Sunday, September 27, 2009

Adventures of the Bad Tourist

If you ever get the chance to go site seeing or museuming with me, don't. Hiking, biking, backpacking, kayaking, or anything like that – I'm a great companion, but touristing, even if you're lying, say you're busy. My present trip to Washington, DC confirms my long ignored suspicions that I have no talent for looking at things.

In the 2.5 days I was in DC I went to The Capitol, the Library of Congress, “The Castle”, the Museum of American History(more on the maritime exhibit in another post), the White House Visitor Center, the National Archives, The National Book Fair, Washington Monument, WWII Monument, Lincoln Monument, Vietnam War Memorial, and the Hershorn Art Museum, and I'm not sure what I got out of it.

Museum curators, when designing an exhibit, are trying to answer the question "So what?" Looking over their exhibits, the one question that keeps popping up in my head is "Why?" Why do I or anyone need to be here to see this stuff? What are we hoping/expecting/expected to get out of it?"

The Reading Room at the Library of Congress, the Lincoln Monument, the Vietnam Memorial and the Veterans and volunteers at the World War II Monument were truly awe inspiring. Climbing the steps to the Lincoln statue I recalled Sarah Vowell's description of her visit there in Assassination Vacation. (A book that looks at history by visiting sites associated with presidential assassinations) Not only does she tell of the creation of the Memorial, the citing and lighting issues, but also of her relation and how she stayed a long while watching other peoples. I cried. There is a feeling there, under this great man's gaze, inside this giant marble greek temple, on the top of hill, with the Washington Monument behind you, and behind that the Capitol. There is a sense of time too, both eternal, but also you sense his time, that "great battlefield" on which he was engaged, and that we too are on that battlefield, not in war sense, but in the sense of doing, and being what is right.

Exhibit wise, I was not so impressed, having more of a "been there, done that" or "I could have read this (and a lot more) just about anywhere" experience. I guess I lack that reverence for the "true cross" that museum folks always talk about. Seeing the original Star Spangled Banner left me more annoyed with the idolaters who cut out one of the stars than well, whatever we were supposed to feel/learn/? And don't even mention the "ruby' (aka plastic sequin) slippers to me. Then there was the White House Visitor Center. Since, for understandable reasons, visitors can't just tour the White House they have shunted them over to a building on Pennsylvania Avenue where there are a few aged panel exhibits and a 30 minute video tour of the White House. Excuse me? I came all the way to DC and you want me to sit and watch a mediocre video I could see anywhere? The more of these video tours I saw, the more annoyed I got with them. With one exception. The Castle runs a 10 minute introduction to all the Smithsonian Museums and is hosted by Ben Stiller. It's well produced and genuinely informative as opposed to the media sales talk type.

Well, could go on, but I won't. I will do a later post on the National Book Fair , another on the "On the Water" exhibit, but later.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Left Hand Milk Stout and 180 Degrees of Atlantic

Even though, after in-depth consultation with a co-worker who also works at a package store, I decided not to drink anymore dark/especially chocolate beer until the inventory freshened in late fall, I did have another chocolate beer yesterday. It was the beer list, how could I pass?

Brewed in Longmount, Co., Milk Stout was the 2006 and 2008 World Beer Cup Gold Medal Winner in the Sweet Stout Category. The company describes it as "strong roasted malt and coffee flavors build the foundation of this classic cream stout. The addition of milk suger mellows the intense roastiness and gives this beer the most incredible creamy mouth feel." Hey - I just thought it was a darn good chocolate beer. The lightest, smoothest one I've tasted yet. Not as chocolaty as Youngs, but not so thick either and the perfect beer to follow a nice fall walk through Ravenswood Park in Gloucester, Ma. Possibly the best place to view the harbor.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sir Edmund Hillary Lied

...or at the very least he did a great disservice to adventurers everywhere. He didn't climb Everest because "it was there". He climbed it because something in him resonants with that adventure. Not with arctic exploration, or marathons, or the idotaroid but with the experience, the thrill of the climb, the planning of the route, the conditioning of the body specific to mountain climbing. That is what feeds his soul.

Some people have been asking me why I would ride a Century. Admittedly not everyone can, or wants to ride 100 miles in one day...but some people do...and not just cause its' there. They (me) ride it because in doing it we feel 'right' doing it. Even getting ready for it, planning and training, all feel right. Not necessarily easy, but right. And in doing what feels intrinsically right, all else fades away and one dissolves into that moment, and the moment after.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Camera Case

I know this may be hard to believe but sometimes I get so focused on riding 50 miles in 4 hours, bagging the peak by sunset, or kayaking the length of the pond before the tide changes that i have trouble stopping long enough to enjoy where I am or even take a picture. I just don't want to break the momentum long enough to get out the camera.

Or, knowing that was an issue, I'd, dangle the camera from my handlebars, stuff it in a side pocket or lash it to the deck, basically keeping it handy but not all that safe.

Not anymore! S. went on a search for the perfect camera case and found the Pedco Wrap-Up - Camera Wrap . A case which quickly took its place in the small world of well-designed gear. The camera doesn't go into the case - the case attaches to, and wraps around the camera. After only a few practice runs I was able to unsnap the cover and take a picture - all while riding along on schedule. And while I haven't dropped the camera yet (there is cord that goes around the wrist) the case is also padded enough to protect the camera from a fall.

I'd take a picture of it, if I could only figure out how!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Lake Champlain Bikeways

Riding North on the Lake Champlain Bikeway with the inland sea and Green Mountains to the right and Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to left I have to disagree somewhat with Pico Iyer. I don't travel to get outside my normal comfort zone. I travel to get in touch with it. Nothing feels quite as right as pedaling through the islands of Vermont.

Some places are better for pedaling than others and the Northern Lake Champlain region is certainly one of the best. While I scoffed (actually snorted) when the guidebook (which I highly recommend - 25 Bicycle Tours in the Lake Champlain Region: Scenic Tours in Vermont, New York, and Quebec
) said that “although few roads have shoulders, the traffic is low enough, and what drivers there are, are kind enough, the Lake Champlain region is perfect for bike riding." But it's true! Along with that the views are fantastic! Lakes and mountains, mountains and lakes. From our campsite alone we can see east to Mount Mansfield and south to Camels Hump.

Our first ride was a 60 miler to Isle de la Motte. The ride reminded me a lot of riding in Holland. The road goes along a flat coastline for while then up ahead you see a bridge and in a few miles you cross that bridge. There are 3 islands between Grand Isle and Isle de la Motte, Oh, and good coffee too. On North Hero Island there is Hero's Welcome. A general store, post office, restaurant, outdoor sporting goods shop and cafe all in one – with picnic tables on the lake. For a small island, Isle de la Motte boasts a number of firsts. The first place Champlain landed, the first Catholic shrine in the United States, the first black granite quarry, the first ferry from Vermont to New York, and the first inland coral reef. It is a pretty nice island, it was also the first place I tasted a Zesta apple. I hope there are many more of those to come.

The second day S. and I took the riding down a notch, circumnavigating Grand Isle. More beautiful riding along quiet roads with the addition of a side trip down to the causeway, an abandoned railroad bed that originally linked the south end of Grand Isle with Burlington, Vt. Once the railroad was abandoned the drawbridge was dismantled so the only way to presently ride the whole 15 miles to Burlington is on summer weekends when volunteers run a bike ferry. Still it was a good ride just going out to the cut and waving to the folks on the other side. We also got to see a salmon carving someone had done of one of the many amazing chunks of granite that made up the causeway.

Wednesday we looped North then west and into New York. Stopping at Lakes End Cheese for a sample then at the Welcome Center in Alberg. The guide there was a serious bike tourer riding every summer from Vermont to Wisconsin and putting on lots of miles on the roads we were just discovering.

Crossing into New York we stopped in Rousse's Point for lunch then road 28 miles due south along smoothly paved farm roads. Along the way we stopped to read all the historic markers. Not so much because they were all that informative but because it was amusing to see how far someone would stretch facts to justify a historical marker. My favorite had to be the one that recounted how General Burgoyne, in his march to Ticonderoga built a number of corduroy log bridges across “inland swamps like this.” Of course a close second was entitled “Benjamin Franklin” and related the story how two brothers who had met Franklin lived “somewhere close to this spot.” If this is what classifies as deserving an historical marker, the mind reals. We spent the next 15 miles cursing the headwind and inventing our own.

We left NY for Vermont via the ferry and finished the ride with a 3 mile spin across Grand Isle.