Bike Tour 2023 – Day 17: Wells to Newcastle

I stayed at the Black Elephant hostel in a Portland last night. I slept in a dorm room with 6 or 7 other people. I wore an N95 mask and ear plugs and slept like a log.

I delayed leaving this morning until temperatures were in the mid 50s. I had coffee, granola bars, and nuts. Not adequate at all.

After 5 miles and crossing a bridge out of Portland, I reached the Other Side Diner. The eggs, bacon, English muffin, and coffee hit the spot. I talked to the owners about their Pride flag outside, telling them I think of it as the opposite of the confederate flags I saw out west. They said the flag, which they just started displaying this year, is bringing in new business. Score 1 for tolerance.

The route went Portland to Falmouth to Yarmouth to South Freeport to Brunswick to Bath to Woolwich to Wiscasset to Newcastle where I am stay at yet another Warmshowers place.

The first few miles were more of the same. I noticed that whenever I left the coast, climbing happened.

When I started out I felt very week but the diner food recharged my engine. In Falmouth I stopped and bought bananas. At the country store there I talked with a guy in an apparently restored Ford pickup, painted an attractive dark green. He told me that he and his wife take bike vacations in Europe. He gave me his business cards and said to call if I have any problems . Nice guy.

The bananas were just what my body needed to keep on keeping on. The forecasted rains never came but I stayed in my rain gear to avoid getting chilled. Temperatures unexpectedly breached 60 degrees today. The air quality up here is fine.

In Brunswick I stumbled upon Bowdoin College. I rode through and stopped to admire the statue of Joshua Chamberlain, a Bowdoin professor, who led the Maine troops repelling a Confederate surge at Little Round Top at Gettysburg.

I stopped in Bath for lunch at a ice cream shop with a deli. After that the ride became substantially hillier. I climbed over Ozone Mountain, a 190-foot massif. Okay, it was several short, steep climbs.

Along the road today I came upon a car stopped in my lane with its emergency lights flashing. As I passed I saw it’s driver standing beside the road holding a turtle in her hand. Life saver.

I saw four turkeys and a dozen chipmunks during my travels. No mooses yet.

My Warmshowers hosts met me on arrival. After washing up and doing my laundry, we ate beans and rice and salad. And had a cold beer. Tummy full.

I started anew trying to make arrangements for Bar Harbor. It’s going to be challenging. Doubly so because I messed up my itinerary. Tomorrow’s ride was intended to be 60 miles. It’s more like 90. I re-re-scheduled my Warmshowers host until Saturday. So I’d do 60 tomorrow and stay in Camden. Then do a short 30-miles to Belfast. This would set me up to reach Bar Harbor on Sunday which might work out for the best.

On the return I’ll be shortcutting that 90 miles so I’ll be in good shape.

The Mule hit 71,000 miles today.

The Other Side does funky hash browns
I followed these signs a lot today
Bath Iron Works and a decommissioned bridge

Miles today: 64

Total miles: 950

Bike Tour 2023 – Day 16: Wells to Portland

I stayed up until 10:30 telling bike touring war stories with my host Jim Smith. I slept pretty well in the barn. Jim had set me up with a single bed frame and a very comfy air mattress. I added my sleeping bag and inflatable pillow and the rest was Zs.

At 6 a.m. we convened in the kitchen for more tales over breakfast. Jim has had his share of bike touring calamities but remarkably things always seemed to work out okay.

About to launch in my cold/wet weather gear

I hit the road around 8 and made my way 5 miles back to the route. I mostly hugged the coast today. Moody Beach, Wells Beach, Kennebunkport, Cape Porpoise, Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, Portland.

Mind the ducklings (didn’t see one)

The winds were variable. Parts of the day I had a strong tailwind. The terrain was gently rolling. The Mule and I booked along, often cruising at 14 mph. I was passed by two fit women on road bikes. I kept pace with them for a few miles until I started feeling like a stalker and backed off.

In Kennebunkport I stopped for second breakfast. Three pancakes, sausage links, and coffee. The pancakes were comically huge. I ate a bit more than half of them before taking the rest for roadside lunch. (I ended up throwing them out.)

Jim had warned me that the Bush compound in Kennebunkport was out of the way and unmarked. I never saw it nor did I see a single indication that two presidents had summered here.

Old Orchard Beach featured an amusement park on the beach. It was closed. The big action around here is walking. Most of the hotels had plenty of vacancies. Cool temperatures and rain will do that.

Did I mention rain? At 1, the spitting rain returned. And stuck around, on and off, for the rest of the ride. Darn good thing I brought my rain gear.

In South Portland I finally found an ice cream shop that was open. I celebrated 60 miles with a big cup of cherry, vanilla, chocolate chunk ice cream.

Lunch of champions

For the last 15 miles I was getting wobbly on the bike. Too little water and too many miles.

The Casco Bay Bridge into Portland was long and high. A good finish to my day.

I had tried to secure a Warmshowers host in Portland but no one responded to me so I booked a bed in the Black Elephant hostel. It’s very clean and they charged me $55 for a bed, half of what the online resellers like were quoting.

An hour after I booked the bed, one of the Portland Warmshowers people contacted me about hosting. Too late.

Later in the evening I heard back from a host in Belfast, two days away. She and her husband are very enthusiastic about hosting me. I now have accommodations for tomorrow and Friday.

A place to stay in Bar Harbor on Saturday and Sunday is still up in the air.

Dinner was a chicken parmigiana sandwich with fries and a craft lager at a bar a block away. I am ready for bed and it’s only 7 p.m.

Miles today: 64.5

Tour miles: 886

Bike Tour 2023 – Day 15: Derry, NH to Wells, ME

Chris, my Warmshowers host, had to leave for work by 7:30. I had a good night sleep band didn’t mind the early departure. I rode 2 miles off route into Derry for breakfast at Mary Ann’s diner. Omelet, home fries, toast, and coffee. Couldn’t quite finish it all.

The weather was a bit warmer today. Cloudy but rain free. A light breeze pushed me eastward through Exeter, home of Philips Exeter Academy.

The roads were classic New England windy byways. Scores of clapboard houses on wooded lots with perfect landscaping. This is peak rhododendron country. I’ll never try to grow one again in DC.

I crossed over I-95, stopping in North Hampton for soup and salad. I had a long way to go and would never make it on an empty tank of fuel.

A few miles later I reached the Atlantic Ocean at Rye Beach. This is the first time the Atlantic Coast Route reaches the ocean since North Carolina.

At the beach I took a left and benefited from a strong tailwind and gently rolling terrain. The Mule and I were comfortably cruising at 14 mph, quite a contrast to those hilly slogs of last week. In Portsmith, I crossed the Piscataqua River and entered Kittery, Maine.

I texted my Warmshowers host. He was not going to be home from 5:30 to 7:30 so I reassured him that I would arrive before 5.

Maine is the 38th state I’ve ridden in. Woo hoo.

The road was a bit hillier and the surfaces varied from winter weary patches and seals to perfect fresh asphalt.

After a short bit a mile from the ocean, the route turned back to the water at York Harbor. A few miles later at York Beach I stopped for second lunch. I was getting gassed by the pace. I bought some granola bars yesterday to munch on as I rode. The calories and sugar helped keep me from bonking between meals.

After York Beach I reached Ogunquit. It’s a pretty touristy place which is saying something in the Maine Coast.

I have noticed that most motels and campgrounds have vacancies. I think this is early in the season for summah people.

In Moody I stopped to see how far I was from the Warmshowers house. I had passed the turn to it a half mile back.

I bought a sandwich for dinner and headed the five miles off route to the house. No big hills,. No mooses. Just lovely houses on wooded lots.

At the house, my host, Jim, met me and showed me the loft in his barn where I’d be sleeping. It has a single bed with an air mattress so I’ll just need to roll out my sleeping bag.

Jim left me a cold beer. I took a shower and reloaded my water bottles.

Tomorrow’s Warmshowers hosts have not responded to my requests so I’ll be staying in a hotel, probably a chain hotel along the interstate. Beach hotels are double the price.

The bridge to Maine
Your basic awesome New England backroad
Philips Exeter Academy main building.

Miles today: 75.5

Tour miles: 821.5

Bike Tour 2023 – Day 14: Westborough, MA to Derry, NH

Noon in Ayer, Mass

I’ve entered the realm of dropped “r”s and Irish faces. Uncharacteristically most Massachusetts drivers are treating me with good care. The roads look bad but I’m having no trouble riding.

I lined up a Warmshowers host for tonight in Derry, 60-ish miles away. The weather forecast called for rain until noon. With each passing hour the end of the rain moves further into the afternoon.

Rather than wait the rain out, I left the hotel at 8:30 wearing all the things. Temps were in the 50s and a light rain and light headwind added to the sheer New England climactic bliss.

The terrain has been forgiving. Either that or The Mule and I are getting lighter. My face is becoming gaunt as it usually does later in a tour. What hills there are seem easily climbed. My breakfast consisted of two cups of weak coffee, two packets of instant oatmeal, and three mini muffins. I apparently get about 8 miles to the muffin.

My Warmshowers host told me last night that he wouldn’t be home until 11 p.m. He texted a few minutes ago saying he’d be home by 7. I wasn’t looking forward to hanging out in his garage for hours so this is a welcome development.

5 p.m. in Derry, NH

After lunch the sun came out! For ten minutes. Sad face. At least the rain was mostly over.

After a five mile ride on a paved rail trail, the terrain became a little hillier. No worries. I am feeling exceptionally strong today except when I get off the bike. Then I feel woozy. I really need to eat and drink more but my mind is focused on the map which has a gazillion turns, many of them unmarked. I went off route several times today. I even missed the turn off the rail trail, more from zoning out than anything else.

View from the Nashua River Rail Trail

A few miles before the finish a hawk swooped down and snatched a squirrel off the road ahead of me. Marlin Perkins phone home. The circle of life is savage!

Bagged my 39th State!

I’m at the town bar, Hare of the Dawg. Everyone knows everyone else. It’s a bit intimidating but the food is pretty good. My Warmshowers host lives right off the route so there will be no problem finding him.

Bathroom sign at Hare of the Dawg

New Hampshire is the 37th state I’ve ridden in.

Miles today: 64.5

Tour miles: 746

Bike Tour 2023 – Day 13: Campground near Thompson, CT to Westborough, MA

To get out of the cold, I hopped in my tent at 7:30 last night. The camp managers told me not to worry about bears; the only critter they’ve seen in camp was a raccoon. I slept fitfully anyway.

I was shocked that my tent poles stayed in the ground all night. The wind blew hard through the tree tops but my tent never flapped. Maybe the full moon was working it’s magic. Temperatures fell to 45 in the wee hours. I was bundled up from head to toe and didn’t much notice.

I broke camp at 7:30 and backtracked two miles to a family restaurant for breakfast. It’s the first place that served hash browns since Pennsylvania. One disturbing fact about eateries up here: the serve coffee in three-ounce cups. That’s not a cup of coffee; it’s a biopsy.

I started the day riding in long pants. I switched to shorts after breakfast and rode 20 miles until I couldn’t take the chill any more. You’d think it would warm up but it never did. And the wind, mostly a headwind, increased in intensity throughout the day.

The route clipped the northwest corner of Rhode Island, climbing more hills. The hills today topped out at 500 feet. Many featured steep climbs. I managed to cross Connecticut without walking up a single hill. My ego is happier than my knees.

After all that climbing this is how I knew I was leaving Connecticut and entering Rhode Island

After my tour of Rhode Island I entered Massachusetts. The road surface deteriorated and the traffic increased in volume and speed.

At Manchaug MA I stopped at a convenience store for a snack, and to warm up. Five miles later in Whitinville, I stopped for lunch. I ordered way too much food. A salad with chicken, hot chocolate, and a bowl of clam chowder. (The waiter called it “white”.)

Before leaving I changed into my long pants. They helped quite a bit, especially when it started to rain. It was a light spitting mist, the kind that would have felt wonderful on hot day. Today was not that day.

My struggles with the weather distracted me from the scenery. So much green. So many lovely homes. Loads of creeks and lakes (mostly kettle ponds, I think. And, of course, so many stone walls.

I climbed another 500 footer before descending into Westborough. Before going to my hotel I went to a bike shop to use their floor pump. Landrys Bike Shop has been around since 1922. They were very nice to me – and to a little girl shopping for her first bike.

Landrys was about 1/4 mile from my hotel but I had to go 1 1/2 miles to get there because Landrys is on MA Route 9, an insane high speed four lane highway with a Jersey barrier down the middle.

My hotel is an extended stay place. It’s basically an efficiency apartment. If I could find a grocery and tolerate another minute in the cold wind I could buy fixings for dinner and breakfast. I will settle for McDonalds next door.

In my tent last night I discovered that in another 25 miles I could have stayed in a hotel in Ayer, MA. I’m glad I didn’t change plans. I’d have frozen stiff.

So there you have it. My three-state day. Tomorrow my plan was to ride to East Derry, NH but I’m not hearing back from my Warmshowers host. It is supposed to rain all morning so a hotel will probably be what I do. There seemed to be plenty within a few miles of my route which skirts Nashua to the south.

Miles today: 44.5

Tour miles: 681.5

Bike Tour 2023 – Day 12: West Hartford to Campground near Thompson

It stormed like crazy for about four hours last night. The power went out briefly. I managed to fall asleep and woke up cold. The temperature had dropped about 35 degrees.

After some tea and cereal I headed out using the Google to guide me about 15 mercifully flat miles north, up the Connecticut River to Windsor Locks. It being Saturday morning, the highway I was on was virtually car free.

I crossed the river and continued in the valley for another seven miles. Very gently rolling terrain was the order of the morning.

In Ellington, I stopped for second breakfast at a diner. The stools at the counter were only about two feet above the floor so I nearly fell backwards on my ass. Whoa!

The food (omelet with ham, home fries, toast) was plentiful and tasty and the coffee woke me up some.

Be for continuing, I put on my rain jacket. Temperatures had fallen a bit and I was riding into a steady wind.

I didn’t expect the level terrain to last and it didn’t. There were frequent cups and downs. One downhill was 10%. I’m pretty sure the hills are asymmetric – steeper if you are heading in a westward direction. Some thing to do with receding glaciers, the ice age, you know, earth science.

The next 30 miles featured one climb and descent after another. The hills were not as high as western Connecticut but they were more numerous. Thankfully, the scenery was pretty lovely. Woods. Small farms. Classic clapboard houses. White churches with talk steeples.

The miles seemed to crawl by. At Bigelow Hollow State Park I descended down a long, windy hill. Then had to climb a steep one, stopping three times to let my heart and lungs calm down.

Once past North Woodstock, the road started leveling out, rollers that I could hill hop. I stopped at a diner in Quinebaug, less than a mile from Massachusetts. I ordered a cheese steak and coffee (to warm up).

The sandwich was enormous as was the pile of fries. It was 3 p.m. so I decided this was my last meal of the day.

I waddled out of there, put my ear plug in, and let my Google master quite me to the campground.

It’s run by the Army Corps of Engineers so if you hear about a dam bursting and killing a bunch of campers, I’m your man.

The people running the place are super nice. I’m right next to the bathroom snd showers. The shower was 135 degrees I am told. I stayed in it for ten minutes just to warm up.

The only downside to this place is the hard ground. It’ll be a miracle if my tent stays staked. I managed last summer in Kooskia, Idaho on a concrete slab so I imagine I’ll make it through the night okay.

Tomorrow will be a shortish day because I can’t find accommodations between 40 and 80 miles on my route. It will also be a three state day. Such excitement! Five whole miles in Rhode Island. Woo hoo.

Big thanks to my daughter Lily for letting me stay on her amazingly comfy couch.

Cool castle house on my route. It looks much bigger than it is.
I tried to finish this but failed. Just a ridiculous gut bomb.

Miles today: 65

Tour miles: 637

Bike Tour 2023 – Day 11: Rest Day in West Hartford

Last year I took a rest day after a week of riding across Missouri and eastern Kansas. Storms raged through the area all day. In their aftermath came a strong steady tailwind that blew me all the way to my destination the next day.

Today I’m taking a rest day after 10 days on the road. Temperatures here are expected to be the 90s followed by thunderstorms into the night. Tomorrow will be in the 50s with headwinds. You can’t have everything but I’m glad I’m off the road today.

My daughter Lily’s apartment is spacious, with more than enough room for The Mule and me. Yesterday I stopped at a bank and bought a roll of quarters for today’s wash-it -all laundry event.

Last night I took Lily to dinner at a burger place in West Hartford. If you didn’t know better you’d swear you were on Bethesda Row in Maryland.

My plan for tomorrow was to stay at a farm reputed to offer bicyclist-only camping. I called the farm and learned they are no longer allowing camping.

The B&Bs in northeast Connecticut are either booked up or too expensive. My only option was to book a campsite farther along my route. The software would only let me book two nights so I’m ghosting my site tonight. I hope it works out because I’ll need to ride 70 miles to get there.

My plan is to stay at a hotel in Westborough MA Sunday night.

Today Lily and I went out for lunch. On the way back I stopped in a hardware store and bought some small, narrow velcro straps meant for holding computer cables together. I’m going to use them to deal with my gluing snafu from the other night. They should help expand the inside of my tent. Fingers crossed.

Bike Tour 2023 – Day 10: East Canaan to West Hartford

My first B&B experience turned out well. After I arrived I spent some time on the double decker porch, just chillin with the breeze. A local pizza place delivered a chef salad and a bowl of pasta fagioli soup. I couldn’t eat it all but I gave it my best effort. I spent the rest of my night guzzling ice cold water. I must have downed a gallon. Climbing hills in this heat will suck the life out of you.

Breakfast was pancakes, eggs, bacon, coffee, and an English muffin. Ready to roll.

I had thought my first few miles to Norfolk would be a downhill glide next to a small river. Well, it turned out to be an uphill slog as the river was running opposite to what I assumed. I think I climbed about 1,000 feet.

After Norfolk things mellowed out until I missed a turn. After a half mile of climbing I stopped to double check my route. Oops.

At least I had the downhill as compensation.

Back on track I made it to Coldbrook, a quaint crossroads. There were detour signs and after checking the Google I learned that the road ahead on my route was blocked.

I followed the detour for a few miles and stopped to check my progress. A guy in a pick up stopped and told me to turn left. “You’ll go down a very steep hill and rejoin the route near Robertsville.” He ought to know. This hilly road used to be the Atlantic Coast route before southbound bike tourists complained about the ridiculously steep climb. The driver gave Adventure Cycling a new route – the one that was now closed. The only drawback for me was the less-than-ideal road surface. Also the road was shaded making irregularities in the asphalt hard to see, especially at speed. I had to feather my brakes most of the way. I’m sure I broke 30 mph much of the way down anyway.

I’d lost my 1,000 feet but gained a beautiful windy road along the Farmington River. Connecticut may be hilly but it has some awfully nice roads between the mountains.

At Pleasant Valley I crossed the Saville Dam and began another 1,000-foot climb over Pine Cone Mountain. I won’t lie; it put the hurt on me but granny and I made it all the way up. Then it was a screaming downhill to Granby, just me and a ton of traffic. Again the road surface kept be from letting The Mule romp but it was still a blast of a descent.

After stopping at a Cumbalun Fahms for a tuna sammie, Gatorade, and chips I turned my fate over to the Google again. I left the Adventure Cycling route to head south to West Hartford where my daughter Lily lives.

Amazingly I rode half the distance on a paved trail, the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail. It was sweet. At one point it was covered in cottonwood snow. No wonder I’m feeling under the weather; it’s tree pollen season up here.

In Simsbury I rejoined the motorized rabble and climbed over Tapscot Mountain. Not bad. I cruised into downtown West Hartford and celebrated my day with a bowl of Cherry Garcia.

After some chain maintenance and checking brakes for rubbing (they’re not) I headed to my daughters’s place a mile away.

Every bike tourist’s favorite sign.
Cottonwood snow. Achoo!
Church in Simsbury. We’re in New England, y’all.

Miles today: 55

Tour miles: 572

Bike Tour 2023 – Day 9: Poughkeepsie, NY to East Canaan, CT

Today was a day full of surprises.

I learned that when I glued a tensioning strap back onto my tent last night I installed it upside down and backwards. Doh. What’s done is done.

The hotel breakfast at the not-so-Grand Hotel was actually quite good. Real china and utensils. Fresh eggs, sausage, taters, coffee and OJ was round one. Round two was shredded wheat and an everything bagel. This made up for my in-room dinner of PB&J on tortillas.

At breakfast I noticed a man and a woman who looked like bicycle tourists. As it turned out they were. Andy and Fiona are from England and riding from Jacksonville FL to Boston. They left the hotel before I did only to be stymied by school traffic.

I left a little after 8 and was happy to get away from Poughkeepsie’s crazy traffic. My brain said I’d be riding brutal hills all day but the day really came in three parts.

First the country roads out of Dutchess County were very pleasant. Plenty of rollers to hill hop, riding down one and using the momentum to climb the next. There were two short steep climbs. As this was in the first 20 miles I decided to walk them, saving my legs for the torture ahead.

The second hill featured a scary, steep downhill, the kind I’d hate to do in less-than-ideal conditions. Lucky me. The road surface was perfect, the curves banked, and the weather ideal. I feathered my brakes during the descent to keep The Mule under 40 mph.

What followed was the second phase of the day. I was fully expecting a brutal hillfest but got lovely flat to rolling countryside. I was hoping to refuel at Mabbettsville but there was no food to be found. After riding east about ten miles, I turned north and picked up the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, a paved gem that gained one degree or so of elevation as I rode.

I left the trail in Amenia and ate lunch at a deli. The garden salad nearly filled me up but I managed to inhale a bologna, turkey, and cheese sandwich too.

I left the deli only to find the temperature had risen about 5 degrees. I stopped at a Cumberland Farms store and bought two liters of cold water. After chugging one of my water bottles, I refilled it with the cold water from one liter, pouring the rest over my head. It felt wonderful.

Back on the trail I stopped to chat with Alan and Fiona who were sitting in the shade eating their tortilla lunch. Birds of a feather.

After a pleasant chat, I carried on for phase three of the day.

I turned east onto US 44 into Connecticut and the dreaded hills of certain doom. What I got were picture pretty New England clapboard houses with This-Old-House landscaping. There were hills but none of the soul sucking variety I was expecting.

The bigger issue was the heat and haze. Temperatures rose into the low 80s which made me glad I had bought two liters of water instead of one. The haze is from fires in Nova Scotia. It’s not a big deal but does put a damper on the scenery.

I was expecting to ride the last 15 miles in grind mode but I made very good time through Lakeville and Salisbury. After Salisbury there was a big climb. It wasn’t walk-worthy but it gave my granny a real test.

After resting at the top, The Mule and I headed down our second steep descent of the day. Once again the pavement was excellent but unlike the earlier downhill this was on a busy two-lane highway. The bike gods were with me; there was no traffic behind me. I took the lane and let fly. The speed limit was 40 but The Mule paid no attention. I was busy checking my mirrors and scanning the road ahead for bumps and potholes. I glanced down and saw 41. Yeah.

I passed through the quaint crossroads town of North Canaan and found myself 2 miles later at the Locust Tree Bed and Breakfast, my home for the night. I am sitting on the porch in the shade letting the breeze lull me to sleep.

Dutchess County country road
Hay, the old fashioned way
Alan and Fiona having lunch on the trail
Cool part of the Harlem River Rail Trail

Miles today: 64

Tour miles: 517

May 2023 – Home and Away

Another splendid month is in the books. Not having my notes handy I recall watching A Man Called Otto and a bunch of Nationals games including one in the flesh.

I participated WABA’s Sweet Ride and survived lots of climbing. Good preparation for my tour.

I saw two concerts. KT Tunstall and Martin Sexton at the intimate Birchmere made for a fun evening. Crowded House at The Anthem was the bomb. Neil Finn’s still got it and reforming his band to include Nick Seymour, Michell Froom, and sons Liam and Elroy worked like a charm. My favorite moments included Neil soloing on piano with the old Split Enz song Message to my Girl and the Crowded House obscurity Elephants.

I managed to squeeze a trip to Hyde Park to see FDR’s home. After that I spent time with family before attending my 50th high school reunion. (Holy crap, my classmates are OLD!)

As for riding, I managed to do my usual daily meanderings before setting off on a bike tour to Maine and beyond (knock wood). I rode 1,089.5 miles on May. 517 of those miles were from my tour. Lord only knows how many thousands of feet I’ve climbed so far.

I’ve ridden 4,384 miles so far this year.