My journey came to an end yesterday. Far too quickly the memories, the calm and the focus from the road are fading. Words are already becoming far more difficult to craft. Was it all just a dream?
Rolling up to my house, I paid careful attention to my initial reactions, my first feelings. In ways, it's nicer here than I remember. In other ways, it's some of the ugliest scenery of the whole trip. Walking into the house, the din from the racks of servers I manage there was very disquieting. Stress. There is so much stuff everywhere.
I've come to understand very quickly that I am more affected by my surroundings, by my environment, than I would ever have allowed myself to accept. My old man always considered that weak, so I learned to deny this fact about myself. I walk through the house thinking about the man who was imprisoned here for so many years. Poor bastard.
I couldn't think with the din of those machines, so I'm now sitting at my Starbucks in College Park. There are familiar faces here, Thanh and Jonathan, who welcomed me back with big smiles. Yun, a good friend who helped watch for things while i was gone and who detailed my car, just arrived. He's a very good guy.
Back three days which already seems much longer ago ...
After an early breakfast I donned my odiferous leathers, packed up my gear which by this point has become a well practiced motion and continued on my way in the heat along Route 6. Crossing a bridge, I came upon a scene that captures how I see Pennsylvania.
Very green. Hills. Small quaint towns situated inbetween trees and not the other way around.
It was hot and the traffic was still ever present. I cooked in the heat.
Traffic let up a bit a few miles on and I started making good time. The geriatric drivers doing 10mph under the speed limit were no where to be found. The breeze felt good.
I clicked off the 50 miles to Wellsboro in no time flat.
I was pretty well cooked and bathed in sweat. In addition I needed to get gas so I stopped at a gas station, grabbed a couple huge bottles of water. Looking up, there were interesting clouds overhead.
At this point I was only a few miles from the so called Eastern Grand Canyon. There is an observation tower on the edge of the canyon from which you are supposed to be able to see 100 miles out. My intention had been to go see this but I missed the exit and found myself in one of the state parks around the canyon. After all the incredible landscapes and beautiful scenery I have seen while Out There, this seemed more like a small ditch. Then again, for the East Coast with all it's gentle slopes this is a huge canyon. Calling it a "Grand Canyon" is overstated, but it is nevertheless beautiful and worth the trip. The lower elevation and the fact that it's a lower latitude East Coast feature means that the vegetation is different. There's little that beats the kind of dark lush impenetrable forests we have here.
Meandering about the park in the heat and being eyed suspiciously by young children as they scurried about I came upon a trail head.
It's 90+ degrees outside with something like 1000% humidity so my former genius leather clad self thought, "Hehehe. I remember Telluride. 'Note to self, down is harder than up'. I'll do down first.". Of course, I failed to take into account that down is harder than up only a motorcycle.
For some reason, the option of not going down the path never really dawned on me.
I did, however, have the foresight to ask a very nice shop keeper whether I could drop off my helmet and jacket for safe keeping. He very nicely agreed to hold on to them for me.
So my odiferous leather pant clad self started the easy stroll down hill. I found myself wondering, not really knowing, "At what point does a stroll turn into a hike?". I still don't really know. I figure if you don't have a backpack filled with survival supplies, it's probably a stroll and not a hike.
The environment here really is gorgeous. The canyon walls are steep with what I guess is slate rock sticking out in places. Trees can be seen eeking out a precarious existence on the outcrops.
I happened on some other park visitors and offered to take a photo of the whole lot of them. They returned the favor.
"Unlike getting eaten by grizzly, getting crushed by boulders is thankfully not on the list of disallowed activities, so I can have some fun.", I thought chuckling.
It was pretty hot and I had figured out that if I unzip the transit suit pants a bit around the ankles it was much cooler. My legs were started to hurt and tremble a bit.
There had been a lack of rain in this area so the waterfalls were a mere trickle. The slate strata made for an interesting stepped effect.
The path continued it's slow descent. As I strolled through these woods I found myself remembering how much I like walking in the woods. "A requirement! If I ever have another girlfriend", I thought chuckling artificially trying a new thought pattern on for size, "she's gonna have to like walking in the woods with me."
Requirements. I've always been loathe to think about "requirements" when it comes to human beings. So many people I know "shop" for significant others, friends or other connections, the way they shop for a car. They have a check list. I guess those are the kind of people for whom dating sites work. I am not one of those people.
I'm just not someone that thinks about "requirements" when it comes to human beings. This is not just when thinking about romantic entanglements but also just in terms of the kinds of people in general.
Being open, being flexible, being willing to defer opinion and just accept regardless of how uncomfortable it is has been such a powerful part of what I've tried to learn while Out There. I never imagined I could meet and get along with so many radically different people with backgrounds and viewpoints so far removed from my own. Many times I've had to stray far outside of my comfort zone and stretch the limits of what I think is acceptable. I've even broken some of my most core Artificial Rules and now I Feel differently.
But if I had kept to my artificial "requirements", I would never have had these experiences nor would I have learned what I so desperately needed to. There's a lesson in here somewhere and maybe not just for me.
There is, however, a fine balance. There are still many things I won't accept or tolerate, but there are fewer of them than before and they are more along my true core values as opposed to my fear of consequences.
In places the walls of the canyon were impressively steep.
I made it to the canyon floor.
So beautiful, but hot so very hot. I was pretty much cooked by the time I got here.
I walked down to the river.
It's a canyon like so many others I've seen, just much greener.
It was at this point I began to curse my former self. My former self had decided it was a good idea to stroll down 1500 feet. My current self now had to suffer the consequences of this ill-begotten choice.
Did I mention the steps? A little girl who passed told me that there were 263 steps. Did I mention I was wearing leathers? I unzipped the sides of the leathers even more in a vane attempt to cool down.
I climbed back up pouring sweat and getting hotter and hotter. At one point, I decided to take a short cut and scramble up vertically for a bit. I was completely wiped out by the time I reached the top. Unfortunately, there were bacteria warnings on all the water fountains so there was precious little water to drink and I had no change for the machines.
My thought had been to leave quickly but I was in no shape to ride. I had a little bit of water on the bike which I went to get. A couple with whom I had crossed paths on the way down greeted me in the parking lot. "I can't believe you're already up here. You must have been really moving!", the woman exclaimed. "I guess I went down and up in 1:15.".
Maybe I had been moving too quickly. Her husband, Jay, is a electronics engineer and designs computer circuitry.
"I've been programming for about 35 years now.", I said to which she commented, "Oh, you two will have alot to talk about. I think I'll go sit in the shade".
"I started out at the age of 7 learning the machine language instruction set of the Texas Instruments SC/MP processor.", I said which really got his attention. He was an old school engineer who was in the industry as well back in the day. Very few people my age go that far back.
We talked a bit about my trip. I mentioned Camp Coldfoot without mentioning the Dalton Highway. He had been following the Ice Road Truckers show so immediately knew quite a bit about the area. He talked about his wife and how good she had been in getting him to slow down a bit. "At this age I'm only doing about 55 hours a week. I used to think nothing of working 80, 90 or even 100 hours a week.", he said. This is all too common in the computer industry. Since all we do is sit around in front of a keyboard few outsiders understand that it's work and takes effort.
I too have done far too many stretches of months and months on end of 80, 90 and 100 hour weeks. For what?
"With all those hours I've spent in this technical and somewhat exclusive domain, it leaves me with little to talk about. How many people are out there that are actually going to care about stories of developing software? In the end, it's the times that you lived that give you the stories to tell", I said. "Exactly.", he replied.
We talked about money for a while, about generational differences, about senses of entitlement.
In some ways I found myself thinking that what I've been doing is very scary. I've put any and all sense of obligation, duty and work on hold. I realized since I was 7 years old these 75 days have been the longest stretch of time I've taken off. Since I was /7/.
Then again, Phil's words continue to echo, "You are very fortunate.". Yes. I believe I see that, despite all the life that has passed me by.
The truth is, if I can hold any fear of the future at bay, I could turn around and go Out There for another year or maybe even two if I wanted to.
Jay and I actually talked for quite a while. It may have been a couple of hours. He talked about trying to teach people, "I know what I want to say and what I want to get across but I get so frustrated when they don't get it.", he mentioned. That got me to thinking about a conversation I had with Valerie of what goes on inside the minds of technical people, software developers and engineers, when they work and why it seems like they don't have "social skills". I was thinking I should write an article on that topic from both perspectives. I've spent a great deal of time trying to get over my own "technical bent" and see things from very different perspectives.
It has not been easy.
We parted company. I was still pretty cooked and decided to bail on the tower. I rode out with the intention of finding a gas station and convenience store and drinking a great deal of water.
I came upon a station and parked my bike near the door and purchased a bunch of water bottles. I was fully intent on performing the time honored motorcycle ritual of loitering at the gas station when I noticed ...
So I sat down on the ledge in front of the sign and proceeded to illegally loiter with reckless abandon proud of my act of rebellious defiance.
"Good Geeks Gone Bad.", I thought as I laughed aloud maniacly. Passers by avoided me a bit more than usual.
After drinking copious amounts of water and, wisely, diluting it with even more coffee I headed off. It was much later in the day than I had wanted it to be. I was supposed to meet Rachel in Philadelphia the next day but she was more than 250 miles away from my location.
I wanted to do some good roads. On the map I had noticed routes 144 and 44 heading south from route 6. It looked like they might be good roads. Despite the lack of time I decided to keep with the plan and do the little roads. After the days of traffic, heat and suffering, I'm glad I did.
Finally, some good roads.
Route 144 turned South off of Route 6 and headed through the Susquehannock State Forest. I rode on for hours hardly seeing a single car. It was a wavey curvey beautiful road. The pavement wasn't quite to the quality of what you see in the Smokey Mountains but the scenery was comparable.
Most of the trip has been about scenery, introspection and new experiences. Roads out West are often too treacherous to really have fun on. Corners inevitably are covered in gravel because it doesn't rain enough. Large critters often camp out in the middle of the road.
But here in the East on roads like this it's about pure motorcycling enjoyment. I will have to take a long weekend and ride these roads again. Maybe I can talk Duncan or Josh into joining me.
Route 144 turns into 44 and the fun continues.
There were hills and valleys, all covered in trees.
Unfortunately there were few places in the really curvey bits to snap photos. 10mph corners and 25mph switchbacks were not uncommon.
There were sections of forest here that were so dark peering into them all you could see is blackness only occasionally interrupted by solitary beams of sunshine that penetrated the canopy in the distance. "Mirkwood.", I thought.
Pennsylvania has always appealed to me.
In places you could get a sense for how hilly this terrain is. After being out West I have a hard time calling them "mountains", but I guess technically they are.
I eventually found my way back to the Interstate and started making some time. By the end of the day I had ridden well over 300 miles, most of them on wonderful back roads.
It rode all the way to Allentown but all the hotels were booked solid. They sent me over to Vogelsville, or some such town, where I did manage to find a Comfort Inn with some vacancies. Tired, thirsty and very hungry I made a mad dash over to the only grill in town that was still open. Demonstrating compassion for my fellow human beings I sat as far away from everyone else in the bar as I could.
The bartender was very kind and asked me, of course, where I had been riding from. She too had watched the Ice Roads Truckers show and when I mentioned I had ridden the haul road she said, "You're crazy!".
She would come back by the table every once in a while and ask me more questions about the trip. Unlike many of the places I've been to in Pennsylvania this woman had a very hard core work ethic. That's something I always hold in high regard. Unfortunately, I've forgotten her name.
I went back to the hotel with the intention of writing but between scrambling down and up canyon walls and doing all those back roads in the heat I was completely wiped out ... I was asleep before I knew it ...