Monthly Archives: August 2017

BOS > MTL (03)

Day 3: North Adams to East Hebron (54 miles)

Day three and day two ended in the same way: me, tired after steadily going up hills, finally finding a flat or downhill section of road, only to come upon one last painfully steep climb. These climbs rose in front of me like a tsunami, just waiting to crush me if I stop long enough to wonder what the hell I was thinking.

However, hours after day two ended and miles before the final climb of day three, I was at a lovely bike shop in Williamstown, MA. My bike gloves–wonderful, disgusting things–were too big. That had been okay before, but they started to chafe somewhere in day two and I knew I wouldn’t make it all the way without smaller ones.

Nearby North Adams was a friendly sounding bike shop with a hip name. Actually, I hadn’t heard they were friendly. I heard they were kind of jerks, but I needed new gloves or my hands would become something unfit for use.

I showed up ready to do the thing where I have to either feel awkward, listen to someone talk at me, or assert loudly and repeatedly that I know what I’m doing. Luckily, these people turned out to be pretty awesome.

After I picked out some gloves, I decided I might as well also deal with a problem I was having called “my pedal got stuck on something and broke in half,” which was later followed by “my other pedal hit something and broke in half.” I asked Paul (the dude who works there, according to Yelp) for their cheapest pair of clips–pedals with cages that trap your feet, making it so you get “more power from each rotation” but an “increased chance of falling if you start to lose balance.”

j/k I love my clips.

He tried to convince me to switch to clipless pedals (in the midst of a muti-day ride?!), and we argued about it for a while. He then offered to put the (clipped) pedals on (I had a pedal wrench), and -then- he started to explain seat fit and how he thought mine could be better.

This is where I interrupted Paul and explained that yes, my seat fit was fine, and I launched into a prepared spiel about how badass I am.

One of my pieces of advice of people who have low self-esteem (i.e. nearly everyone) is to prepare some stock answers about how great you are. You don’t have to believe them. Just list some facts that explain how legit you are in a specific context. It’s really, really useful because you have an answer that feels more like referencing a Wikipedia article you’ve read than gloating about yourself.

A photo of a paper map of Bennginton, MA, and Hoosick Falls, Cambridge, and Petersburg, NY
Paul’s route

The dude’s attitude changed and he pretty quickly treated me as a peer. My guess is he runs into a lot of people who have fancy bikes but don’t know what they’re doing, and that he tries to make them (and maybe beginners? idk) understand how to do things better. I like to think that he was trying to be helpful, but just didn’t understand my situation.

He became pretty chatty. He gave me advice on the trip, asked what kind of days I was running, what route I was planning. His advice was based around roads he thought were good, locations worth stopping, and a few possible places to sleep, which was the least planned part of my trip.

So, I went back to pedaling, my mind shifting in and out of spaces where it knew how to do anything else. I giggled as I passed into Vermont, cursed silently as I meandered my way up a mountain, and rejoiced as I crossed the border into New York, following close to line between the two states.

Somewhere around there I also realized I really needed to figure out where I was going to be sleeping that night.

There are a bit over 110 miles between North Adams and Middlebury. This is a good two day ride for what I imagine is the lower-to-mid range of your adventure-cyclist–e.g. me. Sparing you the details of my calculation, there was a general range of ten miles in which I thought I ought to sleep–my goal had been to limit sixty mile days, and the idea of a seventy mile day sounded unappealing.

A photo of a cyclist, wearing a red and orange cycling jersey, pink sunglasses, and a black helmet, shrugging in front of a road sign that says "Town of Hebron" and "Right to Farm Law." There is a field, a tree, a telephone pole, and a road in the background.
I’d never heard of Hebron before either

There was a campground south of my range, and another north of it. I started e-mailing bed & breakfasts in the area, asking if I could set up on their lawn for a discounted rate. The first one that responded was also the least out of the way and offered me a bed with a cyclist-discount.

That was how I found myself at Hopkins House Farm Bed & Breakfast.

I’ll save all my actual praise for a review, but seriously. These people were great. They fed me TWO BREAKFASTS. They sent me away with oatmeal scones. They had A DOG. Their house was so beautiful it was a little painful, in the way wide floor boards worn smooth from centuries of feet and latch close doors break my heart.

A photo of a very blue sky with clouds, multiple red farm buildings with grey roofs, and a grass path leading to a green metal gate.
How a photo of this place is on Flickr with a CC license is beyond me. Photo courtesy of Colin Poellot on Flickr. CC-BY-SA

What I won’t write in a review is how great the hosts–Charlie and Aggy–were. They sat and talked with me for hours–about their lives, the places they grew up, how they got to a hobby farm and bed & breakfast in New York. We took apart books we read, music we liked, things in nature and science that we think and know and are captured by, what it’s like to raise chickens and how that differs from children. They talked about the afterschool programs they help run down at Salem city hall, in Washington County, and submarines and power reactors.

When you bike across Washington County, though lovely, with cute little towns and sprawling fields, you also pass for sale signs up on ramshackle buildings with promises of acreage. There are trailers and double-wides next to collapsed houses. Every farm stand has cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, and piles on piles of corn. Corn, I learned, is best when really, really fresh–especially it’s going to be sitting out in the heat. Corn for farmstands is gathered several times a day, and I stopped by one such place where the guy working there (who filled a bag for me and wouldn’t let me say no) said he went out and picked more five times a day.

Day three, most unfortunately, had kicked off the period of the trip where I stopped sleeping 10 hours a night. Somewhere between not eating enough calories and spending all day creeping across New England, my body switched into some prehistoric evolutionary space. From then on, I slept between 4-6 hours a night. This was not my best decision, and one I greatly regretted after I realized how comfortable the bed at Hopkins House Farm was.

total miles: 54
elevation gained (in ft): 1,745
hours slept the night before: 10
eggs eaten: 3
great people met: 4

BOS > MTL (02)

ZOMG DAY TWO

Day  2: Northampton to North Adams (44 miles)

A bike, loaded with gear, leaning against a sign. Behind it is a large, historical hall, and to the left a tree.I knew that day two was going to be miserable. At least, everyone kept telling me that and the little graph of elevation gain was steady up for some 37 of the day’s 44 miles.

Thirty-seven miles up hill.

I don’t really know what else to say beyond that.

I spent a surprising amount of the trip singing songs to myself about Massachusetts and New England. In one rendition of “New England,” Jonathan Richman replaces the line “I love New England,” with “Jonathan loves New England.”

In spite of the day being basically one long climb, it wasn’t a painful climb. I became acquainted with every gear on my bike and had the opportunity to try out every combination.

This day was also my first encounter with The Dirt Road.

Dirt roads may seem like they’re lovely, in that they wind through lovely places. Beautiful places. Places that cause you (or me) to stop and take a rare photo. Places that make me pause to look around and appreciate the world. To have a cow loudly moo at me in confusion or, I hope, friendliness.

Dirt roads are also positively miserable to bike on. I don’t recommend it if it’s at all avoidable.

A dirt road to the left, with a snow fence and field to the right. In the background there are mountains and, straight ahead, a tree. There may be a cow in there somewhere.When your bike is loaded, your balance isn’t all that great. You get better at it–much like how by the end of day two I was much better at starting while going up hill and getting my second foot into the pedal clip–but your balance isn’t great. It’s a delicate thing, easily disrupted by, say, a rock only part of your tire hits. Or maybe another rock that ricochets off your back wheel and makes a ping that makes you nervous enough you want to stop and check to make sure nothing is wrong. But wait, you can’t because you’re now going downhill and you need to keep going because if you try to break you will definitely skid and lose balance.

But it was still real pretty.

Me, in cycling jersey, sunglasses, and blach bike helmet, standing in front of the Mass MOCA buildingIn eastern MA, we have these lovely signs as you roll into any given down limits, declaring where you are. They’re iconic–to me anyway. I could not find a single one in the rest of Massachusetts. Maybe they don’t exist. Maybe they were on different roads.

Luckily, MASS MoCA is in North Adams, and is fairly well known in its own right. It’s basically, as far as I’m aware, the reason people go to North Adams. That and flower farms.

The reason I took this particular route was that IR did some friendly but serious advocating for the cross-MA trip to Montreal. She helped make this all easier by putting me in touch with a friend of hers in North Adams. I deeply, deeply appreciate the kindness from both IR and her friend, who not only made me some dinner, gave me an incredibly comfortable couch to sleep on, and very kindly stocked my favorite handsoap in the bathroom, but she also washed my clothes.

Erica, you are a beautiful person. I want you to have not just nice things, but good things. You deserve happiness, sunshine, flowers, warm rain, and days filled with joy.

total miles: 44
elevation gained: 1,873 ft
hills climbed: 2
hours slept the night before: 11
homemade dinners: 1
new (human) friends made: 3
new (cow) friends made: 1

Boston > MTL (01)

I kind of can’t get over that I powered myself from Boston to Montreal. Saying it was just me is self-indulgent and, moreso, inaccurate. Even before I left, people I know rallied to help me make plans I’d procrastinated on for too long. IR gave me a route, BK helped me find the first place to stay, and half of the residents of a local warehome helped me pull together all sorts of provisions–from an extra warm sleeping bag to snacks.

A hoto of a black bike with a brown saddle, the backrack has two red panniers, a tent, and a sleeping bag. It is leaning against a door labeled "the Worcshop."On Day 0, I hitched a ride to Worcester, where the super cool people at the Worcshop let me crash for the night. This really helped–I felt a little bad about “cheating,” but at the same time I didn’t. I highly encourage people taking bike trips to take public transit in and out of cities, because that’s usually the worst part of the trip. I would go as far to say that I have nothing bad to say about the Worcshop, but I ended up (unsurprisingly) staying up too late. So, rather than leaving at 8 or 9, I was out the door closer to 10:30. (This is a theme.)

Day 1: Worcester to Northampton (60.9 miles)

Day 1 took me across eastern MA to land firmly in the center of the state. There were a few “tricks” to my trip, that I think are important for anyone considering such a thing. A few useful points when considering these:

  1. I am extremely pale
  2. I get heat-related migraines and dehydrate easily
  3. I’ve been on a ketosis diet and eating high-calorie, low volume foods.

This relevantly translates to:

  1. I need to use a lot of sunblock
  2. I need to drink a lot of water
  3. I need to eat small amounts semi-regularly to have some semblance of enough calories.

A photo of a black hemet on the wall aroun a cemetary. A black bicycle leans against the wall.

I pretty carefully managed my time. I set the alarm on my phone for every 75 minutes. I’d stop, take a ten minute break, reapply sunblock, have a drink and a (small) snack, check the map, and then keep pedaling. I ended up stopping in a lot of cemeteries, because they occur fairly regularly, have low, wide walls, and aren’t immediately at the side of the road.

So I pedaled. And I pedaled some more. I stopped and applied sunblock, and then more sunblock, and then more. Over the course of that day, I applied a tube of sunblock.

A WHOLE TUBE.

I also drink a lot of tang. If this trip was sponsored, it should be sponsored by tang (or whoever makes it). I drink a lot of tang. Seriously. It’s like gatorade but orange flavored (the color, not the fruit).

When you bike long distances, you should estimate 10 miles/hour. Or at least I do. Between breaks, fatigue, and occasionally revisiting your route during times with a lot of specific directions, it seems to end up that way.

I rolled into Northampton (climbing another hill!) in the afternoon. Total success.

A photo of me! in a cycling jersey, pointing at Northampton city hall.
This was the closest thing I could find to a sign that said “Northampton.”

All in all, very good day.

total miles: 61
elevation gained: 1,873 ft
long breaks taken: 2
sunblock tubes used: 1
hours of sleep the previous night: 6
pre-existing friends seen: 4
friends made: 3