Archives For September 2013

Fahrenheit 66.74

September 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

It’s 4:35 A.M. and I am awake. The swim up the Hudson starts soon and I shower, pack, check out and head to the Grand Central taxi stand to meet up with Katie and Krista. I check the event website for the last time and confirm today’s water temperature. 66.74. I decide to leave the wetsuit in my suitcase.

New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Grand Central terminal takes a break from 2 to 5:30 in the morning. Standing on 42nd street I watch the partiers from last night sit along the window fronts waiting for the doors to open, chilly in short dresses and bare feet holding high heels in their hands. The scene is made all the more confusing by the line of customers who have waited overnight to buy the latest iPhone at a nearby store.

Krista and Katie arrive and we catch a cab to the 79th Street boat basin. We are early and stop at McDonalds and Starbucks for a quick breakfast.

We make it to check in, get our caps and numbers and listen to the simple race briefing: “That way [north], that way, 10 K. Stay near the marks.” A right side breather’s dream.

We start in asssigned waves shortly after sunrise. It is colder than last year and the water is dirtier. I taste petroleum from the boat basin to the bridge. The current is kinder though, and I improve on last year’s time significantly.

We celebrate our accomplishments over lunch with an old friend from this year’s Potomac River Swim and a new friend who recently swam the English Channel. We take the A train to 42nd street and bar hop until our bus leaves.

Along the way I teach a bartender how to make a perfect Martini. Three times. It has been a very good day.

I shot the cover photo on this web page last year just before I swam in the Hudson River from 79th street to beyond the George Washington Bridge. Today I am traveling north with four friends to do it again.

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We are on the 1:45 Megabus from Baltimore to New York and will cross three rivers along the way, each of which brings back special New York memories for me.

With 150 miles to go, we cross high above the Susquehanna River at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay. I grew up on this river in a small town called Sidney in upstate New York. In junior high, after reading Huck Finn, my friend Jim and I built a small raft using discarded styrofoam packaging we found behind the Honda Motorcycle dealership that briefly did business in the village. Our plan at the time was to raft south for a few days to see how far we could travel on it. We lost the raft to a heavy rain storm and loose square knot and that adventure ended before it began.

In years to come, I would canoe many miles of the river, first in Boy Scouts and then later in annual canoe races with friends from high school.

Shortly after leaving Maryland we cross the Delaware River into New Jersey. When Abby was younger, we canoed the river along the border between New York and Pennsylvania with other classmates and their fathers. We slept in lean-tos, made spaghetti and meatballs for 16 over a camp stove in the pouring rain and visited the site of Woodstock in nearby Bethel. It was the first of several memorable canoe trips I would take with this group.

We end today’s trip crossing under the Hudson in the Lincoln Tunnel. I have not yet canoed this river but, if all goes as planned, by this time tomorrow I will have swum it twice.

Six of us made the trip last year and all but one have returned to do it again. We drove to my sister’s house in New Jersey the night before, awoke early and took a train to Penn Station. A short subway ride later we were at the start point. We registered, were given color-coded swim caps and had numbers drawn on our arms in black marker.

The conditions last year were perfect. The timing of the tides allowed us to start around 9:30 in the morning and the water was warm. By the time we entered the water the tide had shifted and was pushing us quickly north towards our destination a little over ten kilometers away. It was a wonderful day spent with wonderful friends in a wonderful place.

I expect it will be colder tomorrow, but just as nice.

My favorite bike when I was a kid was a three-speed, banana seated, Schwinn Stingray that looked something like this:

I used it and several bikes that followed to get around the small village where I grew up and the college campuses where I studied.

I bought my first road bike a little over three years ago and shortly thereafter started attending the monthly Rando Ramble rides organized by Bob Wagner. I never truly loved cycling until I started riding the Rambles. The Ramble riders have taught me how to be a self-sufficient, courteous and safe cyclist. The treks laid out by Bob have shown me Maryland at its best, from its quiet back roads to its busy bike trails. Together our group has biked to the heart of the District of Columbia, to the northern and southern shores of the Chesapeake Bay and miles beyond the Pennsylvania border. We often start these rides over coffee and bagels and, whenever possible, end them over beer and stories.

This month’s ride was a 42 mile ride into and around Baltimore ending with a picnic at Charlie’s Catonsville home. The first leg takes us to Jimmy’s Restaurant in Fells Point for a late breakfast. We get there using the bike lane along Frederick Road and the Gwynns Falls and Middle Branch Trails. From Harbor Hospital we turn north and cross the Hanover Street bridge on our way to Fort Avenue. We circle the Inner Harbor and bounce our way over cobblestones into Fells Point.

From Fells Point we cycle east and then north to an ice cream shop in Mt. Washington. After a quick tour of Canton and Patterson Park we climb north using the Jones Falls Trail and the Roland Avenue bike lane.
On the final leg of our journey we bike to the hilltops of Pimlico, then through Leakin Park and finally back to Catonsville.
When we reach Charlie’s house, Mary already has chicken cooking on the grill. We swim in the pool and enjoy some beer while dinneris being finished. It’s a beautiful evening inCatonsville and as I sip Charlie’s home-brewed Arrogant Bastard Ale at the pool’s edge I am grateful that my life’s biking journey has brought me to this fine group of friends.My only regret is that I didn’t keep that Stingray.

 

Facing a long day flying home, I wake early for a run on the beach. I repeat the route I took yesterday, enter the beach at its start, run north for thirty-three minutes and turn around. A fitness program on my phone allows me to play music while it tracks my progress and time. In a nice voice it reminds me every so often that I still cannot run a mile in under ten minutes. At this rate the 70 mile triathlon I have been training for will take nearly eight hours to complete.

The beach is nearly empty this morning. There are a few other joggers but most people I meet are here for a nice walk at the water’s edge. The tide is coming in and I am not always quick enough to get out of the way of the small waves that climb the beach. My running shoes are soon wet and heavy.

I have set the program to shuffle music and despite the randomness the songs always seem to fit what I am experiencing. As I cross under a pier a song based upon an Irish blessing starts to play in my ears.

May the wind be always at your back

And the sunshine warm upon your face.

May the rains fall soft upon your field

Until the day we meet again.

And the roof that hangs over your head

Find you shelter from the storm.

Before the devil knows you’re dead

May you be in heaven my friend.*

As if on cue I come upon an elderly woman facing the sun with her palms raised. Finishing her morning prayer, she makes the sign of the cross, turns slowly and walks away.

The next song starts and I continue jogging north.

* Devil Knows You’re Dead by Delta Spirit

 

Heading home alone

September 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

I left Abby in Obzor at 4:00 PM and drove back to Burgas. I fly home to Baltimore tomorrow.

Over the last eight days we have traveled more than 2,000 miles together from London to the Black Sea. At the start I expected that we would spend this time in long heart felt talks. We didn’t. Those talks belong to an earlier time when I was the only man in her life. I am not that person for her any longer. Instead, we spent most of our trip in quiet reflection as we watched Europe pass by our train windows. She drawing sketches and sharing her experiences with her boyfriend by email and I writing these blog entries.

In earlier trips I was depended upon to make sure everything was in place. On this trip I travel with a partner who did more than her fair share. From finding a conductor to let her on a locked train to retrieve the bag containing my passport I had left behind, to finding great restaurants and an amazing bike tour, Abby’s contributions made the trip better.

When she announced that she had obtained a grant to attend this program I was nervous. This was not like the organized school trips overseas she had taken before and I was frightened of the prospect of her traveling to Bulgaria alone. I realize now that she could have done this without me and has sacrificed some of her independence to let her worrisome father tag along to unnecessarily make sure she made it okay.

We arrived early to the pick up point and waited in a cafe next door. She said goodbye to me there and walked the remaining fifty meters alone. She left soon thereafter already deep in conversation with the people she had just met.

She did not look back.

During our brief layover in Sofia we took the Sofia Bike Tour and spent an amazing morning biking in Sofia with our tour guide Lucy.

We rented bikes from Sofia Bike and met Lucy at the front of the National Theater at 10:00 AM. She rolled up on a Drag mountain bike and for the next three hours led us around the center of Sofia and through its parks.

At the start she advised us that Sofia was not “bike tolerant.” She wasn’t kidding. Bikes were everywhere when we were in London and Paris but there is no real bike infrastructure here. There is a single bike trail in one of the parks that was originally built as a private exercise area for a senior communist official. The trail is still in good shape and is now open to the public but doesn’t appear to get much use.

Bikes don’t share roads here. Most riding takes place on sidewalks and using crosswalks. No helmets are worn, only sun glasses. There are formal walking trails in the parks but we do not use many of them. Instead Lucy’s tour takes us down smaller and narrower paths. We bike across a four lane high-speed boulevard and even down a ramp to an underground mall, a first for me.

At the stops along the way Lucy tells us the history of her country, its current struggles and the reason for ongoing protests in front of the Parliament. It was a wonderfully informative ride and one of the best tours of a city I have ever taken.

As well as being a strong cyclist and enthusiastic tour guide, Lucy is a kindergarten teacher who works with special needs kids. She has studied English since the third grade, is extremely proficient, and wants to visit the U.S. someday. I hope it happens soon and that when it does she will include a visit to Baltimore so I can return the favor and show her my city by bike.

Thanks again Lucy.

The last train

September 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

From The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria

Day 4, travel from Bucharest to Sofia by daytime train, leaving Bucharest Nord at 12:30 and arriving Veliko Tarnovo at 19:16 and Sofia central station at 22:00. . . .There is no catering as this is just one Romanian Railways through carriage with 2nd class seating only in 6-seater compartments, so bring your own supplies of food, water, and beer or wine. However, it’s a scenic and interesting trip, so enjoy the ride. Expect an arrival an hour or so late.

The train to Sofia is about as far away as you can get from the Eurostar we took out of London just a few days ago. There is no air conditioning so we move from our assigned seats to a cabin with a window that can open. There are few other passengers and we have the cabin to ourselves. We will spend 10 hours on this train to travel 400 kilometers (roughly 250 miles) on tickets that cost a total of $41.00. A 16 mile cab ride from our house in Baltimore to the airport costs more.

The northern part of Bulgaria is beautiful. There are enormous fields of farmland under cultivation, probaly stretching hundreds of square miles. Soon the geography changes and we are riding above the Yantra River valley. We descend and follow it into Veliko Tarnova. As the sun begins to set we pass by and then under amazing rock formations that rise on both sides of the tracks.

It is nearly 10:00 PM and our train trip is just about over. It has gone according to plan and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

As we pull into Sofia, I recall that when I was in high school I thought I would spend a summer travelling through Europe on a Eurail Pass after finishing college. Law school and the Army got in the way and it never happened. Until now.

Sometimes in life you are given a second chance. When you are you should take it.

 

Jogging in Bucharest

September 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

From The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria

Day 4, travel from Bucharest to Sofia by daytime train, leaving Bucharest Nord at 12:30 and arriving Veliko Tarnovo at 19:16 and Sofia central station at 22:00. It’s a tight connection in Bucharest, the Ister usually runs on time but I recommend staying the night in Bucharest and traveling on to Sofia on day 4. There is no catering as this is just one Romanian Railways through carriage with 2nd class seating only in 6-seater compartments, so bring your own supplies of food, water, and beer or wine. However, it’s a scenic and interesting trip, so enjoy the ride. Expect an arrival an hour or so late.

We followed Mark Smith’s advice and spent the night in Bucharest, giving me a chance for a morning jog. The route I pick is down and back the embankment of a small canal that runs into the heart of the city from Morii Lake.

Jogging through Bucharest I get the sense that the transition from a communist dictatorship to a capitalist democracy has not been an easy one. The canal serves no navigational purpose but seems to have been built as a public park or green space, complete with small lovely gardens and playgrounds along the way.

This beauty is offset by the urban decay that starts just across the street from the canal. Many of the buildings there are covered with graffiti and a few car windows have been smashed last night.

There is even a deserted power plant just to the south that dominates the skyline.

Stray dogs are everywhere I go this morning but they do not bother me. I do not encounter any other runners on the canal path and the looks I receive from the people I pass confirm that I am out of place.

Three lanes of high speed traffic fill the road next to the canal and it is rush hour. Just ahead a dog starts to cross. The first two lanes slow, but the lane closest to me does not. I am certain she will be hit and turn away. I wait for the sound of impact but there is none.

Somehow she has survived and is now in front of me, running slowly. I follow awhile and then turn back, happy my jogging partner is okay.

 

The view from Cabin 31.

September 1, 2013 — Leave a comment

The scenery today is magnificent. When I awake we are passing through wooded hills and pastures where cattle and many sheep are grazing. There is some corn being grown, but mostly hay which has already been harvested and put into large circular bales.

We follow the Olt River awhile and then continue through Busteni at the base of the Bucegi Mountains. We will be late to Bucharest but are in no hurry for this ride to be over.