Journey’s End?

June 26, 2013

The Purple PonyThe ageing process changes many things. Time perspective is one of them. Seventy-two days ago on April 17th I departed southern Vermont on my motorcycle for a clockwise circumnavigation of the United States. It seems like I left just yesterday. I remember the first time I hopped on a motorcycle. I was 22 years old. That seems like yesterday, too. I now have a daughter who’s going on 22. Where do the years go? Why does time perspective change as we age?

When I was a child days seemed like they lasted forever. I think it has something to do with our relationship with time. As children we’re immersed so much more in the present moment than we are as adults. As adults we spend more time planning for the future and regretting or reminiscing about the past. Being ‘present’ is also more of a challenge when we live in a world full of distraction. Technology, for all the presumed or actual convenience and advancement we proclaim, is partly to blame for this I believe. It is what it is, however, and I don’t blame technology. I blame the human relationship with it. With or without technology and the fast-paced world we live in, the challenge is to re-learn how to be more present in our daily lives. For me, that means continuing to work on remaining grateful, being more appreciative of what I have, and nurturing relationship with life – human, animal, plant, earth, sky, water – with every breath.

One big revelation for me on this trip has been how absent I can be at times. I won’t beat myself up for this, however. That’s one thing I’ve excelled at in my life – beating myself up. It’s a useless exercise. Rather, this knowledge now becomes a tool for change, positive change. Each day, each moment is a new one. And with that we’re gifted with the opportunity for change. Brilliant! Eureka! But it’s more than the thought that counts. The biggest step is taking the action toward making that change. Will doing that help me be more present? Will it change my relationship with time? I don’t know. Whether it does or not, I can’t help but believe the change is good for my soul and those I touch in my life. And if it doesn’t change my relationship with time I’ll accept that it will continue to seem to move faster. I’ll remain grateful for each moment I’m given, like the gift of these past seventy-two days.

Gee, it’s good to be back in Vermont! I’m currently enjoying this present moment very, very much! I arrived in Brattleboro/Dummerston late this morning after being ushered out of Bennington on the west side of the state by my faithful companion, rain.

If you read my last blog post – ‘Bringer of Clouds’ – you’ll remember I was looking forward to my ride to Ithaca, New York, after a delightful starry night camping in a quiet corner of a cemetery outside Medina. Just a few minutes down the road I read a sign at a bridge that indicated I was about to cross the Erie Canal. The canal was built in the early 1800’s to open the area west of the Appalachian mountains to settlers. At the time it was built it was considered an engineering wonder. Some called it the Eighth Wonder of the World. You can read more about it here. Here’s a picture.

The Erie Canal

I wound my way down through the Finger Lakes of Geneva and Seneca and into the heart of upstate New York wine country. I thought to myself that I’d get to Ithaca first where I had been wanting to eat at the Moosewood Restaurant. The Moosewood has had a fabled history since the early 1970’s. I was a vegetarian at the time I bought my first cookbook in the early ’80’s. It was the Moosewood Cookbook. I’m no longer a vegetarian, but I often eat vegetarian. I couldn’t wait to have lunch there. This is no shabby hippie vegetarian restaurant. It has been nominated for and awarded several James Beard awards. The Moosewood Cookbook is in the James Beard Hall of Fame. Read more about James Beard here.

I found the restaurant easily enough in this attractive and welcoming upstate New York college town, home of Ithaca College and Cornell. I ordered a potato/mushroom frittata that made my mouth water. For dessert I had their famed fudge brownie with maple walnut ice cream.

Moosewood Fritata

The Moosewood

I was so pre-occupied with my frittata and fudge brownie I hadn’t even noticed it started to rain – pour, actually – during lunch. I grabbed my backpack and trotted towards the entrance only to find the pouring rain blocking my way. I left all my raingear packed in my bike three blocks away. I waited for over a half hour before I decided I had to just go for it. By the time I got to my bike and pulled my raingear on I was already soaked. The rain wouldn’t stop for the remainder of the day. My plan to tour some wineries was foiled.

I found a shabby little motel in Oneonta and once again unpacked wet gear to be hung up in every nook and cranny of my motel room. I was riding in pouring rain and wind once again. I stopped at the first motel I saw. I just wanted a dry roof over my head. The woman who came out to attend to me at the reception desk seemed anxious to get me registered and pushed out the door to my room. She looked awful. She couldn’t have weighed more than 95 pounds. Her teeth were rotten, she had deep, dark circles under her eyes and pushed for the transaction to be completed quickly. I signed the credit card receipt, she handed me my key and quickly disappeared beyond the door behind the counter. I’ve only seen pictures or heard stories of meth addicts. This woman looked like she was one. It made me sad.

The following morning I awoke early to another foggy, quiet morning. That’s one of the benefits of the humid rain I’ve encountered on this trip. If I got on the road early enough, my ride for the first hour or so was quiet and blanketed in fog. I grabbed breakfast at a diner some miles down the road, but only after I could squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of my silent, foggy ride.

Diner

Welcome to VermontI entered Vermont through a familiar corridor I had driven frequently – routes 7 and 9 connecting western Vermont with Troy and Albany, New York. I tucked my GPS and maps away. I was now in familiar territory once again. This road trip was winding down.

My destination for the day was the home of my dear friend, Eric, and his two dogs, Ryan and Mae. Mae is his retired Guiding Eyes dog and Ryan is his new working dog. They’re as smart and adorable as any dog you’ll meet. I swear they’re smarter than most two-legged’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan could learn how to calculate the projection of a satellite around Mars. Mae, for her part, is just the sweetest yellow lab this side of the Mississippi. She had a brush with death last year. That’s what prompted Eric to apply for a new Guiding Eyes dog. Mae survived, miraculously. As a reward, she entered retirement. Now Eric’s friends compete to spend time with her while Ryan goes to school with Eric. He’s a guidance counselor at the high school in Bennington. He’s also an accomplished carpenter and the new owner of a 1982 Vanagon. Here are some pictures of Eric, Ryan and Mae.

When I pulled into Eric’s driveway I found him hard at work planing willow boards in his shop.

Eric at work

Mae and Ryan greeted Uncle Stevie on the front porch.

Mae and Ryan

We ran some errands in town. I got to drive Eric’s new Volkswagen Vanagon camper. My first time driving four wheels in 71 days.

At the wheel of the Vanagon

Eric as co-pilot

Co-pilot

Ryan cooked us up some hot dogs in the back of the Vanagon and served us lemonade while Eric and I cruised around Bennington laughing it up about how much fun we were having in his new camper. I could have used this on some of my rainy days. I threatened to leave my motorbike and take his van on the final leg of my journey to Brattleboro.

Ryan as passenger

The next morning Mae and Ryan joined Eric and me for coffee. Or was it the donuts they were waiting for?

Mae and Ryan

Mae could very well be the sweetest little yellow lab you’ve ever met. We kissed each other a lot.

Mae!

Morning rain greeted me for the final 57 mile ride across Rt. 9 from Pownal/Bennington to Brattleboro. Despite another rainy day, I welcomed a quiet, foggy ride through fertile green mountains on this last day that would close a circle of 12,503 miles traveled in 72 days through 26 states.

More morning fog

Foggy wetlands

The 100 mile view into Massachusetts and New Hampshire from Hogback Mountain between Wilmington and Brattleboro.

100 mile view from Hogback

A signpost at Hogback. I’m back in New England. I think a weekend backpacking trip awaits me in the White Mountains of New Hampshire later this summer.

New England

Mt. Wantastiquet, across the Connecticut River in New Hampshire, viewed through the church steeples in downtown Brattleboro.

Mt Wantastiquet

The West River Meadows viewed from Rt. 30. Riding my final five miles from Brattleboro to Dummerston.

Brattleboro Meadows

The West River in Dummerston.

West River in Dummerston

The Dummerston Covered Bridge – Vermont’s longest drivable covered bridge.

Dummerston Covered Bridge

Dummerston Covered Bridge

Back in the green mountains of Dummerston, VT. Jelly Mill Hill and the Stickney Brook neighborhood. What a trip it’s been!

Jelly Mill Hill, Dummerston, VT

So is this journey’s end? In a way, yes. It’s the end of a 12,500 mile clockwise motorcycle ride around the United States. And what a journey it’s been! I was the beneficiary of so much generosity from so many people all over this country. I am so grateful for all I’ve received. Thank you Stanley, Laura, Andrew, Bob, Ton and your wonderful family, Mary, Lewis, Hilary, Amir, Annie, Charles, Benny, Jimmy, Karen, Elizabeth, Jack, Bill, Bonnie, the Navajo Nation, Sarah, Gorman, Lauren, Tom, Amy, Chris, Ken, Jackie, Martina, Thom, Kayo, Harlan, Marlene, Jim, Randy, Eric, Heidi, and the dozens of other nameless people whose generosity and kindness were such gifts on this trip. I am blessed to have been touched by all of you.

In another way this is just the beginning of another journey – the gift of life seen through different eyes and felt through a warmer heart. I feel so blessed.

Maybe I’ll miss the road in a little bit, but for now it’s good to be back home in the Green Mountains of my beloved Vermont.

A quote from Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkein’s, The Lord of the Rings: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

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All content Copyrighted © Stephen Tavella

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