1o Giro della Nuova Inghilterra (GNI)
A Tour of New England, 15 July – 12 August 2012
Charlottesville, Virginia, 04 July 2012
Two days until we leave for Connecticut and my ride around Southern New England. Just last week, the University of Virginia approved me to teach NCFL 114 (Introduction to Italian Language) this fall. That puts the nail in the coffin of any idea of an 1800-km odyssey to Canada and Vermont. I figure that in three weeks, I can cover the 500 km from Old Lyme to Andover, Boston, Newport and back, stopping for a couple of days in each place. Same distance as the Climate Ride, but a lot more leisurely.
The challenge has been to pack for two completely unrelated trips. The harder one is the bike ride. Tonight, I finished adapting the Transit Metro® handlebar bag for my bicycle and updating the Endurance Cycling checklist. I have to bring the tent, so I need to move some stuff from the panniers to the rack trunk to make everything fit.
It looks like the only places where I have confirmed accommodations are in Andover and Old Lyme, both in Connecticut. However, if I stay in cheaper places in Boston and the BOQ in Newport, I should be able to keep the cost down. I have no idea what camping facilities are available, but I will research those and the military bases along the way next.
The other trip to pack for is Amherst Early Music, which will be a whole week at Connecticut College. I will put all that in the usual black suitcase, plus throw my music and recorders into the car. Because I am taking my teacher north, I may have to hang the bike on the rack out back at least in that direction. We will see when I pack on Friday.
Yesterday, I also shaved off my beard. It makes sense, because I can carry just the tiny battery-powered razor. If I want, I can change my mind, grow it back on the trip and almost no one in Charlottesville will ever know I got rid of it.
Still trying to make arrangements for the bicycle ride, while attending the Amherst Early Music workshop.
Thanks to the generosity of friends, it appears that I will be able to ride a Tour of Southern New England from Old Lyme to Andover, Boston, Provincetown, Newport, Mystic, New London and back. About 520 km not counting the ferry to P-town and staying two or three nights in each place, except the last two. Should take 11 days.
On the road, again. Those who read my Climate Ride posts know that I was working up to this week. My original 1800-km odyssey over three months has been scaled back to a two-week, 520-km spin around the south-eastern part of New England.
Today, I set out to buy corn and tomatoes at Scott’s Farmer Market on US 1, check out the “new” Starbucks on State Route (SR)-161, and collect dinner (a calzone) from Da Vinci Pizza on the way back. Mission accomplished. I expected US 1 and SR-156 to be blazingly hot and sunny, but they were shady almost the entire length. SR-161, running north-south, had more exposure, but I was not on it very long. A nice loop, about 34 km.
Old Lyme, CT, Thursday, 19 July 2012.
GNI Day 0 (64 km). a GDR (glycogen-depleting ride) to Colchester, CT, and back, just to reconnoiter the first leg of my Tour of SE New England -- and to have lunch at one of the few Starbucks stores left in South-eastern Connecticut. I also discovered an old-fashioned, first-rate bicycle shop (Sunshine Cycle-works). The TV said we had record-breaking heat, but with all the shade on the sides of the road, it was not bad at all. I think I will call this Tour my GNI (Giro della Nuova Inghilterra), maybe the Giro for short. Any better ideas?
My first impression is that the heat has not been a problem, after riding in Texas last March. The humidity is not as bad as many places I have ridden, and the woods on either side of the road in Connecticut keep me in the shade most of the time.
What a difference nine months can make. Last October, when I was one month into my recovery program after prostate cancer therapy, the hills around New England made me grateful to live in Virginia, and I resolved never to complain about the hills around Charlottesville again. Someone has driven a steamroller over southern New England. The hills are not as steep as I remember, and not as arduous as a typical day on the Climate Ride. It is a pleasant surprise indeed to ride so far so smoothly when I set out each day.
Today and tomorrow are what the endurance cyclists call "recovery days." Nothing more interesting than 24 km of errands in Old Saybrook across the Connecticut River from our home in Old Lyme. Tomorrow, laundry, and packing out the bike for the Giro. I gained 5 kg (11 lbs.) at the Amherst Early Music Festival last week. I hope it keeps coming off as quickly as it came on! That's almost as much as one of my panniers weighs. I don't plan to pedal it around New England!
Andover CT, 21 July 2012.
GNI Day 1 (54 km). An easy, pleasant ride to Andover, Connecticut, where my sister lives with her family. Cool weather, light traffic. Stopped at Sunshine Cycle-works for two things I left behind: chain oil and spare spokes. Lunched at Starbucks while finishing one of the two jobs I brought on the road with me.
ß Colchester, CT à
GNI Day 2 (45 km). Spent the morning preparing an article for TIS Journal and sent it off about midday, while the rain from a warm front pounded the house. By 1300, everything was sunny and clear, so I rode through Manchester to pick up some supplies at the Buckland Hills malls in South Windsor CT. There was a lot of trash on the ramp from US 6 to US 44, and I got a flat tyre. No problem: I stopped on the grass and replaced the tube. I could not find anything in the tyre, so I felt safe going on. About 5 km later, the tube blew out again. This time, I had to walk 3 km to the nearest bike store (Farr's on Main Street in Manchester). There, the "wrench," Zak, and I examined the tyre closely. It had a gash in the side of the casing, so the tube would simply balloon through the hole and blow out again. We patched the hole with Shoe-Goo and a tube patch, and I hit the road with two spare tubes in my kit. The ride to South Windsor was uneventful after that, but I did barely make it home in time for dinner! Tomorrow, I will do laundry and work on the papers of Thomas Jefferson that I brought with me.
Spent today doing laundry, hanging with my family and getting ready to go to Boston tomorrow. Bob (brother in law) thought that the patch on the sidewall of my rear tyre looked a little iffy, so we picked up a new tyre at Farr's on the way home from dinner. Sure enough, the patch on the old tyre was just about to blow through from the inside. Lucky call!
GNI Day 3 (68 km). A beautiful, cool day with a moderate northerly breeze. Bob took the bike and me to Auburn MA in his great, big pickup truck, dropping me off on US 20. Doing this cut a day off the trip to Boston, making a motel stay unnecessary. I followed US 20 to Worcester, then SR 9 all the way to Brookline MA. The crosswind made my bike wobble at high speed, but after I arrived in Brookline and checked the tyres, I found that they were 30 psi low, which made the heavy weight on the bicycle less stable. I should not have this problem leaving Boston next week. My host, Matthew, was not going to be home until evening, so I had a leisurely lunch at Bertucci's in Framingham, and worked at the Starbucks 9 km from his house. I still arrived in plenty of time to leave my panniers in the house and ride around exploring the bike lanes of Brookline. There has been a lot of paint splashed around to remind motorists and pedestrians about the presence of bicycles: more lanes, more sharrows, and more bicycle sensor markings at intersections. They even have warning signs in some crosswalks to remind pedestrians to look left for bikes before stepping into the street.
Metropolitan Boston is a bike-friendly area, which is good, because the traffic is as heavy as could be expected in a crowded city built for pedestrians and horses three hundred years ago. I think I am going to like it here.
GNI (recovery days). Thursday, I rode to the von Huene workshop to meet the amazing Emily O'Brien (http://www.dillpicklegear.com), who is not only a professional musician but a legendary cyclist. Imagine riding 1200-km brevets on a fixed-gear bicycle. She gave me tons of good advice about gear, technique (both the recorder and the bicycle), riding around New England and endurance cycling in general.
Rode 22 km around Boston Friday, visiting the von Huene Recorder Workshop (a must-see stop for lovers of early music: http://www.vonheune.com/), checking out the ferry terminal at Long Wharf, and finding the bus terminal at South Station. A necessary reconnaissance, because it was not clear from the website how to get a bicycle on the Cape Cod ferry, and the bus terminal is impossible to find by simply following the GPS to the South Station. In fact, the bus terminal is on the third floor, above the train station, and there is an unmarked side entrance on Atlantic Avenue. It takes two elevator rides to get there with a bicycle, and I will need extra time to get to the bus for my side trip to Maine.
Traffic in Boston is both fun and challenging. The drivers are aggressive, but not in a nasty, raging way. And they let the bicycles be part of the flow, because there are simply too many bicycles everywhere not to be aware of them in traffic. My biggest problem was dodging potholes and drainage grates, which I knew the drivers could not see, so I was always worried about startling them if I had to make a sudden detour around a hole. It was actually pleasing to be able to use my hand signals to cross four lanes of moving traffic safely. I could never do that in another city.
A frustrating thing about today’s riding was having new cleats and pedals. The right one was too tight, and it took me the entire ride to figure out what needed to be adjusted. By the time I got back, the axle of the pedal was covered with metal dust from my forcing the cleat. I loosened the pedal, and moved the shoe cleat 3 mm closer to the centre of my shoe. Problem solved. The old pedals and cleats had been so worn that the shape on both had changed, especially the right one, which sees many times the action of the left one.
GNI Day 4 (75 km). My host, Matthew G Burnham, took me out on his favourite local loop from Brookline. We rode all the way to the end of Beacon Street, and then headed toward Wellesley to Concord and Lexington (of Revolutionary War fame). Shaded, quiet roads on a pleasant, cool day.
On the final leg of the loop, through Cambridge, we swung by the house where my father and his siblings grew up. My grandmother gave it to the University, and it was a Faculty residence for many years (starting with my great-aunts and great-uncles, who were living there at the time). I recognized the house instantly, but the front lawn where I used to play has yielded to the expansion of the street and the installation of sidewalks.
We got back in just a few hours, in time to be safe and dry at home when a pair of storm fronts slammed into the Boston area. A good night to write Facebook posts, do some laundry and watch a movie about Climate Change.
Harpswell, Maine, Monday, 30 July 2012.
GNI Day 5 (23 km). What this day lacked in distance, it made up for in importance. I rode to the South Station in Boston and took the bus to Brunswick, Maine. Then I rode out to Harpswell, on one of the peninsulas jutting out from the mid-coast of Maine like so many fingers stroking the Atlantic Ocean. Flat and sandy until the last 1000 meters. Pines on either side, not the tall, Christmas-tree pines of the interior but sea coast pines. Asphalt made lighter in colour by the sand in it. And best of all, the familiar density of salt air at sea level, and every so often the gentle smell of the coastline (what landlubbers call the smell of the sea).
The bus was spacious, comfortable, smooth-riding, with WiFi, in-flight movie, and a john in the back. There was plenty of room for my bicycle on its side in the luggage compartment, and, it did not budge on the plastic non-skid surface of the compartment. My first test of the bus-bike interface has been a success. I will try this again (along with more ferry rides). Next time I come to New England, I may leave the car behind in Charlottesville.
Brookline MA, Wednesday, 1 August 2012.
GNI Day 6 (35 km). Another short one, as I rode from Harpswell to Brunswick, Maine, to take the bus back to Boston, Massachusetts, and then rode around Brookline. The bus was an hour late (summer vacation traffic), which was a blessing, because a violent front went across the Boston metro area while we were speeding down Interstate Highway 95. By the time we arrived at South Station, the sunny calm after the storm was in place, and I enjoyed an uneventful ride back to Brookline.
Yesterday, my cousins taught me how to operate a kayak, and we rode around the islands off their cove. A tour of that part of the mid-coast of Maine followed. I was impressed by the remote feel of the place (including a lack of bars on the cell phone!), even though the very busy towns of Portland, Brunswick, Bath and Freeport all lie less than 50 km away. The 11-ft tides also contribute to a special relationship with the sea, which everyone shares, whether they work on the water or not.
I think an ideal context for a healthy place to live would be a small island off the coast, with a bicycle tied up on the mainland. Bicycling for the legs; kayaking for the upper body. No trip to the gym necessary!
So, in spite of the low mileage, this tired body is ready for bed.
GNI (Giro della Nuova Inghilterra). Time for a pause to acknowledge publicly the wonderful hospitality and support of my friends and family who have taken me in so far: Jan Hine in Old Lyme, Louise and Bob Hamburger (and young Michael) in Andover; Matthew Burnham in Brookline; Peter and Candi Hine (and Thom) in Harpswell. I have learned much, loved much and been made to feel welcome and loved everywhere. From little tips like water shoes and how to use a DVR to major support like meals and laundry, they have made this ride a real pleasure. God bless you all.
GNI Day 7 (20 km). Today marks the half-way point between Part 1 and Part 2 of this Giro. Part 1 was 671.6 km long, but only 365.7 km was on the bike, thanks to Bob’s pickup truck and Concord Coach Lines. Part 2 will be all on the bike, about 320 km. The longest day will be about 50 km, which should very comfortable, especially down by the coast like this.
Today, I bought Teva® water shoes and some trail food, and did the laundry. I rode down to Long Wharf with the on-line receipt for my ferry tickets and was happy to find out that I could exchange that for the real tickets, and skip a long line tomorrow. The bicycle gets its own ticket.
I feel a bittersweet connection with this place. The Boston area is great for bicycling, and my host and his housemates have made me feel at home.
Brewster MA, 03 August 2012.
GNI Day 8 (57 km). First of all a big THANK YOU to all the friends who sent greetings for my birthday. It was a special one. I was up before the alarm clock, at 0530, breaking my fast while checking my e-mail. Rush hour was only getting started when I rode into Boston. I ignored the GPS and took a straight route to Long Wharf. M/V Salacia, a very fast catamaran, cast off at 0900 and moored in Provincetown MA, at 1030. I thought it would take until noon to cross Massachusetts Bay.
By 1130, I was well south of the tourist crowds in Provincetown and having brunch at the Topmast Café in Truro. My GPS sent me down Route 6 and 6A, so I missed the excellent bike path that attracts so many riders to Cape Cod, the CCRT (Cape Cod Rail Trail). My stepmother's friend Sue Andersen is putting me up for the night, and it has been a pleasure to meet her and her family. They told me where the CCRT crosses the highway near their house, and tomorrow, I plan to follow it to the end of the trail. The GPS can have a fit for all I care: it shows the bike path on the map, but won't direct me down it, even with "bicycle route" set. Go figure. One would think that a Dutch company like Tom-Tom would do a better job integrating bicycle travel into their products.
Like the Maine coast, Cape Cod has given me the pleasure of riding at sea level and enjoying the scrubby pines and sand. The resemblance to Maine ends there. Today was hot and humid, but not dangerously so. The highways were flatter than in Maine, so missing the bike path meant that I got where I was going faster.
A pleasant ride, a great dinner at Mahoney's in Orleans, and a hospitable family at the end of the day. A fine birthday indeed!
GNI Day 9 (35 km). I had no trouble finding the CCRT today, and it took me to the town of Dennis easily. Nothing passed me southbound, although a fair number of tricked-out riders were speeding northbound. Lots of families and dogs, and some joggers, but everyone seemed to be paying attention, so it was very smooth. It was hotter than yesterday, but the ride was comfortable because it was almost all shaded. I arrived very early, but the hotel was ready for me. I had lunch at the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis, and then settled in to work in the room all afternoon. This is the first night in a hotel since the GNI began; I am truly blessed to have so many friends and family around here!
ß Courtyard in Hyannis MA.
This Giro has also been a test of a new work-travel paradigm for me. My office is in the panniers of my bicycle, and the protocol of working at Starbucks, hotels and homes along the way seems to have been validated. I have delivered one journal article and almost completed reviewing a 20-page letter to Thomas Jefferson. You have to know what 18th-century Italian handwriting on both sides of onionskin paper looks like to appreciate how difficult that can be!
Tomorrow should be 66 km -- the longest single day yet. A shower and a good night's sleep are in order.
GNI Day 10 (70 km). This morning, there was heavy rain outside when I awoke. I immediately checked the weather maps and saw that a small cell was passing overhead. There was some clear air between it and a very strong front just to the west, so as soon as I could do my exercises and get some breakfast, I hit the road. I rode in murky cloudiness mixed with intense sunshine, and skipped lunch for fear of being caught in the front before I got to New Bedford. As a result, I rolled into the Hampton Inn in Fairhaven in mid-afternoon as the sky got dark for the last time. The front should clear over by tomorrow morning, in time for the leg to Newport.
This was the longest leg of the GNI. The loop with Matthew to Walden Pond while I was staying in Boston/Brookline was only slightly longer. Climbing the bridge high over the Cape Cod Canal was a little hairy, and I was glad that the centre section was paved, so that I did not have to stare down through a grating to the water far below. There were two lanes in each direction, so traffic could get past me easily. Road rage is always a danger when I must share a single lane.
This part of Massachusetts carries many memories for me, working foredeck on Xanadu II, a 48-foot ketch that summered in Buzzard's Bay. The place has changed little, with the same charming "Cape Cod" houses neatly lining the rows, the well-tended yards, and, of course, sand everywhere.
I got to the Hampton Inn to find out that the front is not expected to hit until midnight, so I took the panniers off my bicycle and rode over to the Pasta House for supper. It’s a good night for some TV while I plug through the Jefferson letters.
It is only 50 km to Newport, so I might be able to get my hair cut tomorrow after I arrive. If I can, I may move on a day earlier. These accommodations are expensive in-season.
GNI Day 11 (74 km). I thought this would be a short day, just 50 km on familiar back roads to a place where I used to live (several times). Instead, it turned into an adventure. Running into widespread construction and an open drawbridge in New Bedford, I had to ask a policeman for directions, because my charts and GPS were useless. A long detour through economically challenged neighbourhoods finally led me to US 6 leaving the west end of town.
Half-way to the Rhode Island line, I ran into an (in)convenience store that redefined hospitality. "No public restrooms" included customers! Fortunately, I found a Dunkin' Donuts several km down the road.
I don't know who was trying to prove what, but an "Entering Fall River" sign (that's Fall River, Massachusetts) was less than 100 meters from the border of Rhode Island.
As I rode, I worried about getting off Aquidneck Island (where Newport is) the next day. I knew that the 12-km long Newport Bridge was closed to bicycles. I never liked crossing that bridge, even in a car. It is so high in the air that the cross-winds are almost always gale force. When I lived here before there was a ferry to Jamestown Island and a bicycle/pedestrian path on the Jamestown Bridge leading to the western mainland.
However, I did not expect my problem to be getting onto Aquidneck Island. The bridge over the Sakonnet River was surrounded by construction.
ß 2012 1970 à
The bicycle path I used to ride was gone. (I hope the authorities are planning to replace it). The bridge had a 14-ton limit and was in terrible condition. Judging from the way the concrete sections shook with each passing panel truck, I guess that most of the local truckers did not know their vehicle weight or were cheating. I took the first ramp off that I could, and made my way over the Naval Station on the west side. Except for all the main roads being wider (with no provision for bicycles), everything was almost as I remembered. The trees were all taller, and the housing on the Naval Station was all renovated and very pleasant indeed.
The Bachelor Officers Quarters (BOQ) where I lived forty years ago was still there, but it has been renovated and is operated by Suisse Chalet as an all-ranks Bachelor Quarters (BQ). Every bit as nice as the other hotels I have used on my travels. And just as expensive.
As soon as I checked in, I started figuring out how to get off the island. The ferry is still running, but the Jamestown Bridge is closed (even though the new bridge has a better bicycle/pedestrian facility -- go figure). However, there is a new option: the No. 64 public bus from Newport to the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. Like most city buses, it has a bike rack on the front. I will have to ride to the capolinea where the bus starts its run, to be sure to get one of the two bicycle positions, but the buses leave almost every hour.
Enough adventure for one day. I am going to bed, hoping that tomorrow will be dull by comparison.
GNI Day 12 (111 km). Far and away the longest day on the bike. I got up and rode out to the end of the line to be sure to find a slot open for my bicycle on the RIPTA bus No. 64 outbound to Kingston. This is how it looked, with my panniers strapped together (lower left) to form a back-pack of sorts. It worked very well.
The driver confirmed that it is harder to get one's bike on the bus during the school year, because URI and Newport are favourite destinations. The personnel working at the Navy Base also try to use the bus for their bikes, but there are fewer commuters and no students during the summer vacation season. Full fare is only USD 2.00, so it is a bargain.
The bus left me at the intersection of US 1 and State Hwy 138 (Tower Hill). The descent to the coast was so long and so fast that I was through Westerly RI and into Connecticut before lunch. After pizza in Stonington, I decided to press on for home, because I could get there before dark.
There was one scare as I circled the neighbourhoods around the cloverleaf for I-95 over the Thames River, unable to find the access to the bicycle/pedestrian path on the side of the bridge. It was hidden beneath the bridge, with the signs on the wrong side of the road, facing away from anyone coming on the right. The whole project is simply a narrow sidewalk that looks like an afterthought in the weeds near the south-bound off-ramp. That it is so well-hidden may be deliberate: sooner or later, someone could be hurt riding against traffic on the sidewalk like that.
Once on the west side of the Thames, travel became familiar. I had been riding in and around New London and the coastal towns between it and Old Saybrook before the GNI. By suppertime, I was back in Old Lyme, dirty, tired, and happy.
ß Old Lyme CT, July 1980.
This was not the first time I have ridden from Newport RI, to Old Lyme CT. In July 1980, I rode my father’s Raleigh DT-21 (the famous “bobby’s bicycle’) to the Centennial Celebration of the League of American Wheelmen (now d/b/a/ League of American Bicyclists). The bicycle weighed 31 kg (69 lbs.), and I had everything in the red duffel bag attached to the seat. It took two days each way to cover the 166 km to Newport, and I camped on the beach near Westerly RI in each direction. That I could cover the same distance in one day 32 years later was intensely satisfying.
The GNI totaled 987.6 km, of which 656 km were in the saddle. Not at all gruelling, but rather a satisfying demonstration of what is possible. I was incredibly lucky with the weather, but there were foul-weather plans for almost every day of the ride. I proved that I can work while travelling long distances by bicycle. And I learned a lot of little things: about packing, planning, using buses and ferries.
Most of all, I have bonded with friends and relatives, some of whom I had been wanting to see for more than four decades. That alone made it all worth it. And the desire to visit my friends and family will fuel my future trips.
Deo gratias, qui sustinet me.
© 2016, J.T. Hine
Latest update: 8-Jun-2016.