Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
~ John Lennon
Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht. (Man plans and God laughs.)
~ Yiddish Proverb
Biking into Vermont is going to be the most amazing and emotional experience. I am fully prepared for a sob fest. I’m already in a kind of sentimental mood. Between Philly and Northampton, we’ve been visiting with a lot of old friends who are supportive and invested in our adventure. The morning we leave for Vermont, you may recall, Bennett and Lilly Gaev stop by Bob and Nancy’s house to see us off, since they hadn’t been able to make it to dinner the night before. Lilly and Bennett were actually an inspiration to us as we planned this trip, because they’ve taken multi-week rides through various European countries, riding their tandem bike with panniers. Bennett and Lilly love dogs, and have been poodle owners since we’ve known them. They bring along their poodle when they visit us at Bob and Nancy’s. Lilly asks about our dogs.
I haven’t written about Gracie in the blog, just as I haven’t written about other sad events that occurred before we left on our trip. 2013 and early 2014 were very difficult in a number of ways, both for us and for some of the people close to us. One sad event for our family was losing Gracie.
She was eleven. She had leukemia. We thought she might make it, or be chronic – able to feel healthy on meds for another year or two – but that was not the case. We actually had to put her to sleep just a week before leaving on this trip. We also had to put my Dad’s dog, Maggie, to sleep in December, because she was very old and had dementia and had bladder control issues even before her legs gave out. Our cat, Mojo, died of lung disease back in June. He was only seven. As Jerry was heard to say on the phone to his son Bennett, “Yeah… you don’t want to be one of my pets this year.”
Anyway, Lilly asks about the dogs, and I have an unexpected weepy moment where I tell everyone all about Gracie and the terrible past few months. A kind of conversational group hug follows, and then I feel better: understood and much loved.
Such is my frame of mind as we leave Northampton to bike into Vermont. Our friend Gary joins us for the first half of the ride, and this, too, adds to feelings of happiness and nostalgia. Gary and his wife, Cindy, had hosted the lovely welcome dinner for us the night before. Gary has been biking with Jerry and me for years, and having him join us for part of our ride feels right and special and important.
We ride for twenty-some miles, we stop for a requisite Shapiro Scooby-snack, and then Gary turns to bike home, and Jerry and I continue on our way. “Be careful – be safe!” We all shout, as we go our separate ways.
At this point, we’re no longer working off the Adventure Cycling maps, which stay to the coast and would take us up to Maine, if we were so inclined. We’re also not working from East Coast Greenway maps, for similar reasons. We’re mostly making it up as we go, and using Google biking maps with some level of caution: they’re a beta site, as they constantly (!!!) warn us.
So the time comes, on our way to Vermont, when we turn off of 142 onto something called West Road. We are immediately riding uphill in a way we really haven’t through most of the trip. I find this appropriate, hilarious, almost comforting. Jerry – wiser, less sentimental – is concerned. We ride until we can’t, because the hill is so steep and also graveled, and then we get off and walk, pushing the bikes. This isn’t a first; we’ve found that there are hills we’d have ridden normally that we won’t try to ride now, with the panniers. After wrestling with our egos on this point, we decided it was better to be safe than feel strong, and so we now get off and walk from time to time. No one wants to fall down a hill.
At the top of the hill on West Road, Jerry and I have something of a moment. I’m all full of excitement and emotion about our imminent entrance into our home state. He is pissy. I hear an orchestra, he hears a banjo. I want to forge on, he wants to go back in time and not be on West Road. 142 was fine, and would also have gotten us into Vermont, he says. This is too remote, and it’s probably not going to have a welcome to Vermont sign. This gives me pause. What… no sign? Should we go back? No. He doesn’t want to bike down what we just biked/pushed up. It’s liable to be just as steep going back down. After a moment, I say: This is beautiful; it’s pure Vermont. Let’s just be here, in the moment, and not worry about whether or not there’s a sign to take a picture in front of. He agrees. We take a few photographs of the sunshine, filtering through quiet woods. He is calming down. I, however, am starting to feel pissy.
We ride down a long, gentle hill, and find ourselves faced with the rutted mud road he’s been fearing. We go back, pushing ourselves up that long hill (gentle, did I say?), and then, yes, we ride back down the steep hills we’d biked and walked and pushed ourselves up earlier. It’s not so bad. It takes about three minutes. We get back on 142.
Fifteen minutes later, we’re in Vermont. We stop at the sign and take pictures. We get a young woman to take a picture of us, while she waits for her husband to remove the interior ceiling from their car; Jerry whispers that they’ve forgotten where they put the drugs. It’s funny, but it’s not, because that certainly seems possible, and they’re a very young couple with a little daughter toddling around.
I’m still vaguely cranky, but I can’t put my finger on why. Meanwhile, Jerry’s a little teary. He’s moved. He has, in fact, stolen my emotional moment. This has something to do with why I’m still vaguely cranky.
We continue on. Two miles outside of Brattleboro, I take a fall: my first big fall of the entire trip. I misjudge the diagonal crossing of an in-ground railroad track. It grabs my tire, and I fall with what I believe could best be described as a SMACK. In a mili-second, my helmet becomes the vital piece of equipment I’ve long suspected it might be. I hurt my hand, my thigh, my knee, my pride. The next day, other muscles will chime in. But mostly I’m lucky and I know it. I get up, walk in circles for a few minutes, shaking various throbbing appendages, and get back on the bike. We ride into Brattleboro.
It’s actually not until the next day that I get my emotional moment. We leave Brattleboro for Chester and have one of the best rides of our trip. The sun is shining, the hills are rolling and very bike-able. The downhills are a pleasure – long and stunning. The wind is strong and at our backs. I feel amazing. I am completely over-the-moon in love with my husband and our bike trip and my life and this beautiful place where I live. I feel lucky that spring is here, and happy not to have choreographed this particular dizzy moment in time.
The next day, it snows. Honestly, you can’t make this shit up.
Shelagh, and Jerry, thank you so much for making and sharing this trip! Happy homecoming!
Oh, My Dears……so much adventure affords valuable windows for so much insight and Emotion ! I’m relieved that you are overall okay from your fall. Egos are like helmets. Better that they absorb the inevitable transient yet painful assaults 🙂
Snow happens !
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Oh, this was a lovely post to read except for the sadness of Gracie and that horrible fall ( that luckily was not worse) and for the ride into VT and through Vernon. Boy, am I glad that we checked the route for you from Bratt to Chester because you would have definitely hit many more miles of mud on Grassy Brook Rd and Rt 35 into Athens ! 😦 I am ALSO glad that wind was at your backs otherwise you would probably still be biking up the hill to Chester . Enjoy your day home, the buds and blooms are sure to be following (well, in another couple weeks )
I am so sorry to hear about Gracie. She was such a beauty. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to put her down right before you left. Glad you have two other fuzzy faces to cheer you up on your return.
The fall sounded so scary – I too am so glad you weren’t seriously hurt and hope all the soreness and scrapes are healed.
Welcome home and congrats to you both.
P.s. Great to see a photo of Hope. Cool that you got to visit with her.
Thank you, Michelle. It was a hard time and the trip ended up being healing, but also hard timing wise. Yes, it was great to see Hope. She’s always so much fun. Thank you for your note.
I finally found your blog! I have to say that I wish I had started earlier! I also have to say I was so enthralled through this whole post but once reaching the end, my favorite part was suddenly “you can’t make that shit up.” love it