Day 19: Salisbury, MA to Boston, MA

September 24th, 2016

41.5 mi / 3:25:15 time / 12.5 mph avg. / ~1500 ft. climbing

Staying at Shay & Dana’s place

The evening rain came as predicted, but we were safely holed up in our tent by then, and it meant we were asleep relatively early. That enabled us to wake up before dawn so that we could make some coffee, walk over to the beach, and watch the sun rise out of the ocean. It had been a while since we’d had a chance to watch a sunrise/set over water, so it was a fitting start to the last day of our tour.

It was beautiful, but also sad. How was our ride already ending? Had eighteen sunrises and sunsets truly crossed the horizon as the world spun ’round under our wheels? It didn’t seem possible, until “…remember that lunch we had in the gazebo? Or that squirrel that ate our M&Ms?” “Oh yeah…that sure seems like a long time ago, and somewhere very far from here…” The sunrise and sunset clearly do a better job of keeping time unbent than our minds do, though we would soon be returning to a world where their passings, rather than being felt by our fallible souls, are rigidly tracked in grids of boxes filled with numbers. It’s perhaps the one time in my life when numbers and grids and records seemed less than exciting.

We left the campground without having to take out our wallets, and fell right into the middle of the Seacoast Century, a big organized bike ride. Another rider had told us about it yesterday, and as seems oddly “normal” for such things, we got very few reactions from the dozens of cyclists who passed us in both directions. Maybe no one wants to be the only person who doesn’t understand the role of the big baggage-bikes in the middle of their ride, so they just keep their mouths shut. Mostly we noted how it seemed like some 80% of the riders were wearing high-viz yellow jackets, which made us wonder if our practical and fashionable black-and-gray color scheme for all of our clothes was the best possible choice.

Our camping friends recommended Pat’s diner for breakfast, so of course that’s where we stopped. A personal greeting from Pat in her 1940’s-era prefab railcar-style diner, and great food to go along with it completed the quality recommendation.

Then it was time to begin our dash to the end. We were back on US 1, known here as the Newburyport Turnpike. An extreme cartographic anomaly, it runs dead straight from Newburyport into the heart of Boston for some 40 miles. I don’t believe there’s another road in the entire Boston region that runs straight for more than 40 yards. I figured that riding through Boston’s exurbs and suburbs wouldn’t be particularly enjoyable on any route, so we might as well take the shortest one. The site I use to gauge the popularity of roads among cyclists showed that almost no one rides the Newburyport Turnpike, but I had driven parts of it before, and did extensive Google StreetViewing of it when planning the trip, so I knew that it at least had a shoulder for its entire length, which is something the longer and curvier routes couldn’t promise.

The tradeoff is that it’s one of the more insane roads I’ve ever traveled. Particularly in the stretch through the Boston suburbs, where there are three lanes in each direction, and interchanges, both of which make it feel like a limited-access expressway, but simultaneously there are businesses lining both sides with driveways directly connecting the “expressway” with their parking lots. This means the right travel lane has to find a compromise between the 60mph traffic flying by in the left lanes, and the old ladies entering the road from their hairdresser’s appointment. While that’s a clear recipe for chaos, my bet was that people would at least be accustomed to that chaos, so adding a couple of touring bikes to the mix wouldn’t be particularly notable or upsetting.

And my bet largely paid off. Yes, crossing the on- and off-ramps at the interchanges was a bit nuts, and Rett was at code red the entire time (though all outward appearances showed she was doing an amazing job of calmly dealing with the chaos). But we only got beeped at once in 20 miles, had no close calls, and got where we wanted to get faster than any other method.

One place we wanted to get to was Friendly’s, a regional favorite of Rett’s, where we got some ice cream dessert with a side of lunch. Soon after, we left the Turnpike, all intact, only to run straight into a homecoming parade that had closed down a bunch of streets in the area. Dammit. Another reroute (we’d already had to take another detour for road construction earlier in the day). But this time, our bikes were our saviors. The parade had gridlocked traffic for miles, but we were able to slide through, and probably made it back onto our route 20-30 minutes faster than if we had been in a car. Yeah, bikes!

Then we hit some bike lanes, made a wrong turn, made another wrong turn, got some directions from a passerby, and made another wrong turn. Oh, Boston. You’re amazing in your impossibility. I literally had my GPS-enabled phone turned on, strapped to my handlebars, looking at our little dot moving across the map, and still could not determine the correct places to turn!

So our arrival at our final destination, Boston’s South Station, was both anticlimactic and utterly appropriate for Boston. My directions were directing us the wrong way down a one-way street, so we once more pulled up onto a sidewalk to re-plot, and decided that it was easiest to just walk our bikes on the sidewalk for a block to the station. Thus, without even really being aware of it, our riding reached its end on that random sidewalk, just a few more wrong turns short of 900 miles for the entire trip.

We went over to the Amtrak baggage department (located out on track 11!) to box up our bikes to send back to Chicago on the train without us ($63.50 per bike, plus one $15 bike box, plus one free reused box). As we finished packing them up, Rett’s good friend Shay and her husband Dana magically appeared to help us wrangle our multitude of bags (now loosed from their bicycle steeds) and backtracked us out in their car to their apartment in the suburbs, where we caught up, told any tales that hadn’t made it into this journal, and got some quality showers.

Apparently easing the logistics of the end of our trip wasn’t enough from them, so they generously took us out to perhaps the best meal of the trip at the Seaport Grille in Dana’s old stomping ground of Gloucester. After, we got treated to a spin through Rockport, with its almost impossible-to-believe storybook streets of old shops casting their golden glow out onto the darkened paths. We stayed up talking way too late for people who had to catch a morning flight back to Chicago, but it sure was nice to have good friends to help ease our transition back into the real world.

But wait. Why can’t riding our bikes be “the real world”? Hmm… Excellent question.  To be continued, someday, as the road goes ever on… 

One Response to “Day 19: Salisbury, MA to Boston, MA”

  1. Louise Says:

    What a beautiful sunrise to bless you and Rett at the start of your last day! I like your open-ended question in this post about practical-safe bike attire. How intense and puzzling a ride that was to reach Boston’s Amtrak Station. What a FINISH, for Rett!!! and you! Congratulations!!

    Great photos and writing, Neil! I used our road atlas to follow your route and identify the location of each night’s stay. Your stories about encountering the “goodness of people” are the best!