Miles to Date: 65
May 6, 2015
As I pedaled away from the Alewife T station, against the flow of commuters filing into the subway, I murmured, ‘one mile down, 20,000 more to go.’ A fellow cyclist passed me along the Minuteman Rail Trail, asked about my shirt, and told me he’d cycled the lower 48 over a three-year period after college. When he waved goodbye as he turned out, I didn’t feel required to tell him I was only three miles into my epic journey. My ‘48 States*2 Wheels*1000 Possibilities’ shirt may be presumptuous at this point, but I have finally started.
Conditions are perfect; sixty-eight degrees and sunny. I ride 25 miles to Lowell for my first visit – to the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association (CMAA) to talk with refugee immigrants about how we will live tomorrow. There are several bikeways, including one along the Bedford/Billerica railroad – the oldest 2-foot gauge railroad in America.
By noon I am back on the bike marveling at Lowell’s tenacity. The has-been mill city powered by Merrimac River thrives by cobbling together an eclectic array of economic activity: artist lofts, an urban National Park around the old mills, light industry, UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College, as well as accommodating, and finally embracing, a huge influx of Cambodians since 1980.
One unexpected delight is riding 30 miles along Route 110 East, which parallels the Merrimac River. My mind wanders to Thoreau’s Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers. There are still stretches where the majestically wide river and forested banks dimpled with springtime gold turning green must look quite similar to the river he navigated 176 years ago. However, he didn’t have to navigate five (yes, five) intersections with I-495.
- Why do cyclists ride against the traffic once I’m 20 miles outside of Boston?
- Does any other state have as many ice cream stands as Massachusetts? They are all packed with customers mid-day, mid-week and it’s not even summer yet.
- I get cut off twice – both times by BMW’s.
If Lowell has many Cambodians, Lawrence feels completely Hispanic. The women wear brilliant skirts with layers of ruffles and the Catholic churches have busy mid-day masses. Haverhill doesn’t have such a clear ethnic definition, but is much larger and better restored than I imagined. Merrimac is quaint; Amesbury is picturesque as a movie set.
I arrive in Seabrook and have a relaxing evening visiting my good friend Harry Mears. He feeds me, introduces me to John Oliver’s comedic take on the news, and gives me a comfortable bed for the night.