Recovery in Gloucester, MA

In the morning, I said a few final good-byes to those catching the vans to the airport. I got some breakfast in town with Molly and Marisa. Back at the school, I said a few more good-byes to my fellow riders and some of the staff, and got my bags packed up for the last time. I also had to get my bike back into the travel case for the shipment home.

My mom, my brother, and his family picked me up again at the school. We headed into town and relaxed for a while on the public beach, then decided to take a whale-watching cruise. It ended up being on the same boat that our party was on last night. Later, we went up to an arts community area called Rocky Neck and had a delicious lobster dinner. We went back to their hotel to turn in for the night.

The next day, we went to Walden Pond in Concord, MA to spent some time before heading to the Boston airport. Our flight to Pittsburgh was thankfully uneventful. After we dropped my things off at my apartment, I followed them back out of town so we could get some dinner. It felt very odd to sit behind the wheel of my vehicle, after having not driven at all for over two months.

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Durham, NH to Gloucester, MA

I slept well and did not hear it, but I was told that there was a pretty severe thunderstorm during the night. Bruce said that his tent leaked for the first time. It was still raining as we did our usual pre-ride ritual for the last time–loading our bags onto the Penske truck, pumping our tires, and filling our bottles with water and Gatorade.

We rode back to the UNH cafeteria for breakfast; the selections were just as awesome as they were for dinner. I had a ham, mushroom, and cheese omelette made to order. Most of us sat around and chatted longer than usual, wanting to put off our final departure a little while longer.

When we finally did gather ourselves and leave, it was still raining, but it did not matter. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that there was still nowhere else we would rather be at that moment. For the first five miles, the conversations were infrequent and hushed, as we just enjoyed the gently rolling country road, listening to the click of our freewheels and the whirring of our tires on the wet road. Even through the rain, I could see some people choking back tears, including myself. Most of my closest friends were all there: Colleen, Molly, Marisa, Bruce, Robert, Brian, Meg, David, Jane, Lynette, both Matts, and others. It was like a little This Is Your Life documentary as different people rode by, and I would think back to individual moments with them throughout the tour.

We had a brief jolt back into reality with a crash. At an intersection, a few people went through, but then Marisa stopped as some cars approached. David came up to her from behind, swerved to avoid hitting her directly, but grazed her right side, and she then fell sideways on top of him. Fortunately, other than smalls scrapes on elbows and knees, both were okay, as well as their bikes. We continued on, but split into smaller groups to keep the riding more manageable.

If it weren’t for the distinction of this being our last day, we probably would have considered this one of our worst days of riding. Other than that first few miles out of Durham, the roads were through very busy towns and traffic-filled strip mall highways. I dare say that the rain made it more interesting. The rain was coming as hard as ever as we took our customary pictures at the Massachusetts state line, around mile 31.

It was still raining as we approached the lunch stop at a riverside park around mile 36. We caught up to Jim Ryan, soaking wet and worn out. As I moved past him, I thought for a minute, “After all these weeks, I can finally get to lunch before Jim!” But then I remembered, one thing I’ve learned on this trip is that is not what it’s about. I dropped back, and rode alongside Jim and listened to his light-hearted complaining about how wet and tired he was. When we got to the park gate, I motioned him ahead and said, “You first. That’s how it’s always been, and that’s how it should be.”

We all huddled under the canopy as we ate. Even with the rain, we were jubilant; everyone got cheers as they rolled in. We all gave Kira and Tauna big hugs as we left and thanked them for our meal for the last time.

As we stopped at the last water stop, even that had a bittersweet feeling. Those simple orange jugs had come to mean so much. They were comfort stations, small milestones throughout the ride days, at times literally an oasis. During some of those long days in the deserts and through headwinds, setting a goal of just reaching the next water stop was the only thing that got you through the day. And here we were at the last one.

The rain finally trailed off and we got to the town of Essex, and here, we could also smell the salty breeze off of the Atlantic for the first time. We started to re-gather into a large group for the final few miles. We passed Colin at the side of the road with a flat tire; Colleen and Matt stopped to help him, while Bruce, Molly, Marisa, and I stopped to wait a little up the road.

I can’t describe how we felt as we rode up the main street of Gloucester, because I’m really not sure how I felt. One thing I can recall is that it felt kind of unreal. I think I also felt a combination of sadness and relief. I was glad it was over, but not because I was tired of riding, tired of cold showers, hard gym floors, or rain, not tired of anything, other than tired of knowing that we’d have to face it being over soon.

As we made the turn into Gloucester High School, my family and friends where there waiting, cheering, and snapping pictures. My mom and I both cried as we hugged, and then I made it to everyone else–my brother Jeff, his wife Marianne, my neice Juliana, my nephew Alex; my friends Jacques Parker and Judy Masucci from Pittsburgh; Doug Remington and Anne Peters, Randell and Christine Drane from the Boston area; Sandy Yusen from Burlington; and Jill Winer, all the way from San Diego. It meant so much that they all took the time and effort to be here. And all the other riders were jealous that I had the biggest welcoming party!

We waited for all of the riders to arrive, and then with a police escort, we rode as a group back through town to the beach to dip our front tires into the Atlantic Ocean, officially completing our coast-to-coast journey. Then of course, we dipped ourselves in as well. The water and the breeze were pretty cold, but we didn’t care as we laughed and hugged in exhilaration. The official final reading on my odometer was 3,204 miles.

I rode back to the school, and for a while it seemed to us like everything was as it should be again–we dragged our bags inside, inflated our air mattresses, and showered. Again, though, it had that bittersweet overtone, being the last time.

After I got cleaned up, my family picked me up, and we drove out to Christine’s parents’ summer home in Essex, where they had invited us for a barbeque. I was as hungry as usual after the ride, and I ate a fair amount, but I wasn’t as ravenous as usual. My head was just spinning, trying to take it all in. I told stories of the trip to everyone, but it was so random; there is so much to tell, I never know where to begin. I started raining again before we left the house.

We drove back to Gloucester, and my family and friends joined me, my fellow cyclists, and the Cycle America staff on a harbor cruise. It was still raining when we boarded, but a short time after we got out on the harbor, the skies cleared and we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

The boat docked halfway through the cruise. My family and friends left, as did many of the staff and tour riders. About a dozen of us stayed for the second half of the cruise. We sat around and reminisced over a few more beers. Molly sang her “Wish They All Could Be Coast-to-Coast Girls” for us again, and David Beraru sang his “Cycle America” song.

Fryeburg, ME to Durham, NH

It was raining slightly as we got started today, but it cleared up and became sunny just a few miles into the route. The first part of the morning was on pleasant, quiet country roads, with enough hills to make it interesting, but not much tough climbing. I rode mainly with Bruce and Colleen, but we were joined on and off by Karina, Kira, and Scott.

Today is our longest ride day of this week, at 83 miles. I got a flat tire about 10 miles before lunch (which would end up being my last flat of the trip). It was a patched tube, and the patch was leaking; I didn’t find anything in the tire that caused a puncture. The lunch stop was next to a gelato stand at mile 45.

After lunch, there was a section of about 20 miles where the road got busy, through a couple cities such as Rochester, NH, and past lots of strip malls. For the last few miles into Durham, though, we turned onto pleasant country roads again. We met up with several other riders during this last stretch, including David Butler, Jane, and Lynette.

Bruce and I had talked earlier about going straight into town to get a snack. Just as we entered town, though, it started raining very hard. Bruce stopped to put on his jacket, but I continued and just went on to the school (Oyster Middle School). By the time I got there, the rain stopped and the sun came back out already, so I headed right back into town, and found Bruce with a milkshake outside a local shop. I got a milkshake of my own.

Bruce headed to the school, and I found the local public library to finally catch up on my e-mail after almost two weeks. Most importantly, I needed to look up some phone numbers, to get in touch with my family to let them know when and where to meet me tomorrow, and to get in touch with my Boston-area friends to figure out when we were going to get together.

After getting cleaned up at the school, we walked a few blocks back into town, for dinner in the cafeteria on the University of New Hampshire campus. This was like no school cafeteria any of us had seen before. The selections were spread out over three or four sections, with several meat entrees, a well-stocked vegetarian buffet, pizza, salads, and of course, desserts. Everything was fresh and top-quality.

We walked back to the school, where Keith presented us with our final Tour Talk. Then, we voted on our final road relics, and I won the pot of over $20. Some final awards were presented, then it sort of broke out into an impromptu talent show. A couple weeks earlier, it somehow came out in conversation that I could recite the entire list of cities that we visited during the tour, so I did it now. Then Molly read a story she had written, a fable-like account of the trip, where she listed all of the animals, mountain passes, bodies of water, and other notable features of the tour. Finally, David Beraru stole the show with a rendition of a “Cycle America” song he wrote, sung to the tune of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America.”

About a dozen of us went back into town to a pub for our final night on the town. We sat outside for a while, until it started raining again.

Littleton, NH to Fryeburg, ME

A fun day in many ways today. For breakfast, we rode from the school back to the same hotel on the edge of town where we had dinner last night. I rode with Colleen, Molly, and Marisa. Later in the morning, we entered the White Mountain National Forest. Near the sign for the forest, I found my road relic for this week, a homemade CD with the title “The Ruff Riders – Ride or Die.” We passed by the Mt. Washington Lodge at Bretton Woods, which is where the World Bank was founded at a meeting in 1944.

We did some gradual climbing until we reached the summit of Crawford Notch. Most of us hardly realized we had gotten there, as the climb was not severe at all. It was a bit overcast most of the day, so the view from the top was not that spectacular. The descent down the other side was nice, though. Near the bottom, we saw Lynette and Mike, who were stopped to take a break from the bikes and take a short hike on the Appalachian Trail, which passes through the area.

Further on in the morning, we reached the lunch stop in the town of Bartlett, which was set up in the parking lot of the Attitash Bear Peak ski area. The four of us took the scenic chairlift ride up the mountain. On the way down, Colleen and I saw a guy do a good wipeout on the alpine slide; yes, it is possible to run those little sleds off of the concrete track.

In the afternoon, there was an option to do another climb, about two miles up Echo Lake Rd. to Cathedral Ledge. Since it was overcast, the view would not have been that great again, plus Colleen had another option in mind. The other option was not on the tour-sanctioned route, but those with local knowledge had been talking about it. It was called Hurricane Mountain Road, and was just a few miles off of our route, outside the town of North Conway. Colleen and I were the only ones in our group that decided to go.

Hurricane Mountain Road starts with a short climb, then a short descent. Then the climbing starts again and continues for about six miles. At first, there are very steep, but short climbs, separated by brief flat sections to let you catch your breath. But then the last few miles are all uphill, where you have to figure out how use the steep sections to recover in between the VERY steep sections. As I neared the top, my heart was pounding in my chest, and my throat started to feel raw from the heavy breathing. I thought I had reached the final crest a couple of times, only to find another climb around the next bend. I was only sure that I had finally reached the top when I crested a knoll and saw the 17% downhill warning sign for trucks. I stopped at the top to eat, drink, and wait for Colleen, who showed up just a few minutes later. As we were finishing our pictures, Peter, Jeremy, and Ryan came up behind us.

ed down the other side promptly. By the time Colleen and I collected ourselves and were ready to head down, it was a steady downpour. So, we were faced with unfamiliar terrain, with a 17% descent, on a wet road. So, we white-knuckled it the whole way down, and the other three guys were waiting for us at the bottom.

It continued to rain pretty hard for a couple of miles, but then cleared up as we crossed the Maine border. It was a just a couple more miles to our destination, the town of Fryeburg. Before heading to camp at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds, we stopped at a pizza shop in town, where about ten others from our group were already there. Colleen’s friend John from Portland had ridden his motorcycle down out to meet her, and he happened to go by and saw the bikes outside, so he stopped in and joined us. He headed home a while later, and the rest of us rode to camp in time to get cleaned up for dinner.

After dinner and Tour Talk, Mary asked all of the Coast-to-Coast riders to gather in the fairground’s bleachers. There, we were all presented with plaques to honor our accomplishment.

 

Stowe, VT to Littleton, NH

We headed out of Stowe fairly casually, those of us who had climbed Smuggler’s Notch expecting to be paying for it in our legs today. Breakfast was at a restaurant about 12 miles into the route. I was riding with Bruce, Colleen, and Karina. After breakfast, I was feeling a lot better than I expected, so I got into one of those moods again where I just felt like hammering on, not talking or sightseeing too much. Karina tucked in behind me, so I pulled her along the whole way. I knew we were going fast when we passed Jim Ryan; we would have stayed ahead of him if we had not stopped to take our vests off. The terrain was more steep ups and downs, some of them a mile or more. Lunch was at mile 42 in the town of Danville.

There was a farmer’s market and craft fair in the area near our lunch setup. David Butler suggested that we get something for Colin, since today is his 60th birthday. There was a stand selling tie-dyed t-shirts; I thought that would be appropriate. One day last week, a few of us were talking to Colin during dinner, and he was telling us that he lived in London during the 1960’s, while he was in his teens and 20’s. We said that it must have been fun; he wouldn’t give us any details, but just said, with a big grin, “Yes, it was.”

Leaving lunch, Karina and I continued on together. At this point, the last day-and-a-half of hard riding finally caught up to me. I don’t think I have felt this drained of energy since the day going into Spokane. The hills continued, even steeper than this morning. As we crossed the state line into New Hampshire at mile 60, it felt like we should have been home free, but we still had another 16 miles of hills. At mile 69, we took a short break at a welcome center, where I scarfed down the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I had brought from lunch. Finally, I drafted Karina as she towed me in the last seven miles to Littleton. When we got to town, there was what some called “adding insult to injury,” a turn off of the main street went directly up a very steep hill for the final quarter-mile leading to Littleton High School. Karina went up right away, but I stopped at the public library at the base of the street to try to check my e-mail. Their computers were down due to a virus, however, so I made that final push up that hill just a minute or two later.

As soon as I got my stuff set up in the gym, and got showered, I grabbed my laundry and walked to the laundromat in town. While my clothes were drying, I walked up the block to get a cup of coffee at a shop that was also a florist. Molly and Colleen were there, too, and they finished their clothes a little before me. They said they were going to head back through town and stop for a drink on their way to the school, probably at the local microbrewery. After I got my stuff dried and folded, I headed out to try to find them. Before I got to the brewery, I heard my name being called; it was Robert and Bruce across the street, from the third-floor balcony of the hotel where Robert decided to get a room for the night. So I went up and joined them, and had a glass of wine. We were joined a few minutes later by Brian and Meg. Bruce and I walked back to the school so I could drop off my laundry, then we joined a few other people and walked the mile and a half to another hotel on the edge of town, where dinner was. I presented the tie-dyed t-shirt to Colin, and he seemed to be really touched by the gesture, as he put the shirt on right away right there in the restaurant. It was also Mary’s birthday, so we sang to them both, and cakes were brought out for both of them.

Robert, Brian, and Meg never showed up for dinner, so we figured they went to a place on their own, so Bruce and I tried to find them. We walked back to Robert’s hotel, and checked the brewery, but they weren’t there, then we walked back almost to where we had dinner and checked a couple restaurants along the way, all with no luck. So, back into town, we stopped at the brewery and found a few others from our group there. Robert, Brian, and Meg showed up a little later; we had just missed them at Robert’s hotel by a couple of minutes earlier. The brewery was a bit of a hassle; the people we joined had already had a table on the outside patio. We moved a couple of tables together, but just as we got settled in, the waitress came out and told us that since it was getting dark, they had to close the patio. So, we went through the whole process of getting seated again inside (the group had grown to about 15 by now), and then finally ordered some drinks. A little while later, John Piser showed up. He needed to order dinner on his own, as he had just finished his ride for the day. It turned out that when he left Stowe, he took a wrong turn up the road towards Smuggler’s Notch. He realized his mistake soon enough, but just figured “What the heck?” and did the climb, then proceeded on to today’s normal route. John is in his 60’s, and was giddy over having accomplished his extended ride today, and we were all proud of him as well.

Burlington to Stowe, VT

After packing up, we biked back into Burlington, and stopped at the Wyndham Hotel again for breakfast. We took the bike trail again for a few miles to get us through to the east side of town. I was riding with Colleen, Karina, and Bruce. Around mile 18, Richard and David Butler caught up to us, and I continued on with them. Karina joined us as well. The route was punctuated again with lots of short, steep climbs. The lunch stop was at a park in the city of Waterbury.

Feelings of regret about the tour ending soon seem to creep up once in a while this week. This was especially evident during a point in the ride leading up to lunch. Although we were on fairly quiet country roads, for several miles during the route it ran parallel to Interstate 89. David Butler turned to us and said, “You know what that is over there? Reality.” Although we had ridden near, and even on, Interstate highways before, it was a fitting metaphor for the moment.

About a mile outside of Waterbury, David, Richard, Bruce, Karina, Colleen, and I stopped at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory and took the tour. The tour is not too involved, but worth it if you happen to be in the area already. First, there is a short video on the history of the company. Then, you walk through an area overlooking the factory floor, and watch another video that explains the production process. Finally, you go to the tasting room. Only two flavors per day are made in the factory, and those two flavors are what are offered in the tasting room. The flavors for today were Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Brownie Batter, both of which were excellent.

It was only another nine miles to get to our destination of Stowe, for a short day of 48 miles. However, there was another option today, a climb up Smuggler’s Notch, which several of us chose to take. We had to go a couple of miles through town to get to the road that leads to the Notch. This road then is pretty flat for about four or five miles. It got very steep all of a sudden as we approached the lodge and access roads for the Stowe Mountain Resort ski area. We got pretty separated on the ride through town, so it was just Richard and I at this point, but he pulled ahead of me pretty quickly as the climbing started. It leveled off a bit for a while, then had several short, steep ups and downs. Near the end of this section, Marisa went by on her way down, and yelled to me, “Good job; you’re almost there!” As the final stretch of the climb approached, the road narrowed down to about a lane and a half. Right at this point, I passed Richard, who was on the side of the road with a flat tire. I asked if he needed any help, and he said “Keep going!”

The final mile and a half or so of the climb is a series of extremely steep switchbacks, at times with grades of 15 percent or more. If you are familiar with Sycamore Street in Pittsburgh, it’s like doing the twisty section of that three or four times in a row. During a couple of the steepest sections, I was barely moving, as I forced my cranks around one stroke at a time. But, I made it without stopping. As I got to the top, Jeremy and Mary were there in one of the vans, cheering us on. One after the other, within a few minutes of each other, came Colleen, David, Bruce, Karina, and finally Richard and John Kirtley. As it turned out, just after I passed Richard, he found that his pump was broken, so he waited for the next person to help him, which was John.

After the photos and high fives, we all turned and headed back downhill. We took if very slow and cautious through the switchbacks, except for Bruce. Around the second or third sharp curve, he came flying past me, then came very close to Colleen and David, nearly out of control. As he tried unsuccessfully to navigate a hard right turn, all he could do was ride off to the left side of the road into the weeds, where he managed to stop safely. He was very lucky that there wasn’t a steep dropoff on that side of the road, or that there wasn’t a car coming uphill.

We all intended to re-group at the bottom and go for a celebratory snack in town. But, Colleen and I saw Molly at a shop along the road towards town. Colleen wanted to wait for Molly, so I tried to catch up to the rest to tell them to wait at the corner. By the time I got there, they were already past the corner. I rode up the street a bit, and David flagged me down. He said Bruce and Karina went off in search of coffe, and he, Richard, and John found a place for ice cream. So I joined them, but it was off of the main street a bit, so Colleen and Molly never found us. We ended up eating way more than expected; I just ordered ice cream at first, but when David got an order of french fries, I suddenly felt I needed a cheeseburger and fries. So after that, I got my ice cream (with bananas added) for dessert. By the time we got back to camp, we had turned this short, easy day into a 78-mile day.

Dinner was provided at the campground by a local catering company, just a couple of brief hours later, so I uncharacteristically only made one trip through the line. I wanted to get my laundry done tonight for the last time, but both of the the campground’s washing machines were out of order. So we had a large contingent heading into town. Marisa had called a cab, but we ended up waiting over an hour for it to arrive, until we finally just called and cancelled it. The caterers were making a trip back to the camp to get some of their gear, so we flagged them down and asked for a ride. They said they could take us to their restaurant, so we agreed, with about half a dozen of us squeezed into their truck’s cab, and another half-dozen hanging on for dear life in the pickup bed. As soon as we got there, somebody called the taxi company again, and they arrived just as we were ready to leave about an hour and a half later, around 9:30. While there, I had a local porter; it was okay, but not as good as the one in Lake Placid.

Lake Placid, NY to Burlington, VT

It was another cold morning, with a very thick fog as well. After breakfast in the Showgrounds shelter, I headed off on bike with Richard. It was mostly downhill for the first dozen or so miles, along tight, twisty roads through pine forests and past mountain streams; it reminded me a little of our first couple of days in Washington state. After this stretch, the fog finally lifted, and we got to an option point. There was a climb up towards the Whiteface Mountain ski area. We were told that it would be a three-mile climb, but that it was a toll road that might be closed to cyclists if we didn’t get there early enough. At the top would be a weather station and scenic overlook. We didn’t see any toll booth, so we decided to proceed on up, after we took off some of our cool weather gear. It was not too harsh, as the grade on the climb was fairly gradual.

It turned out that it was three miles to get to the toll booth. Then it was an additional five miles of steeper climbing to get to the top. However, we did arrive too late, as the toll road was closed to cyclists now, so we didn’t have to make the decision whether or not to keep on climbing.

When we got to the toll booth, already there were Matt Olson, David Butler, and Scott Quakkezaar, from Michigan, a new rider for the week. We took the usual group photos, and were joined by Jim Ryan and Lynette later. We put on our sunscreen, and all turned and headed back downhill at the same time and re-grouped at the bottom. I felt a little skittish on the descent, and used my brakes a bit, and so never got much faster than 45 mph.

The rest of the router today had lots of short, steep climbs. I hit 45.2 mph on another descent; not my personal best, but it would end up being my maximum for the entire tour. We passed the Ausable Gorge on the way to the lunch stop in the town of Port Kent. Then, it was just a short few miles to the shore of Lake Champlain, where we boarded another car ferry that took us over into Burlington, Vermont.

David Rome was waiting to greet us as we got off of the ferry. He lives in Burlington, and was with us on the very first week of the tour. He asked how I was feeling, and said that it was good to see me riding again; I was happy that he remembered me.

I headed into downtown Burlington with Richard, Bruce, David Butler, and Karina, another new rider for the week. Bruce and Karina got coffee, while the rest of us went to Ben & Jerry’s. We also stopped in two of the local bike shops.

We had to take another rail-trail for about two miles to get to our home for the night, the North Beach Campground. After I got my tent set up and took my shower, I walked the trail back into town with a group of people. We had about a half hour to kill, so we walked around the pedestrian market area again, then headed to the Wyndham Hotel for our dinner. I considered going out in town with a group that was headed out straight from dinner, but the I remembered that I needed to get a new chain put on my bike, so I took the shuttle van back to camp. Jeremy was able to take care of my new chain pretty quickly.

The mosquitos in this area were the worst that we have experienced on the tour. So, we all got into the safety of our tents fairly early; I was asleep by 9:00pm.