Wednesday 29th-Thursday 30th July Woodstock by Helen

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Having been a hippy at heart since I was 17, a visit to Woodstock was a must. I had read that it was now a gentile and funky town full of veggie cafes, wholefood stores and yoga studios, like the Chiang Mai of New York state. The surrounding area is very pretty. Very much like parts of Snowdonia, without the dramatic peaks. The first indication that you are near the town is a sign for the Tibetan Centre (always a giveaway) and then the appearance of a pilates studio. Not many of those in the rural parts of New England where we had come from.

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We had experienced the wholefood store on the outskirts of town, on arriving, the day before. It was very well stocked and full of customers in their 70s who were probably too stoned to find their way home after the festival. It was shockingly expensive though and our normal daily shop cost about 30% more than usual, although we did find some marinated tofu and a great loaf of 8 seed bread. On our second visit we, headed for the centre of town and found a WiFi café for the first hour so we could upload the blog and plan the next part of the trip.

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It was about 33 degrees when we came out about 1pm but the heat was very dry and the left side of the road was in shade. I really enjoyed pottering about and looking at the cute little shops and cafes, some painted in bright colours and some with Tibetan flags or statues of Shiva. The menu of the vegan café looked great and the place was heaving but it was a bit too expensive for us and we don`t generally eat lunch so we did not investigate. The whole place had a chilled vibe and was definitely more upmarket than the town of Glastonbury, which we found quite down at heel a few years ago. If I lived in New York City or Boston then I would no doubt come to the area for long weekends but bliss here comes at a price. It’s more West Village in the hills than Dharamsala.

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Woodstock Helen

Back at camp, I was a bit jumpy after the near bear encounter. Rather than go down to the sunny but lonely meadow to practice yoga, I used a patch of grass nearer to the tent. Afterwards, on my way to the shower, the path suddenly seemed dark and slightly menacing and I could hear a low growling sound. As I walked on, a little perturbed but reminding myself that close up encounters are rare with black bears, I saw a guy flat on his back on a camp bed outside his tent, snoring his head off.

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We bear proofed the bike that night before bed, by wedging it between a fire ring/BBQ and a large picnic table so that it could not be pushed over. Dave also set the alarm this time. We stored the metal panniers, containing the food separately. The night passed without incident. However, the next morning a guy informed Dave that he had just seen a bear near his tent area. He said it was a pretty big one and that they had chased it off. As we were leaving, the park ranger came by in his golf cart and informed us that a small bear had been seen that morning on pitch 25. Mmm how big was the fish (bear)? After availing us with stories of friends of his who had done road trips to Mexico on their Harleys and others who had flown their bikes to Europe, he told us more about bears. Apparently, as there had been sightings of this (small) bear, they would ask the biologist if we he wants to trap him. They will then take blood samples to make sure he is healthy and then tag him. On release, they set dogs on the bear to run him off the area and frighten him, to ensure he does not come back. If this doesn`t work then they might shoot him with a plastic bullet. This is all for the bear’s own sake as, if he becomes to familiar with humans and their food, he might end up having to be shot. He told us how they trapped two massive bears about 5 years ago. One was about 260 pounds and the other about 180. They were magnificent but also stank to high heaven, probably due to having to wear and thick black coat in the middle of a baking hot summer.

Monday 27th-Wednesday 29th July-First Bear Encounter by Helen

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We always planned to head to Woodstock, New York state, after Boston, on our way to Washington DC. Due to predicted temperatures of 36 degrees though, we decided to save Washington for the return leg next year. Trying to see a city in searing temperatures and humidity is no fun, as we know from living in Asia. This means we have the chance to camp for 12 straight nights across Massachusetts, New York state, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Georgia on our way to Nashville, where we are seeing Alice in Chains on 8th August.

We left Cambridge on Monday with a hangover, thanks to our night out with Simon. As a result, we decided not to go far and camped overnight at Wells State Park in western Massachusetts. This was a really pretty campground with a large lake and campers only beach. The individual sites were huge and shady so neighbours were far away, almost out of site. We spent the afternoon chilling, reading and I managed my fist yoga session of the trip on the grassy playing field.

On Tuesday morning we left quite early to head for The Catskills, a group of hills about the height of Snowdonia in Wales (3500 feet), where Woodstock is found. The actual festival took place in Phoenicia, another small town much nearer Woodland Valley Campsite where we planned to spend one or two nights. According to the internet, this is proper black bear country and bears visit the campground at least twice a week.


On the way from Massachusetts to New York state we passed through Connecticut for a couple of hours. I liked it a lot. Very rural compared to where we had been, with more crops growing and a few very pretty towns, all named after places in England, like Salisbury and Winchester. The architecture here is more varied than the coastal areas of New England. The New England map is full of familiar places, presumably named by the first settlers after the towns/countries they came from. Most place names are English such as Manchester, Norfolk, Dover (to name a few) but you also come across others like China, Lebanon, Wales and Holland.

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At the campsite, the warden asked me if I knew about the bears and how to take precautions. I solemnly confirmed I did, having read obsessively about it on the web. There are signs everywhere on the site advising about how to ensure food, cooking equipment and toiletries can be bear-proofed to avoid attracting them to the site. This is to protect people and their property of course but also bears. “A fed bear is a dead bear”. Only black bears live in this part of the USA, not grizzlies. Black bears are timid and only come near human settlements looking for food. All food and toiletries have to be stored in the your car overnight. You are also advised not to sleep in clothes you have cooked in. Of course, we don`t have a car but we do have aluminium boxes on the bike in which we can store food etc. in. We have been religiously following these rules for the last 10 days in order to get into a routine ready for proper bear country but last night we were extra careful. We also moved the bike to another pitch about 20 metres across the way so food etc. was nowhere near the tent.

We both fell into a deep sleep about 9.30pm. About 10pm there was a noise like something falling to the ground and Dave shot bolt upright and mumbled something about the bike. Not wanting him to go out and investigate, in case there was a bear around, I reassured him it was people putting stuff away and we both went back to sleep. This morning around 7am a neighbour woke us to tell us the bike was over. Sure enough, Dave found it, wheels in the air, back box open and helmets on the ground. Nothing was taken. One of the boxes was slightly bashed in. Bears push bins over to get at what is in them and clearly a bear used this technique on the bike, to no avail. A good way to look at it is that our precautions worked. A bad way is that there was a bear about 20 metres from our tent, investigating our food, only an hour after dark. Tonight Dave will park between two trees so that the bike cannot be pushed over. Another option is to take the boxes off so the bears can roll them around, without damaging the bike. We might also put the alarm on as it bleeps when you first touch the bike and this might scare them off. An interesting night to come.

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