We didn’t set out to break any records. We didn’t do it to raise money. And we certainly didn’t know if the weather was going to cooperate.
But there we were — four Sporting Dads all in our forties. I am the oldest and most experienced cyclist of the group. Somehow that made me the leader, although I’ll admit that I’m the least accomplished athlete.
The others all played sports in high school or beyond. Shawn, at 6’ 8”, played against Shaq in the Sweet 16 for UConn. He and played high school basketball together. Frankie also played football. Fred played football and basketball in high school as well. I was the star TE for the Parking Lot Football League (PFL) in Forestville in the 70’s, but that’s a different column.
The three of them caught the bicycling bug several months back and we decided to train together for a couple of months before riding from Manchester to Boston over two days.
We chose the weekend that featured a tornado warning, torrential downpours, and flash flooding. We did not have a rain date built in. We were stubborn and decided to ride against all common sense.
Two of us had road bikes. Two had hybrids. Three packed light. I did not. My backpack weighed more than a 6-month-old baby. I have purple strap marks on my upper chest to prove it.
To get ahead of the scary clouds, we started out in Andover. Our first stop was for lunch. I ordered half a turkey. If I eat too much I cramp and feel bloated. No worries there — it was half a sandwich — like when your mom made you a sandwich and cut it in two and put the other half in the fridge for later. If you're wondering where the other half went, Frank had ordered the same thing. Diet Coke, oatmeal cookie, and half a sandwich: $12.00.
It was very hilly to Sturbridge. We hung in. Fred was having knee pain but only when he pedaled. Guys like us are too pumped with testosterone, excitement, and pride to let pain stop us. Besides, we’d trained for this.
Five miles outside of Sturbridge, we got battered with rain. Knowing a dry hotel room awaited us, we kept riding. Miles earlier I had taken my headband off. There was nothing stopping my hair gel from stinging my eyes and seeping through my lips. We arrived amidst the tornado warning.
Finally checked-in and showered. Supper was next. Diet Coke, chips, and a footlong sub: $7. Now we only needed to decide who was sleeping with whom. I’m a right-side-body/left-side-bed sleeper. Shawn said he didn’t move around much and would face the other way. Perfect match!
The morning brought more angry clouds with talk of downpours. We didn’t know if we should ride or sit and stare at Olympic coverage for the day. Our only sitting involved pedaling. The rain found us just a bit past Worcester. After an hour wait, we had an open window. We jumped.
The Worcester area is a busy place with lots of traffic. Our directions took us on Route 9. Every several hundred yards there was a RIGHT TURN ONLY lane. A cyclist must cross that lane to get to the shoulder again. Each exit was followed by a hundred feet of brick roadway. It was like riding on cobblestones with wide gaps between them.
My narrow tires couldn’t find a flat line to smoother pavement. I had to grab the white line to the left. It was like riding a tightrope. Veer to the right and my tire might find a crack and dump me over. To the left and I was inches from 55+ mph traffic. We stayed on it for about 10 miles until my spidey senses took over.
My meltdown occurred after leaning slightly too far left. The tractor-trailer truck made the little hairs on my ears stand up (I have to shave those daily). I’ve ridden in plenty of traffic. I’ve had close calls. I’ve never completely lost my nerve. Not until that moment. I was done. The road had no interest in being shared.
I was so frazzled that I would have ridden an extra 30 miles just to avoid Route 9. Fred’s knee did not need extra pedal strokes. Luckily, for the sake of team unity, the alternative route was only slightly longer, much safer, and more picturesque. Meltdowns are not good for team moral. Lesson learned.
If there were no cars, Boston would be perfect for cyclists. There are bike lanes. And there are signs alerting drivers of the bike lanes. The signs read that a bicyclist is entitled to the entire bike lane. But who has time to read signs while driving?. If they swerved into the bike lane: LOOK OUT! For the cyclist who needed to turn left — LOOK OUT! HONK! HONK! HONK! HOW DARE YOU!
We finally arrived — unscathed — to a toast, huge burgers and sleep.
Two months ago, this rag-tag group of cyclists started off with a flat 16.5-mile ride. It rolled over into a hilly, two-day, 120-mile trip. We didn’t break any records. We didn’t raise awareness to any particular cause.
What we did was climb into our own bodies, recognize their strengths as well as their limitations, and carried them across the sweet terrain of a late summer weekend.
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