There are a handful of rides that it seems like everyone does here. One of them is Wachusett. A number of social rides, charity and competitive events involve climbing Mt. Wachusett, which I believe might be the largest hill in the (greater) Greater Boston Metro area. No matter how you slice it, a round-trip ride from the real Boston Metro to Wachusett is about 100 miles, give or take.
At the beginning of the summer, I participated in the RSC Crazy 88 ride with about a billion other people, but the “short” 88 mile option + my commute to and from RSC put the total distance over 100 miles, and so I decided to skip out on the longer option that would have included the Mt. Wachusett climb but made the day 120ish miles and sounded miserable in the heat. I’ve regretted it ever since. It’s probably the biggest climb we have around here, and after moving here from a mountain town where you were pretty much required to climb several hundred feet just to get back into town after a ride, I appreciate these rare hills more than I did when they were plentiful.
Another thing that happened this summer: I borrowed a GPS device. Now that I’m relatively comfortable using it, I find myself happily planning rides that are longer and have a lot more turns than I typically would prior to having a digital back seat driver.
This is what you can see from the scenic overlook stop on the way down the mountain. pro tip: stop and take a picture on the way up — that one had much better views.
I like riding my road bike, but I am no bicycle super-star. I’m not very fast. I often get dropped during group rides. I like paceline style rides, but I don’t like tight, fast pacelines on roads I don’t know with total strangers who may be more sketch than me. And I don’t train, ever. I ride when I want, hard as I want, for as long as I want. Sometimes this is a lot. Sometimes this is very little.
From having spent too much time with people who view themselves as competitive cyclists, I know that I have a bizarrely skewed view of what riding a bicycle “hard” or “long” is. It also means that I’ve ridden a few centuries – from the basic “let’s go to New Hampshire for no good reason” to actual organized events with options of that distance. However this is something I’ve always done with others – and a ride of any distance with others is significantly easier than a solo effort at a similar pace or intensity.
I stopped for a minute on the way home to properly eat my sandwich. This was my lunch time view.
The hardest part of riding to Wachusett was setting aside the time to do it and spending an entire day on a bicycle. It wasn’t an incredible feat. I was more tired than I would have liked to be on the way back, but that’s largely my own fault for not being a fitter cyclist. After riding along on my sister in-law’s first century, which she completed with very little training, I realized that the biggest challenge is just the “keep going” part. If your bicycle is in good shape, you have enough snacks to keep up your energy, some basic level of fitness achieved by being an active human being, and are prepared for the potential pitfalls – any long ride will probably go just fine.
A few days after this ride, Dan came home from his “do-I-really-need-to-get-a-job-now?” mid-Atlantic and New England motorcycle trip and told me that we had to go camping and hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I said, “okay” – as in, “sure, we can do that sometime.” But Dan had really meant “We are going to go camping and hiking in the White Mountains, ASAP;” and on Friday, I came home from work to find all of our outdoors stuff packed up, and I had 40 minutes to pack my clothes, food, and personal stuff for the trip before we drove up in the dark to camp in the National Forest.
Dan had planned a 9ish mile hike to the Franconia Ridge, home of Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Lincoln. We did the “counter-clockwise” version of the hike from Falling Waters Trail to the ridge, and than down via the Old Bridle Path trail. The views from the top were really amazing. It’s been a very long time since I’ve hiked on such exposed ridges. I was reminded of places that I have hiked in the distant past – specifically the exposed summit and giant piles of rocks and vicious wind on San Gorgonio in California and the weathered granite of the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. Beautiful.
There is a little spur trail on the Falling Water Trail that takes you to Shining Rock. This is Dan sitting on the rock while his t-shirt dries in the sun. Taking this side trail is infinitely worth it.
After bagging 2 peaks in a day, Dan decided that we should work on getting all 48 peaks in the White Mountains that are part of the official “four thousand footer club.”
Remember that last picture of Dan? He was looking at this.
I was so much sorer from merely walking nine miles with a small backpack than I was after riding 100 miles on a bicycle. I haven’t done any serious hiking in years, and I remember it being a lot easier – I figure a good bit of that was youth, but I think a fair amount of ease also had to do with being in climbing and running shape way back then. The likelihood of me getting back into climbing is about zero – it’s expensive and involves driving. My body doesn’t think running is anywhere near as fun as it did when I was 20, but I’m going to make more of an effort to try to include some running in my life, at least in the winter — when bicycling isn’t as appealing on cold, dark and icy streets — just to make the increased quantity of hikes over the next couple of years a little easier.
Peak bagging, centuries, and must-do bike rides are all part of the same silly club: relatively arbitrary challenges for people of some means who want hobbies that are more physically active than merely collecting knick-knacks. This isn’t a horrible dig, as I’m obviously a participant — but it requires a little bit of disposable time and income, and a comfortable enough life to think that we should seek out these activities as challenges.
One of the people I work peripherally with works with a group of women who have to travel 6-10 miles by foot each day in a desert to fill containers of water to cook for their families. They carry much more weight in these trips than most backpackers would ever consider. I can’t imagine trying to explain to these ladies that I want to climb up a bunch of large hills just because it’s hard and the view at the top is nice. I have a bunch of time each day after getting safe drinking water out of the tap in my house, and I think it would be fun to get my lumpy self up a big hill or two under my own power.
The first trail takes you to the ridge, and from Little Haystack, this is what Mt. Lincoln looks like. After you get to the peak of Mt. Lincoln, you get to go up a couple hundred feet higher to summit Mt. Laffayette.
Whenever I see something about some incredibly arbitrary every-man challenge, usually some kind of long-day charity event advertised as a hardship or challenge on behalf of the charity and suffering people, or those weird for-profit 5ks with mud pits and $70-100 entry fees, I think about the absurdity of it all. When I was riding my bike home from climbing Wachusett all-by-myself, I was kind of divided between feeling like I did something, and thinking: well, not really. Because, honestly, what did I do besides set aside 7 hours of my life and eat some weird food that fit in my pockets? Biggest accomplishment: I enjoyed the view from the top. and I found some enjoyable roads and climbs along the way.
Pushing limits blah blah blah. Maybe other people really do. Maybe they become better/smarter/stronger just by being a little faster and going a little farther, but I generally think of my activities as being what keeps me from the dangers of sedentary living in a generally comfortable world (I find it makes me ill, achy, cranky, tired, and dull; I’m not sure how people live sedentary lives). Pushing a little harder helps me keep up for just a little bit longer with people who I like to spend time with who are much faster and fitter than I (which isn’t really difficult).
I like hikes with nice views, and I like seeing the countryside on my bike. Keeping my basic level of fitness high enough to do the things I enjoy takes a little work for someone who spends a lot of sedentary time in an office – and it gets a little harder each year to keep somewhat fit as gravity continues to conspire against me. As far as this new hiking challenge goes, I think what I am looking forward to most is all of the time spent outside, moving, breathing, and enjoying being alive with my best friend — and hopefully a few other friends brave enough to hike with us every once in awhile –- whether we manage to hike to the top of every peak isn’t that important to me — that part is just too arbitrary.