Monday, November 23, 2009

Dudley Done Right

"Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." -Kurt Vonnegut

I've always been fond of both that quote and peculiar travel suggestions in general. This is why I was all ears when El Prez put forth the proposition that we should ride our bikes from Hartford to a bike show and swap meet in Dudley, Massachusetts this past Saturday. He mapped out a route that would take us through 50+ miles of northeastern CT and Massachusetts backroads to the Do-Right Flea Market in Dudley. Even if you are not in the best shape (like me, for instance), 50+ miles isn't that bad if you are taking your time and have a decent road bike, so naturally we set out on a trio of machines that were inherently ill-suited for distance touring.

Rich was astride his Breezer city bike (which actually wasn't that terrible a choice), El Prez on his 1960's Raleigh Twenty folding bike and me on a 50+ pound Yuba cargo bike with at least another 30 pounds of stuff lashed to it. I had wanted to try the cargo bike out for a loaded camping excursion in early October, but hadn't had the time, so I was curious to see how a loaded long haul would go. I hung my ginormous cargo bag on the right hand side for some clothes, tools and spares and installed my Tuscan Dairytech 2000 pannier on the left, where I stowed a cooler, lock and some spare clothes and drinking vessels I wanted semi-close at hand.

I should mention here that I am not a distance cyclist. I am not a distance anything. When I used to run, I was a short distance sprinter and nothing else. 100 and 200 meter dashes were my races. 400 meters might as well have been a marathon. The last time I rode a bicycle anything in the neighborhood of 50 miles in a day was a weekend I spent in the Catskills riding on my old Shogun Selectra when I was 16. Now I am more than double that age and the loaded Yuba weighs more than triple what the old steel road bike weighed. No biggie, though. The prescribed pace for the ride was relaxed; chill, even. I had it in writing, so off we went.

What a nice ride! Having grown up in the NYC area and its vast surrounding suburban sprawl, I still marvel at how quickly one can get from inner-city Hartford to a rural setting if you choose your route well. Traffic was almost nonexistent as we made our way through the North End and though the Windsors. We had room to ride three abreast and chat as we rode, the flat roads making for easy cadence. As it got hillier, I fell back a bit. There were frequent breaks, or rather, El Prez and Rich had frequent breaks waiting for me at the top of each hill. We had some group-wide stops to snack and hydrate and check out the occasional abandoned farm or racetrack. People have a lot of cool old tractors, wagons, sheds and quonset huts east of the river. I have long wanted a quonset hut of my very own to serve as my workshop, laboratory and studio. That would be the proverbial shit. There were sights aplenty - lots of farmland, the Yale forest, quaint New England towns and a magnificently badass 4X4 El Camino were among the natural and man-made wonders we observed.

There are a lot of hills between here and Dudley. As the hours wore on, my threshold for dropping into the lowest gear combination got progressively lower. As I climbed hill after hill, I became intimately acquainted with each of them, getting to know their unique characteristics; varied textures of tarmac, bits of debris, species and conditions of roadkill, and the living flora and fauna of this mostly rural route. I also began to develop a certain hatred for every climb. It was a low-level hatred, mind you, as I'd known what I was thrusting upon myself when I set off this morning on the heaviest bike I've ever owned. My hatred was pragmatic, tempered with reason. I did not despise these hills with every fiber of my being, no no, just the fibers of my being that begin about 10" below my knees and end about 10" above them. The remaining fibers that make up my being were having a perfectly great time looking about and enjoying the beautiful weather, independent of my churning, mutinous leg muscles.

Then came Dudley. We arrived a good deal later than the already late time we had predicted. By the time we got to the flea market building, the bike show and swap event had ended. There were a few vendors lingering about in the parking lot, so we got a healthy dose of old bike ogling just the same. I still got to check out some sweet old balloon-tire bikes and French and British Iron in the parking lot. I'm not really into muscle bikes, but some of them were so over-the-top they brought a smile to my face. The flea market was above and beyond any that I have been to before. In addition to the usual flea market selection of old furniture, books, memorabilia, and such there were at least three airplanes and several vintage biplane engines, plus a small helicopter, and this was all indoors!

As it happened, we found a small pickup truck outside of the flea market with the keys in it. We rejoiced in our good fortune, loaded up the bikes and folded ourselves into its tiny cab.

We stopped for some good Thai food at one of the few places in downtown Dudley that wasn't an empty storefront or a tattoo parlor before making the drive back to Hartford. I was sore as hell, but had a great day.


El Prez said...

Indeed it was a good time. Slow is the way to go when it comes to riding through beautiful country. Here's my account of the voyage, with some more pictures:

kerri said...

Can you walk after all this?

Team said...

Your trip is quite fantastic. The positives and the negatives are both extreme. I've been expiriencing this daily on my long distance tour and can appreciate the humor in the fact of packing too heavily and realizing it beforehand... and then commencing anyway.

Billy Hoyle said...

This is a great endeavor and a great tale told well. This made my day.

Wish I could have joined you.

Bill Michtom said...

Indeed, "a great tale told well."

I have one question though: As to "That would be the proverbial shit," which proverb would that be?

Bianca said...

hey, I was in dudley very early that morning. I'll send some photos along for you all to post.

Brendan said...

So, just how much did you spend ogling your bikes?

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