In theory, my three riding buddies had planned to do it with me, but they all bagged out, leaving me without anyone to drive me to the start up in Manchester. And another buddy who lives out there declined my request for crash space.
That left me with one option: the commuter rail. That worked out okay, except the first train didn’t arrive until an hour after the ride left Manchester. So not only was I without my riding pals, but I wound up doing the entire hundred miles without seeing (or drafting!) another rider.
Putting that aside, I set out northwest from Manchester through some of the flattest, most scenic terrain I’ve ridden. Most of the first half of the ride was either shady woodland roads with no traffic (featuring occasional ponds and streams and people kayaking) or farmland (with trotting horses, cows, turkeys, snakes, groundhogs, cats, orioles, and cardinals).
By the time I was 20 miles in, I was absolutely covered with tree pollen. My jersey and shorts were yellow, and my shins we so caked with it that it was falling off in clumps.
The first third of the ride was against a mild wind out of the west, but not bad. It was supposed to come close to 90 degrees, but some high overcast and the shade provided by the trees kept me unaware of the heat; that is, until I stopped riding, when I found myself suddenly bathed in sweat due to the lack of any breeze.
After three hours of riding, I pulled into a bike shop in Newburyport that represented the halfway point rest stop. I was on schedule, but starting to slow. Although I was still half an hour behind the other riders, there were still some snacks left. I mooched some animal crackers and a strawberry before heading south along the coast. This terrain was much more open and more trafficky, but fine.
Five hours and 75 miles in, I stopped briefly at the rest stop in Beverly. The route had turned west again, so I’d had to face the wind for a while, this time more exposed than before. The directions had also gotten quite confused here, as the route crossed itself four times in the next 20 miles (the one other rider I met was clearly lost and actually stopped me to ask directions).
On the last segment it was clear that I was out of strength, but I made it over the route’s one significant hill and finished okay. I didn’t note my arrival time, but the GPS tells me it was 4:14pm, which made it a 6h 48m century, although it also was a couple miles short of a hundred miles, too.
One of the last riders leaving the postride cookout that I’d missed was Tsun, whom I know from my regular Quad rides. He hung around for a bit with a few other stragglers while I downed a cola and (yes, literally) hosed myself off.
After a while, I moseyed back to the train station, but not before a detour to Captain Dusty’s for a big ice cream. The commuter rail platform was jammed with people: a handful of cyclists, a ton of people who had spent the afternoon at Singing Beach, and people headed to Boston for the Celtics’ playoffs game seven against the 76ers. The train was jammed, but the MBTA has one car where half the seating has been ripped out and replaced with parking for dozens of bikes, which we filled.
As the train quietly wound its way homeward, I could only think of two things: how welcome a long shower would be, and how I was going to have to do a thorough and complete cleaning of the Plastic Bullet before taking it out for Monday’s Memorial Day Quad ride.
The one other thing I should mention is how fortunate I was to find ice (for free!) nearly every place I stopped, which included a country store in Boxford, the bike shop in Newburyport, and the bike shop at the finish in Manchester. That was key on such a hot and humid day.
Overall, it was an awesome ride. While the second half of the ride wasn’t as quiet, scenic, and ridiculously flat as the first half, that first half was really great. And the timing is great, too; the end of May is the perfect time for an early-season century, it doesn’t conflict with any other events, and it gives one something to do over the Memorial Day weekend, while still leaving enough recovery time to ride again on Monday.
A very enjoyable ride—even solo—and I look forward to doing it again. But next time I’ll have friends along, or maybe I can get a ride from Tsun or Lynda, or crash chez Allison. But even if I have to solo it again, the Tour d’Essex has definitely earned a spot on my annual cycling calendar!
And, finally, a link to the GPS log.