I was surprised, as I got up at 5am, how nonchalant I felt. In years past, the days leading up to our departure were marked by a low-key anxiety. What had I forgotten? Did my contingency plans cover every possible issue? Was my roughed out travel plan realistic?
But this year I didn’t have a care in the world. Anything I might have forgotten could be picked up along the way or done without. Something unforeseen might happen, but we would deal with it. And my travel plan was loose enough to allow endless variations to accommodate road constructions, storms, unseasonable heat, or recommendations by local riders we might meet along the way. We would adapt, improvise, overcome.
Experience is a great comfort.
My biggest concern was how Tulliver would take to being left behind. Kazoo was a Momma’s boy and would be fine at home, but Tully had bonded to me to the point where separation might be painful for him. I hugged my athletic redhead and made Tamara promise to let him sleep in bed if he wished. A lingering hug for my wife, Barley tucked into the hack, a last inspection of bike and sidecar.
Underway into the foggy Vermont morning…
I took the Interstate south sixty miles because of the fog; it’s difficult to see deer in those conditions and the rural roads are full of them. Highways 107, 100 and 4 to Rutland, a jog over to Saratoga Springs, New York. We beat that town’s Independence Day parade by ten minutes. Main Street was packed with spectators awaiting the start of festivities; a few young men of military age missing limbs sat in wheelchairs at the curbside. I rendered a salute but they only had eyes for Barley.
It was after I passed through that town bedecked with flags and bunting that I realized I’d forgotten the Contour camera fastened to the side of my helmet! For the rest of the trip there would be few missed photographic opportunities; on the contrary, I would generally remember to turn the camera on, but forget to turn it off for several long minutes.
Amsterdam, Tioga Downs, Oneonta, Binghamton. Somber grey clouds coalescing ahead, but never enough to offer more than a passing shower. Rest stops every ninety minutes. But it felt awkward in that neither Barley nor myself had yet established our rhythm. Again, no surprise. Each year the first couple of days are about getting it together. It occurred to me that if I’d given up before reaching that point on our first trip I’d never have discovered the joy of long distance adventure with Barley.
It became hot and muggy in mid-afternoon, but we pressed on. By 4pm we reached our destination for the day; as we pulled into the camp near Tioga, Pennsylvania, we were met by friends old and new.
I’ve relied on paper maps for years, but with middle age comes fading vision. No longer can I glance at a map for a few seconds while moving, get my bearings, and know exactly where I’m going. So I’ve become semi-dependent on Captain Bligh (my Garmin GPS) and the Bluetooth link to my helmet which allows me to navigate, especially in crowded urban situations, without taking my eyes off the road. But my Bluetooth headset failed the first day out. Troubleshooting failed, as did a hard reset.
We left Tioga early on a Friday morning. In the first thirty miles we noticed a lot of roadkill: six deer, one black bear, eight racoons, four possums, and a skunk. It made me nervous about taking my eyes off the road. By late morning I decided to leave the rural roads in favor of Turnpikes to reach our next stop early. Within minutes we came across a multiple car crash in the lanes heading back east. One vehicle was upside down with the driver’s side caved in. I counted a dozen emergency vehicles at the scene. But our lanes were clear and moving fast. It’s too easy to fall into high mileage mode at those speeds, so I resolved to pull into every rest stop to give Barley a chance to play. We pulled into a Super 8 hotel in Elkhart, Indiana at 5pm. By then Barley had shifted into travel mode. Home was with me. Home was the sidecar, the hotel room, the tent.
We were up at 4am and on the road an hour later. The plan was to be through Chicago before its citizens woke up. Good plan, bad execution. As we approached that massive city the traffic picked up as did the speed. A damaged Con-Way trailer surrounded by traffic cones was augered into the right shoulder, heavily damaged and nearly on its side. “Construction Zone: 45mph,” read a road sign. “Fines doubled.”
Traffic continued at 80mph.
But we passed through the chaos, veered north, and reached Evansville, Wisconsin. More friends in a delightful small city.