North South July 10, 2009

The last time I rode over 60 miles on a mountain bike in one day was on Thankgiving a few years back, and I was trying to build up a big appetite for a pagan feast I had been invited to. Long story short, I finished with an empty tank, sugar starved and dehydrated; and after barely touching my pagan platter of turkey and potatoes, I ended up in bed for three days with a nasty Asian Flu bug - go figure.

So needless to say, I wasn't 100% sure that the 77 mile North-South trail was a lock. Sure, it's Rhode Island; but while the trail riding in our woods isn't the most mountainous in New England, it can be wicked and tricky. For example, at Arcadia Management Area, one of my favorite places to ride along the North South route, a 10 mile loop can take as much as two hours. In doing the math for a day's worth of riding I kept running out of daylight.

After Sara dropped us off at 7am on Route 44 just west of Chapachet, we headed south through the woods of Western Glocester. We found the route to be so well marked that we could make all the turns without a map and I only had to pull Cliff Vanover's guide book to check where we were once in a while. Durfee Hill, Killingly Pond, Moosup Valley, Nicolas Farm, Escoheag, Carolina. We rolled along singletrack, old logging roads, jeep trails, through woods and fields that were familiar New England terrain; but we sure weren't in Providence anymore.

We stopped to eat occasionally and to check our gear but we all knew the pitfalls of the long day before us so these stops were brief. A steady pace was important to keep the 6 of us moving along and to get us all to the end together.

Early efforts to stay dry were dashed within the first half-hour. With all the rain we have had this summer, trails that would have otherwise been dusty and loose, were pleasantly damp and tacky with many tricky water crossings and mud holes. We saw plenty of rural Rhode Island and at one point we shared a double-track with a bounding fawn that scooted into the woods like...well like a deer.

At mile sixty, we came out onto Route 138 out of food and low on water. The Stop and Shop at the highway offramp seemed like an incongruous place to find ourselves; and as I hovered over the salad bar, speckled with mud and lost in a haze of thinking of the food before me simply as the fuel that might power me for the final 20 miles, I became aware of how far we had come. I chose the turkey and swiss on Panini Bread, two bananas, a container of cranberry nut party mix and a gallon of water.

Back on the trail, we could start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We had been out there for 8 hours and we were all starting to believe that the end was near. The immediate personal miseries we were all feeling were offset by the anticipation of satisfaction we would share as we finished together. At 5:30, after 10 ½ hours, we crossed the line at campsite 645 in Burlingame State Park.

There are many ways to do this ride. Doing it in one day required shuttling a car to he campsite the night before and getting dropped off to start the day. A two day version might require more preparation, but the pace could be more casual and would allow for more time to eat and chill. This might be the only way to do it in the shorter days of fall which would be an awesome time for this terrain. I'm looking forward to hearing about how you'd like to do it. Until then...