Skipping the Chit Chat

Today I suffered. It was supposed to rain and I was not very excited to ride in it, because my new Argon 18 is only two days old. But everything new gets dirty at some point, and I am in prime Vermont riding country. There is also a rule about not riding because of rain which states that perhaps you don’t have the proper conviction to be a cyclist if you bail out, and I don’t break that rule. So I rode about 100k with two very nasty climbs in the middle, and it was hot, and humid, and there was no shade. 

It did not rain, but it’s the threat that counts.

I wanted the climb to be over long before it was designed to be. It was the last climb of the day and it felt like the mountain was growing beneath me. My jersey was open and my glasses were filmed with salty sweat and just as I crested, and was about to be rewarded with 4 miles of 10% graded downhill and 40mph winds in my face, I saw the shape of a young woman pushing her touring bike, full of gear, up the opposite face of the climb and then she yelled:  “Are you are at the top?”

I gave her a thumbs up, pulled over into the shade, and decided to stop at wait for her. The inclination to just get on and descend was strong, but I waited.

“This thing actually ends!” she said as she reached me and stopped.

Now consider this; when you meet someone under these circumstances, there are a few reasons why you can jump way ahead of all the simple chit-chat. The amount in common is substantial, so often the meat happens right away, and it did. She started in Wisconsin, is headed to Maine, and then she is moving to Boston.

We had 15 minutes maybe, but we covered a lot of ground. I wasn’t hitting on her, and I had no need for anything from her, and so it was effortless and conversational like two old friends.

She was old-schooling it in her no-name spandex shorts and cotton shirt, paper maps, an old Trek with all the wrong gearing, old bottles, grease everywhere, a pair of beach sunglasses. I dug it. I get so wrapped up in all the high-priced gear, that I forget you can get along just fine with water, some maps, a helmet, and a bike. Don’t get me wrong, if you can afford it, the high-priced gear is well worth it, although I think that within the last 5 or 6 years a lot of the basic fun of riding has been stolen by technology, but that’s another topic entirely.

I gave her all the money I had in my plastic pouch, which amounted to $10. She took it and thanked me, and admitted that today was actually her 25th birthday. Now, most girls, on their 25th birthday, would be concerned that everything they asked for was coming to them, or concerned about how drunk they could get, or whether or not the restaurant their boyfriend was taking them to was expensive enough to properly mark the event. This girl didn't even know where she would be sleeping. 

I asked her if it was important if she spent her birthday with someone, and she said it wasn’t, not in a woe-is-me manner, but more in the way that she was perfectly content to be alone.

We high-fived, and I went onto my high-speed descent, and she went on to hers, breaking away at, probably, a combined 70-80mph. As slowly as we came together, we left equally fast.

Happy birthday to you, _________! I know your name, because it ends with an M and ends with an H, but I don’t want to use it without your permission. I hope your not out there in the rain, in your tent, behind a barn. I’m glad that the perfect timing brought us to meet one another, and it made my day.

Ditch the Travel Guide

If I don’t get to this straightaway, I forget, and then so much happens, and then so much more, until the pile is way too large to properly fold and put down on paper, so it just sits there, getting moldy. But that’s a disservice to myself, and tonight I’m determined to clean up, because if I don’t, it’ll never see light.

I had a long day on my way from Bar Harbor to Cavendish, P.E.I. My very first thought after driving across the island was that I might have made the same mistake I made by going to New Zealand; the only paved roads were the highways, and they had no shoulder, and they had 18-wheelers, and they had 100K speed limits.

Things got a little dimmer when I got close to Cavendish and pulled into the Fodors-recommended lobster shack in New Glasgow and it was full of fanny-packed tourists.

Dinner was great though, and so my spirits were lifted a little bit only to sink back down when I arrived in Cavendish at my accommodation, having passed glow-in-the-dark-mini-golf, a Ripley's Believe It Or Not, a Go-Cart track, and all kinds of uber-touristy shit I had not expected.

As it turns out, and nothing I read about PEI told me this, but a large part of the tourism portion of the island relies on people who lose their bowels for anything related to “Anne of Green Gables,” and those people have a penchant for being Japanese. Which is fine with me; go ahead and be Japanese and travel. Be German, be English, be whatever you are, but you are a tourist, and you are not interactive with your environment. I despise tourists, although the line is fine and I admit it.

My room is small, but I walk down to the beach to watch the sunset, which is late here because it is an hour ahead of EST. I was happy to be on the road, and there was the lapping of the waves on the red sand, and the sun setting, and I was excited to ride again in the morning.

I got up around 9 or so in order to go the restaurant that has the free breakfast for my hotel-motel-room-closet.

There was a lady there with her husband and when they got there, she learned that the hotel had only given her husband one free ticket for breakfast, and not two, which is what they needed to get two free breakfasts.

She could not believe it, because it just didn’t make sense, and she could not figure out how someone could make that kind of mistake, because obviously they were two people and not one person, so why would he have gotten only one free ticket? She could just not figure that out. So when the waiter came over to ask for the tickets the lady said that they only had one ticket and the waiter said they needed two tickets and the woman said that this was ridiculous and said that they were clearly two people and not one and it didn’t make sense that the hotel didn’t give them two tickets and she refused to pay the $6.95 for the breakfast she had. After they left, I gave the waitress a $20 bill and told her to be strong.

I also left my Fodors guide to Nova Scotia in my room, on purpose. It had not done me any favors so far, and I needed to get remote. 

I needed a ride. For some reason, I had 100K in mind, because I was in Canada, and things are measured in K and not M. The ride was great, because it turns out that there are plenty of paved roads in the north, and that I am here very early in the season, and the traffic is a fraction of what it will be in just a few weeks. The sun is out, and I’m still feeling about average until I am heading up a steep incline and a silver Mazda minivan pulls up next to me, the rear window goes down ghetto and slow, but out from it comes a tiny, cream-colored fist in a thumbs-up position, and a little girls’ voice that says “Good job, keep going!”

That basically reset the whole deal, and I took my head out my ass, and the rest was wonderful. Beautiful white, to pink, to purple lupins everywhere, golden fields, and red clay fields, and long straight rollers. I stopped about 70K in for a lobster roll and an iced tea and a view of the ocean. Within the last 6K a red fox came out of the woods and scared the shit out of me, until I realized, much later, that they are very common and not hungry for humans.

When the ride was over, I made my way to Malpeque, about a 20 mile drive from Cavendish. This part I had very high expectations for, and I always say that’s a no-no when traveling, but I felt confident that this could not go sideways. I wanted Malpeque oysters in Malpeque. There is only one place where you can do this, and it’s on the second floor of a fishing hut right on the small harbor. I made several wrong turns down red, muddy roads, but that was also part of the fun. At the Oyster Barn, there is only one window, and about 8 tables. In August, the line runs down the stairs, out the door, and around the building.

This is because Malpeque oysters are a very, very good oyster. The menu had other shit on it, but I paid no attention. I was also in luck, because oysters come in many sizes, but I prefer mine on the large side, and they had those in stock. They were shucked perfectly, and there was a fine film of seawater floating the meat so delicately, so tenderly. The Keiths beer was cold and served in a frozen glass and the first oyster got to me, emotionally, immediately. It was incredible and the only time that I have ever felt the rumored aphrodisiacal effect.

Then I drove to Charlottetown. I had a couple of great meals there, including one place called Terre Rouge (red earth) that was all local meat and homemade charcuterie and cheeses and local beer. I went for a ride which was not great. The first ten miles and the last ten miles was all Trans-Canada highway and no fun, but the middle 20 were really great. If you want more “Anne of Green Gables” and tee-shirt shops though, you can’t lose.

I went out to dinner at 4:30 that night, and managed to restaurant hop for about 5 hours and have around 6 appetizers and a number of beers before falling heavily to bed at the Dundee Arms.

The next day, I would be taking the ferry to Nova Scotia, and then driving North to Cape Breton.

Bar Harbor, June 25th, 2015

Subtract the tourist trap of Bar Harbor (the town) and the rest is pure bliss. Keep in mind everything I poo-poo or praise is from a cycling perspective, and it’s almost always from a very quick observation, so don’t take anything I say as an absolute, except this absolute; if you ride a bike, you have to come and ride the loop in Arcadia National Park. 

Here’s why, for starters:
1. It’s short, relatively speaking. Even for a beginner, the 24 mile loop from the Visitors Center and back to it is not terribly tough. It’s close to 2,000 feet of climbing, but there are plenty of places to rest, hydrate, and break it up, if you don't have a lot of miles in the legs.
2. If you climb to the top of Cadillac, it adds roughly 7 miles and another 1,000vft, but a woman ascending yelled at me as I was about half way-up, that it was “totally worth it.” Bonus points if you go up on a…on a…I don’t even know what to call it, but a bike for three people. Never seen one before, and it looked ridiculous, and the descent in those cross winds with only one dude responsible for the steering, yeah, no, I would have shit myself.

3. The climb to Cadillac is never tough, in fact it averages that magic number of 5 percent, although the wind will always be a factor. The prevailing wind is from the NW, which is good since the majority of the climb is headed SE. You and your fancy deep-dish wheels best be prudent on the way down though, as you can come out of the trees and into an open turn and end up descending the part that’s not paved.

4. For 13 miles of it, it’s only one way, speed limit 25, up and down, two full lanes, and there is not a single imperfection in the road surface. On top of this, no RV’s or campers are allowed. Which means you can set you mainsail and cruise. Outside of a professional bike race, where both lanes are blocked and traffic is stopped, I don’t know of another place where you could  hammer and sightsee and the same time, cross lanes, basically be King without being a dick.

5. The asphalt is black and smooth, like the ones in your dreams.  You almost always flanked by trees on one side and the ocean on the other, which means you’ll get a breeze, whether you like it or not. The views are incredible, and all those lobster pots you see, well, there is no way you can’t finish off that ride without paying thanks by eating one or more lobster rolls.

I chose to begin the ride with a ride on the exterior of the eastern part of the island, so my ride ended up around 62 miles with 5400ft of climbing. I never try and hammer rides when I am traveling, so it’s easier to stop and see the touristy bits, which outside of Bar Harbor, are beautiful.

Like Somes Sound, which has a nice little old road next to it, and is the only legitimate fjord in the continental US. Which sounds like it’s trying to be more than it actually is; which is a big body of water with trillions of lobster pots.

Like Northeast Harbor, where you can smell the money and people don’t call it boating but the proper term of “yachting.” Shit roads though, and there are BUMP signs everywhere, including some that have a makeshift “s” sharpied onto them. Rich people didn’t get rich by being insouciant, you know.

I had two lobsters for dinner because the place I went to only had  1 ¼ lobsters on hand, which I think is pretty weak. One lobster for each ascent of Cadillac, if you are into symmetry.

Now, I'm off to Canada. Again.

Content is content.

Been reading through my travel journal lately, seeking inspiration, and I hadn't read much of it since I first wrote it. This is a bit I never posted from April 2012, just getting back to Los Angeles from Spain after three months out: 

I arrive in LA and pick up my baggage, and I get a cab to the hotel. The hotel is very beautiful and very convenient but the room is small and definitely not worth the $400 a night or whatever it is.

I can't smoke anywhere, and there is lots of noise and lots of rudeness and tons of skin. I failed to notice, although this is one thing I always forget and then am reminded of when I get back here, that shorts are not common in Europe. In Europe, they have these things called skirts, which apparently are only useful anymore in the States when at work or on a first date. 

So all the tits, short-shorts, and yoga pant crack-ass is a shocking welcome home. 

Annie, Are You OK?

I’m feeling very angsty. There is a cloud over me and I can’t outsmart it. I know the cloud is dumb and incapable of strategy but it keeps finding me, no matter how many hours I spend on my bike. It finds me even in my dreams.

Sometimes I give up the care that it is there, because I know that clouds will sometimes form, despite my protests, and that they will travel with the wind, and that the wind is always consistent in its pressing, pushing the cloud as it pushes me, but this wind is in my face, not so hard that I can’t breath, but enough to be annoying. I wish it would go away. But this wind is committed to something, and I can’t make sense of its persistence. I tell it that it is just a cloud, that no one cares about it, that no one likes it, that all of us would prefer that it not block out the sun, but it just dangles there and makes no offer to its intention.

The Slow Leak

Well, that girlfriend thing is over. Deep down, there was something fundamentally incompatible about us, to paraphrase someone else who worded it better than I could have. I was accused of walking away too easily, but I'm pretty certain that when a book ends, there aren't extra chapters lying around for me to find. And sequels almost never deliver.

There was a slow drip from the roof that I ignored but knew would bring the whole house crashing down someday. Afterwards, I looked at the carnage and didn't wonder "What the fuck?" I looked at it and I thought "Oh, so that was what that drip was all about."

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