Click here to view a full-size slideshow (with commentary!) of our trip photos.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Ladies and gentlemen, cats and dogs, the fat lady has sung. The bikes are parked outside, and the cyclists are parked inside. We are in plainclothes. As we got our first latte and bagel yesterday morning as non-biking-across-the-country-ers, we realized: we are, again, plain people! Yikes.
The last leg of the adventure, which we had naturally expected to be an easy amble across the finish line, turned out to be just as challenging as the rest. Weather-wise, we seemed to have lucked out, as it had been raining all day, every day for more than a week by the time we pulled away from our loving guest house in Saratoga Springs. And it was forecasted to rain that day as well. But lo, there was naught but sun and blue skies on the hilly and leafy roads at the eastern end of New York state.
However, as we've learned again and again during our continental jaunt: if it's not one thing, it's the other. So while we enjoyed the warmth of the sun on our backs, we gritted our teeth against our fatigued hamstrings and achy knees in determination of pedalling 170 miles in a day and a half. Ever preferring to challenge ourselves rather than kick back and coast, we had made an appointment to speak to a girls' summer program in Haverhill, Mass. at 2pm on Thursday.
Little did we know, and little did our AAA road maps inform us, Vermont's Green Mountains lay between us and our goal of completing a century (100 miles) before sunset on Wednesday. It may have been better that we didn't anticipate the climb or know its specifics. Not that the overall elevation gain could compete with the mountains out west, but the older roads (route 9 was travelled by 6-horse teams to transport freight between Bennington and Brattleboro and then to the Erie Canal) tend to be steeper and follow every dip and bump of the terrain. Of course, our toil was rewarded with beautiful vistas, but we had learned many states ago that "scenic" roads are designated as such based not only on scenery, but on terrain--aka hilly as hell. Scenic = fun to drive on. Fun to bike on too, if you aren't lugging 50+ pounds of gear behind you. After a sweeping view of blankets of green and the faint blue shadows of distant mountains, we were down and out and made an easy ride of the last 20 miles to Keene, NH, where we pitched the tent one last time and wolfed down one more "subtly-flavored" meal of beans and cous cous.
The final day: arose before dawn to get on the road by 7. Again, not knowing the terrain and our resulting pace, we were uncertain that we'd make our deadline, to say the least. Within the first hour we again found ourselves climbing some small but nevertheless pesky mountains (which we still haven't bothered to learn the name of). Two and a half hours in we had only gone 20 miles, meaning 50+ to go in 4 hours. The moment we needed it to, and no sooner, the road flattened out a bit, our pace quickened, and we found ourselves rolling up to the awaiting 30 school-age girls at exactly 2:00. If only they had known what we'd been through to get there. You think traffic on the way to work is tough. For the next hour or so, we showed them photos of our journey, traced our course on their wall map of the US, and attempted to impart on their young minds that we can all embark on the adventures we dream of. Or something. Mostly we fielded variations of the question of how: "But how did you get from California to Haverhill?" "How did you get over the mountains?" "Did you slide down the other side?" All the same answer--just the same way you ride your bikes up and down your driveway. Hope they got something out of it. By the end they were all itching to see our tiny camp stove and feel the weight of our bags.
We bowed out of the auditorium as they went back to bouncing balls and screaming, for we still had 25 miles to the coast. Libby's parents, who had joined us for the presentation (and provided the laptop and projector!), graciously accepted our bags and agreed to meet us at the end--Hampton Beach, NH. We flew away, propelled by the absence of our gear, the adrenaline of the finish, and, importantly, the imaginary Olympic narration. "And the cyclists are rounding their final turn! Just ahead of world record pace! Looking stronger than ever!..."
But I wasn't exaggerating about the challenges right up until the end. Our parade was rained on, literally, for a brief but intense spell, then we were halted by extreme, shaky hunger, and again, 3 miles from the beach, by a flat tire. Luckily, the only things we had kept with us were our pump, a tube, and tire irons. So we patted ourselves on the back for our foresight and set about replacing the tube, only to find that the cheapo spare tube had a valve that was too short for the wheels of Libby's bike. Spare you the details, but we were near giving up and walking the last leg until we finally jimmied it in and rode off, half-expecting another flat that would put us out of business for good.
We encountered the long lost salt-air and refreshing expanse of the Atlantic in the boardwalk town of Hampton Beach, packed with tourists and summer people rushing outside as the clouds cleared away for the last moments of the afternoon. We found Libby's parents among the throngs, standing near some cops who kindly obliged to set off congratulatory sirens and lights in our honor. We were dumbfounded but grinning as we hoisted our bikes down the stairs and onto the beach and rode them right into the tide. Two bouquets of roses, a bottle of champagne, a harborside lobster dinner, and a warm, drowsy ride back to Libby's home in Connecticut. We have arrived.