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Day 32: Hadley, MA to Cambridge, MA

Well, that’s the ride! Nothing to see here, folks.

But seriously, before I talk about my final full day on the road, let’s take a trip 25 years down memory lane to the summer of 1994. And sorry about the lateness of the post; I’ve had a ton of things to take care of since getting home.

On my 16th birthday I got my learner’s permit, but Massachusetts didn’t give driver’s licenses until 16½. With a June birthday, that meant I’d be halfway through 11th grade before I could drive on my own. So I started going on longer bike rides to towns around Worcester, just to get out of the house and cover some distance. A few weeks later, I shipped off to a math camp (yes, it was as nerdy as it sounds) at Hampshire College in Amherst. We had math classes in the morning, but afternoons were free, and I had my bike with me, so I started taking 30ish-mile rides around Amherst, to Northampton, South Deerfield, and a lot of other towns in the area. With the World Wide Web not exactly readily available in those days, I planned my routes using USGS topo maps.

After a few weeks, I figured I needed a challenge, so on July 22, 1994 I decided to bike home to Worcester. Being a stupid 16-year-old, I put a can of Mountain Dew in my bottle holder, and off I went. On Route 9 between Belchertown and Ware are a massive number of rolling hills, the likes of which I had never biked before. Even before I got to Ware I was so exhausted that I’d had to walk up a couple of the hills. I had long since drunk the Mountain Dew, so I had no liquid on me either. In Ware Center I stopped at a Friendly’s and drank a Fribble for refreshment. At no point did it occur to me that perhaps I should have some water.

Somehow I forced my way through the rest of the ride. I think I had a can of Pepsi in Spencer. I definitely remember falling off my bike on the really steep hill coming out of Spencer Center. When I got to Worcester, my parents were shocked at what I had done. I was also massively sick from dehydration and couldn’t keep food down. A few hours later they gave me a ride back to Amherst and people at camp teased me about my crazy riding for the rest of the summer. Incidentally, this was the first time I’d ever biked more than 40 miles in a day.

Now let’s fast forward ahead 25 years and 17 days. I felt much better prepared for the route today, with plenty of water on me too. With my late night last night I didn’t hit the road until 8:40. At least packing my bags went quickly. Knowing that I’d just be emptying the bags out when I got home, I wasn’t particularly careful about where I put things.

Even with the mid-morning start, the roads were still quite wet from last night’s rain, especially the Norwottock, which is well shaded and therefore takes a long time to dry out after it rains. Apart from the wet pavement, the Norwottock was great though. The part east of Amherst Center is the least-used part of the trail but also the prettiest. It follows marshes along the Fort River, where I made a brief stop to admire a beaver lodge and some egrets.

After 8 miles the bike path ended and dumped me on the mean streets of Belchertown. Ok, fine. It dumped me on the quiet, rural streets of Belchertown. But then after a few miles on those streets I turned onto Route 9 and was once again facing the Quabbin Hills. Only this time I had the benefit of 2600 miles of pedaling to develop my calves, as well as a whole lot of water for hydration. It still took a while, but I got through them all without having to walk up any of them. (I haven’t had to walk up a hill since that one in Montana where my legs cramped on Day 9.) At some point during this stretch a car going the other direction honked at me. Now, given the number of cars that have honked at me for one reason or another on the trip, I just filtered it out. Only this time, based on a message I got later, it was apparently my 12th grade English teacher. She said she would have stopped to say hi but I was climbing a hill and she didn’t want to break my concentration.

So let’s take stock for a moment: Before I was even through Hampshire County, I managed to run into a former coworker at a brewery and a former teacher on the highway. Massachusetts may have nearly 7 million people, but you don’t have to go far here to run into someone you know, or at least someone who knows someone you know.

When I got to Ware, I thought about getting a celebratory Fribble, but the Friendly’s has long since closed down. Instead I had to content myself with some junk food at a gas station.

Then I forged ahead into Worcester County, through the Brookfields (West and East, with just plain Brookfield in the middle). I’d forgotten how hilly they were. It’s nothing compared to the Quabbin Hills, but after the Quabbin Hills my legs were pretty tired when it came to the Brookfield Hills. And then it was time for Spencer, where I knew I’d need to use my last reserves of energy. There are two decent-sized hills approaching the town center from the west, but coming out of the town center is nearly vertical. I shifted down to 1-3 for quite a while, but I didn’t stop and I didn’t fall over.

As a teenager, getting past Spencer Center on my rides around Worcester was always an accomplishment, because from there it’s only a few small climbs to Leicester Center, and then it’s effectively all downhill for the next 4 miles to Webster Square in Worcester. So I got myself up those last few climbs and then enjoyed the ride down, thinking about the fact that the descent from Leicester marked the last time I’d be above 1000 feet on the ride. At the Worcester city limits, I took a slightly blurry selfie to mark the occasion of reaching my hometown.

Fun fact: Even though no one outside of New England has heard of Worcester, it’s one of the ten largest cities I went through on the ride. The only larger ones were Seattle, Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Windsor, Buffalo, and Rochester. (I guess technically Worcester will be 11th once I go out to Boston Harbor to formally complete the ride.)

Once in Worcester it was really a trip down memory lane for all my old bike rides as a teenager and a college student home for summer vacation. I dodged traffic in Webster Square with the best of them, while trying to remember that my bike was wider than I’m used to due to the saddle bags. A ride up Park Ave. got me to Elm Park, where I had first learned to ride without training wheels at age 7. It’s also where my high school class took our senior photo.

My parents live two blocks away from the park, but as I was going up the street I saw their neighbor across the street doing yard work. My parents had neglected to tell her what I was up to, so after I said hello we wound up in a fairly involved discussion because she was curious about just what I had done!

So then, at 1pm and almost exactly 50 miles into my day, it was time to actually go to my parents’ house and deal with a Jewish mother who had been worrying herself silly for the last 6 weeks. Any of you who have Jewish mothers can probably appreciate what I had to go through. But regardless, my parents were nice enough to take me to lunch at The Sole Proprietor to celebrate my return. While it was fun getting to try Great Lakes perch in Wisconsin and Ontario, there’s really no substitute for fresh New England seafood. I definitely missed having good fish in my diet for most of the trip. Having a nice leisurely lunch was also good for my legs, since they had been starting to cramp up from all the hills and this gave them a couple of hours to rest.

I relaxed a bit after lunch and didn’t hit the road again until 3. At this point I just wanted as direct a route home as possible with as few hills as possible. That would be Route 20, via Lincoln St. in Worcester and Main St. in Shrewsbury. It’s a route with a fair amount of traffic, but for the most part it has good pavement and either bike lanes or good shoulders. On the way to Lincoln St. I passed Greater Good Imperials, which is a really good brewery where I would have loved to stop. But I wanted to get a bit closer to home before I started drinking, so I sadly had to pass it up. Interestingly, they originally brewed at Brewmaster’s (see yesterday’s post) before they opened their Worcester location, so if I’d done this ride last year I could have had their beers back in Williamsburg!

Main St. Shrewsbury was my last big hill. It took me up to almost 700 feet, but I realized my long descent was bringing me below 500 feet for the last time. Getting closer to the coast!

66 miles in brought me to the city of Marlborough. A year ago, they had no breweries in the city, but today they have three. I had hit one of those three on one of my training rides, so I decided that this time I’d hit the other two. The first one up, in downtown Marlborough, was Flying Dreams. They actually started in Worcester a few years back, but their Worcester space is really small, and while they can do tastings there they can’t pour pints. So they opened the Marlborough location last winter as a full bar where they can do regular pours. They also do some brewing here, though most of their brewing is still done in Worcester.

When I walked in, Dave, the owner, was working the bar. I vaguely recognized him from meeting him at his Worcester location a couple of years ago, and he vaguely recognized me. He was talking with a couple of women from a Marlborough economic development group. (They had actually been instrumental in bringing three breweries to Marlborough in less than a year.) I was of course giddy at being only 25 miles from home. Dave was so impressed that I had stopped at his brewery when I was almost home that he gave my a pint on the house. The women from the development group also wanted to take a picture of us for publicity. Meanwhile, I just took a picture of Dave at the bar.

Oh yeah, there was some actual beer involved too. For my free pint I got a cucumber gose. Perhaps not quite as good as the one at Fargo Brewing, but still a nice, refreshing summer beer. On my own dime I then got the Boroweizen, which is so named because it’s one of the few beers they brewed in Marlborough. It’s a very good hefe with really strong notes of banana and clove on the nose.

On the east side of Marlborough is Strange Brewing. They actually started out as a brewing supply store, but last August 10 (so almost exactly a year ago) they opened the first brewery in Marlborough. I went there shortly after they opened, but I hadn’t had a chance to go back, so it was nice to see they’ve been doing well. True to their name, they have some really unusual brews. My favorite of the day was the Alien Baby horseradish IPA. According to Brian, the owner (who was working the bar), it’s been really popular with a lot of other patrons as well. Another really good one was the StrangurDays strawberry lemonade shandy. I got into a whole discussion with Brian about the difference between a radler and a shandy, and it was his opinion that radlers are a subset of shandies, and this particular shandy also qualified as a radler. (Specifically, his take was that shandies could be made with juice or soda, while radlers could only be made with juice.) Regardless, I really enjoyed it, though with my usual disclaimer that the weather might have biased my taste buds.

Now, earlier in the day my friend Adam had emailed me about riding together. He’s a pretty serious cyclist himself and typically bikes a 30-mile round-trip to work, but today he wanted to do something more. Since his work isn’t too far from the eastern side of Marlborough, he biked over and met me as I was getting ready to leave Strange. He also decided to start taking photos of me, so I actually have some to share for a change.

From Strange, we continued down Route 20. When we got to Wayland, I realized how good an idea it had been to let Adam join me, because he showed me a new bike path that parallels Route 20 from Wayland to Weston, and which is paved almost the whole way. It’s only about 4 miles or so, but it felt like a huge distance after all that biking on road. Also, Adam took to announcing to all the other cyclists we passed on the path that I was completing a ride from Seattle. It was only mildly embarrassing!

By the time the bike path ran out, I was only 10 miles from home. Now we were on incredibly familiar territory that I’ve biked more times than I can recall. I showed Adam how to get across Waltham without riding on Main St., and when we were going up Waverly Oaks Rd. we discussed how this was literally the last hill of any sort that I’d have to go up on my ride. Kind of unbelievable!

On the east side of Belmont I showed Adam the bike path from Belmont to Alewife, which he’d somehow never discovered himself, despite the fact that they paved it 7 years ago or so. I believe his comment was, “Mind. Blown.”

And that brought me home! Strangely enough, it just felt like coming home from any old trip. I think once I ran through the gamut of emotions in Western Mass, the last day of the ride really just wound up feeling like a long, tough, local day ride.

(That’s my driveway but my neighbor’s house, in case you were wondering. I share a driveway with them.)

So that’s the ride, more or less. After showering I took myself out to a really nice dinner, and then I was finally home and able to sleep in my own bed and operate on my own schedule.

But wait! This blog’s not done. I can see at least three more posts coming before everything is fully wrapped up:

  1. I still have to bike out to the water, just as I biked out to Puget Sound for my warm-up ride. And of course there are more breweries between here and there.
  2. Given what an experience this has been, I’d like to write a post summarizing what I’ve learned about our country (and our neighbor to the north), its geography, and its people, and what I’ve learned about how to do a really long bike ride and follow your dreams.
  3. And of course I’ll have a lengthy acknowledgements post, because there are so many people across nine states and one province without whom this ride would not have been what it was.

So stay tuned for the last few posts!

Total distance: 91.4 miles
Average speed: 13.9 mph

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