still moving (in Virginia)

July 3, 2009

Wednesday and Thursday were spent in travel. A funny thing to say so dismissively, since I spent half of May and nearly all of June ‘in travel’. I guess it’s passive vs. active travel; if travel can ever really be passive: to be still and still moving. I believe I may be borrowing a phrase of Eliot’s there. I read, reread, studied, pondered, meditated, and mused some more on the Four Quartets as I sat in the RV, steadily moving. I packed it a month and a half ago, without premeditation, thinking of the first stretch of my trip, up the Mississippi River, and with the vague memory of his description:

I do not know much about gods
But I think the river is a strong, brown god.

Eliot was a St. Louis boy. The rivers he knew, which are the rivers I know, are brown. And that is where we started.

Now, that detail has me thinking of the Chinese girl who walked up to me as I was loafing by the Mississippi in Louisiana. From my journal, 5/18/09 entry:

Newly arrived Chinese waitress who spoke with me on the riverfront: walked an hour to get there: dressed up in white dress, lonely, friendly, eager to talk, difficult to understand, surprised by how muddy the Mississippi was, I told her it was the Big Muddy which meant nothing to her (social platitude), she wondered if there were fish in it, I accidentally ended our conversation by putting my book back on the bike, she said, “okay, thank you” and walked away, a minute later I looked after her and she was still walking alone beside the stone wall at the water’s edge, hands clinging to her white dress.

I tried to read some Eliot that night, as I sat in my tent perched on a bluff high above the river. But my mind was racing with the excitement of the road ahead. I wrote a blog entry instead: Louisiana, Missouribikeset.wordpress.com. And I didn’t mention the Chinese girl in it. She didn’t fit the optimism I was feeling at the time.

Tonight, I’m feeling moody and reflective. Tonight, she fits better than today’s idyllic activities.

I spent the day hiking in Shenandoah National Park. I did a circuit, following the Knob Mountain Trail to its summit, 2,865 ft, down to the cutoff leading to Jeremy’s Run Trail, then followed Jeremy’s Run back out of the park. It took a solid eight hours, the last four of which were spent following a very pleasant stream. I pulled seven ticks from my feet and lower legs–where the repellent had been washed off in crossing the stream–and flung them with gusto. I scared away a bear that was in my path. I felt manly, strong, fantastic. I’m giving serious thought to hiking the whole Appalachian Trail. I’d never thought myself capable before.

Then, I got back to the RV, dad and Diane were still out and about, and there it was: loneliness. Worse still, I’ll be back in Columbia in five days, and I strongly suspect it’s waiting for me there too. In fact, I believe it has its home there, and that every time I’ve sensed its creeping presence out here on the road, it’s been nothing but a postcard. The real life loneliness is at rest, at home.

leaving the destination

July 1, 2009

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

-T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding, Four Quartets

hiking it up: day 2

June 29, 2009

Started today on the southeast shore of the island. I hiked the Sea Walk from Sand Beach to the Gorham Mountain Trailhead. Gorham, at 525 ft, was vanilla. But I was still sore from yesterday, so I needed the warm up. Six weeks of bicycling prepares the heart for this stuff, but not the joints. Waking this morning I questioned whether I could do another day, but my dreams had been full of beautiful rocky climbs and the lingering sense of freedom was too strong to resist. There will be time to recover on the way to Virginia. (Our campground there, by the way, is only about ten miles from the Appalachian Trail.)

From Gorham’s peak, I descended to The Bowl, then approached Champlain Mountain, the long way, from the south. If Disney were to design a mountain climb, it would be Champlain Mountain from the south. And I don’t mean that to be derogatory. The folks at Disney are smart and capable, and they know how to put on a good show. This was an epic climb, not strenuous, but with enough varied terrain to keep you on your toes. A beautiful thing about climbing a mountain in the fog is that it can present itself as a series of scene shifts, hemmed in as you are from any distracting views of the ground below, or the peak ahead. I suppose that’s what prompted the Disney analogy. In any case, I’d guess the southern face of Champlain would have broad appeal in mountain climbing terms. It certainly wasn’t as ruggedly dramatic as yesterday’s climbs, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

From Champlain’s peak, I took the Sieur de Monts descent, which was an entirely different matter. A much steeper gradient to start out, with jagged edges to shimmy down. It plateaued just briefly after that initial drama, and I found myself climbing a little again out of the swampy grove there, until I was on a pink granite ledge with nothing but thick fog and the sound of traffic rising up to it. I followed the ledge and started to discern the tops of trees at differing levels below me. Finally, the trail turned into a beautiful series of ramps and stairways built from granite blocks. At first, these were nestled in rocks piled high against the cliff face, like the remnants of a great rock slide left helter skelter in the precarious balance they found after falling all together there. And I wondered how often the parks people tested the stability of that haphazard structure, but I figured it had been reinforced somehow, and anway what’s the likelihood after all this time that those rocks would continue their downward slide at this very moment, so I let that thought pass.

I made it down unscathed. In fact, my only injury in all this time hiking came as I was walking on the side of the road back into Bar Harbor. I mistepped on the curb and twisted my ankle a bit. I ended the day’s journey at the bar of a Bar Harbor pub, with a plate of fish n chips in front of me.

mountain climbing day

June 28, 2009

Dad and Diane rented a car due to the Maine rain, and I took the opportunity to make today a full hiking, no bike commute, experience. They dropped me a couple miles north of Northeast Harbor. From there I hiked up Bald Peak, then Parkman Mountain, then Sargent Mountain. I was going to make Penobscot Mountain my fourth peak, but the rain really picked up as I descended to Sargent Mtn’s pond, so I decided to head for the lowlands where there was better tree cover. I was glad I did. Sargent is Mount Desert Island’s second tallest peak (about 150 ft behind Cadillac Mountain, which I rode up Friday on morning), and it was a long descent to Jordan Pond, nearly a mile of it accompanied by a dramatically falling stream: one long chain of tiny waterfalls. Not an easy path in the rain, but I imagine the increased waterflow heightened the drama. So I felt blessed anyway.

The upper reaches of a lot (most? all?) of the mountains on the Island are pretty bare: scrawny connifers, lonely grasses, and wildly patterned mosses or fungii or something; but mostly boulders–dropped by a glacier I suppose–and knots, lumps, and veins of pink granite. Which is how the Island got its name, ‘Mount Desert’, with a French accent, bare mountains. In the rain, the water has no soil to hide in, so it either pools or finds a downward path. Since it rained all day, I watched the mountains being torn down as I hiked them. It was exciting. Everything seemed alive and engaged in its life cycle, myself included.

It was refreshing to be moving at an even slower pace, though I know bicycling is already slower than the average human going rate these days. I think I’d like to do it again tomorrow. But only if I can get a ride with dad and Diane again, because I have to admit I really would not have wanted to ride the 17 miles back to the RV park at the end of today’s climb. I was very wet, and a little sore and cold. Instead I ended today at Jordan Pond House, drying out, with some coffee and a cup of seafood chowder. Very life-affirming. Whereas I fear the bike riding would have devolved into drudgery.

Another small comfort to be looked into for tomorrow’s rain: a hat with a bill on it. My bangs become brooks that pour into my eyes as the rain beats them down. I momentarily considered digging out my pocket knife and getting rid of them today. But then I was worried that my bread would get wet as I fumbled around in the bag, and so they were saved.

from the cliff I ate my burrito on

June 27, 2009

Hello seascape
all your shifting shapes
are an echo of emerging life
anadyomene, birthed from the sea
born from the waves
and washed on the shore.
I know you’ll be waiting
’til time has restored
my faith in your provision
and the uselessness of need.
Until then, me and this seagull
will eye one another
and you with suspicion.

Arcadia

June 26, 2009

I probably spent more time trying to come up with a clever title for this blog entry than I will spend writing it. You see, I dipped my toes in Acadia National Park today, and I really like the name ‘Acadia’ and I have two cultural touchstones that I associate with it: the song ‘Acadian Driftwood’ by The Band, and two baroque era paintings by Poussin titled ‘Et in Arcadia ego’. But though I labored over the possibilities, neither have much to do with what I have to say about Acadia Park. The nearest I could get is: The Band’s song title could easily be applied to the ragged influx of seasonal help that comes for the tourist season; Poussin’s paintings touch on the mythical land of Arcadia (Acadia is a latter day corruption of Arcadia), the land of plenty, and while Acadia Park does not appear to produce much in the way of foodstuffs, it is bursting at the seams with beauty. And I mean really magnificent, jawdropping beauty. The sort that is so sweeping and dramatic that even the most desensitized product of our image-inundating media culture must pause and take notice. So I guess the Park is the center that draws this diverse crowd together. It’s a powerful place.

But Poussin’s paintings are about death. Their point is that Arcadia is an Earthly paradise, and even there, death must surely come. So, I’m going to give Acadia National Park an endorsement I’ve never given before: see it before you die.

As for me, I have the next four days with it, and I’m already certain it isn’t enough. I’m camping with dad and Diane in the RV from here on, and their RV park is a 17 mile commute to the park, one way. But I plan to make it, and ride and hike as much as I can each day before we head south for Monticello.

top of the island

June 26, 2009

the roads here are circular

June 25, 2009

This is a weird place. I cannot for the life of me figure out what the center is that pulls this particular assortment of people into orbit. As I sat on the pier looking at my maps for the address of the hostel I’m camped at, two kids, I doubt they were even twenty, came up and asked if it was a map of the island I was looking at. They were looking for a place to camp. Then they asked if I lived here. I told them no, and that the hostel had cheap spots, but they just walked away. I got the feeling they were scheming for a place to crash. They didn’t have any camping equipment.

Riding toward the hostel, a quick survey of the place revealed what I expected, expensive restaurants and boutique shops filling a dozen blocks by the sea. But then to my surprise, the hostel was brimming with guests.. I was expecting a sleepy place run by a middle-aged couple. Instead I had to wade through the guests to find a very alert, busy, and young David to check me in. As I finished filling out the paperwork, a scruffy guy with a backpack came in, no reservations. Said he’d just come in to town, had some leads on a job, and was interested in longer term lodging if David knew of any.

After setting up camp, I walked around a while, examining menus, trying to find something unique and below the average going rate. No luck, so I picked a place because I liked the particular illustration of a whale that they used as their logo. As someone who’s read Moby Dick several times, I’ve given whale illustration an inordinate amount of thought.

I sat down at the bar, next to what I quickly realized was a very inebriated woman. She’d already been in a verbal altercation with another patron and was sitting there brooding on it when I arrived. Her husband arrived, also inebriated, but less so, or better at keeping his composure, and at first he accused her of always ruining a nice day. Then he became more sympathetic as it was revealed that the other patron had made a slight on South Carolinians. They were South Carolinians.

For the record, as this thing played out, I did not take a liking to the contentious other patron either. He was wearing a high-arch billed ballcap and thick-rimmed glasses, drinking Corona’s, and talking too much. So, then the husband said to me, as if I was some kind of confidant, that he was going to have to go kick this guy’s ass. I ignored him, but the bartender–who I was sympathetic to because he was also new in town and because he gave me my first beer on the house after I told him I’d biked in from Missouri–came around from behind the bar and made it clear that they’d both better leave now. The only person I felt bad for was the bartender, even though he’d clearly played favorites with ballcap guy somewhere along the line, but he handled himself like a pro at that point, so kudos to us new guys.

Maybe the real problem with my comprehension of this place is that I’m unsure how I wound up with this as my destination too. All I can figure is that I had the maps, from the trip I was planning last year. I’d bought the ticket; it was inevitable that I’d take the ride some day.

Okay, details: In what I realized would be one last grand muscular expression, I did 105 miles today. I hadn’t broken the 100 barrier in quite some time. In fact, I think I’d rarely done more than 60 since I hit the Erie Canal. But the Lord gave me sun today, the first I’d seen of it since the morning I left New Hampshire, and it felt great to be sweating profusely and seeing vibrant colors. Now I’m exhausted. I explored the streets of Bar Harbor in a delicious zen state. I was a completely detached observer of all that tension in the bar. “Lively here in Bar Harbor,” I said to the bartender with a smile after he kicked the couple out.

Finally, I must admit that I did not wind up finishing the official Adventure Cycling route. With about 12 miles left, I became worried that I’d missed my turn and even with the GPS it was difficult to discern whether I had or not because the major roads here are like the rings of a tree, circuiting the island and touching in places, so I asked a local. He suggested that I take the second left, Crooked Road, and the way he said it, without fuss or aloofness, made me trust him. It was a pretty nice ride. Tomorrow, I’ll take the official route back out of town and see where, or if, I went wrong.

Bar Harbor

June 25, 2009

Five weeks and six days. 13 states. Approx 2200 miles.

Sunshine! Glorious Sunshine!

June 25, 2009

This little stretch of US 1 was as much fun to ride down as it looks.