Boston -> Washington, D.C., September 1995

[Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3 / Day 4 / Day 5 / Day 6 / Day 7 / Day 8]


I live and work in Washington DC. During the winter of 1994, a friend and colleague in Boston who knows I like to ride invited me to join her and a couple of friends on a Boston -> NY AIDS benefit ride taking place the following September. After waffling for a couple of weeks (I had serious reservations about pestering my friends for the fat donations I'd need in order to make the $1200 minimum), I accepted. What tipped the scales for me was the realization that rather than hopping back on the train after a brief three days of quasi-touring, I could substantially improve the adventure by continuing to ride from New York City on home.

The whole trip covered 600 miles and took a week (Friday -> Friday) including a rest day in NYC. The first three days were, as I said, supported, and for that reason they really weren't much like "touring". But I did learn a lot about mass-participation long-distance biking events, and my observations might be helpful to anyone considering taking part in similar events. (They seem to be sprouting up all over.) The second stage, NYC to DC, I rode loaded and solo. It wasn't an extended tour by any definition, but even four days on the road can teach you more than you knew before. Plus, east-coasters may want to hear about the route -- it's a pleasant one and easy to squeeze into a few days.

On Wednesday, September 15, I loaded up my touring bike and rode the five miles from my home in Mt. Pleasant, D.C., to Union Station to catch a 10:00 p.m. overnight train to Boston. Amtrak will transport your bike if you board at a station that handles baggage, and if you buy a $5 box from them to put it in. (You can supply your own box if you want, but that's not practical if you're riding to the train.) The ticket agents at Union Station seemed rather confused about the procedure, so it was a good thing that I was two hours early. The luggage people had done this before, though, and they produced a sturdy box into which my 60cm bike fit snugly once we got the pedals and handlebars off and had lowered the seat, as required. (Bring your own tools!) The baggage handlers moved the bike and box about with reasonable care.

I carted my panniers, tent and sleeping bag into my own little one-person compartment on the train (really cool but not at all essential on this run, esp. since you're not going to sleep well in any case). When we arrived in Boston the next morning, the train disgorged my bike along with about 50 others belonging to AIDS ride participants. The bike had weathered the trip well and I reassembled it off in a corner. My friend, Amy, scooped me up in her car, and we proceeded directly to the AIDS ride headquarters to register ourselves and surrender our bikes. (Observation No. 1 about this ride -- the organizers take complete control of your machine when you're not on it. It evidently helps them with flow control at the beginning of the day, and certainly reduces clutter and confusion at night. The bike pens are fenced and guarded, and theft did not appear to be a big risk.) We got to HQ before any of the New York-based participants had arrived in town and so registration went pretty smoothly, though I had to spend half an hour in an additional line making up the difference between the amount I was supposed to have raised and the amount I'd managed to collect from my friends. (Don't ask how much. The good news, such as it is -- they took Mastercard, very convenient, and I get a nice tax deduction.) Amy and I ate lunch and wandered around Boston before returning to HQ at 7:00 that evening for a mandatory safety lecture. (The lecture, while an understandable requirement, wasn't terribly informative.)

Day One
Friday, September 15
Boston -> Storrs, Conn.
100 miles
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We had to report to HQ at 5:15 a.m. to deliver our luggage to the vans. Amy and I figured that, having been among the first to drop off our bikes the day before, we'd be among the first to be sent out; but they released riders according to their bikes' distance from the doors and our bikes were way inside so we didn't get underway until 8:00 -- maybe in the final 15% of the 3200 riders. Rats. But it was a lovely sunny day and the police had blocked off the first 10-12 miles of our route (making a mess of rush hour Boston) so the departure was fun.

It was slow going once we got beyond the barricaded streets. The roads narrowed but there were of course no fewer of us, so in addition to taking up all available lanes, we slowed to 6-7 mph.
Slow going out of Boston
[Congestion leaving Boston]

Amy and I quickly grew frustrated by the pace, this being compounded by the fact that it was familiar terrain to her and she knew any number of back ways to points further up the route. I don't know why it took us so long to realize that there was no law  keeping us on the AIDS route, but when we finally figured it out we snuck left at a corner where everyone else was turning right and rode for 10 miles in whistling-wind solitude. We rejoined the peloton in Dover, having leapfrogged up to near the front of the thing.

(I'll confess right up front that I have to refer to a map to remind me about the route and towns we passed through. When you're riding with so many people, there is always, always someone further up the road to follow; you simply aren't ever required to think about where you are or where you're going. I usually didn't know what town I was in unless we rode past the fire station.)

Sneaking onto open roads
[Alone on our back route]

Once Amy and I got past the bulky middle of the group, the riding was lovely, over narrow, rolling untraveled back roads. We continued west and south through Milford and Webster, crossing into Connecticut near North Woodstock. Folks in all these towns knew that we'd be coming through, and there were often little groups waving signs or cheering us on; the support was remarkable. We also quickly discovered that bicyclists in groups of 30 or 40 or 70 not even get respect from cars, but dictate traffic. That was a heady thing.

At about mile 50, it started to get hilly, way hilly. I hadn't been able to find a duffel bag large enough to hold all four of my panniers for transport by the vans, so I was riding with the front panniers still on the bike. The extra space was handy, though once you've got it, it's almost impossible not to fill it; and with a jacket, camera, a lock and bananas inside, I was carrying maybe an extra 10 pounds. Whuf. But between the good low gearing on the bike and the extra conditioning miles I'd squeezed in in the preceding couple weeks, I was able to keep moving okay. (One problem with the AIDS ride was that the promo material really didn't emphasize how hard it would be to ride a century over difficult terrain, and there were a lot  of folks walking their bikes through here. I did hear later through the remarkably consistent grapevine that Rhode Island had refused the organizers' requests to pass through that flatter state, forcing the ride into Connecticut.)

Amy'd lingered with our other friends at one of the rest stops, so I arrived without her at our campsite (a track infield at the University of Connecticut) around 3:45. I collected a tent from one of the volunteers, located our luggage and assigned space, put up the tent and then showered and ate. (By foregoing some of the rest stops, I arrived among the first couple/three hundred riders. Later, there were lines for all these things.) Amy arrived an hour later, having suffered a bit in the hills and concerned about an emerging pain near her knee. I joined her in another dinner; we collected ice packs for each of us (I'd had my own knee problems earlier in the year) and sat around reading, chatting and chewing ibuprofens until dark, when we both nodded off.

Tent City at night
[Tents at night]

Day Two
Saturday, September 16
Storrs -> Bridgeport, Conn.
102 miles
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In the morning the tents were covered with frost. Mid-September! Amy's knee (diagnosed by the medical people as a pulled hamstring) hadn't improved much during the night but it was too cold out to sit still and so we set off after a quick breakfast. We were still in hills and Amy elected to take it easy so we parted company at about mile 10, just before the grave of Nathan Hale. The early riding was chilly but again it was a lovely crisp and clear day.

The route went south through Coventry, Andover and Westchester, lovely towns all.
Drop in and pray for tailwinds

After lunch, we crossed the Connecticut River at East Haddam and continued south to Long Island Sound. The terrain levelled out as we approached the coast, and the scenery began to change from quaint New England rural into decaying post-industrial urban. The roads got bumpier and busier and we were running into traffic lights every couple of blocks. (The organizers were insistent that everyone obey all laws but the riders were equally determined not to be held up by lights that weren't actually regulating traffic. The emergent practice was to roll up to and then through red lights if a quick look revealed no cross-traffic.) We rode through the Havens (East, New and West) and then south into Bridgeport.

We overnighted at a state park right on Long Island Sound. Again the system worked well -- I stowed my bike in the pen, picked up a tent, collected our luggage and found our tent site all without breaking stride. It was a pretty neat sight, 1600+ tents laid out in wobbly rows and all within a space that had no right to hold that many! I showered, and on the way back to the tent ran into Amy, who was limping badly. She reported that her hamstring had continued to worsen and by the time she got to lunch at mile 47, she couldn't ride at all and so hung out there until they sagged her back. Her bike was, well, somewhere; maybe on a flatbed.

More ice, more antinflammatories and an even earlier night for both of us -- we barely made it past sundown. It was a good thing, though, because at 2:45 a.m. a hard rain began to pelt the tent and between the noise and constant checking for leaks, further sleep was impossible.

Day Three
Sunday, September 17
Bridgeport -> NYC
61 miles
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At about 6:30 we ate a short soggy damp breakfast and folded up the tent, and the rain continued. Amy was of course going to travel to NYC by bus, but I had to ride and was eager to get on the road. The rain, however, seemed to have confounded the organizers, and they kept the bikes locked up until 8:15, forcing a couple thousand of us to stand in line in the rain for an hour or more. (It was actually kind of warm out and so the experience was miserable really only in the retelling.)

I finally got moving at 8:30, wearing a microfiber rain jacket and a short-sleeve wool jersey. I sweated myself wet right away, but remained about as comfortable as anyone could reasonably hope. Our route this day was primarily down Route 1, through Norwalk, Darien, Stamford and Greenwich, Connecticut, and Rye and New Rochelle, New York. Forty miles on the east coast's principal U.S. Highway wasn't as awful as it sounds -- Sunday traffic was light, and it rained so hard all morning that I saw only road spray from the rider in front of me and none of the highway ugliness. Despite the weather it was, perversely, a good morning. I learned a lot of things about riding in the rain, like, there's nothing wrong with being soaking wet for hours and hours if you're not cold and you don't have to be anywhere dry. "Wet", I concluded, is merely a different state of being than "dry", and, as with matter and antimatter, if you don't try to mix them, it doesn't matter which you are. Also, plain old water is a powerful solvent -- your brake pads wear quickly down into gritty little nubs and all the oil washes off your chain. (You don't realize the latter 'til it stops raining and your only remaining lube evaporates, leaving a squeaky drivetrain.)

When we set out from Bridgeport that morning, the organizers distributed a flyer saying that the terminus in Greenwich Village couldn't accommodate 3000 people and suggesting that we spend a couple extra hours at the lunch stop so that our arrival in the City would more or less coincide with the closing ceremonies and parade scheduled for 4:00. I was not keen on either the parade or an extended lunch in the rain, so I kept going. Very, very few people seemed to be thinking along the same lines, though, and for the first time in three days I found myself alone on the road. Route anxiety set in immediately -- no one to follow! Worse, even though the route was marked with arrows, they'd used water-based paint and the things were smearing and disappearing. I pulled a disintegrating map out of my jersey pocket and worked from it.

It stopped raining and the riding grew easier. Periodically I met up and rode with a small groups of people who, like me, had chosen to press on through lunch, but we never stayed together very long and I was alone when I hit Manhattan. Riding on the island was surprisingly easy -- at 1:30 on a Sunday, I guess everyone was still in church. At 165th I ran into two fellows and we drafted one another down Riverside to 23d. (Drafting was streng verboten by the organizers -- cause for immediate expulsion -- and it was only now, in New York City where no one could tell AIDS riders from anyone else, that we felt comfortable in this flagrant violation.) During our sprint we came up on a fellow who was thrusting his fist into the air in what looked like a victory gesture, but he was all by himself and it was several miles to the finish so we asked him about it. He said he'd fallen a few miles back and thought he'd broken his wrist, but that he'd made it this far and was goddamned if he was going to quit now. Go on, go on, he said, I don't want any help, and so we continued.

I'm not sure what happened to my drafting companions; we lost sight of each other somewhere on 11th Avenue, and there I was by myself again. I missed their company, but being solo did make for an amusing end to my ride -- lots of non-participants had gathered at the finish and they lined the street two and three deep for half a block in front of it. As I came down this last cobbled block (it's not unfair to call it pave'), there was no one within a quarter mile of me and the crowd (probably bored -- they  didn't know everyone else was killing time at lunch) began to cheer as though I was finishing minutes ahead of the peloton in some crucial stage in an major road race. The exclusive attention was fun, even if it was entirely impersonal.

A fellow from Tanqueray (big sponsor) handed me a Polaroid of myself, and riders trickled in. In half an hour it was going to be real congested around the finish line and so I hightailed it to my hotel on 86th Street to wait for Amy. Within an hour she showed up (already walking much better) and after a quick bite we headed back to the finish to retrieve our luggage and her bike. Our bags were among the first out of the vans and Amy's bike was one of only 11 sagged bikes to have arrived in New York -- seven hundred other people had to wait another couple of hours for theirs. Amy must live right, because I sure don't and yet we were awful  lucky. A couple of hours later, Amy and our other friends were en route back to Boston, and I was in my hotel room laying damp clothing out to dry. (Incidentally, Amy recovered quickly and fully and seems eager to keep cycling as part of her life.)

(Tanqueray sponsors all kinds of
health-related events.)

So. What about this AIDS ride? As a fundraising mechanism, it's pretty good. This ride raised several million dollars, which is a lot. It was for the most part very well organized. The route maps were professionally done, and accurate (as much as I used them); food was plentiful (if a bit monotonous) at rest stops and meals; sleeping arrangements were straightforward and comprehensible; and important things like toilets and water were generally there when you needed them to be. Capacity was a bit stretched at times, but it wasn't a gross mismatch. They did seem surprisingly befuddled by the rain -- in some respects they may have leaned too heavily on experience gained in California. And as I said, the route was simply too challenging for the people they put out onto it; indeed even Amy, who is healthy and strong and trained consistently and appropriately all summer, ran into trouble.

If you want to participate in a worthwhile fundraising event that's also good for your cardiovascular system, these AIDS rides are a good choice. But at the same time this was a good "ride", it's not a particularly good "tour", and you should be careful not to sign up with the wrong expectations. For instance, the level of organization required for an event like this would probably be stifling to anyone accustomed to taking care of themselves on the road -- everything is laid out for you and there's little room (or time) for discovery or improvisation. You spend a lot of time waiting, too. Their "road rules" -- another practical necessity -- often seemed persnickety, and were tiresome. And, even though there were loads of friendly folks riding, when you met up and rode along with one or another of them, you spent almost all of your time contending with the other cyclists instead of enjoying each other's company.

I prefer riding with a more flexible agenda, and that's how I got home to DC.

Day Four
Monday, September 18
New York City
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After three days of pretty hard riding, I was ready for a rest. It may have been the rain, or a cold I caught on the second day, but I felt a little sluggish coming down from Bridgeport and I knew a day off would do me good. I didn't do a whole lot with the day, which was probably for the better -- I bought chain lube, visited some folks with whom I work a lot (I left when they started to talk business), wandered around Manhattan. I bought a bunch of vitamin C and ate it. Then around 5:00 I met up with my sister (she works in the city), and we had a good time walking down from the lower 40s into the Village for dinner.

I wanted to get to bed early. Not only had I been awake since about 3 a.m., but it seemed important to get off of Manhattan as early as possible in the morning. I spent the rest of the evening after dinner reviewing the next day's route and preparing cue sheets, moving things around inside my panniers and arranging the load on my bike. By 9:30, everything was packed except my riding clothes and my toothbrush, and I crawled into bed. (My packing list)

My plan was no plan -- all I really knew was that I wanted to be back in DC to play soccer with some friends on Saturday. I had the Adventure Cycling (formerly Bikecentennial) east coast maps with me and figured I'd pretty well stick to their route; a couple years earlier I'd followed it from DC up to Philadelphia and liked it a lot. On that trip, I picked daily destinations with hotels and made reservations. This time, I figured to wing it, which was the reason for the tent. Who knew whether I'd actually be able to find a hotel near where I was when it was time to quit.

Day Five
Tuesday, September 19
NYC -> Spring House, Pa.
106 miles
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This day had all the makings of a perfect bike day. It was clear and comfortable; the route was flat and the wind was going to be on my back all the way to the Philadelphia area. I woke up easily and was riding down 3d Avenue at 6:20, ahead of schedule. The ferry ride over to Staten Island was wonderful -- crossing against rush hour, I shared the huge boat with only two other people. The views were great, with the Statue of Liberty standing tall and bright in the morning sun.

Funny, though, how you can misread these things.

The Adventure Cycling route had me crossing into New Jersey over the Goethals Bridge off Staten Island. The map did include a footnote to the effect that the bridge sidewalk was occasionally closed and that it might be a good idea to call ahead; but I'd never encountered a bridge I couldn't get across somehow and so paid it little attention. But experience, it turns out, is not always your friend. The first important thing I learned this day was that, if you aren't in a car, the only  way off Staten Island is on the ferry to Manhattan. You cannot walk, you cannot ride over a single one of the bridges off of the island, and if you try to, the Port Authority people get really testy really quick. My second lesson was that it's real hard to get a taxi to come and carry you and a loaded touring bike 2 miles to Jersey. (I waited more than an hour for the cab, and the worst of it was that waiting was still quicker than heading back to Manhattan and trying to find a cycle-friendly route off it.) When the cab finally arrived it was, happily, the station wagon I'd specified, and the intact bike and bags slid smoothly into the back. Six minutes later I was unloading in New Jersey and on my way again.

Yeah, no kidding

Of course by this time it was close to 11:00 and I was only a dozen miles into the ninety I hoped to cover. This was annoying, but I figured that eighty miles in seven hours would be easy enough if I didn't dawdle, so I wasn't worried. The route was going to run mostly south and west, through Rahway and Somerville, and then down toward Lambertville on the Delaware River. I'd cross into Pa. and find a room outside Philly. But not 20 miles further up the road, I found myself riding on my rear rim -- all that glass in the Bronx and on Manhattan had caught up to me. I pulled over and popped the wheel out from under the panniers like I'd actually done it before and was set to proceed when I discovered that my tire irons -- I really had brought them -- were nowhere on the bike. (Probably fell behind the dresser in the hotel when I emptied out my seat pack to dry.) I had to work the tire off with my Swiss Army knife and a headset wrench, expanding a 15 minute job to 45. The tube was unpatchable, so I installed the spare. Finally underway again, I was nervous riding without an extra tube or an easy way to get at the one on the wheel, so I detoured to the nearest bike store. The ride into Plainfield was pleasant, but it was 10 additional miles I could ill afford if I was going to spend the night in a hotel. I had to pick up the pace.

Carmine's -- fine New Jersey dining

The roads west of Neshanic Station, New Jersey are great, really well suited to cycling, and I saw lots of other riders. One of them heading in the other direction came hard about upon seeing me, caught me (rather too effortlessly, if you ask me) and inquired whether I'd mind some company. No, certainly not! I was happy to have a companion for as long as he wanted to ride with me.

This was Scott. He asked about my trip and where my route was taking me that day, and then offered to lead me down better roads than the ones on my map. He assured me that they were shorter and no hillier, and so I accepted. He was riding a crit bike (his road bike was cracked and awaiting repair) and so was propelling at least 45 fewer pounds than me; he was also obviously a lot stronger, but he seemed happy to hold my plodding pace and talk. Oh, his speed did tend to creep up, but I appreciated the incentive and worked to stay on his wheel. We covered the 20 miles to Lambertville faster than I would have by myself, Scott's route really was  nice, and the conversation made the time go quickly. (It turned out we grew up only about 15 miles away from each other in Michigan!) Scott was a good guy, but if he had one flaw it was a tendency to drop names. I did like hearing about the time he was vacationing in Italy and fell into a club ride that included Claudio Chiappucci, but the references grew tiresome after an hour and a half -- particularly since except for that one example, not one  of the names he dropped belonged to anyone famous outside of New Jersey.

After Lambertville -- a small, sweet town on the Delaware -- we crossed to New Hope, Pennsylvania. Scott rode with me for another dozen miles before turning back home. We'd made good time but it was now close to 5:00; I'd wanted to be settled in by 6, but it was still 25 miles to my provisional goal of Norristown and so I decided to leave the route and try to find a room in Horsham, 10 miles closer. As it happened, Horsham had plenty of hotels but no rooms. The clerks were pleasant but utterly unhelpful in identifying other lodging -- even though I was wearing a helmet and leaning on a bike, they couldn't be made to understand that "at the next turnpike exit, it's only 15 miles" weren't directions I could use. Norristown appeared to be the only option. I left Horsham around 6:30, with at least a dozen miles to go to before the first hope of lodging. The sun had set and it was getting dark fast; I was becoming grateful for the tent though I didn't really know where I'd set it up in this semi-suburbia. I hoped I wouldn't have to use it.

It was time for a bit of luck, and I got it when I pulled into an Exxon station for directions to Norristown. (I was still improvising.) I explained my predicament, and the attendant, pointing to a dim pool of light half a mile up a road in an otherwise entirely wrong direction, asked why I hadn't considered staying in that  hotel. Phew. I pedalled in darkness up to the hotel, paid $30 cash for my room and settled in for the night.

Day Six
Wednesday, September 20
Spring House -> Mannheim, Pa.
95 miles
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One of the things that I really like about touring is that sometimes my brain completely disengages. Maybe for other people it's different, but after about mile 40 of a hundred mile day it's hard  to string together more than a couple of coherent thoughts. It's kind of a meditative state, and I enjoy it -- I guess I like the vacation from myself. But what's there to tell about those rides? My brain is a boring place: ". . . my legs are tired, where's the next route change, ugh I wonder whether that used to be a possum or a squirrel, I wish my odometer were working right, oh God another hill, how close is that car going to come, are my brakes rubbing or what, how come they can't make a Powerbar that unwraps with one hand, hey nice view, my legs are tired, where's the next route change . . ."

I wonder if folks on the Buddhist mailing list have this problem too?

"Yesterday I chanted. Nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo nam yoho renge kyo."

" When I finished, I was tired and I went to bed early."

Gripping stuff.

Well, anyhow. This day was, by that idiosyncratic measure, a good one. I'd gone off-route to find the hotel at Spring House, and getting back on route in the morning took some doing; but once I got across the Schuylkill River, I was on roads I'd covered on the trip to Philly two years previously. (To get you from Philadelphia to DC, Adventure Cycling routes you way west, through Lancaster County and then down into Baltimore. It's not at all direct, adding 50% to the Interstate mileage, but it's quiet and pretty and worth it.) I didn't remember the route well enough to know where to turn, but I was pretty confident that if I made a major blunder I'd realize it before rolling into Lake Erie. I could afford to be a little less alert, and that warm fugue came on quickly.

A curious horse

Valley Forge National Park is pretty, and if you've got a few extra minutes, fun to peruse. Down DC way we're used to a lot of Civil War history, and by comparison the Revolutionary War stuff seems really ancient and fascinating. The park is hilly too, and for the first time on the trip I dropped down to my inner chainring. From Valley Forge I continued west through Philadelphia's suburbs and exurbs and by 2:30 had reached a place called Maple Grove. Maple Grove is right on the border of Lancaster County and is only a few miles from Amish farms. But Maple Grove also has a for-real drag strip complete with stands, cow pasture parking and a bar. I had lunch at the bar.

Outskirts of Lancaster County

Lancaster County is a good place to ride. The terrain is interesting, there are plenty of things to look at, and drivers, being used to horses and buggies, aren't too impatient with cyclists. (Incidentally, it's only 2.5 hours from DC by car and makes a nice weekend destination.) Toward the end of the day I saw that I would be arriving in my targeted town of Mt. Joy only at the edge of nightfall and so I elected instead to stop in the very next place that had a hotel. That turned out to be Mannheim.

Day Seven
Thursday, September 21
Mannheim -> Baltimore, Md.
98 miles
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This segment was both the most challenging and the most satisfying of the trip. The Susquehanna is an old and impressive river and the roads parallel to it offer both breathtaking vistas and placid river-level scenes. The catch is that those lovely views largely alternate, meaning that you spend substantially more than half your time climbing long or steep, or long and steep, hills. I haven't done all that much distance touring and I'm sure that people who have crossed the Rockies or the Appalachians have much worse stories to tell, but after a day of these hills, I was tired. Only a couple of them were ever so steep that in a 28/34 (22 inch) gear I worried about keeping the bike moving forward. (It's a pretty good incline when you start to think you're just not heavy  enough to move the pedals.) But they just kept coming; and after 30 or 40 miles I really began to wish there weren't any more ahead. For the first time in my life I began to resent downhills for the uphills they foretold.

Susquehanna Valley barn

After you leave the river valley there's a 15 mile stretch of road that doesn't have much to recommend it except for a superbly-situated convenience store (Sunnyburn, Pa.), but soon after you cross into Harford County, Maryland, it's pretty again. The area north of Baltimore is lovely, with lots of rolling hills and greenery. It's not too congested, and you can get within ten miles of Baltimore's Inner Harbor before you feel like you're near a city. I rode down Charles Street (with a detour through the Johns Hopkins campus) to downtown, where I rented a room.

Rest stop north of Baltimore

Day Eight
Friday, September 22
Baltimore -> Washington, DC
43 miles
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All week long I'd been hearing reports of a cold front coming in from the midwest, "bringing rain and falling temperatures". (Always the same phrase. Weatherpeople sound the same everywhere.) The TV kept saying that the thing was due in the next day, and so I went to bed each night fearing that I'd wake up in the morning to a cold rain. In fact it had been warm and sunny on the way down from New Jersey, but persistence finally paid off for the forecasters and when I woke up in Baltimore it was chilly and wet. Still, it was only a quick ride home -- plus I had learned in Connecticut that riding in rain is really no different than riding in sunshine, except for that braking thing -- and so I wasn't too concerned.

The ride this day did turn out to be vaguely disappointing, but not because of the weather. See, I've ridden between Baltimore and DC a lot of times. I have a favorite route of my own and I've got to where I ride it without even thinking about where I'm going. Baltimore is becoming so close, so familiar to me on a bike that it feels kind of like "home", especially compared to Massachusetts or New Jersey. So the problem setting out on this last leg was, I was  home! Why did I have to ride 45 miles in the rain on a day I'd rather be taking it easy? Of course, I was excited to be getting to my house-home, to be ending this long and successful journey at my own front door. But in the middle of this day's trip I wasn't feeling quite as energized as I had expected to, and it was then that I understood my last lesson of the trip -- on the next long bike trip that includes DC at one end, ride away  from home. I knew that if I'd been riding into Boston those last 40 miles, maybe catching a glimpse of the city from some hill 25 miles out -- I'd hardly have been able to contain myself. It's all in my head, of course (this being the same head that tells me that it's harder to bike north than south because it's "up") but I take these trips primarily for head reasons, so next time that's what I'm going to do.

That said, the last three or so miles leading to my house were pretty fun. I had been riding for a week and had covered entirely on my bike (that Goethals Bridge thing being our secret) a distance that most people think is too far to drive. It was, I decided, a pretty substantial accomplishment and so I indulged a moment or two of warm (if also a little damp) pride.

Here are a few spare observations and comments:

Amtrak works for transporting bikes between big cities.

A tent weighs a lot and though you could easily dispense with it on a quick trip like this, it's a nice insurance policy. Also a tent on the rear rack seems to draw people into casual conversation much more effectively than four panniers alone.

100 miles a day is too many in September. Physically it's okay but to get where you're going in daylight you've got to press on, press on. There isn't much time to linger. All those folks who saw the tent and came over to talk to me about my trip? I really didn't have much time to spend with them and I regret it.

The Adventure Cycling route between New York and DC is surprisingly rural and pleasant. Someone needs to devise a new way to Manhattan, though -- that Staten Island routing simply doesn't work. Adventure Cycling is updating its east coast maps -- maybe those show something different.

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-- John Dorsey

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