Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Going home again

It was raining when I woke up Tuesday morning. Herman cooked cheese omelets and turkey bacon and we did the paperwork to complete my purchase of the KLR. Monday night, I'd packed the saddlebags and strapped on the tail bag. Happily, it all fit! I was ready to go by 9 a.m. While we waited to see if the rain would stop, Herman showed me photos of the KLR in Mexico and Utah where he'd ridden it accompanied by his son on a BMW F650 GS.

The rain didn't stop, but I was anxious to get on the road. I pulled on my rain suit. Herman gave me a map, which I stuffed into the tank bag with his suggested back-road route to US 202, the road I'd take north across Massachusetts, and we were off!

100 yards down the road, my visor was already fogged up. I opened it to clear the fog. Cold rain hit my face -- we weren't in Hawaii anymore.

The rain didn't faze the KLR. We bounded east down Route 4 and north on 179 through historic Collinsville, caught US 202 for a stretch and switched to Route 167 to Simsbury before rejoining 202. The rain suit did its job, but my warm-weather, ventilated gloves were soaked. I spotted a motorcycle and snowmobile shop and pulled in to find gloves that would cover my wrists. Back on the road, the new gloves worked for a few hours until they were saturated. By then, the rain mostly stopped and I switched back to my Hawaii gloves.

My waterproof boots were too short. The water ran off the rain pants and into the tops and puddled around my toes. Note to self: Need taller boots when riding in the rain.

We crossed into Massachusetts at Gillette Corner and headed up through Westfield to Holyoke, the "Birthplace of Volleyball" on the west bank of the Connecticut River. As a kid, I delivered the Holyoke Transcript to 22 customers along Mill Valley Road in nearby Belchertown -- my first newspaper job. Crossing the river, I noticed large white and orange buoys strung across the river to warn boaters just upstream of the dam that powered Holyoke's mills.

I picked US 202 because it goes through Belchertown, where I lived for about eight years growing up. Each time I've been back in the 40 years since the town has changed. Mostly, it's the trees. The big ones disappear, while the small ones get big. The old town hall and Congregational church still look out over the town common, where memorials to this generation's warriors have joined those for the Civil War, the Great War and WWII.

The Victorian-era Clapp Memorial Library still looms gloomily over South Main Street. As a kid, I was haunted at night by worries about overdue books I never remembered to return in daylight.

But the stores have changed -- gone are the old variety store, Pat & Mike's meat market, the Rexall drug store, the First National and IGA food markets and the Esso station. Now it's pizza parlors and insurance offices.

Down Mill Valley Road, I see our old house up on its hill, restored to vintage brown with white shutters -- not the black shutters and white clapboards I remember. The lilac bush was in full bloom. Most of the town's old barns are gone now, but the farm houses are still standing -- ours went up in 1756 and seems to be holding its own 253 years later.

Faring less well are the markers in the old cemetery down the hill near the woods where we kids used to build forts and play. I looked for the tombstone of Justice Forward, the man who built our old house, but couldn't find it. I wonder, what would he have thought of the KLR?

Leaving Belchertown, the rain came and went, getting stronger as I crossed into New Hampshire. I discovered my boots were indeed waterproof as liquid puddled around my toes. I stopped at a Walmart and took a look at some rubber boots, but decided I'd rather have fresh water than sweaty feet.

I left US 202 at Route 101 and headed east toward Manchester. I'd been avoiding divided highways, but lost my resolve and stayed on 101 all the way to Hampton Beach, 14 miles south of Portsmouth. There, the temperature dropped and I worked my way north along the coast to Rye and then inland to old US 1 and the big traffic rotary where US 1, I-95 and New Hampshire 16 join. I'd travelled more than 240 miles since leaving Herman's.

There's a state liquor store at the rotary and I stopped for a bottle of wine to give to my sister Betsy, who lives about two miles from the rotary. On second thought, I also bought a bottle of scotch to give to her husband Ed. That night, I had my share of both bottles and the next day I chilled out -- but only figuratively, not literally as I had the day before.


  1. Now THIS is adventure at its finest (at least for those of us who are graying a bit at the temple. The photos are beautiful and the prose fabulous. Thanks for sharin ghte adventure John. BTW, the pics of the Mary Todd pulled the heartstrings a little. We enjoyed watching her sail a few years ago during a family vacation.

  2. Jeff, wait'll you see the pics I took today in Bernard, a working waterfront full of lovely Down East vessels.