Friday, September 29, 2023

Two Old Coots and the Tow-headed kid


I was sleeping that great way you can when it's cold out and the only way to stay warm is to keep the sleeping bag pulled up the way up over your head. You know it's dark outside and getting out of that bag merely means the pain of the upcoming day is about to begin. Sure, there will be wonderful sunrises and sunsets. The sky will be clear and blue, and the leaves will be in the midst of changing to the vibrant colors that happen in the fall. will be seeing and feeling all of that while carrying a large pack with tent, sleeping bag, and all of the supplies for 5 days on your back while marching uphill with small breaks to eat some food that tastes like something from a vending machine that hasn't been serviced in five years. Yes, there are times when it seems like the best part of the day is right before you crawl out of that sleeping bag.

At some point, I looked at my watch and marveled that it still seemed dark at 7am, and thought, if we don't get going, the uphill marching will continue farther into the night than I might prefer. I pulled on enough clothes to make it worth venturing out to attempt a decent cup of coffee.  I had the tent half unzipped when this head floated into view, saying "I have a great deal for you!". It took me a minute to register where I was, who I was, and I had to hold my hand up, while I realized that it was Levi, my grand nephew, the only 12 year-old I'd ever met that wanted to go backpacking with a couple of old guys. Levi kind of reminded me of myself at 12 years old, except that I remember me as being a shy bookworm, that loved science fiction, and books in general, much more than any physical activity. If this kid had any of my DNA, it was polished up, and refocused in a totally different direction. He was tall, thin, with a shock of blonde hair, and a personality that knew no enemies, just prospective friends. He was smart and could talk a mile a minute, and that's what was happening now. We had arrived on this trip with me in a solo tent and Levi and his grandfather sharing a two-man tent. The idea was that Levi might be scared sleeping alone in the woods and having his PopPop nearby might offer some comfort. This was our first morning after sleeping under the stars and Levi already decided the sleeping arrangements could be improved. 

    "So, I could sleep in your tent tonight and you and PopPop could sleep in the other tent together!" My guess was Levi was thinking I might enjoy Paul's snoring, and Paul might enjoy mine. I almost felt sorry for the kid for a hot moment and then replied, "You're on your own, kid. I got my tent and that's where I'm sleeping!"


Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Traveling The Potomac River The Hard Way: Part 2


It sounded great on paper. An epic journey beginning with riding the Amtrak train from Winter Park, FL to Washington DC and then riding bikes from there to Cumberland, MD on the historic C&O trail, stopping at hotels in small towns and sampling the food and culture along the way. It was to be an escape from the incessant Sunshine and heat of Central Florida. The talk of this trip began way before the whole Covid Pandemic and much of the discussion was, could we even pull this off? What kind of bikes would we need to make the trip. In the beginning, we were riding lowslung Catrikes and were told they couldn't go on the train, nor would they work very well on the rough conditions of the forward to 2023 and we were on lightweight e-bikes that weighed less than the 50 pound limit of Amtrak and had enough range to last a day. We started attempting long distance trips close to home, loaded down with saddlebags, seeing if we could really do 60 mile a day for multiple days. 

We booked pretty far in advance, as the space for bikes is limited on Amtrak, and what started getting a little spooky as the trip was getting closer...the weather forecast...

It was hot, but not that kind of hot where you can smell the asphalt melting under your feet. Steve and I were standing alongside the railroad track in downtown Winter Park, FL. A quaint little place in central Florida, populated by  the very rich and those who serve them. It was one of those places where the phrase "the wrong side of the tracks" came from. On one side was Park Ave and the blocks of shops that sold things that didn't have price tags on them...the kind where if you had to ask, you could not afford them.On the other side of the tracks was Hannibal square. The place where black folks used to live, and is now populated with hipsters that paid lots of money to have a small old house on a tiny lot, with a new Tesla parked out front. 

We waited patiently, wondering what was ahead, when we started feeling the train coming from the vibrations at our feet. Moments later, our bikes were handed up to the gentleman in the baggage car and we were welcomed up and into our roomette on the sleeper car. It was calm and exciting at the same time. Nothing much like an airplane terminal in Orlando. We had our own concierge and he took us to our room and explained how everything worked. My first impression was that it was a long time ago that this train was new, and it must have been built for smaller people. Neither Steve nor I are small and we were jammed in, facing each other...for the next 17 hours. The seats folded together to make a single bed and there was some kind of contraption that pulled down from the ceiling and made a top bunk. Steve took one look at that and said, "You are sleeping up there!" By this time, the train was rolling down the track and I was looking at a familiar landscape from a totally different perspective. I was thinking this was going to be much better than backpacking. I mean I had a really good bike, some electrical motor help if I needed it and it wasn't going to be hot like Florida...the only thing was, I was still getting over a really bad cold I had picked up a week before. I was gulping Steroids, Anti-biotics and cough medicine. It was going to be epic, I just knew it. Our Concierge came by and request our dinner desires and things were really looking up. A few hours later, we lurched our way up to the dining car, just like in the movies and picked up our trays. There was plenty of food. It wasn't awesome, but it was way better than some things I've had before and since. We sat together in silence in the dining car, munching on steak while looking at the industrial landscape rolling by us...that part was nothing like the movies. Apparently, where they put the railroad tracks in Florida is the equivalent of looking out behind a restaurant....they must figure nobody is ever going to look at that. We started seeing rain, and kept telling each other that it was just sprinkles and that will just cool stuff off a bit..then I started noticing how deep the mud puddles were in the fields...and it was raining harder..


Saturday, May 6, 2023

Traveling the Potomac River the Hard Way: part 1


I’m having this well-known feeling of dread. In spite of being prepared six-ways from Sunday for every possibility, here I am. It’s starting to get dark, traffic is rushing all around me, and I’m pushing my fully loaded bike up yet one more hill. I’m in Bethesda, Maryland. I don’t know why, and I don’t where exactly where my hotel room is and my waterproof phone inside a waterproof case is acting very much like water is winning the war. I’m down to a couple bars of battery and I have no idea of what happened to my battery-backup brick. I’ve been pushing for hours and ahead of me is one more steep hill. Steve calls me from the hotel to say he is following me on the locator app and that I’m heading in the wrong direction. I’d like to stop and discuss this, but I’m also noticing a guy across the street waving his arms and yelling at the passing cars. He sees me, and decides to cross the crowded six lane highway to come over and help me with the bike. I’m tired, medicated, soaked to the bone, and almost ready to hand this $4000 bike over to anybody that would like it. Of course, any would-be robber might notice that one of the crank arms and pedals is missing. Yes, even expensive bicycles can break, and when this kind of failure occurs, pushing is the only option.

I know, you are already thinking, me? I’d just call Uber! I did that, and the Uber guy pulled up, looked at me and drove away fast….yeah that was a one star review, and then I got really unhappy when Uber told me I got charged $8 for the guy to come look at me and drive off. Before that point, I was even smarter (my brain cells were dying off at a rapid rate). I had pushed the bike to a Home Depot, and rented a truck to carry it to the hotel, somewhere off in a distant place, that seemed so much closer when I had two functioning pedals. I ran inside Home Depot, waited patiently, while dripping everywhere, and people staring at me and my muddy, loaded-up bike. Got the keys to truck, ran out to Steve and rolled up the back door and turned to see Steve’s face. It wasn’t good. I turned back to the truck and it was loaded to the ceiling with used drywall material. The Home Depot crew came out, tsk-tsked, took photos and mumbled about how somebody was in big trouble…but there were no more trucks, and nobody wanted to unload the drywall….if I had known how the day would proceed after that….I would have unloaded the truck by myself…Meanwhile, Steve decided he needed to pedal on to the hotel to make sure the bed was made correctly…