Cycling to Boston


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August 5th 2015
Published: August 12th 2015
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Cycling to Boston


Day 1

The crack of noon. That’s when Sean and I departed for parts unknown, the longest journey we had attempted with our bicycles. I would have loved to leave earlier, but a combination of having to work the evening before, the completion of my summer semester, and putting the final touches on trip planning made waking up early kind of impractical. Plus Sean was having an issue with his front wheel and needed to have it looked at by a bike mechanic before leaving. Yeah…that was the real reason we started out so late. My dad dropped me off in Longueil, on the south shore, which was our meet up point. I set up the gear on my bike. We were both traveling extremely light. I had a tent, down sleeping bag, compact stove, basic bike tools, some toiletries, and a few changes of clothes. Other than that we both had some snacks but we’d be stopping for food items along the way to keep weight down.

About two weeks earlier we had completed a bike trail known as the p’tit train du nord, which we had begun in Laval and traveled 270km north to the town of Mont Laurier. We did this in two days so we felt like our confidence took a bit of a boost. Our plan was to try to reach the coast of Maine in a few days. I knew there’d be some obstacles along the way but it would be a fun adventure, and I really needed one after allowing myself to be caught up in the rat race of school and work for this long.

We started out and headed south initially. Sean was in the lead and was tapped into google maps, which we’d use to get out of the major urban centres. We took many small roads and bike paths along the way and were making good progress at about 23km an hour. My bike was an old Minelli model which I had fixed up to be at least a hybrid, mix of mountain and road bike elements. It certainly wasn’t the best bike, but it was sturdy and having invested some time at the McGill bike co-op, I had learnt very basic skills like tire and tube changes, patches, brake adjustments, and learned basic bike anatomy. I had swapped my old tires with thinner ones, and attached a few accessories to the frame. Of course I am far from being a bike mechanic so I went to a shop where they did a tune up and replaced the chain and cassette, trued both wheel frames as well as changing a plethora of stripped bolts and the like. This bike was pretty damn reliable now, or at least as much as it was going to be.

A few hours into our journey and we were making our way to Granby along mostly bike paths. The weather was predominantly cloudy but very warm. We were close to Marieville when drops started to fall. I made sure all my electronic gear was stowed in plastic bags for this very reason. We were out in the open and lightning started flashing up the sky, thunder rumbled and the raindrops began to batter us. I was thinking it would be fine to just ride in some light rain but this was no light rain. We were right in the middle of a thunderstorm. Luckily we had almost reached Marieville and as we cycled into the Main street we found a wooden awning of a bar where we got some cover. We were already soaked from head to toe. I took my shoes off and rang out the build-up of water from my socks, and I knew all too well that my shoes would probably be damp until at least the next day. Well it didn’t take too long to hit that first thundershower. We lost about a half an hour from the storm but then continued on the path towards Granby. Within a few hours we had reached our destination. Cycling for this long creates a hungry beast within me and we stopped at a small fast food place for dinner. There were always healthier options but with my already revved metabolism, all I cared about was getting enough calories. We ate with a window view of our locked up bikes, and then decided that we would try to find a campsite nearby. We had done about 80km on this day, but due to our late start and getting caught in a thunderstorm, we hadn’t done nearly as much as we would have liked. We camped at a site in Granby and Sean passed out almost immediately. I went to shower and wash some of my clothes from the day. I hoped my shoes might dry a bit but wasn’t counting on it. During the night rain found us again, but each of our one man tents held up admirably.

Day 2

Sean was feeling tired as we got up this morning. I felt great and got to test out my new one man tent and sleeping bag and was happy with both of them. We packed up and then double backed a few km to a bike shop in Granby because Sean had noticed his back wheel didn’t seem to be trued anymore and had a slight wobble. We ate breakfast while we waited for the tire to be trued and it turned out that one of his spokes was bent really badly. With that done we took off towards the east. We were full fledged in the eastern townships and the hills were becoming…well hillier. It was a hot day and the sun was beating down onto us. Within a few hours I had consumed a few litres of water. Sean was sweating profusely. We went through Waterloo and carried on through Eastman. We were stopping more frequently as Sean’s knee was acting up. Our progress was moving at a snail’s pace as we were battling the uphills. Despite the difficulty and heat, I was able to power up the hills but Sean was often getting off his bike and walking up them. I became worried by this a little but figured we just had to build up our biking legs. It all came to a head however when we approached Orford Lake, and Sean proclaimed that he thought he would be stroking out soon as he wasn’t handling the temperature very well. He figured he could get to Magog but beyond that was not sure. By about 1530 we rode into Magog and sat by the lake. We had done about 60km so far this day. Sean decided that he was done. I was sad to see him go but I knew that he wasn’t enjoying the experience so I also didn’t want him to continue if it was making him miserable. We went to a nearby McDonald’s and I used the wifi and charged some of my devices while Sean figured out how he was going to bus back to Montreal. We parted ways and I was on my own. I’ve traveled a lot by myself so this was ok, I often enjoy the solitude. I carried on and was determined to complete at least 40 more km before I ran out of light. Cycling along some tough rural terrain, my legs were aching as lactic acid was building up in them. There were some truly monstrous uphills that were making doubt my abilities but I found a way to push through. It helped that I was traveling light. The sun began to fade fast and I approached the town of Coaticook just in time. I had done about 110km total. I cycled down into the gorge were there was a campground. I set up and passed out with sheer exhaustion soon after.

Day 3

The gorge was so steep that I had to walk my bike back out. Not a great way to start the day. From there I stopped at a Tim Horton’s to get some food in me, and then was south eastern bound. The eastern township hills were crushing to my morale but I continued to climb them and then realized I was always rewarded with a nice downhill to coast through. The sun was relentless yet again, and I found myself wishing for a thundershower as I had experienced in Marieville at the beginning of the trip. I passed through a desolate farm road and was cycling near a barn when I heard a chorus of barking. Turning my head, I saw at least five dogs of different breeds that were sprinting towards my three o’clock. A person, who I assume was the owner, chased after them and was yelling at them to stop. I figured I should probably gun it right about then and mustered some more energy. The pitbull in the front jumped at my leg but I was just a tad faster so it missed. The dogs continued to follow me but I was hitting another downhill, and began to outpace them. I didn’t stick around to chat with the owner. I descended towards Lake Wallace and could see the United States on the other side. And before I knew it, I had arrived in Hereford at the border crossing. When I approached the border guard looked at me perplexed and asked me several questions. “Where are you from?” “Why are you cycling so far?” “Where are you going to be staying?” “What do you do for a living?” He scanned my passport and then let me through. Ah state of Vermont. Within three minutes I had left Vermont and had crossed the New Hampshire state line. Ah state of New Hampshire. I stopped into a grocery store to pick up some lunch. The day was scorching at this point. “Hot day for a bike ride!” exclaimed an elderly man walking out of the grocery store. I ate in a park nearby. I continued south on route 3 and then headed east on route 26. The shoulder quickly disappeared and I was competing with spots of heavy traffic which included some logging trucks. I looked over my shoulder often.

A sense of dread had filled me however because I knew that I was approaching Dixville notch. The elevation would climb several thousand feet. I began the climb and lactic acid began to burn my quadriceps internally while the sun was burning me from the outside. At this point I was hardly making any distance gains, and was stopping often for rests. My water was running dangerously low but I had to continue pushing until I made it over the crest. It felt like hours later but I finally made it to the highest point and felt exhausted. I then began the descent on the other side and I was flying! I could feel my break pads wearing out instantly. The fastest stretch I clocked myself going was about 55km an hour. If I was to hit a pebble and lost my balance I could easily die or become severely injured. I tried not to think about that too much. Before I knew it I was through the notch and back to relatively hilly terrain, but not mountainous terrain. Exhilaration filled me as I knew this would be one of the toughest points of the journey. I carried on towards the town of Errol and it was around dinnertime. I ate a moose burger in a good old fashion American diner and rested my broken body. The waitress there gave me some good intel on what I might expect on the next 50km of my trip. I challenged a large hill on my way out of the town and then continued along route 26. My bike was holding up commendably so far. About an hour later and dusk was setting in, a scary situation on a road without shoulders and massive logging trucks that passed me often. I made it to Lake Umbagog, which was only a few short kilometres from the state of Maine. I went into a state park camping ground and went to register. The office was closed but there were envelopes to place the camping fee. I only had about 10$ on me so that’s what I gave. There I witnessed an incredible sunset over the lake and realized this is what it’s all about. I set up my camp, took a much needed shower, and ate a can of tuna. I was asleep before nine thirty that night. Total kilometres: 100.

Day 4

By 0530 I was on the road again, barrelling down route 26 with renewed purpose. A thick fog coated the trees above and I couldn’t make out what kind of weather I would be dealing with this day. Logging trucks kept passing me intermittently, but almost all of them passed onto the oncoming lane, giving me plenty of space between them. Good thing too because if they came too close, the wind they generated could blow me right off my bike. Within a few kilometres and I was now in the state of Maine. Awesome. Soon enough I had reached Grafton notch. It would have been a nightmare if I was coming from the opposite direction, but heading south east meant I was going mostly downhill. The notch itself was beautiful and had plenty of scenic viewpoints and hiking trails. Being an avid hiker, I would have loved to stop and hike for a few hours but I knew that conserving my energy for cycling would be smarter. I carried on while ironically humming lyrics to carry on my wayward son by Kansas. Passing through small rural villages, I climbed many more hills and stopped often to snack. Having my camelback meant I could keep drinking while pedalling. I passed by a shack in front of a farmhouse and noticed fresh pies and maple cookies on display. No one was there, but there was a box to place money for the items on sale. It was nice seeing the honour system in use. I bought a bottle of water and some cookies and began eating them when I car pulled up and two occupants got out. I noticed the licence plate was from Quebec so I greeted them in French. They looked at me with surprise and asked where I had come from. When I mentioned I had cycled from Montreal they were quite surprised. They were heading towards the coast and told me they would probably be beating me there. I didn’t doubt that for a second.

It wasn’t even noon yet, but I had done just over 50 kilometres and was starving. I stopped to buy some sunscreen from a shop along the road. I noticed that people were insanely friendly, something that is sadly not the case in bigger urban areas. The further away from home I reached, the more people would curiously ask about my route and gear. Many asked how I had made it this far. I always responded that all I had to do was keep pedaling and before I knew it I would be in a different place. I had reached the town of Bethel and stopped at a quaint welcome center where I refilled my water supplies and used the complimentary WIFI to contact people back home and tell them that I was still alive. The woman at the desk was a cyclist herself and gave me some interesting route options to continue southward. I ate a meal in town and tried to take a break from the unyielding sunshine. My exposed skin was developing a dark tan. I popped more air into my tires and then continued down route 35. A strange thing was happening. I had dreaded giant hills for the past few days but now I was relishing them because it gave me a near term goal. I knew that if I was to get over them, I would be rewarded with a nice downhill. Plus it really broke up the monotony of riding continuously on flat terrain. Gotta love New England terrain! I rode alongside the White Mountain National Forest and was treated to loads of shade along this route. Every now and again, I would see what looked like a touring cyclist and would wave in recognition. Reaching the town of Waterford, I endured some light rain and took shelter under an abandoned building awning for a bit. As the day wore on and the sun was beginning to dip, I made my way towards Bridgton. Once there I found a small American style diner (love these places) and feasted on Sheppard’s pie, hot dogs and had blueberry pie for desert. Hell yeah I splurged. As I looked outside however, I realized I would need to find some shelter for the night. As I was almost finished my meal, the skies opened up and more rain fell. Great I was running out of light and it was now raining. I got on my bike and figured I might just find a desolate place to pitch my tent. It was getting hard to see though and the rain made things more uncomfortable. I was cycling uphill southwards out of Bridgton when I saw a dingy motel to my right. I figured I may as well inquire. I rang the bell and waited a long moment. An old lady came out to the desk, and with a sweet voice greeted me. I asked how much a cheap room might be for the night. She responded and I knew this was out of my budget. I asked her if I could just pitch a tent on her property but she apologized and said she didn’t actually own the land the hotel was on. I was about to leave but she didn’t seem to want me to go out in the rain so she offered to cut the price of a room by a third. Still pricey compared to a normal campground, but I figured I may as well just keep on splurging. I brought my bike into the motel room and relaxed for the rest of the evening. I had biked about 115 kilometres.

Day 5

The bed was so comfortable I didn’t want to move! But it was a new day and I had a journey to continue. I packed up all my stuff and went back to see the nice old lady to give her my key. She had a few maps to show me about some safe routes for cycling and I took in all her suggestions. Next door to the motel was a small shop and I went inside to buy some breakfast food and fill up on energy for the morning. I sat outside on a picnic table and a middle aged woman asked me curiously about my trip. I chatted with her for a little while and she randomly gave me hand warmers in case I got cold during the night before heading off in her SUV. I headed down the 302 to a beautiful lakeside town called Naples. From there I turned to the 114 and carried on to the west of Sebago Lake. I got to see some gorgeous scenery along the way. I talked with a young camp councillor he was walking down the road and came upon me as I was reading my map. He suggested different points to stop and take photos. I stopped by the lakeside on several occasions and just took in the scenes.

A few hours later I had reached the base of the lake and was at the crossroads of a small town. Two diners lay on each side. One was complete empty, while the other was packed with people getting supplies and lunch. I obviously went into the packed diner. The menu had a variety of sandwich wraps that were made fresh on the spot. I ordered a beef wrap and then cycled out of the town and found a rock to sit on in the shade where I ate lunch. That beef wrap was incredible! I continued on through a tough uphill to Gorham. From there I was only about 20 kilometres from Old Orchard Beach and the ocean! Before I knew it, I had arrived in Old Orchard Beach. And then it hit me. Why had we initially decided to make this the arrival point? The place was packed with tourists, had a trashy feel to it and the beach was crammed from end to end. Since I had my bike and attached gear, I felt a little restricted in my exploration. I tried to go on the peer with my bike but was told I couldn’t do that. Plenty of shops designed to part tourists of their money could be found along the beach. A small amusement park was found along the beach as well. I sat on a bench after taking a few photos, and pondered my next move. Even the campgrounds here were packed beyond capacity. It looked like even if I wanted to stay here, which I really didn’t, there would be no where for me to stay. It turned out that my journey would not end here for the day. I got back on the bike and headed down along the coast. I crossed through Biddleford and then continued down through the University of New England. The sun would be setting soon and I would need to find a suitable area to shelter through the night. I started looking for spots where I might be able to stealth camp. I was biking along a lengthy swath of forest and I decided I would cut into it and just find a secluded area. I made sure no one would see me do so. The dry forest floor creaked and snapped as I brought my bike along with me. Once I was deep enough, I was content that my chosen spot would do well for the night. The mosquitoes were coming out in force so I had to set up my tent fast. I had some tuna sandwich so I ate that quickly too. The sun set and I slept with my rain cover off so I had a nice view of the tall trees above me. A few woodpeckers were nearby, and made quite a racket as though knocked branches down to the forest floor below. I hoped none would fall on me. This was one of the more peaceful nights I had so far on the trip. I had done 115 kilometres on this day.

Day 6

Another early morning for me. I continued down along the coast. Weather was nice and warm. I was hungry. That tuna sandwich the evening before really didn’t suffice. My immediate goal was the reach Wells beach. It was only about 20 clicks away from where I was. I passed along Kennebunkport and found a public bathroom to “freshen up”. Once I reached Wells I saw a McDonalds in the distance. These had become like beacons of hope during the journey as I could get cheap (and really unhealthy) food, free WIFI, and plugs to charge my camera and phone. I stopped there for the next hour and contacted people back home, looked up weather updates, possible campsites along the way, and consumed about almost 2000 calories. After that pit stop, I descended into Wells beach and rode through until I got back on route 1. It wasn’t as bad as Old Orchard but at this time of the year Wells was also overrun with humanity. I made good progress as I cycled down the coast. I had one close call when I hit a stretch of car traffic. I was barrelling by them quickly, thankful I was on a bike when a car on the opposite lane found an opening and tried to turn onto a perpendicular road. In any case I wasn’t really in any danger and had enough time to get out of the way, but the driver was visibly shaken up. Once I reached Kittery, the border of coastal New Hampshire, things started to get complicated. Remember that I had no GPS or Google maps and I was relying on paper maps that weren’t extensively detailed. I was trying to find the right way to cross the river. I went into a hotel to ask and they had no idea, which I thought was hilarious. Then I went into a fitness gym and the young woman trainer took out her phone and offered to Google map the route I needed. Thank you Google! I talked to her about training for a short while and gave her some exercise suggestions that she had never heard of. I hope the bartering system never dies.

I was back on track and crossed into the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I had a feeling the part of New Hampshire would be a lot more fun than the mountainous north. Portsmouth turned out to be beautiful and seemed to have this avant garde air to it. I kind of wished I could have spent more time here. Of course I got lost while in the city center and someone approached me asking if I needed help. The dude gave me expert suggestions to get back on route 1A. We talked about bikes for a bit and it turned out he did a bike touring trip from Vancouver to San Diego the previous summer. He had loads of bike cred. Route 1A through coastal New Hampshire was gorgeous and I had to limit the amount of time I spent stopping to take photos because I wanted to make progress. I loved cycling with the ocean breeze though. I passed along multitudes of beaches and little summer resort towns. I went through trashy Hampton beach and slightly less trashy Salisbury as I crossed into Massachusetts. I had to stop often for water resupply as it was hot as hell. Just like every other day before it, the sun began to set and I needed to find a spot for shelter. I checked out a campsite in Salisbury beach but it was full. Then I cycled north a bit and backtracked on the 1A and got to Black Bear campsite. They still had a few spots left and I was happy to set up wherever it was. I noticed it was mostly an RV site with a few tents interspersed between. I heard a Bostonian accent call from behind me. A middle aged man asked me if I was okay for food for the evening. I answered that I had a few snacks left. He invited me over to his site after I had done whatever I needed to do. I set my tent up, and then took a much needed shower as I smelled something awful.

About an hour later I walked over to Mike and Ashley’s trailer site. They had two young kids and an annoying dog. Mike offered me a beer and was BBQing some burgers and hot dogs. I ate copiously and told them tales of my journey. They were currently living at the trailer park as they had sold their house and were waiting until they could move into their new one. I thanked them profusely for their hospitality and then headed back to my tent and passed out well. I had cycled 110 kilometres today.

Day 7

I was so close to Boston now that I could taste it. I went into Newburyport and then diverted back onto the 1A. From there I went through very rural areas and towns and was edging towards the coast. Narrow and wavy roads had become my norm. Mike and Ashley honked their car horn as they passed me on the way to some beach area. By about noon I had reached the town of Gloucester (pronounced GLOU-ster). It was a pretty nice historic town and I spent some time going around the waterfront. And yes by now you can probably expect that the day was hot and sunny. I had really lucked out with the weather on this trip.

I then took the 127 all the way down the coast to Salem. I stopped to get a waterfront shot of myself and asked a woman if she could take my photo. She didn’t believe I was from Montreal, and when I finally convinced her, she pondered “people still do things like this?” I saw a bit of Salem by bike, and seeing as Halloween is my favourite holiday, I was really digging this town. This was the site were countless witch burnings were held, and there was an eerie and spooky feel to everything. I know had a bit of a dilemma; I needed to figure out how to get into downtown Boston on bicycle and not get killed. All the major roads became serious highways the closer I got to the town and I needed better intel. So I approached a bunch of cyclists that I ran into to ask. I talked with an older man who was cycling around Salem and asked what he thought the safest way in would be. He responded that the safest way in was to take the train. I was still determined to find a way in though. I ran into another cyclist who worked at a bike shop here. He too thought I was better off taking the train. Fine. Would have been nice cycling into the city proper but I was so close now that it didn’t really matter.

I went to the train station and had to wait an hour for the train to come. Damn Sundays. I talked to a couple while I waited and they gave me some good info about where to go with the train and where to get off. The train ride lasted about 20 minutes and the conductor never even checked my ticket, which I didn’t have because there were no machines selling tickets. I arrived in North Station and was finally in Boston. Today was a bit of a lazy day as I only did 70 kilometres but my total trip distance turned out to be 700 clicks! Not too bad considering the tough New England terrain I had to overcome. I had booked a hostel right in the downtown district of Chinatown, the same awesome hostel I had stayed at two years earlier to see a concert with a buddy. I used the street maps to orient myself and then climbed more elevation through Beacon Hill (the hills NEVER stop) to reach Chinatown. As I stepped into the hostel part of me was elated that I had reached my destination with such little mishap, but another part of me would miss the routine of getting back on the bike every morning. I guess my legs could use the rest though. I stored my bike on the ground floor storage area. I settled into my four man room and cleaned myself up. I headed down to the second floor chill area near the pool table and I saw Sean sitting there. He had beaten me to Boston after all! Since he still had vacation time and had never gone to Boston he arranged to get out here by bus for a few days. He had only arrived a few hours earlier. It was good to see a familiar face and I began to tell him all about the rest of my trip. We walked around the town on a perfectly warm night and went to eat and drink at Rock Bottom Bar near the hostel. I still needed plenty of calories.

Day 8

No cycling today. But a hell of a lot of walking. We left the hostel after the free and awesome breakfast and then made our way through the financial district. We headed towards the Wharf area by the sea and decided due to the intense sun we would duck inside for a few hours and visit the famous Boston Aquarium. We spent three hours there and got to see penguins, hundreds of different kinds of fish, turtles, sharks, etc. It was very impressive and made me appreciate the ocean so much more. From there we stopped at a 7-11 to have some food and then explored the North End. Then we passed along some parks, saw the Boston Gardens, and then walked through Beacon Hill (much easier than cycling through it). We walked out towards the west and then looped around back towards the downtown. We stopped in some shops and checked out a Barnes and Noble store too. We saw some old churches and the Boston library. In fact we sat on a bench in front of the library for about an hour and just watched people going about their daily lives. Pretty relaxing. On the walk back we noticed two helicopters that hovered over us and lots of sirens in the distance. Something was definitely going on but we never found out what. That night we just chilled out in the hostel.

Day 9

Sean wasn’t at breakfast today, but he mentioned he might just sleep in for a while. I sat with my roommate named Severin. He was from Switzerland and doing a US and Canada tour. This was his first stop. There was an unofficial Harvard tour that the hostel was organizing which was free of charge so I went along with a bunch of other hostellers and got to see the Harvard campus. I felt smarter just being there. After this I walked along with Sevi as well as a German and Argentinian. We walked to the MIT campus and that was massive and very impressive, with some nice architecture to treat the eyes. We walked around more of Boston for a few hours and then went into a supermarket for a late lunch. Sevi and I walked back to the hostel and since he was coming to Montreal in a few days, I invited him to crash at my place and would show him some of the city. He ended up doing that and we had a great time. A few hours later into the evening and my parents arrived in the Ford escape to pick me up. I kind of wished I could have biked all the way back home but there wouldn’t have been nearly enough time. I put my bike onto the back of the car and we were off towards the White Mountain National park for some hiking the following day. We stayed at a cheap motel near Concord, New Hampshire.

Day 10

I certainly didn’t expect it but I was up at 0530 in the morning. The motel fire alarm began screaming and we all got up to see what was going on. Apparently it had something to do with the water pipe or something. My dad said the hell with it and put his head under the pillow while staying in the bed. Some people were running out with their belongings and pets thinking there was a fire. It took a half hour but the alarm finally stopped and we went back to the rooms to try to get some more sleep.

By noon we had made it into the White Mountain National Park and decided to do a short hike to the lonesome lake and then looped down and back up towards where we parked. For five hours we got to appreciate nature and went through two river crossings. We took many pictures of beautiful waterfalls and water eroded rock.

We got back home at about 2300h. I unpacked my stuff and put my trusty bike back into the shed out back. It felt like I had been gone forever. When you pack a lot of things into life, I tend to feel like time can slow down in some ways because so much is happening in such a short amount of time. Not sure if that makes sense to everyone, but it does to me. Now back home again and I work tomorrow. Back to the grind of work and school will start up soon enough. But the next adventure is also that much closer.





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