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WORDS: Pierre VanDenBorre | PHOTOS: Daniel Wakefield Pasley
A chilling rain pattered down as we emerged from our motel rooms early Sunday morning with dead legs and dampened spirits. As if the 130-mile ride of the previous day hadn’t been enough, the untimely breakdown that had left a car full of exhausted riders on the shoulder of a rather primeval corridor of I-95, just north of Bangor, had confirmed the epic nature of our first day in Maine. Nearly five hours, with nothing more than bright stars untainted by light pollution, and a couple of road flares to keep us entertained. By the time the tow-truck finally dumped us in Bar Harbor, at 3:00am, even the hot dog machine at the all-night gas station had been turned off, making our only dinner option a bag of chips. Things were looking grim for our planned century on Mount Desert Island, at 108 square miles the largest of the numerous islands that lie off the Maine coast. A ride which, just a few hours previously, had at least offered the consolation of taking place ‘tomorrow’, was now scheduled for later that morning.
With no firm start time set, our four-strong team wandered out to find first coffee and then breakfast. Talk surrounded the day’s ride but thoughts were split between the absurdity of being stranded the night before and the long transfers that loomed, in order that we might get back to Boston and New York for work the next day. As morning leaked into early afternoon and we weren’t yet on our bikes, ambitions to complete the full ride on the roads built on the island by Rockefeller, a one-time inhabitant, were quickly being dashed. While the full tour was out of the question, an abridged 25-mile version would be possible and plans were hatched to ride Ocean Drive, culminating with the climb up Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak on the Eastern seaboard. Also known as the Park Loop, it’s a staple tour route of Acadia National Park. And while in peak season you have to be on guard for the photo-snapping, gawking tourists at the wheels of rented RVs, much of it is restricted to one-way traffic making it very amenable to cycling. What this short tour lacks in distance and remoteness, it makes up for in sheer natural majesty.
On this rainy Sunday in September, however, the Park Loop was sleepy and socked in. The drizzle was hard and the fog was thick, offering a completely different perspective on this traditional summer destination. We rolled alongside the Atlantic shore more or less alone amidst a nearly overwhelming aroma of salty ocean spray mixed with the pitch of the pine trees. The fog brined our lips as salt condensed on our bikes, our bodies, everything. All the while our drivetrains diligently cranked on, working through the mix of the previous day’s Baxter mud and the afternoon’s Atlantic mist. Our machines seemed to have little in common with the glistening chains and perfect torque of their Pro Tour brethren but in these conditions it merely added to the experience.
As we journeyed further in to the route and returned inland, the prominent feature became the dank, brooding forest, among whose trunks and branches sat the vaporous ocean fog. All the while we were working toward Cadillac Mountain, the steady three-mile climb of the highest peak on the East Coast. While the normally stunning views were replaced by visibility just past our front wheel, the jagged rock cairns served as bumpers to keep us on the tarmac. Steve Francisco and Jeremy pressed at the front, quickly disappearing from Peter and my view.
Finally, at the top of Cadillac and dripping with a salty mixture of effort and ocean air, the four of us regrouped, zipped up our Stowaways, and plummeted down whence we came. The slick roads and high winds kept us focused and mindful of the curves. Pouring back on to the Park Loop, the road continued to drop down through a forested area before the descent blurred into flat land. But the speed was still there and we carried through in a quick pace line. Again, Steve was strong and driving and as the flat transitioned even slightly up, we all struggled to stay on his wheel. I used my last bit of power to attack what I knew to be a short rise. Nearly seizing up, I quickly eased back with the excuse of enjoying a view of Frenchman’s Bay as the fog momentarily relinquished.
We rolled back into Bar Harbor the same way we left just a couple hours earlier, in a fog and looking for coffee.