A Final Exam in the White Mountains
If our trip is a three month study of cycle touring, Saturday in New Hampshire was the final exam. Quizzes of headwinds and prep tests of hills in the rain had us ready, and good thing. The White Mountains are famous for their fickle weather and steep climbs, both of which were thrown at us as we cranked up Kancamagus Pass. “The Kanc,” as locals call it.
Let me first say that I am not complaining. We chose to do this tour and never expect every day on the bikes to be fun. Perhaps you picked up on that? I often shake my head and laugh harder on days that test my will and patience because sometimes it can seem so ridiculous to be outside. (As one guy we met told us, “That sounds like way too much work for a vacation.” This ain’t a vacation, buddy!) People driving the other way must think I’m eating lead paint chips instead of trail mix when they see me grinning away in the pouring rain. And the more rain, the more I grin. Into the fray and out the other side stronger, either mentally or physically. Or at least that’s what I like to tell myself.
With so few days on the bikes left, a day in the rain wasn’t a big deal. Neither was a tough climb. If we can’t handle those after 3,900 miles of biking, we need to find a couch and put on Mr. Potato Head costumes. (Or maybe I need that costume for cycling regardless?) The roundhouse kick to the day was constant streaming traffic seeking fall foliage at its peak. Nothing sets us on edge like crawling up a mountain while cars and Harleys gun past in a rush to get to a summit socked in with clouds.
If every day on the bikes was like this, we wouldn’t bike tour. It wears on the nerves, slams down blinders over nice views, and makes me want to chuck my bike in a ditch and stick out my thumb for a ride. And yet a simple mantra got me through heat in the plains, headwinds in the Midwest and dangerous traffic in cities and busy roads. “This too shall pass,” I tell myself. Semi hauling doomed cows roars by with a giant gust of wind while trailing steer piss and a horrible stench? Wind so strong I have to stand up to pedal? “This too shall pass,” I yell into the onslaught.
It’s a simple saying I’ve known for years (who hasn’t heard it?), and yet cycle touring has deployed it to the front lines of my brain. This bike trip constantly reminds me that few things in life, good or bad, are permanent. If we take anything too seriously, especially ourselves and whatever “random” path in life we are on, all we need to do is think “this too shall pass.” I’ve found that it also adds perspective to ask myself, “Why do I deserve this?” Oh yeah, that’s right…I did this, which led to that, and here I am.
Claiming responsibility for being on The Kanc in subpar conditions made it just another day, one we could steel ourselves against and emerge triumphant. Which we did, pedaling up soaking wet and hungry to delicious fresh-baked bread and hot soup at a host’s home in North Conway. Sitting by a warm fire shoveling food into my face, the trials of the day were forgotten like engineering formulas from college.
And now, with the Atlantic Coast practically in sight, it’s like the final week of high school when all we do is watch movies in class and wait to graduate. The hard work is done, and easy rolling hills and sunshine are our playground for the rest of the tour. Or so it seems. If that changes, life goes on. For that too shall pass as we spin toward the coast and whatever comes next.
P.S. Here are a couple short videos from the day. Please excuse my consistently amateur, unedited and shaky camera work! Also, for all of you reading via email, here are the links: Video 1 and Video 2.
P.P.S. The shots below are from the day after riding the pass. As they say in New Hampshire, if you don’t like the weather, wait a day!