Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Solo-ing Franconia

For a long time, I've been infatuated with the idea of an extended outdoor solo outing.

There's something so romantic about it; a meditative journey in which I'm alone with my thoughts, forced to be resourceful and self-reliant, wrapping up, of course, with a best-selling memoir of my travels. But, I think I'm getting ahead of myself.

Last weekend, I had plans to head north for a work-related photo shoot on and around Mount Washington, so I left Boston a couple hours early to check out the bike path in Franconia Notch State Park. I figured an out-and-back 18-mile (give or take) ride would be a fun way to spend the afternoon; I could take some photos, see the park, and work up a good sweat. It would also be an opportunity to head out alone.

It's about a two-hour drive to Franconia Notch from the Boston area, and I spent the entire ride picturing myself as this intrepid adventurer; someone who grabs her beat-up mountain bike and heads out whenever the mood strikes.

As I got closer to my destination, it didn't take long for that feeling to vanish. I saw dark clouds in the distance. The blue sky would disappear for a bit, then reappear. I feared I'd have to scrap the whole plan, but as I arrived at the trailhead, I decided to go ahead anyway.

I grabbed bungee cord and strapped my raincoat, water bottle, and a first aid kit to the back of my bike, which took several tries to get just right. Then, I realized I had to use the bathroom, so I followed the sign marked Toilets to a steep hill opening up to a parking lot, but saw nothing. Growing impatient, I returned to the trailhead and turned on my Garmin.

Then—and I know how this sounds—my stupid Garmin refused to find a satellite. I grew more frustrated, then felt shame for feeling frustrated over something so trivial. This trip was supposed to be relaxing! After a few minutes, my Garmin finally located a satellite, and I was on my way. I still had to use the bathroom, but at least I was moving.

Not even a mile in, I arrived at a fairly steep incline. My quads burned and I fumbled with the gears; I knew I was in a too-high gear and that my posture and cadence were awful. I tried awkwardly to right myself as I noticed two people sitting at a picnic table at the top of the incline, bearing witness to my foolish inexperience.

"Hello!" one of them called out to me.

"Hi!" I replied.

"How's it going?"

"First time on this path," I said, as if that wasn't already completely obvious. God, I felt like such a loser. And I still had to use the bathroom.

I rode on a couple miles, practicing shifting on the path's rolling hills and feeling much more confident in my ability. That is, until I powered up one particular steep hill only to find that it ended in steps to a small building. On the bright side, the building was a public restroom. Huzzah!

I found my way back to the path and continued on. I made it to about the 4-mile mark, where the path passes under I-93. I dismounted and sat there for a few minutes, taking inventory of the dark clouds and the current time and the massive incline waiting for me just around the bend. I was reluctant to cut my ride short, but I turned around and headed back. It's a good thing I did. Within minutes of arriving at the trailhead, the rain started to fall.

In total, I biked only 9 miles. An excellent solo adventure this was not, but I'm glad I did it.