We’ve been talking about commuting recently, this adventure is a byproduct of bike commuting growing into a greater love of cycling.
This past weekend I undertook an adventure a long time in the making. Since becoming a more and more enthusiastic cyclist, moving from mostly just commuting to and from work to challenging myself to go beyond my known routes and distances – there has been an idea floating in the back of my mind. I wanted to challenge myself to bicycle from Boston, MA to my hometown, which is a small town about 60 miles away.
I had never undertaken bike ride of this magnitude on my own before. As documented on this blog in September, I rode Boston’s Hub on Wheels 50 mile route. That ride is incredibly well supported and I knew many people participating. The encouragement and joy of the group helped to sustain me even when fatigue set in. This new adventure meant a solo journey into the unknown, down roads and through towns without an organization’s support and just my own wits, GPS, and cue sheet to navigate.
November brings its own trials of cold and wind. The distance was also a new challenge. And going solo was going to test my preparedness and mechanic skills if anything did go awry.
I departed early – but not so early as to leave before the sunrise; which I would actually recommend to anyone undertaking a ride of this sort. It will always take longer than you think.
The route began on the Minuteman Bikeway, once a railroad bed, but now a favorite community path and bikeway. I stopped briefly at the local favorite, Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington – a cycling enthusiast’s paradise. The cafe is a combination of a bike shop with full mechanic service and cafe. From there I proceeded to the end of the Minuteman in Bedford, MA.
From here on out it was a journey of small town America. The rest of the route took me along rural routes with hills and farms, sometimes with miles between houses. The photo at the top of this post was taken on the ascent of a large backwoods hill on the edge of Sterling, MA.
From Bedford the route continued on to Concord, MA. (If you are familiar with early American history you’ll recognize that this particular route follows rather closely that of Paul Revere’s famous ride.) From Concord I continued through Maynard, Stow, and into Bolton. Orchards, fields, and idyllic New England farms and remaining colorful foliage greeted me. The journey continued on to Sterling, MA.
Here I encountered the lamb of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Apparently Mary and her lamb were residents. The route continued on into smaller towns with larger and longer hills. A great challenge when you’re accustomed to a mostly flat city.
Seven hours from start to finish saw me roll into the driveway of my childhood home. The weather cooperated, and was even sunny. I did not encounter any mechanical problems with my bicycle and was able to carry enough to fuel my ride the entire way.
For the Next Long Ride
If you ever undertake to ride your bike further than you ever have in the past, there are some helpful things I’ve learned. And these are as applicable to commuting as they are for adventures into the unknown.
-Even if you are following a well ridden route with a time honored cue sheet, do your research. Find out where you’ll be able to get assistance if you need it along the way – from water, food, restrooms, medical, bicycle mechanics, etc.
-Carry spare tubes, patch kit, multi-tool and any other supplies or tools you may need. (This would depend on your experience level and if you’re riding with a group.)
My ride was accompanied by a strong head wind the entire way. The hills were more than I was used to. It may not have been hot outside, but the cold, dry air and the exertion can be very dehydrating.
-It is very important to continually hydrate, even if it’s cold and you’re not perspiring profusely.
-Eat during the ride to maintain your energy level. (Different cyclists swear by different energy chews and beverages, of which there are many. Try for yourself to see what works for you.) Especially if the length and duration are more than what you are used to, fuel for your legs is crucial.
-Applicable for November: Dress in layers. Performance clothing exists that is lightweight and breathable so that you don’t have to haul around half of your wardrobe to be prepared to deal with changes in the weather and temperature.
-Don’t just rely on technology. Out in the woods and the open countryside sometimes there is no signal. Play your backup safe and old school – print it out, bring a map. That way if your battery goes, there’s no signal, or your tech fails, you can still navigate. (You could even bring a compass, not just the phone app.)
Having a sense of humor is priceless. You will get lost. Things break and life will not go as planned. A sense of humor is as necessary a piece of the toolkit as spare tubes. Undertaking a cycling challenge for any reason takes us places we’ve never been, both geographically and personally. With the sky and the road, pedals turning and wheels spinning, the joy of cycling can even inspire those around us.
Where have your bicycling adventures taken you? Where would you like to ride? Any advice to share?