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NYC to Natick, via Albany

5/28/22

It’s been a long day. Kinda stressful, too. But lots of beauty all along the way.

The stress started last night at 12:37 am, when I got an automated call from Amtrak that my Albany-to-Framingham (just outside of Boston, near Natick) train was delayed. The voicemail was not very detailed or helpful; it didn’t indicate how much of a delay there was, and simply instructed me to call Amtrak to adjust my plans.

Great.

I thought I recalled that Amtrak customer service lines were open until 1:00 am Eastern time, so I called and sat on hold until 1:00, when I gave up and hung up. (I later learned they close at 11:00 pm, but there was nothing in their “hold music” to suggest this.)

So I stewed and had a hard time getting to sleep, wondering what I needed to do. (Get a hotel in Albany? Stay longer in New York? Try to create a whole new itinerary to get to Boston?)

I woke up early so I could call Amtrak again. I waited on hold maybe ten minutes, and then the agent told me that the train would be delayed about an hour and a half.

Really? This was worth an automated call telling me to call them to change my plans? I can deal with an hour and a half delay! (Although I did feel bad for my Natick hosts, Kristi and Ray, who would have to have me arrive later in the evening than they had planned on.)

I said goodbye to Natchra, and biked nearly an hour on mostly pleasant roadways and bikeways, through Queens and then the Queensboro Bridge, then through Manhattan one more time, before I arrived at Penn Station.

I managed to find elevators as needed (whew! No more scary juggling of my rig down a crowded escalator to the platform like in Philadelphia) and loaded my rig onto the train OK. In fact, I followed another cyclist right into the railcar. (If you’re reading this, Cheryl, hi!) Cheryl and I did our best to put our bikes and gear in front of our seats, as directed by the train attendant. We ended up chatting most of the way to Albany, which was fun.

When we disembarked there, she made her way toward her destination of Troy, NY, and I decided to head into Albany briefly for a late lunch. It was my first time there, and it seemed really cute. I wished I could have stayed a couple of nights after all. Perhaps on a future trip.

I went to the all-vegan Wizard Burger for lunch, and got a vegan chicken sandwich.

Good thing I did, because when I boarded the next train, toward Boston, the café car was out of service. (The one from NYC to Albany—a different train—had also been out of service. I was grateful to Natchra for having sent me along with fig bars for the road!)

At the last minute this afternoon, I had decided to use one of my Amtrak coupons to upgrade to Business Class for this trip. I was able to do so smoothly, but overall I don’t know that it was the best idea. It was awkward to board into the Business Class car with my rig. The free beverage that the upgrade entitles you to was worthless, since they weren’t serving beverages (although they were giving out free bottled water and free snacks, and I did avail myself of some snacks).

But the worst part was that two passengers in the row behind me—who seemed to have just met on the train, and who were sitting on opposite sides of the aisle—kept up an unbroken streak of inane chatter for hours. They were not breaking any rules, nor being unduly obnoxious; their voices were not excessively loud. It would have been weird for me to complain to an attendant, or to directly request of them that they lower their voices. But their conversation took the edge off my calm enjoyment of the ride. (One example? They were reminiscing about Steve Miller Band songs—and even singing snippets of The Joker—but couldn’t remember his name, nor the name of the song, so this became another topic of discussion.)

After about two hours of this, I realized there was space available in the coach car behind us. I found an empty seat with a window, and enjoyed the blissful quiet in an almost identical car.

Ah, irony.

At the next stop, I walked back to visit the café car snacks again, and to my delight, both passengers were disembarking in Springfield. I had assumed they were both booked through to Boston. So I returned to my original seat, and enjoyed the setting sun in peace and quiet.

Both of today’s train rides were visually beautiful at this time of year. The first one in particular was amazing, following the Hudson River north: incredible geology, forests, and cloud-filtered sunlight.

Sadly, the delay increased over the course of the day, so I didn’t arrive at Kristi and Ray’s house until about 10:30. I felt bad, since they had had a long day, but Kristi greeted me graciously before retiring for the evening.

I’m looking forward to checking out the area tomorrow. Looks like there are some nice lakes nearby; I think a bike ride may be in order!

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Queens scenes

5/27/22

As you may have noticed, I didn’t do a post yesterday. I think the hustle and bustle of New York has caught up with me after a week here, and I needed the past two days here in Queens to just decompress. Staying at my friend Natchra’s lovely apartment has been a good way to do that.

Old-timey elevator!

I’ve ventured out a bit, but unfortunately haven’t had the energy to really explore Queens. (I’ll need another trip to NYC to enjoy it more! Maybe this time next year; the weather has been nearly perfect.)

But I’ll show you a few scenes. This Sunnyside neighborhood feels beautiful. Parts of it remind me of the kindergarten year I spent in Princeton, New Jersey, which isn’t too far away from here.

Queens feels very urban—it’s New York, after all—so it’s filled with subway cars (one of which I saw someone joy-riding atop, in an example of a very dangerous but growing trend); lots of traffic and pavement; dense apartment buildings; and wall-to-wall businesses… but like other parts of the city, it is also dotted with many small parks and plazas, which provide ample benches and a bit of public green space for rest and contemplation. I enjoyed one right under the subway tracks today.

A small market just a couple blocks away from the building here offered a wide selection of reasonably priced vegan sandwiches, salads, wraps, and desserts; I enjoyed the incredible whoopie pies!

I visited a nearby cemetery, as well, but it felt very different from Brooklyn’s Green-Wood. This one had no benches and no hills, but it was still a peaceful place.

Tonight, my last night here, Natchra took me up to the roof of her 6-story building to look at the Manhattan night sky from across the river. The clouds gave the darkness a cool feel.

I’ve really enjoyed my time here in the Big Apple. I will definitely visit again. (Maybe even take up my friend Leslie on her offer to visit her intentional community on Staten Island, which would mean I had finally visited all five boroughs! Queens was the new one for me this time.)

Tomorrow I’ll board a train to Albany, New York—I’m already looking forward to those wonderful Hudson views that I remember from the same train three years ago—and then transfer to an eastbound one toward Boston. I’ll be staying with a Facebook friend (and her husband, and four dogs!) in Natick, Massachusetts the next couple of nights.

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Cemetery parrots… and onward to Queens

5/25/22

Today was my last day in Brooklyn, and it was a good one. My host Michael and I walked over to the historic—and breathtaking—Green-Wood Cemetery. Michael had told me there was rumored to be a wild parrot flock living there, and that immediately caught my attention.

Some of you may recall that some years ago, I became obsessed with parrots. I learned as much as I could about them for several years, and this culminated with my making a short film about the intelligence—and sad plight—of pet parrots. (Click the link to see the film on YouTube.)

For that film, I chose to interview bird rescuer Chris Driggins because I had seen him on a local news segment in a story about monk parakeets (also called Quaker parrots) in the southwest Washington town of Yacolt. A flock of these birds had begun making their homes in the electrical wires of the town, and the local utility wanted to kill the birds since the nests were damaging the wires. It was then I learned that this particular species of parrot (of the hundreds of parrot species in the world) is the only one that uses sticks and twigs to build a nest like non-psittacine birds, rather than hollowing out tree trunks like other parrots. These nests they build can be enormous—as large as a Volkswagen Beetle. They are multifamily dwellings, kind of like apartment complexes for different families within a flock.

Mr. Driggins managed to convince local homeowners to allow him to place “nest starter boxes” in trees in their yards, to encourage the parrots to begin building their nests there rather than on the utility lines.

So when I heard that there might be a flock of these parrots in the nearby cemetery in Brooklyn, I was even more excited to visit the scenic spot than I had already been.

The walk over to the main entrance, where I understood the nest to be, took us a very pleasant half hour or so. It was another perfect-weather day in New York, and we savored it.

When we arrived at the gate, we could see the nest at the top of the spires, and could just barely make out a head or two of a parrot peeking out. Sadly, my phone’s camera could not adequately capture this, so I’m including a photo here that I did not take, but which came from the blog brooklynparrots.com, where you can read more about the birds and the cemetery.

[Photo credit: Stephen Carl Baldwin, brooklynparrots.com]

After confirming that the parrots were there, we ambled back home through the cemetery.

Shortly thereafter, I had to bid Michael and his adorable kitty Tigger a fond farewell, and make my way over to my friend Natchra’s place in Queens. It is my first time in Queens, and the ride over here was beautiful at times. I’m looking forward to checking out the surrounding Sunnyside neighborhood tomorrow.

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Two Brooklyn parks: industrial + green tranquility

5/24/22

Today I was excited to meet up with a cousin who lives here in Brooklyn. I hadn’t seen her in a number of years. She invited me to join her for (some of the most decadent in the world, OMG) vegan ice cream from Oddfellows at Domino Park, right at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge.

My Manhattan host Noah had pointed out this park to me from the other side of the bridge at the beginning of our Manhattan-loop bike tour. The park is on the grounds of the old Domino Sugar refinery. I enjoyed a nice bike path on my way over there, and my cousin and I caught up over ice cream and then walked the two levels of the park. It was industrial chic, and I liked the aesthetic.

After we said goodbye and I began pedaling south, I got another really cool industrial-chic view: a colorful amalgamation of shipping containers, right next to the bike path.

Before long, I reached Prospect Park again. I had spent time in one part of it on Sunday, in the heat, with my friend Jonah. Today it felt like a completely different place, with the low-60s temps and cloud cover, and in a much more bucolic section of the park.

I love all the natural spaces in New York that help to counterbalance the concrete and population density.

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To Coney Island and back

5/23/22

Coney Island. The name conjures a feeling, a look, an era…

I had never been. I had a sorta-kinda sense of what it was… and I knew it was in New York somewhere… but I had never experienced it for myself.

Recently having learned that it’s at the ocean-bottom edge of Brooklyn made me think I should go check it out today. I went during daylight hours, of course, with no rides running… and not in the summertime… and I was alone… and I’m 49 years old. So, I’m not sure I really got “the experience.” Still, I’m glad I went. And I really enjoyed both the bike ride there and the subway trip back.

On the way down, I stopped at a vegan Asian restaurant called Shangri-La for some veggie-heavy takeout, which I then enjoyed on a shady bench just off the bikeway to Coney Island. Shortly after I started riding again, I came upon a cute linear park, the Narrows Botanical Gardens, which included a small 9/11 memorial Zen garden, a Little Free Library, and an “Air Bee and Be” art piece, among other cool things.

As I continued south on the path, I encountered the visually striking Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, a suspension span (for autos only, sadly, except during special events) that connects Brooklyn to New Jersey.

Soon afterward I reached my destination, and saw the colors and shapes of the carnival rides along the boardwalk.

I soaked in the atmosphere for a bit, then headed out toward the subway station.

It was a really cool station. I loved the aesthetics of both the outside and inside. While buying my ticket, I received a compliment on the Brompton from a friendly young Hasidic Jewish man, and we chatted a bit about how cool the bikes are. I admit I was taken aback, however, when he asked first what it weighed (40 pounds) and then how old I was. When I replied that I would be 50 in November, he said brightly, “Oh, fifty! And you can still carry it…!”

I bade him goodbye then, and huffed it up the stairs as best I could with my geriatric musculature.

When I disembarked the train, I couldn’t resist taking a few photos of the outdoor train platform and the indoor elevator. I will never tire of rail imagery!

I arrived back at my host Felicitas’ place, and said goodbye to her and her cat, whom I had helped to feed while she had been gone for a couple of nights. (If you’re reading, Felicitas, thanks again for everything! It was great to meet you, if only briefly.)

Then I biked the rig about half an hour east, over near Prospect Park, to meet my new host, Michael. I was introduced to his friendly cat as well, and then we spent a few lively hours chatting about a variety of topics. I had met both Felicitas and Michael via Facebook vegan groups, so I had never met either in person until I arrived on their doorsteps. I love how community connection works!

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Erie Basin Park

5/22/22

Today was another hot day (high of 89) and I had lots of administrative and communications tasks to catch up on, so I mostly stayed indoors here in Brooklyn, with the cute-but-reticent kitty I’m briefly cat-sitting for.

But this evening, I did venture out to a nearby park that overlooks the Erie Basin, whose waters flow into the Red Hook Channel, and then the Upper Bay, and then the Lower Bay, and then… well, the Atlantic Ocean! Sometimes I seem to forget that New York is a coastal city, since the “concrete jungle” can feel so endless from within it. But… there is the water, right over there!

So I wandered out around sunset, and enjoyed the blend of fun industrial and natural views.

Meanwhile, this time is feeling like a particularly magical/auspicious part of my journey. I don’t want to go into too much detail—for privacy as well as anti-jinxing reasons—but many cool people and ideas and places seem to be coming together these past few days, in alignment with my dreams for this year’s journey (two-thirds complete already!) as well as my life going forward.

Thank you to all who are reading this. You are all supporting me in various ways— even just by your reading, and witnessing, I receive abundant nourishment and support, let alone those of you who comment, donate, host me, put me in touch with your amazing friends, meet up with me when I come to your town… etc. We are all co-creating this magical journey, and I’m so thankful that I get to share some of my experiences with you.

Here are the photos from tonight’s stroll.

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Central Park splendor, Part II

5/21/22

As promised: more! What an amazing place.

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The splendor of Central Park (Part I)

5/21/22

I had visited Central Park once before, almost exactly three years ago. It blew me away. I spent six hours walking the park from bottom to top. The last 80% or so of that walk took place during a gentle but soaking rain; I was thoroughly drenched by the time I hopped on the subway back to my Airbnb in Brooklyn! But the rain didn’t diminish my initial experience of this incredible place.

When I returned a few days ago, it was a beautiful sunny day in the low 70s. Truly perfect weather. And once again, this place captivated me.

This time I was on my bike, and I pedaled up there from my host’s apartment in the Lower East Side. As I’ve mentioned already, cycling in Manhattan was a bit of a shock to my system. But when I arrived in the park, my calm returned… except for one funny bit of “New York character.” When I had just entered the park and was making my way north on the narrow, one-way designated bike line, I saw a man on a bike heading toward me in that lane, making me a bit uneasy and unsure how to pass safely. As he passed, he addressed me derisively: “Share the lane, four-eyes.” I was momentarily shocked and chagrined—here I was in New York, doing things wrong like a dumb tourist!—but then soon confirmed, via pavement markings, that he was the one violating protocol. (And “four-eyes”? Seriously, dude? As a born-and-bred New Yorker Facebook friend of mine quipped, his skill at insults seems to have petrified in the Eisenhower administration.) I laughed and decided I had officially been initiated into my New York stay.

The rest of my several hours in the park were magical. I took too many photos to fit well into one post, so I’ll plan to do a Part II tonight.

I even encountered a pedestrian in The Ramble who saw my Brompton and struck up a conversation, because just the previous night he had been online looking at them, and had nearly clicked the “purchase” button right then. I told him he should do it; he would not regret it. We talked about the bike, and I let him pick it up, folded, so that he could imagine what it would be like to carry it up to his 5th floor apartment with no elevator. I hope he does buy one!

Speaking of which, Manhattan is crawling with Bromptons. I have never seen so many in one place. I would say that within my first 36 hours there, I saw more Bromptons than I have seen in my entire eight months visiting urban areas around the country so far. It makes sense, because it is such a dense city, with such a robust subway, it is similar to the Brompton’s birthplace in London (in 1975) in terms of what the bike was designed for. It’s fun to see them all over!

Here is the first batch of photos from the park.

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New York Botanical Garden

5/19/22

This place is amazing. I had visited once before, almost exactly three years ago. That visit was kind of a comedy of errors, which ended up with me arriving at the garden with only 40 minutes left until closing time. The admission was $30 (oof) but I didn’t know when I’d be back in New York, and I had spent all day trying to get to this place. At the suggestion of the ticket agent, I hurriedly hopped on their 30-minute tram ride, and watched everything in this 250-acre place while it was narrated. Although ridiculously short, it was still a beautiful visit, and I told myself that next time I was in New York, I would block out an entire day to see it.

Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans. After a very full day yesterday, a less-than-optimal night of sleep (I’ve been struggling with that lately) and a rainy morning, by the time I got to the garden this time I only had two hours to spend. I wish it had been three or four. (Next time!!)

However, that time frame was enough to relax into the experience and really appreciate the staggering beauty of the place. The clouds and recent rain really upped the spring-magic factor, and I just walked around and drank it in.

If you’re ever in New York, definitely plan a whole day to see this gem of the Bronx.

Do you have your own dream or project, and would like some support or collaborative brainstorming about it? Use the green “contact” button above to schedule a one-hour phone or video call with me!

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Evening guided bike tour of Manhattan

5/18/22

Wow, what an incredibly full day! I cannot cover it all here… it might take more than two posts, actually. I’ll have to cover the Central Park stuff in a future post.

Aside from Central Park—where I spent most of the day—there were three main components to the day:

1) Navigating Manhattan traffic, while doing my best to appreciate some of the surrounding views/ambience. (Side note: I saw *so* many Bromptons! Probably more in my 36 or so hours here so far than in the entire rest of my eight months in other US cities on this trip.)

2) Meeting up with someone I met on Facebook in a group she runs for full time travelers and nomads, Heather Markel (we had lunch in Midtown at Plant Junkie)

3) My Manhattan host Noah giving me a 30-mile-loop evening bicycle tour around the perimeter of the island, followed by a wonderful Ethiopian dinner at a local restaurant (Thanks again, Noah! It was awesome!)

I’ll let the photos do the talking. (And please excuse my hilarious helmet hair! If this journey has taught me nothing else, it’s to take my appearance and clothing less seriously, and laugh at myself whenever possible.)

Do you have your own dream or project, and would like some support or collaborative brainstorming about it? Use the green “contact” button above to schedule a one-hour phone or video call with me!

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Want to support my vision financially? I am in the process of manifesting $50,000 in lieu of a “salary” for the year of this journey. You can make a one-time or monthly contribution, or even become a Fairy Godfunder! (Heartfelt thanks to all my patrons and supporters!)