Come on over: the Emily and Hilda backstory

While I am settled in central Italy planning the next move, I invite you to read the stories of my two heroes, before Emily met Hilda. They were awesome women before they met, each in her way. This is how they got there. I will post the stories in chronological order, which I hope you enjoy. Go to my author’s blog.

Smooth roads and tailwinds, 



2023 Italia: an inauspicious start

Sure, it’s not 2023 yet, but I expect this tour to take us into the new year. I also intend for 2023 to be a year of important changes, whether to my travelling, the publication and distribution of my books, or surprising life changes. Join me for the adventure! Continue reading

2022 Tour: Cape Cod and the Islands

On the morning of the 30th of August, I awoke to find this email waiting for me:

I have fond memories of Martha’s Vineyard. I love that place and it is great for bikes. Forget the campground … A 2-week [trip] would be nice in Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. There was that place we stayed in Provincetown that was like a hostel and very reasonable in price. There is also an HI hostel in Hyannis. Could take passenger ferry from Boston to Provincetown with bike, ride to Hyannis then ferry to Martha’s Vineyard BC and ride to hostel and day rides on Martha’s Vineyard. What do you think? 


Snapped out of my drowsy state, I immediately wrote back:

Oooh! Let’s do it! I love that part of the island. The roads and trails are so easy there. With a hostel to come back to I won’t even mind if it rains… 😊

Four days later, I was stunned to see how quickly we could put a trip together when going back to a familiar place. With all our bookings made, I focused on preparing to take the train to meet her at Boston’s Logan Airport.

First, I packed my bicycle panniers, ate all the perishable food, and had my bicycle overhauled by Angelina and my friends at East Coast Bicycle. I threw myself at the manuscript for the third Emily & Hilda book, Emily Is Hard to Kill (formerly Desert Crossing). Final runs to the recycling dumpster, laundry, and cleaning the flat.

On Saturday, the 10th of September, I loaded my bicycle and panniers on the car, and drove to Charlottesville, where I left the car with my son. With hurricane season still ahead, I wanted the vehicle above the storm surge. I’ll pick it up in 2023, after the next trip.

I spent the weekend cat- and house-sitting for a friend and making a final review of the manuscript. Monday, I sent the book to the editor with a sigh of relief. It was out of my hands for a while, and the blog had four posts uploaded to carry me through the New England trip.

On Tuesday, the 12th, I hauled my bags and bike onto the Northeast Regional and debarked in Boston nine hours later. The weather was mild, and the sun had only just set. I rode the familiar roads to the HI Hostel in Boston and settled in for the night.

Meanwhile, Cheryl’s trip was not starting out so well. The JetBlue ground personnel at Vancouver Airport were not familiar with their own airline’s regulations and refused to take her bicycle. After a few hours of stress, she booked her trip through Montreal on Air Canada. We met on the morning of the 13th at the baggage claim area of Logan Airport.

In pleasant sunshine, we rode to the subway near the airport, then to the World Trade Center pier. We were early enough for the ferry to have lobster bisque at Legal Seafood, a proper introduction to Boston and New England.

We checked into the Moffett House Hotel in Provincetown as the shadows lengthened and the wind cooled. The place had changed greatly since our stay in 2021. The owner was on the West Coast and trying to sell the place. Gone were his friends who had helped run the operation, and who gave Moffett House its hostel spirit. The lone employee resented our using the kitchen (still advertised as a “guest kitchen”) and made us feel generally unwelcome. We stayed out of his way and confined ourselves to using the tiny microwave oven near the stove.

On Thursday, we rode out to the Cape Cod National Seashore, a favourite of Cheryl for sitting in the sand and watching the sea. We found an isolated place among the dunes east of the Old Harbor Lifesaving Station Museum on Race Point. There is little as invigorating as clean air near the sea. With the added salt content borne on the wind, my lungs and soul felt settled and refreshed.

Whether riding the shoulders of the roads or the bike paths that run over the dunes, bicycling around Provincetown reminded us why we like coming to Cape Cod.

The fresh fish from Mac’s Fish Market melted in the mouth, even cooked in a microwave. Locally caught fish with corn cooked on the cob in its husks would be our most common dinner for the next two weeks.

The next day, we checked out and rode Route 6A to Wellfleet, where we joined US 6. We stopped at the Briar Lane farm stand to chat with Terry Sayre and to buy some jam. The stand has been in business since 1932, the oldest business in the area. (

A lunch stop at the PD Boulangerie at the trailhead to the Cape Cod Canal Rail Trail could not be missed and did not disappoint. Filled with delicious fare and loaded with fresh bread, we hit the trail for Hyannis.

My favourite greeting, “smooth roads and tailwinds”, blessed us as a strong north wind blew us down the rail trail, past the Harwich bicycle rotary to the end of the trail just north of Hyannis. We were the first to check in that afternoon, and spent some time getting to know Carol, a schoolteacher from San José, California. One meets the most interesting people in hostels.

We were early enough to ride the five kilometres to the Cape Fish market for more lobster bisque and fresh haddock. Much better baked in the oven, both the fish and the corn.

On Saturday, we caught the Hy-Line catamaran ferry to Nantucket. We would have spent a couple of days there, but HI-USA sold the hostel property during the pandemic, removing the only affordable accommodation on the entire island. I bought us return tickets, and we made a day of it. Riding the off-road bike paths to Bartlett’s Farm and Madaket gave us a full day of exercise. We got separated on our way back to the ferry, but Cheryl hit the big Stop & Shop whilst I picked up fresh fish at Sayle’s before riding downtown to the ship. Getting separated in the age of smartphones is not the stressful experience it used to be when we first started riding together.

Sunday the 18th was the day that the HI Hyannis Hostel closed for the season. We packed out and rocked our way through the choppy sea to Martha’s Vineyard. I am not sure that I will even get used to the smooth ride that a catamaran gives one in all but the worst seas.

Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard makes a first impression as tourist trap, but its shallow façade quickly gives way to a typical island town of sturdy houses, sea grass and long stretches of white sand.

We made our way down Seaview Avenue, the long way to Edgartown, which hosted our customary fish shop and the only supermarket on the island. As I leaned into the blustering crosswind, I worried for Cheryl, who found “sailing on a broad reach” on a bicycle less fun than I did. At last, we caught up with the Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road and the Stop & Shop. After that and a stop at the Edgartown Fish Market, we rode the 12 km of the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road to the HI Hostel.

That final stretch is the worst bike path on the island, and we would learn different ways to avoid its tree roots and potholes over the next week.

Even with the 25-km detour for shopping, we were again the first to check in – a little early, but Ryan did not seem to mind.

The HI Hostel Martha’s Vineyard staff ran the most laid-back and comfortable hostel I have ever encountered in North America. Chris, John and Ryan made us all feel quite welcome, and I thought not just because we were the last batch of travellers. I was glad that we had booked the full last week before their season ended.

For seven days, we rode to places we had not visited before: the Aquinnah Lighthouse, Pie Chicks, both South Beaches, and Main Street around the West Chop peninsula.

Riding to the Lighthouse, we climbed 54 m twice, earning our rest at Aquinnah. To ride back, we discovered the easy route: the Moshup Trail, which runs along the southern beach around the hills we had climbed.

We rode through West Chop (Vineyard Haven) and East Chop (Oak Bluffs), peninsulas covered with large, elegant homes on well-tended yards. The up-to-date condition of the asphalt on the main road through both neighbourhoods hinted at the superior status of the residents.

Pie Chicks is a woman-owned and operated bakery with a stunning array of original pies, cookies and pastries. They bake about 300 pies each day in season. It looked plenty busy to me even in the last week of September.

The farmer’s markets on Wednesday and Saturday at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society were much talked about, but I was not as impressed as I expected to be. There was a good band playing on Saturday, though. To balance that were Grey’s Farm and Morning Glory Farms, two establishments that offer high quality food at fair prices.

Each day was a happy mix of headwinds and tailwinds. The weather held for the whole week, although it turned cold from Thursday until the weekend. Still, the fresh, clean air made sleep deep and restorative. The only pollution came from the many trucks running up and down the few roads. With a little luck, we could choose a route that kept them downwind. “Holding the weather gauge” is as important in cycling today as it was in the Age of Sail.

We met a lovely family from Ontario, who bunked in the room next to ours, a cyclist from South Carolina who had spent his childhood here and even bought a house to move back to after he returns to the south, and various cheerful travellers of all ages. Twice, the staff built a campfire in the fire pit out front, which included guitars, drinks and happy conversation under the stars.

Sunday the 25th, we closed the hostel on Martha’s Vineyard as we had in Hyannis and rode 18 km to the ferry in Oak Bluffs. The Seastreak catamaran took us to New Bedford. From there, we rode 60 km to Providence RI and checked into the Christopher Dodge House. The first half followed US 6 until we reached Warren, just over the Rhode Island border. There we joined the East Bay Bike Path, a marvelous, smooth asphalt bike highway that connects Bristol to Providence. We were able to ride away from traffic until the last few blocks downtown.

After noting where the Amtrak station was, we backtracked a block to the pedestrian passage marked Promenade Street (invisible on the first pass) and rode up the other side of Interstate 95 to our lodgings for the night. I walked to Rosalina’s (under two massive structures of interstate highway) to pick up supper, which we ate in the common room.

We expected the noise from I-95 to keep us awake, but the owners had installed top-quality windows. After 83 km, most of it into the wind, we slept the sleep of the just…

A cyclist will find travelling by train much easier with a friend. The Providence station the next morning had an at-grade platform, so we could roll our steeds into the coach. However, New London had not been upgraded, so I was grateful that we could each take one end of the bikes to ease them to the ground.

On board the train, the passengers had used the bicycle hanging area to stash their luggage, a common problem. Before the conductor could roust the guilty from their chairs, I pointed out that we were only going past one stop, so he let us lean our bikes against the wall. I preferred that to wrestling the bikes onto their hooks anyway.

The ferry landing lay immediately upstream from the train station on the Thames River, so we were able to catch the ferry before the one we reserved. Cross-Sound Ferry operates year-round between New London and Orient Point, Long Island. Our vessel, M/V Cape Henlopen was formerly USS LST-510. A plaque commemorating her landing at Normandy on 6 June 1944 and ferrying supplies across the English Channel to support the push inland until the end of World War II hung in the passenger lounge. The display reminded me of USS LST 973, featured in my short story about the landing at Inchon ( during the Korean War.

What service these tank landing ships had performed!

The rest of the day featured a very pleasant ride along the northern fork to Greenport, where we had lunch at Claudio’s Marina, a meander across Shelter Island (two more ferries), and a ride through Easthampton to the EHP Resort and Marina on Montauk Point. By picking up groceries at the gourmet store Citarella we were able to settle into happy domesticity with good food and wine on a balcony overlooking the sound.

I wish we could have spent more time in the Hamptons and around Greenport.

Tuesday would be our last full day. We rolled out in a timely manner, skipping the terrible pavement on County Road 40 by riding south to New York State Bicycle Route 27. This took us through all the Hamptons (East, South, West, and Bridge) until we picked up route 24 north to NYSBR 25 in Riverhead. We became separated in Bridgehampton, but stayed in contact by texting at major turns. We met again in Riverhead for the final ride along NYSBR 25.

We stopped for homemade ice cream at the Wind Acres Farm. The pleasant and intelligent teen serving us explained all the traffic and the crowds of school-age children by pointing out that the schools were out on both Monday and Tuesday for the Jewish High Holy Days. It certainly looked like a holiday in the vast play and picnicking area by the highway.

Soon, we rolled into Stony Brook, after climbing a succession of ten-percent grades on the off-road bicycle trails across the city. Maybe I should have stayed on the road.

Our destination, the Three Villages Inn, was quiet and empty. Its main attraction off-season is the Mirabelle restaurant, which was closed on Monday and Tuesday. After moving into our cottage and storing our bicycles in two different sheds, we showered and walked to Luca across the street, where I had booked a table. The only good restaurant open that night, Luca was crowded and overworked accommodating its competitors’ customers. The couple at our table overstayed their expected time, so we waited until the staff seated us at a free four-top.

It was our last night together. Except for the short ride to the Long Island Railroad station in the morning, the cycling trip was over. We had ridden more than 100 km to Stony Brook, so again, we slept well.

Wednesday the 28th carried a little stress over how much trouble the ground personnel would give Cheryl over her bicycle, and whether we would find a suitable box for packing it up.

The owner of Billy’s Cycle Shop in Woodside had promised to have a box for us, but he had never committed to meeting us at 11:00, which was before the store opened. After clarifying the misunderstanding and our urgency on the phone, he agreed to open up for us. Standing on the sidewalk outside the store, we packed up Cheryl’s bike, while the Uber van driver watched us. A goodbye hug and she was on her way.

Later, Cheryl reported that the Uber driver got her quickly to La Guardia and she had no problems with the ground personnel. She was home that evening – minus her bicycle, which the customs officials in Montréal kept for inspection. Frustrating, but at least she was not waiting in airport terminals and could expect the airline to deliver her bicycle later.

I returned to the LIRR and took the train to Penn Station. My friends Mike and Susie took me in that night in their home in Alexandria. It felt good to connect with them again. Susie positively glowed with pleasure, because she had introduced Cheryl to me nine years earlier when the recently retired nurse had ridden through Charlottesville on her way across the United States and happened to meet Susie over breakfast.

On Thursday, the 29th of September, I rode from the Harbor Park station across Norfolk to my snug little flat and settled in to await the remnants of Hurricane Ian.

But that’s another story…

This concludes the 2022 Tour. While I prepare to return to Italy (for what I am calling 2023 Italia), enjoy some short stories on my author’s blog.

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


2022 Tour: Rochester to Flushing

On Monday, the 9th of May, Cousin Erik went to work early, leaving me to pack up and shove off. Retracing our eastbound route last summer, I picked up Highway 31 and rode to the Erie Canal well west of Rochester. The ride west through the poorer section of Rochester was familiar. Continue reading

2022 Tour: Hoboken to Rochester

In laying out this tour, I planned to ride to Jackson, OH (Navy friend) from Pittsburgh PA, then north to Flushing MI (cousin). A nice flat run across southern Ontario would put me on the Eire Canal Trail. After visiting another cousin in Rochester NY, I hoped to ride down the Hudson River to see my brother near the New York/New Jersey border. The clockwise route would give me more descents than climbs and put me conveniently in a position to take the train home, or ride down the Eastern Shore.

While I slept in Hoboken on Saturday night, a car ploughed into a power pylon near Trenton on the northeast passenger train corridor. This event was not worthy of new alerts in the crowded metropolis that stretches from the Hudson River to the Delaware Bay.

On May Day (Sunday, 1 May) after the Tour, I booked my bike and myself on the Amtrak Pennsylvanian from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh the next day.

On Monday morning, I rode to the NJ Transit station in Hoboken and boarded the train to Philadelphia, which involved switching in Secaucus. When I arrived in the main lobby to look for my train south, the schedule boards were rapidly flying to the “cancelled” position.

The customer service representative explained the collision Saturday night, and how the power would not be restored to the tracks for several days. ALL trains between Newark and Trenton were cancelled.

Time to create Plan B. After looking at the map, I went back to Customer Service. The representative told me that I had a ticket all the way to Trenton, so I could go anywhere with it. I called my brother, cancelled my Amtrak reservation, and got back on the same train from Hoboken that I had boarded earlier. I got off in Harriman NY, which was only 14 km from the Bellvale Bruderhof, where my brother and some of his family lived  (Bruderhof means “brothers’ house” in German).

The morning turned into a pleasant, sunny day, with cool air to offset the sweat induced by the hills. I rode into “downtown” Harriman, which features a stop sign at either end of the one block. Lunch at the only open retailer: a deli/convenience store. Fueled and ready, I rode the empty roads past woods and farms, climbing ever-steeper hills until I arrived at Bellvale.

There followed three wonderful days with my brother David, his wife Sally, nephew Matt, niece Joëlle, and various great-nephews and great-nieces. David and Sally have been members of the Bruderhof for more than fifty years, raising ten children and countless grandchildren in the UK and US. The group tries to live the Sermon of the Mount, holding all material things in community, devoting themselves to work and prayer in the best monastic tradition, and to raising their children. Think of a convent or monastery that one may join as an individual or as a family. They are avowed pacifists, which forced them to flee Germany and other countries as World War II approached.

Today they have hofs all over the world. Some have hundreds of members living on farms; the smallest might be in a three-story home in an inner city. The larger hofs school their own children until high school. Teenagers within an hour of Esopus NY bus to an academy on the Hudson.

Outside their hofs, the group are best known as the makers of Community Playthings, rugged, high-quality hardwood nursery furniture and classroom accessories, and for Plough Publishing, which publishes spiritual and wellness literature by a wide range of authors. They also consult with other communities in different faith traditions, especially on conflict resolution. One niece has travelled to kibbutzim and others to intentional religious communities in Italy and Asia to do this work. I think of it as constructive, active pacifism, because even pacifists can piss off one another. Conflict is part of our shared humanity.

A visit to my relatives in the Bruderhof is always a relaxing and happy affair. When I can stay more than overnight, they invite me to work alongside the others. My task this time was to assemble boxes for shipping high chairs, bookcases and other things. David was in charge of the section of the factory floor where we worked. Like other manufacturers, the Bruderhof was working with accordion-like supply and transportation issues, even though they make most of their own components. David kept the list of tasks up to date, so that we could concentrate on backlogged items when a last missing piece came in. I never felt so valuable as we cleared backlogs of days in a matter of an hour or two, or avoided a potential bottleneck by taking in a delivery of whatevers and finishing up the completed items just in time to ship.

I chuckled to myself when David assigned me to my first task: making up boxes and filling them. Just before leaving for this tour, I had spent ten days doing just that as my son Daniel and I packed and moved his belongings to his new flat.

The skies darkened as we worked. On the second day, it turned cold and rainy. My next stop was Kingston NY, halfway up the Hudson to Albany.

David suggested that I stop at Maple Ridge, the Bruderhof where our mother had spent her last years.

“Pull some dandelions for me and visit her grave,” he said.

We did not have relatives at Maple Ridge anymore, though I was very familiar with the place from the years that nephews and nieces had grown up there. The idea of stopping appealed to me. One phone call to the “guest brother” at Maple Ridge set it up.

On Thursday, the 5th of May, dark clouds and headwinds obviated the need for sunscreen as I pushed my way north-northeast through the rolling hills west of the Hudson River. The bicycle touring literature (New York Parks and Trails, Rail-Trail Conservancy, etc.) made much of the “wonderful” Wallkill Rail Trail.

On the map it did look ideal, but it proved worse than simply being unpaved. Most of it was not graded or groomed. In the rain of the recent days, it had turned into an impassable channel of deep mud.

Fortunately, the roads were not crowded, and boasted smooth pavement and good sight lines where there were no shoulders or bike lanes. Even after it began raining lightly, I enjoyed my eighty-kilometre ride to Ulster Park. Reuben met me, and got me settled. I took wildflowers (dandelions) from David, Daniel, and me to Mom’s grave.

Another thing that distinguishes the Bruderhof is the way that the generations grow and live together. Elders are treated with respect. Infirmities are accommodated, not by isolation, but by adjusting the workload, so that everyone continues to do what they still can. Single adults are detailed to live with families, so no one is alone with a crowd of kids or a needy grandmother.

The cemetery is a work of art. Our mother’s grave was one of the recent ones, but all the sites showed signs of regular visits. I’m not one to care about my physical leftovers, but the sight of those graves struck me as monuments to so many lives well lived. I left the flowers, kneeled for some prayer, and carried Mom and my other ancestors with me back into the world.

The next day promised to be another washout, and it would take me two days to ride to Albany. I had done this last summer, when the remnants of Hurricane Henri had pushed the rivers and the canal over their banks and soaked Cheryl and me to the bone.

Amtrak train 281 passed through Poughkeepsie at a convenient 11:43 in the morning, so I told Ben I would ride to the station and try to get aboard before the skies opened up. He aced that plan by driving me to the station and leaving me there well before the train. I enjoyed breakfast in town and coasted to the station just as the first drops fell.

As I hoped, the train pushed through the front, so that I alit in Rochester NY under clear skies, with plenty of daylight left.

Cousin Erik was working, but he had given me the codes for his building. I had just settled into the guest room when he came home from work.

Rochester is one of my favourite cities in North America. It has wealth from the Industrial Revolution. The names of many of its major players adorn our homes today, like Kodak, Eastman, and Bausch & Lomb. On either side of the Genesee River (which the Erie Canal crosses), one can visit Eastman School of Music, the Susan B. Anthony House, the Eastman Museum, or ride up to Lake Ontario through the suburb of Irondequoit. Supper at a waterside restaurant in the Finger Lakes District is always a hit.

Even the poorer sections of Rochester seem prosperous compared to like neighbourhoods in other towns. The buildings are older, there is more broken asphalt on the streets, but the vibe is not as depressing as I found in other cities.

I would move there but for one thing: the winters are brutal, with lake-effect snows, and weeks on end of freezing rain. I was born and raised in gentler climes, and most of my travels have been in the Mediterranean, Hawaii and the desert. Thank you, Rochester, I’ll be back in the summer!

Of course, such weather extremes feel balmy to Erik from Nova Scotia, so he will be there when I ride by.

Last year, we visited the big sights, so this year, I enjoyed trying new places. I sampled the restaurants downtown and worked on Desert Crossing, the third book in the Emily & Hilda trilogy, which I hoped to finish while on tour.

I stayed through the weekend. On Monday, I packed up the bicycle, took the lift to the street level, and rolled west into the major bicycling segment of this adventure.

Come back in a couple of weeks to see how that worked out. 😉

Smooth roads and tailwinds,