Instagramapalooza/Boston Solo Omloop


So, this past Thursday's ride was one I've been thinking about doing for some time. Nearly all of the rides I've done have involved heading west and south of here or driving somewhere else altogether to ride. And I've never taken my bike into Boston.

A good deal of the people I follow on Twitter live in Boston, Somerville, Cambridge, etc. and I get to read about their adventures, exploits, near-misses and derring-do on a daily basis. Add to that reading about Geoff's long solo ride from Providence to Boston in January plus my frustration at multitudes of missed photo ops because I was in my car rushing through Boston from one place to another.

All that was swirling around in my head along with my desire to do a long ride that was more about enjoyment than fitness/training.

I made a few attempts to get a course into my Garmin, but neither MapMyRide nor BikeRouteToaster were up to the task. MMR gave me a decent plot but the exported gpx was refused by Garmin Training Center. BRT would not let me choose "bike" as the travel method and so would not plot any of the route on to the paths along the Charles River.

After the fourth failed attempt to export a route, I felt like I knew it pretty well anyways. The only doubtful part was getting across from Charlestown to Boston, but if I had to go back out via the Gilmore Bridge, that would be ok. The only other requirement I had for the route was to hit a few of the big climbs that I was aware of inside of Rte. 128: Park Ave. in Arlington, Summit in Brookline and Prospect Park in Waltham. Blue Hills would have to wait for another time.

Is it good? Darn tootin'!

Thursday morning found me not exactly rushing but fumbling around in prep for the ride. Obstacles: finding a second tube to carry, extra CO2 cartridges, my mini-pump and making a final determination on whether I needed arm warmers or not. I really wanted to leave at sunrise but somehow could not get my act together until 8:15.

Maynard > Arlington

"It's mile 9, taking a break ALREADY?"
Finally under way, I rolled north from Maynard into West Concord and then through Concord Center. Knowing that I'd be doing my longest ride since my "comeback" at over 70 miles, I focussed on pacing myself well in these early miles. A lot easier to do now that I discovered an old heart strap I had lying around that actually works better than the "deluxe" Garmin one that has been giving me readings of over 200 BPM on recovery rides lately.

This part of the world is very familiar to me as I have frequently traveled along this route to get to the Ride Studio Café in Lexington. On those days, however, it is a destination - for a cup of coffee of course. Today, it was a through pont.

Steve and Sal give my latté the premium treatment.
There was a rumor that some MTB'ers were rallying there for a ride at 9 but since I arrived a few minutes after their meet time, I missed them but was greeted by 8 or so women just heading out on their ride. I settled in at the counter with Kurt Johnson (QuadCycles?) while Steve and Sal teamed up to make me the perfect coffee. Highly recommend.

It would have been so easy to order up a second round and hang out there for a while but I had places to be and my first climb was just a few minutes away.

Park Avenue in Arlington is a go-to climb for many a city-bound cyclist. A fairly steady >5% grade to the summit, you can reward yourself at the top by taking a victory lap around the water tower and then head partway down Eastern Avenue to take in the view of Cambridge, Somerville and Boston from the slope of Robbins Farm Park.

Needless to say, I did not set any records for the ascent, but it seems like the kind of climb I could do well on, once I get some more miles into my legs.

Top of Park Avenue, Arlington, MA

Target acquired.

Arlington > Charlestown

The next leg of my ride took me down Mass. Ave. from Arlington into Somerville where I picked up Somerville Ave. at Porter Square. This was where it finally felt like I was riding in an urban environment: bike lanes (often blocked by double-parked cars and trucks), lots of traffic and many, many things that I could have stopped to take pictures of - if I wanted to make a mult-day ride out of it.

Before I knew it, I was in East Cambridge bumping along some pretty crappy road surface - I spotted a MAN that, to me, looked just like Susan Sontag -  and then I crossed over the tracks that lead out of North Station and started my way into Charlestown.

Crossing into Charlestown

Bunker Hill Monument

No sooner did I make it into Charlestown and start heading north on Main Street, than a car squeezed me towards the curb and straight through a puddle of garbage truck juice. Mmmm. I immediately wondered where I could find a gallon of Purel.

I went clockwise around the neighborhood, cutting up Bunker Hill Street to get a short, spiky climb in. then downhill towards the Moran Terminal and into the industrial zone of Charlestown. The streets were as devoid of cars as you would expect early on a Sunday morning. Everybody leaves Charlestown during the day?

It was actually a little bit creepy, the lack of cars, that with so many mysterious structures that make you wonder what their purpose is or their contents are.

St. Francis de Sales from Belmont Street.

No sign of Tim Robbins.
Down near the harbor, I got to ride on about 40 yards of cobblestones and snatch a glimpse of a bit of U.S. Naval history.

Charlestown pavé.

Old Ironsides.

Charlestown > Boston 

The next part of the ride is where I was fuzzy on exactly which way I could go. I knew I could ride all the way back up to the Gilmore Bridge and get into Boston past the Museum of Science or get on the highway-like New Rutherford Avenue, but I thought that there might be a more convenient, and scenic, route.

I wandered up and down a few dead-ends and roads that just looped back on themselves before I passed under the Charlestown Bridge and found the rather moribund Paul Revere Park which led to the Charles River Dam and Locks that afforded me a gangway walk across the locks that separate the Charles River from the Harbor.

You can see the Zachem bridge from nearly anywhere in this part of the world.

It's still just "The Garden" to me.
Back on my bike, I rolled down Causeway Street to Commercial which looped me around the North End. I resisted a strong urge to stop for a canole and espresso. I tooled along the bike lane that runs past the greenway on Surface Road before hanging a left on Seaport Boulevard.

I went by the Barking Crab which exuded all kinds of enticing smells, triggering a hunger that would not be satisfied by Fig Newtons or Cliff Shot gels.

Time to look for lunch.

Bellwether for the economy?

Not too early in the day for this, but way too early in the ride.
Just after I passed the Harpoon Brewery and turned towards the dry dock that I hoped would have a ship in for repairs I started looking for my feed zone. As luck would have it, not only was an unusual ship parked there, but there was also a food truck parked nearby.

I rolled up, preparing my excuses for wolfing down several chili dogs or the like when I realized that this was not your typical "roach coach". It was Pennypacker's, which had just what I needed: a portabello burger, dressed with caramelized onions, a little goat cheese, some greens on a soft roll. $6.50.

Right behind Pennypacker's was the dry dock and this U.S. Navy hospital ship, Comfort getting some loving care itself:

It's a shame we need these.

By this time, it was just after noon. I started late and stopped to take quite a few photos and I was only about halfway through the ride. Feeling a little nervous about getting back before the height of the afternoon rush hour, I began to hustle a bit.

I got onto Summer Street southbound, hung a left onto East 1st Street and made my way toward the shoreline.

Seems I wasn't the only one playing hookie: the beaches were full of sunbathers - I didn't see anybody going in the water. This obvious allusion to the "true" summer awoke in me the fact that I was out four hours now with only one application of sunblock. I knew I'd be in for a sunburn by day's end.

Headed for a record!
I did a loop around the JFK Library and then got onto Mass. Ave. again, this time heading north. Bumpiest road surface of the ride along this stretch from Columbia Road all the way up to the Berklee School of Music: Mass. Ave. was rattling my fillings out.

Made a mental note to come back here.

Gotta get in to see that Mapparium sometime soon.

Boston > Brookline

A right at Berklee had me bombing down Boylston Street. Well, not exactly "bombing" but more like interval sprints between red lights. With taxis. And trucks. But I was comfortable riding in this sort of traffic, having roused my long dormant motorcycling instincts.

A stop for water between the Public Garden and the Common then down Beacon a little then across the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge to ride a section of the "Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path" - a name I did not know it possessed, I always just called it the "esplanade" or the "Storrow Drive bike path".

Again, the world was out reveling in this, the third day in a row of super warm March weather. I was hard pressed to navigate not only the stroller pushers, joggers, other cyclists, etc but also to not crash due to my rubber-necking at all the um, er, "scenery" that was on full display as I got closer to B.U.

Mass. Ave. Bridge, looking north towards Cambridge.
Needing to head towards my second "big" climb of the day, I got off the bike path and across Storrow then onto Commonwealth Avenue to head through B.U. towards Brookline.

Reminded me of Northern Ireland.
This part of Comm. Ave. exposed me to the douchiest cyclists of the day. Students on all manner of bikes, some without helmets, riding as if cars did not exist. It's one thing to play it cagey with vehicles or to ride aggressively but these kids really were riding along like they were invincible - or invisible, with no regard whatsoever for ANYTHING. Even me.

One chubby guy on a MTB suddenly came from between two cars, causing me to lock up my brakes. A young woman with her helmet waaay back on her head, was wobbling perilously close to the 40+ mph traffic just to her left.

I was relieved to turn left on St. Paul Street, pass Landry's Boston store and head down to Beacon Street where I turned right and wheeled up to Summit Avenue.

At half the length but nearly TWICE the average grade, at 10%, of Park Avenue, it is a challenging climb indeed. And I was already tired.

Right after I took this picture I realized that I would not have a rolling start to the climb.
But up I went and I'm sure people, inside with their air-conditioners on, could hear me outside, gasping and wheezing all the way. I managed to snag 3rd for the Strava segment. In my age group. Of 4 people in my AG who actually logged the segment. But the best time in my AG is not out of reach...

Brookline > Waltham

By now it was 2pm, the time my original plans called for me to be pulling back into my driveway. Instead, I had a bit over 20 miles to go.

And one more big climb.

But first I had to travel through Brighton and Watertown where, although I had no direct trouble with the traffic, I had to deal with the leftovers from countless collisions that occurred in the past: a near continuous stream of broken headlight glass that spanned the width of space between the curb and the cars going by to my left.

I took the lane when I could, but often had to wince and ride through the glass. By the time I got to Waltham, my tires were UNPUNCTURED, reminding me of this miraculous moment in cinematic history:

Jules: This was Divine Intervention! You know what "divine intervention" is?
I hoped that I wasn't out of miracles, because I cut across Waltham almost all the way to Weston so that I could go up Prospect Hill. Being the 2nd highest peak inside of Rte. 128, I figured I had to include it since it loomed so close to my way home.


A bit longer than the Park Ave. climb, it is also steeper at 7.2%. The road winds it's way back and forth up, bordered by deep woodlands. I passed a few people walking up as I talked my legs through this last big effort. Near the top, the road forks, with both directions indicated a "scenic overlook".

As I would discover later, the left hand path (which I took) does NOT have a "scenic overlook" but instead goes between a pair of non-descript water storage tanks and terminates at some kind of antenna array.

I also found out later the right hand path not only rewards you with a view, but offers a way down the other side with eventual access to Rte. 117 which runs from Waltham to Weston.

Next time.

Waltham > Maynard

I headed back down, crossed over 128 and went back along familiar roads that wound through Weston, Wayland and Sudbury. Although I could keep up a decent 19-20 mph on the flats, there was absolutely no power left in me for any sort of climb, such as they were, for these last 17 miles.

I was grateful for the shade-covered roadway because I was again reminded of all the time I spent in the sun when I consumed my last gel:

Free radicals!
I pulled into my driveway a little after 4pm. Dog tired and glad to be off my bike.


But hey, I logged a total of 27 miles in February and was near the end of my second week of "seriously" riding again, so I felt pretty good about how things went.

Elapsed time 8 hours, 11 minutes. Rolling time: 5 hours. Really? I putzed around taking pictures, drinking coffee and eating for 3 hours? Well, that was the purpose of the ride: to have enjoyment as the primary goal. Success.

Time to "eat all the things". First, some recovery food:

My thighs and nose were about the same color as that roast beef.
Less than an hour later, my wife had prepared this delicious pan-seared chicken with tomato-olive relish and a side of Israeli couscous.


Unknown said...

A great ride and read Russ. I would strongly suggest you take a look at using ridewithgps.com to map routes. Myself and many of my cycling buddies think it's def the best one out there. Once you've drawn a route you have a number of options to either export .tcx files for your Garmin or write the routes directly to your unit. I'd def check it out. Another big plus is it's free :)

Jorge said...

Dude, that was a beautiful ride... anytime you want to ride Prospect Hill and the surrounding Weston hills I'll guide you, and will wait for the pics to happen.

I've been getting in shape for Battenkill. Are you?

Russ Campbell said...

Not doing B'kill this year Jorge, but AM hoping to whip myself into shape for Sterling!