After finishing up a timber frame project in Ohio I took some time to just breathe. This often meant driving back and forth from western NY to Ohio to wrap up some odds and ends on the barn project, as well as continuing work on my parents house.
When I finally settled into a nice pause in life I worked with Jim @ Geneva Bicycle Center to fit and order a LeMond Zurich. The bike was steel and carbon, and by far the most expensive outlay of money for a bicycle that I’d ever made. We were in the middle of summer, and the bikes they had in the shop weren’t a good fit for me. Jim ordered up one of the few remaining from one of his suppliers, and in a week or so I was on new wheels.
I put on a funky Mavic computer that mounted on the stem, some fancy carbon bottle cages, and picked up an additional set of Look pedals. We did a short fit session when the bike arrived, tweaked the stem position, left the steerer just a bit long, and before long I was comfortably rolling to work on new wheels.
The new bike opened a pandora’s box of sorts. I started upping my mileage (still low, by standards I’d set later in my life), and figuring out how to ride more often. I continued to do the half way commute, and mixed in the full length by leaving the truck at home or at the shop, and alternating 18 mile days, with the occasional full mileage there and back worked in. I also set a goal of riding around the very hilly Canandaigua Lake. ~45 miles or so – but a huge mental breakthrough for me. I started scheming in my mind of maybe riding to Cleveland to visit family, or doing a tour, or… what are these brevets? The internet proved a gateway of sorts, even with the limited doses I was using it to seek out bike information. I also started mixing in Tai Chi sessions. I had to drive to Rochester for those – so it complicated the commute setup – but I had a good rhythm of when I was riding / driving / splitting.
Before long I had visions of touring. Adventure touring specifically, which had grown out of a previous desire for a BMW all road motorcycle and an escape to Alaska or the west for a long motorcycle / camping trip. Couple that with a history of camping, some limited backpacking, and canoe / kayak trips in the ADKs, hiking trips to Vermont, and the touring bike made perfect sense. I flung myself headlong into reading online journals, picking up out of date books at local booksellers, and thinking about a touring bike or a trailer. I discovered custom bikes and lusted after a Vanilla. I emailed back and forth a few times, and considered just sending off a deposit on the spot for an adventure rig – but gravitated towards more of an everyday bike, something simple and unassuming, and relatively cheap to replace. Not having any experience with used / classic bikes I opted for an off the shelf Trek 520. Green, V brakes, bar end shifters. Stock rear rack was workable out of the box. I added Headlands fenders. With an overtime bonus I picked up a full kit of Ortlieb bags – handle bar bag, front panniers, rear panniers, and a low rider front rack. I started using the 520 for my full commute. The wider tires were perfect for the 1/2 mile long gravel driveway, and as the seasons changed to fall the cargo capacity meant I could carry my clothes, lunch, and layers with me on the bike, and not on the back.
At some point I realized just how awful my Cateye light was for everyday commuter use. I picked up a rechargeable Niterider system. The light was great – when it worked. I used it on the bars of the 520, and would top it off at night before a commute. The electronics in it were finicky – and more than once the light would cut out mid ride. I sent the battery pack and light back to Niterider numerous times. Service was always great – but I hated being tied to that system.
I started planning for a big trip. I put a map on the wall of my room, and pinned out everyone and everywhere I wanted to visit across the country. Artists I worked for in NYC. Family in Ohio and out west. Friends down south. Yellowstone, Tetons, Redwoods. Glacier. Portland, Oregon. Up to Seattle. Maybe a ferry to Alaska, then ride back through Canada…. things started to flow. I went on an austerity budget and tried to map out what it would take to have $$ saved up so I could ride for a year and cover my student loans. I’d have to sell my truck and put my tools in storage. Or maybe I could ship some tools out west and work for short stints at a few timber frame shops that I knew from the Guild… I started looking at tents, sleeping bags, picked up a trainer for riding in garage in the winter to build a base. I also started making regular trips to Vermont, a place I always wanted to live – but just couldn’t figure out how to make the $$ work. I spent time with Greg (a long time friend from college) hiking, snow shoeing, and generally hanging out.
That fall I did my first and only overnight on the 520 to the Rochester Zen Center. I carried my sleeping bag, change of clothes, shoes, and some food to a weekend retreat / introduction to Zen course and pedaled into Rochester on a Friday night after work. After some mildly irritating drivers, and some teens tossing something at me, I arrived at the center, snuck into the dorm area, and tucked into a bunk bed. The next morning and afternoon a large class spent the entire day moving between basic history lessons, short meditation sessions, delightful lunch made by staff, and question and answers with practitioners. I don’t remember if I stayed over until Sunday morning – but eventually I rode back to the office, picked up my truck, and processed the weekend. Life started to change, right then and there, almost before my eyes. I decided I would spend more time at the Zen center, and drifted out of Tai Chi classes. I started meditating at home, and I started questioning just about everything in my life. I was already leading a pretty spartan existence – TV free for a long time, surrounded by books (art, philosophy, architecture, crafts), trying to focus on a healthy diet, spending most of my ‘free’ time outdoors, and putting my money into my bank account and gear for that future big trip.
And then things started to change at work. I had been ‘managing’ the shop and production side of things at New Energy Works for quite some time, having started in the shop 3 years prior, then moving to the design office and into management. We were going through a huge growth spurt, and emotions were all over the place. The short story is that after some conflict from the shop, with little back up from upper management, I needed to make a change. I worked hard on how to grin and bear it, so I could stay on my path working towards the big bike trip… but after about a month I decided that life wasn’t worth living nearly every day in (relative) misery, and that I should work to make each day a peaceful, enjoyable experience. I decided to start looking at other options – consulting, going out on my own, moving away… I put the word out to a small network of friends and associates, and through some luck I found a company in Brattleboro, VT was looking for some help with the 3d software I was familiar with. The company was in a related construction niche, and they were willing to hire me on to bring the design group up to speed on an AutoCAD manufacturing overlay. After a visit and commitment, I began making plans to move. Trips to Vermont through that fall became bi-weekly affairs.
Figuring out where I wanted to live was the first challenge. I scouted Brattleboro and surrounding towns, wanting to focus in on walkable and bikeable. Brattleboro would have been the easy choice – but it meant a commute past and through a strip of commerce defined road that was neither pretty nor relaxing to drive, much less ride. I then stumbled into the small town of Putney. Cute little town – a renowned bike shop, food coop, bookstore, general store, lots of community events posted to the bulletin board at the coop, and easy access to hiking and riding. It definitely had a very small town feel, and the apartment I eventually found was perfect. Second floor in a farmhouse. Creaky wood floors, tiny kitchen, a bedroom and room for an office. Horses out back in the barn. Landlord lived next door. On a paved road that turned to dirt, about 2 miles from the center of town. Perfect, for where I was at in life.
To be continued…