Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saturday, June 30: A very long bike ride

To further prepare for this summer's attempt to bike New Hampshire's Kangamaugus Highway, I took advantage of a drive out to Portsmouth this morning to spent most of the afternoon biking all the way back home.

Portsmouth is on the coast, and Bedford (where I roister) is in the Merrimack Valley, about 50 miles inland via minor highways and lightly traveled back roads. So, after visiting a friend for breakfast and seeing my wife drive off in my car, I started the long pedal home. (Sorry, no pictures, other than those I could find online.)

In my favor: high clouds moving in (cutting the sun's intensity) and a summer day that turned out to be a lot drier than expected. Humidity, which was supposed to be awful, was only in the 30 to 40 percent range. Nice!

Not in my favor: a persistent westerly headwind for nearly the entire ride, temps that still climbed into the 90s, and a shade pattern that forced me to ride on the wrong side of roads (heading into traffic) for much of the journey.

Blast-off time in Portsmouth was 12:10 p.m., with the route taking me out of town on Islington Street, then Route 33 over Interstate 95 and through heavy traffic for an air show at the Pease Tradeport. (Sign at florist: WELCOME BLUE ANGLES!)

Portsmouth, the first of 10 communities on today's excursion, quickly gave way to Greenland and then Stratham as Route 33 wound through rolling country, blessed with generous breakdown lanes but cursed with that westerly headwind, which kicked up pretty good during this stretch.

I like to travel light, so my means of staying hydrated is to stop at convenience stores and guzzle water and the occasional Gatorade. I know these roads pretty well, and planned my first stop to be a store on Route 33 in Stratham that I've patronized since my days of teaching at the local tech college not far away. Good thing, too, as I was already feeling depleted, and on a day like this, the time to drink is before you're thirsty.

But as I neared the store on Route 33, I realized that I'd actually be turning onto Squamscott Road and heading for the town of Newfields before I hit my chosen store. Ooops! So when would the next store be? I didn't think Newfields had one, meaning I wouldn't get anything until Epping, probably 10 miles away. Could I make it?

I didn't have to find out because, as things turned out, the Newfields Village Store was not far away, and so it became my first pit stop.

The Newfields Village Store at a different time of year.

I then headed out on quiet Route 87 towards Epping, looking for Mast Road, which would bring me over to Route 27. New road signs made it easy to locate; I recall not long ago missing it entirely on a scouting drive.

At this point the towns are spread pretty evenly apart: about eight miles each, meaning Gained Route 27 and found Epping came surprisingly fast. Stopped at Shell station to finish rest of water from Newfields. Good ride through to Raymond, which I reached by 2 p.m. and where the temperature was just 80 degrees, according the sign outside Walgreen's. Stopped again, this time for lemonade and water.

The next segment was the toughest part of the ride: extended climbs on Route 27 into Candia, mostly without shade, as the road here was for years the main highway to the seacoast, and so it's wide. Took a lot out of me, and the only part of the ride where I felt I might not make it.

The final stop.

But I did, making a last water stop at Candia House of Pizza before tackling final big hills on Route 27 into Hooksett to reach the high point of the ride, which marks the entry into the Merrimack River valley. (At least I think it does. Somebody get me a topo map!) Conditions were so dry you could see a large mountain on the horizon, maybe 60 miles away. I thought it was Mount Monadnock but a later map glance showed it couldn't be, as I was looking northwest and Monadnock would be clear to the west. Maybe Pat's Peak in Henniker?

Route 27 at this point is a truly quiet back road, but had recently been repaved from Candia almost all the way through Hooksett. Plus: a wonderfully smooth and problem-free riding surface. Minus: a stingy shoulder that dropped off as much as two inches at some points. (If that doesn't sound like much, try riding a bike.)

I was still riding on the wrong side of the road for the shade, and sure enough, it finally happened: in the middle of a string of oncoming vehicles passing me by, some joker in a truck swerved right at me, as if I wasn't there at all. I saw it coming, yelled, but had no choice to bail off the road surface and onto a patch of gravel. Luckily, I had enough speed for the bike to get over this rough area without spilling, and a flat shoulder just ahead quickly allowed me to regain the road.

After checking to make sure the wheels were still in true, I began to enjoy my reward: a long series of downhills in Hooksett that take you to the floor of the Merrimack River valley. By the time I crossed Route 3 and got onto River Road through Southern New Hampshire University, I was feeling spent.

But I was now in Manchester and on familiar turf, crossing the river on the Bridge Street Bridge downtown. How amazing to have cycled through so much rural countryside only to stumble onto this city! (Maybe it was the exhaustion, but I somehow felt a sense of wonder at it all.)

The final leg into Bedford, the same route I take to and from work all the time, was a lark. After being on the road since 12:10 p.m., I zipped up my own driveway at 4:17 p.m., meaning it took 4 hours and 7 minutes to cover about 50 miles. (50.2 according to Google Maps.)

At that rate, I should be able to do the Kanc both ways in about six or seven hours, give or take.

Personal inventory: sore butt (to be expected), some sunburn (despite sunscreen), but otherwise okay. Not bad for the longest ride I've done in a long time, and a good prelude to tackling the Kanc later this season.

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