On July 12, Nancy and I rode the second ever run of the Dirigo Dynamo and it was a night I will long remember.
Some years back I heard about the Dunwich Dynamo, the inspiration for the Dirigo, on The Bike Show (a podcast/radio show based in London). The vision of a long overnight ride to the sea captivated me. Images of pub stops and salt air mixed with the delirious sensations of sleep deprivation just sounded too fun, perhaps even transcendent. Nancy and I have even kept the Dunwich in mind when thinking about possible vacation journeys. Wouldn't it be cool to time it so that we could ride it? So when word came via the NER'ds email list of the Dirigo, I knew I wanted to do it immediately.
Nancy and I have done some hard work on our bikes over the last month or two. Despite this baseline, the prospect of riding 140 miles, and staying up all night to do it, were daunting for Nancy, even though she was excited to give it a go. Looking at the elevation gain (~3,200vf) we knew the Dirigo ride was relatively flat with modest gains spread out over a long distance. Nancy has been riding a bunch and I had no doubt in her ability to do the ride, although I too was unsure of what it would be like to ride overnight. I've ridden until the wee hours on brevets, but I experienced that as staying up really late, somehow different from staying up all night long.
Oh yes, I also was initially a little vague on the distance of this ride. I thought it was a 100 mile ride based on some hazy sense of recollection, and that false information was what hooked Nancy in. It wasn't until about a week before the ride that I clarified that it was in fact 140 miles--not an insignificant difference. To her credit, she didn't let my weak possession of the facts diminish her commitment to doing the ride, though a bailout plan was hatched: return at the 100 mile point by picking up the train in Wells, Maine if need be.
An added bonus was that our friend Douglas had been intrigued about the ride and after taking some time to make a decision, committed to joining us. We were excited to have him along. He's a good guy with a great attitude and we looked forward to the adventure together. I spent a little time trying to help him get ready with bags and whatnot since he'd never ridden over 100 miles. The mileage would be new territory for both him and Nancy.
Getting sorted out as we were about to start
My primary excitement was for the ride itself, but I was also looking forward to meeting or reacquainting with some folks I had met or ridden with on past brevets. An added bonus upon arrival was seeing the deluxe bag I had just completed for Geoff put into service for it's maiden journey on the front rack of his 650b Boulder Bicycle. When we were working out the details of Nancy's Matchack frame, Anton was very helpful in some of the decisions we made regarding wiring and it was good to finally meet him in person.
The bag I made for Geoff, mounted for it's maiden journey
Nancy and I managed to get a solid night's sleep on Friday and took it easy on Saturday, trying to keep our kinetic excitement as subdued as possible.
We arrived in Union Square with ample time to get a cool drink and wait for folks to arrive. Alarmingly, Douglas called saying that some last minute morning bike repairs had resulted in a messed up front wheel. We briefly thought that he was going to have to ditch, but getting himself to a different bike shop resulted in a new front wheel and he was ready to go in short order.
Good spirits and nice pre-ride chat (l.-r. Geoff, Jon, Nancy, Douglas)
Brian, one of the organizers, made an effort to instill a bit of order to a pretty casual event. His aim was to have riders re-group periodically along the route. I was glad at least to know that we would be led the first few miles out of Somerville, since it is challenging to be navigating right off the bat in an unfamiliar area. Its much easier to go with the crowd for a while until the ride settles in and you can begin to organize your mind around the route.
Heading out through Medford. Other riders joined along the route, like a neighborhood gang of kids picking up friends along the way
As we gathered and were about to head out we learned that our 100 mile bail out plan was foiled! Bikes can no longer get loaded onto the train at the Wells train station, or anywhere else between Boston and Portland. We now knew we were heading the whole way to Portland.
Anton and Brian
During the early miles, the pace was quick and I was feeling the tension of wanting to socialize with folks ahead but feeling aware that I wanted to be attentive to Nancy and Douglas behind. Brian, Anton and us three Vermonters fell into a subgroup for the first 25 miles or so up to Melinda Lyon's house, where the other riders were resting and refilling their bottles. At this point it was decided not to try to maintain a single group, easing the pressure so everyone could go at their own pace.
Much of the riding in this section of the route was through small wooded lanes, so even though sunset was still a while off, our lights were already doing their work. Sudden breaks into the sun came as a bit of a surprise. The cooler evening air felt good after a fairly hot afternoon.
A rest stop at Melinda's house. We broke into sub-groups from here out, although reconnected a couple more times before the finish
Douglas, leaving Melinda's
Nancy and Douglas
The miles rolled along and the route was a dream of small back roads through forests and wetlands. Traffic was minimal. We rolled into Newburyport to find the lead group ready to head out, so we all rode off together again. It was a joy to see all our lighted and fendered-randonneuring bikes rolling together in a bizarre nighttime procession. Many onlookers called out and in return we rang our bells. I wonder what they made of us?
Rolling through Hampton
That clutch of bright lights is a group of riders
Although this could be an Echo & the Bunnymen album cover,
its actually the moon over the Atlantic as we passed through Rye
Ahead lay a few surreal miles through Salisbury followed by the dazzle of Hampton Beach, NH. Suddenly we were zooming through a hot mid-summer nighttime carnival of drinking parties and porch dwellers with fireworks, arcades, pedestrians and vehicles everywhere. It was fun, in stark contrast to the secluded miles in the woods. Hampton Beach gives way to North Hampton, which in turn leads to Rye, each progressively quieter and calmer. With a tailwind at our backs and the super full moon hanging low over the Atlantic, these were some of the most thrilling miles of the ride. It felt exciting and effortless.
Food, rest and chat in Portsmouth
Brian, Nancy, myself, and Douglas (photo courtesy of Jon Doyle via Flickr)
Portsmouth, NH is the halfway point at 70 miles. We rolled in at around 11:30 and found the others sipping beer, eating nachos and chatting at the Portsmouth Brewery. The ride had been smooth so far, although two of the riders decided that they weren't feeling well and opted to catch a 3AM bus ride back to South Station.
Crossing the bridge over the Piscataqua into Maine
At this point Douglas, Nancy and I rode on our own. Douglas had never even ridden a 100 miles previous to this, so he was dragging a bit already and had many, many more miles to go. We settled in for the second phase of our adventure.
Of course it's a challenge to photograph a night ride, but the generator hub/LED headlight combo makes
riding at night a non-issue, almost unremarkable in it's ease
Leaving Portsmouth we immediately crossed the bridge into Maine towards a slightly inland course. The route took on a more rolling quality, leaving the long, flat stretches behind. The moon was bright above us and the countryside was quiet. Cars were almost non-existent. The route from the Maine border nearly to Portland follows the Eastern Trail (ET), which is well signed, making navigating very easy. Somehow we missed a turn somewhere around South Berwick, but luckily stopped for a rest and noticed our mistake. We were able to reconnect with the route in short order. Somewhere outside of Kennebunk we reached "105" on the cue sheet and high-fived Douglas for his first-ever century.
The first light of dawn
Nancy, as we arrive in Old Orchard Beach
We decided that at Old Orchard Beach we would take a longer rest. Somewhere in these miles on the rail-trail the sun came up. Reaching Old Orchard, we happily found Brian sitting on a bench waiting to make sure we were okay. He sped off to Portland while we went down to the beach and took a doze for about an hour.
I took this moments before happily dozing for about a hour. Such comfy sand..
Beautiful tidal zone through Scarborough
The rest did everyone a world of good and the last 15 miles into Portland were back up to speed and uneventful. Rolling into town we camped ourselves at The Good Egg for breakfast and started to feel the full measure of our night. As chance would have it, the Good Egg is directly next store to Dean's Sweets, owned by friends of ours from our days in Boston. Kristin gave us a tour and some amazing truffles for our trip back home.
Two good eggs at The Good Egg
I have long dreamed of the day when I would be able to bring my bike on the train. It is painful to me that this sensible option has been unavailable for so many years (although I am hopeful that we might see the situation change in the next year or two, fingers crossed).
Our bikes ready to board
Rolling to the baggage car
Loading was easy and the conductor was confident in his manoeuvres. Our bikes were in good hands
Happy and full of stories and thoughts about the next itteration
With this in mind, I had the pleasure of riding to the Portland train station and loading my bike onto the train on for the first time in my life. For some blessed reason, the Downeaster allows bikes on trains, although only from the Portland to North Station stops. No on loading or offloading in between. The experience was smooth and uneventful, just as it ought to be. Brian, Nancy, Douglas and I settled in for the 3 hour ride back. Although we tried to doze, in truth we were excited and had much to churn through from the experience. In retrospect I was grateful that Nancy and I had each other to to keep talking to over the next day or so, since the experience had stirred so many thoughts and ideas. It would have been hard to have to hold them all alone.
This experience proved to be almost more magical then I could have imagined. The lack of sleep was nearly a non-issue. I guess our bodies just knew the plan was to keep going. Barely a small yawn was uttered between us until we were on the train homewards. More then anything I was so grateful to share such a wonderful experience with Nancy and Douglas. It would have been a weak approximation to try relay the experience in words. We shared a rare blend of effort, pleasure, and magic on a full moon night along the New England coast that I will recall fondly for years to come.