Wobbling Through New England

This will be my first post from the road after having been riding for almost a week. My routine, at least for now, will be to ride six days and then take a day to rest. As things have worked out, my rest day will be on Friday. So, look for trip updates like this one on Fridays.

Wes standing with bike at the shore in Bar Harbor
Dipping the bike wheels into the waters of the Atlantic ceremony.

At this point in the trip, I have pedaled 323 miles and am now in eastern Vermont. New England is a very hilly part of the country. I have done a lot of climbing, which was challenging but doable. It makes me feel a sense of relief to have come this far. It is one thing to ride 50 plus miles one day. It is another to do so day after day. But I have logged six days in a row. I am starting to feel like I can actually do this.

A blue bike with red panniers next to a yellow picnic table.
I found picnic tables outside convenience stores to be nice places to take a break.

It seems like in almost every endeavor I have undertaken, I experience a period of beginner’s luck. Then, Fate always lowers boom once I’ve decided how easy things are going to be. Though there was some light drizzle just after I left Bar Harbor, the sky soon cleared and I had four days in a row of almost perfect weather for riding: clear blue skies and temperatures in the 60s. Then on day five, the day I had to cross over Kancamagus Pass in the White Mountains, the dumping rain started. But, like they say, one has not lived until they’ve bombed down the side of a mountain on a precariously loaded bicycle at 40 mph with a cold and steady downpour pelting one’s face. 

A scenic overlook sign in the White Mountains. It is foggy and raining and hence not so scenic.
You really have to there to appreciate the awesomeness of views like this one.

The entire week has been on-the-job training for a newbie touring cyclist. Riding a bike with so much weight tied to it is more like riding a motorcycle where you get to be the motor. There are many of things to watch out for:  when planning to dismount, always stop and do so on a level spot. Keep your ankles away from the pedals when walking the bike. Allow plenty of time to stop.

The hardest thing to become accustomed to is steering when there are two loaded panniers hanging off of the front wheel. The weight turns your front fork into a flywheel. Once it starts turning, it is hard to stop it. I found that any movement of my head, such as to turn it slightly to view cars in my mirror, would cause the handlebars to lurch to the left, pulling me toward the lane of traffic. The effect is worse at low speeds while climbing up steep hills. What has seemed like the most dangerous parts of the ride are those places where I have had to climb a steep hill on a busy road with little or no shoulder. At low speeds, any movement made to check my mirror or change gears, causes the front wheel to turn in one direction or another. At such a low speed, I do a lot of wobbling to get the front steering back under control. What I have learned to do on those stretches is drop it down into to granny gear and just look down at the road immediately in front of the bike, focusing only on keeping the bike stable and out of the traffic lane. Trying to look up the hill, worrying about how much farther there is to go to the top, just makes things wobbly. It seemed like a good metaphor for life. When we forget to focus on what is in front of us and start worrying too much about how things might turn out in the future, things start to wobble.

A small cemetery in New England.
The cemeteries are beautiful in New England. I’ve read just enough Stephen King to hesitate camping in one.

On the other hand, I am learning that a trip like this requires a little bit of looking down the road when it comes to finding places to stay, especially when the weather is not so great. I envisioned being able to camp most nights. That was caused in part by being spoiled by living in a place like the Pacific Northwest with so many public campgrounds. Such places are few and far between in Maine and New Hampshire. I found myself a couple of times at the end of a long day not knowing exactly where I was going to stay. One night I camped in an open field along the way, but it was an uncomfortable feeling, not knowing if someone was going to come along and ask me to leave.

So far, no one has asked me to leave. In fact, one evening, a very kind couple asked me to stay. I was standing by my bike outside of a restaurant where I had just had dinner, pondering my options as far as city parks, open fields, and other such places to camp when a group of people walked up and asked me about my trip. I started telling them and then one of them, a woman who would be one of my hosts for the evening, asked me if I wanted to stay in their pop-up camper. They were very kind. They shared a glass of wine and pleasant conversation with me that evening and fed me breakfast in the morning.

So far, I have encountered uncountable kindnesses like that from people along the way. The greatest thing about this mode of travel—something I already knew from being a bike commuter—is that it allows you to interact with your fellow human beings face-to-face. Almost every interaction you are going to have is going to be better. It seems like once we get behind the steering wheels and the keyboards, things go south.