“20 years ago today”

It was 20 years ago today [yes I have come to the age where I can say things like that] when I began my cross country bicycle camping trip that brought me to New England.

I joined a Bike Centennialgroup[now called Adventure Cyclist] of 8 people [3 women & 5 men. Judith, Azita, Nina, Howard, Jay, Bob, Bill and myself] called “NTR617”. We were to ride the “Northern Tier” route, beginning in Seattle WA and ending in Bar Harbor ME.
Before we left Seattle we spent a day there to make any last moment preparations, before our 90 day self contained trip. We were staying at the AYH Youth Hostel, that is located right at the Pike St Market [where they yell and throw the salmon around]. The Hostel was amazing, newish and fully equipped and tons of cute girls. This was the first Hostel I had ever stayed at and thought how nice it was…only to discover later that it was the one of the best. Our group went out for dinner to get to know each other and had an around the table introduction.  I was 24, had been a bicycle mechanic/retail shop manager for 6 years and announced, that “I was planning for the end of the trip, to find a frame building shop on the east coast to get a job at”.
I was very excited to be going on this trip, to have quit my job back home, was single and had all my options open. Seattle was wonderful and I kind of did not want to leave, but the road was calling. The route was all mapped out and like most Bike Centennial routes followed a path that was to avoid big cities and roads [hence the 90 day time frame]. The trip started by taking a ferry over the Puget Sound to Whidbey Island, up the islands and to the top of Washington, before setting off to cross the Cascades.
Right off I noticed that Judith was very ill equipped and did not have a triple crank. She was over weight, not in good shape and a shit load of stuff on her bike [many cloths etc…]. I think most of us had way to much stuff and over the next week were mailing things back home to lighten our loads. We set off on  Sunday, on a small Island and I was thinking we need to get this girl some low gears, before we hit the mtns [which was going to be in a few days]. Thankfully we found a bike shop open and I convinced her to buy a triple crank and a new front derailleur. I offered to change it all out in the parking lot [I had an extensive tool kit], which I ended up also replacing the spindle for a longer one. We were back on the road within an hour and the gearing saved her trip. Judith became very attached to me, but I had other people on my mind.
Washington is one of the most beautiful states around and it was a pleasure to ride across it [but you do have to look out for logging trucks]. We were all getting to know each other and the usual group dynamics were already forming [good and bad]. My trip leader Nina was living in the Boston area and she told me I should get a job at Fat City Cycles 😉  Nina had a Fat City water bottle, that had Mike P’s stickmen art work on it [used to be a Fat trademark image]. I had never really heard of Fat City [along with all of the millions of other things I was ignorant of at 24] and I thought that sounds interesting to me, plus I really liked Nina and she lived there 😉
Bob and Bill immediately started having issues and I was completely unaware. I was having a great time, the weather was wonderful and the Cascades were just beautiful….what could be wrong? I am pretty easy going and tend to enjoy life, these guys were very uptight.  Bob was ejected in MT and Bill stayed home when we got to MN [he lived there].
When were in Malta MT, taking a rest day, I saw two guys on Fat Chance bikes [along the way you run into cyclist going the other way all the time, pretty much one route across MT, ID, ND etc…]. I came up to talk to them and found out that they were two brothers from Boston [Dave & Andy] and riding to Seattle [and planned on living there]. Dave had worked at Fat City and I told him I was going to get a job there. Dave asked me if I had any metal working experience [which I did not] and he gave me a look…like no way your going to get a job there. At that point the wonderful mtn areas were gone and we had a long, hot, windy ride all the way to Minneapolis MN.
Riding across the Midwest did have it good points and when you are on a across America trip, you just feel that you need to go the whole way. Now that I have that done I think I would rather just do nice loops [Cascades and Rockies or around New England], but every once in awhile I do dream of doing another cross country trip. There is something to having that final goal of the other ocean.
We would spend time together, split up into pairs or ride alone [as long as we ended up at the last grocery store to carry the food together]. Each day we had a route plan and took turns cooking and cleaning the dishes. The weather over all was very good and the few times we had a bad storm, we happened by chance to be inside somewhere.
Our group was having its ups and downs, but overall we got along well and finished the trip as a  group. Azita and Jay had a falling out, which we had to deal with in Ohio. I became good friends with Howard from Portland OR. Howard and I were the same age and had a lot in common [easy going and a good sense of humor] and also Nina and I were spending a lot of time together, which unfortunately was causing a lot of tension within the group. We were all spending pretty much 24 hours a day together, which makes it even hard to squeeze a fart out without someone knowing about it 🙂
When we got to PA trees and hills begain again and I was relieved to be climbing instead of riding on the flats of the midwest. Up state NY was beautiful and very hilly. By that time we all were in very good condition, sun faded and hairy [or I was hairy]. We knew how to pack up our bikes evenly and our bikes only felt good with the load of the gear [felt real funny when you take the bags off].
Crossing over into Vermont was  a real eye opener. I had this vision of Vermont as being very hippy like…which it is for part of it. At that point we had been eating a lot of ice cream. We had been talking about finding some Ben & Jerey’s. When we first got off the ferry across Lake Champlian we found a little store to buy a Ben & Jerey’s Peace Pop [I had never had one]. At the little store the women ringing us up noticed we were on tour and out of the blue told us that Vermont “Was the whitest state in the Union”….Howard and I were like WTF was that all about?…we went outside and ate our ice cream. Later that day we went to Middlebury and were to ride to a Hostel that was a few towns away [over Middlebury gap!]. I spent to much time in Middlebury and was riding over the gap, in the dark  and then at the bottom I did not know which way to turn.  I saw a trailer house, which Iwas shocked to see, because I had this vision of nothing but hippies in log cabins [yes I was that gullible]. I went up the trailer and the door was open and I could see a large family watching TV. I knocked on the door and the mom made one of the daughters [that had a broken leg!] get up and answer the door. They could mot tell me which way to turn? They did not know the names of the roads or the next town? So I had to just figure it out myself….anyway the rest of Vermont was wonderful and I have now spent a lot of time up that way.
We made our way across NH , over White mtns and then up Maine and it’s coast. And seeing the sun rise in Camden ME was a real treat [we slept on the rocks]. Riding up the coast to Bar Harbor was very nice and I really fell in love with Mt Dessert island and Bar Harbor ME. We spent several days there and rode all around the carriage paths [if you have never been you should really go there]. Ironically Howard had a friend, who was working for the summer in Bar Harbor [Kitty, who Howard eventually got married with:) ].
It was a bitter sweet momment ending the trip. We were all happy to have completed the trip, sad that was over, but also glad to get away from each other and have some space. I think every one of us needed to find a job and or a place to live or something like that….kind of open for anything.
I had a rough plan of riding down to Boston and getting a job at Fat City Cycles [ a mtn bike frame building shop]. My mother had some friends that lived near Boston, so I had  a place to stay when I got there.
When I left bar Harbor I had about $30.00 and my hair, beard and bandanna, made me look a bit like Charles Manson! I bought a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and hit the road. I had to ride through a hurricane and slept in the bathroom at the state park in Camden, beacuse I could not set up my tent. That night I was on a pay phone selling my last bike at home to a guy in Dallas, so I could have something to live on when I got to Boston [he bought it for $800….wew!] The next morning it was a beautiful clear cool day and a great start for my trip. When I got to Freeport I ran into two guys that had been credit card touring and they were very interested in hearing about my trip, so they bought me lunch.. then an ice cream…then they gave me $20! [yes I looked that bad]. Man I was happy…not far down the road I bought a few burgers [I was really burning a lot of energy then].
I made it down to my mom’s friends place on the north shore and with Nina’s help found Fat City Cycles. Nina gave me a tour around Boston and introduced me to some friends and helped me find a place to live. Things did not work out between us and I was pretty bent out of shape about that for a long time, however I did get a job at Fat City, which I found to be very interesting and something to put my full energy into learning about and also I really fell in love with Boston. It was October, which is the best time to be here and if you were here then, you would also fall in love with Boston 😉
About 6 months later Dave came back from Seattle, got his job back at Fat…and was quite surprised to see me there! We have been friends ever since and technically he is my oldest friend in Boston, because I met him on the road!
Howard and I have stayed good friends all this time and we have visited each other many times over the 20 years. I am not in touch with any of the others in the group, but did hear that Nina continued with being a trip leader on many other trips and that Judith went on the Alaska highway bike trip.
I do not have enough time or memory to pack in all of the details, but even with its ups and downs I had a wonderful time and think everyone should take a trip like this someday in their life.

12 thoughts on ““20 years ago today”

  1. Timeless style – that photo could have been taken anywhere on the street yesterday. Maybe it’s that retro is in fashion, but you do look timeless.

    (twenty years later, how do you know it was today?)

  2. Wow, thanks for adding the story! It is a good one, particularly all this time later. I agree that you can’t be in Boston in October without loving it, and you can’t have been here in 2004 without becoming a Red Sox fan (and I am not a sports fan!)

    It is a dream of mine to ride across the country, before I’m too old. In my head I do it when I finally get to go home – Golden Gate or Bust…

  3. Great story.

    Having toured a fair amount myself, I am very familiar with a lot of your experiences. Maybe it should not, but the spats that arise on such trips always surprise me. Everyone in the group arguably is living their dream. Yet somehow common ground gets lost.

    I have taken to touring alone and enjoying brief encounters with fellow travelers on the route.

  4. Even though I have heard bits and pieces of this story over the years I have known you, it’s great to read it short story style! A fantastic tale! How about an encore?

  5. I also love the sign in the background – printing and copying is all about precision and professionalism since the birth of Kinkos and PowerPoint. That almost looks like a hand-painted sign.

  6. Thanks for the story, Mike.
    It makes me want to write up my memories of my first long tour with a high school chum.


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