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2012.03.07 The Epic Bicycle Trip

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

Last week I wrote about the birthday party of my friend, John. As introductions were being made, one of the nieces asked John, “Did he go on the epic bike trip with you?”

She was referring to our mutual friend, Rich, but my introduction was soon to come. I’m the one who pedaled a couple of thousand miles with John in the summer of 1975.

I didn’t do well at relating old stories to the nieces. Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking.… I mentioned something about John eating an entire pie, but he missed the connection. John thought I was referring to our stop at Helen’s Restaurant in Maine.

I was once told by a truck driver to eat there and it was a good recommendation, but I was referring to a pie that John ate all by himself on Prince Edward Island. I stayed at our camp reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” while John pedaled off to visit the former home of L.M. Montgomery, the author of “Anne of Green Gables.” 

I think John encountered a bake sale on the way back to camp and he returned with a pie. I didn’t want any of it. Maybe I thought I had been eating too much junk food, but thinking back more than 36 years, I don’t recall what we did eat. It must have been the most bland of diets.

As John pointed out to his guests at the party, the trip started from Northampton, Mass., where we visited another college friend. Soon John and I embarked by bicycle for a two-day trip to Montréal.

“Did it take two days?” I asked John. I wasn’t sure at the time, but it came back to me later along with a lot of other details. All these years later, it’s just a series of highlights from a grand adventure.

It must have been a three-day trip. It’s a 300-mile journey to Montréal and I had my first flat tire on the first day out. We visited a bike shop in Brattleboro. We spent the first night by pulling off to the side of the road into the trees.

It’s all coming back. I can still feel the exhilaration of the first morning of the trip as I got out of the tent and gazed off over the Connecticut River that was mostly lost in heavy mist.

From Massachusetts into Vermont. New Hampshire across the river. Heading north to Canada. We used the bathroom at the state capitol in Montpelier. We looked across Lake Champlain, made it through customs and finally arrived at the Jaques Cartier Bridge. There’s a narrow pedestrian walkway where we rode our bikes at sunset. I remember looking down at the St. Lawrence River far below and wondering if I might lose my balance with my heavily loaded bike. It would have been an unfortunate way to start off what John’s niece called “the epic bike trip.”

Maybe we should meet again with John’s relatives and run through the details. At the time, I didn’t recall the day we politely responded to a woman who was sitting out on her steps in Montréal, just a few blocks from where my friend lived.

We spoke for a while and she invited us in to see something. We walked through an area heavy with junk and debris and into her kitchen. I’m sure by now we must have realized that she was not a mentally stable person, and when she reached up into a kitchen cabinet and brought out a gun, John and I made a very hasty departure and avoided that block of the city for the remainder of our visit. I need to trade notes with John on that one. I wonder if he remembers it the same way.

If I were to characterize the trip to his nieces, I would have to speak of our camping spots. We seemed to have some libertarian view that no one should have to pay money to sleep in a tent—libertarian not as in Ron Paul but as in cheapskate—and we camped most anywhere that we, hopefully, wouldn’t be spotted. We slept a night in a burned-out house. We had many nights on beaches. We went into parks and set up the tent in areas that weren’t for camping. We slept on park picnic tables. We were caught once and had to move into an official spot and pay.

It was a remarkably cheap trip, but youth hostel stays cost only five bucks a night back then.

Sometime, John and I need to get out the maps and run through this adventure once again. It really was epic.

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