Ludlow was the beginning of the end. The hostel was empty, and we quietly walked down to the kitchen to have our homemade granola and yogurt. I made us coffee and we began discussing how far we needed to ride that day, in order to make it to Boston the day after. We had about 160 miles to go, and two days to get there.
Walking out to the shed, the sun was up and the air was still cool. We unlocked our bikes, packed up, and headed southeast toward Walpole. My legs were sluggish to start, but we were beginning to get into a rhythm. We had thinned out our gear the day before, stopping at a post office to ship home the things we didn’t need. Our packing was more efficient, as was our riding.
The heat of the day creeped up quickly that morning as we rode the highway. I don’t remember how we found it, if it was marked, or if we just saw a dirt path and decided to take it, but we ended up on a rail trail outside of Walpole. Not caring, we followed it where ever it led us.
And just like that, it dropped off back on to the highway again. I looked around puzzled as to why it would be so short; heartbroken it wouldn’t lead us the rest of the way. We stupidly looked at each other, and shrugged, then looked out to the highway we would have to continue our journey on.
But, I wasn’t convinced. And, like a drug addict who had tossed their stash out the window, and was back to retrieve it, I searched around for any sign of trail. It had to be around here somewhere! Around a corner, hidden behind a bush, a small footpath leading up a hill appeared. Could that be it? It was overgrown, unmarked, and would be silly if we desperately hiked our bikes up into the weeds just for a short section of trail.
I trudged right, as Cody stayed on the ridge, and it opened back up. Two fatty lines. I scrambled back up the hill, and laughed at how fucking beautiful the day was playing out. The price of admission had been met miles ago. To think how many poor saps were waiting in concession lines for jumbo sodas and stale pretzels, gum under the hand rails, pit stains in the heat, waiting for their turn on a ride surrounded by concrete.
And we had the trail to ourselves. The trees cooled the sweat on our skin. We rode side by side, playfully nosing out ahead of each other, and looking in awe as the rock walls rose up on our sides, hugging us in to this secret world we had found.
The rail trail continued into Keene, where we dropped back on to the pavement, and searched for the closest grocery store for lunch. We ate sandwiches on the curb, and made up life stories for the people walking past us. It would be difficult to get on the plane and part ways.
The cashier had mentioned something about another rail trail that went to Swanzey, so that became our direction. I am realizing now that she in fact led us away from the continuation of the rail trail that we had been on. But, we had relinquished control several towns back, and happily cruised on the walking path. Athol (pronounced the way you would say “asshole” if you held your tongue) became our destination.
The road turned to shit the moment we entered Massachusetts. Potholes everywhere, no shoulder, cars blasting past, and we saw more Trump for President signs than we did people. The sun was beginning to go down, and looking at the map, there was a campsite at Tully lake.
Riding into the campsite was reminiscent of my car breaking down, and having to walk to the closest farm-house, only for the door to be answered by a man wearing lipstick with his leg hair matted under flesh-colored stockings. I expected to see meat hooks to be hanging in a nearby tree. Desolate and far from serene. We found fish cleaning tubs by the locked outhouses. I squatted in the tub and frantically tossed water on my salty skin.
Exhausted, but terrified, we opted to hop back on the bikes and keep riding. Athol was a short downhill cruise away, and we stopped at the first bar we saw. The waitress brought us our beers, and chatted us up when she saw our bikes. I just waited to hear her say something was wicked pissa. I fought back the urge to imitate.
Fries and several beers later, she asked where we were staying. It being nowhere, she said she had a spot for us. Her family had empty land by a lake, perfect for a tent, and only about five miles away. She drew a map on a napkin, and gave us her number, in case we got lost. Nice lady.
We sloppily set up our tent in the cool summer air. Tomorrow would be our last day, and we had 80 miles to Boston.