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!).

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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.

The rain gear came off as soon as we got to the breakfast diner, about 1/2 mile away, and stayed in the saddlebags for the rest of the day. Yet, I was still soaked through-and through by the time we got to the top of the climb out of Manchester. It seems I forgot about a small detail, something they call the Green Mountains.

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My sister Lynn and her partner Jeanne met us at the top of the excruciating 15% climb from Plymouth up Route 100A. They cooked us a spectacular meal tonight, but first Brian and I went to the Long Trail Brewery (we were so close, it would have been criminal not to stop in.

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Lunch in Weston;

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Jeanne, Lynn, and Neal at Brad’s Crazy Side food stand on 100A, near Bridgewater. Brad used to own the Corners Inn Restaurant and this roadside stand is his “crazy side”.

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Me, my sister, and her beautiful garden, up Curtis Hollow Road on Old Baldy Mountain, in Bridgewater. We were picking (and immediately eating) red raspberries and black raspberries;

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Sylvia is the 12 year old Huskie-Rotweiler-wolf(?) hybrid, looking for a corn cob;

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Brian cycling up Route 100 alongside Echo Lake. There are still some damaged structures from last years Tropical Storm Irene and the repairs to the roads are plainly obvious.

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Whimsical scarecrows on Route 7A between Arlington and Manchester;

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We are headed to Peter and Sandy’s in Montpelier for Monday night. Front wheel dipping is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, August 4, between noon and 2:00 p.m. at East EndBeach in Portland, Maine. http://www.visitmaine.com/attractions/outdoor_recreation_sports_adventure/beaches/beaches_by_region/greater_portland_casco_bay/east_end_beach/

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I went for a bike ride today with my friend Brian Pawlow. He promised to meet me in NY and pull me all the way to Portland, Maine. Too bad I can’t keep up with him on the hills.

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We were trailblazing from Amsterdam, NY to Arlington, VT and found some great roads and one busy one. Route 29 into Saratoga Springs had a nice wide shoulder but lots of traffic. The town itself was so crowded that we watched cars sitting at a traffic light for three cycles before they could proceed. Brian tells me there is a famous horse race track there.

I preferred the next town, Schuylerville. They had some cool bike racks.

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There was weather moving in and we got worried when the thunder was accompanied by flashes of light. We were cycling directly into a cell so we took shelter in Hal Spezio’s barn before it started to rain.

20120728-222406.jpgHal is a retired NY State Trooper, since 1996. He worked on this farm as a kid and made a deal with the owner to keep it from being developed. The owner’s widow lives in a new home that Hal built for her behind the original farmhouse. She is 89 years old. Hal comes from a family of cops, his father, uncles, brothers, are all in blue. His brother is also the fire chief of the local volunteer department.

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20120728-223230.jpgIt rained really hard and for longer than we expected. Brian told me the rain was my fault for jinxing us by mentioning the it in my previous post. I pointed out to Brian that two things were different today; 1) it was raining, and 2) he was here. The cause and effect seem pretty obvious to me.

Finally, we realized we had to get back on the road despite the rain. So we donned our rain gear and headed out into a light drizzle which quickly disappeared. The sun was even trying to poke through the clouds. The rain gear came off and, all-in-all, it was a great day!

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At the risk of jinxing myself, I am going to say that the last time I put my rain gear on was for two hours in North Dakota. I have been chased by rain clouds, surrounded by rain clouds, it has poured rain at night, but my rain gear has been largely ignored. Today was such a day. At the top of a two mile climb on NY 5S, I looked to the north east and the clouds extended right down to the ground. Someone was getting wet and it wasn’t that far away.

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I did three long climbs today, two miles or so (with equally long descents) and I realize that I better get my climbing legs back soon or I am going to be suffering.

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New York is interesting for cycling. State Bike Route 5 can be a busy four lane high speed road or a deserted country by-way. The route today paralleled the Mohawk River. Also shadowing the river is the Erie Canal Bike Path, which is where the horses plodded as they pulled barges along. A cyclist could be cursing noisy traffic on the signed bike route, while a few feet away is a desolate bike path.

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The bike path switches between pavement near the towns, and hard packed, smooth gravel as elsewhere. To the other side of the bike path is an equally deserted country road. Several times I could see Interstate 90, State route 5S (which is Bike Route 5), the bike path, and the old country road; four different east-west routes within a stones throw of each other. If you count the river, the train on the other side of the river, the road on the other side of the river, and the grown in canal, that’s eight linear, side-by-side routes. Interesting.

The best part of the day was when I arrived in Amsterdam and my friend Brian Pawlow was already here, with his brother’s old touring bike, and some make-shift camping equipment. We rode down to an outdoor cafe/restaurant situated alongside the bike trail, commandeered a table, spread out the maps, and started to plan our campaign across New England.

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Brian’s wonderful wife, Marion, gave him a ride up here, left him, and drove home. Thank you Marion! And thanks to Brian’s employer, Middlesex Hospital (he is a P.T.), for bending over backwards to let him take the time off. I am really going to enjoy his company for the next week.

Bonus photo;
There was a cacophony of barking coming from this barn;

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Thursday, July 26. The weather finally caught up to me and I moved my neglected rain gear to the top, inside my saddlebags, so that I would be able to access it quickly. The thunderstorms woke me up at 4:00 a.m. and my weather radar said the chance of rain today would be 80%. A relatively easy day was planned, a mere 72 fairly flat and gently rolling miles into Utica (Ginny, I apologize, I am way off the Adventure Cycling route now).

I didn’t even put on sunscreen.

It was actually a pretty nice morning and I began to think that maybe I would escape the predicted thunderstorms. I was trying to put distance between myself and the Great Lakes and their huge influence on precipitation. I stopped in Verona for fluids and I heard someone say something about tornados. “You’ve got to be kidding”, I thought.

I fired up my iPad (which is finally able to get an AT&T signal here in the east), took a look at the radar, and saw something I have never seen before; the entire screen was covered in opaque red. There was nothing wrong with the screen, they were trying to tell me something. Hmmmmm. Red. Radar. That’s got to be bad.

But I was only 21 miles or so from Utica. Even though I could see the clouds rolling in behind me, I felt confidant that I would be there in an easy hour and a half. Then my worst nemesis showed up, the one that has haunted me from the beginning of my ride. It was guaranteed to slow me down, delay me, get in my way. I’m not talking about the head-wind, I’m talking about the dreaded interpretive tourist stop.

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I was rolling along, well ahead of the clouds, even the sun was shining and I almost missed it. Glancing to my left, I noticed the locked wrought iron gate. There, well off the road, was a tremendous obelisk. I thought once, twice, three times, and then I turned around and went back.

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I had to read every sign. I learned that General Nicholas Herkimer was leading 800 Tyron County Militia to relieve the colonials that were under siege at Fort Stanwix. British General Barry St. Leger dispatched a force of 100 soldiers and 400 Seneca and Mohawk to stop them. They ambushed the colonials on this very spot in one of the bloodiest battles of the American Revolution. The majestic monument was erected in 1883 to commemorate the men that fought here on August 6, 1777.

Amazingly, the mortally wounded Herkimer directed his troops as they formed a semi-circle, surrounded on all sides. Eventually the British forces withdrew. As for me, I was now surrounded by clouds on all sides, and I high-tailed it to the safety of a hotel, getting there just as the the large rain drops began to splatter on the ground.

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