Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

Welcome to Florida

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

We both slept rather late this morning (given that we went to bed before 10 pm). Our roomette bunks were comfortable, and the swaying of the train didn’t keep us awake. It appears that we both sleep well on trains. Hopefully that will translate to sleeping well on freighters too.

After breakfast, the train made its first daytime stop in Jacksonville Florida. We were ahead of schedule, so we had a good 40 minutes to walk around outside and enjoy a little bit of the beautiful day before getting back on the train. We could tell that we had moved south, as it was much warmer outside (about 25 degrees C) and muggy. Unlike in Washington, no-one was concerned that we were taking pictures of the train, station and rails.

Last night Scott was told that it was illegal to take photographs of any Amtrak equipment, on grounds of Homeland Security. We found an interview clip from earlier this year where an Amtrak spokesman states photography is allowed, but is contradicted by a security guard nearby during the interview. Good to see there’s a consistently understood policy!

The train ride today is a bit rougher than yesterday. The dedicated Amtrak rails ended at Washington D.C. last night, and we’re now on freight rails. As we pass over some of the railroad switches, they can throw the train car quite sharply sideways. Overall though, the train ride was very pleasant. Much nicer than the horror stories we had heard, and we arrived right on time.

We had purchased tickets to Fort Lauderdale, but then found out that the place we really wanted to go to was Hollywood. We enquired about changing the ticket when we went to pick it up, but the change would have cost us more than $150! (Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale are serviced by the same public transit, so our alternate plan was to take public transit once we got off the train). When we asked the cabin steward if we could stay on the one extra stop, he said “Sure, no problem”.

Tonight and for a few nights before we get on the boat, we will be staying with Dave and Leo, whom we met through Warm Showers. We are looking forward to getting to know them better.

Upon arrival, Becky called up Leo to let him know we had arrived. He jumped into his truck and picked us up at the train station – what wonderful hospitality!

Architecture in the Big Apple

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

We received notification this morning that our boat out of Florida is delayed a couple of days, so the new estimated departure date is October 3rd. This is actually a relief as it gives our bikes a little more time to arrive in Florida, and us a little more time to prepare for the boat and our European adventure. We are both rather nervous about riding in a country where we don’t speak the language or necessarily understand the customs, but we’re also quite excited about trying something which feels like a real adventure.

We ended up taking the express train to New York City. Had we booked earlier, we could have gotten a slightly less expensive ticket on the commuter train, but it was a nice opportunity to try out the Acela Express – North America’s only “high speed” train. Since the commuter train price for a regular ticket and a business class ticket on the express train were the same price, we logically chose the express train. The ride from Boston to New York City is 3.5 hours, and it certainly wasn’t the TGV or the Eurostar. It was comfortable, albeit a bit bumpy at times, but much of the time it was running pretty slow.

We’re staying at the West Side YMCA overnight, which is pretty nice for “budget” accommodations. (Well, budget by New York standards anyway). A bunkbed, locking doors, and shared showers are more than enough for our needs.

At the Rye Recumbent Gathering, David and Lynette suggested we look them up when we got to New York City. We spent a delightful evening with them, starting with dinner at Nooch, an interesting Asian Fusion restaurant with interior by Karim Rashid, then David led us on a tour of the interesting buildings in the Chelsea and Meatpacking districts. He’s an architect with the City and has been in NYC for more than 25 years. We saw the townhouse where Jack Kerouac wrote “On a Road” on a huge scroll, the IAC building by Frank Gehry as well as many others. Becky wasn’t as impressed as Scott with the IAC building, but she really liked some of the nightclub interiors. We also saw the Highline Park, soon to open as a linear park up the West Side of Manhattan. It was a raised railway, but was abandoned in the 1970s, and it returned to nature. Now the railway has been cleaned up, paths, staircases and elevators added, and it will soon be open to the public. A very neat idea!

Chelsea has a pile of Art Galleries, so much so that it has been called (with justification) the “Art Capital of the World”. Living here provides great opportunities to check out various gallery shows, seeing interesting art as well as munching on yummy finger foods. Lucky David and Lynette…

We also saw the Nabisco Bakery, birthplace of the Oreo cookie, and the Chelsea Market, which passes through it. An industrial setting, well preserved and updated without affecting its intrinsic character, with a variety of funky stores and art within.

We recessed to Billy’s Bakery for some late-night sustenance after our wandering – just like Magnolias (made famous on “Sex in the City”), but much less crowded with tourists.

Overall, it was a delightful evening in New York City – one that we never would have had, had we not been riding recumbent bikes through New Hampshire last weekend!

Hahvahd

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Our first order of business for the day was to get our bikes to the bike shop that would then ship them to Florida. The process turned out to be a little more stressful than we had hoped. The initial reaction of the guy in the bike was dismay. He wasn’t sure how he would get our bikes and all our gear into boxes. After a bit of discussion as to options, we left the bikes in their hands and headed out for a day of seeing the city. We would return later in the day to see how things were going.

On Don’s recommendation we decided to check out the “Unofficial Harvard Tour”. It was highly entertaining. We learned that the Boston accent involves drawing out the a (ahhh) and dropping the r. So Harvard becomes Hahvahd! The tour provides a colourful history of Harvard and its relationship with the town of Cambridge. One of the things that Becky was disgusted to learn was that until 1999 Harvard did not issue degrees to women. Women who graduated would get a degree from Radcliff. Fortunately, Harvard has seen the error of its ways and now issues degrees to any graduate regardless of gender. They also re-issued Radcliff degrees as Harvard degrees. We highly recommend the tour to anyone who happens to find themselves in Cambridge.

Before supper, Scott walked back to the bike shop to check thing out. Unfortunately, the bikes were not yet ready to be shipped, so they did not make today’s cut off. We are hoping that they will get out tomorrow, as we really would like them to arrive in Florida by Friday. (UPS promises 3-day ground delivery). The total of our gear will be 5 boxes and will cost us about $450 for shipping.

We’re staying with Don while we’re in Cambridge – the first person we’ve connected with through Warm Showers, and have had a lovely time with him. He is a founder of the Middle East Cultural and Charitable Society, which puts on the Boston Palestine Film Festival among other things. He’s a great host, and it has been very interesting to get his perspectives on the Middle East and American foreign policy.

Boston bound

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

88 km, 5.75 hours

Our detour to find a hotel last night meant that we were in Massachusetts, but not on our planned route and without a map. Scott spent a couple of hours trying to figure out a good way to get into Boston and downloading tracks from the Coast Greenway. We were well away from the Adventure Cycling route into Boston, so their maps were not useful.

It was due to be a long ride today, so at lunch Becky convinced Scott that we should ride along Highway 1 for a bit (which was a straight line) rather that zig-zagging along the Eastern Coast Greenway. For the first 10 km, this turned out to be OK, but then the 1 turned into a divided highway and then it got really busy. The challenge was that we did not have a map, so we had no idea where we could go until we reached the intersection of Highway 1 and the Eastern Trail. We ended up stopping at several gas station in search of a descent map and a way to get off highway 1. No joy. Eventually (only 2 stops before the intersection) we did get off the highway and found some less busy streets. We were definitely into the suburbs of Boston.

The ride into Boston was stressful for both of us. We were entering a large city without any maps. Unlike Maine and New Hampshire, the interim Greenway route in Massachusetts does not appear to be signed, so we were working solely from a GPS track (without street names). Our planned Greenway route turned out to be useless once we got close to downtown, since it followed a proposed bike path which appears not to exist yet . At one point Scott almost directed us into one of the tunnels under Boston (Big Dig!). Fortunately, Becky had been to Boston before and refused to ride on any road that had no shoulder and looked like it was going into a tunnel! Through some magic, Scott managed to get us to the Charles River bike trail. From there it was an easy ride to the home of Don, our WarmShowers.org host for the next two days. By 6:45 pm, we arrived Don’s place in Cambridge and were happy to meet a new friend and enjoy a meal out.

Elevation Profile
Download GPS Track in GPX format

Bikes, bikes everywhere

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

95 km, 5.75 hrs

We finally managed to get ourselves organized enough to get off to a reasonably early start. Not having Internet in the room certainly helped with the process! It also helped that our bikes fit into the room while still loaded, so it took us much less time to organize and pack up our bikes.

We started the day following along highway 1, but Scott soon realized that Highway 1A would bring us back to the waterfront and would not have nearly as much traffic. We diverted to the 1A and stopped for a short coffee break (Becky really wanted a real coffee!). During our coffee break we met a couple of cyclists that were part of a 2000+ people cycle tour. Throughout the day, we were to see more cyclists than we’ve seen on our entire journey so far! We got lots of comments about how heavily we were loaded from folks on their <20lb racing bikes. Someone asked if we were carrying the kitchen sink, and Becky wished she could just pull it out, but unfortunately we left it at home.

Not long after we got back on our bikes and continued along the coast, we were passed by several different recumbent cyclists. It was interesting to see the number of different recumbents on the road. At one point, a couple of them slowed down to talk to us (Becky thought, what a sight, 4 recumbents in a row!). The ‘bent riders mentioned a “recumbent gathering” that was further along down the road, and it turned out to be right along our planned route! It was almost like they planned this just for us, so we had to stop in.

Lynette Chiang of Bike Friday did a great job of reporting on the gathering, so we won’t repeat her comments here, but it was certainly fun for us to meet so many other ‘bent-heads. We also got to try some very fast Bacchettas and Becky tried a Cattrike tadpole trike. “Just like driving a go-cart!” Certainly made us feel every ounce of our loaded HP-Velo Streetmachines! Becky won a T-shirt and Scott won a Route 66 DVD, produced by Lynette. Becky wore her T-shirt with pride, but the DVD will have to wait until we get home – no DVD player on our laptop.

At the gathering, someone mentioned to us that there were plenty of motels in Newburyport, Massachusetts. We passed several in Salisbury, but decided to keep going for another 10km and get to Newburyport. Tomorrow was due to be a long day, so getting more riding in today would certainly make tomorrow more bearable. Unfortunately, the information was not accurate. When we reached Newburyport, it only had a few high end B&Bs. When we inquired within one of them, we found out that everything in town was booked (it was a Saturday night after all!). With the help of a receptionist at one of the B&Bs we booked a room at the Marriott Fairfield in Amesbury. By now it was dark, so we dug out our lights, and followed her somewhat vague directions. This was only the second time on our trip that we have ridden at night. Fortunately we guessed right at the key decision points, and rode the 7 km north without further incident.

As a bonus, there were fresh-baked peanut-butter cookies in the lobby. This made Scott very happy! As a further bonus, our room was handicapped accessible, which meant there was lots of room for bike parking. We were even able to bring them into the room fully loaded! (Perhaps this doesn’t seem like a big deal to most of you, but it’s the difference between moving a bicycle, and moving a bicycle plus 6 bags – it brought a smile to our faces at the end of a long day).

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Culture Shock

Friday, September 19th, 2008

71 km, 4.75 hours

Our morning began with a wonderful breakfast at the Marrion Mansion B&B. Shortly after breakfast, Becky headed into downtown Portland to visit the visitor information centre and pick up some maps. Unfortunately, her visit was not nearly as successful as we had hoped. We had been taking for granted the visitor information services in the Canadian Maritimes, which are significantly more useful that those in Maine. The person was able to provide a free road map, but did not have any information on accommodations or bicycle trails. When Becky asked if they happened to have any tourist information (maps) of New Hampshire the comment received was “We are in Maine!”

Since Portland, Maine was not on the Adventure Cycling route, we needed to choose an alternate route. On the CAT Ferry we were told about the East Coast Greenway (http://greenway.org), intended to become an urban equivalent to the Appalachian Trail. Scott downloaded the GPS tracks for the Eastern Coast Greenway and the Adventure Cycling route. Between the two of them and the very rudimentary maps provided on the GPS, we hoped that it would be good enough to get us to our destination (Boston).

We found the Greenway without too much trouble. The first part of the path was The Eastern Trail, a paved bike path, which was nice and provided us with views of the Portland River, through a landfill-turned green space, and into the fields of a really nice recreation center. The trail then turned to crushed stone, and led through some nice wooded areas.

Since we wanted to see the Maine coast, we decided to get off the trail and head towards the coastal road at Pine Point. Once we reached the coast, we experienced culture shock. The main street ran for about 7 km, and contained only motels on both sides of the street. The motels were not spectacular, rather budget vacation hotels. We were dumbfounded by the sheer number of them. With so many motels, we could finally understand why the tourist office did not have an accommodation listing – it would be too long!

The ride through this “vacation” area was especially odd because there were very few people around. Many of the restaurants were closed. It was a beautiful (if not chilly 14 degree) sunny afternoon. We speculated that it was deserted because it was a Friday and the kids were all still in school. Come the weekend the place would likely be a zoo.

Every 5 or 6 hotels there would be a short street that provided beach access. From what we could see from our bikes, it looked like there was a nice long sand beach behind the motels. However, we did not get off our bikes to take a closer look, so we aren’t certain what the beach there is like, and whether it is all accessible, or split up into individual “beaches” for each resort and condo complex.

We pressed on until 5 pm, and started to look for accommodation. Fortunately, we were back on the Adventure Cycling route, so had some idea of the towns and facilities coming up. This reduced some of our stress, although we were beginning to get concerned as it got closer to sunset about how much further we could press on. Finally, we stopped at Wells, Maine for the night. We found an nice inexpensive motel that conveniently had a kitchenette in the room. It also had a hot tub two doors down and a laundry across the parking lot. Becky cooked a delicious dinner in the kitchenette, and we enjoyed a nice soak in the hot tub before crashing for the night. A bit pricy ($70 US), but the hot tub made it all worthwhile!

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