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Aug 19, 2012

New England

Clicking the week’s summary chart will bring up a detailed route map for the week including elevation gains. After the summary and overview of the week and Sheila’s op-ed piece, you’ll see the posts in order starting with the first post of the week.You can view any week of posts by clicking on the week in the sidebar.

Click to see week-9 overview summaryThis week riding from Lake Placid NY to Gloucester Massachusetts (just outside Boston) has taken us through most of the New England states including a day from Burlington to Stowe Vermont, a couple of days in and out of New Hampshire and a quick trip through a corner of Maine. Each day we drew closer to the end of our 9 week journey at the Atlantic Ocean.

We feel we met our pre-trip intentions with gusto! As predicted…it was an adventure and we did not fail! We had a ton of fun, we didn’t miss a day of blogging, we only used the sag vehicle twice, once in Helena, MT when the winds were 50 mph and then the last 5 miles on a day when we had 3 flats and no more tubes. We managed to remain pretty present and not complain or whine during the more challenging times.

We plan to put together an FAQ over the next few days while we visit with my brother and his family in Newport, RI so there’ll be at least one or two more posts.

This week’s op-ed from Sheila

Last night Cycle America hosted a sunset harbor cruise providing an opportunity to socialize and add closure to our little temporary community. Not everyone attended, including Jon from Idaho. The great news is they released him from the hospital after his crash yesterday. He actually went back out to mile 8 and completed the remaining 54 miles of his interrupted journey. He was much too exhausted to attend the party! But he’s clearly doing well. Thanks to those of you who expressed concern.

The cruise made me feel somewhat sad instead of the expected elation. Some of that is the ending of a very special time. I’ve loved every minute of this trip. Our traveling circus was great fun and we enjoyed getting closer to people from all over the world. I especially enjoyed that every day the ride covered new territory with new surprises around every corner and hill. We’ve talked about how we hope to retain this level of fitness at home. It will be challenging with work and NW weather. And for the lack of variety of riding routes within easy reach of our doorstep. We will work on it and keep you posted down the road.

Meanwhile, I think another reason I feel sad is realizing that in 9 weeks of sharing the road and a myriad of experiences with this group of folks, I do not really remember many moments where we shared much of ourselves. We had a few rare conversations that covered something other than the mundane (route, weather, camping, accommodations, saddle sores, etc). Only two folks even asked us why we eat the way we do.

One of the weekly messages we opened from Bill and Sooz said, “Why fit in when you can stand out?!” Yet we all yearn to fit in, to be seen and heard. Spencer and I have made choices that do set us apart. Our food choices, riding a tandem and not drinking all tend to keep us at arm’s length from a group of folks who were enjoying bottomless margaritas after sharing seafood dinners!

Alas, a temporary community is not automatically a community. It has served its purpose well. But again, what do we take back to our fledgling intentional community and to our other relationships? Perhaps it’s the realization that we all deeply want to be known. This knowing takes time. Yet it does not automatically happen over time, but only with an intention and commitment from all parties that this knowing is both possible and worth the personal risks incurred. We so value our close relationships with Bill & Sooz and Richard & Dianne because we do know each other deeply after many years of sharing ourselves.

We’ve often commented to ourselves how this journey has been like a rolling meditation retreat. It has reinforced the benefits of approaching each day, not knowing what to expect, yet being open and present for whatever arises.

Aug 13, 2012

Hello, New England!

  • Lake Placid, NY to Burlington, VT
  • 44.5 miles/3,936.5 total
  • Short, fun, easy, kick-back day
  • Ferry ride!

Today was the shortest ride of the tour. It was so short we delayed breakfast a full hour, not leaving Lake Placid until after 8. Such luxury. We headed out with our new tandem buddies, Roland and Judy from Connecticut. They had to scratch their own self-guided tour this week and opted to join our intrepid band instead. We were glad for the company.

Our paces were enough similar that we rode all morning to picnic together. We swapped stories about the road and tandems. They’ve been riding double since 1994. Our paces and styles matched well. Actually that was easy to do because it was almost all downhill today as we dropped out of the Adirondacks. It was our second day of no corn fields. Such a change from the past 5 weeks.

We were at picnic by a 10:30. It was at Ausable Chasms. I’d call it a park, but it is privately owned. You pay your fee and you get to see the wonders. We snacked, then bought a hiking pass. The chasm was created by the Ausable River. It’s a very narrow gorge with spectacular rock formations. This one is called Elephant Head. We visited with people along the trail who were full of positive comments on our journey. The trail dropped almost down to the river at points. In fact, if you wanted to pay an additional $10, you could buy a float trip down about a mile of the river. No white water, to speak of, but another way  to experience the power of water. We hiked to a trailhead and caught a shuttle back to the top.

From there it was a short ride to the ferry, then a one-hour crossing of Lake Champlain. It was a gorgeous day to ride the boat, smooth and sunny. I shared Revolutionary War stories with my British colleagues, the Smyth-Osbornes. Then it was a quick ride to the University of Vermont campus where we are now setting up shop in the dorms.

Tomorrow promises to be another short day, 46 miles, taking us to Stowe. There will be significantly more UP, but still an easy day as we head into our last week of the tour. The end is indeed near.

Aug 14, 2012

A Notch in our belt

  • Burlington to Stowe, VT
  • 68.5 miles (4005 total
  • Smuggler’s Notch, 22% grade
  • Green Moountains

Last night we met up with my good Camp UKANDU friend Drool (James) Moore and his partner Frankie while we were in Burlington. We had a lovely Thai dinner, then they sprang for Coconut Bliss at the local green grocer. We took it down to Lake Champlain and ate it while the sun went down. It was a great evening getting to know them better. I keep forgetting that Drool is a fellow Saxon from South Salem High. That could explain a lot. We stayed the night at a dorm at the University of Vermont. For breakfast the cafeteria has 3 kinds of soy milk and wonder of wonders they had Oregon Chai.

Today’s ride was slated to be another short one, 42 miles to Stowe. It was gorgeous, rolling through the Green Mountains. We could tell it’ll be more beautiful when the colors change in another month or so. I was thinking the terrain here is the exact opposite of South Dakota. The plains are flat with long straight roads. A turn or a hill is so rare as to be worthy of a photo. These roads are all curvy, hilly, and lush looking. If we find a straight section of flat road, we’ll take a photo of it. Don’t hold your breath.

It was barely noon when we got to Stowe, so we decided to do one of the add-on options, a trip up to Smuggler’s Notch. This is the place where any kind of contraband moved north or south. This included liquor and runaway slaves. The Notch is at 2152′, high above the Stowe ski resorts and 1300′ above the town.

It was about a 5 mile climb to the top once we started the serious climbing. One early section kicked it off with a mile at 10%. Some ups and downs later and we began a steady ascent at 7%, which quickly shifted to over 10. The road, meantime, shrank from a two lane road with shoulder, to a two lane road with a fog line, to a two lane road with only a center line, then no lines, then only one lane wide. Somewhere in there the switchbacks started.

The switchbacks started at 15% and got increasingly steeper. I had to stand to power us through the inside corners. On the last one, I couldn’t even steer us around the corner it was so steep. I had to go straight across the road. We figured it was well above 20%. We didn’t stop until the top, though.

We didn’t know it was the top until it started going down. When we saw the truck on cheese sign, we knew we ought to stop and go back. We saw the Smyth-Osbornes there as well as many other riders on the way up and down. It felt like a big accomplishment. We celebrated at the bottom with a big can of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Aaaah. The pause that refreshes.

Thunderstorms in the forecast tonight and everyone has to camp. It could be a wet tomorrow!

Aug 15, 2012

New Hampshire – 11th state

  • Stowe, VT to Littleton, NH
  • 75.4 miles
  • Top speed 50
  • 4,200′ of climbing

The weather people got it right last night. However, that was bad for us since they predicted heavy rain. And we got heavy rain beginning at 1 AM until at least 3:30. Fortunately our little tent kept us cozy and dry, though the noise on the roof kept us awake quite awhile. It didn’t do much for the cases we had to leave outside the tent because there was no room inside, but they, too, were waterproof. All we had to do was put away a wet tent and fly this morning before breakfast.

Breakfast was in downtown Stowe at the Green Mountain Inn. It was unremarkable, but it’s interesting to look at all the sculptures in front of the businesses in Stowe. The sculptures came in all kinds of shapes, styles, and sizes. What an artsy little village. And of course there was one of the classic New England white steeple churches too.

I have no picture to show yet of Vermont’s straight, flat roads. We didn’t see any today. We were all ready for a day of rain (which the prognosticators were wrong about), so we had 2 panniers full of rain gear when we began taking on the hillclimbs. Again, most of them were well above 10% if they got steep. Some were well over a mile long if they got long. Some got long and steep. Those were challenging. But like all good climbing (as opposed to bad climbing) there were dandy downs much of the day. We clocked 50 more than once as we rolled along.

We teamed up with Roland and Judy again for a good part of the day. We stopped to admire an old covered railroad bridge. The structure was neat, but why would you bother covering a rail bridge? If it was to keep snow off, why wouldn’t the rest of the tracks be covered? It is one of those questions which will long puzzle me.

R&J left us behind on the big hills leading to picnic. We just weren’t climbing as fast as they were so that was fine. We ended up beating them to picnic because they had a flat on a long downhill. By the time we saw them on the side of the road, they were a blur in our rear view mirrors. Picnic was at a place called Joe’s Pond. As is often the case, it was a lovely place to sit and eat and chit chat about the morning.

We did a good bit of chatting along the route later at a country store when we came upon a larger group of cyclists from our tour recharging batteries. This same group made a stop for pictures as we crossed the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. There was no big sign saying “Welcome to New Hampshire” but if you look closely you can see the indicator of the New Hampshire state line in the middle of this bridge.

In the hills that followed, we lost touch with Roland and Judy again. It allowed us to continue at our own pace through the White Mountains. The scenery is much the same as Vermont. The land is lush green, the hills are forested, the farms are small, the villages have a colonial feel to them. This area is in a time apart. It was trying to rain for quite a while. But somehow we stayed ahead of the storms and arrived at Littleton dry at 2:30. There was just one more climb. Once again the townsfolk put their school at the top of the hill. This hill was a full 18% grade. What a way to end a ride. But the sun was shining and we got our gear dried out, so all’s well in the end.

Aug 16, 2012

The rain in Maine….

  • Littleton, NH to Fryeburg, ME
  • 64.4 miles/4,144.8 total
  • 2890′ elevation gain
  • Mt. Washington Hotel @ Crawford’s Notch
  • New friends

Last night we got a message on our blog from Marianne B. who had done the Coast to Coast tour ten years ago and was reliving it through our blog. She lives near Crawford’s Notch and planned on meeting us when we arrived at picnic. That was interesting and exciting. Now we have a new friend to find. We headed out early.

The first half of the day was all uphill heading to the top of Crawford’s Notch. It was gorgeous. I say that a lot, but this time it was personal. We’ve discovered that we really love mountains, rivers and trees. That’s one reason why New England feels so much more homey than the Great Plains to us. Climbing through forests sets my heart aglow. At a bike pace, you see and hear the streams gurgling alongside the road. It’s as if my heart were a tuning fork which vibrates to the sounds of the mountains.

Not that the mountains here are comparable to mountains back home. These would rate as foothills in Washington or Oregon. But here, they are perfect. When we finally got near the Notch, we saw the Mt. Washington Resort Hotel. Likened to an ocean liner on land, it majestically sprawls across a ridge. We looked at the notch, saw black and grey clouds, looked at the hotel and saw blue sky. We opted to wait at the hotel for a while to see if the notch cleared up.

What a hotel. It’s the last of its kind still standing as the others have all burned down. Opulent is the only word that comes close to doing it justice. The great room is scrumptious with lots of chairs, couches, rugs, etc. I could easily imagine a presidential photo shoot with Obama leaning over to converse with some foreign leader. We luxuriated in the softness of the seating. Others sampled the free coffee. We oohed and awed at the veranda, golf course and conservatory. Finally we headed back out.

Voila! The clouds were gone from the notch. We finished the climb, then headed down the 13% grade. the rest of the day was probably 90% downhill. We flew toward picnic, then started seeing riders going up the hill. The first one called out, “They’re waiting for you!” That was a cycling friend of Marianne’s. Another couple went by and called our names. That turned out to be Marianne and her partner Tom. She doubled back to catch us at picnic and we had a lovely visit. She and Tom had met on the Coast to Coast ride in ’02 so she has a soft spot for all us travelers. They wished us well as we left for the last 20 miles to Freyburg.

As we approached Maine the sky became more and more threatening. We could have sat still someplace and waited for it to clear, but we were too close to the end to stop. So we rode right into the storm and got pretty wet.  Yesterday we carried all our rain gear and didn’t need it so today we only had our jackets and helmet covers. We left our booties and pants packed. Dang!

Our home tonight is the fairgrounds exhibit hall. We’re set up where the quilts and crafts would be. It’s fairly homey, if you’ll excuse the pun. Tomorrow we’ll head south on our penultimate day. Woo hoo.


Aug 17, 2012

The penultimate day

  • Fryeburg, ME to Durham, NH
  • 82.9 miles/4,227.7 total
  • Fastest day this week
  • 293 hours in the saddle (more than12 days)

Everyone is getting more excited about finishing off this journey. We were all up and out of the craft barn before 6:10 even though they didn’t open the doors to breakfast until 6:30. Most ate quickly and hit the road. It’s our next to the last day. Some people are openly tired of the trip. Others are ready to keep going. Christian has decided to buy panniers and travel by bike all the way back to New York City on his own. We’re trying as much as possible to stay in this moment. It’s getting hard, though.

This morning was foggy and cold. We needed wind jackets for a good part of the morning even with all the hills that New Hampshire and Maine have. The sights were pretty much the same as we’ve been seeing. But today there was a bit of a magical light with the spotty overcast and the mists rising. I was intrigued by this cemetery because of the light. From the road it seemed to stretch out into eternity. A connection to souls past. There are a lot of very old cemeteries here dating back to the 1700s.

We also saw lots of little lakes. They turned up everywhere you looked. Marty suggested there were as many lakes here as in northern Wisconsin, where the bulk of that state’s 13,000 lakes exist. If you were a water person, today was your day to be in your element.

Sheree, who left the tour back in Wyoming, returned to travel with us for 2 days. It’s good to see her again as she runs errands, and checks up with us on the road. Many people are looking forward to the whale watching cruise that’s been scheduled for Saturday night. It’ll be a big party and a chance for closure.

There was nothing remarkable about today’s ride after picnic except we stopped at a Radio Shack in Rochester. They actually had the replacement windscreen for our Tandem Talk boom mikes! We lost one of those 3 days ago and have had to make do without our tandem communication system since. We haven’t tested it yet, but we’re hopeful it’ll make the last day’s ride more enjoyable.

The middle school we are staying in is very small. The “gym” is small. But their play court has the great US map on it and someone has outlined our route! FUN!  The shower rooms are tiny and we’ll have to walk to dinner. Ah well. It is the last night for this kind of accommodation. Tomorrow night we have a hotel. Then we’re with Ric and Lisa in Newport for a few family days. We’ll end up with more than 150,000′ of elevation and close to 4,300 miles in the last 9 weeks.

Aug 18, 2012

Atlantic at last

  • Durham, NH to Gloucester, MA
  • 63.8 miles
  • 4,291.5 miles total
  • 150,836′ of climbing total
  • Rain and sun and drizzle

We did it! We made it to the Atlantic Ocean on our own power! Woo hoo! What an accomplishment. We are ever so proud of ourselves and the entire cadre of cyclists we’ve been riding with all summer. That includes those who, for many reasons, couldn’t finish the ride. Life throws curve balls and one nailed a member of our team today. Jon from Idaho, a sweetheart of a guy, went down hard while crossing a railroad track 8 miles into today’s ride. He was unconscious for 2 minutes, but the doctors say he’ll be OK. He’ll have to finish the trip another time. He was being properly cautious from all accounts, but got caught anyway. We wish him a speedy recovery.

But let’s get back to the start of our story. Last night we ate at the University of New Hampshire – Durham. The food court was as big as a football field. They had everything you could imagine – burgers, ribs, salads, make your own stir-fry, desserts galore including fresh hot cookies. They had plenty of options for vegans, gluten-free people, etc. It was heaven after a long string of less than adequate meals on the road. Breakfast was just as good except they put chocolate chips in their pancakes. What a travesty. Leave the chips in the cookies, please.

It was raining steadily as we left. The plan was to get the whole group to the Gloucester High School which is one mile from the place we were going to dip our tires in the Atlantic. When the whole group got there, we’d get a police escort and go. Everyone was raring to go. We started in heavy raincoats and booties, but by 10 we’d slipped out of them because the rain had virtually stopped. It was in the first 8 miles that Jon fell. Motorists and cyclists helped him until the aid car came. After that, most people were much more cautious about the wet roads. Ric from Monroe fell and scrapped himself up only a mile or so from Jon’s accident. There was one more accident today. Alex, one of the Smyth-Osbornes, had dipped his tire and was riding back to the gym when a car hit him and bent his front tire. Fortunately Alex is OK, but his bike will need the wheel replaced before he can ride it again.

Our trip was uneventful. The rain made everything feel more homey. The towns were quintessential New England towns with town squares, gazebos, colonnaded porches, majestic city halls, classic stone walls, etc. Sheila felt right at home. We eventually arrived at Gloucester and crossed the “not quite” finish line at the school. Other riders cheered us in. Greg gave us all red, white and blue plastic leis. We signed the pavement and waited for the last arrivals, cheering on our comrades as they arrived.

When we all were in, we lined up behind a police car for the trip to the beach. Gloucester is having a waterfront festival this weekend, so we needed it to be able to navigate the throngs of cars and people. Locals were all wondering what the to do was about as we swarmed like lemmings to the Atlantic, the promised sea following the arrows used by the crew to get us to our final destination.

There was much joyous tire dipping. We smooched and don’t you love the look on Tim’s face? He’s like a grown son we never had. When we stood in the water and raised the tandem high, we were unconquerable. Leaving the water we had conversations with locals about what we’d done, why, how, and where. It was the first time we had to recap the whole trip in a few minutes. We’ll get more experience, but if you have been following the blog, you know the stories will go on and on and on.

Tonight we’re going on a whale watching tour after dinner. It’s the final celebration for all the coast-to-coasters and their friends and family.