The MOOSA Tour, put on by InMotion Events, is a six-day fully-supported bicycle trip that begins in Bethel, Maine and loops up through New Hampshire, slices through just a bit of Vermont, crosses the border into Quebec and then swings back to the east and south back to Bethel. This year’s trip began on Sunday, 27 June and finished on Friday, 2 July 2010.
The MOOSA Tour is organized by Al and April, the owners of InMotion, which is based out of Auburn, NY and which usually hosts two-four rides per year in the Northeast of the United States, either along the Erie Canal, through the Finger Lakes, in the Adirondacks or in the Maine and Nova Scotia area. Al is one of the original organizers of the hugely popular Bonton Roulet, which cycles around the Finger Lakes each summer and is hosted by the YMCA in Auburn. The rides are a great formula; you can camp or stay in motel/hotels and they provide some meals and truck your gear from camping site to camping site while you cycle anywhere from 40-70 miles per day. The participants are usually strong recreational cyclists, most in their 30s-60s and are generally friendly and almost everyone mixes in well.
One of the best improvements over the years to the InMotion formula has been addition of an option called Comfy Campers (formerly Camptel.) This service makes camping a whole lot less stressful. For a extra fee they provide nice high-end tents, a big air mattress, a fresh shower towel and a camp chair, which are all ready and waiting when you finish your daily ride. Below are the Comfy Camper tents at our campsite just outside of the Parc de la gorge de Coaticook in Quebec. The blue tents are the deluxe and the tan tents are the standards.
This service used to be owned by Al and April, who sold it to Shawn Stewart who runs it as an independent company for both InMotion events and other bike touring companies.
Day 0 - Saturday, 26 June 2010 – Bethel, Maine
I flew from Newark, New Jersey to Portland, Maine and was picked up by Steve, one of the volunteer riders and we arrived at Bethel Outdoor Adventures just in time to watch the US lose to Ghana in the World Cup. The campground is on the shores of the Androscoggin River, just about a half mile from the center of Bethel and an hour and a half by car north of Portland.
My bike, which I had sent up by Fedex Ground, was nicely assembled by Bethel Bicycle (thanks Peter and Maggie!) We had the pre-ride meeting in the late afternoon and I had a great meal at the Crossroads Diner (along with friendly conversation…. is everyone in Maine so open to speaking with strangers?? This was not NYC!)
Day 1 - Sunday, 27 June 2010 – Bethel, Maine to Errol, New Hampshire
Way up at 44° north, the sky gets bright and the sun rises early in late June. And, living outdoors on these rides, you fall into some non-urban sleep patterns. So, by 5:00 am I was up to shower and head off to breakfast back at the Crossroads Cafe.
At 5:30 the place was full of locals and I sat down to a short stack of pancakes, real maple syrup and potatoes with coffee. This is the kind of breakfast you want before riding off down the road.
And, this was the first road marking as we took off…. and we followed those orange asphalt graffiti for the next 350 miles.
Sunday, Day 1 was a short day since the planned campsite, about 10 miles further down the road, had cancelled on the tour organizers at the last minute. However, we spent the night just outside of Errol, Maine, which was being invaded by motorcycles in the area for some biker rally. All two wheels, but those beasts are noisy. We heard the roars of the bikers all day and into the evening.
My favorite site on the ride north was a cute little pie stand by the side of the road. No one around and all the pies and preserves were for sale on the “honor system.” You just left your money and took what you wanted. There are few places in the world where this works, but you find these all over New England and Upstate New York.
It was a short ride on Sunday and I’d arrived early into the campground where the perverse incentive for leaving early and riding fast was to help Hank unload the gear bags from the truck.
Day 2 - Monday, 28 June 2010 – Errol, New Hampshire to Coaticook, Quebec
One of the challenges of living outdoors for a week is trying to figure out the weather and what to wear during the day. Once we pack up our gear each morning and head off down the road, we are left with what we can carry on our bikes and with changing weather this can present a real problem. During the night, the rain had started and continued through until dawn, falling hard on the tents and leaving the field where we were camped a real bog. Having good information on the weather is not only useful but also essential for having a good day on the road.
However, I had packed my laptop and was able to connect into a WiFi signal and get the latest weather radar at first light. It showed a huge green and yellow blob that had been tracking over the region through the night but there was a break in storm and the trailing edge looked like it would pass over us around 7:30. So, armed with this good information, I spoke to a few friends on the ride to let them know that if they wanted to wait for a few minutes, it looked like drier riding in a few minutes. And, just as expected, the rain stopped and I headed out down the road trying to get in as much distance before the rain might come again.
This day’s ride took us up through New Hampshire, through the very upper right hand corner of Vermont and across the border into Canada. The border officials were expecting us and I used my new Nexus card to cross into Canada.
The rain fell for about an hour half way through the ride and then again after entering Canada. So, it was a day of putting on the rain top, riding overheated but dry and then taking it off, over and over again as the showers started and stopped. With no fenders the rear wheel spray had soaked my shorts and the grit from the road was all over the frame and chain.
Here I am climbing up a particularly nasty pitch, with my rain gear in a sack on my back and wearing clear lenses in my Oakleys due to the low light and heavy rain. It was a gritty, wet day for me and the bike.
So, on entering Coaticook ahead of most of the riders, I pulled into a great little bike shop with a superb mechanic, who pulled off and cleaned the chain, blew the dirt off the bike, removed and cleaned my cassette and put the whole thing back together for me. There is nothing like a clean drive train! Then it was time to dry out the gear while the sun shined in the afternoon.
The picture above is of the InMotion information table, where messages were posted with information for the 80 riders. Also, there were coolers (lower left) with beer, wine and soft drinks and a container for money for the drinks.
We stayed that night at the Parc de la gorge de Coaticook and I went into town with Harry and Jan, a lovely couple from Pennsylvania, where I feasted on chicken wings, shrimp, steak and some delicious baklava at a Greek restaurant. After a day of riding with no breakfast or lunch, this early dinner was one of the best meals on the ride.
Without the distractions of urban existence, it is easy to run out of things to do by 8:00 pm. There are no web sites to visit, emails to read, no TV shows on the TIVO and no lights to fool one into thinking that it is really daytime. So, by the end of the second day, I was ready for my sleeping bag and air mattress by 8:30 or so… and woke at 4:30 in the morning. Great sleeps, although the thin nylon of the tents does not block much of the sounds coming from other campers, who snore, cough, zip and unzip their tents and roll around on those loud air mattresses all night. It is funny that I can live in Manhattan and sleep through police sirens, music booming from cars in the street and the roar of traffic and helicopters overhead, but am bothered at camp by someone farting three tents away. Go figure.
Day 3 - Tuesday, 29 June 2010 – Coaticook to Notre Dame Des Bois, Quebec
On Tuesday, I rose early and headed to the showers before taking off down the road. On a long multi-day ride, there is nothing more important than keeping that area where the seat hits the meat clean, dry and free of growing bacteria and other flora. It is easy for Candida albicans, that nasty skin yeast infection, to begin growing, resulting in inflamed skin.. which can make for a very miserable day. So, I’m pretty fastidious about wearing clean riding shorts each day, using the expensive but excellent ASSOS Chamois Crème and making sure that the first thing I do at the end of each ride is to get out of the damp shorts, into the shower and then wear loose fitting shorts to allow the area to breath and dry out. The whole idea is to reduce friction and prevent bacteria and yeast from finding a place to call home. This year with 100% effective crotch management, I was as comfortable sitting on the seat the last day of the ride as I was on the first.
On this morning, I left early and went to Le Coin, a lovely coffeeshop in Coaticook for crepes and coffee before heading out. The ride was 61 miles with more than almost five and a half thousand feet of climbing.
Most of the climbing was long, long gradual 1% and 2% grades, which I really love. You can see from the photos below the long rolling nature of the roads.
So, the third day was a perfect day for holding 200 watts while grinding up long straight flat stretches of road, really working hard. It is funny how you can get stronger rather than more tired on multi-day rides like this (although I did end up paying for all this work by the end of the following day.)
From the day’s ride profile you can see that there were those long grades. From 35 to 50 miles the elevation gain was from 700 feet to 1700 feet… 1000 feet total in fifteen miles. Some up and down but mostly gradual up and up.
About 10 miles from the finish, I stopped in La Patrie, a small town mostly remarkable for the fact that two large roads meet there and not much else. However, I sat outside on the porch of a lovely restaurant and inhaled eight hot chicken wings, a big hamburger and three real Pepsi-Colas. It is all about the calories on a trip like this.
In Notre Dame des Bois, we camped at the school and were served two great meals, at dinner and again the next morning, by members of the community. It was home cooking for eighty hungry riders. The rain came in late in the afternoon, catching the stragglers out on the road in a drenching downpour. Luckily, the tents were all pitched and we were able to go inside the huge ice hockey rink (no ice this time of year) while the storm passed. This was the last of the big downpours on the trip and we had pretty good weather, except for some light showers the following afternoon, the rest of the week.
Day 4 - Wednesday, 30 June 2010 – Notre Dame Des Bois, Quebec to Kingfield, Maine
We rode back across the border into the US on Wednesday, the fourth day of riding. We were served such a great breakfast that I was in no hurry to head off riding, particularly since the start of the day was all uphill. So, I waited until almost everyone else had left before riding off, but still ended up arriving early in Kingfield, where the punishment reward for hard riding was helping to unload the truck.
Luckily, I did not get in trouble for taking this picture, as we rode up to the border crossing back into the US. Some of the other riders did, but honestly, if you are going to give someone grief for taking a picture, you should have a sign up that says, “No photos” or something. Ah, back in the US and the crazy mania for security and the misplacement and miscalculation of real risks.
Here is a shot (below) of our rest stop on Day 4, which was a lovely place to grab some cookies, peanut butter on saltines, refill the water bottles and grab some fresh fruit.
This was another high mileage day and, again I was feeling frisky and pushed the wattage. Aside from the vertical up and downs over the first ten miles, the rest of the day pretty much was flat moving through rolling hills until the last twenty miles that followed the river that you can see above.
However, by the end of the day, I was really feeling fatigued. A group of us walked into the town of Kingfield to sit out on the back porch of the Longfellow’s Restaurant for some baked brie and burgers. Two hours later we were served a big spaghetti dinner back at our campsite and I inhaled that as well. Nothing like burning 4,000 to 5,000 extra calories a day to work up an appetite!
This was our campground in Kingfield, with the blue and tan Comfy Camper tents all lined up nicely and the others, who pitched their own tents, scattered off to the right. In the lower right, you can see the bags of the riders who had not arrived yet. The organizers could tell if anyone was still out on the road and needed to be fetched if their bag was still there at the end of the day.
Day 5 - Thursday, 1 July 2010 – Kingfield to Rangeley, Maine
The local Masonic lodge prepared breakfast for us at the Kingfield school and they had everything ready early. I was up at 5:00 am to check my email, recharge some devices (like the battery for my DuraAce Di2 electronic shifters), download some podcasts to listen to during the ride and get some coffee. I had the most interesting discussion with one of the volunteers, who had been in town government (maybe the former mayor) and was interested in new technologies for energy conservation. He wanted to do long term investment in capturing methane from septic systems and cattle/dairy operations and had taken some courses in renewable energy. We talked about sales of ecosystem services and discussed some of the principles of “green economy”, which he found fascinating. It was one of the most intelligent conversations that I had during the week… and all over coffee at 5:15 am.
In terms of distance (42 miles) or feet climbed (3542) it was not the farthest ride or the most altitude gained, but by day five in this ride, I was exhausted. There was no power in my legs at all… which is why my average heart rate for the day was only 119 bpm, which is really low. My fitness was fine, but there was no push for the pedals. This is probably why, after arriving in Rangeley and showering, I went straight to my tent and slept for an hour.
No, I did not see a single moose on the whole trip. I’m convinced that the residents of Maine have us all fooled into believing that there are moose in Maine just to get us to drive all the way up to their damn state.
Here is a shot at the rest stop on Day 5, full of goodies:
The last shower of the ride started just as I was pulling into Rangeley, and so I quickly looked for a place to stop and eat. One of my favorite types of food after riding is Thai, and there it was.. the Thai Blossom Express, right on main street. The owner was a former Thai chef in Tehran during 1979 and during the takeover of the US Embassy he hid four Americans, who with his help managed to get to the Canadian Embassy. The pad thai had too much fish sauce and was far too sweet, but maybe this is the way that people from Maine like their Asian food. But the hot sour soup hit the spot after the long ride.
This was the last night of our trip and we had a big dinner at a restaurant in Rangeley, where InMotion provided beer and we had a big Italian dinner. Gary, our ride leader, circulated pictures of riders from the trip and generally entertained the crowd. By the end of the week, we had nicely arranged ourselves into small cliques, and I we assembled a great table with Sandy and Steve (who were married on a bike ride several years ago), Helen and Steve, Harry and Jan, Nicole (from Comfy Campers), Ed and Bob. (Below is a picture of Sandy, who was a real character, giving me some kind of crap for taking a picture of her with her mouth full.)
Day 6 - Friday, 2 July 2010 – Rangeley to Bethel, Maine
Friday dawned bright and sunny, easily the nicest day of the year. The weather had been cold for the last several days, dropping down below 10C (around 45-50 degrees F) at night. But, this day promised to warm quickly and did.
My flight from Portland was scheduled to leave at 7:00 pm and the ride was long, with almost 66 miles of road between Rangeley and the end of the ride back in Bethel. However, the real motivating factor that got my butt out of the tent and on the bike heading down the road was the World Cup quarterfinal match between Brazil and the Netherlands. I figured that if I grabbed some calories in camp, had a Cliff bar on the road, ate well at the rest stops, I could skip breakfast, hammer up the hills and then ride mostly downhill through the mountains into the town of Mexico, Maine and make it back in time to see the second half of the game.
The day’s ride profile was the perfect one for the last ride in a multi-day event like this.
We climbed early in the day, heading up to the summit overlooking the lakes in the Rangeley area and then descended through the forest before heading home on a long flat (mostly) stretch into Bethel.
Thanks to Steve for this shot, looking back to the north over Mooselookmeguntic Lake (yes, that is the name of the lake.)
Here we are at the first rest stop, about 35 miles into the ride. The rest stop was right beside this stream (below)
Nice spot for a rest stop.
Here is the last shot of the ride, crossing the Swift River just north of Rumford, Maine
With my energy restored from the easy day going into Rangeley and some good food over the last day, I rode hard and fast, particularly on the flats in the last twenty miles. And, as planned, I pulled into the Bethel Outdoor Adventure location just at the start of the second half and in time to see my World Cup team, Brazil, go down in flames as they lost all discipline against a great looking Dutch squad.
After the game, Maggie at the bike shop took my bike off my hands and will pack it up and send it back to New York in the next few days. There is no rush to get it to Manhattan since I’m taking off on Tuesday morning for Australia and South Africa and won’t be back home for two weeks.
One last unsolicited plug for a restaurant. Next to Bethel Outdoor Adventures is the Rooster’s Roadhouse. I wandered in totally unprepared for the great atmosphere and wonderful food. This is definitely a place I’d like to go back to for an evening someday.
Steve drove the van, as he had done a week before when he picked me up from the airport. We were joined by Way, a United Airlines mechanic who had also ridden the ride and who was flying out at 7:00 pm. We left Bethel at 4:00 pm and cruised into the airport in time and I caught my flight to New Jersey, grabbed the bus from EWR to Grand Central and was home by 9:45 pm.
Great trip! There is nothing better than having little more to do each day but ride and eat, two of my favorite things. InMotion has the formula down for offering a really wonderful, low cost cycling adventure through some outstanding parts of the world. And, it is only three weeks until I’m off again for another week of riding with the Bonton Roulet Tour from 24 July through 1 August. Can’t wait!!