New England 2019: lessons learned

This was my sixth summer touring with Cheryl, who has taught me almost everything I know about bicycle touring and camping. By now, I think that I may be getting the hang of this by myself. Nevertheless, every year I find things to learn. Here are some of the lessons learned and relearned from the two months in New England.

Timely preparations in the summer. I usually have started my annual trek in the spring, with a freshly overhauled bicycle. This year I started in August and did not think about how busy bicycle shops are in the summer. I could not get my bike overhauled in Charlottesville before leaving and had to set up an overhaul in Niantic along the way, having the parts shipped to the bike shop. I should have allowed two more weeks than I did to get the bike ready.

Dealing with mechanics (“wrenches:”, we call them in the bicycle world). Anything with more than two moving parts is capable of having more than two things wrong with it at the same time. The wrench who overhauled my bicycle, including installing a new drive train, left me with an annoying looseness that caused erratic shifting. The next wrench found a worn out hub and replaced it. Great riding, but the erratic shifting continued. The third wrench and I noticed the play in the crankset: the first wrench had forgotten to shim the bottom bracket when installing the new parts.

Lesson: check to make sure that the original complaint has in fact been fixed. Don’t ride off.

Shortcomings of Google: accommodations. The smaller campgrounds, B&B’s and guesthouses are not on Google, especially the family-run ones. These are often charming and hospitable. If the people running them are old-fashioned, they may be listed at the local tourist office, but not be inclined to pay Google to have their listing show up on searches, or simply not have an online presence. We rode past many lovely places that were not on Google, on our way to the places that we had chosen. Cheryl always stops at tourist offices, but it is not a habit that I have formed yet.

Lesson: coming into a new area, visit the tourist office when possible. They should know of places to stay, shop and visit. In North America, at least visit the State information center at the border or the first border town.

Laundry facilities. When touring on a bicycle, and often with other vehicles, we don’t usually have a closet full of clothes with us. One must plan to do the laundry more often. We found that there were washers and dryers at Dune’s Edge Campground, but not at the hostels on Cape Cod or Nantucket. And there were no convenient laundromats nearby.

Lesson: when researching places to stay, remember to check for laundry facilities among the amenities, even if you don’t need to do the laundry today.

Shipping stuff home. There is no escaping this. No matter how carefully one packs, there is always something to send home after a few days on the road. Both of us lightened our loads in Martha’s Vineyard.

Lesson: Just get used to it and plan on it. You will always pack something you don’t need.

Trash in camp. In some campgrounds, it’s a long hike to the nearest trash receptacle. This is becoming more of a problem as we reduce our use of plastic shopping bags.

Lesson: when checking into a campground, notice how far the dumpster or trash cans are and remember to bring a trash bag to the site before setting up camp.

Velcro in the laundry: whether on gloves, waist bands or anywhere else, the hook part of a Velcro® closure will invariably snag something delicate.

Tip: if you use a special bag for your lingerie, put the Velcro® items in the bag, not the lingerie.

Tip: when washing Velcro® in a mixed load, put a piece of felt over the hook part of the closure.

Catching a local train. We spent hours waiting for the last train from Plymouth, not realizing at the time that the Kingston station was only 4 km away. Trains on that line originated in Kingston every half-hour, but only three times a day in Plymouth.

Lesson: when checking a train or bus schedule, find the station(s) nearest up the line. It may be close enough to ride there instead.

Flying with a bicycle. I have never flown anywhere with my bicycle that the check-in personnel did not give me some kind of hard time about accepting the bicycle. Long ago, I learned to research the airline policy so as to be absolutely sure that my bicycle could fly on the plane either bagged or as is. Airlines that require boxing the bicycle should provide the boxes. In Nice, we had to run to a distant Air France counter that had the boxes, but at least they had them. In Boston, we bagged Cheryl’s bicycle as required, but the counter personnel insisted that it be boxed. Finally, the supervisor called someone off-site on the telephone and overruled the agents.

Lesson: know the airline’s policy and comply, but allow at least a half-hour in addition to whatever is recommended, to have time to argue down the counter personnel if necessary.

Weather forecasting. I was incredibly lucky this summer to miss the effects of Hurricane Dorian, TS Leonardo, and TS Melissa, the latter by just a day. Also, frequent cold fronts and storms systems seemed to hold off or go by early. We were able to facilitate this good fortune by paying close attention to the weather system, not only locally, but across North America.

Lesson: learn to read a weather map, then open the scale and animate the display. Knowing what is coming by seeing it moving helps refine the forecast or reveals holes in the system. Sometimes, the weather will not be what the forecasters are predicting for your area.

Accept kindness when offered. Many bicycle tourists believe that they must pedal every inch of their tour. I have come to believe that if it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right. Judy drove me to Old Lyme when the roads were slimy from a bad storm. Capt. Kenney carried me and my bike through a gale on NC-12 in February, or I would still be stranded on Okracoke Island. I have jumped on trains to cross congested metro areas.

Lesson: If a section is not going to be fun, whether for traffic, topography, or weather, skip it. Who are you trying to impress by riding through unsafe conditions? There will be enough opportunities when you have to do that anyway. Accept the lift when offered; take the train if there is one.

Next time, I will report on my current ride to the Philadelphia Bicycle Exposition. Meanwhile, I am happy to announce that my author website, https://jthine.com/, is live on the web. I will be moving the fiction and sea stories to that site, but for a while I will keep them in both places.

Until next time,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan

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