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Tour of New England 1993

by Pamela Blalock


I was really starting to get depressed. I had a pretty disappointing May. I did a two day tour on tandem with a new stoker that was such a disaster, that 30 miles from the end I traded stokers with another tandem team. I returned home to the news that R&E Cycles had gone out of business and took my deposit on my dream tandem with them. Two weeks later, I totaled my beloved vitus, and suffered a lot of road rash and bruising as I ended my 300 km brevet at 171 km crashing into a blind dog running lose in the road.

Fortunately this weekend was much better. I had three absolutely wonderful centuries this weekend. The road rash and brusing are healing very quickly. Special thanks go to my friend, David Iwatsuki, who provided the first box of Spenco Second Skin and arranged for a professional massage to help ease the muscle spasms! The Second Skin is spectacular. I highly recommend it. Then I got a call from VISA, saying they will credit back the deposit on the tandem.

Tour of New England is a three day bike ride run through my local club. It is held every year over Memorial Day weekend and allows riders to pass through all 6 New England States. The ride starts in Boston, heads down to Rhode Island, over to Connecticut, back up across Massachusetts, into New Hampshire, and across the Connecticut River into Vermont for the first night stay in Barttleboro. The second day, riders climb across New Hampshire and spend the second night in Dover, NH. On Day 3, we head into Maine, down the New Hampshire Coast, and then back to Boston. The ride has been held for close to 20 years, and each year it seems a small change has been made as a nicer more scenic route is found.

I was a little worried about being able to participate in the ride this year,due to my accident the week before. So I asked Jamie King if he would be willing to try out my tandem on the trip. Jamie and his wife Lindy had borrowed the bike in April for a few rides and weren't totally hooked on tandeming yet. They had borrowed another tandem for a trip to Galilee, R.I. and in fact Lindy was my replacement stoker on the last 30 miles of that trip. Lindy is a put-your-head-down-ride-like-hell rider, and Jamie, while no slow poke himself, does like to socialize a bit more. Their different riding styles had not meshed well on the tandem, yet. Jamie had also been witness to my tirades about my stoker on that trip to Galilee, and was a bit cautious about committing to such a long ride. But after a 20 mile test ride on Wednesday night, he decided to risk it.

Day 1

The ride was scheduled to begin at 5AM Saturday. A sag vehicle would carry gear to the motel each night, and was to be driven in shifts by two riders. Linda L planned to ride the first 100 miles, and Linda S would ride the remaining 40. Unfortunately Linda S was nowhere to be found at 5AM. Remember when setting your clock radio for ungodly hours to make sure the radio station does not go off the air overnight.

Lindy and Charlie had planned to do a few extra miles, adding a corner of New York on day one, so they rolled out. Kenny, Ric, and John soon followed, while the rest of us waited for Steve and Linda S. Most TONE veterans knew that Lindy always does extra miles on day one, but we wondered if Kenny, Ric and John knew...

An unanswered phone at Steve and Linda's led us to believe they were on thier way, and sure enough they arrived soon afterwards, with lots of apologies. So we rolled out into the cool morning air. The delay saved us from the real rain, although we felt a sprinkle or two. Those eager riders who left earlier suffered a steadier drizzle.

On the way out, we caught John, who had a flat, and was therefore saved from a very long day. We asked if Ric knew what he was getting into, but John wasn't sure.

One of the handy things about tandems is the stoker can easily navigate, but I was relieved of this duty, since Jamie, as the ride leader, and knew the route in his sleep. Tandeming with the ride leader meant we'd also have lots of company on the ride. People seem to like staying with the ride leader, even when he's on a tandem, and they have to work like hell to stay with the bike. Another advantage of stoking is getting to see wildlife off in the woods, while everyone else is watching the road. I have to confess though that it was the captain who first spotted the deer and the heron in fields along the sides of the road.

Jamie had said one of his concerns was that I would crack the whip, and try to push really hard (like Lindy), but I certainly don't have a reputation as a hammerhead. He said he wanted to take it easy and relax. But there we were out front effortlessly speeding along as the singles killed themselves to stay with us. (The 20 mph NW winds may have had a little to do with it.) I've heard a description of tandem syndrome, where each rider, worrying about contributing enough pushes harder, and makes the bike go faster, but I think it has more to do with enjoying watching single riders run over their own tongues trying to hang on. BTW, if you ever want to see a tandem fly up a hill, just pull up next to one (if you can) and say, "Tandems go slow up hills." With no further verbal communication, the tandem will suddenly lurch forward and speed up the hill.

We picked up a few more riders in Uxbridge, and headed south to get our corners of RI and CT. There were no large "Welcome to the State" signs. Our only indications of geography came from the license plates of cars in driveways, and prior knowledge of the route. Shortly after we entered Rhode Island, and were screaming down a long hill, my biggest fear materialized as a dog headed out in the road in front of us. Fortunately Jamie had added a new accessory to the tandem, in the form of an air horn, that quickly placed that dog back in the woods. I think it woke the whole state, but I breathed a great sigh of relief. He offered to leave it on the tandem for me, and now I just need to find another one for my single!

After a while we broke up into smaller groups, with Jean, Rick, Bob, John, and Gerry staying with us. The group from Worcester and Larry, having started in Uxbridge, continued on as we stopped for a snack just after passing through Webster. For some reason Jamie goes to this store every year, despite the minimal amounts of cycling friendly food. I think we finally convinced him to continue on for homemade muffins in Paxton next year.

Our next goal was Barre. Long time readers may recognize the name of this town. I was long ago convinced that Barre must be the center of the universe, or have some strange gravitational pull, because despite the really bad roads, and really steep hills, and lack of bathrooms, most long rides in Massachusetts end up going through Barre. So we had no choice. We had to go there. There is a friendly bike shop and a pizza joint, whose bathroom has been "Out of Order" for 10 years. Experienced folks ignore the sign! Hot Turkey Club sandwiches filled the bellies of most of our group before we headed out of town on our first new section of route. Apparently, 122 is being rebuilt, and is mostly dirt (probably an improvement), so a local rider suggested a beautiful, hilly alternative. We decided the scenic vistas and lack of traffic were worth the hills and extra miles, and it will be added to the official route next year.

We then headed into Orange, as we prepared for the biggest climb of the day, the one over Mt. Grace. The winds were really starting to wear on the single riders. I hadn't noticed a thing! Tandems have a great advantage in a headwind, since you have twice the power but the wind resistance of only one rider. I was hoping that the wind would remain as strong and in the same direction on Sunday, since we would be heading east, and it would blow us across NH. The climb up Mt. Grace would give us a little break from the wind, but what a price to pay. Jamie and I had been climbing well all day. We stood very well together. We alternated standing and sitting on long climbs, and Jamie's style was very compatible with mine. I knew we would not have a very difficult time with Grace. We were still riding with Bob, John, Jean, and Rick. Grace is a three step climb with the steepest part at the bottom. I had remembered this section from last years BMB, because it's where David stood with the video camera waiting for me and Steve to round the corner while I was off in the woods, uh making a phone call. He left the tape rolling for some time, before giving up. When he did spot us, he forgot to take the lens cap off, and the running commentary is really cute, culminating with a gentle reminder from Steve that the tape might be better without the lens cap!

Well there was no one taping this climb, but it would have been a great video, as we headed up the mountain. We did use the granny on the lower parts, but we easily made it to the top in the middle of the group. We then said goodbye, and headed down leaning hard into the S curves, and enjoying our well deserved reward of a spectacular descent into New Hampshire. We then had 15 miles of steady, persistent, grinding headwind, as we made our way west to the Vermont border. We could see Brattleboro from some distance, but the headwind made the ride seem a little longer than normal. We made a quick stop for bagels before riding through town to the Motel 6 and a hot bath.

There we found Ric, who discovered 50 miles out that he was headed to New York, and decided to take the standard route, despite having to fight the winds alone. He did join the Worcester group for a while near Barre, but was none too pleased that no one had warned him of his potentially long day!

We also found a message from Lindy, Charlie and Kenny that they were 17 miles out and headed in. They had called earlier in search of the sag, a result of headwinds, town line sprints, and achilles problems, but the headwinds had also slowed the sag driver/rider, and they found no one in, so they decided to tough it out. When they arrived an hour later, Kenny, who is 17 looked fresh, but Charlie and Lindy seemed a bit fatigued.

One of the highlights of the trip awaited us in the form of dinner at the Steak Out. This restaurant has a great salad bar with a centerpiece bowl of peel and eat shrimp, and an incredible dessert bar, with various pies and cakes. We made reservations for 30, and headed over to graze. Lots of war stories about hills and headwinds were exchanged over beer and shrimp and steak and coffee and cake. Eventually the party broke up and we waddled back to our rooms for a few hours of sleep before we had to get up and ride another 120 miles.

Day 2

After a great night's sleep, the alarm sounded at 6AM. I rose and began my new ritual of applying sunscreen and second skin to protect my freshly healing skin from the sun. It's always cool in Brattleboro and Sunday was no exception, so I put on legwarmers, a light jacket, and light gloves. I put some bagels in the trunk bag and rolled the bike out into the parking lot to meet Jamie and the others for the start of day 2. The route across New Hampshire begins with a 12 mile climb after we cross the Connecticut River and then a speedy descent into Keene. Last year, Steve R. and Al had found a homestyle breakfast somewhere on the climb. Steve's description made our mouth's water. It sounded much more appealing than McDonald's in Keene, so we decided to try to find the place. Steve was a little confused about the distance and thought it was three miles out, but it turned out to be about 7 miles further.

Sixteen year old Kenny, despite having ridden 180 miles on Saturday, was outclimbing us all. Kids! We did sneak up on him, and try out the air horn to see how high he would jump, and we all began plotting adjusting his brakes a bit to even the playing field, but we always seemed to have food on our minds when we stopped, and we never gave him a proper handicap.

I believe this was the first time I ever climbed out of the CT River Valley without fog, and the views were great. We took a little scenic detour off of Route 9, around a lake/resort area, and shortly after returning to Route 9 found the breakfast spot. We had almost given up hope, and some of the riders were too far ahead to call back, when Steve called out that The Country Bazaar was the place. Those who were lucky enough to stop were treated to pancakes, pastries, muffins, and fresh coffee. Kenny was too far ahead. He'd just have to have an Egg McMuffin!

The screaming 55 mph descent into Keene, helped keep breakfast down, and then we began another long steady gradual climb. The group split up as we began to warm up, and stopped to peel layers of clothing. Sunday's weather was quite an improvement over last years, when it started at 55, got colder and rainier as the day went on. The winds that wore us down on Saturday were now helping us on our way toward the east. The skies were cloudless, and the views were typical beautiful New England vistas. There is one memorable climb on this section into the town of Hancock, and it became even more so this year, as Jamie discovered that we can't get into the granny under load. We toughed it out, and made it to the top in our 38-26, but next time, I believe we'll try to go to the granny a little sooner!

We stopped for a snack and recovery here, and regrouped with John, Lindy, and Kenny. We continued on along some rolling hills, where we caught the Worcester crowd riding along at a touring pace. There's nothing like having a tandem blow by to wake up a group of riders, and soon we were back in train mode, with a tandem engine followed by every single that could stay attached. Things started to look familiar as we were riding on some of my regular routes, and I recognized my favorite water stop, a spring just outside of New Boston. Half the group stopped to top off bottles, while the rest continued on toward lunch at DiAngelo's in Manchester.

After lunch, we made our way through downtown. As we passed over the Merrimac River, one lane on the bridge was closed off and covered with fireworks in preparation for the evenings festivities. We either got through town just before the parade, or people in Manchester gave us an incredible welcome as they lined the streets to see us go through!

The weather and winds stayed great throughout the day, making the ride into Dover quite pleasant, where we took over a small Italian Restaurant for pizza, spaghetti and calzones for dinner. Larry had not arrived when we left for dinner, but left a strange message at the motel saying that he was tied up and would be in around dark. We made a few bondage jokes, along with our regular dinner conversation and gossip. Just after dinner, Jamie got a call from a medical center in Derry, asking someone to come get Larry. He was ok, but apparently, he had ridden way off course and fell and suffered some road rash. Unfortunately, he had really, really gotten off course, and the three hour round trip to get him cut into my captain's sleep time.

Day 3

Memorial Day weather predictions were not very optimistic for most of the East Coast, but it looked like we would be riding under partly cloudy skies, and the rain might hold off until evening. We headed over to Jake's for a hearty breakfast. The servings were enormous. Charlie and Kenny finished their meals, but most plates were left with half a stack of pancakes on them. My omlet was delicious. I later learned that I should have tried the baked beans, like Jack. Jack had some suggestions for a better route home, and we planned to ride with him and check out this new route. But he had these baked beans for breakfast and his bike seemed turbo charged. He was really flying. I'm definitely going to try those on my next tour!

Jack, Janet, Jamie and I headed out and finally added the 6th New England State of Maine, before heading south to the New Hampshire Coast. We lucked out again and actually had a tailwind going down the coast. This is a very, very rare event. But our timimg wasn't so good, as we had to wait for two drawbridges in the morning, but it gave me the chance to remove my jacket and leg warmers. We regrouped just south of Hampton Beach, where we were joined by Kenny, Gerry, Bob and Ron. Since we were riding on unmapped territory, we kept the group together, and took things a little easier than the previous two days, although the flatter coastal route and tailwinds bumped our average speed up a bit.

We attempted to stop at a country store in Boxford at about 11:50. We headed back to the lunch counter, sat on the stools and pulled out wads of money, but apparently the clerk didn't understand a major rule of business, and said the grill was closed since they were closing in a few minutes. Jack told us about an ice cream stand just around the corner, but they only had ice cream and I couldn't convince anyone else that ice cream was a good lunch, so we continued on. Jamie decide to mark this store on the cue sheet in the future as a place not to stop!

Unfortunately it was another hour of so before we found food. The lack of traffic and nice scenery were much, much better than the old route through Haverhill, but riders will be warned next year of the distance between food stops. We finally got back into civilization, where we stopped for Greek Pizza, before the final 20 miles back to the start.

When we got back to the King's house, we found more pizzas and a couple of lasagnas waiting. We beat the rain by several hours and everyone seemed have have really enjoyed the trip. I know it will be on my calendar for next year. Jamie and I had such a good time on the tandem that we've decided to do TOSRV-East together (with Lindy's blessing:) She'll be doing an extended hillier version of the ride, since back-to-back centuries in Vermont just isn't enough of a challenge for her!

I can't say enough about how well the second skin has worked on my road rash. It really is amazing how quickly I have healed. Of course now, I'll have to use lots of sunscreen to prevent burning and scarring of the young skin, but I really should do that anyway!

Despite saying that I was going to park the tandem this year in favor of my single, I've been getting in lots of tandem miles. And loving it. I'm leaving for Seattle Friday morning with the big bike to attempt the 600K in Vancouver with Terry Zmrhal. (I have to work out there Monday-Wednesday). It's going to be a very hectic week. Then I'll get back just in time to try and piece together a single for the Boston 400K.



171 km