With the Pan-Mass Challenge coming up, my training plan has me spending long hours and long distances on the bike during the weekends. The Boy’s camp had Dad’s Weekend scheduled from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. How could I do a long bike ride and spend the maximum amount of time with The Boy at Camp Becket?
Bike to Becket!
Google Maps (It has a bike directions option) came back with a 130 mile route. Strava came back with a similar route. Not so bad. With my training to-date, that kind of distance would be a big test of my ability to finish the Pan-Mass Challenge. (Speaking of which, it’s never too late to make a donation for my PMC ride.) I thought it was achievable.
Then I noticed the climbing involved in the ride: over 10,000 feet. Ouch!
I went back to the route builder to make some changes to see what I could do about the distance, the climbing, and the suitability of roads for cycling. I pulled out my Rubel bike maps that highlight the better cycling roads. I could not get the climbing below 9,000 feet without adding many, many miles on to the route.
Then, I did some math on timing. That distance and elevation would take about 10 hours in the saddle. Adding in a few stops to re-fuel the body would make it a twelve hour journey. Dad’s weekend starts at 1 pm on Friday afternoon, so… I would have to leave home at 1 am to get there on time. Surely, I was going to arrive tired.
Fortunately, the weather forecast looked good. Phil offered to be my domestique and drive my bags out to Becket. He was already plan to drive to Becket to spend Dad’s Weekend with his son, who happened to be in The Boy’s cabin at camp.
The Ride Begins
The alarm went off in the middle of the night. I prepared my bike, slurped down an espresso and was off into the clear, cool night.
I mounted a NiteRider Lumina 750 Bike Light on the handlebars and a NiteRider Lumina 250 on my helmet. The lights lit up the road in front of me. But just in front of me. I quickly realized that if I went above 15 mph any obstacles in the road came into the light too quickly for me to react. The lights could not illuminate far enough up the road for me to go any faster.
The pace allowed me enjoy the tranquil night. The stars were out on the moonless night. The cool night air was refreshing.
I had the roads to myself. I encountered less than a dozen cars during the first three hours on the road out to Princeton.
As the road entered some denser woods, things got a bit creepy. At times it felt like a bad slasher horror movie, just waiting for a chainsaw wielding maniac to rush out of the darkness. That would switch to concerns about large wildlife crashing into me. I could spot glowing animal eyes staring at me as I scanned my headlamp across the woods as I rushed by.
The first encounter with wildlife came in Clinton as I went under a bridge. A white bag in the middle of road twitched and as I came closer revealed a big skunk snacking in the road.
We both stared at each other.
I pedaled slowly past.
I hugged the curb on the other side of the road.
I twitched, ready to stomp on the pedals for a quick exit.
The skunk slowly backed up.
The skunk inched it’s way to the far curb, staring at me the whole time.
Face-to-face was good. I didn’t want the business end pointed in my direction. I exited on one side and the skunk retreated out the other side. The first crisis ended without incident.
The next obstacle was Mount Wachusett. I didn’t need to climb to the summit, but I had to get through Princeton Center which is next to the mountain with a steep climb.
It was a tough climb. Given the darkness, I never could see how much longer and higher I had to go until I was at the top in Princeton Center.
In planning, I had wanted to get to this stop by dawn. I was ahead of schedule.
The only sounds were the whirring of my pedals as the chain turned through the gears pushing me further down the road, and the air streaming through the vents in my helmet
There was not much to see. Most of the roads were without streetlights. There were the stars above and the halo of light surrounding me from bike lights.
Lots of time to think.
What could I do to be a better man?
What could I do to be a better father?
What could I do to be a better husband?
What could I do to be a better member of my community?
Lots of time to think.
The Second half
Halfway through the ride came sunrise and a close encounter with a bear.
A hundred feet ahead there was a big black bear crossing the road. My first instinct was to grab my camera. But then I thought better and kept both hands on the handlebar. I slowly approached the spot where the bear had entered the woods on the side of the road. Gone. Four hundred pounds of bear had disappeared into the dawn lit woods. I couldn’t see it, and I was not going to stop and stare.
I had beautiful views as my road snaked along the side of hills presenting vistas overlooking fog-filled valleys with the orange and purple of dawn lighting the sky.
Then the hunger came. Time for breakfast and a long stop at Ware’s Dunkin’ Donuts. Nothing better for re-fueling on a bike ride than DD. Sugar, fat and caffeine packed in easily digestible and delicious packages.
With my tank topped off, I had the energy to compete on the roads with the morning commuters. I resented having to share the roads after having them to myself during the pre-dawn hours.
The next obstacle was the Connecticut River. There are only a few bridges to the cross the river. I rode over the Calvin Coolidge Bridge on Route 9. Stopping for a picture, of course.
Looking over the side of bridge I noticed an old railroad bridge upstream with pedestrians and cyclists. I had missed the Norwottuck Branch of the Mass Central Rail Trail in my route planning. That looked like a much more pleasant ride across the river.
Having never been to Northhampton, I was joyful to find a bike friendly town with bike lanes. Even better, it was full of coffee shops. That meant time for second breakfast.
I had to refuel for the next big obstacle: the hills of Westhampton. A 1,000 foot climb was down the road. The heat of the summer morning had arrived.
Unlike the climb into Princeton in the dark, I had the full sun to light the road for a fun, rapid descent after the slow, grueling climb.
The last and biggest obstacle was still ahead. Camp Becket is on the top of a mountain with 15 miles of uphill road to get there. I turned the corner after the descent into Huntington to begin that slow crawl up Route 20 into Becket.
My legs were cooked. It was all about finding a low gear and grinding it out over those 15 miles. Mile after mile gaining more and more elevation, knowing this climb was standing between me and The Boy. I had not seen him in three weeks. I was not going let a few miles stop me.
I managed to get to the top of the mountain an hour early. I pulled into the Becket Country Store & Cafe and consumed a ridiculous amount of food and drink while I waited for it to get closer to the one o’clock start of Dad’s Weekend. I could not wait quite that long and threw an exhausted leg over the top tube to finish the climb to the camp’s entrance.
The camp greeters were a bit surprised to see me. I’m sure that they thought I was a lost biker, turning around just before the road became unpaved.
Then I whooped out “DAD’S WEEKEND!”
They whooped in response and followed with “Are you here for Dad’s Weekend?”
I sure was. Tired, but I was there.
The final route, at least according to Strava:
Distance: 132 miles
Climbing: 9,079 feet of elevation
Average speed: 14 mph
Fastest speed: 40 mph
Elapsed Time: 11:13:34
Moving Time: 9:28:34
Calories burned: 6,428
Of course Dad’s Weekend at Camp Becket was a great event. Great times with The Boy, other boys and their dads.
The message on Chapel-by-the-Lake’s steps stuck with me, especially after my night of introspection.
May we know once again that we are not isolated beings
But connected to the universe, to this community, and to each other.
May we be reminded here of our highest aspirations
and inspired to bring the gifts of love and service to the altar of humanity.
That was my last big physical test before the Pan-Mass Challenge and a big emotional test. Now the fiscal test remains, as I continue to raise funds to support cancer research.
Donate to the Pan-Mass Challenge
Pan-Mass Challenge: It’s not too late to show your support for me and cancer research. The Pan-Mass Challenge will donate 100% of your donation to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through its Jimmy Fund.