Tom and Ken's Next Excellent Adventure

Dramatis Personae:                         State:
Tom, A Mad Hatter                          Present In Body (lots)
The Cheeseburger, an FJ1200                Needs valve clearances checking
Ken, An Edible Dormouse                    Present, In Sprit
Rosa, A Guzzi                              Nearly Knackered

For those of you who don't quite understand the above list, which may well
include Ken, I should point out that these adventures traditionally include
both Ken and myself.  However, since he is on a different continent, he
couldn't actually be *on* the trip as such.  But I simulated his presence
by stopping for fuel every 105 miles and listening every ten minutes to
check the engine was still going round and hadn't quietly seized on me.

Saturday was the scheduled start, Sunday was the scheduled finish.  What I
should have done, then, is spent Friday night packing and preparing the
bike so I could start nice and early on Saturday morning.  What I actually
did was get drunk with a friend and two of his mates.  So it goes, though
when asked the question "how often do you get much more drunk than you ought
to on a Friday night", honesty compels me to answer "about once a week",
so maybe I should have included this in my plans.  Thus, I get up on
Saturday morning with a) a bad hangover, b) a clock telling me it's nearly
10am and c) no bike.  This last is the most tragic, and a quick shufti
round the memory banks tells me I left it in college Friday night as I
wasn't fit to drive it home.  Oh dear oh dear oh dear, not a good start so
far.  I further discover that the difference between the time taken for me
to have a shower, get dressed and get up the road to catch the bus to
college and the time left before the hourly bus arrives, is 90 seconds.
The wrong way.  I walk to college and pick up the bike, the fresh air does
me good.

I further recall that the battery is not in a great state, and though it
will start the bike if latter is not too cold, I do not expect it to start
after a night sitting under a Vermont sky.  Riverside produce a battery, a
bottle of Golden Spectral 20W50 (thought: nearly time to change to winter
oil) and two repulsively luminous but frighteningly stretchy bungees.  
All are fitted to bike in the correct way.

Aside: competition.
 Match the following items to fit to bike with fitting method
 1) 0.5 litre 20W50 oil                A) Put in battery compartment
 2) Two monster bungees                B) Put in crankcase oil hole
 3) A nice new battery                 C) Attach to frame at random site
 Answers on a postcard to
  (Oh shit, that's torn it.  Sorry chaps, only snide dig, I promise)

So, all is ready, I have thrown all needed gear into panniers, excepting I
have only one pair of clean underpants, so I hastily wash another pair and
bungee them to back of bike along with tent sleeping bag bedroll etc.  And
we are off, about midday.

I have decided to go out 2, along northern Mass parallel to the NH border
until I have gone far enough, then up into Vermont.  I actually make it
nearly as far route 2 before disaster strikes.  The bike is losing power in
an odd way, the engine is picking up nicely but the bike is not moving
forward as much as it should.  I also smell burning, so pull over and start
to diagnose.  Within 60 seconds a chap on a beautiful white dress Harley
pulls over to see if I need any help, which I do not deserve after that
crack about maintenance.  I gratefully accept same, and together we
discover that the rear brake disk is very hot and blued with heat.  Rear
brake pedal is also solid as a rock.  I surmise that the rear brake must
have been binding a little, which heated up the fluid, which bound it more,
which... and so on, until brake is pretty much locked.  I whip out the
spanners, select the 8mm and with a bit of rag provided by fellow biker
(why do i have enough tools to strip bike and NO RAG.  Hells bells.) I
open the bleed nipple on the rear caliper.  Spurt! a jet of fluid leaps
into the rag and the brake instantly loosens.  The rear wheel now spins
freely; I keep an eye on it for the rest of the trip but it does not recur.
Just one of those things I guess.  I thank the chap for pulling over, he
shrugs it off and disappears, giving me the rag as a memento.  Given how
righteous he looked and how many stupid racing stickers are on the plastic
on the Cheeseburger, stereotypes suggest he should not have stopped.  Fuck
stereotypes.  I like him.

Out on route 2 and up to speed.  After about 30 miles the scenery starts to
improve; the autumn has been cold this last week in Mass and the leaves
have done their duty and all died in interesting ways at about the same
time.  The colours are exceptional, and beyond description.  I still think
I'd never seen anything quite like a New England autumn before I got here,
and I may well never see one again; that's why I'm on the road looking real
hard at this one.  After about 30 miles of rubbernecking at the leaves I am
caught up with by a GS750 (ok, ok, stop sniggering Blaine and Craig, I was
looking at the scenery, all right?).  We move along in cheeful convoy for a
while, playing tag when traffic allows, until he pulls over.  Concerned, I
pull over as well, but it turns out he's taking the next exit and just
wanted a natter.  We chew the fat for ten minutes or so, he's off back to
Amherst to have a look.  He gives me a few hints about Vermont cops and
we're off again.  After he peels off I have about another 20 miles before
the 91 turnoff for Vermont, which I cover uneventfully.

91 turns out to be Very Boring, so I get off at exit 4 in Vt, then
backtrack down 5 to pick up 30 which looks very nice indeed.  It is, and I
take it into the Green Mountain National Forest (lower part), scratching
merrily away around the corners until I can bear it no more (plus the road
goes the wrong way) and I turn off onto 100, which is nearly as pretty only
outside the Forest so the towns are uglier.  I go up to Weston, it's been
about 200 miles today and the sun's getting low so I want to camp soon.
The sign just past Weston announces a DoA site in the forest itself, which
sounds great.

It is great, it's just down 3 miles of dirt track.  Oh, for an R100GS, the
FJ is displeased by the whole business and threatens to bend the pannier
frames out of recognition.  I am very careful, and as a result do not go
headlong into the huge mobile home coming in the other direction with no
lights at 40mph.  I nearly don't even go into the ditch, but this is a true
story not a fairy tale.  However, it's a happy true story as I don't come
off in the ditch but make it on to the road (!) without loss of control.

Find the campsite, throw off tent and stuff, pitch tent and fill with
belongings.  I discover that for my $5 the DoA will provide one chemical
toilet and no showers or anything but THEY WILL LET ME LIGHT A FIRE.  In
the middle of a State Forest.  Probably run by Dan Quayle.  I collect a lot
of firewood to take advantage of this later.
Into Weston for dinner, but the only place that is open is a Very Upmarket
Restaurant where the manager informs me, after one look, that He Has No
Reservations.  Also that if I try the next town up I will find some "much
more casual restaurants.  One of them does not even accept reservations, so
they might be able to serve you even if you have to wait".  I observe that
he ought to have the decency not to lie in his own restaurant, and the guts
to refuse service honestly.  He does not flinch (shame) or burst into
flames (bigger shame), so I take my leave of him, shaking the dust off my
boots as I go (there's quite a lot of it, which may have had something to
do with why I was refused).
The next town feeds me, sells me a newspaper (to light the fire) and a six
pack of Catamount Amber (I don't *really* have to tell you what this is
for, do I?).  Back to the campsite, build a nice big fire and drink the
beers.  The night is getting pretty chilly as the fire dies down, and if I
turn around with the flame at my back warming me, I can stare out into the
clear, cold, black night sky above Vermont.  The outline of the trees is
visible; it's where the stars aren't.  The air is crisp and cold and
perfumed with smoke from the fire.  I have missed this life.  I really
have.  I knock it on the head a little before eleven, catch the news from the
World Service on my portable SW, and turn in.

The night is cold.  Really really really cold.  I wake up from shivering at
about 2am, put on all of tomorrow's clothes (today's are all smoky and I
don't want to get the sleeping bag dirty), drape my quilted waterproofs and
my leather jacket over the bag, and pull the bag over my head.  I sleep
uninterrupted until 8.30am.

The morning is also very cold, and my bladder is exploding.  Nonetheless, I
am a man of iron, and strike the tent and load up the bike before thinking
about relieving myself.  By the time I've done all that, I figure I'll find
breakfast (=warmth) first, so I off back in to the town that fed and
supplied me yesterday and it gives me breakfast too.  Ludlow, VT, you're my
friend.  The waitress agrees with a giggle to write "check oil" on the
bottom of my bill so I don't forget to do that and a fair few other things
before leaving after breakfast.  I remember to take my toothbrush into the
washroom with me.  I can give the waitress a smile now.

Today is the big day.  I want to see a lot today, and I'd prefer to get
home this evening, so better shift it.  I continue to wend up 100 until I
get to 100A which is even tinier.  These roads all wend between large
forests and hills and lakes and rivers and bright red trees.  It's more
beautiful than anything I've seen since the Hebrides tour last year, and
the road surfaces are as good as those in the Western Isles.  I scratch it
down the road something rotten (* this is a British expression.  It doesn't
mean that I damaged the bike in any way shape or form.  Just scuffed the
tires and nibbled at the sound barrier on the straights.  Heh heh heh).
The roads are almost empty, it's Sunday morning.  In the distance I can
hear odd church bells ringing.  100A is a limited resource, though, and
soon gives way to 4 going east, which takes me past (hold your breath!) THE
CALVIN COOLIDGE BIRTHPLACE MUSEUM.  POW!!!  I resist the temptation to find
out what, exactly, made him so damn taciturn, since it must have been
pretty bad and my breakfast was pretty greasy (except the grapefruit), and
continue through the magnificent scenery.  Maybe that's why Coolidge was so
quiet, if I were brought up in the middle of this scenery I'd do a lot of
silent staring, probably with my mouth hanging open, too.

4 takes me to 89 and across to 91N.  Again.  This time, however, I'm a man
with a mission, and hack it up to 302 and 117 into the White Mountain
National Forest.  This takes me into NH, but I decide to keep my lid on;
partly because I approve of them, partly because I tried it once (see
earlier posting)  but mostly because it's FAR TOO COLD.  I like my ears the
colour they are.  And the number, too.  117 takes me to 3S.  Had I
mentioned that all through the last few miles these big mountainous things
on the horizon had been coming towardes me?  Well, now they were here.  Not
small.  I'd come this way on the advice of a flatmate to see the Old Man of
the Mountain.  I didn't know who he was, but when I saw this cable car
stretching out of sight up the side of something very steep. I knew where
he would be.  The cable car was $8 which I paid gladly to go to the top of
Cannon Mountain.

The top of Cannon Mountain was 30F screen, 17F with wind chill.  I didn't
care.  The visibility was the best in weeks, they said, over 50 miles.  On
the way up we were invited to look at Northern Vermont ("to your left") and
Maine ("ahead of you") and the highest mountain around, Mount Lafayette.
At 5249ft, it's the tallest mountain I've ever seen.  Apart from Mont
Blanc, and I was underneath that most of the time.  They show you where
avalanches have scoured the mountain so clean that even now, 40 years
later, nothing is growing there.  They show you this, they show you that,
and I missed it all.  I felt awed, crushed, silent, close to God.  From the
top of Cannon (4118ft, I think) I was offered a view the likes of which I
have only seen once before, on the Tuscany tour in '87, and never before or
since.  It defies description, though I'll try.

Before me, the mountains stretch away to the North in disordered ranks.
Above them, the clouds, puffy topped and flat bottomed, hover.  I am
suspended between heaven and earth, halfway between cloud and peak, so I
see the two come towards each other in the distance, and touch at infinity.
The hills are tinged lightly red with autumn foliage, and the sun and
clouds cast shadows on them, like the pictures I'd make as a kid with a
lamp and a screen, ostriches and foxes and rabbits and butterflies, but I
could fit a million people in each such butterfly here and still have room
for my lamp and screen.  The sky above is violently blue and the air is
bitingly cold.  I cannot deal with this, I just sit and stare and want to
cry.  I think of all the people whom I'd like to share this with.  Marcus,
Sabine, Ken, Jess, Alice, Steve, Greg, I wish you were all here.  I will paint
it for you with words, and though I do it poor justice I think you will see
the painful beauty shine through even so.


Reality filters back, though.  There are Americans all around me
(surprise!) and they are jostling (on the edge of a 1500ft cliff) and
crying and shouting and laughing.  I don't understand you people; you have
an embarrassment of riches, of natural beauty, and you've forgotten how to
treasure it.  Some of you are also trying to take pictures of it, and I
know from experience it's VERY hard to capture a mountain with a 35mm
camera, so maybe some of you aren't as bright as all that, hmm?

After time has passed I catch the cable car down.

From the top of the mountain I have seen route 3 winding like a silver
sugar ribbon teeming with ants off to the south.  Now I join the ant horde,
and it doesn't look so good from down here (life as an ant never does).  I
still get to see the scenery as I wind down 3, though, but I'm immune to it
now, it just looks pretty.

Down 3 to Manchester, down 93 to Boston and the Somerville turnoff.  Home.
What can I say about this bit?  I've seen this sort of stuff before, the
last bit's interstate as well (spit!) so deserves no further comment.  I do
most of it at the DoD minimum speed, give or take a bit, and see no
policemen.  I don't understand this, in the past 6 weeks I've done well
over 3000 miles, most of it at somewhere between 55 and Our Recommended
Speed ( (tm) the DoD, 1992.  you could rip us off, but then we'd have to kill
you) and I have seen about five policemen and not been stopped once.  Am I
lucky, or is the FJ a kind of ultra-ground-hugging stealth bomber, or what?

Back home, 5.02pm, two days and 507 miles.  I've found some things I'd
lost, and left a few things behind at the top of a mountain.  On the whole,
a good trip.  Now I can have a shower.