Tweet tweet the birds wake me up this morning waaaay before 6am but I refuse to get up. We rode 88 miles over the last 2 days, steeeeep miles I must say. And, we know we’re only starting to get a taste of the steep potential of the hills in Maine and beyond.
Part of the adventure in bikepacking is ending up in a different place every night. Monday we landed in a schooner moored in the Camden harbor and I literally slept on the kitchen table down below.
Jen’s other biking buddy Brent is working on the boat this summer and could let us stay on it! We warmed up leftover chicken and rice on a skillet in their dockside BBQ, watched the mist gather around the masts in the harbor. Laying on the grass and listening to live jazz, stretching out my IT bands and hamstrings. After dinner he took us out for a row among the other boats to try and sneak a peek of an island in the thick evening fog.
En route further north, we rode over a majestic bridge to Verona island that offered sweeping views from up high. Little Blue, was wide eyed at the gorgeous vista!
Took the bus from Boston to Brunswick Maine today with my road bike aka “Sequoia”. She is fully loaded with fifty pounds of gear and food distributed in four panniers. On my way to meet Jen who has been riding for three days from her house in NH. Our cycling adventure plan is to ride up the coast of Maine, into New Brunswick and around Nova Scotia. We’ll take the ferry back from Yarmouth, NS to Portland a month from now! For me, it’ll be over 1,000 miles!!
For days I had everything laid out on the floor in my apartment as ya got to plan carefully for what you need, but not more than that. Every ounce counts. And, I must live up to my proud reputation as a “weight weenie” ever since Jen discovered on our ride last year that I’d sawed off half of my toothbrush.
Got a text during the bus ride, “Find the Brunswick gazebo and you’ll find me!” Sure enough, there she was sprawled out on the lawn exhausted from 40 miles of insane hills to meet me. I loved the gazebo touch, last year when we rode from New Hampshire to New York over a week, we discovered how awesome gazebos are for yoga/stretch stops, charging phones, escaping downpours and people watching the locals.
So we soon set off riding on the East Coast Greenway. But, before we left town we decided to check out a swinging bridge across the Androscoggin River. Very cool. Another to add to my favorites list of small town charms and amenities.
Today was a short day of riding together, only 15 miles. We checked into gotta-love-the-name Chewonki Campground, definitely a pretty spot. Awesome views of tidal wetlands and expansive meadows in the height of summer.
Chatted for a bit with a friendly woman from Florida here for a few days in an RV en route to NS too. She was a character, monotone voice and enthusiastic. That’s a tough combo to pull off, I think. Really enjoyed her description about sharing a three pound lobster for lunch with her boyfriend but not quite finishing it. We’ll have lobster for lunch tomorrow too…
That’s it for today. Getting sleepy in my tent as I write this while a few fireflies flash nearby.
For two weeks this February my best friend Jen and I went to Cuba to explore our island nation neighbor to the south. We created our own “people to people” itinerary centered on staying with families and travelling mostly by bicycle. In the month leading up to our trip we dusted off our creaky high school Spanish repopulating our brains with vocabulary, practicing conversations and wrestling with verbs.
Our mission was to have meaningful interactions with Cubans and understand the country better. As I imagine is the case for many Americans, we knew little about Cuba, our complicated shared history, and the impact of the US economic sanctions on people’s lives. We learned quite a bit through readings in advance of and after the trip, an educational tour in Havana, the Museo de la Revolucion, conversations with our hosts and new friends, and observations of commerce, the food system, and government billboards placed roadside.
Once the reality of the approaching US presidential inauguration in DC set in, my intrigue in Cuba spiked and we booked our tickets. Only a few friends had been there and I’d speculated that our new freedom to visit, sadly might soon be in jeopardy. So, we decided that the time was now.
I like to say that being in Cuba was a full body experience – it ignited all my senses in mind, body and spirit. In mind, speaking the language and exposing ourselves to stories of the Revolution and Special Period. In body: eating, cycling, dancing, and riding horses. In spirit, moved by honest conversations and revelations, enchanted by the land’s beauty, and humbled by lessons of the past and hope for the future between and within our nations and people.
We stayed with six families during our trip in Havana, Las Terrazas, Soroa, Vinales, Santa Lucia and back to Havana. Our hosts were incredibly kind, their homes welcoming and comfortable. We were humbled at their generosity and care. In the mornings we literally feasted on piles of fresh fruit, including the best pineapple I have ever tasted. I swear it was infused with the flavor of coconut. “La pina es como el coco!” I confessed to my host. “No, no! El coco es el coco!”. She thought I was crazy, in a good way.
Between Havana and Vinales we had two insane days of biking in the heat, humidity and awesome hilly relentlessness of the countryside. On countless occasions, actually on basically every occasion, when someone passed us whether in a giant truck, old American car, motorcycle, or even horse-drawn or oxen carriage, they honked, blew kisses at us and waved hello.
Guess we were a sight – two women on rented road bikes clad in spandex and helmets, our rear racks saddled with two panniers each. On one dusty road we barreled through, a young boy about 9 years old ran towards us asking, “Tiene dulces?” His words hung in the air and my mind translated them with a minor delay. His afternoon craving, “Do you have any sweets?”
It was hard not to love the rainbow of classic American cars chugging up the roads. Some shiny and restored, many patched, beat up and rusted to varying degrees. All hanging on for nearly 60 years or more, best that their owners could afford and manage to repair them. They came in every hue from baby blue to lipstick red to Kelly green and everything in between.
Riding the roads, the thick belches of black smoke from many vehicles were awful. Run on low grade diesel, these old engines spew some serious exhaust. Especially when you’re panting on a bike mashing up an incline. I found the cars a real irony given their tourist appeal, yet they’re an environmental and health disaster.
Anyway, I digress. Here’s a shot from the end of our first riding day.
Dinners after cycling tantalized our tastebuds and satiated our yuge appetites. Our hosts really impressed. We devoured wonderfully spiced chicken followed by homemade cheese and guava sauce for dessert at Ani’s family farm in Las Terrazas. Then scrumptious yucca chips, lobster and kickass vegetable soup at Yunier’s pretty compound in Soroa after a day of riding up and down steep roads buried in forested mountains.
In Vinales, we met our Cuban mom, the most amazingly sweet, funny and talented, Reyna. By the time we arrived at her house, our Spanish improved bigtime. Good thing since Reyna spoke no English. She took care of us for four days as we rested and explored the area. We loved having a little Havana Club rum with her before, during or after dinner as we did our best in fits and bursts to tell her about our day. In return, she shared many fast spoken nuanced stories about her son, cooking, singing and the Special Period. We endeavored to understand what her life was and is like. I cherish the moments when we made each other laugh. It was a true human connection, sharing and relating, people to people.
My favorite day was spent horseback riding through the Vinales Valley. Among the karst landscape we rode past miles of tobacco farms and scattered mogotes, which are steep sided limestone hills riddled with caves.
That day, we visited two caves. One had a series of underground lakes where you can swim. Ariel, our wrangler and guide pointed out the cool dark entrance and tied our horses up under some tree shade nearby. A few Cuban men with flashlights greeted us and expertly showed us which slippery rocks to hop crisscrossing and winding our way through the dark tunnel. We steered clear of huge stalactites and stalagmites dripping from the ceiling and growing from the floor.
From the entrance it was maybe 200 feet in to the first of three lakes. It was crazy to think that these men spent many hours a day inside the cave. When it hit me that I was inside of a mountain, gah! I had a wave of claustrophobia and fear come over me. Summoning my Zen, I intentionally chose awareness, breath and rational thought. I didn’t want to leave, though my mind’s eye imagined riding outside in the sunlight. Decided to push past through my fear. When we got to the lake, I surprised both of us when I dropped my bag in the dark, used the light of my cell phone to find my swimsuit and quickly changed. For a few minutes I slipped into the cool water and swam in the darkness.
After the cave we continued on trotting along through the gorgeous valley. One afternoon stop was a small house tucked in between the coffee trees. Ariel took us to his grandmother-in-law for a quick rest and visit. This old woman was spectacularly beautiful and resilient on the inside and out. She lived alone and seemed to be very self-sufficient. Offering us coffee made from her own beans, she was drying more spread out on a blanket in the sun. She proudly shared pictures of her granddaughter as we sipped deliciously fresh coffee. I couldn’t refuse even though I’m not a coffee drinker!
One thing I really wanted to do in Cuba was to go dancing. At home, I’d been taking regular salsa lessons at a local studio and discovered a new passion. Since Jen was new to salsa, we asked Reyna if she knew anyone that could teach us. She did and we invited two other women to join us. Reyna’s neighbor stopped by later that evening to make arrangements for the next night. She asked how many guys we wanted!? Hmmm… didn’t know that was an option, but it made perfect sense. Well, since there were four of us, we asked for four guys! So the next night, our group met on the plaza in front of the town church and walked to a house ten minutes away.
I was stunned. They had cleared the living room of all the furniture. Everything was crammed into the bedroom and kitchen hidden behind a curtain pinned up on the ceiling and hanging to the floor. Neighbors had gathered in the street and watched our lesson through the open windows and front door. With the salsa music playing, we danced and spun and laughed and made new friends. Afterward, we returned to the town center and danced with the locals!
Our trip to Cuba was an amazingly rich experience in so many ways. It definitely widened my awareness of the lives of the Cuban people. There is so much heart, determination, and creativity there. I absolutely look forward to another visit. Let us continue to reach across the water and connect with the people. Let our visits enhance their lives and livelihood while preserving and honoring their culture. And, for the US’s supposed new policy on Cuba, I am glad that many regard it as having “more bark than bite”.
I first visited New Orleans 6 years ago for Jazz Fest where I met a Mardis Gras Indian who recommended Treme, a TV series filmed between 2010-2013. The show is about the City and its people, and what folks were dealing with after the flood. I watched it and was hooked. It helped me gain a better sense of the amazing culture, community, resilience and perseverance of the people. It gave a little peek into the economic, political and personal struggles in a community trying to heal.
When I saw One Brick’s New Orleans trip to help rebuild people’s homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina, I was honestly shocked to learn that 12 years later there is still much work to be done. I thought, “It’s never too late to help” and signed up. The Saint Bernard Project staff and awesome Americorp “sups” told us that many residents lost their life savings to fraudulent contractors. And, many people eligible for city grants have waited many years to rebuild, but the money just never comes through. Learning this just made my heart sink. Because this just adds insult to injury after these folks experienced the devastation of the storm and were forced from their community. Being there to help as one person for a week, was one of the most humbling opportunities of my adult life. I was thankful to be another set of helping hands to make things right.
Our One Brick group was fourteen total, all great people from around the country. We worked on Miss Ce Ce’s house on Bruxelles Street near the fairgrounds. Most of the week we worked on drywall and gulped many jugs of water. With mud knives and patience, we filled in holes and seams in all the rooms of the house. With dust masks and determination, we sanded the walls and ceilings to near perfection. All the while, we blasted tunes from a portable speaker. So in between zoning out with our tasks at hand and sharing stories, we sang, felt the rhythm and let the music move us.
At lunchtime we piled into the cars in our dusty, mud-splattered clothes and noshed on some of Nola’s yummiest food. I devoured barbeque po boys, alligator sausage, shrimp etoufee, and delectable fried chicken and waffles. One day a couple others helped me feast on an insanely large chocolate crepe stuffed with graham cracker crumble, marshmallow and whipped cream.
I came to this volunteer project with some experience in renovation and construction, as I’ve tiled kitchens and bathrooms, installed drywall and cabinets, framed closets and painted. As a crafty person with an attention to detail and interest in a challenge, I decided to do something challenging and skim-coat the 20-foot long ceiling seams at Miss Ce Ce’s house in the two front rooms and cleanly patch holes around ceiling fixture openings. Seeing my my progress as the ceiling evolved each day was really rewarding. Mid-week, we switched things up and went to a new site. There, we transformed an opportunity house on Franklin Street to a beautiful mint green with new exterior paint. This gave me another shot at a new challenge. With fear and fearlessness, I ascended the extension ladder high above the sidewalk to paint the house. Towering tall by the second floor windows, I heard the cars in the intersection honking at us in support and drivers yelling thank you out of their windows.
I really enjoyed working with and getting to know my fellow One Brickers on the job site and living together at the Mustard Seed House. Everyone had a great attitude and worked as a team making our proud dent to help renovate and finish these houses that long time New Orleans residents will once again call home.
My hands grip the handlebars, palms pressing down on the cushions of my fingerless gloves. My back is straight, but I lean forward facing the wind. The steady breeze in my face increases as my speed rises. I begin down the path along the river. “Hi Charles” I usually say aloud, with a big grin. I shoot a flirtatious glance at the water, its velvety and rippling surface laps at the shore. Might catch a hot pink or bright yellow duck boat or the mini sailboats in the distance out of the corner of my eye as I ride along.
I know the bends in the path well, snaking around trees, benches, playgrounds, and sculptures. Every so often, tree roots intent on slivering underneath from one side to the other create little heaves in the asphalt, black burrows cracking up across my way. I steady my feet on each pedal and position them midway on the rotation exactly opposite one another. At the same time, I draw my elbows in and lower my torso closer to the handlebars. A quick lift off the saddle, thighs lightly pinch the nose of the seat for stability and control. Over the bump… bump… back in the saddle.
Legs pumping, I truly love this elegant invention. I have never owned a car. I play with my pedaling stroke to switch up the delicious muscle burn, sometimes slight sometimes intense. Maybe I’ll use my quads from hip to knee keeping my feet parallel stomping out the strokes. Or, activating my calf muscles I’ll start ankling. This technique involves pointing the foot slightly up on the down stroke and slightly down as you pull the pedal back and up.
The breeze shuffles my hair at my back. Little adjustments for total comfort, a tug here and there of my helmet brim and the back of my shirt. Breathing in, fresh air floods my lungs as I inhale deeply. Breathing out, my belly extends feeling peaceful as I become one with my bike.
Pumping. Click… click… I shift into a higher gear for more resistance and momentum. Letting go of the left handlebar first, then the right one, I sit upright. Lifting my arms out and up to the sides my shadow on the path is clear and tall. Bold and free, I ride over the dappled shadows of the leaves and branches from the border of trees beside me. This is me, I’m flying! I know I’ve got that twinkle in my eye, one of joy and pure passion. Nothing can compare.