Friday, November 20, 2015

10 years ago today

The Great Loop – Nov 20, 2005

 I’m not sure where the idea for biking the “Great Loop” came from, but I’ve always enjoyed running on sections of the rail-trail in New Hampshire.  With my injury (stress fractured fibula) I’ve had time to work on my biking.  It has been something of an adventure, with at least one good wipeout every ride (including a great one in the parking lot at work in front of EVERYONE).

My plan for this ride was to con some people into joining me for a loop on rail-trails that would connect into a large circle in Southern New Hampshire.  The entire loop would go through Windham, Derry, Londonderry, Manchester, Auburn, Candia, Raymond, Epping, Danville, Freemont, Sandown, Derry, and back to Windham covering about 55 miles.

I sent out word of the ride and got a very fast response from Rich Bolt.  Rich will bike just about anywhere; just about anytime (ask him about his night rides on the golf course).  I had a feeling Rich would be the first in, as we both have a great interest in trails and abandoned rail beds.  I got a couple of other “maybes” and one definite for part of the loop.

On Sunday morning (Nov. 20), I hit the road heading for Windham.  On Route 93 I caught a guy with a mountain bike on his car and was happy to see that CMS-teammate Greg Ward would be joining in the fun.  On the way to the trailhead at the old Windham Depot we passed a bank thermostat that read 29 degrees.  It was going to be a cold ride, but the sun was up and temperatures were supposed to get into the 50s.

Windham Depot is an excellent spot to meet for a ride, it has a very large parking lot and from that spot you can head in four different directions on various rail trails.   Greg headed out for a 10 minute run to “Get my feet warm”
while I fiddled around with my bike.  Rich showed up at just before 8 AM and we prepared to go.  At 8:06 Paul Young pulled up, lucking out that we didn’t strictly follow the “5-minute rule” and head out without him.

We hit the trail heading North from the Windham Depot (Windham, NH) at 8:20 AM with high hopes for a fun ride.

We started out riding pretty easily, testing the surface.  There had been a good frost and the first section of trail had not seen much activity.  We hit a lot of frozen ground that gave way as we rode over it.  We also had to keep our eyes peeled for ice patches.  We rolled into the Derry Depot a little over three miles into the ride, and 20 minutes with a few brief stops to make gear and bike adjustments.

The Derry station was now a restaurant, I recall that at one point it was a day care center.  A few years back Derry had planned on making it into a local museum, obviously the plans fell through.  The Derry section of the ride featured the only part of the trail that is paved.  It was in good shape and we could move well.  We got stopped just after passing the Derry town beach, there was a barricade to stop motorized vehicles that left little room to squeeze through.  We also had to add on about a mile when we couldn’t get across a stream due to high water.  The detour did bring us past the luxurious channel 50 studios.

I regaled the guys with stories about my old stomping grounds from when I lived in Londonderry.  We passed by the abandoned Pet Cemetery and hit some soft sections before exiting the trail at Wilson crossing.  At this point we were right next to Exit 5 off of Route 93.  We had a few options here, we could continue on the trail towards the Manchester airport where it disappears due to airport expansion or we could take to the side roads and the trails around Lake Massabesic.  We chose the latter and left Wilson crossing (about 7 miles into the ride) 48 minutes after starting. 

I described the old neighborhood as we went by the house I rented back in very early 90’s.  We headed back into the woods near the Boy Scouts museum.  Rich knew the trails a lot better than me, as I hadn’t been in that area since the Satanic Trails incident (a whole other story, ask me about it!).  We tried for a shortcut over the dam, but the spillway was underwater and that added a couple of miles.  The sun was out and we were all starting to loosen up and feel good.

We hit Auburn station after 1:42 (with breaks) of biking and took a short break for some gels and water.  We were a bit behind schedule, hitting 18 miles at just after 10 AM.

We got to Candia station (22 miles, 2:22:00) and were joined by Jennifer and Dean Rappaport.
Greg tried to go through an iced over puddle and ended up getting a wet foot.  I was behind and said “At least you didn’t fall in”.  I then proceeded to fall in.  That was the first time any of us got wet, but as time went on we became a lot less cautious about puddles and by the end we were all pretty wet.  Jennifer and Dean had planned on riding about 30 miles; unfortunately none of us knew that the last 20 miles would be the toughest!  We pushed off heading due East at the Northernmost point of the ride (and the highest point).

Talk began about how we were almost halfway and we had decided early on that a stop in Raymond would be nice.  There is a Dunkin Donuts that is adjacent to the trail.  Rich said he was going to bike through the drive through (he didn’t) and both Paul and Greg debated the ability to jump the stairwell (they didn’t).  I got an old-fashioned and some Gatorade ® and Rich and Paul both had some sort of egg sandwich.  Rich claimed he could ride and eat (we didn’t) and the Rappaport’s seemed to be in high spirits (it was early in the ride for them).  It was closing on noon (3:12 into the ride) when we left Dunkin’s and the 30 mile mark of our ride.

Our last segment heading east had us crossing Route 101 through a tunnel.  We seemed to surprise the occupants who were busy spray painting the walls.  They were polite, saying “hello” and stepping aside.  Someone in our group commented “they really shouldn’t work like that with such bad ventilation”. 

We hit Epping in 3:57 (total time including breaks) and started to head South (and West) for the first time during our ride.  We passed a large parking lot with a LOT of trailers for Off-Road vehicles.  We hadn’t seen many up until this point (we had passed a couple of horses) but would see many for the last 20 miles.  Unfortunately the final 20 miles would also be very sandy and loose dirt.  Traction was a major issue and we really slowed.  Greg noted “We could run faster than this” after a GPS recorded 7:47 mile.  Greg was getting antsy as he was hoping to get back to watch the Patriot’s game.  His estimate of 15 miles per hour for the ride was way off, as was my estimate of 10 miles per hour.

We slowed as fatigue and malaise settled in.  The traffic also made things less enjoyable.  We rolled into Freemont (39 miles) in 4:30 and noted that the football game was about to start.  Jennifer took a bad spill on one of the bridges, and Dean took a plunge in a big puddle.  Paul and Rich would be the only ones to make it through the ride without wiping out.

The six miles to Sandown Depot took us another 45 minutes (5:15) and we gathered up for the final push.  Unfortunately we weren’t sure at this point exactly how much time we’d be out riding.  The distance was pretty sure, but with the lousy “footing” we didn’t know if we had an hour or two to go (it turned out to be 1:15).  We stopped one more time where the rail trail crossed the Derry 16 mile race course and then pushed on to the finish.  Jennifer and Dean told us to go ahead, and I fell slightly behind the other guys in the last stretch.

We pulled into Windham Depot at nearly 3 PM, 6:29:29 after starting.  The time actually biking was about 5:30 and we mused about whether Ben would do his 50m (JFK) faster!  The ride was fun, but would have been more fun with a little more solid surface and a little less traffic.  I’ve already started planning the next trek, which will be some sort of course using a bunch of rail-trails in Massachusetts.  Stay tuned….



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