Tuesday, July 4, 2017

7/4/17 (3): Waterbury to Springfield, VT - Jerking the Wheel

Adventures In Waterbury

I wasn’t “getting anywhere” so around 2:30 I abandoned my roundabout in favor the interstate. My initial instincts: solid. The ramp blew. Hard. No way anyone could stop. After half an hour, despite the blister on the ball of my foot barking, I chose to walk the mile and a half thru Waterbury in hopes of better luck with Route 2 from the other end.

These little New England towns are intoxicatingly Mayberry, especially when they crackle in the summer sun with July 4th patriotism! I enjoyed chatting up an elderly couple sitting on their porch who asked all sorts of questions as I waddled past, then another chat with some folks who’d noticed me earlier. These two were stereotypically “New England”, congenial but not “too” nice, and walking away I’d come to see how conspicuous I’d become loitering in their tiny town. One unaccustomed to the appearance of drifters!

Ten minutes later I crossed the wide river marking Waterbury’s southern edge and spied camping spots in the woods stretching alongside the waterway as afternoon inched toward evening. Then came my targeted intersection; one I’d imagined being busy but in reality was anything but. That’s not quite true. The intersection was busy. But 90% of the traffic turned right, right in front of me, and mockingly sped west instead of choosing Route 2, my route, toward Montpelier. I’d later learn why: every year there’s a popular July 4th festival in the next town. But, I didn’t know that then. Therefore: “Goddamn Independence Day! Don’t you know I’m trying to get to Montpelier? Fuck you, America!”

If I didn’t mutter it I certainly thought it. Either way, so much for bliss.

A quiet couple hours of hitchhiking failure later, the sun was dropping and I required stealthy accommodations. Preferably ones whose amenities featured a view of the fireworks and a tick-free sleeping experience. Ticks aside, the river seemed like a perfect place but—thanks to my expedition thru town—the blister had again gone from barking to semi-rabid. Off-roading in the woods, which exacerbated things when I’d left the rail trail to hunt camping spots in Poultney, almost assured that I’d be hobbling another week. Plus, Waterbury now resembled something less appealing than Mayberry, with several curious native breeds of New England Redneck eyeballing me since I’d sat down. My moderately agitated mental state also made every one of them appear in my eyes to be driving their supercharged Hickmobiles down to my riverbank with the sole intention of campblocking me. Acute irrationality? Sure. Then again, I’d just accused July 4th of premeditated oppression and conspiracy, so…yeah.

Other days, I might have simply turned south and attacked the perfectly hospitable Route 2. Not today. Instead I concocted the imaginary issue of having less water than “I’d like” (despite being next to a large river and carrying the water filter I’d purchased specifically for these rare occasions) and began a return trek to Camp Roundabout about 6:30.

All day, July 4th was beautiful; sunny and low-mid 80’s. Perfect! Except that mid-day heat reflecting off pavement and asphalt, thus oozing thru the boots’ soles, makes blisters feel even worse. It’s easier to walk early or late, especially if there’s sun. Like today. The early evening return walk therefore tortured me much less and, not coincidentally, my roller coaster mood rose. The three of us laughed when I again crossed paths with my “New England friendly’ friends and pledged that I wasn’t establishing residency. Not fully convinced myself, I eyeballed Waterbury’s Amtrak station tinkering with thoughts of tomorrow’s trains if an escape pod didn’t arrive. There happened to be a huge athletic complex surrounded by woods close to Camp Roundabout and by the time I arrived back at the general store a plan was in place for the night, albeit one that would certainly be amenity-free. No fireworks. Plenty of ticks.

By now I’d mentally recharged with exercise and resigned myself to fate. “I’m stalled in Waterbury. So? There are far worse places to be on July 4th than this little town.” Plus, the day had been extraordinary! I sat atop a picnic table and struck up a fun conversation with a young couple joking about how it was a tale of two days. My new pals were beginning their goodbyes with assurances that if only they were going south rather than north I’d have my furlough from Waterbury Detention. No. I did not blame Independence Day.

Eric & Neva

Our boisterous chat was heard at the gas pumps. As the couple was preparing to leave, a rather short, nearly exquisite blonde wearing a tie dyed shirt and cutoff shorts slowly walked, almost tiptoed, toward the table. Wondering where this was leading, I raised an eyebrow and with dull disconnected eyes she slowly said, “Heyyyy. Uhhh...Do you, like, need a ride?”

I laughed.

“Well, yeah! I’ve been trying to get to Montpelier all day.”

“Okayyyy. Well…ummm…I need to, uhhhh, see if it’s cool with my…uh… friend first. Kayyyyyy?”

“Wow. She’s fucking baked,” I thought to myself

“OK. Well, you let me know,” I said with a noticeable twinge of dismissiveness, noticeable at least to a someone who's sober, and lit another cigarette. Never was I more certain I’d watch a ship sail with me left planted on the dock.

Turning to my companions-turned-audience; they were by now too entertained by my exclusive production of Drifter Drama to leave just yet; I quietly said, “What the hell is wrong with her?!? She’s baked, right?” “Are you sure you want to ride with them,” the man asked laughing. “At this point I’ll take my chances,” I said remembering the drunks with whom I’ve ridden with great success over the years. “I doubt this is happening anyhow.”

To my surprise, Impaired Cutie was already making her way back. “Heyyyyy, man. He…like…said it’s…cool…so yeah. Right on. Let’s…uhh…go.” A hot Daisy Duked version of Droopy Dog came to mind.

I laughed again. So did my new buddies. We shook hands and I was thankful that I could add this unique experience to the tapestry of their lives. I say that only half kidding.

The driver, a tall skinny kid who looked 21 or 22, opened the trunk for my pack then I slid into the back seat relieved to be on my way. Eric and Neva introduced themselves and announced they’d been drinking. Ha! Really? No shit?

Neva thankfully wasn’t driving and Eric had his wits about him so I settled for an adventure. Without thinking, I offhandedly blurted out, “Just don’t kill me,” referring to Eric’s driving. Neva glanced over as Eric instantly stopped fiddling with his keys, looked in the rearview mirror, and replied, only half joking,”You too!” In the brief silence that followed I remembered the dynamic of our new relationship. “Well, shit. I could have phrased that differently, huh?” With a collective gut laugh we were on the road and I left the hospitality of lovely Waterbury, Vermont behind.

Eric and Neva weren’t a couple. Just buddies who’d driven from near Brattleboro, VT, near the Massachusetts border, to Burlington to see mutual friends and were on the way home after a long weekend. Once on the highway, Neva resumed guzzling the PBR cans collected in a paper sack on the floor next to my feet. I was wrong. She wasn’t high. She was drunk in that way only cute 19 or 20-year olds can be. I never asked her age but she immediately began begging Eric to stop so he could buy her more beer, requests he politely refused. Then she began begging him to stop so she could pee. He ignored that, too. He didn’t strike me as cruel so I assumed there was precedent for this refusal and chuckled.

He drove just fine and Neva eventually descended from her Blue Ribbon stratosphere showing herself to be rather sharp. The first order of business: my drop off. Neva told Eric that I was trying to get to Montpelier. They didn’t want to leave their route so there was a problem with Montpelier: the exit to Route 2. Of course! It led to a limited access divided highway meaning there would be no place to stop and, even if they could, it was illegal for me to walk it.

They were ultimately turning off I-89 on to I-91 south toward Brattleboro and after a day successfully spent on the interstates I felt fine with riding I-89 southeast all the way to the interchange. From there a pivot north to rejoin Route 2 just before it entered New Hampshire seemed simple. I suggested this to Eric and he agreed to drop me at the interchange.

“Ha! Fuck you, Route 2!”

Eric and Neva listened to music and chatted between themselves most of the way but we did have an interesting conversation about relationships and marriage after they learned I’d been with my girlfriend for 15-years. They asked what, in my opinion, the key was. I said I thought it had to do with each person protecting their own individual identity rather than letting it be devoured and absorbed by the other person and/or assimilated into the “unit”. Otherwise one identity is being sacrificed to the other or at the altar of “The Relationship”.

I also drew on firsthand observations of my contemporaries over the years saying that it’s, to be blunt, stupid to get married when you’re 18 or 20, before you have any idea who you really are, and expect it to last for life. People change; if you’re still the same person at 40 as you were at 18 something is seriously wrong with you. Hell, the career-driven dufus I was at THIRTY in no way resembled the obnoxiously rutting mulleted redneck manwhore I was at twenty! And the person I am today is radically different than the 30-year old “radio guy” edition. Realize it or not, we grow new metaphorical skin every decade or so until the fire starts dwindling, the body breaks down, and we eventually give up and begin Apathy’s Death March. That progression happens to both people in a relationship and sometimes these bilateral changes just aren’t compatible. No one’s to blame for that.

“That’s very…wise,” Neva said without a hint of sarcasm or intoxication. I believe she meant it. She was right if she did.

As I-91 approached I was finally bitten by something I’d dodged the whole trip: shitty cell service. Nowhere I’ve been in the country is phone and data coverage as bad as these parts of northern New England. As 1x or 3G data came then went again, I learned, much too slowly, that there were no truck stops at the interchange. No anything! We re-improvised and Eric agreed to continue south until we found a truck stop. Then I realized I’d never seen one in Vermont! Even the place Bob let me out was a fancy gas station. Time to maybe lower standards and expectations. "How about a McDonald’s?"

Fighting intermittent data the entire way, I learned there were almost no exits that had much of anything! And the exits were spread out. It didn’t take long to see that my new “plan” (ha!) was dragging me way further south than intended.

I finally found an Irving, one that qualified as a small truckstop, in Springfield. Aiming for Montpelier, I’d wound up riding with these two almost all the way to their destination near Brattleboro! I got my picture as we said our goodbyes and, while annoyed with my new location and how it related to my “plan”, felt at home. Now the day was over and the evening could be executed according to familiar method. The rest of the situation could wait until morning.

After an hour, I struck up a lengthy conversation with a trucker as we smoked and shared our unique genres of travel tales. He was parked for the night and continuing the next morning toward…wait for it…Maine. We got along well but, as always, I refused to solicit a ride. Unless they’re clinically retarded, truckers know the drill. If they want you in their cabs they’ll extend an invite; if they’re clinically retarded I don’t want the ride! During our conversation I shared this nugget of The Toddzilla Travel Doctrine™ and he emphatically agreed. And didn’t offer! Liability laws, etc.? Who knows. At least he wasn’t expecting the old, “hey man…think I can get a lift” line.

Eventually I had enough context to reflect this most remarkable of July Fourths; how it began at 5am in the weeds near the Canadian border on a Lake Champlain islet, taken me (via cop) to Swanton, then to Bob & Jake, Amy, Waterbury, Eric & Neva, and finally “accidentally” to this wooded truck stop near a little town not far from Massachusetts!

Like Saturday from Poultney to Whitehall, these are the days that keep my addiction intact despite the regular spurts of expectation and control-generated frustration. It’s hard to explain if you’ve not experienced waking up in Point A, having the course of the day play out so bizarrely that you lie down at Point B, a spot holding no hopes of being on your radar just a few hours earlier. I have several, but the most extreme example I have, from 2009, is waking up in the weeds next to the Columbia River in The Dalles, Oregon and collapsing into a bed at Andre’s houseboat early the next morning after zipping up and down the Willamette River in his Master Craft all night! <———Those links: worth a read! Do it! 

The Dalles, OR
Portland, OR a few hours later...

That’s the stuff, boy! I guess that whole “same thing every day” to live in a plush cage is cool too. Wasn’t for me but have at it, Sarge.

After not nearly enough thought, I bedded down next to a fence in some thin weeds between Irving’s massive propane tanks and the woods. I wasn’t exactly over-stealthy. While climbing into the bivy, a trucker showed up nearby to walk his dog. He didn’t see me but his smallish pit bull did and went nuts, dragging his confused owner in my general direction. I couldn’t see his face but everything about the man’s body language said, “What the fuck is wrong with you, mutt?!?” I had my knife in hand by the time he finally corralled Cujo and got a glimpse of my hat’s silhouette poking out from the top of the weeds. He almost ran back to his truck, obviously spooked. I considered it karmic revenge for Waterbury’s rednecks ruining the night’s river camping plans and climbed inside to go to sleep.

I heard that stupid dog yelping from inside his cab all night. “Get a cat, fucker,” I grumbled while climbing out of the bivy to water southern Vermont’s ticks sometime in the middle of the night after waking up for the fourth time.

Maybe a lack of sleep contributed to the first part of Wednesday? Yes. Let’s go with that. Lack of sleep. Love it.