Archives for category: Bicycling

Sunday, August 5, final day. I’m pretty sure that the weather forecasts for the last two weeks have warned of thunderstorms everyday, from a 20% chance to 60 %. Brian and I had been amazingly fortunate avoiding rain, but not so with heat and headwinds. All-in-all, I think we were better off soaked with perspiration than precipitation.

So when I left Holland, Massachusetts for the relatively easy 45 mile ride to Wethersfield, Connecticut, I was not that worried about weather, even though gusty winds and torrential downpours were possible. But I left much later than usual, 1:15 in the afternoon.

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The first time I got lost, it was my fault. There are two roads that cross the hill between Holland and Route 19. I should have gone straight, but I took the right into Union, CT. I found fresh pavement on remote, rural roads, thick with trees, steep with hills, and pestering flies that enjoyed my snail’s pace on the climbs. At first I was so lost that I didn’t even know I was lost. After several descents, I realized my mistake. There was absolutely no way I was turning around and climbing back so I relied on my compass (again) and pressed onward, trying as best I could to go west and south.

I found my way into the tiny town of Stafford and kind of knew where I was. In Stafford Springs the road signs disappeared and I was soon confused (again). My compass heading was acceptable, I pedaled on, and I kept a wary eye to the north-east at a line of thunderstorms. In short order, I began to hear the thunder; long, deep, rolling and growling. Soon after that, the line of clouds would illuminate from within as lightning looked for a path to ground. Scanning the homes to my left and right, looking for one with a big enough front porch, or an open garage door, the wind suddenly got stronger and colder. Just a few seconds before it reached me, I could hear the rain pelting the thick, dark green, August leaves, like a freight train rumbling in to town. It was time to seek shelter. With the amazing luck that has followed me across the country, it is no surprise that at that exact moment I spied a house with a front porch, no steps, just a few feet from the road. I knocked on the door and when the gentleman answered, the rain was sweeping through and the lightning bolts were zig-zagging. The thunder no longer purred like a hungry stomach: it cracked and exploded with July 4th intensity.

No problem. Been there done that. I checked the weather radar on my iPad and saw that I would soon be back on the road. I calculated that I might reach Hartford before the next line of storms moved in. We both arrived there at the same time.

Barely 5 miles from my destination, I imagined pulling into the Old Town Cafe, soaking wet and bedraggled, standing at the bar as a puddle of water formed at my feet. I crossed the Connecticut River on the Charter Oak Bridge, rising high above the watery obstacle. The gang of thunderstorms was terrorizing the north-end of Hartford and I had a ringside seat while I was trying to skirt to the south. Highly motivated by weather, the thought of finishing, and sharing a beer with my friends, I pushed hard on the pedals, and tried to stay cognizant of road hazards and traffic (I was too close now to suffer a stupid accident). I arrived at the Old Town at 5:50, just as Ron Kapraszewski got there with his van. “Hey Neal”, he yelled, “do you want to put your bike in the van?” The question didn’t really need to be asked. With the efficiency of a Tour de France mechanic changing out a bike for the wearer of the Yellow Jersey, we had the dirty, and somewhat tattered Waterford bicycle safely tucked away. And then it rained cats and dogs!

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My total mileage for the trip is 4,262 miles. I weighed myself this morning and I am 21 pounds lighter. I started on May 26, took a total of 15 days off, and finished on August 5. I think that is an actual 57 days on the bike.

I have two or three more posts in me before I stop blogging. One will be a thank you post. One will be a reflection on Canada, and I might do one about Detroit. And I’m pretty sure I can say some nice words about my sister too.

Bonus photo (credit Brain Pawlow); Weston, VT, July 29.

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Saturday, August 4.The blog is late today because I was busy hydrating last night. I camped at my friend Ernie Riley’s lake house in Holland, Massachusetts.

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Brian and I have had a couple of tough days in a row. Saturday started out wonderfully on the Nashua River Rail Trail, 12 miles of paved bliss

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We had a 75 mile day planned to Holland where Brian’s wife Marion could easily pick him up. Marion delivered Brian to Amasterdam, NY to meet me and now had to drive in the opposit e direction to collect him.

20120805-105830.jpgBut before we could do that we had to cross Massachusetts top to bottom, as well as a sizable chunk east to west. We were trying to use all back roads.

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This was my 15th day in a row on the bike and the hills seemed especially tough. We finally jumped on the numbered state roads and limped up the hill to Ernie’s house at 5:15. Cathy’s family was here for a surprise birthday party for her (she is the oldest of 12 siblings!). My timing was perfect.

20120805-110401.jpgI am thankful and grateful for the kindness and hospitality extended to me by the Riley and Bartram families.

I will force myself back onto my touring bicycle soon, and do a few more hills before I arrive at the Old Town Cafe, on Main Street, Old Wethersfield, at about 5:30 Sunday, August 5. And the best part is I will be able to attend the Monday Night bike ride with the Newington and Mountain Laurel Ski Clubs tomorrow and ride a bicycle that weighs less than 20 pounds!

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I am really glad Brian was here today. He got to see first-hand several things that I have grown accustomed to; temperatures and humidity that are a little higher, mileage that stretches out into the eighties, headwinds that persist throughout the day, and the google bike mapping function (it is in “beta”) that can put you on a dirt road suitable only for a 250 horse-power all-terrain vehicle.

We allowed google to select us a bike route from Kennebunk to Nashua and finally stopped for breakfast in South Berwick, Maine, across the Salmon Falls River from Dover, New Hampshire.

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We needed a little help from a couple of fellow cyclists when a two-mile section suddenly turned to dirt but we were doing OK. It wasn’t until we got to the five mile Rockingham Recreation Trail that things got really confusing.

20120803-221009.jpgYou may notice in the photo that all of the permitted vehicles have motors that burn gasoline. Brian and I dropped back and punted, and took the long way around on the paved roads.

We stopped for directions in at the Epping New Hampshire Fire Department. All four front bay doors were wide open and I knew immediately that we could get some help. I rode my bicycle into the bays, leaned it against the rescue boat, and went in search of the office. I could not find the office entrance, so I walked out front and went in the main door. I found myself inside the police department “reception” room. There was one locked door, a two way mirror, and a window, but no one to say hello to. I saw a police officer in a back office engaged in a conversation and he looked at me, but wasn’t interested enough to get up and come and greet me. Finally I noticed the telephone on the wall with a button for “receptionist”.

Brian, on the other hand, rode his bicycle around the back where the entrance to the fire office was located. The Chief of the Epping Fire Department, Don, DeAngelis, happened to be there, said hello to Brian, and asked how he could help. Brian mentioned something about the heat, being lost, and trying to get to Nashua. The Chief replied “We can get you to Nashua” and invited him inside.

I was having less luck. The receptionist, beckoned by the phone I was using, appeared from around the corner. She picked up the receiver, and with all the personality of getting your prescription at the local drug store, staring at a hot, tired, lost, sweaty cyclist through the bullet proof glass, she said in a rather annoyed voice “Yes?”

I quickly explained that I was lost and was trying to find my way to Nashua. She asked me what street I was looking for. I perused my list, but I was lost, and I really couldn’t tell her what she wanted (I was lost). Finally she said “I will give you directions” and she rattled off a half dozen street names, intersections, and rights and lefts in about 30 seconds. I stood there with my mouth open trying to make sense of anything she said. I asked her if they had a map I could look at. She said no. I asked her if the fire department had a map. She said no. I asked her to repeat the directions again so that I cold write them down. She was so disgusted with me that she rolled her eyes and said, very sarcastically, “I will get you a man to give you directions”. This was not going well.

A uniformed police officer suddenly appeared from behind the tamper proof metal door. With one hand on his gun and the other on his handcuffs, in an authoritative voice, he took immediate charge of the rapidly disintegrating public relations fiasco. “What’s the problem here?, he sternly inquired. I tried to explain that there was no problem, that I was lost, and I needed to look at a map. He told me that there were no maps. I told him that I had been looking for the fire department but the only door I could find was the police department. He sent me around the back.

When I found Brian he was sipping an ice cold bottle of water while the Fire Chief, Don DeAngelis, asked him all about the bike trip. We were invited inside to soak up some air conditioning. Sitting in the kitchen, the Chief gave us each a fresh apple and another bottle of water. Chief DeAngelis is retired from the Concord Fire Department. He got bored and applied for the chief’s job in Epping. We talked shop for a while and I found out that he is friends with Lt. Ian Tenny of Hartford Fire who is a fellow instructor with me at the CT Fire Academy. Before we left, we checked out the map, and took a photo.

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Eventually, Brian and I found our way to Nashua. The small city has been twice named the “best place to live in America”, but both of us think it is one of the worst places to be a cyclist. Someone yelled at me to get on the sidewalk (even though there was no sidewalk). In a rotary, the car behind Brian was blowing the horn at him. A driver pulled up next to me and attempted a right hand turn. And apparently, the state slogan “live free or die” also means you don’t have to use your turn signal while you are smoking a cigarette and talking on your cell phone. A police car rolled out into an intersection in front of us and a few seconds later a parked car door flung open in our paths. We survived. We had a wonderful dinner downtown before proceeding to our hotel on the outskirts. We are getting out of town tomorrow, headed south.

Brian’s wife, Marion, may be picking him up tomorrow in the Sturbridge area (he wants to get home to mow the lawn). I will continue may trek and will probably arrive home late Sunday afternoon. I am aiming for the Old Town Cafe, on Main Street in Old Wethersfield, around 4:00 or 5:00.

In the blink of an eye, Brian and I crossed the state line, and stopped for breakfast in Fryeburg, Maine. We were headed for Portland, south on route 113, which was nicer than we expected. About halfway there, in Steep Falls, we realized that the gently rolling terrain and light winds were going to get us into Portland by 1:00. I used my iPad to google a bike route to Kennebunk and we set off on a new adventure from there.

20120802-225751.jpgWe got to this section a day late.

Overall, google did a good job. We rode the 6 1/2 mile section of East Coast Greenway between Biddeford and Kennebunk, a firmly packed, smooth gravel surface (Dexter and Jo-Pat will be biking this later in the month).

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Brian left most of his luggage in the room, but I did not remove any. We arrived at Mother’s Beach, shrouded in fog, at about 4:30 and I man-handled my bike over the soft sand, to the harder, low tide, exposed surface.

I did not have much to say, unusual for me. I called Mac and Ty and left them voice-mails, and e-mailed photos right there while the tide was coming in.

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Brian whipped out a couple of flamingos.

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Tomorrow we head south and west, making our way back to Connecticut. Also tomorrow, my friends Mac, Drew, and Ty, will dip their front wheels into the ocean down in New Jersey.

Brian and I have been traipsing all over Vermont visiting my relatives and getting in position to climb the KancamagusHighway. It is the highest peak on the last section of Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier route and despite some trepidation, we were looking forward to it.

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We really got our butts kicked yesterday and there was every reason to expect worse today. That is why we planned a short 45 mile day, from Lincoln,over the Kanc, to Conway.

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The road started rising immediately. The mountains in the New Hampshire’s Whites have a different flavor than Vermont’s Greens. The Granite State’s peaks are sharper, steeper, and have more exposed rock face. We reached the hairpin turn and were still waiting for the “wall” that would slow us to a snail’s pace and take an hour of sweat and effort before summiting. Then we saw the warning sign; 7% descent, trucks test brakes! It was so much easier than yesterday that we were a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it was a challenge. But I never shifted down to my granny gear, I never felt despair, I never thought about ending it all and selling my bicycle and calling a cab (all the things that signify a tough climb).

20120801-212236.jpg Brian suggested that it was easier because we took more breaks at all the scenic overlooks and interpretive centers. Also, we were not battling a headwind, the climb came early in the day, and it was cloudy and cooler.

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We arrived at our hotel so early that the room was not ready yet. We rode the seven miles back into the tourist town in search of a bike shop to tighten Brian’s headset. Rain clouds began to surround us as we pushed on, only to find a sign on the bike shop door “gone for the day”. So we went to the main drag and found a suitable restaurant while a shower moved through.

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Anyone that’s been in Conway knows it is a shopping mecca and a tourist trap. However, we also stumbled upon an EMS store that had a bicycle mechanic on duty. As Mechanic Nick tweaked the headset, I asked him if he had time to clean my chain.

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We are all set now for the final day, into Portland, Maine. We should arrive at East End Beach between 3:00 and 5:00. I will wrestle my fully loaded bicycle across the sand for the bookend photo companion to the one I have from Seaside, Oregon, back on May 27.

20120731-215701.jpgThis is Brian beginning the descent down New Hampshire route 112 into Lincoln, a two mile, 12%, well deserved, coast.

We began our day just west of Barre, VT, at Sandy and Peter’s condo. We pushed against a headwind all day but the sun and clouds were spectacular and the temperature was wonderful. We climbed for 15 miles and then descended for another 15 to the Connecticut River separating Wells River, VT from Woodville, NH.

Brian and I knew we were in the land of the White Mountains and were expecting an epic climb before the descent into Lincoln. However, we leisurely pedaled our way, slowly climbing, alongside the Ammonoosuc River and the Wild Ammonoosuc River. The trees were dense and closed in around us, protecting us from the headwind, making for a pleasant ride. Surely we must start climbing in earnest soon? Well, we did, but it was sneaky. The road created an optical illusion that it was flat or even going downhill. Our speed told us otherwise. We came to a three mile section of fresh pavement and at first our spirits lifted. Then we discovered that they do not know what a steam-roller is in New Hampshire. The new tar was the equivalent of coarse sandpaper and felt like glue on our tires. At least they were sweeping the loose sticky stones and I managed to add to my list of vehicles that I have drafted;

Remember the optical illusion: this section of road may look downhill, but we are surely rising.

This was one of the toughest climbs I had the entire trip. It was long, there was a stiff headwind, and it was demoralizing because it did not look like a climb; until the last mile. We caught up to two other cyclists who had stopped to pick asphalt stones off their legs, Dawn and Lewis.

20120731-222109.jpgBrian and Lewis (this is an uphill!).

20120731-222156.jpgDawn.

We were all struggling to the summit. I felt as if I had two flat tires and my brakes were rubbing. I must have looked bad because Dawn gave me a whole package of Cliff Shots as she passed. I would have taken them intravenously if possible. Something about this climb felt as if the gravity of Jupiter was sucking my bike down into the massive, granite mountain. Suddenly we summited and all was right with the world.

20120731-222720.jpgDawn is an English professor at Brandeis University and her husband Lewis is a psychiatrist. They have a summer home in Waterford, VT. It’s a good thing they enjoy cycling because they still had to climb back over Franconia Notch! We enjoyed an iced tea with them in Woodstock.

Tomorrow, Brian and I will climb the Kancamagus Highway, a short day, only 43 miles. We are still planning on getting to Portland, Maine by Thursday.

Bonus photos: no mooses were harmed (or seen) during this bike ride.

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No aliens harmed any humans during this bike ride.

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This morning we posed for a photo with my sister before rolling down the dirt road and out to Route 4 East.

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The weather seemed to have settled down as there were no lightning bolt icons in the forecast. Brian has his eye on the puffy clouds all day and kept telling me to “watch out, they can get together and gang up on you.” in Woodstock, we headed north on Route 12 and then quickly turned right onto Pomfret Road.

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VT

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We did some steep climbs on beautiful country roads and then descended into Sharon to visit my sister’s grand kids in their new house.

20120730-222853.jpgThe kids are Willow, and the twins are Silas and Ira. (I have no idea which is who).
They escorted Brian and myself out of Sharon. Here is video, followed by a photo;

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From Sharon, we took Route 14 into Barre, VT, home of the famous granite quarries. Route 14 was an unexpected treat; fairly flat, lots of little rollers, and light traffic.

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Some of you may have noticed that we did not make any eastward progress today. We have been busy visiting family and freeloading on our friends. Tonight we are at Peter and Sandy’s new condo in Berlin, VT, just east of Montpelier. Unfortunately, Peter is not here. He stays at my place when he is running Suburban Sports Ski & Bike Shop in Berlin, CT. So I am at his house and he is at mine!

Update on front wheel dipping in Portland; it now looks as if we will get there on Thursday afternoon, probably around 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. If anyone wants to join us for dinner on Friday night, let me know, as I am still interested in taking a day off there, before getting back on the bike on Saturday morning.

People along the way; On Route 14, we thought we saw a guy wearing a sign on his head and walking south.

20120730-224534.jpgThis is Ken, US. army veteran, Afghanistan from 2004-2006. He intends to walk through all 50 state capitals and urge the government to amend the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. He started Walking in Camden, Maine and thinks it will take about two years.