I woke up Friday morning with no idea how I'd be getting to Claremont, NH. I called the airport, but they were fogged in. I called a motorcycle shop to see if I could hitch a ride with someone, but nobody was heading that direction. Even the bike shops were out of all their rentals because of a big race this weekend. A guy at one of the shops recommended I try Goodwill and Salvation Army, who occasionally carry a few bicycles. I called both- Goodwill didn't have any but Salvation Army had five. I walked the three miles to the thrift store, realizing that I probably should have asked a few more questions about the bikes that they did have, (Are they kid's bikes? Do they have wheels? Do they work?). An hour later I arrived and the man at the counter pointed me in the direction of the men's bikes. There were three- two mountain bikes and a Schwinn road bike. The mountain bikes were both filthy and although the Schwinn didn't look much better at least it was a road bike and much lighter. I paid $25 for the bike and $2 for what looked like a twenty year old helmet.
Within a few minutes, I was bumpily making my way down the road. The front tire was completely deflated, and I was uncomfortably being reminded of that every second. I biked the three miles back to the bike shop and bought a new inner tube ($5) and got some grease applied to the very rusty chains. Although it was far from being fancy, it was definitely usable now, and I set out on the fifty mile ride to Claremont.
There are a few other things I should mention. I don't think I've ever taken a bike ride longer than fifteen or twenty miles in my life, so I had no clue what to expect. Also, the gears on this bike are operated by these two metal handles which I was confused about how to use and terrified that the chain would fall or crumble if I did use them. So I decided to stick to the the gear the bike was already in.
So I was off, riding into the New Hampshire hills. And pretty soon I was walking my bike up the New Hampshire hills. Regularly, I would push myself a little harder when I was pedaling up hills, but with so many miles ahead of me, I didn't want to wear myself out so early. Walking may have been slower, but I figured I would take a "slow and steady wins the race" kind of attitude. In two hours I had covered about 18 miles which wasn't great, but was faster than walking the whole way. I stopped at a gas station to refill my water bottle and bought some Vitamin Water and a small bag of Wonka candy that I had never seen before. It was sort of like chocolate-covered pop rocks, and I figured I could eat them sparingly over the next few miles as a sort of incentive.
And as I kept riding, it became more and more of a blur. I think it had something to do with the intense sugar rush I had suddenly entered thanks to the candy and Fruit Punch Vitamin Water. Time was flying by even if the miles weren't, and I was finding all sorts of ways to keep my mind occupied. First I sang every Simon and Garfunkel song I could think of. Then I started singing Jackson 5, and pretty soon I was trying to sing through every song I could remember from my various Pandora radio stations. I loudly commented to myself about everything I rode by. "How about that river!" "I see seven cows and three geese!" "That elderly couple is driving very fast and coming dangerously close to pushing me off the road!"
And then I started crashing- mentally not actually. I got off my bike even for the slight hills and walked up. Even going downhill didn't seem that easy. I stopped off to pick up another Vitamin Water. I felt like an addict. But pretty soon I was getting my second wind, and was pedaling up the hills again. These cycles, (pun intended), continued the entire way, though I only drank 1 and a half bottles of Vitamin Water.
Finally, after seven miles- I think I was on my fifteenth wind at this point- I pushed my bike up the last hill to the Goddard Mansion Bed and Breakfast. I'd never been so happy to be somewhere in my life. I hadn't called to tell them I'd be late but the owners, Keith and Scott, had been following my travels on this blog and twitter. They showed me to my comfortable room in the expansive 1905 house, and although my body was tired my mind was very much awake from what may have been the longest work-out of my life. I had some chamomile tea before I laid down and let the images of rural New Hampshire race through my head. And eventually I fell asleep.
I took it easy today- enjoying a slow and delicious breakfast, (prepared by Scott), with my fellow B&B guests before walking into downtown Claremont and along the Sugar River. There's a charming business district with a lot of fun shops and restaurants, and although there are some recession-induced empty storefronts, there are a number of business opening up too. After stopping by a garage sale, I returned to the B&B. There are many lounges and sitting areas in the Goddard Mansion, and I spent at least fifteen minutes reading in all of them before finally going outside and playing fetch with Shadow, the dog. And now I'm getting ready to head to bed again. I'll be getting up early tomorrow to head over to Morningside Flight Park, where I'll be getting a lesson in paragliding. And tomorrow evening I'll be getting on the train and meeting up with Evan, (who's joining the trip for a week), as we head to Burlington, Vermont.