9. Vermont/NH/Maine Bicycling Across The USA

Day 72: Rochester to Wells Beach, ME

The rain tapered off and left behind a stiff north wind. Added to an air temperature in the 40s, it meant that our last day was also one of our coldest. We left around 11am after my old friend Jon Crispin, a professional photographer, showed up to record the festivities. We had 25 miles to go before the end of the trail at Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells Beach, Maine.

Traffic remained heavy but we were sheltered from the wind, and before too long we crossed the state line and turned east on state route 9. The road was flat and before long the buildings thinned out. We rode thorugh a coastal deciduous forest that was being stripped of its leaves in the raw wind. We reached the town of Wells and turned north on US Route 1, picking our way through the cars and broken asphalt and closed fish-fry restaurants until we reached the entrance to the Reserve. It is a beautiful spot, a preserved farm complex on 2,200 acres, and we spent an hour talking with scientists and the President of the Board about its dual mission of research and education (see separate post).

About 2:30 pm we threaded our way down Drakes Island Road to the Preserve’s beach, where we ceremonially dipped our tires in the water. We also unveiled the hat of Al Craig, in whose memory Jim and Sara made the trip, for the last time. Sara brought some bubbly and we had a toast, but it was too cold to stay long. So we went to a nearby restaurant and said our goodbyes over tasty bowls of real clam chowder. Then it was time to disband.

The trip ended well. We finished in good shape physically, and Jim and I still like each other enough to plan more rides together. Not until it warms up, though. The three of us finished up so tired, and with so many unprocessed memories and emotions, that we all felt stunned. In the weeks after the trip ended, some of those memories came bubbling back up in my mind up at odd moments. It made me think of a big pot of soup simmering on the back burner, its flavor changing slowly over time. This trip will be nourishing us for a long, long time.

Bicycling Across The USA

Afterword: What We Learned

Thanks to Jon Crispin for the photo.

Jim, Sara, and I spent several hours in the last days of the ride trading stories and thinking about what we learned. Many of the events that inspired these aphorisms are written up in the blog.

Rain is OK. Mud is not OK.

It is never as hard as the convenience store guy says it’s going to be.

If the temperature is going to be more than 90 degrees in the afternoon, get rolling before sunrise, quit no later than 2pm, and find a campsite with shade.

If the road has a narrow shoulder, ride on the white line and use hand signals to encourage vehicles to swing into the passing lane. Most of them will. If you ride on the shoulder, even a narrow one, no one will move over.

Put lots of flags, reflectors, and lights on the back of your bike. We encountered aggressive drivers only about a half dozen times in 3,670 miles of riding. But every day we met people who passed too close to us because they either did not see us or didn’t care.

Two of our six encounters with nasty drivers were with people driving Hummers.

There is often a better alternative to the busy highway. Maps from the Adventure Cycling Association are an almost foolproof way to find these alternate routes. If you aren’t on an ACA route, ask the guy at the convenience store.

Unscented baby wipes are a must. So is Bag Balm. Details on request.

They should make disposable bike shorts. You can never pack too much underwear. And if you need more, the ones at Wal-Mart really aren’t bad.

The Biblical commandment about resting on the Sabbath Day makes a lot of sense when you have an outdoor job. After six straight days of riding we were dull, sore, and more prone to make mistakes. The best reason to take a rest day is safety.


Use caution when eating meat in the middle of a long ride. Even if you’re really hungry, a triple-decker lunch is an awful idea. You will feel like your guts are packed with Silly Putty.

Simple sugars and carbs are best during a ride. Liquids are better than solids. Lots of little meals are better than one big one.

Don’t order a milkshake until you see the Hamilton Beach machine.

Don’t eat at a place that won’t make you a grilled cheese sandwich.

Most middle-aged people are lactose intolerant. Don’t order a milkshake unless you’re prepared for the consequences.

When your riding partner is farting, stay at least ten feet back.

Don’t drink more than two beers after the ride is over. Riding with a hangover is no fun.

“Bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) doesn’t care how much you exercise.  We ate meat every night and got lots of our calories from fat. During the ride, Brad’s LDL count actually went up 50 points. It just ain’t fair!

Make sure you have a comfortable place to sleep. The Coleman Ridgeline cot ($42 at Wal-Mart) was much more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. It was light and folded easily. It was by far the most important piece of gear in Brad’s kit.

A middle-aged man who is doing physical labor all day can never get enough sleep. If you feel like lying down, go ahead.

Use extreme care when making reservations. Web pages lie. A lot of private campgrounds have a high “creep factor” that you cannot detect until you get there. Look at the showers before you pay.

There is always a place to camp. Keep looking. Go to the nearest store and ask questions. You can always beg the nice ladies at the Chamber of Commerce.

Personal care chores require way too much time in camp. Why do commercial washing machines still demand quarters? Snack machines take dollar bills. When will washers catch up?

Earplugs and a face mask are essential for nights when you’re near a train track, a highway, or a street lamp. Taking a Benadryl will help you drop off to sleep and it isn’t habit forming. But if there’s a sing-a-long in the next campsite, abandon all hope.

Vault toilets are really not so bad, as long as you have toilet paper. Bring your own.

You can cook great meals using the cheapest pots and pans.

There are items you’ll never use that still give you comfort. Sara got a warm feeling every time she saw her frying pan. Brad brought a ponderous history book in case we were ever snowed in.


Living in the moment is overrated. Two months on the road packs your brain with so much unprocessed imagery that you can hardly put two words together when someone asks you what it was like. This proves Socrates’ point.  The unexamined live really is not worth living.

Choose crew members who laugh at your jokes. Don’t ride with people who don’t laugh a lot.

It is almost never a good idea to get all worked up over something. There is simply too much you cannot control.

Anybody who can walk uphill for an hour without stopping can ride over the Rocky Mountains on a bicycle. It ain’t the dog in the fight. It’s the fight in the dog.