Biked to the Bakery - The Long Way - For my Birthday

Like many people, my world has been consumed this year by pandemic, the economic crisis, protests against police violence, and the idiot in the White House. As someone else wrote on Twitter, it’s like 1917 and 1929 and 1968 all had a baby, but it’s 1868 and Andrew Johnson is president again. I have a bad habit of “doomscrolling” through several newspaper sites and social media feeds, which keeps me well-informed, but probably places my mental health at risk. Fortunately, my faithful bicycle continues to rescue me from drowning in all of this.

Today is my 55th birthday, and one way I celebrate this annual event is to take a long bike ride, a psychological attempt to persuade myself that my body isn’t really growing older. Last year’s celebration didn’t go very smoothly, when my stomach rebelled, and I had to call my daughter to pick me up several miles short of my destination, as described in “A Disagreement Between Body Parts on a Birthday Bike Ride.”

But this year was different. I’ve been biking more regularly in the late afternoons, and building up my strength with longer rides on weekends. New England public health rules have allowed me to get out of Connecticut and visit neighboring states, as long as I continue to feel healthy and follow social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. And my stomach, seeking to make amends from last year’s debacle, kindly suggested a worthy destination: the Seven Stars Bakery on Broadway in Providence, Rhode Island, home of the amazing Chocolate Almond Croissant.

Destination: Chocolate Almond Croissant

That destination is 93 miles by bike from my house, which I’ve done on a previous birthday ride, when I was younger. In addition, since my sweetie-pie Beth was not available to pick me up after a one-way bike ride, as she’s kindly done in the past, this year’s birthday challenge was a two-day round-trip of 186 miles. Assuming I survived the first day.

Covered bridge on the Hop River Trail in Andover CT

The weather cooperated wonderfully. The forecast for both July 15th and 16th was a high of 80 degrees F, considerably lower than the last or next week. So I booked a $30 AirBnb room, conveniently located about a block from the bakery, geared up my touring bike with lots of water and an overnight bag, and headed out at 6:30am to beat the heat (and because the bakery was scheduled to close at 3:30pm).

Arrived just before closing time

Hallelujah! I made it to the bakery with ten minutes to spare, and bought their last three Chocolate Almond Croissants. Can you imagine how sad this tale would be if they had run out, or worse, if I arrive a few minutes after closing?. The staff boxed up the goodies and also gave me a plastic bag to seal it up. Spent the night in Providence, then starting pedaling back to Hartford this morning with the (now day-old) deliciousness safely packed away in my bike bag. This evening we opened the box and confirmed that they survived the bumpy summer ride back to Connecticut.

Packed up the pastries for a bumpy ride back home

My 55-year-old body also survived the ride. While the legs are a tiny bit sore, it’s nothing compared to other long rides I’ve done. Took the dogs for a long walk right after I got home. Also, no complaints from my bum after two long days in the saddle. Operation Youthful Delusion was a success this time.

Enjoying locally-bottled Hosmer root beer at Willimantic Coop

My route for this 93-mile ride (see purple line in the map) followed most of the East Coast Greenway, except that I chose a hilly shortcut through Windham-Scotland-Canterbury. (Bridge construction on Route 14 in Scotland sent me on a 5-mile detour.) While I figured out how to carry three double-walled insulated bottles on my bike to carry about 84 ounces of cold water, I sweat a lot when I ride, which means I also need to drink a lot, so stopped a few times for additional refreshments (aka root beer). Gained about 3,000 feet in elevation each way. Averaged around 12.6 miles per hour, which is fine with me for a day-long hilly ride that includes at least 20 miles on the packed-dirt Hop River Trail.

Nothing beats riding in the shade along the Hop River Trail on a warm summer day

I also found some inspiration for future years, in case my body rebels against cycling. In Coventry, Rhode Island I sat down on a bench on the Trestle Trail, part of paved Greenway that runs all the way to Providence. The bench included this plaque: “Roger Vanasse - Bernie George - The Orangemen - Sept 2016 - 1500 miles.” Then two elderly guys walked up to say hello, and explained that they were the unofficial ambassadors of the trail. Both of them wore orange shirts. I looked at them, looked again at the plaque, put it all together and realized that I was sitting on their bench! “That plaque is out of date,” Roger told me. “We’ve logged over 3000 miles by now.” When I explained that this was my 55th birthday bike ride, they told me that they’re both in their late 80s, and walk together on the trail nearly every day! So if I need to find another hobby other than biking, perhaps I’ll ask to join The Orangemen.

The Orangemen on the Trestle Trail: Roger Vanasse and Bernie George