New York (24 nights: May 2-7; May 16-19; Jun 24-27; Jul 1-14)
|Distance cycled:||123 mi / 198 km / 799,961 RJP|
|Elevation gained:||3,845 ft / 1,172 m|
|Elevation lost:||4,063 ft / 1,238 m|
Naturally we started our trip in New York. Although homeless now, we used NYC as our home base for travel and concerts until mid-July when we finally got the hell out of there. We rode around the city quite a bit, but I only included miles to and from the train station and the Phish shows at Randall’s Island. We also did a mini-tour between a festival in Vermont and some shows upstate.
New Jersey (1 night: May 7; May 16; May 19-20; Jun 24)
We were in New Jersey several times, passing through to/from Virginia or the Newark airport. We spent one night there before catching our flight to Hawaii.
Pennsylvania (May 7; May 16; Jul 14) Transit only
We passed through Pennsylvania on our way to/from Virginia as well as on the train to Ohio.
Maryland (May 7; May 16) Transit only
We passed through Maryland on our way to/from Virginia.
West Virginia (May 7; May 16) Transit only
We passed through West Virginia on our way to/from Virginia.
Virginia (7 nights: May 7-16)
Our first trip out of New York was to visit Brandy’s folks in Virginia and drop off a vanload of crap we decided to keep. We did no cycling in Virginia. We drove through the night on the way back. That night is not attributed to any state.
North Carolina – Lewis only (1 night: May 13-14)
I took a day trip down to Raleigh and Chapel Hill to visit a friend while Brandy stayed behind to finish some sewing projects. I ate good BBQ, went to a brewery and did no bicycling.
Georgia (1 night: May 20-21)
We were stranded in Atlanta after we missed our connection to Hawaii, until we remembered that my cousin, Matt had just moved there. Luckily he had randomly chosen to take the day off work and we had a nice surprise visit with Matt and his family.
Hawaii (33 nights: May 21-Jun 23)
|Distance cycled:||36 mi / 58 km / 232,645 RJP|
|Elevation gained:||1,542 ft / 470 m|
|Elevation lost:||1,542 ft / 470 m|
We were lucky enough to come across some insanely cheap tickets to Hawaii in the months leading up to our trip. In the past we’d skipped similar deals because it just didn’t seem right to go there for only a week. Finally! We’d have enough time to give Hawaii our full attention. We spent over a month there and visited all but one of the populated islands open to the public. The people we met were incredible and showed us that the aloha spirit is still alive. Each island is unique and magnificent in its own way and we absolutely intend to return, possibly to live. We only did a small amount of cycling, on crappy rental bikes on the very bike-able island of Molokai. The bikes were in such poor condition that I broke several spokes on mine.
We paid for accommodations for 11 of our nights there, including 5 nights of backpacking on the Na Pali Coast. Our 19 nights of camping ranged from squatting with a homeless guy in Kona who claimed to be the deposed king of Hawaii to some of the most beautiful spots we have ever been. Of those, 13 nights were on the seashore.
Vermont (4 nights: Jun 27-Jul 1)
|Distance cycled:||68 mi / 109 km / 438,646 RJP|
|Elevation gained:||4,101 ft / 1,250 m|
|Elevation lost:||5,016 ft / 1,529 m|
|Ass kicked by bike:||1 time|
There was time for one last festival with our buddies Austin & Elyza. The Frendly (sic) Gathering in Vermont attracted a much younger crowd than other festivals, but was a good time nonetheless. The festival fit in logistically well with the Phish three-night run at Saratoga Springs so we made a small cycle tour out of it. The Green Mountains were our first true climbing with loaded bikes. Just getting to the festival entrance was challenging enough, but we were shocked to learn that there were another seven miles and 900 feet of elevation gain to get from the check-in to the actual festival. The choice of riding or taking the yellow school bus was easy and provided some unearned downhill coasting when we left the fest on Sunday. Perhaps to pay us back our insolence, the road hypnotized Brandy to forget to unclip from the pedals going into the campground that night and she toppled over onto her poor knee. It was pretty bashed up, but luckily it was superficial and she was able to ride the next day. Sleeping arrangements ran the gamut on this ride: state park, free camping next to a creek in the woods, escaping a storm in our tent behind the house of a friendly jogger, Warm Showers hosts, stealth camping behind an Amtrak station.
After returning from Hawai’i we had a couple weeks on the east coast to hang out with friends and catch some of the Phish summer tour before leaving NY for good on July 14. We got our first taste of bike touring with a little trip in Vermont and around Saratoga Springs. We caught a ride up to Manchester, VT and immediately ground our way over the Green Mountains to meet up with our friends Austin & Elyza for the Frendly Gathering music festival. We had done very little climbing on previous tours and this one started off with about 1,700 feet of elevation gain right out the gate.
Imagine our chagrin when we got to the festival address only to find out that this was where we would get our wristbands and the actual festival was another seven miles, straight up a mountain. Yup, we weren’t having any of that and loaded our bikes up on the old school bus shuttles they provided. No shame, none at all. We would have had to push our bikes up a steep-ass ski slope to where we’d camp, but we met a sweet couple who were asking about our bikes and they insisted on pushing them up for us.
We had a great time hanging out with our friends and listening to some excellent music in this beautiful setting, but before too long it was time to pack up and roll the bikes back down the slope for our next leg. The bus had taken us up quite a bit, so our Sunday out of the festival was a nice 13-mile coast down 1,740 feet to Jamaica State Park.
When we pulled up to pay, Brandy couldn’t get out of her pedals and toppled over right on her knee. She was bleeding all over the place and we were concerned that she might have really hurt her knee, but luckily it felt better the next day when we again tackled the Green Mountains.
Up and over the mountains we went back to Manchester, an expensive conglomeration thriving on the hyper-consumerism of suburbanites spending their life savings at the outlet stores. Really. We met some locals who work in the stores and people spend an INSANE amount of money in these stores. We’re talking a decade worth of clothing spending for me in one spree. Whatever, people can spend their money how they want. I choose to take a mini-retirement and travel the world for a couple years. Others go for a Lexus and a Gucci bag. I think I got the better deal, but who knows. The locals told us about a great spot to free camp just outside of town on a lovely little creek where we could take a dip and watch the lightning bugs winking about. I’ll take it!
The first half of the next day was a perfect ride. We wound down completely empty back roads to Arlington, VT where we got a delicious breakfast and hopped on the perfect highway that took us into NY. It twists through a mountain range, but followed a beautiful river and is mostly flat the entire way despite the great mountain views on both sides. Shoulders are wide, but it didn’t matter because there was hardly any traffic. The river also provides several great opportunities for swimming along the route.
The next half was not as nice. It was hotter than hell and humid and we were already getting tired when we got slammed by a steep, sunny hill with tons of traffic whizzing by. Luckily we found another swimming hole a few miles further on, right about where we planned to camp. As brooding storm clouds menaced overhead, we went on a wild goose chase for a place that had been recommended. Luckily a kind jogger offered up her yard and we got into the tent just in time for a massive thunderstorm to tear through.
We had camped only a few miles from town so we casually rolled into Saratoga Springs the next day and on to our first Warmshowers hosts, who turned out to be incredibly cool and made us feel right at home. Our last day of riding before Phish gave us some big hills, but we only had to go 18 miles on back roads to the campground, so it didn’t destroy us.
The long weekend was a whirlwind of Phish shows, partying, friends and the debacle of trying to run the shuttle bus between the campground and venue. After that stressful and tiring weekend we decided to skip the Philly shows we’d planned to hit and chill out in NYC for the week.
The nice thing about riding up huge hills on one way of a round trip is that you’ll be flying down them the other way. The ride to the Saratoga train station would have been breezy and uneventful, but Brandy got bitten really hard on the ass by some jerky bug. Ha! The last train of the day was sold out, so we grabbed a six-pack of Dogfish Head and set up camp in the forest next to the station.
After a week saying goodbye to friends and another weekend of shows, we hopped on a train to Toledo and finally left NYC for good.
We had intended to ride from Toledo up to the farm where our friend Colleen was living, but we were annihilated by insane headwinds and she had to pick us up a few miles short of our goal. I discovered that I despise headwinds. They tear into your soul as they buffet you and push you back. There is no downhill to reward you for your effort, just endless grinding with dust blowing in your face. You slowly lose your sanity and are driven closer and closer to fury each time the wind subsides slowly so you don’t notice, and then blasts you with a gust to remind you that you are nothing but an insignificant spec daring to challenge its great power.
A short and lovely visit later and we were back on the bikes and good ol’ Amtrak to wrap up our Phish summer tour in Chicago from which we would jump off to a month riding around Wisconsin.
Loaded miles: 220.4
Loaded feet climbed: 7,884
Loaded feet descended: 7,280
Unloaded miles: 28.9
Unloaded feet climbed: 518
Unloaded feet descended: 518
New counties bagged: 11
Here is a brief interlude of photos from my final commute from downtown Manhattan. I treated myself to a ferry ride on my last day.
After the storm I leave the bike dry in the vestibule. The salt cake from the previous storm has been washed from tubing and gears, so I give it a break from the grime.
On the corner, no bus. I walk and am rewarded well.
Brilliant white clutching to every limb and twig. Morning sun dancing about, seemingly caught in the park’s white maze, increasing in luminance as it bounces branch to ground to branch to eye. Shrouded with snow, the trees seem to shrink the darkly dressed humans to ants as they stroll along the troughs cut through the thick blanket. The AM dog convention is proceeding in earnest in the ball fields. Clutches of humans stand in self-selected clumps laughing and sharing tidbits of news while their grinning beasts bound through the thick snow chasing balls, joy, others. Ice and snow has collected in the hurricane fence around the batting cage and the sun glints through a thousand little crystals. Yesterday’s packiness means solid snowmen and forts abound this morning.
White surrounding the streets leads you to forget for a moment the shabby brown and grey. Slush is already beginning to grasp the corners and flood the ramps, but as yet it brings smiling sidesteps rather than grumbled curses. I descend (to the subway/the stairs) with a smile.
Whew, things have been pretty hectic over the past couple weeks. We’ve seen nine Phish shows all over the Northeast in a little more than two weeks, while working. We also did three more country of the week dinners, Japan, Ethiopia, and Peru. I’ll make brief posts about the former two in the coming days, but today we’ll look at Peru.
Peru is yet another country where we spent way too much time on buses and way too little time eating delicious local food, but the food we did have made an impact, as much for the variety as for the yum factor. Peru was once the center of the great Incan culture that could have been great enough to repel the Spanish invasion for quite some time had it not been for germs and an inopportune civil war. Naturally, this culture developed a variety of indigenous foods, including the greasy cuy (guinea pig), which was one of the two animals domesticated here in the pre-Columbian Era. The Spanish brought their own culinary influences, as did multiple other subsequent European and Chinese immigrants. These cultures mixed to create a rather diverse and unique dining experience.
One restaurant cannot hope to cover all the options of this country, but what Chimu in Williamsburg has done is done well. The décor of the restaurant fits into North Brooklyn well, but none of the staff are your local tattooed 20-something. You are immediately served a small bowl of toasted, salted kernel corn and some spicy green sauce that has no immediate use. The corn does help lick the appetite while awaiting the remainder of the party.
Our first selection had to be the national drink, Pisco Sour. Pisco is a special brandy produced in Peru or Chile. The Pisco Sour is a mixture of Pisco, egg white, lime juice, simple syrup, and bitters and is found everywhere in Peru. At $10.95 it was a bite, but still tasty.
Peru enjoys a shoreline with one of the most productive fisheries in the world, so seafood is quite common, at least along the coast. Ceviche, a mixture of raw fish and red onions marinated in citrus juice, is one of the national dishes found countrywide, and damn is that some good stuff! The ceviche at Chimu was no exception, but if you have any aversion to spicy, make sure you order it “no spice” because the “mild” still has quite a kick. An inch or two of corn on the cob with massive kernels is served on the side. The $16.95 was about right for the heaping fish pile.
Spaghetti is a common ingredient in mean courses, although it is often used a little differently than you’d normally find in an Italian restaurant in the States. The Tallarin verde con skirt steak ($15.95) was a pile of spaghetti with a basil sauce, topped with a large skirt steak. It was pretty good, but there was something missing from the sauce, perhaps a bit of olive oil would have juiced it up. The steak came a little more rare than the medium rare we ordered, but I will NEVER complain about getting a steak undercooked as opposed to overcooked. We have actually been to this restaurant before and had gotten the Entraña ($24.95), which is also a skirt steak, with an incredible butter sauce. That was one of the better steaks I have ever had at a restaurant.
Yasma ordered a fish dish ($14.95), the only one I didn’t write down, and of course the only one not in the online menu. It was a large fillet of white fish covered in a rich sauce with roasted red peppers and onions. I would have stolen more of her meal if I hadn’t been so full of ceviche.
Peru’s varied ethnic past, distinct ecological zones, and abundant sea life combine to create quite a wide palate in both national dishes, and locally. I am very much looking forward to discovering this country at a slower pace when we arrive on our bicycles sometime in the next couple years.
Lewis ~ My one weekend in Serbia was back during my time “studying” in Hungary, so I was more focused on drinking cheap beers and meeting girls. I did find the people to be unbelievably friendly, especially considering this was 2004, about five years after we bombed the hell out of them. The beers were also incredibly cheap (I brought back a 3-liter jug for use in dormitory beer pong). However, I did not get much of a culinary experience, and after a visit to Kafana in Alphabet City, I regret that. My only memory of food in Belgrade was a foolishly ordered plate of calamari, which turned out to be the worst I’ve ever had. I certainly didn’t have any deeply smoky cured sausages, tender pork chops or beans baked to perfection.
Serbia lies between Turkey, Greece and Central Europe, right in the middle of the stretch of land known as the Balkans. While this position at the confluence of various great empires throughout history means it has been a hotbed of conquest and ethnic strife for centuries, these same forces brought with them various culinary tastes. Like most of the countries in the area, Serbian cuisine is strongly influenced by Turkish and Greek from the south, and Austro-Hungarian from the north.
Kafana, or KAФAHA, is a dark, candle-lit eatery in the classic East Village bourgeoisie style complete with exposed brick, wooden tables and a massive antique cash register. It is very cozy despite the huge open front. This is likely accomplished with the step-down patio seating that provides a transition to the relatively quiet Avenue C.
Like most of Europe, bread is an important part of the Serbian diet, and we received a basket of it upon placing our order. While not a highlight, it wasn’t bad either and was the perfect texture to soak up the remnants of our dinner. The roasted red pepper spread that came with it was simple, but made a cool and smooth accompaniment to the bread (I get a kick out of the fact that bread and beard are essentially the same word, especially since one ends up in the other fairly regularly).
Dried and smoked meats and sausages are taken very seriously throughout Serbia. These delightful appetizers came from the Austrians via the Vojvodina region, which is still more influenced by Austro-Hungarian cuisine than the rest of the country. This includes much more dough, pastry, pasta, dumplings and filled breads. I have always loved cured meats and Kafana did not disappoint with the Assorted Meze ($13.95). I always think meat and/or cheese platters are overpriced, but the portion was closer to reasonable than most. The four varieties pretty much covered the range of cured meat styles. There was deep and smokey (a flavor profile that would recur in the grilled meat), and slightly slick and stretchy. There was a thicker, more moist cousin to prosciutto. One was lighter, more hammy, but very dry and thin. And of course, there was the ubiquitous composite sausage. All were fantastic and raised our expectations for the main course. The pickle spears were a lightly spicy and soft way to cleanse the palate.
Serbian food is characteristically meat heavy, and the grill has taken over the countryside. Lamb is common, but pork is by far the top hog on the grill. Kafana has a wide selection of grilled meats available, but who can pass up the Mešano Meso (mixed grill for two $33.95)? This guy contains five traditional grilled meat dishes – grilled pork chop; smoked pork neck; ljuta (spicy pork sausage); bacon-wrapped morsels (chicken liver and prunes stuffed with walnuts and cheese); and the national specialty, minced meat “fingers”- piled on a place with copious amounts of romaine lettuce. The “fingers” I believe contained a mix of lamb and pork. The pork chop was a bit devoid of flavor, but was perfectly tender. Everything else was great, and the portion was beyond satisfying.
I was a little dubious about paying $10.95 for a plate of baked beans, but it’s another “national dish,” so I had to give it a shot. It is found everywhere in Serbia, and everyone has their own recipe.Lima or great northern beans are used, and paprika is always involved. That latter certainly came from the north as Hungary is the top producer of paprika and they live and die by that stuff. (When I studied in Budapest there was a huge scandal involving a bunch of paprika labeled as “Hungarian” which was discovered to be tainted with a fungus that can only grow in Brazil.) While still a bit high in price, the beans certainly impressed. The large, white beans with their velvety texture merged with the rich sauce to give an almost mac & cheese experience. They skyrocketed in my esteem in the second bite when I discovered thin strips of onion that added a juicy bridge between bean and sauce.
The blitva side ($5.95) of chard with boiled potato and garlic was a buttery green addition to a meaty meal. It was enjoyed by all, especially thanks to its similarity to southern collard greens.
We also drank a Serbian beer, Jelen. It was as expected from a non-beer country – light adjunct lager.
All in all, I would say this was a smashing success. We got to try some traditional specialties that turned out delicious and reasonably priced for the location. Yes, there are some “essential” items that we missed, most notably slivovice. This plum liquor is the national drink thanks to the huge amount of fruit trees in the country. Of course, plum isn’t the only fruit used, and liquor isn’t the only fruit beverage ubiquitously drunk, but ya gotta choose one, eh?
Total cost with tip $90 or $30 a person.
I’ll leave this post with a grim fact. Serbia was the flashpoint of WWI and 58% of the country’s soldiers were killed, as well as 16% of the pre-war population of the country. Naturally, they tried to stay neutral in WWII, but didn’t get off so hot on that one either.
One of the most amazing things about NYC is that it is a true multicultural city, and not just two or three cultures, but dozens. There are so many different cultures from all over the world, and many of these people coalesce into tight communities where they keep their language and customs and, oh yes, their food! It dawned on me the other day that it is possible to eat at a restaurant from a different country, not to mention ethnic divisions within countries, every week for a year or more. Of course, this gave me a project idea, and my favorite type of project begins with making a huge list!
From now until we leave the city, Brandy and I will eat at a restaurant from a different country. This isn’t really a new concept, but it is an awesome way to explore the city.
Space permitting, we will try to go with groups of up to six people so that we can taste as much as possible. We will probably stick more or less to one meal per country. I know massive countries like China and India have a wide range of food and one restaurant will hardly be representative. Tough, get a smaller country.
The journey through the stomach starts next week. Where to first??
Speaking of food, I’m writing this in Battery Park and there is this huge turkey that lives here and is lurking around the lawn where I’m sitting. I’m taking it on trust that this guy is not a flesh-eating attack turkey, or if so, he has been trained to get the tourists first.