Coming to the roads of eastern Connecticut, see the terror on two wheels! See man attempt to use bicycle as actual transportation! See navigation without benefit of map or sun! See the rumored New Englander say “Well, you can’t get there from here!” See the road that turns back around on itself!
The longer I ride in Connecticut, the more I realize that there is no better place in the country for regular peopel to ride. Yes, the west coast and the Rockies offer longer climbs, more thrilling descents, and more breathtaking vistas, but here’s the deal – with a wrong turn out west, death is a distinct possibility. Instead of being three to five miles between reference points, you’re talking stretches of road measured in half hours and hours of ride time. A wrong turn can quickly drain water supplies, a mechanical means not getting home before dark. The west was built on an automobile scale.
Connecticut, on the other hand, is built to a human scale. The hills are climbable by mortals. Out of breath mortals, sure, but even the freddiest of Freds (Did I mention my middle name is Fred? [not really]) his first weekend on a bike can be guided to a climb that he can spin in his 28 x 25 and top out with a view of a valley and the guarantee of a couple of minutes of white knuckled, brake testing, tear streaming descent. It’s not too hard to plan out a route that only has stop signs or lights every 4-5 miles or so, but it’s possible, too, to jump on a bigger road, with huge shoulders, and ride for a long while without stopping. There’s nothing breathtaking, but there’s a lot to be said for a virtually endless supply of shady, tree-lined roads, decent hills, and an occasional hilltop view.
Yes, Sunday – we headed up to a friend’s house in Griswold for a graduation party. The weekend was muggy. Not sweltering, but definately muggy – 80’s for both humidity and temperature. Felt almost exactly like April in Texas. Good stuff, got me in mind of the Houtson-Austin MS-150, which remains my biggest physical personal accomplishment to date, other than OCS. I tried to avoid eating too much at the party, but broke down and ate half of Jake’s hot dog and absolutely had to have a piece of cake and a half-scoop of ice cream. The hot dog made peace with my tummy, but the ice cream kept trying to take a look around later in the afternoon.
About 5, it’s time to get the baby home for a shortened afternoon nap. So we head out to the car, I rip off my disguise of “Dad” to reveal bike shorts beneath, and pull on a jersey (Missy says “Hmmmh. That’s one of the ones you bought second hand on EBay.” – guess it’s not as cool as I thought). Jake says “Mommy, mommy – can we follow daddy out to the highway?” – exhibiting both the devotion to his dad that will continue to get him my undying love and affection and a shrewdness in the ways of the world that’s uncanny for a five year old – he realizes that there’s no way I can beat a car on a highway. At least the postman had intelligence going for him. (Ooops, I can’t make that joke anymore – I met a guy who actually was the postman’s kid this weekend. Sorry.)
Headed south out of Griswold angling for CT 201. Ended up kind of randomly picking roads, since signs on major roads (anything with a painted line) were few and far between. The haze made it virtually impossible to navigate by sun – there was just kind of a dull, green light everywhere. Adding to the fuzzy nature of the day was pollen from the pines – I found myself cringing and thinking of Claratin every time the wind blew, and the grove of pines nearby shed a cloud that looked like the trees were ablaze.
The first stretch flew by – I was riding mainly downhill; there was like 800′ of drop between Griswold and Mystic, and every hill I climbed was longer on the other side. I reached the first major road, crossed it thinking I knew where I was, and continued on, randomly picking forks and trying to alternate lefts and rights to keep me pointed towards home.
A while later, I came to another major road. This one had a sign – CT 165. Which made me scratch my head – I thought I’d already crossed this one, and 201 should have been the next major road I crossed. I pulled out the small-scale entire state map I’d brought – the one with no road names, only numbers, scratched my head for a while, and proceeded on as if I’d made the proper turn in the first place. A few miles later, my jaw drops, and I’m back at the first intersection – somehow, I’d done a loop and not realized it. I flag down a guy without a shirt driving a Camaro. He looks at me funny when I tell him I’m headed to Mystic, but gives me the directions I needed. I did, indeed zig when I should have zagged. Ah, well.
On the right road this time, I quickly bang out the 10 miles down CT 201 to the other side of Route 2. The intersection of 201 and 2 ended up being a major bummer – I did about 3 miles of long, uphill false flat and small hill once I finally found 201, crested a nice ridgeline, and dropped down into a descent that had me all sorts of hunched over, trying to get aero to squeeze another click out of the speedo (which wasn’t installed). Then, the sign saying there was a light, the rapid flail for the brakes, and the actual, physical sensation of momentum being pulled from my arms and legs as my body, most definately in motion, attempted to remain in motion.
A couple of miles from home, I decided I needed to extend the ride a bit, so I hung a left to swing through Stonington instead of straight home. Jeremy Hill about killed me. I was doing pretty good, in the small ring and like the 21 or 22 cog, dancing up out of the pedals, when the previous 105 minutes of riding all caught up to me, and put my butt back into the saddle. Dropped down into the 23 (I did manage to stay out of the 25), and ended up literally grinding out the rest of the hill. Pshew.
Pulled into the house at about 7:30, stinky but grinning. I caught a little bit of rightfully deserved crap for taking the scenic route and missing the afternoon, but such is life. I don’t think I’d change it, and even though they missed out on an hour with dad, Nate sprinted across the room as soon as I walked in, and Jake thought it was absolutely unbelievable that I’d really made it home on my bike. And they both got a kick out of me jumping into the bathtub with them. The engineer in me couldn’t help but do a quick lesson on Archimede’s Principle – we used the ring of road grime I made to show that the baby didn’t change the water level much at all, that the boy had a noticable change, and that Daddy had a big ol’ butt. Oh, yeah.
Stories were told and stuffed animals found, and all was well in the world.
Useless stats – about 40 miles on the outside, about 2.5 hours. The quick way would have been 20 miles. I, however, wanted to take the scenic route, plus I got lost, plus, I took a side trip, so I’m guessing an extra 20 is about right.