Day 56: Boylston, MA to Revere Beach, MA — 50 miles

And with that, the trip comes to a close.

Fittingly, the roads I biked on were very familiar to me, and I saw many familiar faces along the way, leading up to a grand finale on the beach, with dozens of friends on hand to cheer my accomplishment.

I started, of course, in Boylston, and Brian saw me off in the morning. Just a few miles from there, I ran into Bruce, who had communicated with Brian to find out when I was leaving, and was on the side of the road, capturing a video of me as I went by.

About an hour later, I stopped in Maynard, to see Betsey and Scott, who live there. We went to the Maynard Farmer’s Market, where Betsey bought me a nice, juicy peach to enjoy before continuing on.

Betsey and Scott, at their home in Maynard.

After another 10 miles, I came to the start of the Minuteman Bike Trail in Bedford. The Minuteman is a 10+ mile long paved rail trail running from Bedford in to Cambridge, and along the way goes through Lexington and Arlington, where I live.

At the Bedford end, I met Dan and David, two biking friends who live in the area, and they biked the 10 miles from Bedford to my house. It was a victory ride, of sorts, as we all talked about the trip, and various bike rides we each have been on that made an impact in our lives.

Dan and David met me in Bedford for the ride home.

I was so happy to arrive at our house! It was great to see everything again, and I dropped off most of my gear. No need to carry it the remainder of the way to the beach! So I had a nice, light bike for the final stretch.

While I was home, I saw our cat Petra, who was initially standoffish to me, and I wasn’t sure if she had forgotten me, if she was mad at me for being gone so long, or didn’t recognize my smell because I was so sweaty. I also saw my mother-in-law, Anne-Marie, who traveled from Connecticut to be there for my return.

And of course I saw my wife Marsha. I had seen her about a week earlier in New York, but it was wonderful to see her again, and I look forward to being able to spend much more time with her in the coming days before she has to go back to school.

But I wasn’t finished with my trip just yet. Dan regretfully departed for home, and was replaced with another friend Arun, and David, Arun, and I biked the final 10 miles to Revere Beach.

Arun, Dan, and David, outside my home. We are getting ready to ride to the beach.

Before I left for my trip back in June, I had plotted out a bicycle-friendly route to the beach, which included some back roads, some roads with bike lanes, and even a paved bike trail for quite a few miles. I rode this route several times, both to do some training to prepare, but also to fix the route in my mind so I would know it, just for today.

I triumphantly led the way, and we arrived at the beach to the applause of a couple of dozen friends who were there just for the occasion. Brian and Rachel had come in from Boylston, Betsey and Scott were there from Maynard, Marsha and Anne-Marie came from our house, and many other people showed up as well.

The inspiration for my trip, Sheila, showed up as well, and I think she was flattered that I had used her experience thru-hiking the Appalachan Trail to motivate me for my own voyage.

After I dipped my bicycle tire in the ocean, we hung out at a pavilion on the beach for hours, enjoying the nice day. It was a hot day, but with the ocean breeze it felt downright reasonal. I was worried that Revere Beach would be very crowded on a hot Saturday in August, but surprisingly, there weren’t that many people there.

My bicycle, with the front tire in the Atlantic Ocean.

Some members of our group took a dip in the ocean, until we noticed some lightning strikes in the water just a few miles off the shore. It never rained where we were, but for much of the afternoon we got to see nature’s light show. Several people had brought snacks, and we ordered a couple of pizzas, most of which I ate because I was, as usual, starving.

There was a group of people working on an art project, walking through the pavilion and filming passersby talking about their personal stories, which they were planning to edit into a film. Naturally they came over to our group, and I ended up telling them stories from my trip. Maybe I’ll make it into their finished project!

As evening began to fall we dispersed, with Marsha, Anne-Marie, and me making our way back to our home. After a quick meal, we turned in, and I got to sleep in my own bed for the first time in 67 days. I slept very soundly.

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Day 55: Amherst, MA to Boylston, MA — 60 miles

Wow! My penultimate day of biking!

In the morning, I had breakfast at the B&B, and I had an interesting discussion with a woman sitting at my breakfast table. She was in town for a wedding, and we talked for quite awhile about weddings in general, as well as about my trip.

To get out of Amherst, I started on the same network of rail trails I rode on to get into Amherst yesterday. Once those ended, I made my way to Route 9 and through the charmingly-named Belchertown.

I had plenty of time, so I stopped off at the Quabbin Reservoir Visitor Center, to read about when and how the Quabbin was constructed. I was amazed to learn that there were several small towns that were displaced by the creation of this reservoir! The Quabbin is the primary water supply for most of the metro Boston area, including Arlington, where I live.

The southern shore of the Quabbin Reservoir.

I stopped in nearby Ware for lunch, at the Ware Cafe. I was just finishing lunch when a couple with a baby approached me and asked me about where I was biking to and where I had come from. When they heard that I was almost done with a cross-country trip, the man, David, wanted to shake my hand. They had a number of questions about the logistics, and they were very impressed that I had done the whole thing by myself.

The day was filled with much more “New England” stytle climbing — lots of little hills, up and down and up and down. Most all hills were under 100 feet, although there were a few that were larger. Nothing approached the big climbs from yesterday.

I was biking through the small town of Barre, and I came across a little country store across from a park that I remember from my Tour de New England two years ago. Then, I had stopped here to enjoy a break and a treat, so I decided to do the same thing again.

Biking through Massachusetts has been a very interesting experience, with so many different emotions going on all at once. I am, first and foremost, excited to see my wife again, as well as all my friends who live nearby!

But there is also some sadness that the trip is coming to a close. I’m ready for it to be over so I can get back to my regularly-scheduled life, but it has been a trip years in the making, between dreaming, planning, and preparing. And the experiences have been so wonderful, it is a shame to see that end.

On top of everything else, I’m experiencing a nostalgia for my trip two years ago, because I am riding on many of the same roads, in reverse order, that I did then. I remember this! I rode up this hill that I am riding down! I got lost here, so I better not take that turn!

After the trip down memory lane in Barre, I made my way over to the Central Mass Rail Trail. I only rode on it for 5 miles or so, but it was a well-maintained, nice path to bike on, even if it wasn’t paved. Eventually, I got off and on to MA Route 122, which had a bike lane shoulder, which was very nice. It was, however, a very hilly road with lots of rolling hills. If there are bikers out there who want to do some hillwork, this would be an excellent option for that.

One section of the Central Mass Rail Trail. There are several sections over, you guessed it, Central Mass.

Finally, I stopped at the Wachusett Reservoir, which was the original choice for a reservoir for the Boston area, but it turned out to be too small for the demand, and so the larger Quabbin was planned and built further west. Now, the Wachusett Reservoir is a backup in case of emergency.

The Wachusett Reservoir, on the border between West Boylston and Boylston.

The last stop on the day’s ride was at the home of friends Brian and Rachel in Boylston. They kindly opened up their home to me, and besides giving me a shower to use and a bed to sleep on, took me out for dinner while laughing at the various tan lines all over my body.

The weather was perfect, and this was a most excellent penultimate day. I’m glad that I planned a series of these shorter rides for the last few days, so I can take the time and enjoy the final miles of my trip.

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Day 54: Housatonic, MA to Amherst, MA — 60 miles

After using so many words yesterday describing the difference between “eastern” and “western” hills, today I had two “western” climbs. Go figure.

After a quick stop in Lee, Massachusetts to grab some grub, the first climb started. It was a 900 foot elevation gain over some 10 miles, with a 1200 foot drop on the other side. I had ridden this exact route before, when I did my Tour de New England two years ago, only in reverse, and I remember that road being my first climb of more than 1000 feet.

Greenwater Pond, about halfway up the first climb.

After some ice cream in Huntington, I tackled the second climb of the day. This one was just 800 feet up, but it was only over the length of six miles or so, so was steeper than the first climb. Then came an 800 foot drop, so it felt like it was all for naught!

The little town of Chester, in a valley between the two climbs of the day.

After that, there was a slow, steady descent into Northampton, a wonderful New England town near the middle of the state. Not too long ago, Northampton had the distinction of having the highest number of bookstores, new and used, per capita of any place in the country! Some of those bookstores have since closed so it is not true any longer, but as book lovers, Marsha and I enjoy coming here and going from store to store.

I did browse through two bookstores during the afternoon, but knowing that space was limited on my bicycle, I didn’t actually get any. Once I get back, Marsha and I will have to plan a trip here or somewhere similar so that I can actually get some books!

Finally, I rode the paved rail trail from Northampton to Amherst, which is about 8 miles. All around Amherst and Northampton is an impressive network of paved trails, including former railroad bridges, some quite long, that have been converted to pedestrian and biking bridges across rivers and streams, and through the downtown areas.

A section of the paved rail trail between Northampton and Amherst.

Once in Amherst, I got a place at the Amherst Inn Bed & Breakfast. When I checked in, I thought I was the only person in the entire place, but later on many people showed up and eventually there was a full house.

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Day 53: Schenectady, NY to Housatonic, MA — 65 miles

I’m not going to lie… going into today I had a little bit of dread about the climbing I would have to do. I haven’t done much climbing recently. Michigan was flat. Ontario was flat. New York, at least where I was, was flat. But getting from eastern New York to western Massachusetts is definitely not flat.

I shouldn’t have worried. The weather was fantastic, the scenery was beautiful, and the climbing was enjoyable. I’m really looking forward to the climbing to come over the next two days.

Climbing in New England is really quite different from climbing out West, and that is something that I knew, but somehow didn’t consider. Of course, I have done most of my biking around the Boston area, and even my previous tour, the Tour de New England, has trained me in the type of climbing to be experienced in the region.

In Oregon and Wyoming, where most of my previous ascents have been on the trip, the climbing mostly happens at once. There is a long climb, then a summit at the top, then a long descent on the other side. It would not be unusual for a climb to last 5, 10, or even 15 miles at a stretch. I’m simply not used to that sort of biking, and I’d ride for as long as I could handle it — 3 miles at a time, or 1 mile, or 1/2 a mile for really steep grades, whatever — then I’d pull over at a convenient spot, towel off, stretch my legs, catch my breath, and then start again.

Even hills in the midwest were different than in the east. There would be a hill in front of you, and you could see the top of it, but it would stretch on for much longer than it seemed possible. It would like like a little hill, and you’d bike a mile and find you were only halfway to the top.

Climbing is quite different in New England. There is just one rolling hill after another, but each one tends to be much shorter. The hill in front of you looks daunting, but you use your momentum to carry you up halfway to the top, and then you hurry the rest of the way up. At the apex, you realize you’ve only gone up 75 feet, but now you are going back down again. Better work up that momentum to climb the next hill, which turns out to be 100 feet. Then down again. I just climbed up, do I have to go down again when I know I just have to go up later?

But because of my experiences commuting to work on these types of hills, and my training in the area, I find I’m better suited to handling these climbs. The downhill allows me time to recover sufficiently to attack the next hill. In Wyoming, there was no downhill and no recovery, until you’ve reached the summit.

So for the day, I climbed over 3000 feet total, which would be a decent day’s climbing anywhere. But by the time I was done, I was hardly tired at all, not nearly as tired as if I had done the same climb over the mountains out west. I’m sure the fact that it was only a 65 mile day, shorter than any ride in about a week (since my rain-shortened day in Ontario) helped, as did the tailwind that was helping me along. But I really feel that climbing is different here, and in a way in which I am more comfortable.

As usual, I didn’t get as early a start as I would like, but with such a short day, it hardly mattered. I biked the mostly urban road from Schenectady to Albany, and once there I plunged down to sea level at the Hudson River. It was the first time I have been at sea level since I was in the Pacific Ocean back in Oregon.

The Hudson River in Albany, at sea level.

After crossing the river into Rensselaer and having an early lunch, I followed a route that hugged the Hudson for seven miles or so. It reminded me quite a bit of biking alongside the Mississippi River in Wisconsin: I couldn’t really see the river through the trees, there was a railroad between me and the river, and the road was flat along the course. While mostly my travels through New York have been on New York State Bicycle Route 5, today I was following New York State Bicycle Route 9, and I was glad to see this road also had a nice, wide shoulder for me to ride on.

New York State Bike Route 9, with a lane just for bikes! I think the New York roads may have been the best of any state!

Once I turned away from the river (and away from the designated Bike Route) the climbing began. That is one of the takeways I have from this trip: rivers are low spots, going toward them means descending and going away from them means climbing. This makes sense, but I hadn’t really thought about it too much before. Following a river results in a very gradual climb (away from the ocean it empties in to) or descent (toward the ocean).

Towns are also usually in low spots or valleys, although not quite as consistently as rivers or streams. I would often find myself climbing in the countryside, screaming down a hill into town, and then climbing again when I left town. That certainly happened several times today.

Many of the New York and Massachusetts towns I passed through seemed to have charming little general stores and cafes. I stopped in Old Chatham in New York, for instance — the town didn’t seem to be larger than a few dozen people — and while I wasn’t hungry for a snack yet, I ordered a freshly squeezed lemonade and people watched as I drank it while sitting in the shade.

Shortly after that, I passed into Massachusetts, the final state of my trek. I’ve been through 12 states now (counting Ontario as a state even though it is really a province) and I really am just a few days from being done. It doesn’t really seem possible, and sometimes I can hardly remember all those days biking through the high desert of Idaho or through the biting winds of South Dakota. I can hardly wait to go back and look through all my pictures and read all my old blog posts to relive it all!

A panoramic picture of a Massachusetts view, at the top of a hill. Pictures don’t do it justice, as it was stunning.

Just ten miles or so over the border, I got to Housatonic, where my friend Amy lives. I stayed with her for a night on my Tour de New England, so she knows the drill.

We had dinner at another lovely general store-turned-restaurant in Housatonic, which had some delicious food and wonderful atmosphere. After dinner, I shared stories of my trip with Amy and her boyfriend until they were falling asleep on the couch.

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Week 9: Stats and Observations

My last full week of biking still featured some new experiences! I saw my wife Marsha for the first time since my trip began, I caught my first cold of the trip, got my first flat tire, and for the first time I biked on a state-wide bicycle network of roads. There were also some lasts: my last rest day (I hope!), my last 70+ mile day (I think!), and now my last weekly update! I’ve just got Massachusetts to get across now, and that is a trip I’ve done before.

Day 48: Brantford to Niagara Falls
Day 49: Niagara Falls to Rochester
Rest Day: Rochester
Day 50: Rochester to Weedsport
Day 51: Weedsport to Utica
Day 52: Utica to Schenectady
Rest Day: Schenectady

Some compiled statistics:

  • Days biked: 5
  • Total Distance: 386 miles
  • Time in the saddle: 25 hours, 58 minutes
  • Max speed: 32 mph
  • Calories: 12005
  • Elevation climbed: 7,474 feet
  • Countries: 2 (US, Canada)
  • States/Provinces: 2 (Ontario, New York)

Lodging:

  • Hotels: 5
  • Friends: 2

Observations:

  • Bike paths vs. Roads

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time on bicycle paths while riding in the last few states. And while I certainly applaud the rails to trails effort, and I enjoyed much of the time spent on these trails, I have mixed feelings about riding on bicycle paths vs. riding on roads with automotive traffic. Which one you prefer likely is determined by what your biking concerns happen to be at the moment.

    First, let’s talk about the advatanges of the trail.

    One advantage is that you don’t have to deal with automotive traffic. This is the biggest benefit, I think. If you can reduce your risk of being hit by a car or a truck, that is obviously a good thing. Another is that the grade is typically much lower for bike paths than for normal roads. Many were originally railroad passages, and lower grades were preferred for locomotives. If you don’t like hills, rail trails are for you. Finally, the bike paths often are quite lovely, being surrounded by trees or next to bodies of water. And the trees can help shelter you from a potential headwind.

    Trails can be flat and picturesque, but some find them boring.

    Now let’s cover the advantages of the roads.

    Roads are typically faster. If you care anything about speed, roads are the preferred means of travel. Most rail trails are unpaved, which is slower. Every road crossing requires a stop to look in both directions, and particularly in an urban environment, a rail trail can lead to lots of stopping and starting, which limits your speed. Any traffic you encounter is pedestrian or other bikers, which also slows your progress. But on a paved road, you don’t have to stop, except at a stop sign or stoplight. Other traffic is faster than you, which tends to speed you up.

    A wide, well-maintained shoulder can help a cyclist fly down the road, but they are usually more work.

    In addition, some bikers prefer some variety in their surroundings, and while rail trails can be pretty, it does tend to be the same view, mile after mile after mile. Hills might be challenging, but they can provide some change to potential monotony. And if you happen to have a tailwind, you don’t want any trees to interfere with it.

    So, if you want a nice, flat surface with pretty views and little traffic, you might prefer trails. If you want to ride fast and get a workout, roads are the way to go. During the last couple of weeks, there have been days where I’d prefer one to the other, or sometimes I’ve even changed my mind after an hour or two! It’s certainly nice to have options.

  • Biking while sick is no fun

    Well, being sick at all is no fun, so I suppose this goes without saying. Luckily, I did not get REALLY sick, but just had some mild symptoms, including a sore throat and a hacking cough.

    Still, I could feel my energy wane, and whenever I would try to exert myself, I felt I couldn’t get a full lungful of air. If I did try and take a deep breath, I would start coughing uncontrollably. This is not what you want when you have to climb a hill.

  • The rest of my trip will be hard

    With the exception of my last day, which should be short and relatively easy, the other days will likely include the kind of climbing I have not done since Wyoming. At the current time, it appears I will have a tailwind, which will help.

    Are there hills like this in my future? Well, probably not quite like THIS!

    Sometimes during the last month or so, when I was dealing with largely flat days, I’ve had the feeling that I have continued to get stronger the further I have biked and I’ve needed fewer breaks and have been able to climb longer without stopping. We’ll see if that is reality, or if it is merely an illusion from days on flat roads with a tailwind.

    At any rate, I am sure that whatever the reality, I can get through the Berkshires, given enough time. After all, I have done it before!

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Rest Day: Schenectady, NY

This may have been my most uneventful rest day yet (and I hope it is my last!).

Thunderstorms came rolling through in the morning, and after breakfast I napped through most of them. With a brief window of opportunity, I checked out a local bookstore, Open Door Bookstore. They had a nice selection of new books in a variety of sections, as well as a healthy supply of games and other book-related merchandise. However, I still have a few hundred miles to go, so I’m not quite in book buying mode just yet. I did page through a book about bicycling “bucket lists” which included a cross country trip!

I grabbed a quick burrito for lunch, then went to the Schenectady Public Library. I was curious to see what was available, and I wandered the stacks, looking for books by favorite authors like Martin Gardner and Isaac Asimov. In the math section, I found a copy of the book ‘Struck By Lightning’ which was written by Jeff Rosenthal, who I stayed with in London, Ontario!

There was a movie theater near my hotel, so I wandered by to see what was showing and when, but the times didn’t work and/or the movies did not appeal to me, so I ditched that idea.

Seeing the darkening skies, I headed back to my room and wrote some emails and blog posts, and did some research regarding my last few days on the road. A line of thunderstorms with heavy rain just passed through, and I think that will be all the inclement weather for today.

I suspect after dinner I’ll soak a little in the hot tub and get to bed early. Being this close to the end of my journey, I am eager to get on with it.

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Day 52: Utica, NY to Schenectady, NY — 78 miles

The restorative powers of sleep are really remarkable.

I woke up today feeling MUCH better than yesterday, and as a result I enjoyed my day’s ride much more. The ride was the same distance as yesterday, but the route was more difficult, with more hillwork and a stronger headwind. Still, I got to Schenectady earlier than I arrived in Utica, and I felt better in doing it.

Because I was feeling much better even from the start, I decided to forego the Erie Canal Trail and instead travel on New York State Bicycle Route 5. If that sounds familiar, it is because I have been on or paralleling Bike Route 5 nearly all the way across the state. On the ride from Niagara Falls to Rochester, it was was shared with New York Route 31, but by this point, it was on New York Route 5 and New York Route 5S.

I was on New York Route 5S/Bicycle Route 5 nearly the entire day. See how wide the shoulder is?

The designated bicycle route has been great. For nearly the entire time I have been on this route, I have had wide shoulders, sometimes so much as to have an additional lane just for biking. The benefit of having a paved road with a significant shoulder is somewhat tempered by the rolling hills that come with it. Whenever the route follows or is next to a river (or canal), the course is mostly flat. Leave the proximity of the river, and the hills start.

More hills and trees make for a more varied landscape.

I have noticed that for the last several days, each day is hillier and has more climbing that the day before. Because of the extreme flat of southwestern Ontario, that was bound to happen — roads HAD to get more hilly than that. However, each day has gotten progressively worse, and that makes sense. As I get into eastern New York and western Massachusetts, I am heading into the Berkshire Mountains. There is plenty more climbing in the days ahead!

However, I think distance-wise, the longest days are behind me. I have just four biking days left at this point, and they are each around 60 miles or thereabouts. So if there is more climbing involved, at least the overall distance will be shorter.

Today had a couple of significant climbs — greater than 400 feet — before I had lunch in Fort Plains. The rest of the way was mostly flat, along the river, with a couple of exceptions. Overall, I climbed more than 2000 feet for the first time in a few weeks.

The Mohawk River, just outside Schenectady. There was a paved bike trail running alongside it for several miles.

The weather called for the possibility of afternoon thunderstorms, so I was closely watching the sky as I pedaled along. However, the storms never materialized, and I made it to Schenectady under fine conditions, found a hotel, and grabbed some dinner.

While the thunderstorms did not hit in the evening, they didn’t disappear, but instead held off until morning. All through the next day, Tuesday, there was rain and storms in the forecast, so I decided to have yet another rest day to avoid any potential problems. And while I do feel much better and have more energy, a little more time to recover from my cold is probably for the best.

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