Date: Sat, 19 Jul 1997 22:18:58 -0400
Otisville, NY to Oxford, MA 25,274 KM (15,670 MI) cumulative
When history books are written, July 1, 1997 will go down as the day Hong Kong reverted back to China. Paragraphs will be written about the pomp and circumstance surrounding the lowering of the British flag, departure of British soldiers, and the impact of this event on whatever comes next. There'll be no mention of the two little bike tourists making their way across the green lush hills of southern New York, enjoying a freedom that few, if any, Chinese have felt for many decades. Will we see collapse of the Chinese communist regime once that icon of the capitalist world, Hong Kong, is absorbed. Or will the communists convert the city to their ideals and way of life. Just what does the future hold for Hong Kong? At least for now, the happenings in Hong Kong have little impact on our lives other than an interested, hmmmmm.
We did have a day of riding that will go down in our own personal history book as one of the most enjoyable kind. Temperatures hovered in a comfortable high 70s to low 80s range with overcast skies, terrain was mostly flat or downhill over lightly traveled country roads, scenery was pretty, although not spectacular like our Wyoming mountains, and we had a great tailwind push. We burned through the miles crossing the Hudson river and pulling into the Margaret L. Norie state park early in the afternoon well before the crowded July 4th weekend. The campground was practically empty and we thought to ourselves "Bravo, we'll have a site for the weekend, no problem." We selected a good site, near the river far from the crowds, set up our tent and tarp and proceeded to make plans to stay for a full 5 days right through the holiday weekend.
However, we neglected one important fact, this is a New York state park and New York probably has the most unaccomodating, rigid, bureaucratic government employees I've ever encountered. It did not take long for us to develop a dislike for the way New York state parks are run. We should have had some hint of the way things work just from our initial overlook of the camp sites. It's hard to put a finger on precisely what was wrong, but things just weren't quite right. Perhaps it was the leftover, partly burned wood left behind in many of the sites, not necessarily in the fire ring. Or was it that the sites were not very well defined or specified. Just kind of packed in on top of each other. Maybe it was some of the left over trash, the beat up old fashioned aluminum trash cans, the broken down rock bar-b-ques. Things just didn't seem entirely well cared for.
We were willing to accept that, just as long as we could stay put for the weekend. But, even that was not to be. We soon discovered that the New York state parks allow absolutely every single campsite to be reserved. In all our bike touring and car camping all over the country we've never encountered this before. Every other state and federal park retains at least some of the camp sites for a first come first serve basis. Consequently, if we can just get there early enough we could always get a site. But not here. We were told in no uncertain terms that the weekend was booked and we'd have to move on Friday morning.
So we tried calling another NY state park. Same story. Booked solid for the weekend. So I asked, "What would you do if a person on a bicycle shows up late in the evening and you're full". "We turn them away." I was told. "We can't just keep packing them in." He said. "What if they couldn't go another 10 or 20 miles." I asked. "We'd refer you to a nearby hotel" I was told. There was no, "well since you're on bicycle we'd see what we could do." Nope, got to follow the rules even if it means turning away a person on a bicycle to ride down a dark road maybe even in a pouring rain. This is absolutely disgusting. I do think if a biker was turned away to ride in the dark and got hit by a car he'd have good grounds for a law suit. As it was we were forced to call around to se if we could find another campground for Friday and Saturday nights. We were lucky and found one at, unfortunatly, a significantly higher price.
The next great event happened in the wee hours of the morning when I was somewhere between sound asleep and fully awake states. It had been raining almost all night, sometimes lightly other times quite heavily. The trees were completely water soaked, branches hanging heavily. Suddenly a loud "crrrack, whish, rustle" broke the silence and my sleepy dreaming. I thought a branch had fallen, no bigee. A few minutes later the cracking started up again and I wondered if someone was breaking down trees. I had to go to the bathroom, so Brian suggested, while I was up, find out what all the cracking was about. A tree, about 15 ft in front of our tent a good 30 inch diameter and 200 ft high tall had an enormous longitudinal crack a mere 8 ft. from its base. It was leaning away from us, thank goodness, but in a direction awfully close to the tent of our neighbors, two adults and a 5 year old girl. I turned to ask Brian if he thought they'd still be in the tent and he suggested we warn them. So I ran over and started shaking their tent, "Hello, anyone in there." I yelled. From inside comes a groggy voice, "Yeah." I yelled, "There's a tree about to go over and it's pretty close to your tent." Things got exciting as they tried to pull on some clothes and get out of the tent. We stood outside for a couple seconds looking at the crack and I figured it'd be a while before it fell. But, as I walked down the lane toard my original destination, the bathroom, the final loud crack was heard. I turned to see the long tree trunk fall to the side. The tree had missed that other tent by no more than 8 ft. We all stood around for a while, kind of laughing but more shaken. That had been far too close for comfort.
We now understand that a freek winter storm earlier in the year had knocked down quite a few of the mature trees in the area. Evidence of downed trees can be seen all along Rt 9 by the Vanderbile mansion. This campground is full of these mature trees. So we are surprised that the park authorities haven't ordered a detailed inspection of all trees and removal of any that are suspect. We've seen other federal and state parks where entire campgrounds were closed due to danger of falling trees until potential problems are removed. Not here. In addition, 24 hours later the tree was still sitting there, no one paying much attention to it. This tree sat lying across an employee access road to the picnic area and no one in the park seemed to care. I wouldn't be surprised if the tree would still be lying there in a week. But, we won't know. We had to leave since we didn't have a reservation.
That state park did have one advantage, it was close to some of the major sights to see in the lower Hudson Valley area; FDR's and Eleanor Roosevelt's homesite and cottage and Fedrick Vanderbilt's mansion. We started at FDR's home. It's a fairly moderate sized mansion, as FDRs father was only moderately rich not super wealthy like the Vanderbilts. It only had some 40 or so rooms on three stories, 600 acres, a carriage house, formal gardens and green house, and a working farm. When purchased by his father, James Roosevelt, in 1867 it was significantly smaller than it is today. Additions made by James and then later by Sara, FDR's mother, and Franklin produced the large 3 story mansion seen today. FDR decided prior to his death that the house should be given to the country as a lasting monument. They claim it was because he had a deep regard for history and preservation of historically important items. Although I'll bet there was a bit of a desire to be known for posterity as well.
The first and second story of the main house and the FDR library, the first presidential library ever constructed and also built while FDR was still in office, are available for viewing. This includes the entry hall, dining room, sitting room, family room, FDR, Eleanor, and Sara's bedrooms, FDR's birth room, several guest rooms, and a luxery for that time several large bathrooms. Furnishings seem to be mostly lots of dark, heavy wood and overstuffed sofas and such. FDR's notorious collections are everywhere, birds, books, stamps, books, political cartoons, books, nautical prints, and books. He was an enthusiastic eadre. It is said his mother caught him reading the unabridged dictionary, cover to cover one time.
FDR's father made his money in the shipping industry as so many of his contempories had. His father's first wife passed away leaving him with one full grown son. So, naturally he found himself some young chick to marry in 1880, Sara Delano, 12 years his junior. On January 30, 1882, Franklin Delano, a whopping baby weighing no less than 10 lbs was born. Mother and baby both almost died during birth, so under doctors orders to have no more, FDR became their only child, very much the apple of his mother's eye.
As all children of his social status, FDR's education consisted of mostly tutors and private schools. He went on to college and then Harvard School of law during which time, 1906, he renewed acquaintances with and married his distant cousin, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt. Strangely, he was able to pass the NY state bar examine before getting his degree, so he quit school. Many years later, when president, the school presented him with an honorary degree I guess figuring he'd done enough to earn it. He then went off to work in a private practice law firm. Basically there was nothing during this time of his life that would indicate he was going to be the man to take the nation through 2 crises, depression and war. His grades were average, As, Bs and Cs, and his work described as being good but not overly imaginative. He was just doing OK.
All of these activities he found to be quite boring. In his heart he wanted to follow in his cousin, Theodore's footsteps, politics. So he ran for and won a seat on the NY state senate 1910, accepted the position of Assistant Secretary of Navy in 1913. Ran for and lost the vice predential spot under James Cox in 1920. His political aspirations seemed in doubt and cut short when, in the summer of 1921, he caught polio. After nearly losing his life to the illness he battled back to health for 6 long years. But no matter how much he tried nor how optimistic or determined he was, for the rest of his life he had virtually no use of his legs. Sara, figured he'd just retire to a gentleman's life running their estate up on the Hudson river. You see, politics was not considered to be a proper career for rich gentlemen of that day so she'd be just as happy to have him at home. Eleanor and Louis Howe, FDR's long time political campaign leader, had different ideas. Eleanor became his legs, eyes, and ears going all across NY to win him the govenorship in 1928 and his first term as president in 1933 and three successive terms there after. He died at a health spa for victims of polio in Warm Springs, Ga of a cereberal hemmorage only a few short months into his fourth term, April 12, 1945.
Due to circumstances of time and his length in office there are perhaps few other presidents to have had such an impact on the country both then and now. For example, due to his polio he launched a nationwide campaign to make people's awareness of polio as great as their awareness of TB. Massive amounts of money were raised for the benefit of victims and for finding a cure. Largely due to his efforts Jonas Salk was able to discover his famous vaccine and 2 generations of children throughout the world grew up with that tell-tale circular scar on their upper arms. But, Polio has now been eradicated. It's kinda of ironic that TB is now on an upsurge.
Other things he did during his presidency fall into catagories of great, good, and awful just like any other president. He came in just as the US was struggling through the great depression. His predecessor, Hoover, tried desperatly to prevent the bank collapses and later to get things rolling again without putting the country in debt. That was not enough for the American populace. They wanted action now and didn't care what it cost current or future generations. So they elected FDR who proceeded to bankroll program after program putting millions of people on the government paycheck. Some of these programs have given us a long lasting legacy benefiting us today as well as tomorrow. There's hardly a state or national park in the country that hasn't got some indication of a Civilian Conservation Corps project and buildings all across the country exist thanks to the Work Project Administration. Some of his programs were declared unconstitutional, deservedly so. The NRA, I forget what this stood for, created an organization of stores and shops that displayed a certain sticker. People were encouraged to shop only at these stores. It seems a bit too much toward the comunist idea of state owned businesses to me. Most of these programs disappeared when WWII started. Unfortunately the one program that remained is the one that is rapidly leading the country to insolvancy, Social Security and Medicare.
Going into WWII FDR had to suddenly take a country totally unprepared for war and build it into a formidible world power in a mere 2 years. He had to make some critical and controversial decisions that I'm sure are still debated by historians. Whether to send aid to England right away or save all forces to build up at home. Whether to trust Stalin at the Yalta convention. How much to promise the USSR and England. I'm sure the list goes on. Fortunately either inspite of or because of these decisions the allais won the war and we are not currently saluting a German flag. However, some of these decisions lead directly to the 50 year long cold war that we have just now seen end.
Throughout these displays there was one thing missing, a discussion of how all these depression programs and the WWII buildup were funded. I'm sure at the end of the war the country was in debt up to Uncle Sam's hypothetical ears. We can only count ourselves fortunate that the heirs to that job, Truman and Eisenhower, worked to balance the budget. Just imagine what a state the federal financial affairs would be had a spend happy president like Johnson come into office at that point.
Across Rt. 9, down a 2 mile long dirt trail, and across one more road you come to Eleanor's Val Kill cottage. Ok, so there is an easier route by car but not nearly as much fun by bike. The big mansion FDR grew up in was always Sara's house and Eleanor never felt truly comfortable there. So in 1924 FDR suggested that she, Nancy Cook, and Marion Dickerman two NY Democratic Committee co-workers, build a cottage nearby to get away from the hectic political life. This became Eleanor's retreat and her permanent home after FRD's death. They started with a small stone cottage that now is used for conferences on things like human rights issues and such. They also built a much larger building, although certainly not mansion size, where during the depression, the women started a furniture making factory. Eleanor was always trying bring industry to the rural areas with the hope of keeping young folk from going to the city. It didn't work as during the depression people weren't buying such fine furniture. The business closed and Eleanor remodeled the building into a home.
Only the downstairs is open for viewing and this is limited to the dining room, a glimpse of the kitchen, and a library/sitting room. The first thing you'll note is its simplicity. Eleanor was into people, not material goods. Consequently furnishings are comfortable, functional, and not at all that garish stuff the super rich were into buying. For instance, throughout the house are these simple pewter lamps hung on the wall. These were made by the defunct furniture factory. Our guide said they don't know if she had a particular like for them or if they were just conveniently left over. But, they're all over. Another thing you'll notice are special mementos from people who were important in her life. Photos cover walls and furniture and on one wall you find frames filled with Christmas cards from the White House staff. Her dishware was incredibly simple, glasses looked like something you'd buy at a 5 and dime store. Out back was a tennis court, a swimming pool that is now covered with boards, a cutting garden used to provide fresh flowers in every room every day, a pretty pond, a massive stone bar-b-que grill, and a neat doll house. The doll house was Sara's gift to the children and used to have hot and cold running water and electric lights. Any little girl's dream house.
The entire house exuded a feeling of homey comfort not found in the big mansion. And we were told that the house is just a reflection of Eleanor herself. She was kown to start with a dinner party of only 8 people in the morning and during the day wind up inviting another 20 in for dinner. Her cooks had a difficult time second guessing her guest list. One day she'd be entertaining some royal person from India, the next it'd be her chauffer from the White House. Perhaps the most famous folks to spend time at her cottage were Queen Elizabeth and King George, the firts English royal couple ever to visit those rebelious colonies. FDR and Eleanor treated them to an all American picnic with all the trimmings, including hot dogs.
It's hard to believe this down to earth, homey woman came from a rich, pampered society. She was born on October 11, 1884 to Elliot and Anna Hall Roosevelt, wealthy New Yorkers the niece to the future president, Theodore. Unfortunately her early years were to be filled with tragedy. By age 10 both mother and father had died and somewhere in there her two brother's also died leaving her cmpletely along. Both her father and brother drank themselves to death which explained her later total intolerance to alcohol. She then came under the care of her grandparents who sent her off to a private school in France where she picked up a lot of her interest in humanitarian issues. At age 18 she had her "coming out" more at her grandmother's insistance than her own desire. She met Franklin, married, and bore 5 children one of who died at only 8 months of age.
During those first years of marriage Eleanor tended to depend on both her husband and his very overbearing mother Sara. But, as I mentioned, when FDR contracted polio she found her independence and became a real leader in his campaign and presidency. After FDR's death she had planned to retire peacefully to her Val Kill cottage dutifully spoiling her many grandchildren, but that was not to be. Truman sent her to the UN where she wound up on the Committee for Human Rights. She was one of the primary people involved in the creation in a worldwide declaration of Human Rights. From then to her death in 1962 she continued to travel and work for her various humanitarian issues.
She was a good lady, down to every inch of her heart. But, she got involved in some questionable organizations. One youth organization she helped was proven to be infiltrated and run by the communist party. She terminated association with them soon there after. She helped form a rural community whose prupose was to create industrial jobs in rural environments. But, the whole town was almost like a commune. It failed when she coldn't find any companies interested in investing in it. She also was heavily involved in the early formation of unions. I suppose when she got involved there was a great need for some organization whose sole purpose was to look out for workers well being. But, since then unions became far too powerful and corrupt. Companies closed their doors and headed to countries without so much union strength. The pendulum now swings a bit more toward the middle. She was a lady with a huge heart that sometimes may have been a bit missplaced.
In the late 1800s the lower Hudson valley became the favorite stomping grounds for the most wealthy families of New York. At least they came to spend a few weeks in spring and fall if you can call that stomping grounds. Family after family built these enormous, loaded to the hilt mansions, all to live and party in for just a few weeks out of each year. Their real homes were somewhere in Manhattan or elsewhere. One of these families was the third generation of one of the Vanderbilt lines, Fedrick Vanderbuilt. Cornelius, the first Vanderbuilt was commonly called the Commodor because of his enormous fleet of ships, transports and ferries. He started with a $100 loan, bought a small boat, and transported goods and passengers across the New York harbor. >From there he bought more boats, moved into railroads, and by his death was worth in excess of $100 million, and that's back in the mid 1800s when a million bucks was really a million bucks.
When Cornelius died he left the bulk of his fortune to his eldest son, William Henry, feeling that this mass of family wealth should be kept in tact, not divided among his many children. William, taking after his father, took that $100 million and increased it to over $200 million before his death. But, unlike his father, he felt this wealth should be divided, somewhat. So he left his eldest son $70 million, his next eldest something like $40 million, Fredrick, second to youngest, $10 million, and his youngest $14 million. They say the reason Fredrick only got a mere $10 million was because of William's disapproval of his marriage to Louise Anthony Torrance. Louise was 12 years older and a divorcee, quite a scandle for the family. William had forbidden Fredrick to marry or even see this woman. So they eloped. William learned of the marriage several months later from a newspaper gossip column. He nearly disenherited Fredrick entirely, but one of his daughters convinced him to be lenient. Oh, each of the daughters only got $10 million.
The third generation Vanderbilts took the art of spending money to celestial levels. Each had a lavish townhouse in the heart of the most expensive district of downtown N.Y. In addition they all built mansions in the country, sometimes more than one, and had the required yachts and other luxery goods. Fredrick's mansion in Hyde Park on the Hudson with its 53 rooms and 16 bathrooms was just a small shack when compared to his younger brother's Biltmore mansion in South Carolina with over 200 rooms and 40 bathrooms. Unfortunately, this third generation was so good at spending that they left not a whole heck of a lot to the fourth and fifth generations. Fredrick, was the only one to actually do something with his meger inheritance, increasing it to $70 million by his death. The rest of the Vanderbilt money was pretty much wastefully spent.
Fredrick's "cottage" is an enormous, white monolith having fantastic views of the Hudson river. It's appearance almost looks like a copy of the White House. Covered in Indiana limestone it's a bit more yellow than the White House. He hired the company of McKim, Mead, and White, evidently the company hired by a lot of the wealthy, to design the interior. These guys seemed to long for a return to the garish, over blown styles of 17th and 18th century France. Rooms are filled with heavily carved wood furniture and paneling, big busy tapestries, lots of fancy ceiling fixtures and statues. But this group of Neuveau Riche felt that bringing this style to their homes gave them some legitimacy with families of old money. Personally I'll bet families of old money thought these upstarts were just making fools of themselves. Even dresses for women were fantastically adorned with ruffles, bows, silk flowers, feathers, any thing that was colorful and fancy. This entire brief period in which the upper crust of America imitated former French royality was to become known as the "gilded age." The likes of which has never been seen before and proabably never will again.
Fredrick and Louise tended to be the more reclusive couple of the Vanderbilt group. They did little to seek the attention of the gossip columns with the exception of making a lot of donations to charities. Vanderbilt University was saved from financial ruin by such donations and is now named in Fredrick's honor. They also treated their employees and the townsfolk of Hyde Park very, very well. Gifts of food, toys, and clothing to all the village families for Christmas, education assistance for the children of their employees, help with medical bills for all, and finally, upon his death, something for every employee left in his will. The minimum a household staff member received was $1K which at that time was enough to buy a small house. Not bad. Legend has it that Louise once stopped to ask three girls who were playing in the snow what they'd like for Christmas. Two said piano the third a baby doll. Well, that's what they got two full sized pianos and a baby doll. Two bright girls, one not so.
Upon Fredrick's death, Louise already gone, there were no children to inherit that $70 million. We were told some $41 million went to Uncle Sam federal and state (boo), $11 million went to charities, some $14 went to their favorite niece, and the rest to household staff and employees. Their niece also got the house, grounds, and all contents. Well, she was already quite wealthy having come from and married into the best families and already had more mansions than she knew what to do with. So she tried to sell it, house, grounds, and all contents. Now when built many years earlier the house was worth some $2.5 million. That's just the building not the grounds or contents. The interior furnishings were said to be worth even more. But these were depression times and luxerious mansions were not much in demand. She first tried selling it for $350,000. No takers. The next year she lowered it to $250,000. Still no takers. Imagine, back in 1929 you could have owned this huge mansion complete with all furnishings for what a tiny, shabbily built house in San Diego on 1/8 acre lot costs today. When all else failed FDR arranged to have the house, grounds, and furnishings all donated to the federal government. The one stipulation, the house was to be shown as it appeared when Fredrick was in residence, no labels on furniture and stuff as you would have in a museum.
So today people of all walks of life have an opportunity to see how the upper 1/10 of the population having 9/10ths of the wealth lived during this unique gilded age. We understand that even Gloria Vanderbilt came to see the home of her late distant uncle for the first time, as a regular paying tourist, in 1983. She didn't reveal who she was to the tour guide until after it was over so as not to cause a fuss, classy lady.
"Those magnificant men in their flying machines. They go up-pitty up up. They go down-diddy down down". Yup, not much further up the Hudson on a small grass runway surrounded by old barns bearing painted on signs like "Baker Caster Oil Co.", geese filled ponds, and antique ranch metal windmills is a place where you can still see, hear, and watch those magnificant flying machines of old, the Old Rinebeck Aerodrome. A dream for a man named Cole Palen was to create a place where people could still see some of the earliest planes, 1903 to just post WWI. He wanted you to not only see them but hear their engines roar, or sputter as the case may be, and watch them soar or hop into the air from an old fashioned grass runway much as the old barnstormers of post WWI used to frequent. Over the years the arodrome has gradually grown to include over 40 different planes housed in old barns, quonset huts, and a brand new block museum building. Most planes seem to be American, English, French, or German and have such legendary names as Foker, Hanriot, Berliot, Curtis, and Wright. My personal favorites were the oldest, the ones that look like little more than balsa wood, piano string, and paper with a tiny gerbil run engines.
Oh what a thrill to see these ancient birds fly. The weather was near perfect, air clean and about as calm as it gets along the Hudson. First came the 1909 Berliot, believed to be the oldest flying plane in the world. Bouncing and bobbeling past the audience down to the end of the runway. Full throttle and it roared back at a whopping 37 mph. A pull back on the stick and it made a good 30 ft long 4 ft high bounce into the air. That's about all you get from this old gal. Next the 1911 Curtis pusher biplane. Actually this is an exact duplicate that uses an original engine. Again, roaring to life at the end of the runway it hit a max speed of about 50 mph and soared into the air about 20 ft high for a good 30 ft distance. Finally a 1911 Bleriot that is mostly original. An unusual and almost modern looking monoplane with cantilevered wing. It's designer was originally a boat maker so the fuselage looks much like a rowing skull. From there extend sidways two gosamer white cloth covered wings and an empenage that looks much like a fish tail. In fact I was much reminded of a flying fish. This plane's performance was similar to the Curtis.
Finally, they put 5 different planes from the WWI and post war era into the air at one time. There are not many places in the world today where so many biplanes can be seen flying in formation. There was a Foker D7 and D8, a Dehavilan, a Curtis Jenny, and one other. My favorites of this bunch were the Fokers. The D7 is a biplane with external struts tying the two wings together and has a beautiful sounding radial engine, drive shaft spins while the cylinders stay still. The sound of this engine was so smooth, so quiet. The D8 was a monoplane with a fully cantilevered high wing (no external struts) and has a rotary engine, drive shaft stationary while the cylinders rotate, which sounded much like a lawnmower with one cylinder missing. Both of these planes required the use of feet to control the rudder for turns, one hand for the ailerons for banking and another for the elevators for cimbing leaving no hands for the throttle. So they were run full throttle. To slow down, you somehow turn the cylinders on and off a few times, all the while hoping to remain stable. Brakes, who needs those? Just use the grass and convenient hill at the end of the runway to stop. To turn around while on the ground you have a wing walker grab one wing while you throttle up. Fortunately not too much later a few little nicities were added, like brakes and the now familiar wheel type steering column.
The most famous of the barnstormers was the Curtis JN trainer, nicknamed Jenny. But this is only because some 10,000 were made for the war and all were sold as surplus after. With a mere $500 you could get yourself one of these planes and off you go round the country making a fortune giving people rides and showing off. Although if you were smart you'd get yourself a few flying lessons first as there were no licensing requirements in that day, no FAA. Just imagine being in one of those small midwest towns when the first barnstormer ever to come to that area circling your town getting lower and closer with each loop. Most people had heard of planes, but hadn't actually seen one and many thought they just weren't real. But, here one was right in the air overhead. Naturally everyone would drop whatever they were doing and come running out to the streets. That's when the barnstormer would land in some nearby farmer's field and proceed to sell his ride. Many a future famous pilot got their first ride this way including, I think, Amelia Earhart. Naturally the farmer gets a freebee.
The barnstorming era only lasted a short time as before long planes were far more common and did not get folks all too excited, the barnstormers tried more difficult and dangerous stunts getting more and more people killed, and the Jennys were wearing out and becoming dangerous themselves. Regulations were put into place, Jennys became scarse as most finally fell apart, and people just didn't go to barnstorming shows anymore. That was the end of the pioneer age of aviation. Sadly in this day of the over 10,000 Jennys originally built only 7 are still flying.
Conneticut seemed to be just around the corner and the difference was astounding. As one friend said, "New York is another world." With all the time spent sightseeing and waiting for the 4th of July holiday to pass we spent nearly a full week in southern N.Y. Yet during that entire time we had only one person make the normal queries about just what the heck we were doing. That one person happened to be a volunteer at the aerodrome. Otherwise whenever we stopped people seemed to studiously do their best to ignore us. In grocery stores we were given cold stares if we dared to drop a basket of groceries at the checkout counter without unloading. Rarely would I get much reaction other than a grunt when I said "Hi" as we passed someone. And, of course, there was that unforgiving response we got from the State Parks campgrounds.
Once in Conneticut we found that normal interest in us returned. Those usual three questions came again, "Where did you start? Where are you going? How many miles do you do in a day?". People at the grocery stores, campgrounds, and Motel 6 at Hartford not only asked about our travels but were quite interested, not just going through the motions of asking the questions. One guy even stopped his truck to ask if we needed anything, a fellow biker of course. But perhaps the most unusual person we met was Red. Standing on a corner with map in hand, a spry young man of about 75 comes running out of what looks like an old condemed house. Dressed in old blue jeans and short sleeved brown striped shirt his hair was snow white with that thick ring covering the back of his head as so many older men have and short tufts of white strands on top. Pale blue eyes that sparkled with enthusiam brought his face to life.
Red was a pack rat, the most packish of all pack rats I've ever seen in my life. His motto, "I'll buy anything that's cheap." Handing us some cold sodas he invited us down to his basement to see something he had stored. The stairs leading down gave just a mere hint of what was to follow. Alongside the stairs the entire wall was covered with little box shaped shelves each of which was filled with food items, cans and boxes. Ok I've seen something similar to this before, so no big deal. Get to the bottom of the steps and my eyes practically popped out of my head. The basement was filled, floor to ceiling, with stuff. Snaking through it all was a 2 ft wide path that lead around to various corners of this 2000 sq ft or greater basement full of stuff. In just our few minutes down there I spotted a 2 ft tall stack of those super cheap tan colored plastic plates, a box holding 8 old fashioned KROY embosed tape writer disks stored vertically side-by-side, at least 6 bikes from the 1960s days, electric lamps ranging from a cheap crystal chandelier to studio lamps, out-of-date dentist drills and almagon mixer, an old fashioned printers press, a dark room complete with equipment. There was even a car, a BMW Iseta, an odd car that opens from the front looking a bit like one of those 1950s style steam chamber seen on an I Love Lucy show. Open the entire front, sit down, close the entire front and you're off. He even told us, somewhere under the junk, is a surry and a doctor's carriage. Out back is an old Dodge van, filled with boxes of stuff, an old fashioned roof shingle cutter, several catipillar tractors, three barns, the remains of fencing he used to have for horses, I both envy and don't envy his kids. When he's gone this basement could be a fun treasure trove to dig through. But, getting rid of it could be quite a nightmare.
For a 70+ year old he sure is a bundle of energy. His house sits on a 2 acre corner lot along with that old 1700s abandoned building and 3old barns. Next to it are several brand new houses. Originally the barns were right on top of the property line giving each one of those brand new houses an interesting view of antiquity. Nevertheless, the developer wanted them moved. Red said, "I'll make you a deal. I'll move the barns if you sell me that land cheap." The land he was refering to was another 2 acres down near the interstate close to the Conneticut river. An area completely useless for building as it floods every year but to him it'll make great horse pasture some day. And move the barns he did, all by himself. He rigged up a pully/roller system where he had the barn up on rollers and a single chain looped through a bunch of pullies to pull it. Pull the chain 12 ft, the barn moved 1 inch. His current project is to take that 1700s house whose roof was converted from salt-box style to hip and now convert it to a single sloping roof. He's raising the roof and shoving 2X4s unterneath. After that he'll redo the interior that's if "I live long enough" he says. With his vim and vigor I have no doubt he will.
We also had one of those infrequent opportunities to visit one of our many keypals, Bob and Michele. Bob drove over to Oxford and picked us so we could spend a nice weekend in a house, with a pool. Transplanted Californians they brought with them that very California personality which blends in well with the rather 60s style of Brattleboro. Bob, a tall medium weight man with real curly brown/gray hair, has that easy going attitude the kind where very little will get him upset. He needs this as he is landlord for about 6 family units and as we learned you have got to have the personality where dealing with difficult tenants doesn't bother you too much. Brian and I do not have that. His wife is also quite tall, at least to me. At 5ft 7in she has an incredibly athletic figure, thin, fit, muscular and naturally good looking, as if she could be in training for some olympic bicycling, swimming, or tennis event. She aught to be as she has played tennis with some other very athletic and well known people such as Sally Ride the former astronaut, whom I greatly envy. Michele is one of those people who will instantly draw you into her heart and home with warm hellos and hugs and a "my home is yours" welcome. Anything you need, help yourself, which we did. We stayed just one day yet I already felt as though I'd known both all my life. I could have stayed a month, but if we don't keep heading onto Canada we'll never get there before the weather starts to turn bitter.
Bob also took us over to meet Hank and Barb. Now there's a couple of young-at-hearts I do wish we could spend much more time with. That very day Hank was celebrating his 70th birthday and they both their 45th wedding anniversary. With a little, OK actually a big, party planned for latr that day their house was going to be the scene of a lot of commotion for the day. Yet both took the time to sit down and have a long talk about bike touring. You see, they are also bike tourists. They've done Adventure Cycling's northern coast-to-coast route, coincidently in 1988 the same year we did, and part of the east coast north/south route. They'll be finishing the east coast route later this summer. So the discussion got quite animated as 5 bike enthusiasts related story after story about strange happenings on the road, equipment tips and failures, people we've met both good and bad. Converstaion never lags when you're around dedicated bikers, but guests were arriving and we had other chores to do that afternoon.
Appendix A - Route
Rt 11 Otisville to Bloomingburg, Rt 61 to Burlingham and Ulsterville, 0rt 52 to Rt 7 to Libertyville and New Paltz, Rt 299 and old Rt 299 to Rt 44, Rt 44 to 9W across mid Hudson bridge, Side roads through Poughkeepsie, Rt 9 to Rinebeck, Rts 308 to 9G to 19 Sandfordville, Rt 82 to Pine Plains, Rt 199 to Millerton
Rt 44 to Rt 112 to Lime Rock, back road to Falls Village, Rts 63, 4, and back roads through West Goshen to Litchfield, Back roads to Thomaston, Terryville, Bristol, Forestville, New Britain, Newington, Wethersfield, Rockyhill, South Glastonbury, Gilead, Hebron, Willimantic, South Windham, Windham, Brooklyn, Rt 169 to Pomfret, South Woodstock, Woodstock, West Woordstock, North Woodstock, Rt 197 to Quinebaug, Back roads to Oxford, Ride to Brattleboro Vt and back
Appendix B - Campsites and hotels
Margaret Lewis Norie State Park 3 nights ($), Interlake campground near Rinebeck 2 nights ($), Rudd Pond in Taconic State Park Millerton ($)
Black Rock state park near Litchfield ($), Motel 6 in Hartford ($), Lake Williams Campground near Hebron ($), Bob's house in Brattleboro, VT 2 nights
Wompatuk state park ($)
($) indicates fee camping
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.