It has been a painful time for our family. Writing about Henry seems to give me something to do.
I choose here to stay on the purpose of this blog, and write only about the bicycle trips that I shared with Henry. Other aspects of Henry’s life, and other trips with Henry, can come in other forums.
The last bicycling trip I shared with Henry was in October 2013; we flew out to New Mexico for four days. We met our friend Lyman there, and cycled up and down the dramatic desert landscape. We cycled up two mountains, one from Espanola to Truchas on the Old High Road north of Santa Fe, and another over a mountain pass coming back to Albuqueque from Madrid NM. The light on the landscape and buildings of New Mexico was dramatic. Leaving for this trip he had really long hair, but impulsively got it all cut off on the trip out there, at a barber shop in DFW airport.
The trip to New Mexico was not our first encounter together with bicycles. Henry grew up bicycling up and down Lindsay Street in Carrboro.
And there were other trips we took together.
The Netherlands 2006
I had been cycling in The Netherlands once before, thirty years earlier. I remembered how gentle the cycling experience was, and thought it would be a safe place to go with a young person. Henry did not seem to have other plans that part of the summer, so I purchased two tickets to Holland for a week long stay. He was thirteen years old.
Cycling through The Netherlands was every bit as fun as I had remembered, maybe even better. Bicycle paths go everywhere. Bringing our bikes with us on the airplane, we put them together, and cycled directly from the airport. We headed that first night to Haarlem, carrying our stuff in bags on the back of the bicycles. For a week, we did a loop around several major cities in The Netherlands, including Leiden, Utrecht, Gouda, and finally Amsterdam. For years afterward Henry talked up The Netherlands. He wanted to move there, learn the language. He said that Leiden was the prettiest town he had ever seen. We shared a great memory feeding a duck while sitting in a restaurant on the canal in Leiden. Henry drove me crazy because he loved to ride the bicycle with no hands.
On the way back to the USA, we had a six hour layover in Gatwick airport, London. For lunch, we took the train down to the decaying beach resort of Brighton.
Belgium / The Netherlands 2007
The next summer, Henry was bugging me to take him back to Holland, or somewhere. I wanted to get him somewhere where he could not stare at a computer screen. All the fares to Europe that summer seemed to be in the $1300.00 range. USAir was just starting service to Brussels, and the promotional fare was in the $ 550.00 range. So Brussels it was!
Arriving Brussels in the morning, we put our bikes together and stored the boxes in a coin fed locker in the Brussels airport. We cycled off, looking for a place to buy the famous Belgian french fries. We did not have much of a plan, or reservations, but did have a hotel booking that first night in Leuven, a typically historic and beautiful university town about fifteen miles from the airport. It is also the home of Stella Artois beer.
We cycled around Belgium for two or three days, enjoying the paths along the canals. We then decided to skip going to the famous city of Brugges, and instead bicycle to The Netherlands. Crossing the border just north of Antwerp, we rolled into the small city of Roosendaal at about sixty-thirty at night. We had no idea what to expect. Typically European, we stumbled onto a beautiful town square with tables set up, and everyone seemed to be eating mussels! We found a hotel room, and then sat at a table and filled up with mussels and bread.
He wanted to go to Rotterdam because he had heard about it, and said he had an internet friend (with a Turkish name) who lived there. It was part of a circle of people around the world who make animation videos on the website Newgrounds dot com. We ended up not finding the guy, but we did stay in Rotterdam. Just before Rotterdam, alongside the highway tunnel going under a major shipping canal, the Dutch had built a separate tunnel just for pedestrians and bicycles!
We then cycled into Rotterdam. Everything is relatively new, since the whole city was bombed into rubble during World War II.
It was on this trip that Henry took my camera, and insisted on taking pictures of power lines. He seemed enchanted by the patterns formed by these structures.
We rode north through the canal laced flat landscape.
Looking in 2015 through this roll of 2007 pictures, it should come as no surprise that the best pictures seem to the the ten percent of the roll that Henry took.
We got as far north as Leiden, then rode back down to The Hague. We got on a train with our bicycles to take us back to Brussels. That last night in Brussels we ate out downtown, then walked through one of the main squares and Henry got, what else, a Belgian waffle.
Buffalo / Toronto 2008
Once again I was trying to get Henry off the computer for at least a short time. I really had no other agenda, so I asked him what places he would like to go to. He had been a fan of an internet mockumentary called “Pure Pwnage” Although I have still never seen it, it sounds like an amateur online “TV” show filmed by some guys in Toronto, about them and their friends. This was before Netflix or other mainstream companies had online content. He said there was going to be an event one night in June at a theater in Toronto, showing a new episode of this series. He also wanted to eat, as in the TV show, a smoked meat sandwich from Mel’s Montreal Deli. (Yes, Mel’s Montreal Deli is in Toronto!) I said I would go with him to Toronto if we could bicycle there the hundred and something miles from the Buffalo airport. I had heard there was a nice bike path along the southern shore of Lake Ontario. And there is.
This route also had the great advantage of going not only through the city of Buffalo, but also to Niagara Falls. We flew Southwest Airlines into Buffalo and stayed near the airport. The next morning we bicycled into downtown Buffalo, and then on to Niagara Falls. We stared at the falls a while, and then went to a Japanese restaurant on the Canadian side, where we also got a hotel. Over the next two days, we bicycled through the countryside of southern Ontario, with much of it along a bike path by the lake. We bicycled into Toronto that third afternoon. We got a Mel’s sandwich, which is pastrami and delicious.
That night he went alone to the theater event, which was sold out and for which he had bought a ticket in advance. I enjoyed looking at the faces and outfits of the kids in a long line, waiting to get into the event. They all seemed Henryesque.
We stayed in Toronto most of the next day, and took the bus with our bicycles back to the Buffalo airport motel, where we had left the bike boxes.
Buffalo / Toronto 2009
My friends Tom Constantine and Steve Johnson had asked me to find a nice route for a short three or four day bike trip in the late summer; preferably one where we could take one or more of our sons along. I suggested they do the same ride that Henry and I had done the previous summer. Sam and Jack all seemed to be doing something, but Henry nicely agreed to do the same ride again. So there were five of us; Tom, his son Miguel at nineteen two or three years older than Henry; Steve, Henry, and me.
It was a fun trip with all those people, but much more complicated. I got somehow roped into providing bicycles for everybody. I shipped them up to Buffalo in one lump, on a trucking company that I use at my work.
The five of us rode through the city of Buffalo, then arriving Niagara Falls late in the afternoon. These pictures are courtesy of Miguel’s camera.
We stayed at a motel on the Canadian side. After dinner, Henry and I walked around in the carnival-like bright lights of tourist stuff, looking for somewhere to get a frozen yogurt. We had stopped at the motel to see if any of the others wanted to go with us, but at 9:00 PM all three were passed out on their beds, exhausted from the bike ride and the travel.
The next morning, in late August, the temperature was in the low sixties, with a fitful drizzle. We biked off through the Niagara Falls suburbs, but it started to rain really hard. We got so wet that we had to keep going to keep from freezing. It was cloudy all day, but by early afternoon we were dry, and had a very pleasant long lunch at an understated pizza place in some small town.
We slept that night in Burlington, Ontario, then rode got up and rode into Toronto. Of course we went to Mel’s, and had a nice time looking around the city.
I had work issues to get back to in North Carolina, so I took an early flight home the next day. Henry stayed and went back with the guys to Buffalo by bus.