Fully loaded, I pedal up Manhattan. It wouldn’t feel like “the beginning” until I crossed the George Washington Bridge, but I was on my way. Somewhere uptown, on Amsterdam Avenue, a smiling cyclist cruised up to me. “Where you headed?” For the first time on the road, I say I’m cycling cross country. He did it two summers ago and with such warmth and honesty, wishes me a good trip. It’s my first hour, but I already feel blessed.
40 miles out, up the Hudson river, a ‘roady’ slows his cadence to have a chat. With a sparkle in his eye that I recognize as lust for the open road, he asks me my destination. I fill in the blanks as we ride the next few miles into Nyack, a charmingly liberal country town. James, a frequent tourer, cycles Europe, Cuba and North America when he’s not flying for a commercial airline. A pilot with enough eco-conscience, but not quite enough incentive to give up the childhood dream of machines in the sky. He introduced me to another James, owner of the 30-year local one-man-show bike shop, who’s pure love of bicycles was reflected in his free and comforting demeanor. They directed me to a dreamy campsite, mossy grass by the river. While setting up my tent, I chatted with locals out for a run or walking their dog, even the police, none of whom seemed to mind my audacious lodging location.
The next morning was cold and rainy, but a hot shower, cooked oats and the warmth of a home, offered by the pilot James, was a boost to another bleak day. His farewell and good wishes again made me feel magically cared for, and I pedaled off with a song in my soul.
Three days later, I rolled into Albany, New York State’s capital. My couch surfing hosts Abe, Charlie and Ashley were a dirty bike bums fantasy. Within an hour, I was scrubbed up and stuffed with delicious vegan dinner, watching my clothes spin in the wash. There was even beer. Their apartment was in a royal old building, top floor, and their huge rooftop proved perfect for drying out my tent, sleeping bag and other damp travelling gear. Matt, a downstairs neighbour and old school bike fanatic, gave me a real 80’s cycling jersey while recounting enchanting stories. The morning of my departure, Ashley, a vegan baker, rose early to send me off with chocolate brownies and peanut butter cookies. Heavenly!
Sometime during my 3 day rest in Albany, I managed to convince Jon, a basement housemate, to join me on the ride to Ithaca, 170miles away on the finger lakes. His bike was in good shape and he was bundle of energy, so the perfect candidate. We took route 20, though another cross-country cyclist advised me not to based on the steeeeeep hills, and Jon flew to the top of every one, powering through the miles and only stopping when I insisted. He was a positive vibe at the end of each day, despite the tiny tent and rainy weather. I enjoyed the company, and was proud to have facilitated a confidence boost in his touring ability. I was reminded again though, of the pleasure of solo touring, and the difficulties in finding someone with the same rhythm. Our farewell in Ithaca (he took a ride-share home) was quick but warm, and I counted myself one friend the richer.
I met another Jon on route 20, on a day when Albany Jon was well ahead and a few hills away. His loaded Xtracycle rig eased up to mine while I was fumbling with camera gear. He had ridden from Virginia to Boston and was now heading west, towards Buffalo. The curious thing: This was his job. He carried an amp and guitar on his two touring pedals and was a travelling, cycling, musician and lecturer. A kindred spirit, we slowly took the slopes and chatted the day away. His understanding and insight into bike travel was intriguing and refreshing. Our roads diverged but only to converge again soon: He is doing a gig in Ithaca, tomorrow, Monday night. I’ve stuck around another day or two to hear the man play and in such an incredible ‘Gorges’ town, it shouldn’t be too difficult.
The ride from my first hosts house, Marvin’s (a perma-culture, plant identifier and masseuse), follows creeks and forests down a VERY steep, endless hill, and yet is only 4 miles from the town center. Yesterday, at the fiddle playing pub, my “revolution cycles” Madison sticker attracted two other tourers, a couple from Wisconsin, Emma and Chris. Their love of their hometown fused with mine when I explained my (Charlie) connection and unconditional, unverified love for the bike capital. They have become my second hosts in Ithaca, and while we bake Baba Ghanoush and vegan treats, their stories fill me up. Twice since, I’ve been offered other beds in homes and the abundance of care, consideration and community here continue to surprise me.
A journey is only a sum of the people who colour it, and every connection, no matter how brief, provides me with fuel and fire to carry on… one revolution at a time.