Sept 1, 2017 If he were a dog, my friend Tim would be a Labrador Retriever. He is burly, amiable, and always up for an outing. And he will eat whatever is placed in placed in front of him, whether on a table, rock, or boat deck. We met at work, Tim the bright up-and-coming engineer and I the training guy. Together we were going to change the world with our progressive ideas about workflow and the reimagining of human performance. That didn’t work out so we shifted our attention to fun in the outdoors. Tim is a savvy outdoor guy and a willing accomplice on foot, boat, or bike. He also brings a careful, scientific method to outdoor travel. This is in sharp contrast to my approach that includes cotton T-shirts, tattered maps, missing water bottles, and unused PFD’s.
With bikes, we follow the script. Tim takes the engineer’s approach. After months of research he will purchase his bike. It is stock and will stay that way. (But with enough electronics to thread a super-tanker through the Suez Canal.) I will impulsively grab a frame off EBay or Craig’s List and spend weeks wading through the maze of formats and standards to complete a build. At the trailhead in Bondville VT, there is a pristine, showroom-like bike. And there is… Allison’s bike. My bike wasn’t trip-ready. Shocker.
And we launch, with Tim racing off and I figuring out the dynamic of a loaded bike rolling downhill to the Winhall River. On the valley floor, miles unspool. Dense green pastures and small orchards curl alongside the gravel road. Old tractors are at rest beneath ancient trees. Both a sturdy testimonial to their respective makers. The sky is mottled and the air thick. Even on the flats the work has some strain.
And then we entered the forest. We pass around the stanchions of an iron gate. The road now untrammeled, instantly changes. Grass replaces the hardpack and the climb begins. Dropping into lowest gear, I have a thought: Oh hell, I’ve become the rider that I used to sneer at. Hills were my wheel house. Granny gear was a surrender, an act of desperation, of weakness, of lack of character, of crumpled resolve, of unfocused training, of bad dietary choices, of unfathomable DNA. And now I am in the lowest gear and the climb is barely perceptible.
A bit of remorse distracts me from the climb. Judging others through the lens of superiority is an act of petty unfairness. And I recall other judgements. Medivac choppers passed over our house on the way to a nearby hospital. “Poor sons of bitches” was my unsympathetic thinking. Until I was the patient, high on morphine strapped to the gurney and watching the up-turned faces of nurses and orderlies. Worse examples followed. Playing “palsy man” with quivering fingers and stuttering voice, while chasing two-year-old Ethan around the yard. (I know, I know…). How I wish the hand could shake and quiver now. And the worst example of all? Questioning the need for all those ADA compliant ramps and hand-rails. I imagine a scorecard having a point threshold that brings down a hail of retribution. And these are the distracting thoughts that fuel a five-mile climb. My last thought before the downpour? This road was flat on the map.
Soaked and bug-flecked we reach the campground at Grout Pond. This beautiful place is both oddly quiet and oddly full. Apparently, it is squatter-central. People grub-stake sites with grimy tents and empty coolers and then conduct their business elsewhere, returning when convenient. A rusted-out Ford Ranger pulled in with some old church pews. Within 15 minutes they were broken up and in flames. At another site garbage smoldered in a home built trash burner. Not a camper in site. A guy out of an Elmore Leonard crime story wandered around with a Toucan on his shoulder. It looked like a scene from a Balkan Uprising. But considering the abuses of our National Forests by the timber, mineral, and grazing interests, these citizens with their small grift are just working a system that is otherwise horribly skewed. No camp site? No regrets.
Tim and I remain upbeat. We walked the perimeter of a wonderful WPA-era building with a solid central chimney. It was sheaved in live-edge pine that was deeply furrowed and black with age. The back porch was an inviting sleep spot. As we laid out damp gear the sun burst through and clearing began. Signs were aligning for a quiet night’s rest. As the sun warmed the old warped siding, snakes writhed into sunny cracks. Many snakes. We bedded down beneath an over-story of massive Spruce trees, a fair distance from the cabin. Snakes deserve their own space. August 7, 2017