Day 9 – August 25th: Alexandria, VA – Fredericksburg, VA – 70km

A typical good day: (Businessy):

Get up at 7. Take an hour to get my stuff packed up and myself ready. Have a small breakfast. Cycle for 40 or 50 kilometers. Find a Starbucks, Subway or McDonalds (in that order of preference). Wash my Laundry in their restroom and hang it out to dry. Charge my appliances. Plan out my itinerary. Do social media for you faithful folks. Have Lunch. Cycle some more. Find a nice place. Pitch my tent. Have Dinner. Read a bit. Sleep.

 

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First Week – Amish-on impossible?

So this first week didn’t exactly go smoothly.

Despite the excellent conditions I found myself in in New York (thanks to Kamel and warmshowers) I did have quite a few obstacles to overcome.

Not helped by my natural tendency to go and get myself into difficult situations (toll roads, floods, shitty bikes) I do think with hindsight that things could have gone much worse.

All in all I cannot complain, I can keep up physically, and should be able to adjust the details (GPS, gear, personal idiocy)

Now we’ll have to see for the musical side of things, because it is also and foremost a musical project. It turns out to be quite difficult to fit in collaborations when cycling an average of 90 kilometers a day, and the few I have done, as well as some musical goodies I prepared, will have to be edited before you can see them.

But, luckily I was a little ahead musically before leaving, so every week there will be a musical score. The first one is here:

Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan Cover)

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It is not like me to read too much into covers, except if it’s “With a Little help from my Friends” by Joe Cocker, “Your Song” by Billy Paul or “Candy Says” by Anthony and the Johnsons. (Yes, I am aware I left out “Hallellujah”, “My Way”, “Hurt” and quite a few more, we can discuss it if you feel like it) 🙂

Despite it being a cover, this song means a lot to me. The lyrics of course and because it is the first Dylan song I ever heard (talk about a musical right hook to the left ear followed by an uppercut to the other side…wtf is this organ intro? this voice? the randomness of phrasing? I needed to listen to it three times to get anything of what was happening)

But foremost, this cover means a lot because when I recorded it at AndromiDen studio in L.A, I’d just been through an emotional roller-coaster, hit rock-bottom more times than I can think and had just gotten over myself for the sake of the recordings. And after a tiresome day of recording vocals, knackered and emotionally wired, I just stumbled across this particular interpretation. We decided straight away to record it, with just a joint, two mics and three takes.

I don’t think I have ever reached such a degree of honesty in a studio. When we tried to re-record it a couple of days later, better rested, well-equipped etc, I couldn’t summon any of the emotion I had felt and was unable to replicate the state of complete self-abandonment that I felt while recording this version.

Day 7 – August 23rd: Manchester, MD-Germantown, MD – 70km

And it’s on with the spokes. The first one I’m lucky, the guy in the bike-shop fixes me up with a new tire and a complete check-up, free of charge. The second one as well, and though the third one follows suit, I decide to stop tempting fate and get the equipment to fix them, though it’s a really complicated procedure, and I’m not sure I can do it (they basically “tune” the spokes). In the end I will have to buy a new, heavy-duty wheel anyway, three days later.

As for Washington, DC, it’s express visit (White House, Capitol Hill, Lincoln Memorial) and express departure. I should really stay longer, but it’s too early for resting in the trip and I wanna get away from cities, although this one proves to be better than I expected.

What I learnt from this day: If you don’t learn the basics, life will keep putting a spoke into your wheel

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Day 6 – August 23: Bowmansville, PA – Manchester, MD

And it’s on with the flat tires. First one early in the morning. I get to the next building of that weird reserve in which I pitched my tent, despite the signs telling me not to trespass (but if I heeded those kind of signs, I wouldn’t pitch my tent much). In this case however, it turns out it’s a penitentiary facility for minors. A lot of rapists and murderers and such. They are happy to help me though (the staff, not the rapists). Couple of kilometers on and I’m flat again. Hitch a ride to the nearest gas station. Change the tube. So badly it explodes two kilometers onwards. Next one holds for the day.

What I’ve learnt from this day: When you get tired of wasting time you find yourself learning the essentials

 

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Day 5 – August 21st: Columbia, NJ – Bowmansville, PA -100km

As mentioned before, the itinerary has been quite disappointing so far…it’s a lot of highways and interstates and breathing in exhaust and the sweet-sickening smell of run-over animals’ carcasses that litter the side of the road (so many it is quite frightening…with vultures getting in on the fun and being run-over in turn…I spare you the pictures.

All of which doesn’t really add to your average bikers happiness, especially because this particular itinerary of supposed “bicycle lanes” (pretty much every lane that you can ride a bike on if you don’t mind near-death experiences involving 16-ton-trucks, noise and pollution) adds a couple of hundred miles, leading me down the Atlantic Coast (not the most straightforward way to go about crossing from East to West)…So although I subserviently do as instructed and stick to the plan, already the seed of discontent and rebellious divergence is planted in my mind and growing…I will act on it and divert from the road soon…and pay the price…

 

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Day 4 – August 20th: Conshohocken – Columbia, 90km

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Slowly I’m starting to get into the rhythm, I’m less apprehensive of my bike, though still worried and dreading the moment it starts to play up. I’m in Amish Country and though I don’t realize it at that point (preoccupied that I am about my bike and the moment it starts to play up), there is something Edenesque about some (admittedly small) sections of my itinerary. The produce stands are amazing, and I eat the best Tomato I’ve ever have tasted and a jar of Blueberry Jam that provides me with Breakfast happiness for two weeks and 2$50

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Day 3 – August 19th: Hopewell- Conshohocken, 60km

Terrible Day. It starts pouring in the afternoon and barely stops all day.
I make it a short day (after the Sourland exertion the day before I need it).
I settle down in a Park and because I’m unsure about my being allowed to camp I try to get away from he main road, close to the river. Somewhere an alarm bell rings in my head because I’ve had some misfortune happen to me in Uruguay that involved heavy rainfall and a lake that decided to go beyond its limitations like a newbie cyclist attempting a cross-country on a Chinese bike. But I’m tired and I choose to ignore. Until I wake up in the middle of the night and realize I’m inside the river with my tent. It’s barely believable because the rain and water stopped just short of infiltrating the tent itself, but when I step outside I’m to my shinbones in river. So I do a midnight rescue mission, nettles stinging my feet, dragging the stuff to safety, cursing myself and the heavens. My stuff smells of river, dirt and humidity for the next couple of days and I’m really happy with the way things are starting off.

What I’ve learnt from this day: Sometimes you have to able to read the signs…(seen the next morning)
And: Ignoring the rising tides won’t keep your feet dry

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Day 2 – August 18th: Summit – Hopewell, 80km

Next stop is supposed to be Neshanic. The itinerary, loosely based on Adventure Cycling Association’s maps of the Atlantic Coast Trail, a bit of Google Maps and a lot of approximation, has been mapped out a couple of months before.
One “fellow” cyclist sends me in the wrong direction, blatantly on purpose. Add a couple kilometers. When I finally arrive in Neshanic, it’s not even a town, there’s nothing there. Add a bit of discouragement.
I get lost and have to cross Sourland Natural Reserve, with perversely steep climbing slopes for kilometers on end. Add bone-crunching exhaustion.
But then, while I am halting to take a picture of a very Dylanesque train-track sunset, a girl stops and puts me up with one of her friends, Jacob. Turns out he’s an avid cyclist (crossed the US, Europe, West Africa) and a splendid human being, organic farmer, conscientiously opposing the madness of industrial food production in the US (Personal Note 4 for more on that subject).
Add a sense of destiny (it was THAT minute, at THAT precise crossroad), add a delicious dinner, add a restful night.
But all hippy-di-hippy good sentiments aside I just added a day’s worth of cycling after only two days on the road. I let you do the math…

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Day 1- August 17th: New York – Summit – 70km

7 glorious days within walking distance of Central Park, the Empire State Building and Times Square, but I am itching to get going. After much hesitation, false hope and wavering I finally get the bike and am ready to set out. When I finish packing my stuff on it, it is so heavy I can barely lift it an inch and the first tentative pedal strokes feel like wading through solid apprehension. I won’t talk about the bike itself too much cause I feel there will come a day when I will rue my miserly tightfistedness and I want plausible deniability. Suffice it to say, I didn’t go for the high-end model, and whatever material woes will befall me I will have to bear with stoic resignation, you get what you pay for and pay for what you get yourself into.

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So first destination Summit, New Jersey, a bare 30 kilometers and a ferry-ride away. Except I want to swing by the Gaslight before leaving (the Cafe where Dylan started off, remember Llewyn Davis). In the excitement of that and my finally leaving, I miss the Lincoln Bridge and the ferry and have to do a 40 kilometer detour to cross the Hudson River via Washington Bridge. The first climb I have to get off my bike, the steering wheel is wobbling like a religious fanatic from Kentucky.

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I’d like to say that crossing on such a massive bridge is something worth doing an extra 40k and romanticize the thing, but I have three other Bridges to cross to get to Newark. With a cycling lane so narrow it catches my panniers and sends me crashing to the ground, things are looking good. Especially since coming off the bridge I somehow manage to get myself on the tollway towards the Highway and an overwhelming sense of WTF. Riding in the wrong direction, lifting my bike over the railings at one point (apparently with the extra adrenaline coming from massive 16-ton trucks whizzing by, it can be lifted ) I manage to somehow get back on track. By that time it’s nightfall, and I’m still only in Newark, and Newark is not a very comforting place to be in at nightfall. But the summit has to be climbed, so climb I did till I came to it (Summit the town, I’m polysementizing here).

What I have learnt from this first day? That for this trip, if things go bad, there will be literally no shoulder left to cry on…

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Arrival

After much anxiety, cold sweat and sleepless nights, the day of departure arrives.
All my stuff is packed into my Ortlieb Panniers (thanks to www.probiking.com again for the sponsoring) and attached into a single big, massive, plastic-wrapped bundle I can barely lift.

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I skip the 1954 version of Around the world in 80 days in the video selection (that’s professionalism for you)…
Instead I watch a documentary about two guys who want to direct. in order to do so, they decide to help a Rock Band break through so they can shoot a movie about them. About as straightforward and crazy an approach as setting out on a 3800 miles bicycle trip across the US in order to make music. In the end the band turns out not to be too shabby (they are called the Who) and everything’s grand except one of the guys gets strung out on drugs, goes crazy and dies and the other never actually gets to take part in the movie that is eventually made (something called Tommy)
The other documentary I watch is called “Merchants of doubt”. A scary thing to watch, though it explains a lot. For my thoughts and opinions on this and other documentaries, go to the “Private Note” Section, TPN 3.

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In Philadelphia, secondary examination from customs, a couple of hours of waiting, the complete examination of all of my luggage (remember the carefully bundled Panniers?) and an hour-long interview.
Have to tell the lady repeatedly that I am not a homeless person (despite the tent) and that I am not planning anything dodgy (despite the beard). Feeling like I’m back where I left off, with America tossing me about and senseless, I spend a rather terrible night/morning in a shitty Brooklyn Youth Hostel.

But then it turns out that the person I contacted on Warmshowers (Couchsurfing for cyclists) is an incredible person, a very friendly human being, a composer, who puts me up in his 8th floor Manhattan apartment for seven days.

 

Manhattan Sunrise
#in80daysacrossthestates

Morning runs along the car-free Park Avenue and Central Park, relaxed shopping expeditions to purchase the last of my items and general carelessness almost make the cynic in me lose sight of the artificiality of it all.

 

Morning run along park avenue...

 

On the menu: Central Park, Times Square, Empire State Building and Central station, but also more personal: Chelsea Hotel, Dakota Building and Highline.

 

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Unfortunately Rob (Fraboni) had an accident, so we won’t be rerecording the cover version of Like a Rolling Stone“…

But I’m not sure I can better this version recorded at AnrdomiDen Studio, Passadena anyway, and Rob is well, so that’s the most important…

And with a SOFAR concert to top it all off, I can’t complain, that’s as good a start as I could hope for.

 

So far, so good

Preparation

Preparation:

So I have 3 months to prepare for 3 months of cycling
While I’m in Paris, preparing the administrative side of things, I clock up 150 kilometers of running the first month, the second month 200+.

Exit weed, cigarettes, alcohol, coffee etc…the list is more to vent my self-righteous and annoying self-satisfaction than a radical upheaval, it’ not like I lived like a rock’n’rolla before…

Then Cycling: 40 to 80k daily for two weeks before attempting my first challenge:

ViaRhona from Geneva to Lyon, 240 kilometers with three segments earmarked “expert” by the website.
Barely made it out of the lift with my overpacked bike.
After 10 kilometers the shift-cable breaks, I don’t have the right tools to fix it.
A very nice fellow gives me his Torx Keys and saves my day and week.

A video of the follow-up three-day preparation in Germany:

Second trip through the Bergische Land in Germany.

The new material (I will spare you an exhaustive list) all neatly stashed away in the Ortlieb Frontroller and Backroller Panniers, kindly sponsored by www.probiketouring.com, a huge thanks to Bertrand Scaramal.

150 kilometers in 3 days and enjoying the sceneries and lakes of Nordrhein Westfalen

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