In 2012, Daegan and I embarked on our longest ever bicycle tour: 500 Kindnesses. This project was treated like a charity bicycle ride in that we asked for “sponsors” to support us. But instead of sending money to a charity we asked them to perform a random act of kindness for someone. In the end, over 1,000 pledges were received. Our ride would take us from Toronto, northeast to Ottawa and Montreal then south through my home state of Vermont, eventually ending up in New York City. The trip was made on a tandem bicycle as Daegan was still young (only 13) and less confident cycling on busy streets like we might encounter in the major cities we’d pass through. Or perhaps, if I’m honest, I can say that I was far more nervous than he was and having him riding the same bike made me feel more comfortable.
Over the next several weeks I’ll be posting original entries from the trip.
July 21, 2012 – Approximate distance: 100 KM
We woke early and made our way to the hotel lobby for breakfast. While the standard “free continental breakfast” offered at chain hotels is a great deal for when you’re on a long road trip, muffins and juice were not the most satisfying start for my day. Perhaps that’s the best way to explain the latter part of my day. It was what was available, though, and we ate what we needed before heading out.
The ride out of Northampton was really great. After a couple of kilometres we found ourselves on the Manhan Rail Trail – a paved path leading south. Sharing the path with us were parents, kids, students, older folks, leisurely riders, and spandex-clad racers. And with a trail like that I could definitely see why.
Today’s route took us skirting around the post-industrial city of Springfield, MA, through some relatively non-descript suburbs and on to the Southwick Rail Trail. This was one of my favourite trails of the trip so far. Again, really smooth, and because it was a former canal towpath, there were no hills. In fact, as we were headed in the general direction of the ocean, we were on a gentle downhill. This took us a few miles where we not only met the Connecticut Border, we met a mother, father, and several children heading North along the trail. We talked about about our trip so far and their own (they were just out for the morning). Before we headed out, we swapped cameras and each family captured their state border crossing.
From here on the trail was now the Farmington Canal Trail and took us a little over 10 miles.
Unfortunately, two changes happened not long after we left the rail trail. The first is that we were getting in to the most mountainous part of our trip. But as we’d been on our share of hills, this alone wouldn’t be a problem. What made it more challenging, though, was that we now had to travel on US Route 202 which is conduit for a great deal of westbound traffic leaving Hartford, Connecticut and its western suburbs where we now were. The combination was extremely stressful. On the flat stretches it wasn’t bad. There was a really wide shoulder. However, as we’d approach a large hill, that shoulder would disappear, a low-speed truck lane would be added, and we’d be dumped into traffic. But because it was a steep hill, we were making our way very slowly. We were the only cyclists we saw on this stretch, and I could see why. At the same time it was now getting hotter and hotter. We were approaching the 80 kilometre mark of our trip with only 20 kilometres or so to go. And this is where I learned my lesson.
It was the biggest hill of the trip so far and Daegan and I were actually powering up it pretty well. But even as I was pleased with how we were moving, I was really stressed out by impatient drivers passing too closely. But it was OK, because we were nearing the crest of the hill when we’d get our precious lane back. And that was when a driver passed us by. While he gave us a really good amount of space he was honking his horn. All the heat, stress, and frustration came out in one big profanity and gesture-laden blast. How could this driver be so inconsiderate? Could he not see how hard we were working? Why did he begrudge us the four seconds that we delayed him and then feel he had to tell us with his horn how much he despised the fact that we were there? After I vented there was a short silence at which point Daegan laughed a little and said “You *do* know that guy was *encouraging* us as we were climbing the hill, right?” Sheepishly I admitted that he was likely correct. For the rest of the ride he took great pleasure watching me cringe as he would rib me in a friendly way about how I screamed at the guy encouraging us. Definitely a fantastic lesson in assumed intent. One thing we learned after that, though, was that while in 99% of cases it was safest to ride with traffic, in this case it felt much safer on the hills to cross the road and ride in the opposite shoulder because while the shoulder would completely disappear on the uphill lane, it would actually widen to about 8-10 feet on the opposite side so we could ascend safely without worry. We didn’t even have to worry about the biggest risk to traveling on the wrong side of the road – cross-streets and driveways because at this point we were in between towns and there were little or no cross streets and driveways. So now that we figured this out my stress level dropped significantly.
Eventually we got to the top of the last hill and got on the descent that would lead us into Torrington, Connecticut where we had reserved a room at the Yankee Pedlar Inn – a location we selected not only for its location but for the fact that it was reputed to be haunted. The funny thing was, the stories I read told of the spirit haunting it as being that of the original innkeeper’s wife. Instead of being the typical evil and disturbing ghost, though, she was known for wandering the halls to check on guests to make sure they were comfortable.
We parked the bike in front of the inn and checked in. We brought our bags upstairs to a lovely room with two twin beds and a charming, vintage bathroom. I got a bit of a feeling that Torrington might be a bit sketchy, though, and wanted to see if I could find a more secure space for the bike. As the room was up several narrow flights of stairs there was no taking it into the room as we had before. So we asked the desk clerk if there was somewhere we could put the bike safely inside. They thought a minute – and eventually they came up with an idea for somewhere indoors we could lock it.
We returned to the room, showered and got ready for dinner. After a day like that one can work up a pretty big appetite. We found our way to a great Italian restaurant that looks like it hasn’t changed since the 60s. There we gorged on fresh delicious pasta, lots of cold drinks, and a Caesar salad made by hand for us right at the table. Heaven!