Okay, so, where did I leave off? Somewhere during the first day of my bicycle adventure I believe.
I was walking my bicycle up Weston Road. Already, I was in pain and feeling out of shape. In some ways, I consider Weston to be part of Westport, so I hadn’t gotten anywhere yet, but I was determined. This all seems like a lifetime ago because of the complete physical emotional and spiritual transformation I have gone through since that day, but it was only a few months ago, May 15th, to be exact.
I peddled past Weston Center. I made my way past the Cobbs Mill turn off and up the hill towards Georgetown. Everything is different in one’s mind-set when one is starting out on a journey. You don’t know where you are going, who you will meet along the way. You don’t know where you will be staying. What food will you eat? “Will I make it?” I didn’t know. Everything was unknown. Actually, to my way of thinking, unknowns are nouns, they are things, so everything was an unknown.
I could see, by the map, that either way I looked at things I would need to get to Brewster if I was to get anywhere at all. The funny part was that I had to peddle past my father’s old house in order to get to Brewster NY. I had peddled this way many times. It was 17 miles from Westport to my dad’s house, though he didn’t live there anymore, he had been there for 30 years. So, in order to take off, I had to first get home, in a way. My father had moved to Ridgefield in the late 80’s and I had stayed in Westport, for better or worse, though around the 90’s I lived in Hollywood for ten years.
I kept moving, the weight of my gear giving me momentum. From Limestone Road in Ridgefield, there is a shortcut to the Danbury Mall. I can clearly remember taking a break at the church on the corner. The path I had taken to this point was very familiar to me and similar to that of the British army when they had invaded Danbury by landing at Westport’s Compo Beach in 1776. Though I wasn’t trying to retrace their route, it was the most convenient path, then as now.
I knew I was about to cross over into New York State. This was a symbol of progress, only a few hours into my journey, but it meant something. When I made the left hand turn onto route 202, see pic, I was going down a road I had never been down before, at least on a bicycle. I had reached the boundary of my regular world. I was passing into a region that was unknown to me. Psychologically this was an important step. Everything was different, to my mind. The sign said Brewster was up ahead. In a sense, there was no turning back now that I had breached the border into New York State. I had no idea how big New York State was, how long I would be in the state. Nor did I know how many miles I would have to peddle in order to get to the other side.
I had a rough idea of going to Niagara Falls. Could Niagara Falls really be 500 miles away? My mind was filled with wonder. There were many hills that day, and most of them I had to hop off and walk up. The pain throughout my entire body was increasing. Walking up the hills was actually a relief. I had not been bicycle training in about a year. I had not been on my bicycle since the year before when I purchased my brand new motorcycle. I loved the motorcycle(still do) but there are no health benefits in riding it.
Before the trip, bicycle riding held a most special place in my heart. I had discovered it by accident 17 years previously after receiving the award of DWI from the State of Connecticut. That incident was my last serious tangle with alcohol. I have had a couple slips (here and there) but it was at that time that I realized that drinking the stuff could actually ruin my life — or kill me. I can remember the court-appointed alcohol counselor telling me that I had to go to the outpatient alcohol classes at Norwalk hospital 3 times per week!. “Three times per week?” ‘you have got to be kidding.’ At the time I was renting a room in Fairfield very near Bridgeport. This was 25 miles from my home and they, the state, had removed my driving privileges. And I bring all this up only to illustrate how I found out about bicycle riding. I came upon an idea, maybe, it was just possible that I might be able to ride the bike to Norwalk after riding to work. The round trip journey was more than 50 miles. But of course, I didn’t actually have a bicycle then. But my sister had a bike in my dad’s barn in Ridgefield. I remember showing up for work on the bike. I was going to AA meetings then as well, two per day, then, at about 3 in the afternoon, I headed over to Norwalk Hospital for treatment classes. I can cut this part of the story short by telling you that in a couple of short weeks I was in the very best health of my life. I had full access to Fairfield County, I didn’t like smoking cigarettes, of any kind, I was not drinking, I actually felt smarter. The doctors at the hospital told me that I was the model patient. Bicycling had completely transformed my outlook on life. I could breathe. There was no traffic. There were no bills associated with operating a car. When six months later I got my license back I was truly disappointed. Yet I celebrated by driving around Switzerland, not through Switzerland but all the way around Switzerland.
Jumping back to riding up upon Brewster NY, the first day of my transcontinental journey. I was scared of various things that might confront me upon my path. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew it was something I had to do. I had to keep moving, though the pain was intense. This was a different kind of riding than I was used to. I was under-load. I had many more miles to cover. I was older now, 52 years old to be exact. I had actually gained weight in the previous year, last year, and during March and April of complete lockdown.
The other thing to remember was that on may 15th Covid-19 was raging across the land, everything was closed. New York State was closed. However I can remember watching Governor Cuomo’s press conferences, he said, “If you want to jog or ride your bike alone, that is okay, you can go as far as you want!”
That might have been the moment for me when everything clicked. I had the bicycle already built. I had no work or prospects as everything was in shut-down — lock-down mode. I was terribly exhausted by the television set. My girlfriend was showing signs of being sick of me. The stars had aligned. The thought popped into my mind, right away. Even the Westport Library was closed. Starbucks was closed. This idea might be possible. Could I ride across the country? I asked myself.
In order to lock it in, a week before I left, I reopened my Facebook account that I had shuttered after the 2016 election out of disgust with social media. But now everything was different, now I needed social media.
Folks I am a social guy. In love people. When I worked in Hollywood for ten years as an award-winning record producer it was because of my connections with actual people that I enjoy success beyond my wildest dreams. And years later when I worked for Hearst Media in Fairfield County it was because of my love for social interaction that I carried out those 800 assignments without a hitch.
But in the era of COVID-19, I was cut off from my mojo, people. Social media would be my only interaction. Now I needed Facebook. One secret to success in various things is to express one’s plans far and wide, ambitious plans, so that when times get tough one remembers all the folks I told that I was going to bike ride across the country. In this way, there is no backing out. At least it makes it harder to back out, having told everybody on Facebook that it was happening. Self-hypnosis is another method I use to accomplish goals. more on that later.
But in these early hours of the trip, I just needed to keep going. Getting to Brewster turned out to provide more hills. I realized that I had never actually been to Brewster before, there was mucho traffic in the road. Once outside of Brewster I found a bike trail, the first of many, that was directed to me by Google maps. I got lost. I was heading south. I needed to be heading north towards lake Carmel. I turned around. I was getting really tired by this point but I was not that far from home. Lake Carmel is pretty close to Danbury, I shouldn’t have been this tired, and I should have been much furth along, this late in the day. But I couldn’t turn back out now, just north of Brewster. I would have been the laughing stock of my Facebook click had I backed out then. Plus I was too tired to even turn back, Westport was 30 or 40 miles back. Close enough to be not very far from home but far enough to make it a pain to turn back. I had to continue.
Finally, I got north of Lake Carmel on that first day. I had blisters that I didn’t know I had yet. I had been sweating profusely all day. Every muscle in my body was screaming in pain. This was no leisurely ride about town. This was a personal psychic mission to strike out on my own, against anything that might come my way. I was headed to Poughkeepsie. But I was aware now that I would not make it to Poughkeepsie on my first day. That was a disappointing realization.
I had my brand new tent with me. I needed to set up the tent as the sun was starting to go down. I was more exhausted than I had ever been. I was older than I had ever been. I had never been down that road before. I was somewhere near interstate 84. Now, of course, I know exactly where I was, but at the time I wasn’t quite sure.
I saw a little sign on the side of the road that said, “Nature Preserve,” ‘bingo”. I might be able to set up a tent there. I was quite mindful of ticks, this place was very green with tall grass and bugs everywhere, of every kind. There was a huge lake. There was a dog barking far off. Nobody was around.
I had to make it to a place where my bright orange tent would not be seen. Though no signs said, “no camping,” I couldn’t be sure. I just needed rest. I took no Advil at this stage because I was afraid of masking any potential injuries, such as a pulled muscle.
Here is the view from the tent that first scary evening, hoping no one would stumble upon me and call the police. I felt far off in the Wilderness, yet, it was kind of like camping at the Westport’s Nature Center (now called Earthplace). I lathered the 100% Deet across my skin, laying there in the horror of the adventure that I had taken upon myself. There was no way to back out now. I could only pray that I wasn’t arrested for trespassing my first night out because I was too exhausted to deal with any circumstance other than to just lay there and hope my body recovered some strength by morning’s first light.