From Austin to Maine and Back

Dear Friends,

Late July. I borrow the beat up brown Suburban from Laurence, load up The Tessa and her friend Dottie the Labradoodle (instagram's dottielange), and Ilana and I head northeast. Ilana and Dottie are bound for Northampton, MA, where they grew up. Tess and I are making for the coast of Maine where Laurence and Judy have summered in recent years.

Two weeks in, the bright colors, daily venue changes, and fresh experiences of the trip begin to seem almost normal - not the break from routine realities of daily life that they actually are. And a host of fresh, sensory memories try to arrange themselves into something of a pattern...

Long hours on the road. Tessa snores away, wedged between my bicycle, the two cases of wine Betty chose for my trip, the galvanized garbage pail filled with organic kibble, and the white Yeti cooler containing a variety of cured meats from a last minute shop at CM.

The candlelit patio at Ciao Baci in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Little Rock is packed. The multiracial crowd - more Atlanta than Austin - smokes unselfconsciously, their voices exuberant, cocktail-fueled, lubricated. Crossfit doesn't seem to have made it here yet. The dogs negotiate the forest of moving chair legs. They are happy to be on an adventure and so are we.

Hotel buffet scrambled eggs and a late start the next morning. Long haul, shooting for Columbus. In the afternoon, Ilana insists on stopping for Jeni's ice cream at a farmers' market not far off the highway in Lexington. I worry about time. We feed the dogs in afternoon heat under a tree on the edge of the crowded market parking lot. I drain water from a plastic gallon jug into their aluminum bowl - Tessa drinks, and drinks, and drinks some more. Eventually we're back at it.

I wake from a cramped nap in the passenger seat somewhere south of Cincinnati. While I slept, Google detoured us around a wreck - road atlases aren't a thing anymore. Some time later, the Cincinnati riverfront appears before us, stunningly green and beautiful. Mental note to return someday.

"Farm to table Columbus" suggests Alana's - we reserve a late table. We have a goal. But afternoon light fading, we realize Ohio is a time zone over. We will be too late. We call to cancel, resigned to leftover chicken from the cooler and a bottle of wine, but Alana graciously agrees to stay open. She asks what we like to eat - says that while Ohio law does not allow dogs on restaurant patios, ours are welcome. OSU's stadium, the Horseshoe, floats up to our right. Feels a bit like Austin here if you squint and think horns rather than buckeyes. Twelve hours of driving gives way to a very nice Cote Rotie. A couple of steaks later the long front patio covered in fairy lights provides a measure of regained sanity.

Sunday morning. Sudden downpour of near biblical force outside Cleveland on an exit-less stretch of busy interstate. Bags in the roof rack with most of our clothes now fully saturated. The mall parking lot where we finally stop seems far off the freeway. Rain pelting away, we bicker as we pull wet bags down and wedge them into the back of the Suburban. Dogs are irritable and cramped. Unlike us, they are dry. Interstate travel is very glamorous.

We recalibrate for Ithaca. Google makes another suggestion - a small French restaurant called Cent Dix. It's situated downtown on a street of beautiful, old, grey brick buildings. The staff is great and we're three for three on dog friendly patios. I select a 2014 Lapierre Morgon from the modest, but well curated, wine list. The frissee lardon is quite passable. Undaunted by the travails of the day, the Tessa stretches out across the sidewalk dining area, ensuring that servers and random passers-by alike can admire her.

Monday morning brings still more rain, but we are within striking distance of Northampton. A night with Ilana's friends in their lovely two-story remodel. Open windows, hardwood floors, and we can hear the cool rain pattering through the night.

Tessa and I rise early and make for Port Clyde. Mid-morning the sky clears. We arrive late afternoon to find the Ben Willcotts already in attendance. I unload my bike and push through a brisk eighteen miles, looping the peninsula, blowing out the cobwebs from my stiff muscles. In the evening we stand around the kitchen table in the old beach house above the rocky Maine coastline. Sea breeze floating though, we drink rose, shucking and eating so many fresh local oysters I lose count.

Mornings I peer out over the white wooden railing of an upstairs patio at the deepest blue ocean I can imagine. It's 70 degrees. Hallucinogenic sunshine billows off white sails on the horizon. The occasional lobster boat chugs nearby checking traps. Breakfast includes the astoundingly gorgeous and sweet fruit that they call strawberries. These are nothing like what we call strawberries. I drizzle them in raw milk yogurt from the dairy a few doors down the road.

Afternoons I make bread with the starter I brought from TFB - some things don't change. I join friends for a bike ride while Tessa retires for her 3rd or 4th nap of the day. My usual 25 miles per week jumps to over 130 miles in 7 days. Pretty much everything is sore. But it's too beautiful to let a day pass without getting outside and moving my body.

Tessa enjoys spending time soaking in the rocky tide pools and looking out at surf and kelp. White fur below her neck crimps from saltwater and reflects the stunningly bright sunlight.

Then, one morning, it's time to leave. Tessa and I load up and head to back to Northampton to collect Dottie and Ilana. We have a terrific meal at Cocoa and the Cellar - crisp fried chicken with spicy slaw, fried green tomatoes, corn soup made with astounding local corn, and a delicious riff on wedge salad using hearts of baby romaine, any of which I would've been proud to serve at TFB.

Tomorrow we head to the Adirondacks and spend a day or so hiking and floating the lake with my father (or as Ben refers to him, "our father, who art in Saranac Lake").

And I think I'm feeling ready to return soon. Travel is wonderful for emptying myself of all the patterns and unconscious subroutines that guide my daily life. Not all of it is comfortable - and I can't say that I have any startlingly fresh wisdom to offer. But it feels cleansing - worth the effort.

In closing, I would add this. The kids - everyone who makes TFB go - have proved themselves more than equal to the task of running the place without me, which makes me happy and proud. I hope you can stop by and see them in my absence. And as a reminder - we'll be celebrating thirty five years of business on Monday the 22nd. I'll be in attendance and I hope you can join me.

bon appetit,