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!