Friday, July 25, 2014

Dirigo Dynamo 2014

"I think for me it's more about the magical adventure - adventure that overrides the occasional pain and effort of it. I mean come on - riding my bike from Boston to Maine under a full moon? Beyond my wildest dreams, plain and simple." -- Veloria, Lovely Bicycle, 2012

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. It would be great to ride it one of these years. 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 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 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. I think something like nine or ten people started the ride, with a few more joining along the route.

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 everyone 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? 

La lune!

Rolling through Hampton

That clutch of bright lights is a group of riders

Although this could be an Echo & the Bunnymen album cover,
it is in fact 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 gently 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. Nonetheless, 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 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.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pedaling in Droves

Towards the end of the day, headed up Long Pond Road

A couple of fortuitous elements brought us to Lake Willoughby for the weekend in late June.  As strange fate would have it, we met Pamela Blaylock and John Bayley about a month earlier at a Luka Bloom concert in Boston. We were seated, waiting for things to begin when a couple sat down in front of us. Somehow I had this inkling that this might be Pamela Blaylock, the Fixie Pixie, who I was familiar with from various blog readings over the years. When we noticed her looking at people on bikes on her phone I got up the nerve to ask if she was indeed Pamela, and she was. We had a nice pre-concert chat with her and Fear Rothar, otherwise known as her husband John.

Climbing up Hinton Hill Road

With this meeting fresh on our minds, we were keen to investigate one of Pamela's DROVES rides. The DROVES weekends are excursions for a bunch of folks from Massachusetts who come up to enjoy the beauty and challenge of Vermont's hills. No opportunity for climbing is spared. Looking at Pamela's blog where routes are listed, we picked a 45 mile loop around the Willoughby-Burke area.  Somewhat surprisingly, we both just felt a little excited and more curious than intimidated by the elevation gains, so without much thought we both shrugged; "Cool, let's just do it". We cashed in on a long-held gift of an overnight stay at the Willoughvale Inn and headed up to the Northeast Kingdom early Saturday for our weekend adventure.


The selected route happened to pass within a mile of the inn, so it was easy for us to jump on the track, and not surprisingly, we immediately began climbing up Hinton Hill Road. This was to be the order of the day; either going up or going down, but rarely anything in between. 

I thought it would be fun to change "Drives" to "Droves"

As we ascended the hillside, we marveled at the beauty of the broad hilltop ahead of us while we also caught glimpses of Lake Willoughby dropping below us. We were impressed right off the bat and excited to see what other vistas we'd be exposed to.

Approaching Burke

By the way, DROVES stands for "Dirt Roads of Vermont, Exceptional Scenery" and I've been aware of this little ride-retreat for since first reading Velouria's account in Lovely Bicycle last spring. That memorable year, Memorial Day weekend delivered snow and rain derailing many holiday excursions across Vermont. We, in contrast, had pleasant, almost cool weather with varying clouds. 

We were game for whatever the ride offered and we were delighted to see remote parts of a region that is largely unfamiliar to us, other than the fact that I'd ridden through this zone a week before on the NEK 300k. The ride felt like a mini-brevet since we were traveling unfamiliar terrain with a cue sheet; the difference being that we had no time constraints.

Nancy and I have a bit of a running joke where, on a ride, in a moment of excitement I exclaim "We should do this!", meaning: adventuring on bikes is lots of fun and we should be doing this more often. The joke being that I usually express this in the midst of us actually doing what I insist we should be doing. It's a sure sign I'm having a good time.
Checking out the mountain bike scene in East Burke

Making our way home

After 20 odd miles we rolled down into Burke and decided we'd have some food and a little sit-down. That day, East Burke was a bit of a circus with a three-day NEMBA mountain bike festival in full swing. Swarms of riders were rolling down into the village to eat, rest, hang out or catch a ride back up one of the hills. We were the oddballs on our non-mountain bikes. I was somewhat surprised to see that riders were actually getting shuttled back up the mountains with trailers carrying their bikes. I guess its sort of the same logic as riding a chair lift, yet I was slightly dismayed to see the bike relegated to such one-way downhill-only fun. I like to say that you shouldn't need a car to ride a bike, and in this case, you don't need a truck to get a bike up a hill. Maybe I'd feel differently if I did that kind of riding, but it seem to me folks are missing some of the fun only going down, but then I guess that's why I find downhill skiing a little boring.

Fish in a fishbowl

A quick stop at the Willoughby store before getting back to our cabin

Leaving East Burke we climbed up Darling Hill Road and checked out the lovely farm/inn at the top and then continued back towards Willoughby. As I already said, climbing was the order of the day. By the time we reached Long Pond Road we were starting to drag a bit, but by then home was within reach and we enjoyed the class-4 like quality of the road and we were pleased when we eventually dropped back down to Lake Willoughby right next to the general store.  We stocked up on a six-pack and headed back to our cabin for a relaxing cool down and then dinner at the inn. It goes without saying that we slept well and deeply after such a pleasant and dynamic ride.  

The next day I posted to Facebook something to effect that the ride was "rarely flat". Pamela wrote back the folowing: "Rarely flat? Let me know where you found more then 10 feet of flat road on that ride!" and then posted the following image accompanied by "Oh I see it here. It was that short strech AT the lake". In retrospect its pretty interesting to see just how much the ride really is either up or down. 

Pamela's elevation map. See that little flat line in the middle? That is the brief non-climb on the ride at the lake

The next day was a little more sedate. We stayed off our bikes and opted for a nice canoe around Willoughby followed by a hike with our friend Kate up Mt. Piscah where the views were spectacular. After a swim we topped the day off with pizza at Parker Pie.

Panorama from Piscah

Paddling on Lake Willoughby

Kate and Nance

Climbing Mt. Piscah with Kate the next day

A perfect weekend and one that will be long remembered.