Sunday, October 25, 2015

Making Lemonade From Ironman Maryland Lemons

Wednesday, September 30, did not start well. When I went to check in for my flight, it said my first flight was delayed and my second flight was changed such that I wouldn't get into Philadelphia until 5pm instead of 2:30 (never mind I booked a direct flight that was supposed to get in at 12:30). I was quite upset and marched straight to a ticket agent. She searched flights, supposedly including some other airlines, and the only improvement was supposed to get me in at 4:30. Fine, at least it feels like it's a little better. I had some time to kill in Austin, got to Charlotte and had more time to kill. Then the flight from Charlotte to Philadelphia was delayed, and delayed some more. As I was on my phone killing time until we we left the gate, I saw a curious post that said something about Ironman Maryland and "options." I had no idea what that meant, so I clicked and it took me to an announcement from Ironman that due to expected flooding from Hurricane Joaquin, the race was cancelled (with a possible new date) and asking people to not even come to the area. I blurted out an expletive at less than a yell but more than under my breath. My brain was swimming in thoughts and questions: "Can I get out of my hotel?" "Should I just get off the plane?" "What the hell am I going to do?" One early thought was to see if there were any other marathons that weekend in the area. Another thought was to go on a road trip of State Capitols and take care of a bit of unfinished business from IM Lake Placid. When I couldn't find any marathons that would work, I decided that if the hotel would give me at least some refund for three of the nights I had already paid, a road trip it would be.

With all the delays, it was almost 6pm when I landed in Philadelphia. I assumed it was too late to cancel my hotel for the night, so I got my rental car and drove two hours to Delmar, MD, the closest hotel I could find to the race in Cambridge. When I checked in I asked about cancelling the rest of the nights, which they seemed agreeable to, knowing that the race had been cancelled, but that I would have to talk to a manager in the morning. I had a chat with the guy who had my bike in his trailer, he planned to leave the next morning with the bikes or leave them at a nearby shop for anyone who planned to come back, assuming the race would be rescheduled. At that time I had no intention of returning (I ultimately did go back and do the race), so I told him to take it back, but I wanted to get into my gear bag. I figured that if I wasn't going to spend any more time in Maryland, I had to get a crab fix that evening; a quick search found a place still open in nearby Salisbury. The crab cake I ate was delicious, probably the best I've ever had, but it was a tad eerie to be in a huge restaurant that was almost empty at 9:30pm. The rest of the evening was spent doing some planning and mapping, as well as Facebooking. The bemusing part of the whole thing was that after I posted about the cancellation, I got a bunch of condolence messages, almost as though I had said a pet died.
I woke up about 6 Thursday, and my brain was immediately buzzing such that it was pointless to try to get back to sleep. I had some breakfast and got ready to check out, expecting to get something sorted out between the hotel and the booking company. I was on hold with the booking company so long I went to the front desk, where it sounded like they were trying to get everyone affected sorted out in one call. It was about 7:45 when everything seemed sorted, and I checked out with assurance that the three nights would be refunded. The bike transport guy was in Easton, north of Cambridge, so I only skirted the town and didn't have a chance to see anything of the race course. I sort of saw the swim venue, which from driving over the bridge, didn't look quite as intimidating as its name "Choptank" suggested. When I did meet up with Kevin, he said that even though it was only raining lightly at that point, with an unusually high tide some of the course was already underwater. I shuffled some stuff around, taking a few things I thought I could use and leaving the bike gear I knew I wouldn't. I kind of thought "Good riddance," still a bit bitter about the travel hassles topped off with the cancellation, and headed north.
My first "tick box" was the New Jersey Capitol. I arrived just in time to go through security for the noon tour, though I don't see why punctuality was so important as I as the only one there for a tour. I was far from the only visitor, however, as Governor Chris Christie had taken a break from his presidential campaign for a bit of state business to give a storm-related press conference, so there were a bunch of people spilling out of his office. My first thought when I walked in and saw a lot of people around was that the legislature was in session, but that was not the case. The tour guide pointed out one woman leaving was the Lieutenant Governor, and I later learned she is the state's first to hold that position. The Capitol building itself has a nicely adorned interior, showcasing the state's industriousness more than its raw materials, as in its metalworks and some very good faux finishes. When I went outside to see the grounds, however, it became clear that the building had grown a bit haphazardly, and was in need of some maintenance to boot. The gilded dome looks good, but the building doesn't sit prominently enough to make it easy to get a good picture of the whole building, except from the south side lawn that backs up to a highway.
From Trenton I drove northeast to Hartford, Connecticut. It was about 4:30pm when I arrived, and there was a lot of traffic. I found on-street parking close to where my GPS brought me, but then realized that was the old Capitol sitting on Capitol Square. The building is now something of a museum I wasn't sure I was interested in, at least not for a fee and when I might be missing out on the proper Capitol. Since it was not clear to me, I asked a worker about the working Capitol, and he directed me a few blocks away. On my walk I was a bit worried that either (1) the "new" Capitol is some ugly office building like Florida or Louisiana or (2) it would be closed when I got there. I was pleasantly surprised on both counts, the building is magnificent inside and out, and it was open until 5:30 that day. Guided tours were long since done for the day, but I was free to look around. I don't think my words or photographs can do any justice to the building, I would put it in the top five of State Capitols I've been to. From the outside, it's like a grand mansion, set on a small hill in a park. The interior is very well adorned, including dozens of half-size plaster statues of female figures; presumably they're allegorical, but I couldn't say for sure without a tour guide. I wasn't able to get into the either legislative chamber, but through the windows I could see that the House has a massive well-decorated room. The Senate I found quite interesting, as instead of individual desks, there are two large semicircular daises facing each other. It made me think of the Knights of the Round Table of Arthurian legend. On my way out of the building, one of the five security guards milling about the door asked me about my motorcycle tattoo, which led to a conversation about motorbikes, where I'm from, and such small talk. From Hartford I plotted a course northeast with a thought of going all the way to Millinocket, Maine, but stopping at 10pm in Augusta. Since I hadn't really made plans or studied the weather, I figured that would be a good point to either head east to Acadia National Park or north to Katahdin, depending on the weather.
I again woke up at 6am on Friday without setting an alarm. It looked good outside, and the weather reports I had seen showed it would be a clear, if cold, day. So about 7:30 I headed north for the 2.5 hour drive to Baxter State Park. When I arrived at the entrance station, the ranger politely discouraged from attempting to summit Katahdin, as they should when it's below freezing above tree line and there's a guy in sneakers, jeans, and a rain jacket asking about it. My original thought on which trail to hike was the Appalachian Trail (also called the Hunt Trail in BSP) from the west, but seeing as that was unlikely, I decided to hike the Chimney Pond Trail from the east. I figured there would be a good view from Chimney Pond, and if it seemed like conditions would allow, I could continue from there toward the summit. In the end, with the trail a little soggy from recent rains, I didn't even go all the way to Chimney. Somewhere between Basin Ponds and Chimney Pond, I came to a stream crossing that looked far too precarious for running shoes and no poles. It was a fantastic day, and I had a great 5-mile hike, but the best view I got of Katahdin was from the shore of Tongue Pond, right next to the ranger station.
I got back to Augusta with enough time to take a tour of the Capitol before it closed for the evening. While the Maine State House is nice, it is not lavishly adorned like Connecticut's. It has a conventional architecture- dome, wings, stone, etc. The things that stood out to me were the well-worn marble treads on the staircase, the statue of Percival Baxter (for whom the park is named), and that a state worker came out of her office and asked if I wanted to go onto the House floor (the door was only closed because of a heating problem). I would say Maine is among the friendlier of State Houses, if not the more decorated. I figured I couldn't leave the state without getting some lobster, so I found a restaurant nearby and had a very delicious lobster stew. From Augusta I drove west through New Hampshire into Vermont. I didn't have a plan on where to stay, I just figured I'd find a moderately-priced motel near Stowe or along the way. I got into the town itself late and directionless. The places that looked reasonably priced also looked closed. There were numerous places boasting of amenities I would not be able to use, so I passed them by. I finally stopped into one place that looked cheap, but when I inquired, the price was anything but. Since it was already 11:30pm and I was quite tired, I grudgingly agreed to the rate and spent the night in a vastly overpriced room.
I slept in Saturday morning, getting up around 8. I drove to Stowe, which was clearly in the height of fall tourist season. In addition to just having tons of people visiting for the leaves, it seemed like there was going to be some sort of car show or parade or something, as there were numerous antique cars around and people were set up along the road to watch something. I drove through town, past the resort and the toll road I had used for my previous near-miss for the highpoint three months prior, to a parking area for where the Long Trail crosses the road. The summit of Mt. Mansfield (also called "the chin" as the range looks like a face from some perspective) is about 2.5 miles and 2800 feet vertically from the road following the Long Trail southbound. Yes, it's fairly steep in general, and nearly vertical in a couple spots. I still didn't have the ideal gear, so it was a bit fun to be passing people who were wearing technical clothes and hiking boots while I was wearing jeans and sneakers. It kind of reminded me of an anecdote from Jim Whittaker's book about Nepalis climbing Mt. Rainier in jeans and untied boots running past "better equipped" climbers. The trail is kind of technical, certainly rocky, so I wouldn't recommend wearing road running shoes; I was mostly okay but did roll my ankle on the way down. Because of a couple of spots of rock scrambling closer to the top, I would rate the route third-class. The Long Trail is not the easiest route to the highest point in Vermont, and surely not the hardest either (I actually had been considering an attempt at a winter summit). It didn't feel like a particularly cold day, it was actually really nice, pretty windy at the top, but it was cold enough that there was ice at the top and some icicles a little bit below.
There were quite a few people on the summit; presumably most of them had made the traverse from the top of the toll road. Among them was a woman who was a sort of ranger or something to that effect. Another party that had come up the Long Trail was asking about alternate routes down, something I was interested in, knowing going back the way I came would be dicey. I had thought of going across and down the toll road, either walking or hitchhiking, but decided to just go back the way I had come up. I managed to make it down the steepest parts without quite hitting the deck. The ankle roll happened on a flatter section that I attempted to run. Thankfully the damage was very minor and I made it back to my car without problems. At the car I stripped off my sweaty jeans; fortunately it was warm enough for shorts. I plotted a course for Montpelier and the Capitol. It so happened that the Ben & Jerry's factory was along the way, and it seemed like a good place to stop in. I pretty much regretted turning in immediately, as there was just a stream of people walking from the parking lot to the building. I felt committed, so I continued and parked. The crowd and wait time for a tour were ridiculous, and I took the tour many, many years ago, plus they don't make ice cream on weekends, so I opted to just sample the finished product. I couldn't decide on just one flavor, so I opted for a banana split with three scoops of ice cream, and of course it couldn't be complete without the hot fudge, whipped cream, and Reese's Pieces. I really shouldn't have, but I burned a lot of calories hiking and didn't have lunch, and I ate the whole thing. I continued from there to Montpelier, not expecting the Capitol to be open. When I got there, I found that at some point they extended visiting hours to Saturday, but I had missed it by an hour. If I had skipped the ice cream I still wouldn't have had much time to tour, but I might have had a chance to see inside without peering through the dusty side windows. From the exterior, it's a nice enough building if quite small by most standards. I strolled the modest grounds a bit, and poked my head into the museum next door that was getting ready to close. From there I pointed my car back toward Philadelphia, stopping for the night in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The rest of the drive Sunday morning was uneventful. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time, but didn't have as much time to kill as I thought I might. I got home late that night and went back to work Monday morning. The final tally was 1800 miles driven, 3 Capitols (I don't count Vermont since I couldn't get inside), 1 highpoint. My totals now stand at 40 and 46, respectively. Finally nearing the home  stretch. Since most people ask, my remaining highpoints are Maine, Nevada, California, and Hawaii; my remaining Capitols are NH, VT, MA, WV, NC, SC, AZ, CA, HI, and AK.

No comments: