Splashing into the Atlantic Ocean at the end of a cross-country bike ride creates emotional waves strong enough to reshape the sands of any rider's life. I stood knee-deep in that current and felt its pull on my heart Monday when I pedaled to Wallis Sands in Rye, N.H., with 28 other cyclists who had begun their journey seven weeks earlier in San Francisco.
I had joined the 3,700-mile America by Bicycle in Indianapolis for the last two weeks. For me, elation at reaching the coast after biking 1,100 miles was mixed with envy of those who had made the time to go all the way from sea to shining sea. Some were students or teachers on summer vacation, others were between jobs or self-employed or retired, and some had made extraordinary deals with their bosses. Ages ranged from 21 to 62.
We regrouped a few miles from the beach and rode the home stretch together, two abreast behind our mechanic's minivan, singing "America the Beautiful" and "Pomp and Circumstance." It felt like graduation, or the last day of summer camp. We'd been autographing each other's T-shirts and journals, posing for snapshots, reminiscing already about the hard parts and the good times, promising to have a reunion.
There had been saddle sores and aching knees, flat tires and headwinds and hills that stood up and laughed at us. The flip side included guilt-free feeding frenzies, photo opportunities worthy of National Geographic and kind words and friendly waves from small-town people pleased to have us passing through. Now there were high fives and champagne, hugs and tears.
John and Pat McGarry of North Andover, both 50, said they had expected the Rockies to be the biggest hurdle, and climbing Monarch Pass in Colorado was a challenge, but the 100-degree heat during back-to-back centuries in Ohio proved even more daunting. Tar bubbled up from the pavement and popped under our tires like Rice Krispies, then stuck and collected pebbles and hay. Cooling down in our air-conditioned motel rooms at the end of the 106-mile day, we could pick the black coating off the tires.
A breeze off Lake Erie brought some relief for our single day in Pennsylvania, and the landscape changed from cornfields to vineyards as we entered New York. Rider Art Kirk, president of Keuka College in the Finger Lakes region, threw us a party on the evening of our rest day in nearby Canandaigua: a chartered boat ride on Keuka Lake, followed by fireworks left over from a stormy Fourth of July.
A tailwind pushed us through the Mohawk Valley, along the New York State Barge Canal, to Syracuse, Little Falls and Albany. It only rained at night.
The 84-mile ride across the Berkshires, from Albany to
Greenfield, was the hilliest since the Sierra Nevada range: 5,260 feet of
climbing, over Petersburg Pass on Route 2 to the Massachusetts line, then up the
hairpin turn on the Mohawk Trail. The next day's route through Central
Massachusetts was inelegant but direct, mostly on Route 2A, with a lunch stop in
Westminster. And the final day's ride, from Chelmsford to Portsmouth, N.H.,
brought the scent of salt air at last. Low tide never smelled so sweet.
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|American Youth Hostels||(716) 852-5222|
|Cycle America||(800) 245-3263|
|PAC Tour||(414) 736-2453|
|Pedal for Power||(800) 288-2453|
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|Wandering Wheels||(317) 998-7490|
A shorter but equally inspirational bike ride to the shore takes place next weekend. More than 1,800 cyclists will ride the Pan-Mass Challenge to raise an estimated $3 million for the Jimmy Fund at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Some will make a two-day, 192-mile trek from Sturbridge to Provincetown; others ride from Boston or Sturbridge to Bourne in one day. There are more than 100 Worcester-area riders on the roster.
Worcester resident Frank Benison Jr., 31, is doing the ride for the ninth time. "They make it such a fun event," he said. He easily raises nearly twice the $1,000 minimum because he has a big family and "everyone you know is going to know the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber and be impressed that you're riding almost 200 miles."
Benison lost a high school friend to cancer, and a company associated with that friend is a generous sponsor every year, he said.
A customer assistance group supervisor for BayBank in Dedham, Benison was coaching football at St. Peter-Marian High School nine years ago when fellow coach Thomas Sullivan recruited him for the PMC.
"I wasn't driving then, and I rode my bike everywhere, but I hadn't gone more than 15 miles at a time," Benison said. "I just wore football cutoffs and I had to borrow a better bike than what I had, but I did it, and I've enjoyed it ever since." Sullivan, who lives in Paxton, still does the ride every year, too.
Benison's favorite part of the route is the 110th mile --
downhill -- to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne at the end of the
first day. "There's always a lot of people cheering for you," he said.
TIP OF THE HELMET -- To the Worcester-based GS Mengoni/Hot Tubes for again dominating the Junior National Cycling Championships, held July 11-16 in Wichita Falls, Texas. Team member Matt Decanio won the 20-kilometer time trial in less than 26 minutes, taking 15 seconds off the national record. Teammate Mike Roszko of Westboro placed fourth in that race, and Rob Dapice of Concord was ninth. Decanio placed fourth in the criterium.
Dapice won the 69-mile road race, more than 2 minutes ahead of a five-man breakaway he'd driven and 12 minutes ahead of the pack.
But "he put himself in the hospital for two days to win," coach Toby Stanton of Holden said. The problem wasn't dehydration in the 105-degree heat. Dapice, who avoids salty junk foods, had taken 10 bottles of electrolyte replacement drink during the race. But at the awards banquet that night, he turned white and was taken to the hospital. It turned out he had overhydrated. He had lost so much sodium he had a seizure and lost consciousness in the hospital, Stanton said.
Dapice has recovered, and he and Decanio are competing at the world championships in Italy. Meanwhile, Roszko placed fourth last weekend in the 20-kilometer time trial at the U.S. Olympic Festival in Boulder, Colo.
The Hot Tubes team, which also includes Andy Mills of North Brookfield, has been invited to race in the Tour of Ireland Aug. 13-20 but needs sponsors to cover transportation costs or donate frequent flier miles. All the team members are 18 years old. Prospective sponsors may call Stanton at Hot Tubes (508 792-9545).
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