Posted by SCG on 25th February 2013
by Alexander Tolchinsky
The rain fell steadily, and the fog horns kept me awake, for most of the night. In the morning there was a brief lull during which I rushed to pack everything and race around the misty isle, losing my bike cover in the process, to the northern ferry to mainland New Brunswick. And just like the one coming to the island, the ferry, which had already departed, reversed engines and came back for me – saving me from having to wait another hour in the rain.
The rain picked up again after we arrived on land and stayed with me for the next 8 hours – soaking and chilling me to the bone. I had made the mistake of assuming August would be a warm and dry month, and did not bring the proper long-distance riding gear.
Fog rolled heavily along hilly, sparse, granite plots of farmland. There was a deep smell of pine from the endless sea of evergreens through which the road cut long, sleepy curves. It was easy to see why most of the population lives along the coast – where the sea shares its bounty more rapidly than hardened northern soil. I passed few people on the road, there was no hint of traffic, not even in the towns, unlike the coastal road which came to a halt every 30 miles. The rain I was hoping to escape only intensified the further inland I rode.
I was still a few hours out of Montréal, somewhere between the White Mountains and Northern Woods, when I simply had to get off the bike. It was hard to see anything, the road was curvy and slick, and I was wet and freezing. Though it was August, this was not a warm summer rain wet, this was a suck the heat straight from your heart wet. So I pulled into a gas station across from which was a diner, and made my way, if not to warmth, than at least to food and a precipitation free environment. It was already late in the day so I couldn’t afford to stay too long, lest I would have to ride to Montreal in the dark. I left the steed at the gas station and walked across “Main St.” to the diner.
To complement the weather perfectly, I was “greeted” by a waitress who stole no less warmth from the room than the rain from my bones. I needed some patience and understanding but instead found rudeness and curt backtalk. So I sat there, miserable, eating my mediocre burger and drinking my mediocre coffee, and feeling no less mediocre myself. And then a fine example of conversations I would have across the continent began with a jolly faced, goateed young man who sat down a couple of stools away.
“Where ya from?”
It is usually pretty obvious that I am not from wherever I happen to be.
“Well”, I said, “I started in New York. But since I no longer have a home or job there, I’m not sure I will return”.
He had a most peculiar laugh, a “ha, ha” with an emphatic stress on the second “ha”, such that it rang throughout the diner.
“Where ya headed?”, a couple of older guys joined in, Harley riders on days better than this.
“Tonight, I’m just trying to make it to Montreal”.
In a moment when New Englanders drop their typically laconic façade they become quite hospitable, and allow a glimpse into how their ancestors might have acted 400 years ago. The whitewashed colonial houses which are still the predominant structures lining the tiny Main streets and mountain roads of the great nor’easter land, help complete the picture. Though still cold, I was beginning to warm up as we continued chatting about the curse of the rain and the joy of riding.
In turn we started talking about books and the joy of holding and smelling a particularly old one. Mark, the young man, mentioned that he had found a history book from the 1870’s, and noticing my obvious and immediate excitement invited me over to take a look. I was eager to make it to Montréal, but dreaded continuing to ride in the rain, so I accepted his offer. We finished our burgers and drove a mile down the road to a beautiful estate where Mark was the groundskeeper.
Marks little cottage was sparsely furnished, with little more than two beds and a toilet (the shower was a house outside), but he managed to make me feel so at home. Still, he saw that I was still cold and dreading getting back on the road, so he offered for me to stay the night. He had a spare bed and said he would appreciate the company – he made it seem as though I would be doing him a favor by staying!
That is true kindness and altruism: making the recipient feel not as though they are a burden and should be humbled by the granted favors, rather as a fellow Man being treated as one should.
I leafed through the beautiful, red leather bound book for a while, then Mark and I talked, as long time friends might, before I was finally overcome with the fatigue of riding. I have rarely been so comfortable or slept as soundly as I did that night.
The next morning we took a tour of the estate grounds. There were hundreds of acres of fields, forests, brooks with tiny stone bridges, and a scattering of lovely colonial buildings full of beautiful antiques from centuries of New England living.
I left that day feeling the warmth that only making a new friend can bring.
Read more about Alexander’s travels at alexandertolchinsky.com
Trail Dust is a publication of happy-trail.com