The Road Contains Memories

June 28, 2014

45 Miles


I return to CT once a year to visit with my family. This year I will use the time to train for my upcoming trip to Georgia when I attempt to complete the Rapha Rising Challenge in late July. The challenge is to ride 8800 meters of climbing in nine days. Training in Miami to prepare for this challenge is difficult to say the least. Southeast CT provides rollers and progressive graduated climbs perfect for taking a flatlander up a notch before I take on the kind of sustained climbs GA offers up. Riding the tarmac of my youth is an olfactory experience triggering those emotional rollers of nostalgia.

It starts when I pull into the parking lot of Mystic Cycle Center. The smell of the salt marsh surrounding the shop reminds me of the countless hours I spent pining over imported Italian steel frames and deliberating over the choice between Campagnolo beauty and the new index shifting from Shimano. Once known as Mystic Valley Bicycles the business is now co-owned by Rick Ely an Iron Man triathlete turned business owner who I trained alongside in the local community pool. He was a living legend for us mere mortals back in the early eighties and when I say “trained alongside”, I mean we shared the same pool while I trained and he shredded water.

Riding through downtown Mystic and over the draw bridge the salt water smell engulfs you as the sea breeze gently caresses your face and arms. I remember the many times I crossed that bridge or counted its rise and descent while enjoying Guinness at John’s Café in the company of good friends and local characters. The Mystic River Bridge is a Bascule design built in 1922 spanning 85’connecting Stonington and Groton and still operational to this day. A friend and founder of Mystic River Photo, Richard Flesh, would tell you that it was the most photographed object in town.

Photo Credit: Connecticut's Historic Highway Bridges

Photo Credit: Connecticut’s Historic Highway Bridges

Taking the first right after crossing the bridge and onto Gravel Street I meander through the streets bordered by beautiful Victorian homes of bygone captains and the affluent citizens of the seafaring trade.

Pearl Street

Pearl Street

Mystic Seaport is in full view from Pearl Street while small Gaffe rigged sail boats gently navigate the Mystic River.

Gaffe Rigged Sailboat sales just in front of the Brilliant

Gaffe Rigged Sailboat sails just in front of the Brilliant

Mystic Seaport is the nation’s foremost maritime museum with a wooden boat collection that includes a whale ship, a sandbagger, a few schooners, a steamboat and even a square rigger. I remember visiting the seaport many times through my adolescence developing a passion for wooden boats in the process. It was every local kid’s first trip to a planetarium and the colonial village was an education on early American life. I cannot count how many times I boarded The Charles W Morgan spurring my imagination about whaling off the shores of New England. When I heard they have finally restored her to sailing condition I was thrilled.

I continue my ride down the Mystic River and head north onto Shewville Road lined by iconic CT stonewalls, horse fence and rolling green pastures. Shewville is filled with false flats and undulating climbs that keep the heart rate, effort and excitement high. Segments are bordered by deep, lush, forest with a smell of earth, foliage and flora delivered by a cool, light breeze. An outcropping of six foot tall Queen Anne’s lace decorates the road side while wildflowers can be found everywhere you look. I can remember my long commutes to and from work included this beautiful road where I would pick the very same wildflowers on my way home to present to my girlfriend now wife, Renate.

A proper sized breakdown lane makes for safe travel on busy highways

A proper sized breakdown lane makes for safe travel on busy highways

A short jaunt on busy Route 2 with the odor of automobile exhaust connects me with Brickyard lane where the heady, fragrant, aroma of honeysuckle warmed by the summer sun fills my nose reminding me of when my brothers and I would pick the flower heads off and suck the sweet nectar from the base of the petals. It was a simple childhood pleasure like blueberry picking or running through a water sprinkler. Brick yard lane is a series of punchy climbs that test the legs and lungs that travel through a canopy of trees so thick the change in lighting fooled me into thinking a summer storm was brewing.

Gravel road leading to nowhere

Gravel road leading to nowhere

To my left gravel roads lead to nowhere and small plantings of lilies grow in rows waiting to be cut for a dinner table display.



An old roadside gas pump next to a small building harkens to a bygone era and the sound of a lawn mower and the scent of fresh cut grass complete the experience. It is summer in Connecticut “and the living is easy”.

Rusty Pump on the crest of a climb

Rusty Pump on the crest of a climb

Longer climbs reward with long descents along the cornfields and pastures of the Shetucket Turnpike. The blue sky peeking through the green leaves of Sugar Maples towards the end of the first long descent betray the water that lies just beyond view. Even as an eight year old boy the parting of the forest was a landmark that filled me with anticipation. Pachaug was and is the first of three ponds on our “long” car ride to reach the last, Beach Pond, where we would spend all day swimming and playing in the cold fresh water. Even fresh water has a scent yet I fail to find words to describe it. Water is a mother’s secret weapon deployed in search of peace as nothing exhausts the virtually unlimited energy and angst of four young boys like a day at the beach.

Shetucket Turnpike - cresting climb just before Buttonwood Farm

Shetucket Turnpike – cresting climb just before Buttonwood Farm

The fast descent to Pauchaug is replaced by a steady ascent to Buttonwood Farm where fresh farm ice cream can be savored on a hot summer day with friends. The road continues down past the water lilies of Glasgo pond where shirtless boys sit along the shore fishing for bullheads and bass. Here begins a graduated climb that leads to the center of Voluntown. It is not much of a town center really, a gas station, post office and an elementary school is just about it. Here there is a ghost on the hill where I dare not go. My heart saddens as I think about all the hopes, fears and expectations of a talented cabinetmaker that lie buried in a graveyard beyond my route. Tears flow down my cheeks as I turn onto Pendleton Hill Road and ponder what would have become of his daughter’s life had she not departed us so very young. Rest in peace Sativa, you are forever in our hearts.

The Continental tires roll quietly along smooth, freshly laid tarmac smelling of petroleum while dried pine needles fall softly from coniferous balms like snowflakes as I make the climb away from Voluntown.The road is a rolling ascent along horse fence, country homes and stacks of cordwood until I reach the expansive sea of cornfields and aroma of freshly cut wood from the tiny sawmill of a hill top farm.

Cornfields as far as the eye can see

Cornfields as far as the eye can see

Such a beautiful view cannot be replicated by amateur photography yet photos I still take. A false flat at the top is made all the more difficult by the metered telephone polls that seem to mock your effort as they mark the distance yet travelled.

Telephone poles mark the distance

Telephone poles mark the distance

The ride continues along undulating terrain with a final climb to Pendleton Hill Church passing by the houses and roads of the girls I once knew. Skinny girls, round girls, smart ones, silly ones, tough ones, those a bit crunchy, and some more sophisticate, every one beautiful, and if truth be told I loved them all. During the ride I tally the ones I kissed and the ones I once wished I had. Memories so fresh, it is hard to believe they are more than thirty-five years old, seventeen in the making. Pedleton Hill

Although the pace of the descent off Pendleton hill is fast and furious, even at 45 mph, impatient motorists pass me around corners endangering us all. I so love the speed and with child like enthusiasm I let out a scream of delight so loud it inspires dogs to join in the revelry.

I ride past roads with names like Sleepy Hollow or Hangman hill and wonder if there is some story there somewhere. The fresh tarmac has disappeared replaced by the cracked and potted gravel embedded tarmac I remember so well. Town workers would lay down some hot tar layered with gravel and covered with sand allowing time and vehicles to magically work the stones into the decades old foundation. It was a wonderful opportunity for sixteen year old boys to play out their Dukes of Hazzard fantasies while driving at breakneck speeds sliding on the loose sand from side to side and on occasion to lose complete control. Meanwhile this rough pavement is sucking what little energy I have left out of my flailing legs.

Gravel Imbedded Tarmac

Gravel Embedded Tarmac

A turn on Babcock Road, then Wyassup Road and finally onto Rocky Hollow gets me through downtown North Stonington. Again, a school, library, post office and hardware store is all that marks its center. There are more memories of the time spent in that school than I am able to share in a single blog post. For a later time perhaps. On Rocky Hollow are some tennis courts, part of a recreational area championed by our childhood neighbor Mr. James McDermott. I learned to play tennis on those courts spending countless hours in the hot sun hitting balls against a backboard or practicing my serve. It was a great way to flush out teenage frustrations while imagining days of tennis glory. I never gave the man the credit he deserved and wished I had communicated a simple “thank you” when he was still alive. There is a lesson there folks.

Once across New London Turnpike I travel along Stony Brook Road while pedaling squares up its steep grade I come across a patch of Tiger lilies.

Tigerlilies - Mother's Favorite

Tigerlilies – Mother’s Favorite

Tiger lilies grow seemingly wild all over Southeast CT. They were my mother’s favorite flower and so my father would pick them from the roadside for her pleasure only to be disappointed by their short life. The wild is best enjoyed in the wild rather than kept dying in a vase.

Taugwonk road takes the last of me. A quick descent is followed by a steep ascent.

I am tired.

I am hungry.

I am buzzing.

Peqout Trail descends enough to ease my effort and so I coast through its lush green canopy. A couple more roads returns me to my car satisfied by my effort, renewed by the miles, and comforted by my past.

These roads hold dear memories.

Hill Work in Ohio

Visit a town with some regularity and it can become so familiar it can start to feel like home. Add some good habits to the mix like cycling and strength training and you start to drop some of those bad travel habits like late night TV and snacks. Yesterday’s ride had me sleeping like a baby, up and at em’, and productive all day contrary to the usual travel induced, all day brain fog my head is in on any given business trip. Just like Guinness I just don’t travel well.

Heavy downpours accompanied by intense lightning discouraged my riding plans so I headed straight for the gym after a long day reporting, strategizing, communicating, barking… know… Work. The hour of pushing and pulling in a gym doesn’t quite match the calorie burn and post ride euphoria I get from the bike but the alternative was a few cold ones at the bar followed by poor food choices.

The next day brought clouds and light rain. I waited alone at Biowheels for the group to form until I was joined by Matthew and his friend Kyle. Now these guys are both fit (read: light and strong) hill climbers so I immediately offered up the chance for them to leave me behind. I am not sure if they were being polite or if they are secretly sadists prepared to bring the pain but they both agreed to ride with me in tow. So into the hill work through the rain we rode. I was riding well today so some adaptation had occurred over the last two days. I love the human body. Push it and it responds. The fact remains though, these guys took it easy on me.

The course was not much different than Monday up and down hills, through farmland and residential areas all beautiful to the eye. Thursday I put in a solo effort that added another thirty miles to the books. I return home to the hotel in time to pack the bike, Kit and business attire to prepare for Friday’s flight to Connecticut where I will ride on the roads of my youth and continue to prepare for my ten day cycling adventure in the mountains of Dahlonega, GA.

Off to Ohio

Work shuttles me once a month north to Ohio. When motivation is high, I bring the Mooney. On this trip I planned to spend a week in Cincinnati in servitude and then another week in Mystic, CT visiting folks. The prospect of two weeks off the bike inspired the necessary motivation to pack the bike and kit along with my business attire, drag the bike around, rent large vehicles, pay the baggage fees, and subject frame and wheel to airport portage abuse.

 I arrived at the Cincinnati airport on Sunday morning with full intentions on riding three to four hours in the seven hills. By the time I made it to the hotel two hours later, a massive headache had me face done in a pillow while my bike remained safe and secure in its travel case. The ride would have to wait. “Best laid plans…” The next day a colleague informed me that there was a group ride starting about seven miles from the hotel. Things were looking up.


I arrived at Biowheels just in time to purchase some CO2 cartridges, borrow a track pump from the shop, top off the wheels, shake some hands and leave with the “A” group. The ladies and gentleman of this shop ride took off up the first hill climb like the “A” group hill climbers I am not. I was sucking some serious wind trying to hold their wheels for the next several miles while my bronchial tubes wheezed like a grampus reminding me that I was not prepared for hammering climbs. My colleague Matthew being a gentleman, rolled back to ride with me for the entire ride. I gave him an opportunity to leave me to my own devices but he refused and so I welcomed his company.


It was a pleasant yet difficult ride, plenty of small steep hills and long steady climbs to help me prepare for Dahlonega, GA. We rode on roads reminiscent of my home town of North Stonington; stone embedded tarmac lined with stone walls and deciduous trees. Homes of affluence, farmland and forest filled the view. Hot summer air singed my lungs and warmed my quads as we meandered the seven hills of north of Cincinnati. I returned to my hotel room feeling great and anxious for the riding in store for the coming days.