Saturday, September 30, 2017

Portland, ME (Third Star!)

South Royalton, VT - Portland, ME (10,540-10,720 miles)

A trout launches into the air and sunlight flashes against a stripe of reddish scales. At the top of the arc, the rainbow opens his mouth and inhales a hovering fly. The Big Kahuna, my instant nickname for this fisherman's dream, easily stretches 20 inches nose to tail. He splashes into the river and disappears with a flick of his fins. My hand shakes so much the tip of my fly rod vibrates like a deranged tuning fork. Attempting a Brad Pitt (The River Runs through It) imitation, I try to snag a fly out of the air, hope to get a closeup view of the hatch. Engulfed in a blizzard of white insects, I miss, try again, miss and try again. Eventually I give up and tie on the closest imitation I can find in my meager selection. I cast and the artificial fly drifts over the spot where the Big Kahuna hides in the rocks down deep.

White River

He spurns my offering and I cast again. Nothing doing. Which doesn't surprise me. My fly looks like a cotton ball glued to a hook, not exactly tempting fare for a wily old rainbow. I try the cotton ball a few more times, then tie on a succession of flies that ends with a piece of green yarn that's supposed to look like an inchworm. The inchworm meets with the same success as the cotton ball. I reel in the slack line and wade out of the water onto the bank.

I'm fishing the White River, where it runs through Royalton, Vermont, and my tent is pitched on a flat spot behind Dave and Judy Lyman's log cabin. I head up through the dimming light to the cabin, catch the couple returning home after a day in the fields. Dave's in his early eighties, tall and thin, and he wears a special shoe to offset the four inch difference in the length of his legs. He walks with a limp and age is catching up to him. Judy is much shorter, and she leans forward when she walks, as though she carries a heavy weight on her shoulders. She has an arthritic hip and her limp is sometimes as bad as her husband's. Native Vermonter's, they split their time between driving school buses and farming. These are salt of the earth people, hard workers, and I admire them immensely.

Dave takes off his John Deere ball cap, runs his fingers through his hair. “Finally got the first cut finished.”

It's been a rainy summer and the grass has been so wet he and Judy have not been able to put up hay with any consistency.

“About time,” I say, with a grin.

They both laugh and Judy limps into the cabin to feed their dogs. I follow Dave to his shop and watch him sort through a collection of bolts. He owned and operated a garage for years, and can fix most anything, which is a fortunate circumstance when you're a farmer with worn equipment. In the summer his life revolves around tractors, mowers, tedders, rakers, and bailers. He uses them, they break. He fixes them and uses them again, a cycle that leaves him little time to rest. I've seen him repair hydraulic hoses, a starter, an alternator, and a bailer, wouldn't be surprised if NASA called him about a problem on the space shuttle.

“No fish tonight?” he says.

“Got skunked.” I twist my neck around, loll it up and down, massage the knot in my left shoulder.

“Neck still bothering you?” he says.

I shrug and remain silent. He and Judy go through life without complaining about their physical pain and I'm not about to give him an earful of mine. I've been chainsawing in the mornings, helping out around the place, and loading logs into the tractor bucket has taken its toll. Yes, my neck hurts, like hell, for that matter.

He finds a bolt that will apparently fix whatever is broken, limps through the darkness to a tractor. He works under a drop-cord light, old hands patiently turning a wrench. I meld into the darkness and head to my tent, cook spaghetti for supper. I think about ways to catch the Big Kahuna, drift toward sleep obsessed with the image of the big fish flying through the air.

I visit a goat farm.


Today, seven weeks into my stay, is my last day on the river. I wade waist deep toward the Big Kahuna's hidey-hole, cast as stealthy a cast as I've ever made. My weighted fly sinks down deep, skimming above the rocks, and I lean forward slightly.

“Come on,” I say. “One time, just one time.”

There it is.

The tug!

I set the hook and the line tightens. My rod bows under the strain.

“Fish on!”

And what a fish it is. The weight is enormous, an immediate strain on my wrist and forearm. I shift my feet on the uneven bottom, wanting secure footing for the long battle ahead.

“Don't break off,” I whisper. “Please stay on.”

That's when I notice the fish isn't moving . . . at all.

Crap, I've hooked bottom.

I lower the rod and wade forward, follow the line until I can see the fly hooked on a rock on the bottom of the river. I take a deep breath and submerge into the cold water, open my eyes and come face to face with the Big Kahuna. He's floating a few feet behind my fly, gazing at me with inscrutable eyes. His tail fin twitches ever so slightly, enough to keep him facing into the current, and his gills extend and collapse with his breathing. I feel a strange empathy for this old fish. We're survivors, he and I, living out our lives the best ways we know how. We're simpatico, two old guys . . . we're . . . I kick toward him, closing the distance, watching him out of the corner of my eye. A little closer . . . just a little . . . another foot . . . a few inches . . . damn, I'm running out of air.

I shoot out my left arm, hoping to ensnare him in my outstretched fingers, come up empty. He's gone, a whirl and dart to parts unknown. I surface and get a breath, go back down and retrieve my fly. He won this one, but I'll be back to this river one day. You hear me Big Kahuna. I'm COMING BACK. Okay, maybe I'm a little obsessed.


Whoops, yes, a head-scratching problem.

I get on the bike seven weeks after I stopped. I've lost my conditioning, put on weight, and added a few pounds of gear. All is well, though, because my neck doesn't hurt. I'm not saying it's as good as new, only that it doesn't feel as though someone is trying to kill me with an ice pick. My third day out I climb over a pass in the White Mountains, barely making it to the top, coast down the other side. The pain is back and I have to back off on my mileage. A few days later, I arrive in Portland, Maine. This is the third star in Ride between the Stars, and I should be in a celebratory mood. Instead, all I want is to cycle out of the city and find somewhere to lie down for the afternoon.

Portland, Maine (Third star!)

Up ahead, a woman wanders along a narrow bike path. She walks the middle of the path, facing the opposite direction of my travel, and I slow to almost a stop while I try to figure out the best way around her. If she was following the rules of the path, which means keep to the right, I'd sing out “on your left” and pedal around her. But she's not. She's aimlessly weaving, as though she's so lost in thought she's forgotten her surroundings. I decide to pass her on the right, where there is the most room, am about to call out when she swerves in front of me.

“Oh,” I say, and apply the brakes. I stop and put both feet on the pavement.

She jerks around and glares, black eyes raking me over. Her voice is shrill and loud. “You're supposed to say something when you go around somebody.”


“On your right or on your left. That's what you're supposed to say.”

I pedal around her. Anger boils inside me and I shout at her over my shoulder. “You were in the middle of the path.”

She shouts back at me, something unintelligible, and I shout right back. I've had enough of rude people and I'm not taking it anymore. Screw her and her inability to walk a straight line down a bike path. I cycle away from her, though the city, replaying the incident over and over, each time firing up inside. I do not like how I feel and take a few deep breaths to calm down. My neck pain makes me extra irritable and I don't need to get into shouting matches with pedestrians. What's next? Flipping off a driver? That's the kind of thing that can get you run down as a cyclist.

I see a bike shop, pull over, lean my bike against the wall.

Drugs, stretching, and time off haven't cured my pain, but maybe raising my handlebars with a stem extender will help. I hope so. This is my last resort.