Taylor Ho Bynum

*Photo by Peter Gannushkin

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ABT Diaries 3

Day 5 – 9/14: 72.6 miles, Springfield MA to Brattleboro VT
There are many swarms of gnats this time of year, especially in the mornings and evenings. Riding through them, I swallow so many bugs I feel like a blue whale trolling the oceans for krill.

It is interesting to see how far the strip-mall sprawl of cities extend. For Springfield, it is just about 8 miles. I like to see what independent hold-outs survive amongst the generic chains; on Rt 5, there is a typewriter repair store, a prosthetic limb company (with a Vietnam Vet mounting his Harley on two colorfully custom legs), and a cemetery (I would not want to spend my everlasting rest sandwiched between a McDonald’s and a Denny’s). And did you know Holyoke MA is where volleyball was invented? The things you learn on town signs. What’s with the round ball sports and the pioneer valley? (With Springfield, of course, being the birthplace of basketball…)

But once I escaped the urban clutches, the biking turning spectacular. Of course there’s a dedicated, paved bike lane the entire way between Northampton and Amherst. Passing through scenic farm country, with people of all ages and sizes pedaling along, I thought I was in the Netherlands for a minute. I had a great lunch in Amherst with Glenn Siegel (who’s producing the Braxton duo concert next week), at a Chinese restaurant that had home-grown, organic bitter melon.

Speaking of the Braxton concert, I’m glad I decided not to listen to any music while I ride. The last big trip I took, many eons ago, I brought along a CD walkman, battery powered speakers, and my 50 favorite CDs, loaded into the front panniers of my bike. (Told you it was eons ago, in the dark ages before iPods.) That was great for a passionate 19-year old music fanatic, but this time I’m really enjoying hearing the silences…and hopefully hearing some new sounds in my head. My plan is to bring all new music to the duo with Anthony, but all stuff I compose on the ride.

Toward the end of my day’s ride, I had the kind of experience you can’t get on a plane or a car. First, I saw a tiny, baby snapping turtle stuck in the highway. I pulled off and carried it to the swamp by the side of the road. (I hope I made the right decision; maybe the turtle was making a break for the great beyond and I ruined his adventure.) I turned the corner, peered into a lake, and freaked out to see some eyes staring back at me. My first thought: a brown alligator in the water! My second, more reasonable, thought: an otter, which then took a dive and did not reemerge. As I continued along, I thought the leaves on the path looked like hundred of salamanders. Upon seeing some of the leaves look bloody and run over, I realized they were salamanders, bright orange and spotted, making some kind of amphibious exodus across the road. Maybe because of my neon orange bike jersey, they didn’t seem scared of me at all, they probably thought I was just one of them overgrown.

Next up was the llamas. Seriously. But at least they guys were tame, residents of a local llama farm, long-necked, multi-colored, and curious. The snake in the road a few hundred feet on was wild, but not doing so well…it didn’t look like it had been run over, but it didn’t look very healthy either. I helped it to the side of the road. (Where it probably ate the turtle I assisted earlier.) Then, as I went along past another marsh on my right, I saw a mighty blue heron take flight. All of this within less than a mile. So I wasn’t surprised to see a sign letting me know I was in a wildlife sanctuary, though I was tickled by the name: Satan’s Kingdom. Snakes in the road and plagues of salamanders indeed! (I did get photographic proof, though I couldn’t catch the otter or the heron in time. I’ll update with the pictures when I get a chance.)

Google bike maps has a bad habit of confusing bike paths with hiking trails, which is where my route took me next. This time I didn’t mind though, after the menagerie I just witnessed, once in the forest I was expecting to see a moose, or a bear, or maybe an orangutan. But no luck, just some squirrels and a man walking his dog. (Unless he was the dark prince himself…). Upon leaving the woods, I was hit with a blast of warm sunshine and a view of rolling green mountains; yup, I was now in Vermont. Massachusetts and Connecticut are my home states and I’ve got much love for them, but I gotta say, Vermont is in a different league. It is just ridiculously beautiful.

Some damn fine musicians too! I pulled into the Vermont Jazz Center, had a quick rehearsal, and a great gig with pianist Eugene Uman (director of the VJC), saxophonist Bob Stabach, and drummer Bob Weiner, openly interpreting some Ellington, Monk, Guiffre, Coleman, and Cherry. And was put up for the night by Eugene and his wife (and fantastic photographer) Elsa Borrero in their lovely home. (Though when biking at night in Vermont after a gig, beware of a road called “Black Mountain”, it will live up to its name.) Now I must get a broken spoke fixed (which I was riding on for at least the last thirty miles of the trip yesterday, maybe even the last couple of days, always good to have an increased level of difficulty for no reason), then off the New Hampshire.

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