The Downeast 1000k was a new route this year, created by Anthony Mennona and run by our local club, New England Randonneurs. First of all, I want to say a big thank you to Anthony for designing the route, arranging accommodations, and organizing the whole thing; another big thank you to my better half Jake, who’s the RBA for our club and who also put a lot of work into making it happen; and lastly a thank you to all the ride volunteers whose friendly faces greeted me at so many controls.
The route started just outside of Montpelier, VT and went out to the Maine coast, with the turn-around atop Cadillac Mountain on Mt. Desert Island, in Acadia National Park. The sleep stop was in a dorm building at Colby College in Waterville, ME.
I should mention at the start that in ten years of randonneuring in New England, I have been hoping to see a moose on a ride, and up until now, I never had. Everyone said that if one were going to see a moose on a ride, this would be the ride to see it!
21 riders started, at 4 AM from the Comfort Inn parking lot. The Comfort Inn was wonderful to us, and opened up the breakfast room for us at 3AM so we could get some food and coffee before the start.
As usual, I rode my old faithful fixed gear, a 1974 Raleigh Professional. I was pleased to see that there was actually one other rider on a singlespeed (although not a fixed gear). The ride started out across scenic Vermont countryside as the sun came up. I chatted awhile with the other singlespeed rider, until he dropped me on a climb. The morning was humid, but the temperature was pleasant. It was one of those days where between humidity in the early morning and sweat during the heat of the day, my clothes pretty much stayed damp for the entire day. There were a few sections of dirt roads, and overall the pleasant, scenic cycling one expects from Vermont. I started the ride feeling somewhat groggy and tired, and didn’t really feel warmed up for a good while (actually, not really until the third day) but that’s how it goes sometimes.
Around mile 60, we found the Connecticut River, which is much smaller than it is in Central Massachusetts. It meanders around and forms the line between Vermont and New Hampshire. We crossed the river into the first control in Lancaster, NH. Anthony was waiting there to sign cards. Between the terrain and the fact that I’m not really at my fastest this year, I think I was the last to arrive at the control, although I got there in good time. There were two riders still there, Mike Anderson and Larry Midura. They’d arrived maybe 10-15 minutes ahead of me, and left maybe 10-15 minutes before I did; that would turn out to be the pattern for most of the rest of the ride. I ate a pickle, filled my bottles, bought a snack, chatted with Anthony for a few minutes, and got back on the road.
The route followed the Connecticut River north for awhile, then turned more northeast toward the Maine state line. The cuesheet recommended stopping for water in Errol, NH, since there would be no more services for awhile. Mike and Larry had gotten there a bit before me, and they left a bit before me, yet again. I got in some calories in the form of a nice big ice cream cone, then continued on into Maine.
The next stretch was, as promised, empty of services. It went between lakes and marshes on one side, and forest on the other. The pavement was brand-spanking-new, and minimally traveled. In Maine, state highways and numbered roads are usually one lane in each direction with the paved surface ending an inch past the white line, and a very soft sandy shoulder. On this brand new road, the pavement was perfectly black and the shoulder was light colored sand, which made for beautifully clear tracks on the road surface. Looking around, I kept thinking that this would really be an ideal place to come looking for moose, but of course they probably wouldn’t be out in the heat of the day. There were quite a lot of very clear moose tracks all over the road though, and in one place there were even some bear tracks. There were a few human footprints too, but those were less exciting. For that whole stretch, my biggest regret was that the route doesn’t return that way. I figured if we went that way on the way back, I’d be almost guaranteed to be there at a different time of day, and it was clearly a popular moose hangout.
That was a fairly long stretch with no shade, but the scenery was just absolutely gorgeous and the road surface was buttery smooth. It made for a very enjoyable ride. Eventually the road diverged from the lake side as it headed toward the next control in Rangeley, ME. It was on this stretch that I managed to incur what Jake dubbed the “stupidest cycling injury ever”. On rides like this, I like to keep a bottled beverage (preferably caffeinated!) In the side pocket of my saddlebag where I can reach it while riding, in addition to my water bottles. In this case, it was one of those Starbucks Frappucino things, in a glass bottle with a metal lid. Drinking it requires riding with no hands while I reach back for it, use two hands to open the lid, hold the lid while drinking, and screw the lid back on. At some point, I’d taken a drink and been annoyed that the bottle was dribbling sticky all over the place, and screwed the lid on good and tight. So on this stretch, I reached for the bottle and tried to open it, but I couldn’t get the lid open. I got annoyed and just gave it a really good crank as hard as I could, and felt a sudden pain in the back of my right forearm. It was one of those things where you know you’re about to do something that’s going to hurt, but you’re annoyed and you just do it anyway. The lid still didn’t come off. I wasn’t really thinking about my arm, I just wanted the stupid lid off. So I tried a couple more times. I tried tapping the lid against the stem (although, not wanting to leave marks on my stem, not actually hard enough to help). Still no dice. So I gave up on it, since I wasn’t even that far from the control anyway.
The control was a convenience store called The Looney Bin, which strikes me as aptly named for a control on a crazy ride like this. The selection there was unfortunately a little thin, but it sufficed. Henry van den Broek was there to sign brevet cards, and Mike and Larry were there too. My bottled Starbucks was passed around and remained stubbornly closed until Henry tapped it against something a few more times and got it open. As I was getting ready to leave, the sky opened up. I hung around the control for a few more minutes until the rain died down, then got back on the road. The rain petered out, although the weather remained damp.
It was sometime in the damp evening in the river and pond-dotted hinterlands past Rangeley that I saw my moose! I looked up and she was just standing there by the side of the road. I slowly rolled to a stop just past her as she looked around nervously, ears twitching. She was pretty close, actually. But while she seemed OK with me rolling past, she didn’t much like me standing there trying to surreptitiously get my phone out for a photo, and she disappeared into the brush before I managed it. She was the only one I saw on the whole ride, but still, I was thrilled to have seen her if only briefly.
Once it was dark, it got fairly foggy at times, which caused me to miss a turn at one point because I didn’t see the sign through the fog. But I didn’t go too far off course and was able to correct myself. For what it’s worth, I’ll mention that I was riding basically just using the cuesheet. I did have a GPS along in my handlebar bag – Jake’s newer one, which doesn’t fit on the handlebar mount for mine… I didn’t bring mine because I hadn’t gotten around to loading the route on it, but Jake offered me his, which he’d loaded the route onto. So the GPS was basically for verification purposes. I had my cell phone as well, kept in airplane mode to save battery, which I could also pull out if I needed it. But mostly I still tend to use cuesheets, especially in New England where our ride organizers work very hard to make them clear and informative. And the cuesheet has more information in it than the GPS would, anyway – such as where to find a convenience store .2 mi off the route that you wouldn’t otherwise know was there, if you need to refuel. Actually, having a GPS along but not mounting it to the bars, or having it on the bars but without the route in it, or having it along but not bothering to put fresh batteries in it, etc, are all sort of common, ummm, “strategies” for me, as I tend to take a sort of casual and last-minute approach to packing for rides, and I know I’ll be handed a cuesheet at the start.
For that matter, I don’t even ride with a computer. It’s not that I’m against them or anything, I just have been too lazy to get a new one since the last one broke some years ago. But I generally have a good feel for how far I’ve gone, when I know I need to pay attention. And for longer cues, I use my watch: At 12mph, a mile takes five minutes; at 10mph, it’s 6 minutes, at 15 mph it’s 4 minutes. So if I have to go five miles, I know roughly how fast I’m going, so I know when I should start looking for the turn. I always start keeping an eye out a little early, and keeping an eye on my watch and on the cuesheet gives me something to do. But what with my vintage steel bike and plain ol’ cuesheet, I feel like I need a t-shirt that says, “I’m not really a luddite, I just look like one!”
So, following the cuesheet’s instructions, I made a brief stop at the barely-off-route convenience store, and continued on to the sleep stop at Colby College in Waterville, ME. Actually, on my way into the college, I even pulled out my cell phone to find a campus map, since I hadn’t seen the street name the cuesheet mentioned, and it looked like I’d passed most of the campus buildings already. Because of course, neither the GPS nor Google Maps marked the actual street names of the campus roads, or the names of the buildings. But the dorm we were using was just a little further on, and I found it with no further trouble.
The accommodations at Colby were excellent. I arrived at 12:30 AM, and there was hot food waiting. Jake was asleep when I arrived, but my friends Rob and Janika, who live nearby in Albion, ME, were there to take care of me. They carried my bike down into the dining hall, where lots of others were parked along the sides, and where Mike and Larry had arrived shortly before. I had a plate of hot food, and Janika showed me to the shower and my room. I rinsed off quickly, and asked to be woken up in an hour and a half. I didn’t sleep especially well, for whatever reason. But I knew that the first day was the easiest, and that the climbing would increase each day, so I wanted to be sure not to spend too long at the sleep stop.
I left at around 3:30 AM, a bit behind Mike and Larry as usual, feeling somewhat less than refreshed. There was a neat little pedestrian bridge on the way out of Waterville, and more wee-hours fog. The early morning is often a challenging time of day for me to say the least, and I was going none too fast in my groggy stupor. Finally around 6 AM I crested a hill and saw a convenience store that was open, so I stopped for a snack and some caffeine. The stop helped some, but didn’t do as much good as I’d hoped. A ways down the road, I finally just sat down and took a nap, leaning up against a road construction sign.
The nap made a big difference, and when I got back on the bike I felt much more alert and finally started to go a little faster. It was a very pretty morning actually, once the fog burned off. Awhile after that I came upon another rider by the side of the road. He’d broken his rear shift cable and was calling it quits. I tried to talk him out of it, first by suggesting that he adjust the limit screws in the rear derailleur to pick one cog, since he’d still be able to shift the front (he wasn’t too keen on doing the rest of the ride with a two speed bicycle) and then by suggesting that he call Janika and Rob, who live nearby and would probably have a shift cable to lend, but he’d already made up his mind and called his wife to pick him up.
As the day went on and the route got closer to the coast, the traffic picked up. In Maine, numbered roads/state highways are generally one lane in each direction and the pavement stops right at the white line, at which point there’s a very soft sand shoulder. I’m not a huge fan of this arrangement; people drive quite fast, including logging trucks, pickups towing trailers, etc. The wide, sandy shoulder creates a visual impression that there is plenty of room, but the sand is so soft as to be pretty un-rideable. The edges of the pavement are often crumbled, which makes it worse. Generally it seems that if I actually turn around and look over my shoulder at traffic that’s coming up from behind, they’re more likely to move over and give me a reasonable amount of room (maybe it’s a subconscious signal that I’m a person, not an inanimate obstacle), but craning over my shoulder over and over for miles gets tiresome, and makes for a stiff neck eventually too. I’d been in this same area with my heavily-laden touring bike not two weeks earlier on the way home from a gig, and while it was worse on a loaded bike, it’s annoying on any bike. During the day at least, some of these Maine roads can go from peaceful, gorgeous, and idyllic to obnoxious and terrifying and then back again faster than anywhere else I can think of. Rt. 1A was particularly annoying in this respect.
Finally, I reached the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and the point where I reconnected with my exact route from a couple of weeks before. I do always enjoy crossing this bridge. It’s beautiful, and also brand new. It carries US-1 to the island of Verona. The control in Bucksport is right after leaving Verona. Actually, two weeks previously, I’d been heading the other direction on Rt. 1 and Janika and Rob had ridden out to meet me, and Bucksport was where we connected.
Mike and Larry weren’t at the control when I got there – no surprise, what with my snack and then nap. I was annoyed that I hadn’t managed to gain much time on that leg, since I knew I’d need it later on when the climbing started in earnest. But the early morning sleepies will do that to you.
This convenience store, too, was a little thin for selection, but I did find myself a solid 1200 calories in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, bought my umpteenth disgusting bottled Frappuccino (seriously, I really hate those things, but they work), and then kept on.
From Bucksport to Ellsworth, I was riding on US-1, a stretch of it that’s all too familiar from my annual trips to Maine with the touring bike to teach music. The road goes over a series of long rollers, and I always think there are fewer of them than there really are. I can say with confidence, though, that they do feel less onerous on a fixed gear brevet bike than on a 90-lb touring bike. Rt. 1 has a nice, wide shoulder most of the time, so although the traffic goes by very fast, the biggest problem it causes is the noise. The exception, though, is where the road adds a climbing lane on the uphills. The width for the climbing lane comes out of the shoulder, leaving a much narrower strip. There are two signs on those hills: one says “slower traffic keep right” and the other says “keep right except to pass”. These two instructions imply different treatments of the climbing lane, and the result is that everyone just spreads out into both lanes, going just as fast. So you still get passed by trucks going 60mph when the shoulder is narrowed, and that’s not really a lot of fun.
Eventually I reached Ellsworth, which has a steep descent into town, and then a right turn toward Mt. Desert Island (that always strikes me as a sort of awkward name… I always want to add another “S” and envision it as a giant pile of whipped cream!). Rt. 3 on that stretch was more of that narrow road, crumbled edges, sandy shoulder, fast pickups business for awhile, but as I got closer to Acadia the traffic got a little friendlier. Generally the tourist traffic in and near the park was somewhat better behaved. It was fairly hot though, and I was still feeling kind of groggy and slow. I wasn’t making up time very well, and I needed another water stop before starting the long climb up Cadillac.
Just as I was feeling cranky and thirsty and in need of a pick-me-up, I heard some calling and cheering from the side of the road. There were a bunch of people milling around, and bikes everywhere, and they were motioning for me to join them. I rolled over, and they took my bike and offered me sandwiches and cold water and a chair. They were a church group from the Midwest (I can’t remember where now 🙁 ) on a bike trip. They’d started from Brattleboro, VT, and were going about 450 mi in around 8 days. Their sandwiches, cold water, and friendly conversation gave me a much-needed boost as I continued toward the mountain.
The road started going uphill basically by the visitor’s center. I wasn’t near Cadillac Summit Road yet, but I was climbing already. Even on Paradise Hill Rd, I’d catch occasional glimpses of a the distant mass of the summit, and it seemed impossibly far to climb.
It was a long climb, but climb I did. There was a fair amount of tourist traffic, including some large tour buses, and while I found the whole tourist-y scene a little off-putting, the drivers were polite enough and gave me plenty of space. It seemed like I’d been going uphill for ages when I finally arrived at the turn onto Cadillac Summit Road, which was still 3.5 mi from the top. But the climb wasn’t terribly steep, and I settled into a good rhythm for what felt like the first time all day. At one point a woman who’d gotten out of her car to take photos of her son climbing around on the rocks around a switchback cheered me on and told me I was almost there. It still seemed to go on for a good long while after that, though. I always try to remind myself that people shouting encouragement from the side of the road may not necessarily be very good judges of what constitutes “almost there” or of how far it really is. The sun beat down, and I climbed some more.
Finally, I arrived at the summit. There was a big parking lot and a gift shop and lots of people, but the weather was clear and the view was spectacular. I sat down and took a breather, and one of the other visitors took a photo for me. A few people asked me where I’d ridden from, shaking their heads when I explained. A common question I get, when they notice that I’m riding a fixed gear, is whether that’s a requirement or whether everyone does it like that. The next question is invariably why the heck I do it like that, since a modern multi-speed drivetrain would seem to be the logical choice. I have yet to come up with a good answer, and all I can say is that I do it because I’ve been doing it for years and haven’t gotten around to changing.
You’ll notice that I’m wearing long sleeves and knee warmers, despite complaining of the heat. There’s actually a good reason for this! For the long sleeves, the explanation is that this jersey is not a thermal material, it’s just lightweight summer fabric. The long sleeves are a light color and help keep the sun off, so that I don’t have to bother with sunscreen. I’d sort of rather wear short sleeves, but the long sleeves are less annoying than sunscreen, and actually keep me cool pretty well. The knee warmers are because my knees tend to rub the top tube when I climb. This isn’t a problem in dry weather, and it isn’t a problem when it’s pouring, but when it’s sort of damp, my skin wants to stick and causes lots of irritation. So at a certain point I just put on the knee warmers and kept them on. But they’re fairly thin, and don’t really feel that hot either. It just looks like I’m overdressed!
The descent off of Cadillac was curvy and fun. I saw a few other cyclists riding up while I was spinning madly on the way down. They gave me some strange looks, to be sure. Descents like this always engender a bit of chagrin, because I worked so hard and it took so long to get up to the top, and then I get back down to the bottom in what feels like no time at all by comparison!
After the descent, there was a short loop through Bar Harbor. I could have done without the congestion and traffic of doing that, but I made another stop for water and iced coffee and a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich (extra bacon). I was still feeling sort of slow and draggy, but the food and caffeine helped pick me up. Out of Bar Harbor, the route went down some beautiful gravel carriage roads back in Acadia. These were really one of the highlights of the ride. The cool shade and lack of traffic was a welcome change of pace. I should have taken photos, but I didn’t. That short section ended, and the route reconnected with the outbound version again to head back toward Ellsworth. I walked up the steep hill out of downtown Ellsworth. The setting sun was in my eyes, and I was relieved when it dipped below the hills as I rode back down Rt. 1 to Bucksport. This was now my third time on that stretch of Rt. 1 in two weeks; the first time was on my touring bike, on the way home from teaching in Lubec. On the touring bike, I have a low gear of 30×34, and even on the loaded bike, I don’t need to walk on this hill, although I don’t go any faster than if I did. But walking a bike that heavy is no picnic; riding it is easier! With a low gear (and a high gear) of 44×17 though, walking is worth it.
By the time I left the Bucksport control, it was dark. I was tired, and it was a long trip back to Colby to sleep. After crossing over the Penobscot Narrows bridge again, I looked behind me and saw the bridge all lit up in the dark, with the full moon centered between the two soaring pylons. It was gorgeous, and I should have taken a photo… but my phone takes crappy pictures in the dark, and I’d have had to stop and brace the phone or hold very still to get anything at all. So here are some photos I stole from the internet, to give you some idea of what it looked like.
The 57-mi leg from Bucksport back to Waterville was definitely the toughest for me mentally. I really needed to make up time, especially if I wanted to sleep at the control. I was tired and kind of groggy. The roads that were pleasantly scenic during the day were pretty boring by night, when there’s really nothing to see except the little circle of the world illuminated by my headlight, full moon or not. I could have done with another water stop somewhere, and every time I passed through towns I kept a careful eye out for a soda machine. I’d have really liked to find a soda machine. But they didn’t have any of those. I finally got sleepy enough to take a nap leaning up against… something or other. I can’t even remember what it was, just that I did it at least once. I guess there were some rolling hills in there, but I don’t really remember those either.
I finally made it back to Colby at around 3:30 AM, half an hour before the cutoff time. Jake was there waiting for me, as well as volunteers Sara and Gary. Mike and Larry were there, too. Not only was there hot food, but there was also cold beer! Jake had done the beer shopping and had even made sure to save me an IPA. The beer was just about the best thing I ever tasted, and it helped with getting the food down. This time when I went up to sleep, I had no trouble sleeping soundly for an hour and a half.
The alarm rang all too soon, and I tried to get down some food and coffee, but as usual after sleep stops like this, I didn’t manage to get down that many calories. Finally I gave up on it and got back out on the road, for the last (and hardest, terrain-wise) day. As Jake was carrying my bike back up the dining hall stairs for me, he commented that he’d carried basically everyone’s bike up or down those stairs, and he was pretty sure that mine was the heaviest of them all. Whee, lucky me: It’s not enough to ride a fixie, I have to ride a heavy fixie, too! I don’t think it was the weight of my luggage; I don’t think I was carrying more than many other people, and the only stuff I carried with me that I didn’t actually use were the tools (only a small multi-tool, a y-wrench, a single tire lever, a few zip ties, and some electrical tape – I am not one of those people who carries a spare bottom bracket and a full set of cone wrenches!) and spare tubes, because I was fortunate enough not to get any flats. He did mention that my load was very well balanced between front and rear. But apparently my bike is not so light.
I had made my sleep stop as quick as I could while still getting done what I needed to, but I still left the control with a time deficit on the control closing times. But I still needed more in the way of breakfast, and made a stop at a cafe 20-30 mi or so into the leg. I had some chicken soup with rice and some sort of quiche thing and a big iced coffee, and that perked me up quite a bit.
Actually, leaving the breakfast place, I actually felt as good as I’d felt the whole ride. Of course I was still tired, and my wrist was still sore from the unscrewing-the-lid incident, I still had blisters on my fingers from so much climbing in muggy weather, still had a few more saddle sores than usual due to wearing shorts that are too small, etc, but still, I felt like I had finally warmed up and hit my stride. Sometimes you just feel like it takes a long time to warm up, and sometimes 450 mi. Go figure.
But it was a good thing I did, because the hard parts were still to come. There was a series of quite steep rollers, followed by a 700-foot climb that seemed to come out of nowhere. At one point, someone called from the side of the road that I was halfway. He said it in an encouraging way, but as I already felt like I’d been climbing for way longer than I was expecting, halfway was NOT what I wanted to hear at that point! Unfortunately, his estimate was spot on.
Awhile later on the same climb, Jake passed me in his rental car, and pulled over to see how I was doing. Not only that, but he’d been shopping! At the sleep stop, I’d mentioned that so far the convenience store controls had been fairly thin for selection, and often didn’t have the things that I liked. Foremost on my list were V-8, and those little Starbucks cans of espresso with cream and sugar. Those cans are like magic in the middle of the night, and they aren’t even that heavy to carry. If I were smart, I’d buy some in advance and carry some along and keep some in my drop bag. But I’ve apparently not gotten smart to that strategy yet. Anyway, I got a big delicious drink of V-8 and I took a couple of those magical cans onboard to get me up the big climbs before continuing up, and finally descending into the control in South Paris.
Shortly after the control, the route passed Pennesseewassee Lake. As I looked out over the water, I could see some weather over the mountains in the distance.
After the lake, I hit a bunch more steep rollers between Norway and Sweden (must be all those fjords! 😉 ). They were relentless, and I walked up a couple of them. It was there that the weather I’d seen caught up with me in a short but torrential downpour. The temperature dropped, the wind howled in, and the sky opened up like a fire hose. There was even hail for a few minutes! It didn’t rain for long, but it rained hard enough to ensure that I was soaked, and my feet would be damp for the rest of the ride.
As swiftly as it had come, the Sturm und Drang ended and the sun came back out. Steam rose from the pavement. I kept looking behind me to see if there was a rainbow, but either there wasn’t or the trees lining the road didn’t let me see it.
Shortly after that, the rollers gave me a reprieve until crossing the line into Conway, NH. I made a quick stop at one of the last convenience stores before the biggest climb of the ride, then headed into White Mountains National Forest and up the Kancamagus Highway.
The sun was low and in my eyes as I continued west. Fortunately the mountains start shading it from view long before it reaches the actual horizon. It’s over 20 miles from the park entrance to the top of the climb. I went at a slow but steady pace, and as the sun set the traffic decreased. It’s not a steep climb in the east-to-west direction (in the 5-7% range I would say), and I got into a pretty comfortable rhythm. I’m not sure how long it took to reach the top, but it was full dark by the time I did, and the moon was up. When I reached the scenic overlook at the top, I heard a woman calling out, “Yeah! You made it! Good for you!” I didn’t realize she was talking to me, until I realized that except for the person standing next to her, there wasn’t anyone else around. I pulled into the overlook (which I’d have done anyway) and she gushed that she and her husband had seen me on their way up, and she thought, “Oh that poor man! (oh, sorry, I assumed you were a man, no offense!) That looks like such hard work!”. She said they lived nearby, and had driven up there to look at the moon, which was one day past full and was big and bright in the relatively clear night sky. The moon really was gorgeous; my cell phone photo can’t possibly do it justice. It was bright enough to see the faces of the couple I was talking to, and bright enough to cast real shadows on the ground. I enjoyed the brief chance to chat, especially with someone as bubbly and upbeat as this woman was. Her husband didn’t say nearly as much, although that would have been hard.
The overlook was nice and all, but time marches on and so do brevets. So on I went. It was only 13 miles of spinning like mad to get me to the Price Chopper control in Lincoln. I managed to make it in time, and even managed to gain some time. I both love and hate grocery store controls. I love that there are finally more choices, but hate that it always takes me longer to figure out where things are, figure out what I want, and take care of what I need to do. They didn’t have any hot food anymore by the time I got there, but I found some cold soup and a microwave to warm it in. I didn’t wait for it to get very warm though, before eating it as quickly as I could and refilling my bottles, ready to press on. While I was in the store, there was a quick torrential downpour outside that had mostly finished by the time I was ready to leave. Also notable were the people I saw going in and out as I sat in the vestibule eating my soup. It was like Interfaith Night at the Price Chopper. There were a couple of families dressed in orthodox Jewish style (both with babies in strollers… I always sort of wonder what someone’s day has been like if I see them in a store with a baby at some weird hour of the night), a couple of families dressed in Muslim style (more people bringing small children to the grocery store at odd hours), and a couple of people with Sikh top knots. And a guy with lots of tattoos, of which a couple were varieties of crosses, but you expect tattoos in the middle of the night.
It was still dripping outside a bit when I left. The next leg was only 32 mi, and I had over four hours to do it in to make the closing time. But of course, the first thing on this leg was the climb up Kinsman Notch. This one isn’t as long as Kancamagus, but it’s steeper and darker and I was sleepier, so I got off and walked a bit. At one point I also pulled over and took a nap leaning up against a “White Mountains National Forest” sign. But finally I reached the top and started the more gradual descent into the penultimate control, in Bradford, VT, right on the Connecticut River.
It was sometime along that stretch that I realized I didn’t have quite as much time as I thought! I’d been doing the math on the closing time of the Bradford control, and the finish time, and realized the problem. The control closing times are based on the required minimum speed for the full distance that the route actually is, in this case, 635 mi. The finishing time is calculated based on 1000km, or 621 mi. That’s a 14 mi discrepancy, and if one were not careful and were up against closing times on every control, one would have to make a much higher average speed on the last leg. And the last 34 mi was much more uphill than down. Uh-oh.
The sudden realization that I was under more pressure than I thought roused me somewhat, and I focused on keeping the pace up. I arrived at the Bradford control a good bit ahead of closing, and got in and out of there as fast as I possibly could. I did my best to keep the pace up, but sleepiness was getting the better of me. Once or twice I stopped for a “standup nap”, where I didn’t bother to even dismount but “napped” by crossing my arms over the bars and putting my head down for a few minutes. It was all I could take the time for and it wasn’t much, but it was enough. As I rode into dawn, the morning light plus the realization that I wasn’t going to make it in time if I didn’t hurry, plus the motivation to be done helped wake me up. It was actually a glorious morning, and the Vermont countryside was really gorgeous up in those hills. Would have made nice photos, but damned if I was going to be bothered with that. Plus, my arm had gotten more and more sore. It basically wasn’t a problem while riding unless I moved it in a bad way while moving my hands around on the bars, but all kinds of other things irritated it, such as getting things out of my back pockets or fishing around in my handlebar bag. So that made photos more difficult, which is another reason I don’t have more of them.
Those last few climbs felt like cruel and unusual punishment, tantalizing me with how close I was but slowing me down at the same time. But finally, I made it into the Comfort Inn with 15 minutes to spare. Being in a huge hurry to check in and get my card stamped, I walked right through the hotel lobby without looking at anything (like the signs that would have told me where to go) and went straight to the hotel room we’d been told at the start that we’d have at the finish. There were no bikes around, things were very quiet, the door was shut, and there was no sign, but that was the room, so I knocked. A woman in a nightgown opened the door and sighed and told me she didn’t know where we were supposed to go, but good luck anyway. She didn’t look that surprised to see me… apparently, the poor lady had been woken up quite a few times by randonneurs who thought they knew where they were going. In a panic to check in before 7, I called Jake. He was in a different room; the hotel had promised us the same one, but had accidentally given it to someone else. Jake had put up signs in the lobby, but in my brevet-addled stupor I missed them completely.
I found the right room, where Jake was waiting, along with NER’s newlywed president Dan Greene and his wife. Mike and Larry were there too, having finished about 15 minutes before. The smell of cooking butter filled the room, and it turned out to be coming from a griddle from which I was served fresh scrambled eggs and pancakes.
So, thanks again to all the volunteers who made the ride possible. I’d definitely do this ride again if it were offered, and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a taste of New England that’s a little bit off the beaten path. Maybe one of these times I’ll even get a light bike with gears. But then again, I think I’ve said that every year for ten years, and I haven’t done it yet.
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