Passing the state capitol in Bushnell Park in downtown Hartford with Rob early this morning
Well, I guess riding the East Coast Greenway can’t always be fun and games like it has been of late, and like it was for most of today. That’s what I was thinking as we started riding the last 25 or so of our 68 miles today. We were suddenly alone after having riding company — at one point as many as seven of us — since we left Rob’s house with him this morning. People, all of them strong cyclists, had warned us this was going to be a tough day, perhaps the toughest hills of all on the Greenway. Those kinds of warnings can do a number on me, mentally, even building a knot in my stomach.
Sure enough, when we left our last stretch of greenway with our new friend Donna and hit the shoulder of busy Route 6, we started climbing. She turned back home a bit later and we turned on to Old Route 6 and started climbing more. After a sparkling sunny morning, clouds were building and the wind had picked up. Finally, at mile 60, we stopped for a breather at the gates to an old mansion, part of Pomfret Academy. We thought we had 10 more miles to go and the hills must get really bad, because so far they really had only been rolling climbs. Google bike map gave us the good news that we only had seven miles to go, not 10, and we rolled into the little town of Putnam both thinking, that wasn’t so bad.
Years ago, Dee and I did a week’s ride around Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. We did some serious climbing then. One climb I remember well was ascending a small mountain to get to the town of Lake Placid. Rolling into that town, where flags were flying like they must have been when the Olympics were held there, felt victorious, and transformational. I learned to stop doubting my strength on the bike, because every day and every hill made me stronger. By the end of that week, I knew I could bike up anything (except those stubby little hills that come up too suddenly and make me feel like I will fall over; I have walked up a few of those on this trip).
All of which is to say, today was no Lake Placid, I’m happy to report. And if today’s route had the hardest hills on the Greenway, then Dee and I are golden for these last two weeks of our trip.
Greenway people are the coolest. Dee felt bad for sending her greenway shirt on home early in our trip so she couldn’t be cool like us today: Greenway Ambassadors Barb Amodio, Rob Dexter, and Beverly Duncan with me and Bill O’Neill, an early leader in the East Coast Geeenway’s formation, at a park on the Charter Oak Greenway in Manchester, CT — one of the earliest designated segments of the ECG.
But about the fun and games! Rob gave us a great tour of downtown Hartford along the Greenway on a sparkling early morning, another day that felt like fall, the air bright and dry. We crossed the Connecticut River on a beautiful pedestrian bridge and rode along the river on the East Hartford side on a pretty greenway. We hit the Charter Oak Greenway soon after and met up, at mile 20, with Barbara Amodio and Beverly Duncan.
What fun these two women are. They truly love the Greenway. They met as teachers and started taking adventures together; their bike trips have only increased since their retirement. They have been loyal riders on the Greenway’s Week a Year Tour and they have traveled to attend regional East Coast Greenway Alliance meetings. They travel and ride together so often — now on matching bright orange Surly bikes — that they respond when people call them by the other’s name.
Barb is clear, however, that the Hop River Trail on the Greenway belongs to her, and that it’s the best segment of the whole route. I love the passion and ownership that Greenway volunteers assume about their favorite sections of trail. They monitor its condition, plan rides and other events to get more people out on it, and advocate tirelessly for any missing connectors to extend the route. But I have to say, Barb’s Hop River Trail really is spectacular, with a firm crushed stone surface and towering trees on either side, stone walls and ferns off in the woods. We got a sneak peek (by ignoring the “construction, don’t enter” signs) of a beautiful new entry to the trail that will open this fall, cutting off a major hill on the road through Bolton Notch. Clean living.
Barb shows us her bulletin board at a trailhead on her trail, the Hop River, which truly is a wonderful stretch of greenway.
The Forrest Gump phenomenon was in full effect today. At the start of the Hop River Trail, Don Lomnicky from Willimantic joined our group of five. He has discovered bike riding as he recovers from a bad motorcycle accident. He has lost 60 pounds as he gets ready for hip surgery. He rode with us to Willimantic, telling us that our trip inspires him to try bike touring.
Then, a few miles before Willimantic, Donna Koenig joined us on the trail. Donna lives in Lebanon, CT, and chairs her town’s committee that built and now monitors its seven miles of the Air Line Trail South. She is friends with Rob, Barb, and Bev from past Week a Year tours. She missed last fall’s tour because her husband died suddenly just before the trip. And now she is caring for her mother. That’s a lot to handle in a year, but Donna is a retired phys ed teacher and struck me as strong, inside and out.
A few of our Forrest Gump gang: Barb, Don, and Donna.
Barb and Bev at lunch in Willimantic — in their cool Greenway jerseys, which Dee could be wearing if she hadn’t lightened her panniers load weeks ago.
After a fun lunch in the former post office building in Willimantic, we said goodbye to Bev and Barb. Rob rode on a bit more and then headed home after checking out the blue heron rookery that Donna pointed out for us at the start of the northern Air Line State Park Trail. And Donna rode on with us to the end of that trail, turned onto Route 6 and headed north with us a while before turning back to catch the trail home.
So there we were, suddenly alone after so much fun company, and climbing hills that we believed would just get worse. And we were headed to a roadside motel that our friends kept telling us would be sketchy, from their Week a Year experience. Turns out the place has had a fresh facelift and we are comfortably settled here. So you just never know.
Tomorrow we enter our 12th state, Rhode Island, and Dee’s home in Lincoln. Exciting! Hope we can sleep!