Deep summer is here, and although the weather has been hot, it hasn’t, for the most part, been unbearable, the way it has for much of the east coast and, indeed, for much of the country. There has been a pleasing mixture of sun and rain, good for gardens and—especially—good for bicycle riding.
This year, in part to mitigate the effects of being a good eater, I am working at becoming a good biker. I have friends who serve as inspiration—Bob and Kate Johnson, Jim Leavitt, and Don Robbins. All are strong riders who think nothing of going for a twenty-five-mile bike ride.
This spring, I started out gradually, first on an exercise bike and then to the road, where I would ride about four or five miles, usually doing errands around town. Then, when the leg muscles became stronger, I started going farther, down Memorial Drive, by the lake, where the road is relatively flat and the water sparkles in the summer sun. To the end of Memorial Drive and back again is ten miles, and when that became an easy ride, I moved to another route, the Holmes Road route, which is twelve miles with hills—one very long one. Now, that has become routine, and this week I decided the time had come to go even farther, to Monmouth village, an eighteen-mile round trip with several very steep hills.
On Monday, I did it. My friend Claire, who works at home, is my back-up buddy, and I tuck my cell phone in my bike bag, just in case I should collapse in a ditch somewhere. (Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.) I also tucked a special sesame nut bar in my bag so that I could have a tasty snack when I reached Monmouth village, home of splendid Cumston Hall, the Shakespearean theater of Maine.
And off I went, on the back road to Monmouth via the Holmes Road, with its long, loping hill. It was a windy day, which made pedaling a little harder, but I was primed and ready for the ride, and I didn’t want to wait for a calmer day. The back road to Monmouth is classic central Maine countryside, with fields, forests, and rolling hills that give the landscape beauty and variety. But, those very same hills are a real challenge to bikers. Still, there is something so fine about pedaling on a sunny day—the blue sky, the moving bike, the motion of legs, the wheels turning, the countryside going by at a good clip, but not too fast. Things can be noticed. The ducks on the pond, the queen Anne’s lace, golden rod, and yes, even the purple loosestrife by the side of the road. A huge patch of yellow and red day lilies. Lush golden and green fields. The dead snake in the road. (A reminder that all is not beautiful.)
But, oh the hills! The way to Cumston Hall had a hill that was long but manageable, and when I pulled into the parking lot, I headed straight for the bench by the ticket booth. That sesame nut bar, sweet and salty, tasted pretty fine, and I rested on that bench for about ten minutes before heading back to Winthrop.
It was on the way back that I encountered “The Hill,” a black, vertical strip of road that reared straight up and almost seemed like a living creature. I saw its broad back as I approached it, and I squinted, wondering aloud, “Is that the road?” Oh, yes it was. All right, then. I took a deep breath, downshifted to the lowest gear, and pedaled. Slowly, slowly, I climbed, wondering if I would have to humiliate myself by walking my bike up the hill. But miracle of miracles, I made it to the top, and when I did, I looked back down its long, dark spine. Did the tail at the end snap a bit? No, of course not. It was just my overactive imagination.
After that, it was back toward Winthrop, down the Annabessacook Road, into town, and straight past Tubby’s. Well, to be honest, not straight past. Readers, I stopped and had a lobster roll, some fries, iced tea, and a small chocolate ice cream (with chocolate chips) for dessert. Seldom has a meal tasted so good, and I want to note that Tubby’s lobster rolls are exactly the way lobster rolls should be—full of fresh lobster with just the barest hint of mayonnaise to keep it together. As I ate, I mused about how all my bike routes seem to go by Tubby’s, and how I seem unable to resist stopping there. Usually it’s just for ice cream, but that is certainly enough.
Hence, the need for biking.
Dennis Price, one of the actors from the Theater at Monmouth, was at Tubby’s, and we chatted a bit. He was duly impressed with my bike ride, and his wife, Molly, was duly impressed with my next challenge—riding to Hallowell for fish and chips at the Liberal Cup, where she just happens to work. It’s about fourteen miles one way, depending on the route, with fiendish hills aplenty.
But first I need to master the road to Monmouth village and that dark hill. When I do, I’ll be ready for Hallowell.