Tour de New England Stage 9: Georgetown, MA

Logistically, this may have been the most complicated day of the tour.

The trip was definitely winding down, with just two more stages to go. I had planned to bike to Newburyport and stay with friends at the end of Stage 9, and then back home to Arlington in Stage 10 to complete the circle.

Stage 9 took place on a Thursday, so I would be getting home on Friday. However, the weather forecast called for rain on Friday, and so I’d have to stay an extra day, inconveniencing my friends in Newburyport, or biking through potentially torrential rain or even thunderstorms. I didn’t really like either option, so I considered a third possibility: trying to make it all the way home in a single day.

As I mentioned earlier, I have biked through Ogunquit before, so I was pretty familiar with the route from Ogunquit to home, and while it would be a long day, normally I would think I could make it. The route would usually be about 80 miles, which would make it the longest stage of the tour by a fair amount, but certainly within an acceptable range, provided I got an early start.

However, there was an additional wrinkle thrown in. When crossing from Maine to New Hampshire, I would normally take one of two bridges between Kittery and Portsmouth. One bridge is reserved for highway traffic, and bicycles are not allowed, but the other bridge is perfectly nice and I have been across it several times.

This second, bikeable bridge was undergoing some maintenance, however, and had been closed to all traffic for the past couple of years. The detour for bikes was twenty to thirty miles out of the way, and I was unfamiliar with that portion of the route. If I were to get lost or have trouble finding the way, the 110 (or so) mile distance for the day could be a serious problem.

I mentioned during Stage 8 that I got to the B&B early, and I had a chance to rest and relax and watch a little TV before Marsha arrived. I watched some local news, and one of the stories was that the bridge in Kittery was going to be opened for traffic on exactly the day I would need to cross it! What luck!

With the more familiar route, and the shorter overall distance, I felt pretty confident I could make it all the way home in a single day. The only problem was that there would be an official ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the bridge at 11 PM, so I would have to time it right so that I would not get to the bridge earlier than that.

So I called my friends in Newburyport and politely declined their kind offer to allow us to stay with them for the night, and I worked out the time I would need to leave in order to be at the bridge around 11:30 or so, and I hit the road that morning when I needed to.

The trip went pretty well down route 1 to Kittery. Once in Kittery I got a little confused and took the wrong exit off a rotary that added a couple of “Oops Miles”, but I made it to the bridge just as people were starting to cross. I had imagined I might even be one of the first people to cross into New Hampshire!

As it turned out, the bridge remained closed to automobiles, but open at first to pedestrians and bicycles, and there was a huge crowd of people, walking and on bikes, on either side of the bridge crossing to the other. I had to get off my bike and walk it across the bridge, as it was too crowded to ride. The mood was quite jovial, as there were marching bands, and people were taking pictures and just generally enjoying the scene.

A number of people on bikes asked me to pose for pictures with other cyclists, as part of the Maine (or New Hampshire?) Bicycle Coalition, and even though I was feeling some pressure to get on the road as I still had a long way to go, I agreed. However, once it was clear that there was little organization and it could take a half hour (or more!) before everyone would be gathered together for the picture, I quietly slipped out the back and finished crossing the bridge and got on the way. It was already about 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon, and I still had some five or six hours of biking yet to do.

I made my way down the New Hampshire sea coast, which is a really lovely ride that I had done a number of times, and in Hampton Beach I met up with Marsha for lunch. It was a really hot, sunny day, so we decided not to get lunch from an outdoor vendor along the beach, but instead got a bite at a restaurant in a hotel just a couple of blocks away. The waitress was very helpful, and got me lots of ice and cold water to refill my Camelback and all my empty water bottles.

The lunch took a little longer than expected, though, and I didn’t get back on the road until after 3:00 o’clock. If I had been going to Newburyport as originally planned, I would have been in great shape, but I was less than halfway home. It was early August, so the sun was staying up quite late in the day, but I was still a little nervous about making it home before nightfall.

Still, I soldiered on, and ten miles or so later I ended up in Newburyport. As I said, I have ridden this way several times, going both north and south, but for some reason I got confused in Newburyport itself. The directions I had printed out from Google Maps were different from the route I was familiar with, and I couldn’t find the street the directions were sending me down.

At first I thought I should keep going and that I just hadn’t come across it yet, but after a couple of miles it was clear I had gone too far. So I circled back (which wasn’t easy with one way streets and highway off-ramps) and tried again. I still couldn’t find the street.

A few blocks away from where I was riding was the Newburyport Town Hall, so I decided to stop and ask for directions. I didn’t really find anyone readily available, but I did find some maps of the area that I thought would help me find my way. But the map was a promotional map showing what stores and tourist attractions were available, but wasn’t necessarily to scale and didn’t show all the roads in town. The road I was looking for, for example, was not displayed.

I was on High Street, and eventually I needed to be on Low Street, and I figured by the names that the two must run parallel to each other. So, I reasoned, I just had to find a cross street. I took the next street I could find that looked like a fairly major road, and eventually I passed Middle Street. This sounded promising! High Street, then Middle Street, next must be Low Street!

So I continued on… and on… and on…

After five miles or so without crossing Low Street I had to admit I was lost. I felt like I was going in the right direction, but none of the street names matched anything on my list of directions. What could I do? I turned around and traced my path back toward Newburyport.

Back when we had lunch together at Hampton Beach, Marsha knew I was concerned about the time, and she too was worried — she didn’t want me biking in the dark. So I had agreed to call her every hour to let her know what my progress was.

I stopped by the side of the road, tired and frustrated, to give her a call and tell her I was lost. I ate half of the sandwich I had gotten earlier, and before I called I considered asking her to look up where I was and how to get back on track. I found the nearest street sign, and lo and behold, the cross street of the intersection I was at was one of the streets on my route!

So I called Marsha and told her I had gotten lost but I knew where I was. However, I had added quite a few “Oops Miles” and the day was getting away from me. I agreed to call her every hour or so to keep her updated.

Now I was back on track, and even though I was physically and emotionally drained, at least I knew where I was going, which was a huge relief. After another 15 miles or so — another hour — I called Marsha again, and kept going.

I got to Georgetown, and the downtown area was the intersection of five or so different roads converging from different directions. I took the one that seemed the most reasonable — as usual in Massachusetts, the roads were not marked very well — but after awhile once again it was clear that I had gotten off the written directions and had turned on some side road.

At this point, I didn’t think I was going to make it home by sundown. I was exhausted, and the idea of backtracking who knows how far to try and find the proper turn, after everything I had already been through, seemed like more than I could handle at that point in time.

So I found a place to pull over and rest, and I called Marsha. I told her I wasn’t going to get home before dark and could she come and get me? It was a difficult call for me to make, because I felt like I had failed. I told her where I was (to the best of my ability, since, after all, I was lost) and I sat down to wait. The sun was getting low in the sky at that point, and I ate the other half of my sandwich and tried to rest.

She came and picked me up, with my bike and all my gear, and we went home. I was able to shower and sleep in my own bed, which was great, and sure enough there were storms on Friday as predicted, so I had an extra day to rest and recover from my ordeal.

After all was said and done, the actual biking distance ended up being more than 64 miles, the longest day of the entire Tour. The total mileage was almost the same as the day before, but my mental and physical state could not have been much different.

But there was still one more stage to come!

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Tour de New England Stage 8: Ogunquit, ME

After enjoying two days on the banks of the lovely Lake Winnipesaukee, it was time to start up once more. Marsha took a picture of me with my loaded up bike prior to my departure for the day.

The fully loaded bike

The fully loaded bike

The day was lovely, after the off day, I felt rested and eager to ride. The Lighthouse Inn, where we stayed, was literally just down the block from the lake, and my route took me to the shore and I rode along the large lake for several miles of fantastic scenery.

After I departed from the shoreline, I started to climb for the day, and that also led to some stunning views, as I looked down over Lake Winnipesaukee and some of the other bodies of water in the area. Marsha, who left after I did, ended up stopping for a hike near one of the lookout points after I had passed by.

The ride to Rochester, where I crossed over into Maine, was easy and uneventful.

I’ve biked through Maine, including through Ogunquit, on a number of occasions, but this was the first time I approached it from a direction other than along the ocean. From past experiences biking in Maine, I expected a hillier terrain, but after my initial climb early in the day, the route was mostly downhill.

As often seemed to be the case, some of the smaller roads toward the end of my day were not marked very well, and as a result I did get a little turned around and mixed up, resulting in a number of “Oops Miles”. However, I knew Ogunquit was on the coast, so if I traveled in the direction of the ocean, I knew I’d come across Route 1, which I did.

I ended up a couple of miles north of where I had expected to be, but without too much trouble I found the B&B where we were staying. I arrived well ahead of Marsha, so I checked in, and showered and was relaxing by the time she arrived an hour or two later.

The day’s biking distance was the longest yet, at just about 64 miles. But perhaps due to the 1000 foot descent and the beautiful weather, it was maybe the easiest day of riding as well. I thought that was a good sign, that my best day in the saddle came after biking for a week and a half.

Ogunquit was the most populated of the places we stayed after leaving Worcester in Stage 1, and there were plenty of choices when it came to getting dinner for the evening. As we were walking around and seeing the sights, we overheard a number of conversations of strangers in French, as we discovered the area is a popular vacation spot for the French-Canadians from northern Maine and southern New Brunswick. There was also a large gay population, and there were many advertisements for drag shows mixed with dinner theater.

After dinner, Marsha and I walked down to one of the long and amazing beaches in the area, and sat on the sand in the dark and listened to the waves breaking on the shore. It was a wonderful evening.

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Tour de New England Stage 7: Laconia, NH

Before we left Vermont, another change to the initial itinerary was called for. We had been camping out for three straight nights, and we were scheduled to camp for a fourth in New Hampshire. However, Marsha was not feeling well, and I was exhausted from the previous stage, so we decided to splurge a little and stay at a B&B in Laconia.

I looked online and found a nice place called the Lighthouse Inn, near Lake Winnipesaukee and they had an opening for the night, so we made a reservation. I needed to look up directions on how to get there instead of the campsite I had originally planned, and once that was done and I had helped Marsha dry off and pack the camping gear, I set off on Stage 7.

Almost immediately, I passed into New Hampshire, and in Lebanon I picked up the Northern Rail Trail, which ran for nearly 25 miles eastward across New Hampshire. The path was not paved and alternated between packed dirt and small crushed rock, but it was very nice to be out of traffic.

Early on, the trail ran next to Lake Mascoma, with some gorgeous views. I just had to stop at one point to sit on a park bench under a shady tree, as the sun glinted across the water. With a clear sky and no breeze to speak of, it was a perfect summer moment.

Once I was back on the path, I started to keep my eye out for somewhere to eat lunch. As luck would have it, a diner had posted a sign on the trail directing potential customers just up the street about a block off the trail, so I stopped to get some food.

After ordering, as I was playing with my GPS and looking over some of the maps for the day, I struck up a conversation with the two men at the table next to me. It turned out that just the week before, they had taken part in RAGBRAI (the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), the famous non-competitive Iowa ride that gathers thousands and thousands of participants each year. The route alternates from west to east and back, and takes a different path each year. One of the two men was about to turn 60, and his daughter had challenged him to do the ride before then.

I grew up in Iowa, and yet I have never done this particular ride. I don’t normally think of biking as a group activity, and I prefer to bike on my own or with my wife Marsha. I was in a couple of competitive bicycle races in my 20s, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it and now I just do my own thing.

However, at some point I’ll probably make an exception for RAGBRAI. Most of my family lives in or near Iowa, and all accounts, including the two men at the diner, is that the ride is a tremendous amount of fun. They described it to me as a giant rolling party. The riding is not competitive (although I am sure there are some riders who race at the front) and each night at specified stopping points there are bonfires and singing and food and fun. It certainly sounds like something that would be worth experiencing. The just-shy-of-60-year-old said he was going to be doing it again next year, he had such a good time.

I bid them a fond farewell, and made my way back to the Northern Rail Trail. I was past the lake, but the scenery was still very nice. The quality of the trail, however, continued to deteriorate. In fact, I got my one and only flat tire of the entire Tour when riding in the crushed rock, and had to change tubes (I had a couple extra just in case) in the middle of nowhere. At one point a tree had fallen across the trail and I had to navigate around it. In addition, I was not able to go as fast as I would have if the trail had been paved, meaning my average speed for the stage was lower than it would have been otherwise. But it was mostly flat, and worth it just to be out from traffic. I was impressed there was such a long trail in rural New Hampshire.

As I approached the Inn, my route took me on “Roller Coaster Road” which is a name that sounded ominous to me, but it turned out not to be so bad. Marsha had gotten to the Inn before me and had checked in already. The proprietors were clearly used to dealing with cyclists, as I’m sure the area around Lake Winnipesaukee attracts lots of people biking the area. I stashed my bike in the garage, my lunch sandwich uneaten that day, due to the diner lunch and the relatively easy 60 mile day.

That's us, eating lunch on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee

That’s us, eating lunch on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee

It turned out that Marsha had caught a cold and was under the weather, so we stayed an extra day at the beautiful Inn for my third off day. The weather on that day was absolutely perfect and I was itching to be on the road, but I wanted Marsha to get better. So I spent the day reading a book purchased in nearby Meredith, and going over and over the route for Stage 8 into Maine.

I took a bath and soaked my leg muscles in some bubble bath and sea salt, which felt great, and had plenty of time rest and relax. I even got a six pack of cider and drank them all in 36 hours or so (empty calories! Perfect!). I soaked my stinky bicycle jersey and gloves, and generally took care of myself. There were lots of places to eat in the area, which we took advantage of when Marsha was not napping. But really, the best part of the stay was just sitting on our back porch, looking over the lawn into the trees, while reading in the shade. Idyllic.

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Tour de New England Stage 6: White River Junction, VT

Vermont is well known for its peaks, and on this stage I would get to experience one first-hand. Even though I only ended up biking just under 60 miles, which isn’t that high a total, I had probably the most challenging day on a bike that I’ve ever had in my life.

The day started off just fine. I knew that I would be biking about 60 miles, and I knew they would be hilly, but I had gone over the route beforehand and I knew what to expect. Or at least, I thought I did.

Because we camped out, I spent the morning packing up my equipment and getting it loaded on my bike again, and I actually got on the road before Marsha did. I was biking north on Route 7 when she caught up to and quickly passed me. You can barely see me in the distance in the picture Marsha took as she approached.
You can just see me in the distance
After about an hour in the saddle I made it to Wallingford, and I thought I would eat at Sal’s again. However, it didn’t open until 11 AM, and I got there just after 10. Normally I would have continued on, but the difficulty in finding a restaurant the night before made me a little worried about finding another place further down the road.

I passed the time browsing through a thrift shop next door, until the powerful moldy smell forced me out into the fresh air. Knowing I would be climbing — and no doubt huffing and puffing — later in the day made me want to take care of my lungs.

Finally Sal’s opened up, and the waitress was incredibly nice. She made sure I had plenty of food and water, and before I left, I filled up my Camelback with ice, and, as was customary, got a sandwich for later.

While I was waiting for my food to be ready, I noticed a lot of people on bicycles going by. One of them also stopped at Sal’s to grab a bite, and I asked him about it. He told me there was some sort of organized biking event that was going on, and he seemed surprised that I was not part of it, since I had all the gear and was wearing a bicycle jersey.

Once I got back on the road, it was a little later than I had hoped. Still, I had plenty of time before the sun went down, but I was eager to get the hills underway. After another hour of cycling, I turned off Route 7 (too bad, it was well paved with a nice wide shoulder) and headed off onto back roads.

Some of them, it turned out, were not even paved, and the roads themselves were not well marked. I had a lot of trouble deciding where I was supposed to turn, but I eventually figured it out and cut across to Route 103. It was also well paved and had a wide shoulder, so I was sorry to leave it behind too and start on to Lincoln Hill Road.

I came to rue any road with “Hill” in the name, and part of that was due to Lincoln Hill Road. That is where the climbing started in earnest for the day. Shortly after I turned onto the road, it kicked up at a steady rise, and it continued on that way for as far as I could see.

Almost immediately, it rose to an even steeper pitch, and I found myself quickly running out of energy. I’m in pretty good shape, and I am no stranger to hills or to climbing, but these roads were relentless.  They went up and up and up, and while the grade occasionally lessened, there were no downhills to catch my breath on or to give my weary muscles a rest.

I quickly dropped down to my lowest gear and just cranked away on the pedals, but after 15 or 20 minutes I had to pull over in a shady spot. All the ice from my morning meal at Sal’s was gone, and I was sucking down water very quickly. I ate a power bar to try and keep my energy up, and after a brief rest I got back to it.

Still the road went up and up and up with no break in sight, and after another 10 minutes or so I needed another break. I ate another power bar, and the heat along with the exertion was causing me to sweat profusely. The scenery was lovely, with some farms early on giving way to a tree-lined road, but it was difficult to appreciate the view when I was so exhausted.

I passed through the little town of Shrewsbury, and I was hoping I’d come across a shop or two, or maybe even a restaurant where I could refill my water supply and perhaps get some more food. No such luck. I wouldn’t even call Shrewsbury a town, as it was little more than a church across from an autobody shop. Maybe there was more I didn’t see down some side roads, but I was in no mood to explore.

In Shrewsbury I turned onto Northam Road, which continued to climb. Luckily the area around Shrewsbury was not so steep, so I was able to catch my breath a little bit, even if there was no obvious place to stop for a rest.

After another twenty minutes or so, I had to pull over again and eat yet another power bar. At this point I was not sure how much more was to come, and I was starting to become concerned about my water supply. But I was out in the middle of nowhere and had a long way to go, so I knew I couldn’t take too long a break.

Northam Road climbed to a point where five roads all converged. I knew I had to continue on one of them, but there were no signs indicating which was which. Fortunately, there was a general store, which turned out to be a great place to get a drink, take a rest, and ask for directions.

I’m sure I must have looked like quite a sight at that point, and I’m sure they don’t get too many bikers at this little general store. But the woman at the counter was very helpful, as I bought a scone and refilled all my water bottles.

I asked for the next road on my map — again, generated from Google Maps — which was CCC Road. She pointed out which one I wanted, but she had some bad news for me: CCC Road had been washed out during a huge storm, the remnants of a hurricane, that had struck here a couple of years ago. There were some efforts underway to repair it, but it was not passable by car. By bike, who knows? Moreover, the road continued to climb up and over the peak of a nearby mountain.

So I asked what other routes were available to me. The road off to the right went downhill and not up — that sounded nice to me — but at the bottom of that road was an old creek bed that was also impassable by car, and had been since the ’30s. She thought I could probably carry my bike over the obstacles at the bottom, but she didn’t know for sure as she didn’t normally use that route. And if I couldn’t get by, I’d have to climb up the road to get back to this point.

And of course I could go back the way I had come, which I knew was downhill (no doubt I would fly all the way down) but then I’d be miles off my route and would have to go even further to get to my end destination.

So there were three options: 1) continue on, climbing the peak and hoping the road which was closed to cars could allow a bicycle to pass; 2) go an unknown route, down, with an obstacle of some unknown size waiting for me at the bottom; 3) go back to a road I knew was well-paved, but adding who-knows-how-many “oops” miles to an already exhausting day when I was already behind schedule.

I didn’t really like any of those options, and eventually I decided to continue on and hope the road ahead was not as bad for bikes as it was for cars. At least I had the chance to rest, catch my breath, grab a bite to eat, and look at some maps of the area. The good news about the option I chose is that it didn’t have any ways to get lost. There were no other roads between there and when I got to the end and turned on to Route 100.

So I gathered my strength and went back to climbing. CCC Road started out pretty flat, but soon it went back to a fairly steep climb. Then the paving stopped and it became a gravel road, which didn’t help any. In some places the gravel was quite thick and so I had a hard time getting any traction.

Up and up and up I went, and after stopping for yet another power bar, I passed signs warning me that the road was impassable, including a metal arm across the road to block traffic. The road looked perfectly fine, though, so I had no problem continuing on.

I eventually got to the peak — about 2500 feet — and started on my way back down. I was looking forward to expending minimal energy to the bottom, after all that climbing.

Along the way, I came across a giant pile of gravel. Eventually, it would be used to repair the road, I imagined, but for now it was heaped together in a pile that was taller than me. On either side the dirt road trailed off down the mountain, so I had to get off the bike and shimmy around it, leaning up against it to keep from falling.

Still, after that, the road looked to be in good shape, and while certainly that mound of rock made the road impassable for cars, a bike could make it just fine. It seemed as though I had made the correct choice to keep on this route.

The dirt road continued on descending pretty steeply, and switched back and forth. I had to keep riding the brakes and I couldn’t fully take advantage of the descent. At one point, about half the road had washed away, but there was still plenty of road left for me to bike on.

Next I came across a giant tree that had fallen across the road. Leaving the road wasn’t really an option, so I had to go over the thick trunk or under it. There was just barely enough space to squeeze under at one point, so I climbed under and dragged by bike behind me.

These obstacles hadn’t been very pleasant, but I had made it past each one. I was feeling good.

Then I got to a place where the entire road was washed away.

What now? I didn’t have much choice. I got off my bike, and pushed it down into the culvert, climbed down after it, and pushed it back up the other side and back onto the road.

Meanwhile, between all these obstacles, I was continued down the steep hill, riding the brakes, trying to keep control of the bike. Every couple hundred feet, it seemed, I had to get off to maneuver around some downed tree, pile of branches, or partially or fully washed away road.

At one point I passed a female hiker climbing up the road as I was going down, but she didn’t seem to want to chat.

Finally, after a couple of big switchbacks in the road, I came to a metal arm blocking the road as it ended at Route 100. Even though I had descended about 1000 feet from the peak, it was a stressful, slow descent, and I was covered with mud, scratches, and had aches and pains all over. As I sat by the side of the road and ate my sandwich, I was thankful all that was over, but I realized I was still only half way to my destination.

Luckily, the last 30 miles were much less remarkable. After about a mile south on Route 100, I turned on to 100A, a road that headed up north to Route 4, which I would take all the way to my destination, a campsite just past Quechee Gorge. There was a short, sharp climb at the start of 100A, but the rest was a steady descent.

Route 4, when I joined it, had a wide shoulder and there was an ice cream shop at the junction where I stopped and got a big cone to cool off and get some energy back. The nice thing about biking so many miles a day is that you can get the large ice cream and not feel at all guilty about it.

I passed through Woodstock — where Marsha had run a half marathon earlier in the year — and then went by the Quechee Gorge. At that point I was almost at my destination, the KOA campsite just a mile or so past the Gorge, so I didn’t stop to see it. I just wanted to get to the campsite and rest.

The campsite was mostly filled with RVs, so our little tent next to Marsha’s car and my bike looked a bit out of place. Still, it was a nice spot, not far from a heated bathroom where I could take a shower, plus we had an electrical outlet where I could recharge my GPS, and the camp had free wi-fi so I could plan the next stage of the tour.

The next day was rainy, so I had my second off-day. Marsha and I used the opportunity to drive north and visit the Ben and Jerry ice cream plant in northern Vermont, as well as the Cabot Creamery not too far away from that, where we got to see cheese being made and try out several varieties. There were plenty of places near the campsite to get some food, and by the next day I had gotten my energy back and was ready to go for Stage 7.

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Tour de New England Stage 5: East Dorset, VT

After rain had forced me to alter my original plans, I was able to revert to the planned route pretty easily. When I first planned everything out, Stage 4 was going to be one of the longest days of the trip, as well as the first one in hilly Vermont. Since my revised distance for Stage 4 was less than half of the original, for Stage 5 I just kept the same end point as the original Stage 4. In essence, I just added an extra stage to the trip. I had a couple of extra days built in to the schedule for just such an contingency, so everything was working out well.

When I was revising the route, I briefly considered biking about 10 miles or so across the border into New York, so I could make it a 5 state trek rather than 4, but I didn’t know quite what to expect from New York roads. So I stuck as closely as possible to the original plan.

I got up early and, as was becoming the norm, I grabbed a sandwich at a Subway in Williamstown to keep until lunch, before crossing into Vermont. I was traveling up Route 7, which was a fairly well-traveled road, and the cars went by pretty fast. I was happy when I was able to turn off onto 7A, the smaller road that went through the towns along the way, like Bennington and Manchester.

Overall, it was a beautiful day, and I made good time. I was well rested from the off day the previous day, and the route had some hills, but nothing too bad.

My destination that day was the Emerald Lake State Park just north of East Dorset. Because I had gotten an early start and I only stopped quickly to eat my sandwich, I got to the campsite earlier than expected, and quite a bit earlier than Marsha.

After I got a campsite at the check-in area, there was a very steep, but fortunately very short, hill to get to the site. I did not want to bike up and down that hill more than once!

I was carrying all the gear that I plan to take with me on the cross-country journey, including a one-person tent, a sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. Marsha was also carrying  camping gear for the two of us, but I wanted to know what it was like to be carrying everything I would need.

With that in mind, and because I had some time to kill, I decided to set everything up myself, just as if I were on my own. So I pitched my tent, blew up my sleeping pad, took a shower and rinsed out my sweaty, smelly clothes in the campsite restroom, and had enough time to grab a quick nap while listening to my iPod while waiting for Marsha to arrive.

I was feeling really good about everything — I was well-rested, I rode for 50+ miles, checked in, set up my camping gear, and had plenty of daylight for evening activities.

Once Marsha got there, I had to set up a second time. We shared stories about our day, then headed off to grab some dinner.

Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be a restaurant nearby. We used Marsha’s GPS to look for somewhere to grab food, but there wasn’t anything within 10 miles of the campsite. We could have gone south (the way we had come) or north (the way we would be going tomorrow). I didn’t remember seeing anything to the south, and I wanted to see what terrain lay ahead of me, so we set off to the north.

The first restaurant the GPS pointed us to turned out to be closed. The second one we simply couldn’t find, and the third one was converted to another business. Not good! We kept going, however, and eventually we came across Sal’s, an Italian place in Wallingford, 14 miles up the road. For a biker, that is not good — that would have been another 28 miles there and back for dinner, or more than half my total miles for the day. We were driving, so ultimately there was no harm, but when I am on my own I have to avoid this!

Looking at the map now, I think we would have been better off going south. An even better thing to do would have been to ask someone at the camp entrance what was nearby. Lesson learned! And it turned out for the best, because Sal’s had great food (I had my usual big bowl of pasta), and in fact I would end up eating there again the next day as well.

At the end of the day, I was roughly halfway finished with my trip, having gone more than 250 miles over five stages, with five more to go. Things were going well! Of course, I still had the hilliest part of the trip to come, and the next day would turn out to be the most grueling of the entire journey.

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Tour de New England Stage 4: Williamstown, MA

Stage 4 would test my ability to modify the existing plan based on circumstances beyond my control.

We started Wednesday in Housatonic, hosted by our friend Amy. Amy used to be our roommate, and we have known her for years. So when we first made plans for the tour, we wanted to spend a little extra time with her, so this was my first scheduled rest day with no biking.

However, that was before I saw an updated weather forecast. It seemed that rain would be moving in on Wednesday night and sticking around all day Thursday before clearing up on Friday. So if we stayed the extra day with Amy as planned, I’d be biking in the rain on Thursday, or else we would be spending a third day with Amy, no doubt stretching the limits of her patience.

Alternately, I could bike on Wednesday, and then schedule my off-day on Thursday, and continue on as planned on Friday. That seemed to make the most sense.

However, there were a couple of problems with that plan as well. For one, it was supposed to start raining in the afternoon, and stage 4 was scheduled to be my longest day yet, at over 80 miles. I could easily end up biking in the rain, and while I have biked in the rain before and I didn’t melt, it’s not exactly pleasant. With the roads being wet and rain obscuring the ability of drivers to see clearly, it might not be too safe.

Moreover, at the end of stage 4 was a campsite in Vermont, and the last thing I wanted to do was ride through the rain, arrive soaking wet, put up the tent in the middle of pouring rain, and be stuck there for the entire rest day without the ability to dry out. That sounded like a recipe for catching a cold, so I decided to treat myself to a shorter day (so we could spend a little time with Amy in the morning) and have a nice stay at an inn on the rest day.

So I checked the map to see where we might be able to find an inn or a B&B partway to the campsite, and what made the most sense was a place just at the Massachusetts/Vermont border in Williamstown, home to Williams College. I called and made a reservation at the 1896 House, and just like that the plans were changed.

After a nice breakfast with Marsha and Amy, I set out on the road heading north. I passed a road going to Kripalu Yoga Center, where Amy works, and nearby Tanglewood. I took some back roads on my way to Pittsfield, a fairly nice sized town with plenty of food options for lunch. As usual, I grabbed an extra sandwich to stop and eat later.

On the way out of Pittsfield I went up Route 7 on the western edge of Mount Greylock. On the gradual incline, I stopped to eat my sandwich, and Marsha happened to see me as she was driving by, so she pulled over and spent some time together as I munched by the side of the road. It was one of the only times we would run into each other apart from our arranged evening stops. She had spent a couple of hours writing at an ice cream stand outside of Pittsfield that had an incredible view, and after we parted she was planning to go hiking at the top of Mount Greylock (luckily I was just skirting the western edge, so I didn’t have to do too much climbing) and afterward she was going to go descend on the eastern side to North Adams and visit MassMoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

While she was doing that, I continued to climb the edge of Mount Greylock, where I had the experience of an unusual optical illusion: my eyes told me that I had ridden to the apex of the climb on Route 7 and the road seemed to curve down away from me, but my legs and my GPS (which displays elevation) told me that I was still continuing the climb.

Eventually I did make the summit, topping out at about 1500 feet, and coasted several miles down to our Inn just outside Williamstown. I was glad to make it, as the clouds continued to look more and more threatening the later in the day it got. The ride was just over 36 miles, and I was able to make the trip in just over two hours despite the climbing. I felt great, and was really happy with the way my muscles were responding to biking on four consecutive days.

I got there first, since Marsha had a full day of activities, so I picked a room and the manager was kind enough to allow me to stash my bike in a little-used garage. By the time Marsha arrived, I was cleaned up and had showered, ready for a nice meal at the attached restaurant, the ‘6 House Pub. By that time it was raining steadily.

We stayed there for another day as it rained, and took the opportunity to check out Williamstown. We had a nice leisurely day on Thursday, and after lunch the rain let up and we were able to browse the small but charming downtown area. We went to a bookstore, (our favorite activity) and Marsha bought a ukulele on a whim, and spent much of the remaining trip learning how to play some basic chords. Normally I would have purchased a book or two, but I didn’t want to lug them all over New England during the remainder of the tour.

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Tour de New England Stage 3: Housatonic, MA

Stage 3 of the Tour de New England took me the rest of the way across Massachusetts, to just near the border of New York. This day served as my introduction to the Berkshire Mountains in Western Massachusetts, and it was the first day I learned to dread descending.

As I have mentioned, I was using the Google Maps biking feature to plot out a course, but after coming up with the route, I plugged it into the website MapMyRide.com to see the elevation profile of the day’s route. Either the night before, or the morning of the trip I would go over the day’s ride, to familiarize myself with the names of the roads I would be riding on, as well as exploring when I would be climbing and when I would be descending throughout the day. I didn’t memorize each turn or how long I was on any particular road, but I figured knowing the names of the roads would be useful.

The website gave me a pretty good idea of what my highest altitude of the day would be, and the GPS unit on my bike showed my current altitude. This led me to bit of a contradiction: I hated to descend. Or at least, I hated it if I was not already at my daily peak. If I knew I had more climbing to do, then I also realized that any drop in height was just that much more climbing I would have to do later. There was about 3000 feet of climbing on stage 3, easily the most of the trip so far.

In the morning of stage three, I made my way back to the paved rail trail running through downtown Amherst, and which goes all the way to Northampton. Just outside Northampton, I stopped at a sub shop on Route 9 to get a sandwich for breakfast, and another to stash away until lunch. I ate a lot of sandwiches over the two week trip.

Shortly into the trip, as I got into the outskirts of Easthampton, I started a pretty steep climb. I don’t mind climbing all that much — even on steep climbs, I just drop the bike into a low gear and just crank away on the pedals. However, this one was particularly unpleasant, because the road was under construction, and on parts of the road it was down to just one lane. So there was a police detail that was letting traffic through, eastbound for awhile, then westbound for awhile.

This was bad for me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I had to come to a dead stop. When climbing, I rely on my own momentum to keep me moving, particularly on a steep climb. But to start moving from a complete stop while traveling straight up can be challenging, to say the least. Moreover, I was not traveling as fast as the cars around me, and the drivers were generally impatient since they had to wait for the police signal to go ahead. And because the road was down to just one lane, there wasn’t enough room to pass, meaning anyone behind me had to wait as I slowly made my way up the hill. I felt bad about this, and I tried to go as fast as I could, but that only had the effect of tiring me out and making me even slower.

The hill was steep, but luckily it was not too long, and shortly after that I hit the local peak and got to have a fairly major descent, where I caught my breath and got my legs back. There was another climb, bigger altogether but not as steep, later on, but by then I had already eaten my lunch and recharged my batteries. In addition to my sandwich, I ended up stopping at a little dive bar in the middle of nowhere, and had chili-cheese hot dogs and some loaded fries. Not the healthiest meal, but it provided some much-needed fuel, and the waitress allowed me to refill my dwindling water supply with ice. Score!

On the slow descent into Housatonic, where our friend Amy lives and where I would be spending the night, I got to bike through Lee, MA. That was fun, and I wished I had some way of taking a picture of me standing under the sign at the town line.

Housatonic is just beyond Stockbridge, Massachusetts, so for the last 15 miles or so I found myself humming the song “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie (which is set in Stockbridge). In a bit of a recurring theme, I got a little confused at the very end of the day (drat the poor signage in Massachusetts!) and so I ended up biking a little farther than I needed to, and I had to improvise a bit when figuring out where I needed to be. I developed a nickname for any extra distance I had to travel because I got lost or turned around: “Oops Miles”. I figure I had about five “Oops Miles” this day.

That night, Marsha and I stayed with our friend Amy, who works at the nearby Kripalu Center, where Marsha enjoys going for meditation and reflection. Amy took us out to a Mexican restaurant in neighboring Great Barrington, and the food was delicious. I think Amy was shocked by the amount of food I ate. During the day’s ride, I burned almost 4000 calories, about twice the daily recommended intake for some about my size.

Overall, this stage ended up being just over 60 miles, with an average speed a little more that 14 miles an hour and more than four hours in the saddle.

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