In the summer of 2012, I got an idea, to test whether my clients knew or cared where I worked. For about a year, I had been spending an ever-increasing percentage of my time away from the beautifully appointed, but windowless, office in the basement of our home. Coffee bars of all kinds (but mainly Starbucks) were my venues of choice.
I loaded my bicycle and the two panniers into the car and drove up the East Coast of the United States. I also carried my recorder teacher, Gary Porter and her luggage, because we were going to the Amherst Early Music Festival in New London, Connecticut. After a week of fun playing instruments no one sees in a classical orchestra anymore, I drove Gary to the New London train station, so she could return to Charlottesville. Then I drove to Old Lyme to visit my stepmother and my brother Jack and his family for a while.
On the 21st of July, I loaded the panniers on my bike, left the car and the rest of my stuff with my family, and headed north to Andover, Connecticut. It was an unusually hot summer, but I found that the mature trees that line Connecticut’s secondary roads spread out over the road, provided shade for me and the asphalt. I did not suffer much. My sister Louise and her family lived in Andover.
From Andover, my brother Bob tossed the bike and me into his brand-new Ford pickup truck, and left me in the country at an intersection on US 20. I took it to Brookline, Massachusetts, where I stayed with my friend Matthew. While in the Boston area, I took a bus to Brunswick, Maine, and rode to Harpswell to visit my cousin Peter and his wife Candi. A ferry took me from Boston to Provincetown on Cape Cod. From there, I rode to Brewster, Hyannis, Fairhaven, Newport, then back to Old Lyme. The trip covered 661 km and took three weeks. I wanted to take a longer tour, but a teaching commitment back in Charlottesville cut short my plans.
There were long stretches of truck-heavy asphalt, tailwinds among the sand dunes, and the smell of pine and birch on wooded country roads. I had no smartphone, but I stopped at coffee shops and eateries advertising WiFi to clear my email, and to work a little. Each night at eight different stops, I worked on whatever had come in. During those three weeks, I delivered three translation assignments, reviewed a scholarly journal article, and translated one of the letters for the Retirement Series of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Not once did anyone know or care where I was.
It was this trip that confirmed for me that I did not need to stay in Charlottesville to provide quality service to my clients. One year later, the Freewheeling Freelancer set out, and the rest is history.
Trip update: On Sunday morning, the 5th of June, Alan and Christina and I had breakfast, then walked next door to Saint Thomas’ Church. Holy Eucharist included a Baptism. I enjoyed being back in the familiar liturgy, surrounded by an acoustically resonant building, harmony in the pews, and beautiful surroundings. The church would seem to be an ancient Gothic cathedral, but it was only built in the late 19th Century, as a mission from the Cathedral to the then-poor rural areas north of Wells. The parish still serves three villages, and the spirit of outreach seems very alive.
After Church, I took the Bath road to the city by that name. Climbing to the ridge north of Wells, I looked back to admire Wells sitting in its valley, regretting that the summer haze precluded a good photograph. On both sides, intense green pastures and fields spread out over rolling hills. The farm smells were stronger than the wildflowers, but that was still more natural than the occasional exhaust pipe that drove by. As on the way to Wells, I had expected headwinds and rain, but the day proved sunny and mild all the way. I arrived at the Saint Christopher Inn hostel at 1400, three hours ahead of schedule.
Bath has been a destination for tourists and travellers for more than three hundred years, and a major city since Roman times, with good reason. With an extra afternoon available, I decided to take a double-decker bus tour to see as much as I could quickly. Basking in the sunshine as I rode to all the major stops, I enjoyed the same information that I would have read in a collection of guidebooks. After the tour, I walked around the city centre, and had supper in the restaurant under the hostel.
I had planned to tour Bath on Monday. The bus ticket entitled me to a Skyline Tour, so I rode that, too. Then I walked to the Abbey and the Roman baths for some photography. The wandering also gave me my bearings, which I needed the next morning to ride our of the valley to Salisbury.
Tuesday morning, I was up early. I am still getting used to the length of the daylight in the northern latitudes. At 50° N, this part of England is getting more than 16 hours of sunlight already. Of course, they can get a good night’s sleep in the winter.
By 0845, I was on my way. National Cycle Route 4 was interrupted just outside Bath for towpath maintenance, so I rode the Warminster Road (A36) 7 km to Monkton Combe to regain the towpath along the canal to Warminster. Traffic was not light, but it was mostly going into Bath, so I did not hold up any frustrated commuters.
About six km of gravel path awaited me along the canal, but the path was well surfaced and very flat (of course), so I was able to clip along and enjoy the view, without struggling to avoid holes and loose sand and other hazards. I left the towpath at Trowbridge, then followed the A350 to Warminster. The National Cycle Route 24 took me 22 km through rolling farmland far from traffic all the way to Wilton. This charming village was only 13 km from my destination (Firsdown, 8 km beyond Salisbury). It was the first village or town with anything open since Bath, so I stopped for an early lunch. “Nachos with chili con carne” turned out to be a substantial meal in the upscale pub, and I enjoyed to difference, as well as the rare chance to eat something spicy (the Thai and Indian restaurants in Bath were both closed).
I arrived at Andy Beckett’s home so early, that I had time to ride back into Salisbury to visit that marvel. Andy rides several hundred miles each week and, being a freelancer, can call his own schedule. He rode in with me, showing me a direct route through the fields and villages that I never would have guessed.
I had wanted to visit Salisbury Cathedral since childhood, and I was not disappointed. The extra height, and the immense (but detailed) stained glass windows held my breath. But there was an extra treat for me. The organist was working, and I was able to experience the acoustics of the space, which my musician friends (including son Daniel) have raved about. I stood in the acoustic centre of the space and let the music wash over me.
I did not know that the Magna Carta is kept in the Chapter House of the Cathedral, but I was able to visit that exhibition, too. Andy and I rode back to his house, and I took him and Carrie to supper.
Wednesday, I had the day free, so I rode to Woodhenge to take some photographs. Andy coached me on the easiest way to ride there, and it was indeed easy and pleasant. I expected rain, but the forecasters were not having a good day. The sun came out while I was taking pictures, and stayed out the rest of the day.
I remembered Woodhenge from a visit my family made to the site in 1985. We also visited Stonehenge, but since then, the more famous site has restricted access and too many tourists. Woodhenge held more interest for me, and it seemed unchanged in thirty years. Sheep grazed around the site. Access was unrestricted, and I had the place to myself.
Alan and Carrie were perfect hosts for a freewheeling freelancer. Everyone got their work done, and we still enjoyed each other after work.
The next day, I east towards Robertsbridge, my final destination for this week. National Cycle Route 24 got me as far as Winchester, along back roads and country lanes. About 5 km from Alan’s house I noticed a strange sound in my crankset. 25 km later, the right side of my crankset was clearing wobbling and about to fail. I stopped for lunch in the charming village of Shawford, and had a gourmet croquet-monsieur at the Sacher and Strudel pastry shop. While waiting for the sandwich, I found Hargrove’s Cycles in Winchester. They had the Shimano Tiagra crankset in stock, as well as the bearing sets for the bottom bracket. I rode there and they had me on the road in an hour and a half (GBP 37, including labour).
The rest of the ride was very beautiful, with no traffic, no noise but my own tyres, and the thick smell of privet, holly, and ivy. Who knew that those three quintessentially English plants could dominate the olfactory landscape. They rested on a base of rich, earthy compost, which provided a pleasant counterpoint for my nose.
With the additional time to ride into suburban Winchester, I was still able to keep my schedule, but I could not stop in Petworth as I had hoped. My phone and power cell also ran down with the extra time on the road. I camped outside Petworth, at the Graffham Camping and Caravanning Club. I pitched my tent in a clean site with a combination of sand and dirt that was easy to drive pegs into, but which also held tightly.
On Friday, I rode into East Sussex to visit Darvell, where my brother David lives with Sally and the remaining children at home: Joe and Maria, Corwin and Kathy, and Joe’s sons, Evan, Lester, and Tom.
After a frustrating direction from Google Maps to take a unpaved bridle path, I pushed my way to the street through a hedge of stinging nettles and regained the road. I continued zigzagging among the farms, which was not only more pleasant, but cut as much as 15 km off the ride. Still, two 110-km days in a row left me ready for bed Friday night.
I was not surprised to see that the Bruderhof had located in fertile countryside. In addition to the factory (Community Playthings), they have gardens, sheeps, crops, and the freshest air one could ask for. In fact, the site used to be a tuberculosis sanatorium back in the early 20th Century, when the only “cure” for TB was fresh air.
Next week, another piece on living and working abroad. Until then,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,