It happens to even the most gifted of bicyclists.
A thick drizzle coated Darrell and I as we made our way out of Troy, NY on Sunday morning - Destination: Brattleboro, Vermont. The drizzle was really nothing for us to worry about compared to the heavy rains we had the day before.
We were rolling along Rte. 2 when we came upon construction. The ABB luggage van was inching in front of us through this war zone -- a cratered, gray, slimy, putty-like road segment. Another vehicle was bearing down on us from behind.
I spotted a Port-o-Let that I needed to use and turned to get to it.
My angular turn was enough to cause my wheel to slip and slap me down on the pavement, much like the time trialer pictured above who was downed in slick, wet conditions.
So, my first fall of this trip was a minor one. I used the Johnny-on-the-Spot and then got right back on the bike. Immediately my left hip nagged at me and my left shoulder was stinging. I kept pretty quiet about my fall at the first sag.
Earlier we spotted Jen and Monica sitting on the side of the road. Jen's injuries were too unworkable for Jen to continue riding. Their backs were to us as we rode by. It looked like a heavy moment between the two of them, a crestfallen and wholly reluctant surrender to acutely pronounced discomfort.
Monica went solo and hooked up with Darrell and I. Seeing Monica riding solo flipped on our protective instincts. Right after the sag, Monica had to fix a flat. Darrell is an expert on punctures -- I think he's up to 20 for the tour at this point -- he changed it for her.
Just before the puncture, we had reached the Vermont border. Our border pictures are so trite, yet it's hard to resist marking the occasion.
Almost immediately after the border, Darrell and I convinced Monica to go off route with us. I insisted that the Old Bennington Battle Monument was worthy of a side trip, even if it wasn't included on our official plan... Monica was hesitant, but Darrell egged her on.
Here are Monica and Darrell in front of the monolith.
Then, both joined me for a visit to 5 Catamount Lane, home of Polly van der Linde's Sonatina enterprise. It was a joy to see Polly, especially as a result of our pedaling there from San Francisco. She looked super trim, had taken up bicycling again with her husband Dale, and in keeping with her perpetual metamorphoses, had transformed her operation once again -- the centerpiece being new, ultra-luxurious Bosendorfer pianos.
We raided the camp's kitchen -- Darrell and I split a package of blueberry Pop-Tarts, of all things!
After, we plummeted to Bennington's town center, enjoying Vermont's unique character -- stately, yet decidedly green mountain.
Our big, 10-mile climb began after the thoroughfare.
Here are Monica and Darrell making their way skyward behind me.
I had ridden around the Bennington area pretty extensively last August at Polly's camp. I had warned people the night before that it was going to be a really difficult day of climbing.
Our second sag was shortly after the big-time quaint town of Wilmington. As we were standing around performing our unwavering sag ritual for around the 90th time, I had to eat my words. We all agreed that the climbing wasn't all that tough.
As shown in the profile above, we ascended one more decent climb and then we descended for ten miles like dive-bombing hawks to the edge of Brattleboro center. Here we stopped in the Vermont Country Deli for our lunch. Mike Munk, Karen, Darrell, Monica and I sat outside on the sidewalk while the deli's salads, sandwiches, and desserts gave us tonguegasms.
It's difficult to express what it felt like being back in familiar territory. It had been 48 days since I had been anywhere that was anything but familiar. I shrieked when I spotted a Shaws supermarket. It was a major relief to be on my soil, my New England soil. I think part of me didn't believe I would ever make it back home...
When we arrived at the Brattleboro Quality Inn, Darrell and I were relegated to motor lodge refugee status. It was after 3 p.m. and our rooms weren't ready. We flopped on the lobby carpet, armed with our full array of digital tethers.
"Check back in ten minutes"
Ten minutes later, "Check back in 20 minutes."
TWO HOURS later, our rooms were finally clean, but now there was only time to wash and get to rap -- no nap or blogging.
After rap, my Putney, VT friends Tim, Philip, and their dog Bob came and got Darrell and I for dinner at 39 Main. We ate an army's worth of delectable Tapas-style dishes (soft-shelled crab, salmon ravioli, mussels, maple-glazed cod, fried calamari, etc.), elated that we averted dinner at the China Buffet up the street.
Tim and Philip had me out to stay overnight at their new home, in its entirely-bucolic Vermont setting. Stepping out of their car upon arriving, the stars were mesmerizingly luminous.
Their home is shamingly environmental and conservationist, complete with a compost toilet.
I went to bed in their guest room almost immediately after my arrival knowing that deep-woods, coma-like slumber was moments away. I went to call MJ to say goodnight, but no cell reception exists there.
I awoke to the very early-morning, soft, songbird din.
I walked around the grounds while Tim made breakfast.
Tim followed me out and showed me the guts of his planned artist's studio on the first floor, and his thriving garden. He picked zucchini, kale, and red leaf lettuce as ingredients for farm-fresh omelets.
Tim's steel cut oatmeal infused with real maple syrup and real coconut was a Zen experience especially after having eaten 50 breakfasts of the mass-production variety.
Tim brought me back to our not-so-Quality Inn in time for me to prepare to meet the luggage van for our ride to Manchester. I am enormously grateful for the side trip to their truly-Vermont residence, an indelible, cherished memory of this extensive journey...
Our ride to Manchester today was the best that New Hampshire has to offer, once we were off Rte. 9 that is... My shoulder, rib, foot, and hip ached from yesterday's fumble.
Once again, I convinced Darrell to go off route. When we turned off Rte. 9, we hit a 13%-grade climb that I think was the best moment of the day. Streaks of morning light slashed through to a low-light forest to our left. To our right, a chatty brook serenaded by red-winged black birds. The steepness caused us to inch upward and allowed us the time to soak in these surroundings.
Our day was packed with very steep climbs, a spin through downtown Keene, and sag stops situated in the most classic of New Hampshire commons.
My hat is off to ABB for today's route, undeniably idyllic.
When we arrived at the Manchester Comfort Inn, we were greeted by biker candy: Gatorade on ice, a hose, cleaning supplies, and protection from the sun.
Johnny bought a big tub full of beer -- it's as though we had already crossed the finish line - tomorrow's ride of 55 miles seems inconsequential, apparently.
Shortly after, my Mom walked up to the tent with a plate full of O'Henry bars, my favorite!! My sister Lauren followed, and my nephews stepped out of their car with a big banner - I couldn't have been more delighted.
Pictured from left to right, Corey, George, Me, Johnny, Joe, Paul, Darrell, Marc, Clarence, Alan, Colin, and Jeff. Corey, George, and Colin are the only ones pictured who didn't start in San Francisco.
After -- my sister Lynne, Gwen, Tess, and Russell arrived at my sister Lauren and her husband Ken's home in Bow, NH for a home-cooked, celebratory meal of swordfish, steak, salad, potato salad, cucumber salad, corn on the cob, and O'Henry bars! Everything tasted so wonderful, and healthy, and it was so very comforting to be with family.
At the hotel I mentioned to Jeff that I probably wouldn't be at the final ABB dinner (where we all were likely to make a speech related to our experience).
I hushed, "Even though I've come to love everyone in the group, I want to be with my family."
"If my family were greeting me here, I would do the same."
As I sat at the dinner table with Lauren, Lynne, and my Mom I said, "This is surreal."
Finally seeing MJ again at the beach tomorrow will be similar, as will the return to my abode (I won't mention the other thing =).
Parting shot: Hogback Mountain, VT likes us.