26 June 2012

Week 1

It's hard to believe, but it has been just one week since my Bike & Build trip's departure from Portland, Maine.  So much has happened, but overall the trip has been a huge success so far.  Below is my partial attempt at summarizing each of the riding days that we've had.  It's a bit on the longer side, so if you have a short attention span, you can just watch this video of a turtle trying to eat a tomato instead.

Today we hit our fifth state - New York.  Pictures with me
actually in them to come.

Kittery, Maine – Our first riding day out of Portland was a “mere” 65 miles into Kittery.  We started the day with an awesome (and free) breakfast at Local Sprouts Café in Portland, followed by a Bike & Build tradition – the wheel dip ceremony.   Besides salting our wheels in the Atlantic, we enjoyed words of encouragement from Mayor Michael Brennan and an attempt at inspiration from me.  After a hairy ride across the Casco Bay Bridge we winded down bike paths and beachside roads through Biddeford, Saco, York, and Wells into our destination.  Dinner at the United Church of Christ was awesome, but highly miscellaneous (lentils, pizza, chicken, mac and cheese, lasagna, rice, salads, and endless brownies).
Andover, Massachusetts – Leaving Kittery, we awoke to find that our van had apparently been stolen, as it was missing and broken glass surrounded where the driver’s-side door had been.  Waking to discover a grand theft auto outside of a church in a resort town like Kittery was rather unexpected, so we were not especially surprised to find out later that the whole charade was a prank from one of Bike & Build’s less mature Program Directors, who was supervising Rider Orientation for another trip across the bay in Portsmouth, NH.  Relieved to find our van just around the corner, we got on the road for a long, hot day. Highs of 107 degrees pushed several dehydrated riders into the van.  I rode sweep that day, which means that another rider and I had to ride in the back to make sure that no cyclists fell off the map.  The nice thing about sweep is that the sweepers ride in pairs, meaning that they have lots of time to chat and get to know each other (go Anna!).  The drawback of sweep day is that you often get into the destination late, in this case around 7:30 PM, making the riding day about 11 hours long.  Getting in late on sweep days come with the terriroty, so I was not frustrated by our late arrival (happy to do it!).  In fact, after our arrival we went straight over to an awesome BBQ dinner (including beer) hosted by the Webber Family.  Their son Chris Webber was a Bike & Build Program Director who was killed back a car while walking in NYC in 2007.  Their generosity and continued involvement in Bike & Build was inspiring, especially since our route is dedicated to Chris.  The next day we had our second build day in Lawrence, where we worked on renovating a former convent into ten condos.  Mostly I helped move about five tons of dirt with shovels and wheel barrows (maybe the next day’s Habitat crew moved it back, hehe).
Fitchburg, Massachusetts – Our third riding day was also my first day driving the support van.  Fortunately this was a problem-free day (loneliness in the van is a good thing, as it means all the riders are OK).  The only snafu of the day was that the electrical cord that connects our van to our trailer was damaged and needed to be rewired.  I drove to a hardware store, bought a new plug for the cord, and, drawing on memories of Mr. Spagna’s 7th grade Tech Ed class, wired the thing myself.   I felt like a champion.   We made it into the host early and enjoyed another awesome dinner, followed by a tour of the Unitarian Church of Fitchburg. All yawns aside, the tour was actually quite interesting and included a visit to the inside of the steeple (which collapsed during a storm in 1989 and killed a motorist) and through a trap door into the back of the pipe organ. 
Northampton, Massachusetts – Anxious and antsy after two days off the bike, I decided to really book it the 60 miles into Northampton.  As a result, my riding group and I averaged over 15 mph despite also climbing nearly 3,000 feet.  We took some photos at the World’s Second Largest Chair in Gardiner, MA and we reached our peak for the day atop Prescott Hill in Shutesbury, MA then enjoyed 20 miles of descent and flats into town.  We rewarded ourselves for our hard work with a pitcher of beer before hitting up the host.  After that my mother and two family friends drove up from Connecticut to join me for dinner out. 
Pittsfield, Massachusetts – Our ride into the booming Berkshire metropolis of Pittsfield was a shorter day (45 miles or so), but also very very hilly.  I stopped for a cup of coffee in the town of Cummington, home to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (who did not respond to the note I left for her seeking press coverage).  Some fun facts about Pittsfield that I learned along the way: 1. Moby Dick was written here.  2. The first intercollegiate game of baseball was played here, between Williams and Amherst, and somehow the score was 73-54.  3. GE used to employ over 8,000 people here but now employs 0.  We stopped about a mile from our destination to watch a local little league game and met a bunch of fans and proud grandparents.  The following day we took part in our third build day here and I helped to hang sheetrock for most of a house. This was a particularly fun stage of building for me because the house looked a lot more like a house and lot less like a construction site after we left.  Plus, against the odds, all our lines were plumb.  
 Poughkeepsie, New York - Today we got a "bonus state"  by cutting across the NW corner of Connecticut on our way into New York.  We descended overall and. despite riding over 80 miles, made it into the host around 2:30 PM.  Next comes one more day in New York, then on to many many days in the hills of Pennsylvania en route to Pittsburgh.

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