Don’s Blog: August 7: Arrival at the Atlantic
In years of competing in long distance running, cycling, and triathlons, I have had many satisfying moments, but few match the feeling of wheeling my bike into the parking lot of Wallis Sands Beach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and then dipping the wheel of my bike into the Atlantic Ocean, 50 days and some 3,650 miles after performing the same ritual in the Pacific Ocean. At this point there are many thoughts and emotions that will take me a while to sort out, which I hope to do and organize into some coherent text I can post in the next few days. For now, I will simply catch up on the final few days of the trek, as I have not had had a chance to post since the end of last week.
Saturday’s ride took us from Troy, New York to Brattleboro, Vermont. We had been forewarned that this day and the next would be very challenging, offering nearly as much uphill climbing as any other on the trip, aside from scaling Grand Teton Pass in the Rocky Mountains several weeks ago.
It did not start well for me. Less than a mile from the start, as I shifted the gears downward on the first steep hill, my chain jammed up. I lost my forward momentum, quickly realizing I would not be able to fix the problem on the fly. I tried to unclip my cleats from the pedals but was unable to do so before losing all forward momentum, so I fell to the ground still clipped in, my right hip landing hard on the pavement. I was a little stunned and the hip hurt right away, but I got up, stretched it out and realized I would be o.k. to continue.
The hip was very sore, and I knew it would be a nuisance for much of this ride, anyway. But it would take a lot more than that to get me off the bike at this late stage in the trek! I stopped at a convenience store for some ice and a plastic bag and put it right on my hip as cycled. It seemed to help to some degree.
We entered the state of Vermont and soon thereafter the tough climbing began, several miles at a steady 10 percent grade. I was only managing a five or six mile per hour speed, but was easily catching many riders that started much earlier. Steven stuck with me until he had a flat tire just before the sag stop at 50 miles, at which point he told me to go ahead. After another set of tough hills up to mile 65, I cruised the downhill into the resort town of Brattleboro. There was a ton of weekend traffic, another reminder that we were indeed back in the East again. Another was the 99 restaurant, where a few of us had lunch afterwards.
Sunday’s ride offered up even more climbing than Saturday’s, covering 87 miles from Brattleboro to Manchester, New Hampshire. On this penultimate day of the trek however, Ted, Steven, and I were all cheerful as we headed out, the last of the group to do so, as has been our custom for much of the trek. A layer of fog had settled into the valley of Brattleboro, making for a very chilly start.
The real tough climbs came at about mile 20, where we encountered two sets of hills with a more than 13 percent grade. I shifted in my lowest “granny” gear and pedaled furiously, just to keep the bike moving forward up the hill. A few times I felt my front wheel lifting off the ground, a sign I need to push harder to avoid coming to a sudden stop. As tough as it was, it was fun to face a challenge like this after so many days of mostly flat terrain. We all made it up the tough climbs, but at the first sag stop Ted told Steven and I to go ahead. Thankfully, my hip, which I had hurt the day before, was only mildly sore.
The hills kept coming, albeit not as steep, for the reminder of the ride. Another aspect that made this ride difficult was the seemingly constant honking of horns and screaming from passing motorists. Despite the rural nature of the route and ample space for us to ride, we were subjected to more verbal abuse during this one ride than in the previous 48 days combined. It certainly does not reflect well on New Hampshire drivers. Nonetheless, Steven and I arrived at the Comfort Inn in Manchester in mid-afternoon. It would be the last time on the trek I would be checking into a new hotel and schlepping my baggage up to a new room.
In the evening we had out “wrap-up” dinner, as on the next day we would all be going our separate ways. Ted’s wife and daughter were there, as was my buddy Jim Garcia. We all had the chance to share our feelings with the group about what we had experienced over the past seven weeks. Thankfully, no one talked for more than a few minutes. Ted was pretty emotional in expressing what it meant to share this trek with his son. I mentioned that although I had been focused almost exclusively on the cycling aspect of the trek before the start, it turned out that it was sharing it with the other members of the group that made it truly memorable. A few of us went over to a bar afterwards, all of us knowing the conclusion of the trip was close at hand.
I should have known better, but I still made the mistake of letting my guard down about Monday’s ride, the final leg into Portsmouth and the Atlantic Ocean. At a “mere” 55 miles, it looked to be a ceremonial jaunt, at least in comparison with the last two days. Of course, it was anything but that. It was raining heavily in the morning, and we had no choice but to start the ride, since we needed to be at in Portsmouth by noon. There we would all gather for a police escort to the beach.
In addition to the rain, the uphills just kept coming. I was extremely tired, in no mood to expend a lot of energy cycling. Thus, the miles seemed to pass excruciatingly slowly. I just kept telling myself this was the last bike ride I would have to do for a very long time. There was some solace in that thought!
We made it to the school just before noon. The rain had let up and the mood among the group was positively ebullient. Photos were taken and hugs exchanged. Family and friends of many of the riders were present to share the conclusion of the ride. We were escorted down to route 1A and over to Wallis Sands Beach. I have to say the sight of the Atlantic Ocean was truly moving. It was difficult to wrap my mind around just how much distance we had covered from Astoria, Oregon in just 50 days.
Ted, Steven, and I dipped our wheels into the ocean together, which was appropriate and fitting after cycling so much of the trek as a group. It was finally over, although even now, just hours later, it all seems to have gone by so quickly, in a veritable flash.
The rest of the day was spent either working on the logistics of getting home or saying farewell to other riders. True friendships were forged among many in the group, and I feel fortunate for that. In this day and age it is rare to make that kind of connection, especially in sharing such a monumental challenge.
I will post a final blog in a few days, once I gain some perspective on what has taken place over the past few months. To all that have taken the time to read my blog, I say thank you; it has been fun to share my thoughts. It will be a nice keepsake to go back and read in the ensuing years. Knowing that others were interested in reading kept me motivated in writing, even on those days when I was exhausted from the day’s ride. I hope to see you all soon.