Weekend Bike Tour: June 8 - 9, 1996
Map created with Street Atlas USA V3.0 from DeLorme
This was my very first self-contained bicycle tour, so this account is probably much more consumed with logistics than should be necessary. My purpose (read: excuse) for taking this trip was to do a 'shake-down' for a longer tour I am taking in a few weeks. With that purpose in mind, I packed as if I were embarking on a week-long trip. This means, basically, a few more items of clothing than I would have taken just for this weekend, as well as a full container of fuel for my Svea stove.
I rolled out of my driveway at exactly 8:36 Saturday morning. It was already hot and muggy. I knew I had a long day ahead of me, so I set firmly in my mind the tourist's mantra, 'drink, eat, rest'. I knew if I could remember these three things, I would have a good trip. If I couldn't.....
Following back-roads out the east side of Meriden, I passed Guiffrida Park about 20 minutes after leaving my house. Just two years ago, when I first started riding a bike, this used to be one of my 'long' rides. I would ride to this park, take a break to eat and drink, then ride home. I've come a long way since then. I wonder if the excursions I'll be undertaking in another two years time will make my weekend adventures seem like a 'ride to the park'? (Bad pun!)
I passed through Middletown around 9:30, and stopped at a convenience store for a bottle of OJ to drink with my Fig Newtons. I followed Saybrook Rd. south out of Middletown, which soon became state Rt. 154, and passed into more rural surroundings. Rt. 154 follows the Connecticut River south all the way to Old Saybrook. Less than an hour out of Middletown, I passed the 'Me & McGee' Restaurant in Higganum. Promptly executing a U-turn, I was soon seated at the counter, ordering my second breakfast of the day; scrambled eggs, wheat toast, home-fries, coffee, and two large glasses of ice water.
I happened to check the time and the mileage as I was leaving the restaurant; 10:55 and 18.7 miles. I seemed to be doing well in the 'take it easy' department, and I found myself really relaxing and settling back to enjoy the day. Continuing south along Rt. 154, I soon reached Haddam Meadows State Park. I was disappointed to find that there were neither toilets, nor (more importantly) was there any water. I was down to about 1/4 of a water bottle, and it was hot. Uh-oh. Time to start worrying. No, wait. Worrying won't help. Relax, take it easy. Go down to the river and take a break. Have something to eat. Ahh. That's better. There was a nice cool breeze coming off the river, and after 10 or 15 minutes rest, I felt much cooler.
Back out onto 154, I soon found myself at the junction with Rt. 82. I made a snap decision; I was feeling pretty good, it was still early (not quite noon), so I turned left onto 82, and immediately saw a Subway store. Yeah. Food. Cold drinks. Well, I skipped the cold drinks, as the only thing they had was soda. I ordered up a foot-long Veggie and Cheese grinder, tucked it into my handlebar bag, and was on my way. Crossing the river on the metal grate bridge was, umm, interesting! I'm sure it would've hurt if I had gone down. The traffic behind me was very patient, crossing the bridge at my 12 mph pace. Once across, I climbed up out of the river valley, then swung south to Gillette Castle State Park. I didn't take the tour of the house itself, as I had done that in the past. I did fill up both water bottles, use the rest room, then find a nice quiet picnic table. Two water bottles, one-half grinder, and a short nap later, I hopped back on the bike, refilled the water bottles, and rode back down to the river at Hadlyme. Here, for 75 cents, I re-crossed to the west side of the river on the 'Historic Hadlyme Ferry'.
From here until I finally reached Saybrook Point, I had to fight the increasing on-shore breeze. At Saybrook Point, I took another break at the site of the Colonial era Saybrook Fort, consuming the rest of my grinder, a stack of Fig Newtons, and another water bottle. Thus fortified, I headed over the causeway and back north just a bit to intersect Rt. 1. While riding on Rt. 1 has nothing in particular to recommend it, consisting of strip shopping centers, over-priced seafood restaurants, and bumper-to-bumper traffic, it certainly poses no particular hazards to the cyclist. In fact, it was kind of fun watching the reactions of people as we passed and re-passed each other. 'How can that bicycle be traveling just as fast as my car? And with all that gear!' Just as I was getting tired of this game, the 'Hammonassett Beach State Park, Next Left' sign came into view.
Your intrepid, humble traveler pulled up to the registration office, dismounted his trusty steed, and walked in to ask for a campsite. 'Yes Sir, we have a site', says the very efficient, very friendly, very pretty (I'm tired, not dead!) young lady who was waiting on me. 'What kind of vehicle do you have?'
'A bicycle.', I replied.
'And your license plate number?'
'It's a bicycle. It's not registered.'
She pauses to consider. 'That's okay.' she says.
Having passed that hurdle, I cruise over to my assigned campsite and immediately, without a moments hesitation.... sit down and take a break. A quick check of the cycle computer yields these amazing statistics. The current time is 4:15, not quite 8 hours since I pulled away from my house this morning. I had managed to cover a grand total of 63.1 miles, spending 4:54:49 (don't you love precise numbers like that?) actually moving, for an average of 12.8 miles per hour.
Of these numbers, the ones that interest me are the 63 miles I had covered, as I had never ridden more than 45 miles in a day, and that was unladen; and the fact that I had managed to spend 3 of the 8 hours off the bike.
Setting up camp was a bit disorganized, as I kept rummaging through various panniers to find things I wanted. I found this a little disconcerting. This doesn't happen when I backpack, since I have been doing it for years, and have a set system for packing my gear. It will take a bit of time for my bicycle-packing routine to reach the same level of consistency.
Sunday's ride home leaves little to talk about. When I awoke around 6:00 am and crawled from my oh-so-comfortable tent, the weather was miserable. The shore was enveloped in an extremely heavy fog, and simply standing still I became soaking wet.
I had originally been toying with the idea of riding west along the shore-line until I reached New Haven, then cycling through the heart of the city and north through Hamden, North Haven , Wallingford, and finally back to Meriden. I was a little concerned about the neighborhoods this route would take me through on the east side of New Haven. I also had the suspicion lodged somewhere in the back of my mind that the bridge I intended to take to cross the Quinnipiac River into downtown New Haven was the one that had been hit by a barge a while ago. Was the bridge open? If not, where would I cross the river?
After eating breakfast and breaking camp, I was on the road at 7:18. Within 100 feet my glasses were completely covered with water. Water was dripping from my helmet, from my nose, from my knees, and any place else you can think of. I headed west on the Sunday-morning-quiet Rt. 1 until I reached Guilford, then turned north on Rt. 77. I was hoping that if I got away from the coast the fog would thin out. This also gave me a good excuse to avoid the uncertain route leading into New Haven.
Eventually the fog did clear, but not until I was nearly into Durham. Basically, I saw nothing but the 20 feet of road directly in front of me. From Durham it was a familiar ride back into Wallingford and then north on local roads to my home-sweet-home in Meriden.
I was home shortly before 11:00 am, having covered 38.6 miles for the day, and 101.7 for the weekend. I felt good. I'm sure I could have done another 30 miles if necessary. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the bike and I handled the touring load. Sure, it's slow climbing hills, but it sure is quick going down the other side! As for riding on the flats, the load doesn't seem to make any difference.
My impressions: Bike Touring is GREAT! I can't wait until I take off for Vermont in a few weeks. It's also quite an ego boost. People met along the way are so terribly impressed. After explaining to the woman camped next to me the route I had ridden Saturday, she asked me how many days it had taken to get there. 'Just today', I explained oh-so-humbly!
That's all until next time......
Copyright © 1996 - 2011 Allen F. Freeman