Soooo, my annual, get-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-ride-130-miles-on-or-about-my-birthday-to-officially-kick-0ff-summer is almost upon us again. And since I’ve been running way more than riding these days, I’ve warmed up a post from the past to remind me just how awesome it is. Because the truth is, I love the running but, way deep down, I’ve always been a cyclist (among other things).
…My smile wasn’t as wide when I threw my bespandexed leg over the top tube of the ol’ Belgian Ferrari on the morning of our planned ride to P-town.
It was 4:15 AM.
The pre-dawn mood on our little one-way street in Belmont was dark and moist. Glistening, if you will.
I’d been up for a half hour of so. There was high-octane coffee surging through my veins. And several liters of coconut water was surging through my bladder. And the 20-oz rib eye steak I’d eaten for my birthday dinner the previous evening was in the process of being turned into fuel in my stomach. The motor was running……….
And I couldn’t move from the top step of our front porch. I just stood there with my motor running and my wheels turning and my mind racing.
“Should I stay or or should I go, now………”
I was in that weird limbo because the honey bunny had had some curve balls thrown at her at work, and my communicatin’ was probably not as informative as it should have been, and the Pickle needed to be picked up from day care later that day when she was supposed to be on a call with a high-powered exec in some far-flung land, and most importantly–there was a “concert” planned at day care that night. So, allofasudden, my mystical ride from Boston to P-town in a day seemed a bit less mystical and a bit more self-centered.
The thoughts on the porch on that glistening pre-dawn morning went like this…
“I want to do what’s right……I want to ride to the Cape as planned……I want to be there for my family….I’m powerless in the face of my compulsion to have adventures and sail long distances and ride my bike long distances……But I want to do what’s right for my family……..And I can’t bear feeling guilty…..But I don’t want to let Pat or Barb down either…………But it’s all planned………And I should be able to make it back for the ‘concert’……And, but, who knows when I’ll get the chance to do this again…….But……guilt is my kryptonite…….But, the motor is……running!……..But what about the honey bunny? But I’m all spandexed up, and my water bottles are filled, and the garmin is all charged up. And doing stuff like this makes me a better husband/father etc….I’ll make sure I’m back for the “concert”…………………And I’ll schedule a spa weekend for…………..”
And then I was pumping up the first little rise at mile 1 of what was to turn into the aforementioned “mystical” 130-mile ride to the tip of Cape Cod.
And please forgive the word-heavy story telling. You seven readers out there know how I love the iPhone photos and videos to help me weave the yarn but, I was much more focused on the “doing” and the “internal dialogue” than I was on talking into my own camera at the beginning, so, the tale from Mile 1 to mile 90 will be told the way my man Herman Melville told the story of Moby Dick, and the way Walt Whitman sang the Song of Himself, and the way Salman Rushdie talks about celebrity in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, and way Jess Walter tells the fantastically well-written tale of humanity in Hollywood and in a forlorn Italian fishing village in the 60’s in Beautiful Ruins.
With words, sentences, and dare I say, paragraphs that paint a picture in your mind.
My mind eased a bit when I was pumping up that first little rise near Belmont’s Oakley CC. My body felt good, and my mind eased as if I’d passed some sort of weird test. The test was: Am I going to surrender to toxic, overbearing, soul-killing, self-manufactured guilt and trauma or will I be able to let the internal storm swirl and still be capable of making the sane, reality-based decision? It was a close one, but going for it felt right when I was humping up rise #1 at Mile #1, and as I was to learn later in the day, it proved to be a pretty important decision.
But, okay, enough of the existential angst already! I still have 89 miles of tale to tell with Herman Melville’s, and Walt Whitman’s, and Salman Rushdie’s, and Jess Walter’s words! Or at least maybe use some of the words they’d use if they got all spandexed up left for a 130-mile bicycle jaunt to the tip of Cape Cod in the peace of a glistening pre-dawn morning!
Actually, it was all down hill once I crested that first little rise. The form was good in the pre-dawn darkness as I hammered past the lazy Charles River, and through sleepy Harvard Square, and past bars in Central Square where my rock-star alter ego played drums in a mediocre white-man-yuppie-band, and through downtown Boston where I’d bike-commuted to and from for over a decade. And then I was leaning into the right-hander that spit me out into Whitey Bulger’s Southie. I spun past the liquor store where he used fear and hate and intimidation and scum-bag-ness to do a lot of bad stuff to a lot of people.
Riding through those neighborhoods at that hour was a bit more pleasant than it would be later in the day. There wasn’t a car on the road except for the requisite Boston Globe delivery truck that should accompany every pre-dawn scene. What better and more obsolete way to indicate a new day dawning than seeing and hearing an old, loud, heavy-duty newspaper truck grind through the gears on its wee-hour delivery mission?
Since I had a welcome tailwind and was pushing a decent gear, I was able to keep my average speed up above 20 mph, The City of Quincy appeared almost immediately. And that’s a good thing because lost on in all of my front porch hand-wringing was the fact that I had a pretty tight schedule to keep.
You see, I was riding this first 45 mile segment solo so I could get down to Plymouth for the start of the annual P2P Plymouth-to-Provincetown ride. The idea was, I could do my “mythical” Belmont-to-P-Town ride by simply putting the hammer down on the 45 miles to Plymouth and then just pleasure-cruising the last 85 miles to down to P-town in the draft of my friends and fellow P2P-ers.
So the tailwind helped delude me into thinking I was some kind of “cyclist”, but even with my good form and my helpful breeze, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it to Plymouth for my 6:15 meeting with Pat in Barb if I took my customary coastal route to Plymouth via Route 3A. I’d figured out the much more commercial and strip-mall-y Route 53 would shave five miles off but I’d not researched enough to know where I’d catch it coming out of Quincy center. “There’ll surely be a sign,” I thought.
Well, there wasn’t. And I only figured that out after I’d committed to going the Rout 53 route. So there I was, lost in Quincy, looking for the quintessentially confusing Boston-area road that has three different names that was going to get me to ticky-tacky Route 53 that was going to shave 5 miles off my route so I could kick off my “Mythical Belmont-to-P-Town” in solo style!
But before I could get too far off track, I trusted my DNA. I grew up on the south shore, and I’d been to AA meetings in Quincy, and had driven on Route 53 in Quincy with my mom when Gerald R. Ford was president. I trusted my younger-self (that had a much thicker Massachusetts accent than I do now) to point me to the nondescript road I needed to be on that would seamlessly turn into Route 53 at some random point that only our colonial forefathers could explain. And you know what? That’s exactly what happened. Exactly. I had an effervescent sense of deja vu, banged a left, and then a right on what turned out to be Adams or Washington Street (of course it’s Adams or Washington Street in Quincy), spun the pedals with confident smoothness, and viola–an old road sign that was somewhat hidden by overgrown vines proclaimed my younger self had indeed found the mysterious Route 53 by sheer sub-conscious memory MOJO!
Then the hammer really came down. Freed from the need to navigate, I simply wound it up as I passed non-chain/kinda dirty convenience stores, and non-chain/kinda run down hardware stores, and even the roller rink that I remember where Mark Thomas had his birthday party when we were 8. We roller skated in circles, and ate pizza, and I’m sure played video games too. But, that rink had long ago gone under and was now, a Hajjar’s restaurant.
And it was as I was steaming past Hajjar’s ex-roller rink/restaurant at 20 mph, when the real memories started to kick in. As you may have noticed, I’m cursed/blessed with a flash-drive-esque memory.
I passed the “Industrial Park” in Weymouth where I had my very first “sobriety job.” Now, for those of you 7 readers who have made it this deep into this words-only portion of story and who have been fortunate enough to be unaware of what a “sobriety job” is, I’ll tell you. A “sobriety job” is, you guessed it, the job many unemployable alcoholics get when they are newly sober, humbled, scared, lonely, and not really capable of thinking too clearly
So, my “sobriety job” when I finally admitted defeat and moved back to the South Shore after an extended spell of living in a tool shed by the side of a clear, cool, sand bottomed pond on the Cape IN NOVEMBER, was to sweep the floors, and occasionally drive the delivery truck for an industrial/custom cabinet shop in that Industrial park in Weymouth. Man, this is actually a topic for a whole separate post, but let’s just say that, thankfully, more than a few things have changed in my world and more importantly, in my mind since those days back in 1992 that were both terrifying and inspiring and hopeful all at the same time.
I blasted past the past at a pretty good clip.
Then, I was hammering through the town where I grew up. It’d must have been around 5AM or so. The sky was brighter than when I’d started but there was still some airborne moisture going on. And then I peddled past the 7/11 where we would congregate on those teen aged summer nights when we were hoping to look cool and find whose parents were away for the weekend and therefore, where the party was. We’d buy Big Gulps and candy bars and sit in our cars in the parking lot waiting to life to really begin.
And then I was pumped past St Helen’s church. Nothing special about it. It’s a A-frame catholic church that I remember going to and even being an altar boy. Thankfully, nothing bad happened. I just remember liking being on stage. And the head priest was just mean and while the other priest was not. He cared about people and he would always tell me to “keep smiling.”
So weird to have such a powerful memory. Maybe I should start counting cards and move to Vegas!
And the crazy thing is, when we were driving to the 7/11 before the inevitable “parents aren’t home” party on Saturday nights, the St. Helen’s considerable parking lot would always be jammed with cars. The cars were there for the weekly AA meeting, all took “pity” on the “the poor suckers who have to go to AA on a Saturday night.” Never in a million years did I ever stop to think that I’d be one of those poor suckers. And be grateful that that meeting was there when I really needed it.
And then it was just a matter of continuing on past all the old familiar places that had simply evolved over the last 35 years. Places like the Hanover Mall where me and Kevin Hickey would play Ms. PacMan and go to movies like Star Wars, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Or Star-Land–the go-kart track/driving range/video game arcade right out of a 1970’s after school special. Or even Sylvesters, the crazy/old school “lumber yard” that still looks old enough to have sold “lumber” to 17th century North River ship builders.
I could go on but…….the clock was ticking. I still needed to hump-on-through Pembroke, Duxbury?, Halifax, and then make my way, literally, to Plymouth Rock. It was about 5:40 and I still had 15 miles or so to make it to meet Barb and Pat at the P2P start line by our agreed 6:15 deadline. After some quick calculations, I called Pat to say my ETA was going to be 6:20.
Then I pushed PLAY on the AC/DC qued up on my iPod. I’ve talked about how great the beginning to Areosmith’s Sweet Emotion is, but, take it from me, if you need to cover 15 miles at 5:40AM toute suite, the beginning notes of “Shoot to Thrill,” from Back in Black, can provide untold power.
And that’s how I made it from “Should I stay or should I go” on my front porch at like, 4:15 AM, to downtown Plymouth, MA, (45 miles away) at 6:20AM, just in time to sign in and start the actual ride—Plymouth to P-Town–with Pat and Barb.
And it was no big deal really. We said “Hi,” exchanged pleasantries, and Barb held my bike as I bellied up to the sign-in table aso I could receive the night club-esqe bracelet that signified I was a paying participant of the P2P.
And then we were off.
The whole Plymouth interlude took about 10 minuets tops. And then we were just 3 of the many old-ish “cyclists” of various levels of repute that were just getting started on the annual-85 mile- mid-week trek to P-Town.
Needless to say, I was already warmed up. In fact I was kind of buzzing with the whole idea that I was actually doing the ride as opposed to deciding in the wee hours of the morning that it’d be better if I’d stayed home. And the tail wind didn’t hurt either. The gentle downhill of Long Pond Road that would deliver us to the Bridge, and the gentle Northerly tail wind, and the great company made for a pretty swift little 15 mile toddle down to the bridge.
I usually ride over the bridge when I do my little “Tour d’ Bill’s” down to Preppietown but, the P2P organizers asked for people to walk over the bridge so, we walked. No biggie. And I even had some time to text Sugar Plum to see how she was doing and let her know I was safely in with my peeps on the Bridge.
Then we just ticked off the miles.
Our water bottles got filled (and we bought some awesome and super cheap imported plastic stuff) at the water station in the Christmas Tree Shops’ parking lot on the Cape side of the Sagamore. And we slipped into the slipstream, of the world-renowned “Crack o’ Dawn” Cycling Club. Those are the boys and girls who ride–you guessed it–at the “Crack o’ Dawn.” They were going at a pretty good clip and we shamelessly hitched along for the ride. They could have hauled us all the way to P-town but we wanted to enjoy the scenery a bit, so we left them to work on their pace line skills while we settled into a more comfortable, and sociable cadence.
Then, just as in the halcyon days when I worked in the Laborer’s Union, it was time for a coffee break. We pulled into the art gallery on Route 6A (that I pass almost every day I do my Preppietown loops on the Cape), but I used the time for a pee break instead.
We were off as quick as two shakes of a lamb’s tail and could you guess what time it was?
As you can see in the fuzzy picture below, it was 9:05 AM!
How cool is that? 85 miles in the bag by 9 am. And we kept toodling, and hammering, and spinning, and drafting, and free wheeling, and the miles kept going up (or coming down depending on how you look at it), and before we knew it, we were doing a U-turn so we could avoid all the crazy retirees in their Cadillacs and Lexuses and Mercedeses, and retreat to the respite of the Cape Cod Rail Trial that was to be our magic carpet for the next little chunk of heaven that is Brewster, and Orleans, and Eastham, and even a bit of Wellfleet. We left the safety of its tree-lined majesty only long enough to have yet another water break at Rock Harbor in Orleans. And this was no run-of the-mill stop.
They had peanut butter, nutella, and Fluff sandwiches! Actually I was the luck one to get the last one before the Fluff ran out. Man those volunteers were nice!
And the darkness was gone. And the pre-dawn moistness was gone. And the “mainland” was gone. We were pedaling right smack dab into the Cape Cod of my misspent youth.
And just as I’ve been taken aback at the wellspring of emotion that continues to bubble out of me these days, I had similar sensations as we spun past Arnold’s Clam Shack, and Lecounts beach, and White Crest Beach, and the BeachComber, and the liquor stores on Route 6, and the people I used to know, and the “feelings,” and all the other summer/beach/Cape stuff that was just so important to me when I was trying to “get away from it all” in my early 20’s.
What’s not to love about a bike path like this? No retirees rushing around in German sedans. No angry contractors smoking cigarettes and gunning the engines of their contractor vans, and as an added
bonus, real live flashbacks to your early 20’s! Bonus time!
just love the stretch of road between Lecounts and White Crest Beach in Wellfleet. Such rugged, beauty. I felt so lucky to live around there when I lived around there. And I sure felt lucky to be there with Pat and Barb. The tail wind had turned into a headwind by this time out on that remote stretch of sand so I tried to do my wind blocking duty with aplomb and a smile.
And then we rolled into Wellfleet center.
I had to jam on the brakes a bit to miss the preppies crossing the street, but man, Wellfleet sure hasn’t changed. I even love the old VW Rabbit in front of the old Lighthouse Restaurant. Man, that could easily be 1991! There was lots of misspent youth spent in Wellfleet Center. One year, the college savings from my summer job at Aesop’s Tables (the fine dining establishment across the street from The Lighthouse that has since changed names) was a total of 15 dollars that I spent the first night back in Boulder. And how summer is that?
And we were getting close to our final destination. My mile-o-meter had hit triple digits a while before we started weaving through the gloriously winding back streets of N. Welfleet and S. Truro. We went up, and down, and all around, and before we could say “Jimminy Crickets!” We were doing an ever so short stint on Route 6, before bearing left again and getting back on the back streets of Truro for the final run into our final destination.
Can you see the monument off in the distance (to the left of that telephone pole)? That’s where we were headed. Now isn’t this the kind of road you want to finish up a long ride on? I mean come on. Sunny skies. Water and sky the same shade of blue. A timelessly sandy shoulder that’s only really possible on the Cape. The sign that says “State Highway Parking Prohibited” and the fact that this tiny beach road is a “State Highway.”
The wind was kinda whipping here, but we could smell the barn at this point so we just put our heads down and spun. Just a few more glorious miles and we were rolling down through the tourist land that is P-Town on a warm sunny day. And then just like that we came to rest in a grassy parking lot a block or two back from the salt water taffy/fudge and booze emporiums of Commercial Street.