Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day 50: Manchester to Rye, NH

Drank a drop too much wine last night at the banquet so got up feeling just slightly off kilter but I drank lots of orange juice and came around very quickly. Not sad to think that it was the last of 54 nights in a hotel but choked up several times during the ride as I realized that it really was coming to an end. My spells of sadness receded every time we hit another hill-- and there were plenty of them even though the ride was relatively short (about 58 miles with only 2500 feet of climbing). Sort of amazing that the hills never seemed to get easy despite the many that I managed to drag myself up. Next week I will try some of my local hills and see if they give me less trouble than they did when I was training.

I was in good time for a traditional last group gathering at "Me and Ollie's", a bakery and coffee shop in Exeter and knowing that we had only about 12 miles to ride left us all relaxed and convivial. When we reluctantly broke up for the final leg to the middle school in Rye where we would convene for the final bit of the ride, we were all torn between happy and sad. By the time we got to Rye it was hot and humid but we suffered through a group picture session, endured the waiting while the police escort was organized and had the inevitable very last minute flat (not mine, thank goodness) which was fixed in just a couple of minutes by Jim, our fabulous mechanic.

The honor of riding first on the way to the beach fell to the four slowest riders-- me, Ian, Helen and Ellen-- so we were right behind the van. Being first I couldn't get any sense of what we looked like but with someone else driving Mike crouched in the open back door of the van and took pictures. It was a nice slow trip with the police ahead of us and stopping traffic as we came onto Route 1 to Wallis Sands State Park and then in a moment it was all over. Like many others John and I were greeted by friends and family. Cyclists went down onto the beach-- on such a hot day crowded with regular beach people-- dipped their bikes and took pictures. The time for tearful farewells and hugs was pretty much at an end for those of us not staying at the hotel another night. We gathered our luggage from the truck and went out to lunch with my friend Liz, my sisters Tamar and Kate, and my daughter Margaret. My sister Sybil and her significant other Peter had been at the beach to greet us but left before lunch because Peter was setting off on his own adventure-- a drive to Alaska. Got home to Northport at about 6:30 and had an ecstatic reunion with Dog Darby and a lovely evening settling in to being home!

Day 49: Brattleboro, VT to Manchester, NH

After my glorious day of cycling to Brattleboro and my dinner with friends and family, this day turned into something of an ordeal. Perhaps worried about a ride with 5600 feet of climbing (yesterday was only 5000), perhaps because of the iced espresso I had yesterday, I had a restless and wakeful night and got up feeling less than cheery. In addition, I was reluctant to leave early because the N.H. line was only a mile from the hotel and I wanted to get a picture with John. All things considered it was not a good start to the day.

One nice thing that happened was that our friends Rich and Loranne Block came out to meet us at the first SAG, mile 36. It happened to be on Route 9 in Antrim, only a short distance from where they live. Sadly, I couldn't relax and chat for long because I was so panicked about the ride ahead. It was one hilly ride. Nan said "whoever designed this route had a cruel, cruel heart". The nice thing was that the route took us off the beaten track and through several small N.H. villages. There may have been a couple of hills in that part of the state that Mike didn't manage to get in but not many. Up, down, up down and until finally at mile 79 we reached the motel in Manchester. I thought I was completely ridden out but when John told me there was a Dairy Queen and when I remembered that my days of eating ice cream were coming to an end, I managed a little extra riding .

That evening was our final banquet and a riotous time was had by all. The group has been together many hours a day for many days and managed to find a lot of laughs in our shared feat of endurance. Everyone got an award-- for me and John it was "couple who arrived furthest apart". In Mike's speech he "honored" me by saying that if he had seen ten people on the street and had to choose which one could ride a bicycle across the country it sure would not have been Dereka! One more day to the beach!

Day 48: Latham, NY to Brattleboro, Vermont

Before I met John I lived in Troy and worked at Russell Sage College-- that was 1974-1979. Nothing about the area was familiar to me as I rode in and I began to doubt my memory but a few miles out of the motel in Latham we turned onto 19th Street in Watervliet and everything clicked into place. Ahead of me I could see the bridge across the Hudson and the buildings of Troy. I was riding with Nan who swooped over onto the sidewalk to get across the river and that turned out to be a great move. The sidewalk funneled us away from the tunnel that goes under the Russell Sage campus and I knew exactly where to turn to make a nostalgic side trip past my old apartment on Second Street and get us back on route uphill out of the city.

We followed Route 2 east, a route I drove many times while I was living in the area. At mile 12.6, however, we were routed on to Route 278, a gorgeous road with less traffic and one I had never taken. The riding was splendid and even though I knew I was not yet in Vermont, it sure felt like Vermont to me. At mile 32 we turned east on Route 7 toward the Vermont line and Bennington. Then followed the challenge of the day-- a ten mile climb. I felt great and found the climb very doable. We were rewarded with a great descent into Wilmington-- fast but not frightening. John waited for me there so we had a coffee and pastry break and started climbing again up Hogback Mountain.

The first time I ever went downhill skiing was at Hogback-- I was a teenager and did not know how to ski and it was something of a disaster; the kind you laugh about even at the time. The ski place is no more-- crumbling buildings overgrown with vegetation and the remains of an old lift sagging against the hillside. Made me realize that many many years have passed! From the top we had a "100 mile view" before more fun and fast downhill into Brattleboro.

In Brattleboro we were delighted to meet up with our daughter Eliza and her husband Michael, my stepmother Babs, my niece Viney and her husband Francisco, my old high school friend Don Sluter and a genealogy pal Joann Nichols. We all had dinner together and you will understand why my blog has not appeared until four days later.

Friday, August 6, 2010

This sign gave us a laugh

Day 47: Little Falls to Latham, New York

After my somewhat ho hum reaction to yesterday's ride I was thrilled to find myself in bicycle fantasy land today. The humidity broke and the morning was lovely. We left Little Falls on Route 5S East and climbed for some time to a ridge that afforded lovely views north into the Mohawk River Valley. While the climbing was demanding, the scenic reward was bountiful and the descent lots of fun-- fast but not scary. I spent the whole ride thinking that east or west, east is best (and simultaneously remembering that nearly everyone thinks their homeland is superior to all others). Just miles and miles of lovely green, pastoral landscape-- also an immense Target warehouse in Amsterdam and the massive G.E. campus in Schenectady with rolling lawns and manicured loveliness. Then as the icing on the cake, we were routed on to a bike path at mile 49 and rode it until mile 71. Just three miles of the real world and we were at the hotel-- nice and early about 2:00.

Day 46: Liverpool to Little Falls, New York

One of the frequent debates among riders is whether it is better to be hot or wet. Most prefer hot but I definitely prefer wet. Today we had the opportunity to be both.

Heavy rain started at about mile 11 and lasted until mile 45-- more than two hours for most of us. Once it stopped, the route turned into a long steamy sauna that lasted until we hit Little Falls at mile 78.

Not much else to say about the ride. I was reminded of a teeshirt that read: Eat, Sleep, Pedal, Repeat. The lack of much to look at set me to reflecting on why I did the ride and why anyone does the ride. We haven't seen spectacular scenery since South Dakota and that was a long way back. We haven't had particularly interesting rides since Minnesota and Wisconsin and they seem a long way back as well. It seems to come down to physical challenge and the satisfaction of having ridden from Point A to Point B.

In the meantime most of us have fallen in love with the group. Think how seldom it is that one spends 50 days with 50 strangers engaged in a common enterprise. We look forward to the ride being over but are sad on that account as well.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 45: Henrietta to Liverpool, NY

A long hot humid day with redeeming features -- the best of these being twenty miles on the Erie Canal bike path. It was still cool when we started there at mile 6 and it was an idyllic ride through a couple of canalside villages and along the shady path beside the water.

From the canal we were routed on to Route 31, a state highway with a fair amount of traffic but a very smooth and wide shoulder, excellent for biking. We rode 54 miles on this road-- a very long way in my mind because I am happier with lots of twists and turns-- but we had a tailwind much of the time and the miles passed as they always seem to. John and I had a nice lunch in Weedsport and were refreshed for the last 25 miles of the ride. Our leisurely break made us the last to arrive at the hotel but only by a very few minutes. In any case, we rode the whole 95 miles in a bit more than seven hours.

The lovely treat at the end of the day was the arrival of sister Tamar who altered her route from Pittsburgh to Vermont to include a stop in Liverpool. She had dinner with us and will stay here in the hotel tonight.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 44: Niagara Falls to Henrietta, New York

The picture is actually from two days ago when we crossed the Rainbow Bridge into the U.S. We had our sixth and last rest day in Niagara Falls. As I mentioned before, John was sensible and avoided the touristy stuff. Believing that it was my first and last trip to NF, I decided that I ought to have a part in the madness.

Luckily, along with another rider, I went early to board the Maid of the Mist and was able to get on without a long wait and without being packed in as tightly as one is on the later boats. The falls are astonishingly marvelous and riding on the "Maid" was a thrilling experience-- right up into the madly churning water and clouds of spray. The other two things we did-- all three requiring the uniquely awful NF disposable raincoats, aren't worth spending keystrokes on, but I was glad I did them (once!)

In my last post I voiced the hope that New York would be more varied and interesting than the terrain we have been riding and sadly that was not the case today. We spent about ten miles getting out of industrial sprawl. After that things got a bit better but it says something about the ride that I took not one picture. It was very humid and I rode fast-- mostly with John. He had a flat at mile 77 and I stood by to be supportive while he changed the tire. At mile 80 we stopped at McDonalds where I had an inedible chicken wrap and he had a barely edible chicken sandwich and we vowed never to go there again. Almost immediately after that stop we missed the right hand turn to the motel-- rode up a long hill, down the other side, realized that something was wrong and had to ride back up and down the hill again and finally, at mile 85, reached our home for the night, Motel 8.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Day 42: Brantford, Ontario to Niagara Falls, NY

High jinks on the road today. It was a great ride-- actually it was like two wonderful pieces of homemade bread with a thin layer of something dull like lard in the middle but it is the good parts that I will remember.

I started out riding with Nan (she took this picture) and I immediately fixed my bike computer so that I could see only mph, not mileage. I can always tell about where I am by the cue sheet but that is not like watching miles crawl by on the odometer. Nan is a great talker and I have been known to say a thing or two myself, so the road flew by underneath us. We did turn into the wind at about mile 31 and rode 18 miles on a road with narrow shoulder and high traffic but at mile 50 we were off that and things got much nicer.

After days and days of what I yesterday called sorn and coybeans, and days and days of "checkerboard" riding (turn right, turn left, turn right, turn left), it is just possible that we have left that behind. Suddenly we were in New England type terrain-- uphills, downhills, shaded parts of the road, curves. Just lovely. It lasted a only a few miles before we had to begin beating our way through heavy traffic into Niagara Falls, but it was enough to give me hope that we will see more such riding in New York.

Niagara Falls is a strange and marvelous contrast of gorgeous and ghastly. The falls themselves are breathtaking-- I was reminded of my first looking at the Grand Canyon. The area around the falls, both sides, is a hideous howling nightmare of buildings, roads, traffic and tourists. We looked down at the people packed on "The Maid of the Mist" and John decided that he could give it a miss but I am going to go with some of the other riders and do all the tourist things.