May 15, 2016 — Lincoln, NH to Fairlee, VT
I wake up at 7am, still tired. The forecast has not changed but I don’t want to take another rest day, so I put on my long sleeve wool shirt, my down jacket, my rain jacket, my cycling shorts, my cycling pants, long socks, and my headband. I thank Chet once again, and roll my bike out of the garage.
Chet’s roommate is returning from town with two cups of coffee as I leave. She says something to the effect of, “Man, this wind is brutal! Have a nice ride in the rain today, honey.” I can tell she genuinely means it but I wonder, not for the first time, whether I am making a terrible mistake.
I turn on to Main Street and haven’t even gone two blocks when I decide the wind is too cold for my fingerless cycling gloves. I stop at the gas station to buy a pair of gloves, any gloves that might keep my fingers warm. I find a pair of work gloves for $3.99 and decide they will do.
Back out on the road, the wind buffets my face but at least my fingers are warm. I ride a few miles, past North Woodstock toward Lost River, but as the road steepens the rain and wind pick up. It is 45 degrees. I pause at Lost River Campground to get my bearings and decide to keep trying to ride up the notch. About a mile and a half later, I find myself riding up a steep grade directly into a headwind that must be 20mph. It literally stops me in my tracks. I get off my bike and push to a turnout just ahead.
I have three options. (1) Keep trying to ride. (2) Turn back to Lincoln. (3) Hitch to North Haverhill. I decide on option three.
The first car that pulls over is a tiny hatchback, too small to carry me and my bike. The second is a Jeep, but there are passengers in the back. Not enough room for me. I thank them for stopping and continue to wait by the side of the road. Despite my warm clothes, the wind is biting. I wonder what the fuck I’ve gotten myself into. Why am I out here? What am I doing?
After a few minutes, a red Jeep pulls over. A woman with a purple streak in her hair asks if I am okay, and I tell her I am trying to get to North Haverhill. Could she possibly take me? Her rescue dog barks at me from the back seat. She tells me that she’s just out for a Sunday drive and agrees to give me a ride.
We manage to fit my bike in the back of her Jeep (after taking off the front wheel, which took longer than it should’ve because I forgot to unlock the brakes). She puts North Haverhill into her GPS system and off we go. Her dog, Buddy, whines from the backseat, unnerved by the change in his routine.
We chat a little bit and I find out that Margaret is a web developer. I tell her about my work at SLAM! Agency and she offers to give me her contact info because by the time my trip ends, her company might be hiring. I tell her thanks but that I will be starting grad school in the fall and that’s when I find out that she went to USC. What a small world we live in.
Maybe to some bike tourists, the prospect of hitching might seem like cheating, but in this weather, it feels like the right choice. Also, the hills are steep. There is no way I’d make it over the notch today without a ride. Margaret drops me off at a gas station in North Haverhill and wishes me best of luck. I get my bike back together and my panniers situated and stop into the mini-mart for a coffee. I sit there for a long time, sipping my coffee and trying to dry off, wondering whether or not I should try to ride more today.
There doesn’t appear to be anywhere to stay in North Haverhill, so I decide to continue on to Orford. The road from North Haverhill to Orford is considerably flatter and much more manageable than the road from Lincoln up the notch. The air seems to have warmed up slightly and with the extra kick from the coffee, I make it to Orford by 1:30pm.
At the gas station, I buy some Ritz cheese crackers and sit down to try to figure out a plan. The rain has picked up, and I am no longer interested in riding. I could try to find a place to camp, but the low tonight is 30 degrees, which worries me. My sleeping bag is rated to 20 degrees, but I just don’t think I can handle it, especially with the rain. When I was planning this tour, I didn’t think I’d need to prepare for weather this cold. And judging by the reactions of the New Hampshirites I’ve run into, no one else was expecting this weather either.
After an extensive Google search, I decide on the cheapest option—Silver Maple Inn and Cottages—which is not cheap at all, really. I pedal over the bridge to Fairlee, Vermont and find the inn. I am greeted by the owner, Scott, who helps me with my bags and shows me to my room. It is the picture of a quaint New England bed and breakfast, with a quilt-covered queen bed, a rocking chair, and a shared bathroom wallpapered in florals. The floor slants, and outside a massive black newfoundland rests beneath a large silver maple. There is one other guest in one of the cottages, but I am the only person in the inn tonight. Again. So much for meeting fellow travelers.
So far, this tour has gone nothing like I expected it to. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I didn’t know it was going to be this difficult—or this expensive. I thought I’d be riding more miles per day. I thought I’d be able to handle the hills better. I thought I’d be camping more. I thought I’d be making more of my own meals. I thought I’d be meeting more people. I thought I’d be having more fun.
I don’t really know what the point of this whole tour is, but part of the reason I decided to do it was to get outside, see the world, disconnect. And it doesn’t really feel like I’m doing that right now. Sitting in a hostel or a bed and breakfast—where there are warm beds, hot showers, and wifi—waiting out the rain, that’s not what I came here to do. And yet, it is what I am doing. I am discovering my limits, one of which apparently is sleeping outside in weather less than 45 degrees. I am trying to do this thing right, to make the right choices, to not put myself in unreasonable danger. But right now, it feels like I’m doing everything wrong.
Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy and cold again, but I am going to try my luck and keep riding west. The forecast calls for the temperature to warm up on Tuesday, so hopefully I’ll be able to resume my original plan of camping. Only time will tell.