Reunion Ride

3 Jul

“His twenty-two was still clean as a whistle.”

Image courtesy of Dartmouth Cycling Team

R. and I were riding up Kinsman’s Notch, quoting lines from Krabbé’s The Rider to each other like we were old friends. Which we were, though neither of us had read Krabbé when we used to ride together. No matter; scores of hours and hundreds of miles spent in the saddle together over these same roads made for an easy comfort when we met up again for the first time in 13 years. We could share a reference and be confident the other guy would get the joke. Neither of us had a clean 22 cog at that point in the day.

I smiled to myself in the first ten miles of the ride (and, for a moment before I could break free of the tar of self-awareness and arched eyebrow irony that drenches modern life, smiled at myself smiling at myself), heading out on the familiar rollers of Route 5 across the river and north from the College. I could glance up the paceline and see two others in jerseys like my own, lime green slightly faded from being over a decade old but still in good shape and, cushion to the ego, still the right size.  Even more comforting, I could have picked them both out by pedaling style.  Both of my old teammates claimed they hadn’t really been riding at all, much less in a big group, but both were clearly right at home.  Smooth, steady.  You could tell they were racers.  Others in the group looked strong (and would prove to be such) but they weren’t riders whose wheels I would comfortably follow.

Three old guys

You can start to take it for granted after a while of riding only with other racers, but a mixed group will quickly remind you of the difference.  It’s a joy to ride with experienced racers, and on this cool morning heading north through Vermont and New Hampshire, I was practically gleeful. Riding with old friends, on familiar roads through gorgeous country:  I just couldn’t stop smiling.

We cruised over some of the smaller climbs early on, swooping down through the covered bridge at Thetford, around Lake Fairlee and crossing back into New Hampshire at Orford.  Our new friends from the Strava.com team had turned back around Fairlee, and the group riding the 100-mile route was down to six as we headed up Mt. Cube.  This was where things started to split up a bit, former teammates M. and R. and I having to deliberately throttle back to avoid rudely dumping the rest of our small group.  There were still over sixty miles to go, after all.  R’s flat tire partway up gave a convenient regrouping point.

Magic as we came off the descent from Cube and turned north to Warren: the first sight of Mt. Moosilauke.  Poking up baldly among the other wooded hills, waiting there.  It felt like it was asking me if I wasn’t really a bit overdue in coming back, hm?

Into the wind

The sun was warm as we headed north towards Haverhill and Woodsville, but a growing breeze kept the air cool.  The three of us (with occasional help from one or two others in the group) switched off pulling into the headwind, with R’s familiar low, forward-leaning posture on the bike seeming to tear a hole in the air for the rest of us to follow.  We caught up on kids, careers, home buying decisions.  I was already delirious from the sweet, clean air and the nostalgia; hearing R. talk about moving to a small town in New Hampshire as everything he and his wife ever hoped for was almost too much to bear.  I wondered for days and weeks afterwards if I could or should do the same.

Kinsman’s Notch was our penultimate climb of the day, and we slipped the leash a little bit, finding a hard rhythm that still allowed for literary references and noticing the waterfall on the side of the road.  The descent is a speed freak’s joy, ramrod straight and wide open sight lines.  It dropped us off at the foot of the eastern climb up to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, and I decided to just punch it.  Thirty minutes and a short regroup later, we dropped down the last descent to the access road turn and two miles of mostly uphill dirt to the Lodge.

The College could guarantee record rates of alumni giving by getting every graduate to the Lodge once a year.  I have no doubt the return on investment would be worth it.  I wanted to kiss the building timbers, I was so in love with that rustic old place.

Dinnertime at the Lodge

No white-tented event with nametags and caterers could come anywhere close to this for reminding me what I took with me from college, but even more, The College, and hell, all of New England itself.

Everything I adored about the College — the outdoors, the sense of independence, bicycle racing, the dizzying feeling of limitless possibility — all of it merged in that moment as I sat there admiring the strip of sunburnt skin on my thigh and drinking a cup from the keg of Switchback Ale the cycling team students had procured.

Image courtesy of Dartmouth Cycling Team

It won’t be another decade before my next trip back.

Image courtesy of Dartmouth Cycling Team

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5 Responses to “Reunion Ride”

  1. michele July 3, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    Love this post. And yes, please move to NH.

  2. Jim July 4, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    We are a farm family in North Dakota…our son, Isaiah, helped to organize this bike run. He just showed me the link to your article. I just loved your writing and your recollection of the day.

    • learninghowtosuffer July 4, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

      Jim: thanks for the comment. Glad to hear you enjoyed the post. Isaiah and the rest of the team did a great job organizing the ride. It was one of the best days I’ve had on the bike this year.

  3. Rob July 5, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    Thanks Brad, nicely written. What a great ride. Come back and see us again.
    Thanks to Isaiah and the rest of the team for putting the event together, and to everyone who volunteered.

    • learninghowtosuffer July 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

      Glad you liked the write-up Robbie. As you can tell, I had a great time. Thanks for the hospitality!

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