Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bicycling from Maine Coast to North Central Massachusetts

This was another one of those plans that hatched this past winter, while the snow lingered outside and I was laying on the floor in front of the TV planning future bike trips on mapmyride.com. For this particular plan, however, lot of things had to come together - and perfectly at that. First, the weather had to be decent - at least - as I was planning to ride lite (no panniers). Second, the ride had to coincide with out visit to Andi's parents in Lunenburg, MA. And third, because the train was leaving from Boston North Station, there would have to be a good reason for someone to drop me off in Boston with my bike. In this case, Andi's college reunion planned for the weekend worked just fine.

All packed up, waiting for the train at Boston North Station.
All packed up, waiting for the train at Boston North Station.

Few days before the planned trip, everything seemed like it was going to work out. Although my original plan was to take Amtrak to Saco or Old Orchard Beach in Maine, I eventually had to re-adjust my plans due to some remarkably stupid Amtrak policies about bike transportation. Before I vent, let me say that traveling by train is my preferred form of transportation. Every summer, when we travel to Slovakia we can rely on trains to us take where we need to go without ridiculous restrictions and asinine policies. Not in the US though, and certainly not on Amtrak. You see, Amtrak only allows onboard bicycles on several trains, some of which are mentioned on their website. Onboard bicycle means, that once you unload it at your destination, you can clip in and ride away. The Downeaster service, between Boston North Station and Portland, ME is fortunately one of them. But unfortunately, Amtrak only allows you to unload your bicycle at manned stations, which in the case of the Downeaster are Wells, ME and Portland, ME. That's it. So there went my plans to get off at Old Orchard Beach or Saco - which both happened to be unmanned stations. Thus I had to get off at Wells, ME and change my bike route accordingly. Now, I assumed that some special unloading procedure must be in effect, because otherwise this Amtrak policy would be just magnificently idiotic. But no. The train stopped, me, and everyone else just rolled their bikes from the train onto the platform and that was it. The Amtrak personnel, very pleasant and helpful otherwise, did not assist or oversee the procedure in any way shape or form. I do not see how this could not have been done at an unmanned station.

Anyway, my plan was to take the 11:05AM train from Boston North Station to Wells, ME, ride the bike a few miles to Kennebunkport on the coast, lollygag and enjoy the scenery, geocache a little and eventually make it to Kennebunk, check into a motel, carboload, and the next morning at sunrise, start pedaling for Lunenburg, MA. About 25 miles the first day, and 110 or so miles the next. The GPS trace is below, kml file for Google Earth viewing can be downloaded from here.
View Larger Map
Elevation profile of the ride

As far as packing was concerned, it was pretty simple:
  • 2 spare tubes with 2 CO2 cartridges with an adapter
  • Topeak Pocket Rocket Master Blaster Bike Pump. Can the name get any more ridiculous? Probably not. The pump is redundant but I do not trust those cartridge doohickeys fully yet - not for a 100 mile ride anyway.
  • Patch kit, multi tool, tire levers, bike lock
  • Camelbak, water bottle
  • 2 pairs of socks (1 pair old to be discarded)
  • old toothbrush, pretty much empty toothpaste (both to be left behind), small tube of sunscreen
  • cycling jersey, bib shorts, cycling gloves, sunglasses, helmet
  • performance short sleeve shirt, swim trunks
  • trusty LG armwarmers, legwarmers
  • credit card, debit card, driver's license, health insurance cards, cash
  • power gels, cliff bars, powdered sports drinks
  • phone, camera, Cateye Cycling Computer, Garmin eTrex Legend GPS
Almost ....
Bike storage onboard the Downeaster.
Bike storage onboard the Downeaster.
We left Lunenburg around 8:30AM, just in time to miss most of the morning rush hour. We parked at Boston North Station, I picked up the tickets and spent about an hour for the 11:05 departure. I was unsure about this whole bike loading procedure but in the end it was quite simple. Because everyone with a bike had a special ticket, the conductors knew how many bikes were going to what destination. For Wells, it was me and one other guy. We were instructed to simply wheel the bikes onboard, and put them in that rather large luggage/wheelchair space before seats begin. I simply leaned my bike against the window and that was it. The train ride was sweet, little shy of 2 hours and reminded me just how much I miss train travel.
Wells, ME Amtrak station
Wells, ME Amtrak station.

After Dover, NH I changed in the bathroom to into my cycling gear. After I emerged from the bathroom in my spandex attire one of the passengers asked me if I am going biking. I was tempted to answer that this is how I normally dress for work but opted for a simple "yes" instead. Disembarking in Wells was easy, the conductor announced the station, we pushed the bikes out of the train onto the platform and that was it. The first thing I noticed was that the temperature was significantly lower compared to Boston. It was sunny and a bit chilly because of the breeze but enough to take the leg and armwarmers out. I clipped in, turned right on Route 9 and followed it towards Kennebunkport. The shoulder was pretty beat up, but there was still hope it would get better. My first stop was at the Mousam River. The view towards the Atlantic was fantastic and it reminded me of the last trip to Maine several years ago with Andi, my mom, Francis and Lisa. After snapping a few pictures I very leisurely proceeded forward, enjoying the scenery, and killing time as I only had maybe 15 miles left to get to the hotel. The beaches were empty, virtually no one was around. I can only image how madly busy this place must get in the summer - hopefully I will never find out. One place I particularly enjoyed was the Sea Cave Earth Cache. The other name for this plalce is Spouting Rock. I suppose if the sea was really rough, there would be spouting but today .... the spouting looked more like a toilet refilling and flushing, refilling and flushing .... well, you get the idea. If not, look at the video.

Mousam River Estuary near Kennebunkport, ME
Mousam River Estuary near Kennebunkport, ME
Maine coastline around Kennebunkport, ME
Maine coastline around Kennebunkport, ME.
Maine coast in Kennebunkport, ME
Maine coast in Kennebunkport, ME.
It was a beautiful day ...
It was a beautiful day ...
Love the coastline change from sandy Long Island
Love the coastline change from sandy Long Island.

There was no one around, but still, I found a bit more secluded spot, leaned against the sun-warmed rock and chilled out for about an hour. Eventually I continued on Ocean Avenue, past the Bush Compound towards Route 9. Just about then I noticed a creaking sound appear out of nowhere while I was turning the pedals. Especially on hills when I was standing up. Fortunately, there was a bike shop in Arundel so I headed towards it with a few hours to spare before closing time. I talked to Brandon (sp?) of Cape Able Bike Shop who fiddled with the crankset and voila ... the creaking stopped. It was a free repair so at least I bought a patch kit ... which I keep buying on pretty much every long bikeride and then I lose it almost instantly. We chatted for about 15 minutes, before I moved on. What a nice guy. If you are riding in the area, you should stop by the store. On my way back to Route 1 I passed the Seashore Trolley Museum on Log Cabin Road. I popped in for a little ride-by wishing I had spent less time spacing out at the ocean because then would have had more time to visit what looked like a pretty awesome museum. Maybe next time. By the way, Log Cabin Road was a very nice introduction into this whole "soft shoulder" thing. Certainly fine for cars, not so much for my tires. But the drivers were courteous so it was all good.

My place for the night
My place for the night.
Postride snack at Perfecto's Cafe in Kennebunk, ME.
Postride snack at Perfecto's Cafe in Kennebunk, ME.
I-95 (Maine Turnpike) at 5:30AM
I-95 (Maine Turnpike) at 5:30AM.
I passed through downtown Kennebunk and checked into Kennebunk Gallery Motel and Cottages. After a brief rest I walked back to town and hit the Perfeco's Cafe for a cup of coffee, delicious lemon poppy seed muffin and a massive Greek salad. After picking up a slice of pizza and a protein bar at a gas station, I got home, chatted with Peter on skype while sitting outside with my feet up on the front porch, and eventually hit the bed around 10PM. The morning was predictably chilly, with temperatures in low forties (~6 deg C). The arm and leg warmers came in handy, as did the performance shirt that I wore on top of my cycling jersey for the first few hours of the morning. I left the motel at 5:15 hoping to be done in about 10 hours. Right after crossing Maine Turnpike I made a wrong turn and added a few miles to the ride. In retrospect, I could have just continued the way I was going but I must have been too sleepy to pay enough attention to the small GPS screen.
First graded road of the ride, Maguire road.
First graded road of the ride, Maguire road.
Fortunately, I am riding west, away from the light.
Fortunately, I am riding west, away from the light.
Shortly after this faux-pas came the first graded road (Maguire Road). It was not too bad, although I had to keep the speed below 10 mph. The sun was still too low and I was still a bit cold, in spite of the exercise. Eventually the sun appeared here and there through the trees, and man, was I glad I was riding west, away from the sun and not right into it. After passing the Sanford Regional Airport I turned left onto a local road to bypass Sanford. I am not sure why I planned it this way but holy shit, this short cut turned out to be a road leading to the top of Mount Hope. Attempting to save some energy I got off the bike and pushed the last quarter mile or so. It sucked, but the ride down was well worth it. In retrospect, I should have stayed on Route 109 and then turned left onto Route 202 (11) in Sanford. I stayed on Highway 202 all the way into New Hampshire which snuck upon me due to the lack of proper signage. I only realized I left Maine when I was trying to find my route through Rochester. I was riding through a prime moose territory, it even was early in the morning, but alas no moose sighting. I did almost run over a porcupine, although I think I would not come out of that without a few bruises. I am coming down a hill mild hill, doing around 25-27 mph when this spiny critter ran out of the bushes right in front of me. I missed it by a foot or so, and even that was dumb luck. I was too preoccupied pushing the pedals and enjoying the gears that normally do not get a lot of workout. One thing I have to say about most of New Hampshire state highways .... and that is ... wow. That wide shoulder you guys have going on there ... fantastic. And the roads are in very good shape, at least as far as I have ridden (on this and other trips). Why can't Maine and Massachusetts learn from you? So far, New Hampshire has the most bike friendly roads I have seen. And that is not even it. Take a look at New Hampshire Department of Transportation website. The maps have suitable bike routes clearly identified, can be downloaded and printed as high resolution pdfs. My biggest compliments to you. 

Got to love the New Hampshire state highways with their super wide shoulders
Got to love the New Hampshire state highways with their super wide shoulders.
Promises, promises ....
Promises, promises ....
After I bypassed Barrington, NH on highway 125 I was distracted by the smell of freshly fried dough. It smelled so insanely good but I had no idea where it was coming from. Few seconds later, I was passing Stonehouse Baking Company that was the source of the fabulous smell. As much as I craved a freshly baked donut, I decided to pass. My resolve was weak though, because while I mustered enough will (combined with inertia of a moving bicycle) to pass the first entrance into the parking lot, I completely caved in hundred yards later and used the second parking lot entrance. I made the right choice because once I entered the shop, it was a near complete sensory overload. I got two donuts, Maple Cream and Honey dipped .... and I will say, without a shred of exaggeration, that they both exquisite. I sat outside, eating the donuts and enjoying early morning sun and ... at the risk of sounding corny ... life in general. 

The donut display at Stonehouse Baking Company in Barrington, NH
The donut heaven at Stonehouse Baking Company in Barrington, NH.
Maple cream donut ....
The most adventurous part of this trip came shortly after I crossed Highway 101. Rather than continuing down Route 125, I opted for a series of local roads to get me to Route 102. The sequence of roads was as follows: Shirkin Road, Lint Road and finally Paradise Drive. When you look at the google map above they appear to be normal streets. By normal I mean, at least graded, crushed stone kind of road. And that's how it indeed started on Sirkin Road. Asphalt gave way to crushed stone which ... to my surprise turned into dirt, and eventually mud, oversized puddles, sand and boulders varying in size from footballs to balance balls. The surface was alright until I passed some kind of tree farm or something on the left and then ... holy shit. Mountain biking terrain. And dirt bike terrain. And ATV terrain. At least that's what the tire tracks were telling me. And then there was me. On my cyclocross bike, with my 622x35 tires.

Aspahlt ran out on Shirkin Road ...
Aspahlt ran out on Shirkin Road ...
Shirkin Road turned into Lint Road and then promptly to shit.
Shirkin Road turned into Lint Road and then promptly to shit.
Not wanting to turn around I pressed on, into what seemed like deep woods. I had to take my sunglasses off because it was quite shaded underneath all those trees and I needed all the photons I could get to navigate in between the boulders and to ride through the mud. The gearing on the bike, as I had hoped, was sufficient. The compact double (46/36) seemed to have been built for this kind of terrain. Some puddles could easily be reclassified as small lakes, but there was always a way around or in one occasion right through. After about 10 minutes, I got comfortable with this type of riding and eventually convinced myself that it actually wasn't all that bad. Except for the mosquitoes. Those little f@%&*$s were out for revenge. Based on the GPS, I only had about a tenth or so of a mile to go, a proverbial cherry on top was presented to me. Perhaps it was all the rain in prior days, or perhaps a family of beavers decided this was to be heir new home, the end result was the same. A flooded road, with no way to bypass. There were two options, to return and seek alternative route or to suck it up and wade through. I didn't feel like riding back through all that mud again but I also didn't feel like wading barefoot through several tens of yards of murky brown water of unknown depth with 50 miles of riding ahead of me. At first I turned around, cursing like a sailor but after 100 yards, I turned around, took my shoes off and using the bike as a support I started wading. The water was surprisingly warm, which was pleasant, but also quite creepy. I guess the brown color helps with heat absorption from the sun. The brown color also prevented me from seeing where I was stepping, which may not have been the worst thing. I didn't see anything underwater but I felt quite a bit, like my feet sinking into a mixture of what I imagined was decaying organic matter mixed with silt. About halfway through I was in above my knees and started to get worried but my fears were unfounded and soon, I was on the other side. I dried off my feet, put my shoes back on and cleaned the bike as much as I could. The bath certainly helped with some of the mud but on the other hand, there still plenty of sand left. Pretty much everywhere. Especially the front and rear derraileur looked like they took a sandbath (if there is such a thing). After spending 10 minutes to get as much of it off as possible, I moved on and boy, was it loud. The creaking, scratching, screeching, grinding and squeaking sounds took about 15 miles to disappear but I can only wonder about the damage this may have done to the bike. Oh well, I bought it to ride and to beat up, not to keep up safe on the rack at home.
Just when I thought the road couldn't get any worse ...
Just when I thought the road couldn't get any worse ... 
Just before Nashua, I was passed by another cyclist on a road bike and pretty much stayed with him for the next few miles. He was faster and fresher than me but because of all the red lights I always caught up with him. He was mildly amused by the fact I am riding all the way from Maine, and alone on top of everything else. Riding through Nashua was a nightmare because I had to cross the Nashua River and shortly after that, Highway 3. The rivers mean bridges, often with limited or nonexistent shoulder, highway crossings mean mean a lot of lines, sometimes two-lane right turns, no shoulders, and dangerous merges, again often two lanes at the time. And Nashua has both. My plan of attack, based on google maps satellite imagery was to take Route 101 across the Nashua river, keep right on Bridge Street and continue on 101A through the town. 101A or Amherst Street is a four lane street with no shoulder (there is sidewalk though) and it was unpleasant cycling. Fortunately the traffic was light and the drivers courteous. After I turned left on Broad Street (and resisted a slice of pizza) it was all good again.

Farmland south of Nashua, NH
Farmland south of Nashua, NH.
No, no ... YOU are welcome!
 ... where the they hate shoulders.
 I bypassed scary looking intersection of Route 130 and Highway 3 on local, residential roads and pushed towards the Massachusetts border. It was at this point, I realized my front derraileur stopped working. I tried adjusting it but nothing helped. Having only about 15 miles to go, I decided to suck it up and finish the ride without my hill climbing gear.[/caption] Massachusetts state line on Route 111 wasn't hard to miss. I mean, even if the sign wasn't there the comfortably wide shoulder disappeared instantly and asphalt quality turned to hell just as quickly. The rest of the ride was getting painful by the minute. I had to stay focused as there was only about a foot or so of shoulder available at best, and traffic was intense. The prime reason though was that I had to climb the all hills standing up - and the rest of the ride was uphill. By the time I passed Lunenburg High School on Route 2A I was pretty much done but at that point I only had a mile or so to go. I finished at 2:30PM, 8.5 hours after I left Maine, all in all about 7.5 hours of riding. Tired, but quite elated I washed up, washed the bike and then we hit Ixtapa with Andi's parents for dinner. I slept well, but the massive margarita from Ixtapa may have something to do with that.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds like quite an adventure.
    You have inspired my to go for a bicycle ride.