me into this lifestyle I love so much. I can’t say enough about Big Red and RealWun, these are my dudes through and through. Tomorrow morning we all roll out, headed our separate ways back home and my real adventure begins far from mine.

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These dudes right here. The real deal.

1 Life, 1 Set, 1 Luv.

Day Four This was a riding day through and through. Columbus treated us very well, but now it’s time for me to start moving north. The easy answer to this is to just head north through Rochester but no, I need to be difficult. There are states I still need to ride in, so east we go. A lot of this area I’ve hit on the bike, but not this route. It’s the northeast that’s new to me as a rider. So filling in these states on my map is a plus. I headed out toward Maryland after getting a few portraits shot. A few of the fellas asked if I wanted to ride with them, but knowing I was stopping to shoot I passed so I wouldn’t hold them up. It was interesting, some people stepped right up and let me shoot them, no questions asked. Others resisted, but were still talkative and liked what I was doing. That being said I think it’s began to alter what I’m shooting. They’re still portraits but they’re already telling a different story than what I thought. So as part of my “go with the flow” I’m not going to force them into a box. I’ll let them be what they are and I’ll work with them rather than against them. Just like riding a bike.

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So I’ve been shooting images and these portraits have taught me a few things. I can’t take up too much of people’s time, it’s valuable, in that time I have to make a connection, and that connection is what makes a good portrait. It’s the experience of the image, almost more so than the image itself sometimes. I’ve also learned that people are often open to engaging if you just make an effort and an introduction. I’m an oddly introverted individual. I really don’t like talking to strangers, I’d be more content to just be alone, with people I’m already comfortable with or an introduction from someone else, I’m much better. I can turn it on when I need to, but it’s exhausting. Therefore shooting portraits like this is a big challenge, it’s all about engagement. So for me this is also a personal challenge to break out of my comfort zone. We can’t all be content to keep things as they are, without some kind of change then we’re stuck in the muck. Anyway, I’m rambling. I’ll keep shooting and see where this thing goes. Though so far, I think I have high hopes.

The ride though, Frederick Maryland is the destination today. A former student turned friend, mentee, little sister, whatever you want to call it offered to put me up at her grandparent’s place. Actually they offered, its their home after all. I met them once at graduation and it was very kind of them to extend this offer. So on the way to MD I go. Ohio is a huge state no matter where you start in it. I’m not talking Texas big, but that’s to be expected, Ohio is sneaky big. West Virginia has a weird shape, you should never be in and out a single state so many times without changing highways. 20170716_121523 West Virginia is also the state where I almost slid out the last time I did a massive trip and ended up fracturing my foot and breaking a few toes. So it’s good to make it through unscathed and feel the first sense of retribution from the failed effort of 2014. I took an extended break here as I needed to escape the heat for a bit. While rain wasn’t a huge concern the heat was definitely kicking my butt. So a few bottles of water, bag of chips, and a few portraits were just what I needed to re-energize. While here I also photographed a nice Indian family in Cassville, WV. They were headed home to Ohio and I caught father and sons together for a shot. It was a good moment. I was also informed that my name in Hindi means hope / prayer / dream, a colloquial term of sorts. I’m not sure of the spelling but that made me feel pretty good about things right now. A later stop at the Green Ridge Mountains was equally as fulfilling in its own kind of majestic way.

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Green Ridge Mountain overlook

One of the great things about a trip like this is seeing random places I’ve heard of. My friend Emily is from Morgantown, WV and often talks about what life was like before moving to a bigger city, etc. It was cool to ride through town and see where she came from if even for a minute. I also have lots of time to think. I missed family bible study yesterday so I had time to think about that and how much it’s come to mean to me, having family who wants to come together in faith, and a mother who has helped to facilitate that being able to happen.

Needless to say during an 7 – 8 hour ride lots of random things come up in your head. It’s good to have this time alone to think through things, what I want from life, where I hope to go, how can I get there. There’s been a lot of that happening. I don’t think I’m where I will end up, metaphorically speaking, so I’m trying to plan and actively think about what I want and how to go about it. Much of that is about just happiness in life, I’m seeking it daily. I think I’m where God needs me to be right now and that’s perfect, but His plan is always moving forward so I need to be ready to move with it however that may come about. There was a time I’d have fought this diligently. There was a time that I’d have been heartbroken over my friends Jamie and Gloria surprisingly having another child when I couldn’t, but I’ve come to learn that life is as it’s supposed to be. We all have a role to play and I’m finally starting to figure out mine. It doesn’t mean you passively sit back and let it happen, but you become part of it, you engage it fully and tackle the good and the bad head on. Sometimes you’re surprised at what come up from it.

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Billie’s Gas and Grub, Flinstone MD

Back to the point, Maryland. I roll into Frederick about 7pm or a little earlier and say hello to the family and about 17 cats on the porch. This is an old farmhouse and has outdoor cats that outnumber the people nearly 5 to 1. Its madness and my allergies are glad to be going inside. Being a city kid, farm life is strange to me but I understand its charm. Its pretty land, hard work but it pays off, you see a real result of your efforts. I also learned that you grow straw, it’s not just an accident which I believed it and hay to be for the longest. It was good to see everyone though and catch up. It’s odd how some people just become part of your life without trying to put them there. The house though, this was apparently a tavern in the early 1800’s then converted in a house and first owned by my friends great great grandfather. They believe that George Washington may have spent time there before it was converted over. That being said, I guarantee it wasn’t that hot when he was there. It was toasty! This was your quintessential grandparent house and it was awesome. She offered me ice cream, there were figurines and statues all over, hand sewn pillows with religious quotes, and a fridge stocked with sweet tea that would knock your socks off with sugary goodness. It was an awesome stay and I can’t thank them enough for their kindness. In the morning it’s off to Rhode Island and then onto the truly northern stretch of this trip.

Columbus OH to Frederick MD