Here's my notes from the LAB Gear Rally in Amherst MA.
This was my first plane+bike trip;
perhaps some of my successes and mistakes will be of use to others.

I picked up the bike travel box from Chapel Hill. It seems like such a LONG way when you drive by car. I'd never used one of these before - thankfully it came with instructions. You have to remove both wheels, the seat and...the rear rack - oh my gosh! How will I SURVIVE with no panniers!?!
OK, calm down - the rear rack folds down so you can put it in the box, just make sure to bring the tools needed to reassemble. The bolts are kinda rusty, so I'll make a trip to the hardware store to get some 5mm allen heads to replace them.
trico iron case
Bike Case

Now, for clothes - one pair of non-cycling shorts and a Tee shirt plus three changes of cycling clothes should do it. Pack the NCBC and Tarwheels club jersies and the NC state flag jersey. (Actually, that was TOO much because I had ordered the T from the ride and there was lots of cool cycling stuff in the vendor area for cheap.)

I brought the fixed gear bike because:
  1. No fragile derailleur to damage in transit, and
  2. Isn't New England Fixed Gear country?
Fixed Gear!

I brought the CO2 cartridges instead of the pump because they're so much easier to pack and pumps are so fragile.

Early morning at the RDU airport. Paratroopers from Fayetteville are spread out with their duffel bags ALL OVER the terminal. Two of them have setup laptops with DVD players - one playing a parody of some science-fiction movie and the other some kind of boxing match. I'm glad to see more around the comedy, the ones watching the boxing match seem a bit "disturbed".

One guy is sleeping with a pilot's helmet with a big red silhouette of Bob Marley on the side. Pretty striking contrast. I'd like to think I'd have the guts to do that.

Southwest airlines - cheap tickets - "open" (unassigned seating). There is no first class, and if you're too big to fit in the seats, they charge you for two! I'm sitting next to a young lady from eastern NC. I comment on her "Bitchy as I want to be tattoo" and we get into a conversation. She's on her way to meet her boyfriend - an ex-marine. (Is that mark on her cheek bone a blackened-eye?) The tattoo should've been touched up, but she was pregnant. Not excited about moving to Amsterdam - nothing to do there...What!?! "What would you want that's not in Amsterdam?" I ask?

"There's no mall."

Then I realize what's going on... "You mean Amsterdam in NY or Amsterdam in the Netherlands?"

"Oh no! NY. Weed's legal in the other one!" I start to tell where else "weed is legal", but decide to let her figure it out.

Change planes in Baltimore. It's still early Friday a.m.. Too early even to call the office to see how's it go. That makes it feel like progress - here I am north of DC already and I'd otherwise have not even made it to work yet...

Bradley airport in Hartford. The original plan was to fly to Bradley with Sridhar and rent a car. Sridhar had business and had to cancel, so I quickly booked a ticket on Amtrak and then realized there was 20mi between the airport and downtown Hartford. Cool, I get to bike - don't pack more than will fit on the bike, but what about the box? The lady at Amtrak said she'd be working Sunday and I could leave it with her. How to get to the Amtrak station with the box?... Oh well, I'll figure it out when I get there. Wouldn't want to over-plan you know.

So, now I'm there - at Bradley. I check with the lady in baggage claim - "Can I leave this box here until Sunday?"

"No...well let me check with my supervisor...okay."

Great! Take the bike out, put it together, hook the panniers to the rack and hit the streets of Connecticut! Just outside the terminal - ask a couple of pilots who are sitting around which way to downtown - they don't know. Just hit the road. Stop at the first gas station and get a Hartford map.

Okay the map shows two Amtrak stations - one north of town, one south. I remember the Amtrak website said it was on "Union" St.. Great - the map shows the one on the north side (close to the airport) is by "Union". Just a few miles. Missed one turn and the road started turning into a highway - double back and go up the entrance ramp. Nice area now, real nice. "Windsor" I think. I get to the station in plenty of time. I could shop around for some CO2 cartridges... It's an unstaffed station...odd... usually you're not supposed to load a bike at an unstaffed station. Check the schedule on the wall - uh oh, my train "The Vermonter" doesn't stop here! Well, if I can keep up a good clip, I can make the other station just in time...

I suspect the people who build train stations have a tradition of naming the street connecting the station "Union" St. - they're probably ALL on "Union".

Windsor Depot
Wrong one!
The neighborhood gets a little worse, and then better as I approach downtown Hartford. Pass under a beautiful arch-way as I near the park in the center of town and the gold-domed capitol building. Checking the time, it's getting tight. I see a pretty lady on the sidewalk and tell her I need a cab to get to the station. She tells me I just passed the Amtrak station! Woo-hoo! That's gotta be the one!
Hartford, MA
Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch
Yes! I enter through the front doors, noting the nice restaurants across the street because I have plenty of time now. Check this - INSIDE the station there's several nice offices including the "Connecticut Bicycle Coalition". Why are they closed?
CTBC office in Hartford Depot
(and my Falcon Fixed Gear)

I check in with the Amtrak ticket counter. They need to redo my ticket because it doesn't include the bike. No problem...but...what? The computer says there's no room for my bike. "That's odd..." the ticket agent mutters, "It's never THAT full. I can't even IMAGINE how it could be... ...Is there something going on in Amherst?"

Uh, well yeah, the LAB rally, but he still doesn't believe it's full. He works with it for awhile, contacts the train, and decides he can ticket my bike to Springfield (next stop) and with a wink, just stay on to Amherst - okay by me, I can bike up from Springfield if I have to.

I go upstairs to wait by the tracks. While there I chat with an older gentleman from down east Connecticut. He's here to pick somebody up on the train coming in from New York. I tell him the train continues on all the way to Montreal from here and he starts thinking about a train trip...

The ticket agent comes up and takes my bike and I get on. I watch from the window as the train starts to slowly pull away from the station and he's still holding my bike on the platform... I KNOW he understands I need that bike on this train... okay the train stops again as the baggage car comes in line with the station. We're cool.

Hartford Mass Depot
Waiting for the northbound Amtrak "Vermonter"

We roll along to Springfield MA and then the skies start turning dark. The wind kicking the trees up and light rain streaking the windows. The weather report had said we'd have some afternoon rain. An Amtrak employee comes down the aisle now wearing a rain coat. I tell her that's a bit like seeing the airplane pilot with a parachute, but she's got to get down to flip a switch and then we head off in the opposite direction - that's why this train has cars with half the seats facing one way and half the other - there's engines at both ends.

We make Amherst and I get a peek in the baggage car. Far from full, mine is the ONLY bike aboard! And there's hardly any baggage in the car - the reservation computer was just flat-out wrong. I hop down, get my bike. A lady with a short-wheelbase recumbent is getting on - "Not staying for the LAB rally?" I ask?

"The what?"

The conductor points me into town and I take off. The rain starts to pick up as I realize that I've got no idea where I'm supposed to go from here, but it's okay, I've got time. Too bad the rain is making this paperwork impossible to read...

I find campus and eventually the building where we register. Sign in and grab some free buttons with pro-cycling messages e.g. "I Bike and I Vote", "Bikes Belong". Now I'm getting giddy with excitement - YES! I'm here - MASSACHUSETTS - Arlo Guthrie! Sheldon Brown! Mass Bike!

I check out the vendor area... there's only about four bike clothes and accessories vendors, one guy selling maps and tours and the East Coast Greenway booth. No bigger than vendor area at Assault on Mt Mitchell. The room is dimly lit and not many people around. I'm starting to get the drift that this ride isn't as big I'd assumed.

My campus map is soaked and my old eyes couldn't even read it real good when it was dry. I'm too excited to pay close attention to the lady explaining how to get to my dorm, but the idea that it very close does penetrate my skull, so I ride around a bit in the light rain until I find it.

I remember they told me no AC, but I'm lucky to be in a corner room (good cross ventilation) on the ground floor and the windows are already open and it's pretty nice in there. "Hey! Whoever had my room last stole the BATHROOM!"

Time cycle over for food/beer. An "Irish Pub" on the strip has a guy sweeping out front. I inquire as to the availability of a good stout and he tells me nonchalantly that the place I want is ABC - Amherst Brewing Company, across the street. "This is more of 'miller light' joint - college crowd." I'm looking across the street and pointing and wondering what the manager inside this pub is making of all this, but the broom guy doesn't seem to care.

So, the "ABC" it is - portabella linguini and a smoky porter. Chatting with the couple at the next table I tell them I'm in town for the bike rally and they tell me they're in town for the "Teddy Bear Rally". I'm not sure if he's pulling my leg, but he's got a straight face... So I'm just hoping my amusement at the notion of a "Teddy Bear" Rally either isn't obvious on my face or isn't offensive. I can't think of a plausible way to feign interest in stuffed animals, so we talk about other stuff. They give me a tip on breakfast - "The Black Sheep Deli"

I missed the "Ice Cream Social" so I bike back to the student union for the "health" comedian. I start chatting with a Jerry from NJ just outside the auditorium door and never make it inside but he assures me the comedian isn't really funny. For a long time, nobody seems to laugh, but eventually he does start to get a good laugh from the whole room every now and then. Jerry and I go find the left over ice cream.

I meet a couple from Richmond. Besides myself, that seems to be about as far as anyone traveled for the rally. People start talking about the "big storm" that came in that afternoon. Seemed like "scattered showers" to me. Either they don't get real "big storms" up here or the storm seems bigger when you're out on a ride far from home. Head back to the dorm and turn in.

Saturday Morning, I find the Black Sheep Deli and it looks great - coffee, baked goods and locally grown organic produce! But it's not open until the ride starts, so I'll have to settle for Bruegger's instead.

At Bruegger's I chat with some other cyclists and finally look at the ride options. I was thinking I probably would do something shorter than the century so I'd have time to explore the town, but "Three State Century" through Mass, Vermont and New Hampshire seems like the way to go.
A Massachusetts Lake
Along the "Three State Century"

It turns out I'm the ONLY one on fixed-gear. The ride starts are "open" - people meet in parking lot #33 and just take off when they've gathered a group ready to go. One guy says he's done the century route five or six times so we appoint him leader on the spot and strike out. About a mile down the road our "leader" takes an obviously wrong turn onto a big highway - we don't follow. I end up with two other guys - one from Maryland and the other from Ohio and we cruise along at a good pace for out of Amherst, down a greenway, across the river and into the woods. One flat and the three of us stop.

That night Jerry tells me (and others confirm later) that there's a problem with the greenway - the top layer of asphalt was made with pieces of broken glass!

The contractor dorked it up either by:
  1. failing to sufficiently grind the glass, or
  2. failing to put the layer with the glass on the bottom
Rest stop #1 in scenic "Historic Deerfield " is a group of people with bottled water, a bag of ice and they're trying to inflate a wading pool to put the ice and water in. For the century riders, it's 60mi to rest stop #2.
Historic Old Deerfield
Rest Stop #1

We make our own rest stop at a really nice little coffee shop / bakery along the route.

We cross into Vermont and it is pretty scenic. The hills never do get any tougher than what we have back at home in the Triangle.
The Connecticut River
separates Vermont from New Hampshire
Later, I flat and our group of three drops down to two and then one shortly thereafter. I relax the pace some and deviate from the course to follow the signs to "Vermont Yankee Visitor Center". Eventually I come to a cool looking old dam across the river and take some photos. Proceeding I eventually realize "Vermont Yankee" is the name of the power plant - Hydroelectric I assume, but then I turn into the entrance and see the concrete barricades. OK, I understand the heightened security at the nuclear plants, but are the hydroelectric guys playing "me too"? The gate opens as I approach - why are they letting me in so easy? But then I see it's opening to let two guards with enormous "Men in Black"-style rifles out. OK, "see ya!" guys. Turns out "Vermont Yankee" IS a nuke plant. I never did see any TMI style cooling tower though...
The Vermont Yankee Power Plant
(Don't mess with the guards)
I stop to take pictures at the Vernon VT post office located at an old mill. Try to ignore the woman swearing at her kids in the mini-van parked out front.
Vernon VT Post Office
Apparently Brattleboro VT is the most likely lunch stop. As we get up that way, the route takes us a long a beautiful mountain lake (okay, they're only 'hills' by Colorado or Swiss standards, but...) I stop by a lumber yard to photograph an interesting DOT sign - it shows three icons: a bicycle, the "skid" symbol", and a RR track. My train, the Amtrak "Vermonter" comes hurtling by.
The Amtrak "Vermonter"
Roll-on bike access (no box required)
We hit Brattleboro and the route points me to the right across the river into New Hampshire, but I take a left to go into town. Right away - this is COOL! I see locals on bikes, locals walking, autos are moving slow... Why? Looks like New Urbanism - TND: "Traditional Neighborhood Development", or, more likely, old Urbanism that got left behind by modern suburban development. I grab a window seat in a nice restaurant and bend the ear of cycling couple from Virginia about TND - see those people walking and cycling? See how the cars aren't getting anywhere fast, encouraging people to abandon them? See how the stores come right up to the sidewalk with windows giving sidewalk pedestrians something INTERESTING to look at instead of a Wal-Mart parking lot? See the apartments above the shops from which people can easily walk to work, walk to do their daily shopping and never fuss with a car?
Brattleboro Vermont
Stopped for lunch
I cross the CT river into New Hampshire, ride the high side along that mountain lake and back into VT. Nobody has ACs up here. Today is "hot" by their standards, but the big floor standing fans that I've seen everywhere from the airport to the garage where I stop for a drink do a great job of making it "feel" cool.
Cross the Connecticut River at Brattleboro
into New Hampshire

Rest stop #2 is tucked alongside an art gallery and a restaurant but offers water only.

Proceeding on into farmland - what's this?!? This big leafy plant? It IS tobacco! "Hey, you're not supposed to grown that! That's what WE do!" They explain that tobacco has long been a product of the "Pioneer Valley" but the tobacco grown here is thicker and only suitable for the outer wrappings of cigars. Havana on the inside, Massachusetts on the outside.

OK, now that I'm chatting agriculture with the locals, I stop at one of those big nets that look like giant quartz boulders when glimpsed from the corner of your eye on a bicycle. There's people inside this net and they explain that it's to keep the birds off the blueberry plants that they are harvesting. I'd always thought of blueberries as being ankle high plants - I think thats how they were in Michigan, but here in Massachusetts they're about eight feet tall. They say the bushes would get a lot taller if they'd let them.

Rest stop three is just a few miles past rest stop two. The "rest stop" is closed, but the fruit stand/ice cream shop is open. One peach and one blizzard later I'm steaming down the final stretch to U-Mass. Towers appear above the cornfields, and I'm there. Somehow the flat farm road reminds me of the brevet start in Spartanburg, SC, but S'burg was a LOT hillier once you got out in the country.

A creek in New Hampshire

I know I'm generally "lucky", but there's only one men's restroom on the first floor, none on the second or third, and several on the fourth, but the men's room on 1st is always vacant when I need it. Grab a shower and hit the "Black Sheep Deli".

The Black Sheep was great - I don't remember what I had, except that it was something middle eastern, humus perhaps, and a good coffee, then back to campus for the LAB "town meeting". I run into Tony from ECG again - I've met him three times now, in three states: DC, NC and MA. I guess I need to go up to Maine next to see him at home. He gives me a paper that seems to indicate that there's some big controversy to be expected to explode at the LAB meeting, so we head over there in time for the Q&A session.

The first questioner wants to know why "lab education was not offered" at this event. The response is "Sorry, let's do it next time". A few more questions, then a big bear of a bearded man gets up and talks about the need for motorist educating relating an incident that happened that day that draws a round of laughter from the entire audience. (I later ride with this guy and he's got his sleeping pad, etc... strapped to his bike and I find out he rode up for PA, sleeping in the woods along the way and is riding back to PA after ride - Way to go! I say let's forget about having "rides" at the rallies - let's just all ride TO/FROM the rally and dance and attend workshops and socialize at the rally) I try to find the questioner from Philly who piqued my interest on a local club rally related issue, but strike out.

It seems kinda hot in the room for the planned contra dance, so Tony and gang head back to ABC with me so I can buy the round of pints that I've owed Tony since DC. More porter and artichoke dip and micro brew samplers.

Surprisingly no bike parking facilities in Amherst. Surprising because (1) I had assumed New England would be ahead of us in terms of bike facilities and (2) this is a college town. We chain the four bikes to the handrails. Concerned about people tampering with them, we carry two upstairs to chain to the handrail where there's less pedestrian traffic. The waiter later asked us to move the downstairs bikes so the band can bring in their equipment.

I believe Raleigh has an ordinance that there should be provision for parking one bike for every twenty cars, but I don't know if it's ever enforced.

Then we head back to the dorms and I try to deal with my slow leak in the front tire. I need this bike in top shape tomorrow so I can make my plane flight on time. Luckily I find Jerry in the hall and he let's me use his new cigarette-lighter-powered air compressor. Jerry drives a school bus and loves to drive, he's got this '88 cutlass land shark.

Jerry tells me about an old fixed speed he had as kid and mentions that it had wooden rims. I'd never heard of wooden rims, but on the train ride home I read the story of a Spanish orphan boy who sets speed records by riding in the draft of a Mercedes - at over 200 gear inches it's impossible to start the bike by pedaling so he has a motorcycle push him up to 30mph and then drafts off the car to over 100mph! To prevent heat build-up he rides on wooden rims!

Sunday. Got up early and packed everything into the two panniers, turned in the room keys and headed out. Did the shortest ride option - about 20miles to Atkins fruit farm and grocery. I missed the Salamander crossing. I hang out with some folks at Atkins and part of the way back, but I excuse myself and pedal ahead because I have a train and plane to catch and need to pick up some CO2 cartridges before biking the 20miles to the airport.

The small town has at least three bike shops, Valley Cycles, Laughing Dog and Amherst bike exchange. Laughing Dog is hidden down an alley way near the middle of town. I get the CO2, have a delicious vegan fruit bar and espresso brownie with coffee at the Black Sheep and head down to the train station. They're just opening the shop and wheeling bikes out to the parking lot including an old Peugeot Mixtie.
Hidden down an
alley way in Amherst

At the deli, I pick up a brochure on Green Power - giving the electric consumer the option of buying power from renewable resources. Maybe they're a bit ahead of us on that issue, because we're still in the planning stages on Green Power options.

I meet a lady on a an OLD terry with down-tube shifters and talk to her about the lack of bike racks on busses in CT and she says she used to work for CT transit and struggled to get bike racks. They finally got a few, but she had to quit her job because the IRS wanted to garnish her wages - she was a war tax resister. I chat with a lady who used to work for transit in Hartford

Chat with a some cyclists at the station: a middle school librarian from Philly, a custodian from a different school in Philly, a local road worker who seems a bit "slow". As a road worker, he doesn't have work in the winter, no income, but a good rest. Also chat with young lady who just finished her master's in psychology and her mother. She's from NJ and checking out Amherst as a place to live. It strikes me as odd that she's looking for a place to live before looking for a place to work, especially with the current rather bleak job market.

I've decided to get off in Springfield instead of Hartford. They tell me it's no problem and send me into the station to wait for my bike, but I'm not letting that train out of my sight until I see my bike come off because it's tagged for Hartford. It's a good thing I waited on the platform because the conductor got busy trying to get the AC fixed on one car and forgot about my bike.

I head out of Springfield and cross the river on 20West, pass some kind of street fair, but no time to check it out, gotta make that airport. The road curves to the right and an exit to the left catches my eye as I start up a big hill. At the top of the hill I pull into a gas station for directions and sure enough, I should've taken the left at the bottom, so it's back down the hill.

I find 75 and head south - the airport is on this road so now I just gotta keep pedaling and stay out of trouble. Somebody told me this route would be more scenic than the route up from Hartford. I suppose it is greener - more rural, but I liked urban through CT better. Maybe I was just in a better frame of mind Friday when my schedule was looser - I could afford to miss the train, but I gotta catch this plane.

I just make my goal - the airport for 4pm, I'm keeping up my speed and not afraid to take the lane going into the airport and up the ramp to the second level. But it turns out I was too conservative in my estimate. After finding the Southwest baggage area, retrieving my box, disassembling and packing my bike, discarding my CO2 cartridges, changing into street clothes, and going through security I still have way too much time on my hands. I wish I still had my bike, but it is kind of nasty outside - hot, but not as hot as Raleigh, but there's kind of a bad haze in the air, and the area around the airport doesn't look like it's worth exploring anyway. Still I'm kicking myself for not relaxing and enjoying the ride down more as have a beer in the airport bar.

By the time we hit Baltimore I'm feeling pretty good for no apparent reason - whistling Randy Newman's "Baltimore" I have a rum and ginger ale and shoot the breeze with the folks in the bar while keeping an eye on my terminal - people are standing in line with all their bags draped over their shoulders but I don't see a plane out there so I'll wait in here were the music is good. I pull out my train schedule to see if the train I was on stops in Baltimore before hitting DC. Not only does the Vermonter stop in Baltimore, it actually stops at THIS airport! Not only that, it's scheduled to arrive at the same time my plane did! It would've been a LOT more comfortable to ride down from CT on the train, but I guess it's not real safe to assume the train would get here in time to make my connection.

I get back to Raleigh and discover that my bike has arrived but, the pannier I checked has not. I give them the info in baggage claim and they promise to track it down and bring it to me. After I get the bike box to the car, I realize that my car keys were in the missing pannier!
Good thing I have my bike to get me home. Actually a quick hour long spin through the midnight air turns out to be a great way to finish off the vacation.

They deliver the pannier Monday and I get to do a bike ride up to the airport to pick up the car. Being my first experience cycling to/from the airport since the 9/11 security stuff went into effect, I was a little apprehensive, but I still didn't run into any hassles.

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