Catskillcade May 2012

By SCIENCE

Minutes of the May 6, 2012 meeting of the Motorised Adventure Gentleman’s Overland Two-wheel Touring Society:

In which I relate the events of Catskillcade 2012, a most excellent peregrination through the most wild and unpopulated lands of Delaware and Putnam Counties, New Amsterdam and wherein various adventures and trials are undertaken.

The tale begins at the Sussex County NJ staging site for the Motorised Adventure Gentleman’s Two-wheel Touring Society, The Chatterbox Cafe, a fine establishment for planning and departing upon such voyages as are undertaken by the society upon our chosen two-wheeled conveyances. Your author arrived directly upon the agreed hour of Noon to find the Society’s trusted manservant and guide, Konrad Urban waiting in the carriage-lot. Konrad, ever the trusty retainer of the Society, had already made his way to the estimable Hayek’s Meat and Provender (est. 1861 as supplier to the Kittatinny Zoaves elite regiments in the War Between the States) wherein he had made good on his promise to acquire provisions for the expedition. Such forward planning was required because carrier pigeon reports from the deep Catskills indicate that provender continues to be difficult to come by after the Great Flood of 2011 and subsequent Cholera epidemic.

Konrad was found fettling his ride, refilling the total-loss lubrication system associated with the acetylene pump that feeds it’s state-of-the-art Forward Searchlight. I waited while he added precisely one half pint of cod liver oil to the gravity feed reservoir above the tiller (ingeniously placed to allow for one-handed operation! So unlike the earlier systems which required you to switch to foot steering while lubricating the carbide pump). While we made our greetings two more of our company arrived, Col. Matthew Augustus “Scrounger” Baynard (ret.) and Christofero “Signoro Furioso” Ferrari (on loan to the Society from the Modena branch of the Motorrizato Avventura Gilda). Since there was still one of our number who had as yet not arrived, we chose to go inside and fuel ourselves for our upcoming trip with a hearty meal of steak and kidney pie and salt pork. A missive from the missing party member, delivered previously by wireless had stated “Fish! Order me fish and it best be freshly deep fried, my good men” so we ordered him a heaping plate of kippered sardines in good lard-batter. Timing was fortuitous because just as the proprietor’s buxom daughter was delivering our food, Steven P. “Thinker” Williams III esq. OBE, JDBC, PTSD rolled in on his Bavarian Vergnugung Lastkahn.

Upon completing our meal we synchronized the gnomon wheels on our individual portable solar navigation systems, setting the bearing and distance to our destination at the Alpine Club. Some consternation was encountered in converting the units from the miles used in Scrounger’s and my rangefinder to the furlongs of Konrad’s British model and the Prussian Kilometers of Thinker’s Teutonic unit. That being done I rewound the mainspring and tested the rotation on the micro-windmill which should keep it properly tensioned for accurate navigation as long as my moto-cycle was making good headway. All was well, so we embarked on our trek.

We made good time because we were travelling without the usual entourage of hardy Jackson Whites that normally acted as bearers on such expeditions. Our route went through darkest Stokes Forest, Port Jervis (last outpost of civilization), Monticello (that wicked den of gambling hidden deep in the forests of the Irrakwa), Roscoe (calling that beaver-trading outpost a “town” is being exceedingly generous). Disaster nearly struck after Roscoe, whereupon Konrad Urban misread a vernier on his navigation unit’s sun-tracker and we set off on heretofore unexplored trails. After passing quickly through the aboriginal settlement of Jeffersonville (where it appears they venerate a Tree God of some sort) we were forced to execute a patented “Konrad Urban U-turn” to regain the proper path. Soon we were upon the known territory of the Pepacton Reservoir. While stopped to regain our bearings and for the companions who lacked my automated windmill winding device to tighten the mainsprings on their navigators, Col Scrounger took the opportunity to righ his Portable Motion Picture Recording Device. Freshly filled with Grade-A Squid Ink the device would have more than enough capacity to capture our passage around the reservoir at an astonishing 4 images per second. Oh, how we looked forward to sharing true moving pictures of our exciting passage with you, our society compatriots. I look forward to the good Colonel posting them on the bulletin board in the foyer of the clubhouse.

We made one final stop just before the Alpine Club to refill the coal bins on our moto-cycles, de-coke the combustion chambers, and acquire a few barrels of stout from the local mountain outpost brewer as such barrels would have weighed our machines down for much of the trip and prevented our rapid progress had we not waited until this point in the trip to stock up.

Minutes later we were at the Alpine Club, where faithful Viktor von Eberhardt (whom I had recruited years ago when he had been my mentor in mountain guide training) had already prepared our places. There was a fire stoked in the hearth and chased a family of opposum out of the outhouse to ensure our comfort. Remarkably, a fifth member of our expedition had already arrived. The unmistakable Boss Hoss with it’s huge low pressure steam boiler and quadruple stainless steel driver cylinders sat hulking in the corner of the stockade-enclosed courtyard. Small puffs of anthracite smoke wafted from it’s smokestack, and steam still rose from the boiler to indicate that it’s pilot had arrived only moments earlier. Indeed, the gimbaled leather safety harness had yet to be re-laced from the trip. Presently we were treated to the company of bon-vivant playboy explorer Mark “Bing” Wheatley. Greetings were exchanged all around, and Bing was proud to relate how he had came the farthest distance of anyone with minimal expenditures in ammunition along the way.

Next to arrive was Explorer Emeritus William “Evil Bill” King, veteran of countless expeditions, known to the aboriginal tribes of the Catskills for fearlessly participating in their primitive games of “chicken” which few Civilised men have survived. A glance at the electro-mechanical sundials built into my navigation unit indicated that it would still be several hours before Madame Gracin of the New York Gracins was expected to arrive, so we chose to repair to the upper terrace of the Alpine Club for Stout and Sausages, the traditional afternoon snack of the Motorised Adventure Gentleman’s Overland Two-wheel Touring Society. Viktor fetched the Society’s prized Stout-hookah and affixed it to the top of one of the barrels we had acquired earlier and pressurized the feed-globe so that we could all enjoy an effortless pull of the thick black beverage enjoyed by the locals in this remote mountain area. Evil regaled us with tales of how the Society had won the Stout-hookah in a three-day long competition of “Oppress the Aborigines” held against the Litchfield County Explorer’s Society back before the turn of the Millenium. I’ll never tire of that story, nor his demonstration of how he lost the use of his pinky toes in a scrum while besting one of the Litchfield boys by scoring a triple-Oppression on a wandering hippie from nearby Woodstock.

Presently the faint whirr of Madam Gracin’s Electro-Moto was heard coming through the mountain pass and we made our way to unbar the stockade for her entrance. Signoro Furioso unlimbered his DeLamiter Mark V (an impressive weapon sporting both a .52-calibre smoothbore revolver and a double barreled hand shotgun in an over/under configuration perfect for putting the Fear of God and Civilization into troublemaking Catskill natives) because we had heard war hoots from the other side of the hill and feared that Madam Gracin might have to fight her way into the valley. Luckily the natives were probably preoccupied with one of their sadistic fertility rituals fueled by fermented maple syrup tinged with Ergot and they gave us no trouble. The Madam greeted us all in her normal aristocratic manner (though we all knew she had been disowned by her family years ago after “The Incident in Broad Daylight” on Delancy Street in Manhattan, which the gossip columnists of several New Amsterdam broadsheets still write about to this day). One final time that evening greetings were exchanged, and it was noted that Madam Gracin’s limp taken in the unfortunate engagement with the Aurochs had almost gone away.

With all of the expected Society members gathered together, we instructed Viktor to stoke the hearth so that we could commence the opening feast of the expedition. Each adventurer had provided their own supplies, and so we had Pork Sausage Burgers, Pork Bratwurst, Pork & Beans, and Pork Salad… because what we were to face on the morrow could not be faced with Beef in the bloodstream, lest the smell enrage the tribesmen. After dinner Viktor excused himself to retire, claiming fatigue from sharpening the stockade spikes earlier in the day while the rest of the party retired to the upper terrace for Port and Tobacco. All except for Thinker and Furioso, who called for Laudanum instead. Eventually we turned in early at 2:30 AM by the moondial, listening to the gurgling cries wafting over from the aboriginal village in the valley.

In the morning Viktor prepared us pancakes and we received a surprise visitor in the form of “A Shogun Named” Marcus (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qkgomfAILM). There was an insistent pounding on the stockade gate, and we all went out armed to the teeth expecting an ambush of Woodchucks. Instead, we found Marcus wielding the Hattori Hanso blade he had won during his years in Edo, menacing a small band of local urchins begging for food scraps. His blade gleamed brightly even though the morning was overcast, and once again I wondered what exotic alloy went into the creation of that sword. Marcus would make our number 9 and add much needed close-in fighting capability to our small band.
The weather was looking inauspicious at that hour, but Bing broke out his sling psychrometer and Austrian-made barometer (which Viktor was put to work filling with mercury borrowed from the arc lamps normally used to illuminate the corners of the stockade during the infrequent night raid). After furiously whirling the psychrometer and consulting a pocket meteorology book for adiabatic pressure tables, Bing pronounced that the weather would be clearing within the hour and we should set out. We all prepared the various powerplants according to their respective needs; filling water reservoirs, loading coal bins, changing seals on turbines or adding tallow to the pilot wicks. Madam Gracin dumped the waste acid from her batteries into the privy, which had the added benefit of disinfecting and deodorizing the reeking oublietty. She refilled from a supply of white fuming nitric and sulfuric acid kept on hand for just this purpose as well as the disposal of inconvenient bodies, and polished the brass of the stirling engine generator that served as prime power source for her moto-cycle.

At the appointed time, we backed our moto-cycles to the far corner of the courtyard so that we might have a running start. Viktor stood by the stockade gate ready to throw it wide open. When I gave the signal, he drew the bar and gave the gate a prodigious kick. As it swung open, each member of the expedition unleashed the full force of whatever motor powered their ride and in a great black gout of Anthracite- and whale-oil flame we thundered through the gate. It was essential to reach a speed of at least 12 miles to the hour before the edge of the forest because such a large party was sure to capture the notice of the locals, and we needed to be well on our way before they came running. I switched to foot-steering so that I could wave farewell to Viktor and use our Society’s private hand signals to indicate our expected time of return. Viktor had instruction that if we did not arrive within 4 hours of our planned return then he should begin preparations to send word of our unfortunate demise to Society lawyers back in New Amsterdam.

The goal of the day’s expedition was to reach the fabled Delaware Phoenix Distillery. The Delaware Phoenix was purportedly a spring and pot-still tended by a local shaman who could produce an elixir with uncanny properties of intoxication. We would pass Pehpacton Reservoir once again, then on through the fortified port town of Hancock at the confluence of the East and West branches of the Delaware River. Part of our journey took us onto a disused portion of King’s Highway Number 17, and as we brought the boilers, turbines, and generators up to pressure I was accosted by Thinker, who attempted to give me information using Society hand signals. I interpreted his signals to mean either “I am running out of coal” or “We have a man down… Execute a Konrad Urban maneouvre with all haste!” As it turns out he was trying to tell me that the road was infested with aborigines who are infuriated by excessive speed and who will bar the way of moto-cycle riders going too fast, demanding tribute in trinkets and gold or possibly detaining them for ransom. We never did clear up the confusion, and so we alternated between the leisurely pace of 10 miles to the hour and the shocking pace of 40 miles to the hour.

By and by we reached Hancock. After bartering with the locals to serve us lunch (there is only one of me and two of them, said the bar wench… and yet the two of them never appeared so we offered the bar wench glass beads and trinkets to overlook her inherent laziness and finally agree to take our orders to the kitchen). We ate heartily… at least those of us who were not still feeling the effects of Port, Stout, and too much laudanum (Furioso was looking decidedly Choleric).

After lunch we serviced our machines, again refilling water, adding paraffin where necessary and polishing the odd bits of brass until they gleamed. Then we were off on King’s Highway Number 17 again for a short while, followed by King’s Highway Number 10 around Cannonville Reservoir. The members of the expedition pronounced this to be a capital ride location that must be included on every Catskills expedition in the future. I followed Marcus, who if the truth be told is one especially bold rider with excellent moto-cycle handling skills. His seemingly underpowered machine (sporting but a single 18-inch steam piston) made short work of the high speed sweeping turns associated with the reservoir shoreline. I followed, comfortable that the blade strapped to his back would make short work of any natives that might be flushed out from the woods alongside the road.

By and by we reached Walton and found the Shaman of the Delaware Phoenix. Truth be told we could not determine whether the Shaman was a man or a woman, given that the creature was old and wizened and sported clothes of indeterminate gender. The shaman gave us a tour of the spring, explained some (but not all) of the arcane processes that go into the making of the elixir, allowed us to pet the Distillery Dog with the 12 year old weeping ulcerous sore on it’s hind leg (the dog was named “Sappho,” which gave those of us cogent of classical Greek history a clue as to the Shaman’s gender and preference for love-partner). Finally the Shaman offered to trade us gold for bottles of the Elixir, though for obscure reasons of religion and/or local tribal law we were unable to barter directly with the Shaman. Instead, we were pointed to the hut of an intermediary a few hundred yards away, who was happy to trade gold and trinkets for a few bottles. One incident that was memorable in this transaction is that when the intermediary consulted an oracle on how many trinkets to trade for a bottle of the freshly made “Bour-Bon” Elixir, the oracle came back and said over ONE TRILLION trinkets. She retracted this request as clearly a mistake, and Thinker retracted the two cocked-and-loaded Semmerling .45 derringers that he had inserted into her nostrils. We left with our “Bour-Bon” and no blood shed.

With freshly wound mainsprings and aligned gnomon wheels on our navigator devices we aimed straight back to the Alpine Club. As part of the Motorised Adventure Gentleman’s Overland Two-wheel Touring Society vehicle cross-training program, many of us traded moto-cycles on the ride back in order to become more proficient in various methods of transportation. I traded with Konrad Urban, Konrad with Signoro Furioso and Madam Gracin. On the way back we stopped for more barrels of stout and extra coal and whale oil.

We returned well within our appointed time, and so Viktor burned the letter he was drafting to our families, retainers, and lawyers. That night aboriginal activity was quiet and we had many provisions left in our larder so once again we ate in the Alpine Club dining room. This saved a dangerous trip to the local aborigine village for roast venison, and allowed us to keep the trinkets and glass beads that we had intended to use to buy the local’s off from flaying us alive after the meal. We also had Viktor break out the wireless and start pedaling so that we could listen to the morse code account of the Kentucky Derby. While Viktor pedaled madly to keep the required 50 Watts of power feeding into the receiver, Madam Gracin and I used the Bour-Bon to make Mint Juleps and Evil Bill arranged for a wagering pool. For all his work in keeping the wireless powered, Viktor was the victor of the wager. This time the quantity was quite large, since Signoro Furioso had insisted that the ante be increased from the $1 of previous years to $5 this year.

Exhausted, and lacking any alarms to defend the stockade I retired at a relatively early hour, approximately 1 AM. This should have left me well rested in the morning, except Bing shared the bunkroom with me and at 4 AM by the moondial he woke me up with the most hideous squalking noise. Apparently he had picked up a Delaware Throat Leech (nasty creature that affixes itself to the epiglottis and engorges itself with the victim’s blood, blocking the airway). The squalking was the the leech’s dorsal tendons vibrating in Bing’s airway. Luckily, we were able to grab the leech with a pair of vise-grip pliers and hack it off of his through with a few strokes of Marcus’ blade. We burned the evil thing in Madam Gracin’s spare acid. The doctors say Bing should be able to swallow again in a few weeks, and speak shortly after that. Probably. Until then he is taking nourishment by Ayurvedic Reverse Peristalsis, a technique he learned in Bangalore while fighting for the British Raj. He asks that you not stare while he feeds.

In the morning Viktor fed us quail eggs and rashers of wild boar cracklings, we paid him off in glass beads and trinkets, and we headed to our respective home bases by 9:30 AM according to the sundial. Weather was perfect for moto-cycling. The only setback anyone encountered was when Scrounger and I were stopped dead on King’s Highway Number 287, when the morse code signals on our portable wireless receivers indicated that a band of hundreds… nay THOUSANDS of supposed “outlaw moto-cyclists” were being directed by constabulary escort at parade speed (10 miles to the hour) along the Highway on a trip to some large gathering in Atlantic City. This was an OUTRAGE, but we suffered the slowness and made it home without further incident.