Spring ain’t bustin out all over!

Remember the dream? We were going to fly to Florida in February and experience springtime in Florida. Then we would slowly ride north and track the coming of spring to Vermont.

Looked good in the beginning despite the naysayers. A few people suggested we cancel our plans because of the snowstorm. We told them that the storm in Atlanta was actualy 600 miles away and we weren’t particularly threatened. As we biked north, we remained content that we could stay south of the many winter storms, and we saw what we in Vermont have learned to call the signs of spring. You know, when you’re desperate, even the lawns with your dog’s winter mess can be viewed as hopeful. So we gloried in the many beautiful flowers and flowering bushes and trees in Florida. And then coming into Georgia and the Carolinas we enjoyed the tremendous variety of camillias and other flowers. But even then there were signs that this Spring was going to be different. We hit our first frost in southern Georgia and talked with the innkeepers about the damage done to all of the buds this year. Wherever we went, people were talking about this extraordinary winter. In Bath, NC they are opening the schools on Saturday to make up for the many days of school that have been cancelled. We received a message from our friend Gary declaring this the most brutal winter he has ever experienced in Northampton, Mass. And he has lived there a long time, maybe even before they kept measurements of this sort of thing.

We were still biking south of the trouble. But the signs were diminishing. Lots and lots of daffodills but when you looked at the trees, it seemed that they all had their flower buds ready to open but no, they were going to wait till they were sure. If you looked into the natural forests, no signs of spring, no flowers, no flowering or leafing trees.

Today, we meet winter. We get to participate in a Fredericksburg snowstorm. We participate by staying in our room and recovering from the previous day’s ride from Richmond. We figure three days before the roads are rideable. Shelagh draws a clear line in the snow. Snow or ice on the road and we wait. So we wait.

Posted in Biking, Civil War, Travel, Virginia | Leave a comment


When we first began sharing our plans with friends, we heard a lot about what we might – or should – be afraid of. Aren’t you afraid of dirt roads? Aren’t you afraid of bad drivers/teenage drivers/redneck drivers? Aren’t you afraid of seat pain/neck pain/knee pain? Aren’t you afraid about hitting bad weather? Mostly we heard concerns about the weather. One friend (whose name, ironically, is a synonym for wind) opined that we’d be beseiged by headwinds out of the north; all our winds would be headwinds. I think she was joking… hahaha very funny, Gale. (In Gale’s defense, I will just put out there that she and I share a birthday, as well as a similar sense of humor. Gale always makes me laugh. Except, maybe, about the whole headwind thing…)

Thankfully, this has not been the case. We’ve had our share of headwinds, but we’ve been pretty fortunate in most regards. Knock wood, fingers crossed, kineh hurah, spit spit spit. The drivers have occasionally revved up as they pass by, either because they’re trying to pass us before the oncoming traffic arrives, or because they are macho Mammas’ boys who never shrugged off their older brothers’ insults about being poorly endowed. Whatever. Throughout the trip, I mostly haven’t felt afraid. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to recognize what we are up against.

On Monday, though, as we ride out of Richmond, the temperature is 28 degrees, we have a 15 mph headwind, and for the first time, fear creeps in. From the start, I am cold. My fingers and toes are numb. We have over 70 miles yet to ride today. If we get a flat, if a chain breaks, we will be fixing it on the side of the road… with these numb fingers.

To some extent, I think this fear has something to do with age. As a younger woman, I almost always had a false sense of security. Everything was fine and everything would always be fine. And my fifty-year-old self had that same outlook just weeks ago, in Florida. Now, though, in situations where I might feel a bit vulnerable, I actually begin to feel a bit vulnerable. The cold weather has gifted me, for better or worse, with the pessimist’s outlook. I can imagine the worst. This terrible thing could actually happen. The worst-case scenerio in Florida was a missed meal. (Oh no! What if we can’t find a restaurant!?) The worst-case scenerio now is a motorcycle misjudging the gravel as he passes me in low light near a Civil War battleground. (Always easy to imagine the worst next to Civil War battlegrounds.)

Fortunately, we do not get a flat or a broken chain on the ride to Fredericksburg. The worst our day gets is a couple of wrong turns, because by the end of the day, our chilled, weary selves are buzzing around in stupid circles like late-autumn flies against closed windows. We finally – in, yes, very low light – make it to our hotel, and extend our reservation by a couple days, to rest up and wait out the snow that’s due.

A few days along, the forecast is due to bring sunshine, winds out of the south, temps in the mid-fifties. I relax a little, drawing on my inner teenager, who can always be counted on to take safety for granted. Her bike tires are full, her grip tape is a tight, perfect spiral, her gears run smoothly. Her skies are always blue, her outlook, sunny. She is immortal, and she doesn’t even know to feel thankful.

Posted in Biking, Civil War, Fear, Travel, Virginia | 2 Comments

Hills??? WTF???

Dear Everyone I Know and A Few People I’ve Never Met,

Oh my God. We have hit hills. Someone come right now in a big van. I’ll send coordinates; I’ll drop a pin. You can drive me to the first Starbucks and then we’ll head home. Ok? Many thanks.

Hugs and Kisses (and whatever else it might take),


P.S. Let’s just keep this between us…

Posted in Biking, Hills, Marriage, Travel, Virginia | 12 Comments

The Hills Are Alive

On our way into Richmond, Va., Shelagh and I experience hills for the first time on our trip. Really. We had many trips up and down bridges before Richmond but as we aproached the Morgan Hill battlefield we climbed our first hill. Sounds strange I know. Before we travelled we were asked many times about out training plans. Probem was neither of us like to do the various indoor exercizers so a couple of hours on a training bike per week was about the total training for the trip. We would explain that as far as we could tell and had read there were no real hills until Richmnond, almost 2/3 of the way into the trip. For the most part, everyone would look at us like we were kidding ourselves and the lack of training would be a big problem. But truth is, no hills until Richmond.

So how did we react to our first hills? Like we had run into old friends. We bike in Vermont, we do hills, hills are us. There was such a strong sense of belonging once we started doing some climbing. Like being back home.

Not trying to be Polyanna. I know that many want the bicycle experience to be somewhere between flat and a ski lift ride. But at home, for us, it is not. And we look forward to home. We have been trying to pedal there for a long time. Hills bring us closer.

Posted in Biking, Bridges, Civil War, Hills, Marriage, Travel, Virginia | Leave a comment

Microwave? Excuse me?

Over a nice dinner in one of the finer restaurants we’ve enjoyed on the trip, Jerry asks me if I miss cooking. No, I quip, taking another bike of crab ravioli in tomato vodka sauce. Within an hour, though, I begin to miss cooking. I miss making pizzas, making my daily lunch salads, making chocolate bark – that special evening treat with dried fruit and toasted almonds that I started experimenting with last year. I miss making my mother-in-law’s brisket, Eva and Bill’s summer marinades, my mother’s coq au vin, my sister’s Cajun shepherd’s pie (really Paul Prudholme’s, but Maura got me hooked on it). Within that same hour, I begin to miss a lot of things:

  • Writing group
  • Book group
  • Dinner with friends
  • Meeting people for coffee or a drink or a walk
  • My little office with the writing loft
  • Our favorite restaurants
  • Burlington, in general
  • My computer
  • My car
  • My bed
  • Bondi and Mango, our dog and cat

I am suddenly sick with everything I miss, and have to turn off the flow, close the spigot, using a clever combination of denial and self-trickery.

The cooking issue returns some time later, as we cycle toward our final stop in North Carolina: an Inn in the small town of Sunbury. The town is not blessed with a restaurant, I learn when I call to book a reservation. I try, very subtley at first, and then not so subtley, to get the inn’s owners to offer to include us in their dinner plans. They do not take the hint. We have a grocery store in walking distance, they say. And you are welcome to use our microwave. (Microwave? Isn’t that just for cold coffee? What???)

The evening in Sunbury is actually very pleasant. Our hosts are interesting people with fascinating backgrounds. They are entrepreneurs. In addition to running their inn, they are developing plans to turn the old school next door into senior housing.

That night, Jerry and I walk to the grocery store. It has even less to offer for dinner than you might expect, having seen grocery stores in other developed nations. But they do have Stouffers lasagna, and we buy a box of that and return to the inn. Our hosts make room in the kitchen, where they are heating up their own frozen pizza in the oven, and introduce us to their microwave. We cook the lasagna in the microwave! Wow. (Who knew?) We eat the lasagna. It does not suck.

My yen to cook returns, but I can handle it. At least it will be there for me when I get home. I manage to feel lucky to enjoy cooking. And I re-tighten the spigot against all those other things I miss.


Posted in Biking, Cooking, Inns, NC, North Carolina, Travel | 1 Comment

Rain, rain, go away; we don’t care if you never come back

The road to Richmond is looking a bit ominous. Not because we might be suspect as Union sympathizers, although this is probably obvious, but the long range weather forecast is not good. We just weathered the last snowstorm to hit Richmond by staying an extra day in Wilmington. That turned out great but now it is time to go. First stop is Surf City, NC. We have some trouble making reservations and when I discuss this with Stemmerman’s Mr. Michael, he says that he’s surprised we aren’t just going all of the way to Jacksonville. (Who knew that there was a Jacksonville in North Carolina?) I should read between the lines but I just respond that we were looking at a cold day with 20 mph winds in our face and I don’t think that we could do 70 miles. He understands and tells us we’ll be fine finding a place.

When we get there, we realize Surf City, NC is a little bit like the Jersey Shore at it’s worst in the off season. Not many choices. Our motel is very colorful (primary colors) and appears to be classic 50s design without a lot of update – as in unpaved driveway and lot. Ok wi-fi and takeout pizza and we get by.

Leaving in the morning is interesting. As you head North on Topsail Island you see many Coastal Mansions and also many trailer parks, kind of a mixed up, in between, gentrification project. And many, many for sale signs. Heading off the island the scenery is beautiful, but the bridge, very long and narrow. Anyway, the weather is improving and we’re on to Jacksonville and then to New Berne/James City, NC.

New Berne is a delightful town, formerly the residence of the pre-Revolutionary governor. A great deal has been done to restore its historical glory. Beautifully set on the Neuse River with river walks, great restaurants, and hip coffee houses. Originally we thought we’d need to spend an extra day, but the forecast shifts and we figure we can make it to Bath, NC before the weather darkens. So we leave and it does.

While waiting for the ferry to cross the Pamlico River, the rain starts. Lightly at first and still warm. An hour later, we arrive in Bath, soaked but glad to have a place to hide from the storm. Then the rains pick up and it gets colder. We know none of our northern friends wants to hear us complain about 40 degree rain but it’s not exactly great biking weather. After two days it looks like the rain will lighten a bit and the temps will be back in the mid 40s, so we leave for Plymouth, NC.

We are tested: steady drizzle, and 25 mph winds in our faces for 30+ miles. We’re pretty foul on arrival, but our innkeeper, Mac, lets us know he appreciates bikers. He’d pre-warmed the room for us, and later will take me to pick up Italian takeout while Shelagh rests.

Next morning, we go into the “historic district” for breakfast. It’s along the Roanoke River and could be a beautiful spot but the whole area looks deteriorated and mostly closed up. We really get to thinking about what makes one area revive and survive and another just slowly wither. At home we’ve been struck by the comparison of Bristol and Vergennes, Vermont. Over the last 40 years Vergennes seems to have steadily prospered while Bristol just holds its own. One friend suggested that Liz Makowski, a nurse that I had worked with when first coming to Burlington, who left the hospital and then opened a shop in Vergennes, was instrumental in the success of the city. Maybe that’s what it takes. Just one person can make the difference. I’d certainly like to think that’s true.

Our ride out from Plymouth is long, but at least the wind has diminished. We also continue our run of rides without places to stop for lunch. This, for us, is very bad. But the area is primarily agricultural, which for me means very beautiful. We’re seeing a lot of last year’s cotton and this year’s winter wheat and tobacco.

75 miles later, the weather has mostly improved, but still no shadows, and we arrive in Sunbury, NC. Our stay there is quite different. Our B&B, The Teacherage, is run by two innkeepers, Graham and Brenda. After living in Buenos Aires and Lisbon for many years (Brenda is Argentinian) they bought the place with the goal of remodeling the unused former elementary school next to the Inn into elderly housing. Needless to say, much paperwork, and many meetings have passed and they are still hard at work pursuing the project.

The next morning we look out and for the first time in four days to see the sun. Makes it a lot easier to get back on the bikes and head into Virginia.

As another aside, when you are on long bike rides, earworms can be annoying. When I thought of the title for this segment I was quite pleased with myself. Hours later, after listening to Take Me Out to the Ballgame going around in my head, I am not so sure.

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We’re Not Gonna Go!

They tried to make us go to OB but we said no, no, no!

Actually they didn’t try to make us go to the Outer Banks, we wanted to go. Ever since we started planning this trip going to the Outer Banks was high on my list. Although Shelagh had been to the Outer Banks, I’d never been there. It always seemed so romantic. This little strip of land way off the coast only connected by ferries and a single road. Warm sun, beach weather, and maybe just maybe a 20 + mph South wind to blow us on our way. Unfortunately the snowstorm in Richmond was not associated with beach weather on the Outer Banks. And low 40’s temperatures with 20 mph North winds blowing at our faces just didn’t resonate with our OB fantasies. So we didn’t go. No, no, no.

As an aside, we’ve had a lot of opportunities to listen to music on the trip (including our stealth car trip to Rock Hill to visit our friends the Viapianos). I expressed the opinion that, with deepest respect for Dusty Springfield, the first of the white female British soul singers, Amy Winehouse really is the best of them. No argument. Or would you?

Posted in Biking, North Carolina, Outer Banks, South Carolina, Travel | 1 Comment

1000 Miles

Next goal: Wilmington, North Carolina, about which we know very little. But we hear it’s nice.

On the way to Wilmington, we’ll spend a night in Southport, North Carolina, about which we know even less. That day – from North Myrtle Beach – is a long ride for us, about 70 miles, and we pace ourselves. At one point, exhausted by traffic and noise, we take a turn and happen upon some gardens. We take a spin through and enjoy a pleasant, quiet respite from route 17. Another pleasant moment on this busy riding day comes as we approach Southport, and ride past the damp grassy verge along the side of the road. It’s rush hour, and cars are whizzing by, but on the bikes we’re able to hear peepers in FULL swing.

Southport turns out to be lovely. We stay in a waterfront motel associated with an old historic inn across the street. The innkeepers have renovated the motel and it surpasses every expectation: comfortable, pretty and classy! Who knew? The water part of the waterfront hotel is the Cape Fear River. We enjoy our evening in Southport. Jerry grabs some takeout and we crash. The next morning after breakfast in a cafe and a walk around this quaint, lovely town, we take a ferry across the water and start our ride to Wilmington. The biggest event of that ride is the point at which our odometers turn over 1000 miles. We’re pretty damn proud of ourselves.

2014-03-11 15.30.21-1         2014-03-11 12.37.47

Wilmington is awesome! What a great city, teeming with historic buildings and guideposts to educate travelers. We stay at Stemmerman’s Inn, also awesome, and eat at the Black Sea Restaurant (a fantastic Turkish place). While in Wilmington, which is also on the Cape Fear River, we watch the movie Cape Fear, with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. We order enormous ice creams from the popular shoppe called Kilwin’s. (This trip is, in fact, a lot like our smaller bike rides at home, a macrocosm, if you will: where we eat is key.) We have dinner at a fondue place called Little Dipper. It’s ladies night the evening we eat there, and we get an early reservation, having been warned that it’s very popular. Jerry and the waiter seem to be the only men in the place. The noise is tremendous: like twenty book groups all in one building, enjoying a special on bread, cheese and merlot. We walk the riverwalk, we walk the city, we see signs of spring!! (Remember – the point of the trip…?) Wilmington ends up being an unexpected treat. Here are some pics:


2014-03-12 12.58.56      2014-03-12 13.21.41

2014-03-12 13.19.46      2014-03-12 13.28.34

We make the decision not to go to the Outer Banks. In one way, this is hard, because we’ve looked forward for so long to riding through that beautiful string of islands, seeing that much more ocean before heading north and inland, and just enjoying the northern seaside spring. However, the northern seaside spring- in our timeframe – promises hard rain, cold temperatures, and headwinds. And so, in another way, it’s not that difficult a decision, and we make our peace with it.

And so, after Wilmington, we ride to Jacksonville, North Carolina. We stop in a Walmart to get a few necessities. People are buying all manner of crap. They crowd the aisles. I have the sense of familiarity – our Walmart is like this, too. But I don’t get there often and haven’t been to any store like this since starting the ride. It is WEIRD. Sort of like those Star Trek episodes where the crew flies back to earth for a few days.

I’ll close with a quote from a young mother in the parking lot of the Walmart. Leading her two very young sons, ages maybe 2 and 5, into the store, she shouts, “No, we are NOT going to Chuckie Cheese! I just bought a Guinea Pig!!!” Having once been this young woman, I enjoy this moment beyond all reason.


Posted in Biking, History, Inns, NC, North Carolina, Outer Banks, Southport, Travel, Wilmington | 1 Comment

A Philosophical Discursion

What do you think about when you are riding?

Of course it depends on where we’re riding and what time of the day. If there is a day with lots of turns then it’s easy to stay focused. A missed turn can make for a very long day. Also a very long day can make for a missed turn, but that’s for another blog.

It’s the long roads without turns that can challenge my mind. Not in the morning. In the morning I get on a long stretch of road and I think about the woods (often monoculture, often pines of some sort) and the lighting. Or maybe Shelagh and I talk about the day or the trip, or you know, life. Always lots to talk about in the morning. Like where are we going to have lunch.

Later in the day, when I’m tired and we are on a road for a long time without turning my mind starts to wander or just fade to nothing much to think about. Early in the ride we started calling this a “slog”. As in, this ride is really getting to be a slog. Or, we just have to keep slogging and we’ll get there.

At times like this my mind starts to ponder Zeno’s paradox. You know the one. If you go half the distance from here to there, and then half the distance again, and then half the distance again, well, you’ll never get there. And that’s what it feels like. I’m pedaling down the road and I know how far I have to go on this road. So I look at my odometer and check it. Then I look around and the woods are a stupid, boring monoculture. So I check the odometer again, not much farther. Try to hum an interesting and distracting song but all I can come up with is Take Me Out to the Ballgame or My Baby Does the Hanky Panky (where is Tommy James now?). Slogging along I look at my odometer again and I swear that it’s going backwards. You know, Zeno’s paradox.

Like I said, sometimes there isn’t really much going on upstairs.

Posted in Biking, Marriage, Philosophy, Travel | 1 Comment

Corporate EQ

When we leave Charleston, we’re faced with a very long ride through a national forest, which means a lot of beauty and low-traffic roads, but probably not a lot of services (aka food). And so, when gently prodded, Elden comes through yet again. He drives us about 20 miles out of Charleston and leaves us, basically, in the woods in order to shorten our day’s journey. He takes our picture. Elden looks concerned,  as if he might like to hand us each a cup or two of bread crumbs, before bidding us farewell and heading back to civilization. We assure him we’ll be fine, thank him again for all the help and friendship, and begin the next leg of our trek.


First stop after our nice rest is Georgetown, South Carolina, where we’ll be staying at a hotel whose name I will not mention. Because I’m deeply unimpressed by said hotel. I feel we are treated unfairly. By the book, certainly, but unfairly.

Warning: anti-establishment rant follows. Skip if you like…

When you use this hotel’s website to book a room, using your phone’s internet app, and you use a fat finger to fill in all the fields to spend the night, if you miss a field, the website then reverts back to some of its previous data when going back to the previous page and prompting you for more information. One of the fields that reverts back is the Date of Stay field. When I booked our hotel for Georgetown, I made such an error. The site offered me the previous screen, reverting much of what I’d already typed, and I accidentally booked it for the day on which I used the app, and not for the day on which we actually planned to arrive. In fact, I booked it at a time of night that was some hours AFTER we’d have been due to arrive.

My bad. Sort of. It’s bad web design, but I should have noticed. When we arrive at our hotel in Georgetown, we are told that we’d been expected the night before. We go over all the details, and I realize my mistake, and the hotel has room for us anyway, and the nice lady behind the desk is helpful. I ask if we were charged for my error, and she says yes. The next day, I write this letter to the manager of the hotel, who is out of town at a conference and will be until after we check out. (She being the only one who can credit the added night.)

Dear [NAME],

I stayed at [HOTEL] last night. My husband and I had a very nice stay. Unfortunately, it seems that instead of making a reservation for last night, when I went on my phone to book a room the day before, I made the reservation for that night – Friday rather than Saturday. When we didn’t arrive on Friday, it seems my credit card was charged for the mistake. I’ve been told that you’re the person to ask if this charge might be reversed.

My husband and I are in the process of biking up the east coast. We started in Key West on February 12th, and are making our way north to Vermont. As such, I’m pretty exhausted every evening, when we arrive in a town, decide how many miles to ride the next day, and try to book the next room. We’re going to be staying at a lot of [YOUR HOTELS] as we make our way north, as we really like the chain!

I know the mistake was mine, punching the wrong area on the face of my phone to make last night’s [HOTEL] eservation, but I’d very much appreciate your help in reversing the charge. It seems like a pretty steep price for my dumb error. I’ve also put in an official request with [CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS], which I’m told will be sent to you as well. Thanks very much for any help in this matter.



Needless to say, NAME at HOTEL is not moved. She is not swayed by our exhaustion, by my fat finger, by the fact of human error, by my self-deprecating use of the word dumb, by my happy little exclamation point. NAME never responds. CORPORATE never responds. I finally call NAME, but am told she can not come to the phone. Maybe she can’t. I call CORPORATE, who puts me on hold, manages to reach her, then comes back to say she’s still charging us. The hotel was full on the night in question and so our absence cost them money. (Huh. Really? Because I booked it at, like, 9 p.m. on the night in question…) CORPORATE informs me this is completely NAME’s decision. When I ask, CORPORATE also says that no, they have no gift certificates or discounts to give out for future HOTEL CHAIN stays if, for example, one is riding a bike north in a romantic bid to follow the spring. No such discounts exist. (Ironically, a couple weeks later, another hotel associated with this same chain takes our photo and puts it on their Facebook page, being impressed by our pluck.) 

If, as the supreme court has informed us, corporations are people, then I would suggest that they are the kind of people nobody really likes. They are bitter people with hollow lives and no friends.

(Luckily, things improve again after Georgetown, and I move on. Really. Can’t you tell? I’ve moved on.)

Posted in Biking, Charleston, Friends, South Carolina, Travel | 5 Comments