I biked 130 miles from Boston to Provincetown this past weekend and, in doing so, accomplished so many personal firsts. I wanted to do this trip last summer but life forced me to continuously postpone and finally cancel all together. This year, I honestly wasn’t sure if I would actually be able to do the full route especially with 25 lbs of equipment strapped to my bike. The longest I’d biked before this trip was 70 miles and that was without any extra weight. But I was committed to making the attempt and to see exactly how far I could go. Then I found out last minute that my ride buddy had to cancel and I faced the decision of either going solo or postponing the trip for another year. While my anxiety certainly intensified when I thought of going by myself, I also felt a drive and need to rise to the challenge.
The ride itself was certainly the challenge I expected it to be and so much more. When talking to other cyclists, one thing I continuously heard was that the hills of Truro were no joke. As a marathoner, I understand that the need to be mentally prepared for the course is just as important as being physically prepared. Truro is in the last 15 miles, when I would be physically exhausted and I heavily relied on mental willpower and stamina to power through the hills. There were a handful that were excruciating and I almost had to stop and walk my bike. But honestly, pushing 25lbs up a hill seemed a much less appealing option so I pedaled onward. The hills of Truro were plentiful and steep but not terribly tall for the most part, which helped. Also, each one came with an amazing downhill which helped to cruise up the next hill. However there were two hills that ended with a stop sign and then I had to kick off and climb another hill. For me, Wellfleet was a greater challenge as it was full of longer hills with curves and a gradual incline. I couldn’t see the top of many of them and, for a chunk of time, I thought I was in Truro and therefore much closer to the end than I actually was.
Experience running marathons also came in handy when starting out and setting a sustainable pace. When I left my house in the morning, I was a bundle of nervous and excited energy which typically results in going much faster than I should in order to finish a long distance. It can be difficult to rein in the speed when running but was slightly easier on a bike: I kept the gear really low which prohibited me from cycling at the speed and intensity I wanted. While I didn’t time my trip, I am pretty sure that my first 40 miles were my slowest. This was beneficial for my second day of cycling when I was covering a greater distance and especially when getting up those Wellfleet and Truro hills. Keeping track of what gear I was in also proved useful when crushing the hills. There is nothing worse than needing to downshift, looking down, and realizing that it’s not possible. Talk about a blow to the mental picture of getting to the top of the hill.
As my longest bike ride to date and furthest bike ride outside of city limits, I was extremely conscientious of the changes in cyclist-driver behaviors, safety techniques, and terrain. I refused to cycle after dusk and therefore landed in Sandwich on my first day instead of pushing through another 15 or so miles to a campsite in Barnstable. I am normally someone who is very comfortable cruising between traffic and parked cars or other obstacles. During this trip, I kept a much wider space between me and the shoulder of the road especially when the road was winding or hilly. In many parts, there was little to no shoulder and being pushed off the road often meant hitting sand or dirt patches or going into the woods or down a hill. I have repeatedly learned the lesson not to trust that drivers will see or care about cyclists. Therefore, I biked towards the middle of the lane and forced cars to slow down and cross into the other lane in order to get around me. Perhaps this behavior will change depending on the terrain, experience, or being with other people.
When I biked on busy streets and especially when crossing over highway on/off
ramps, I made direct eye contact with every single driver. I constantly looked over my shoulder as cars could approach me much faster than I could get through an intersection or across a highway ramp. I hoped that these actions would ensue traffic behind me would slow down and that traffic coming off the highway would yield. The further outside of the city and the wider the lanes, the more I found that drivers thought they were able to speed up and cut in front of me. This resulted in me needing to brake quickly, swerving, or relying on my spidey ‘bike sense’ to foresee what drivers would do and adjust accordingly. Twice I found myself in areas that weren’t exactly bike friendly, to say the least. Once when trying to find my way to the pedestrian portion of the Sagamore Bridge and another time when I missed my turn and climbed a hill only to realize that it would quickly turn into a highway.
Cyclists, like hikers, are extraordinarily helpful and friendly people. Whenever I stopped to eat a snack or check my map, many cyclists slowed down and asked if I needed assistance. When we were on quiet and long stretches of roads, cyclists would strike up conversations about their current or previous journeys. I learned some fascinating routes and stories from people who I will never see again and I loved it. It was also comforting to know that should anything go wrong with my bike that there would be others who could assist in fixing it. I carried all the tools I needed but don’t have the knowledge of how to fix all the problems quite yet.
Even more important than learning how to pack a bike, plan a route, or travel long distances, I experienced freedom and escape on my bicycle for the first time. I’ve always seen my bike as a mode of transportation or a way to avoid the hassle of driving or public transit. It’s never been a preferred form of exercise and was my least favorite part of tri-training. I didn’t understand the ultimate freedom and independence that one can achieve on a bike. This weekend, I experienced my bike and cycling in a completely new way and loved it. I now see it as a way to see new places, maintain my need for independence, and experience new and old places in a totally new perspective. Walking across the Sagamore Bridge was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I had the time to pause, notice the architecture, see the view, and to fully appreciate the transition into Cape Cod. It was more about the journey and the accomplishments along the way more than simply arriving at the destination. I was beyond stoked to see the Entering Provincetown sign but it was because of the all the miles and effort it took to reach the sign and not because the ride was completed.
Post-ride bliss and self-care was essential and so appreciated. After a short walk around Commercial Street, I settled into a colorful establishment to enjoy a post-ride beer. While I knew how amazing it would taste, words cannot express how excited I was when the beer arrived with a frosted glass. It was perfection and I savored every sip. I took the ferry from Ptown to Boston and watched the most amazing sunset as we pulled away from the dock. Jake met me at Boston Harbor to assist in getting my bike and gear back to JP on the T (which was a disaster to say the least). It was wonderful to have a cheering and support squad upon reaching Boston. We didn’t even make it back to the apartment before I shared with him my desire to attempt multi-day cycling trips and to train for a half Ironman.
The more I accomplish and physically push myself the more I want see how much further I can go. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully explain it, but I love the pain and exhaustion that this and other endurance challenges create. Nothing beats the feeling that my body attempted and completed something I wasn’t sure was possible. I want the sore shoulders, shaking legs, and aching muscles because, to me, it means I tried my hardest. I have earned every distance completed, every finish line, and every accomplishment and that is the most glorious feeling in the world.