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  • Writer's pictureAndy

A Punch to the Stomach Before Going Home: Day Five of the Vermont to Rhode Island Adventure Ride

I was around five years old when it happened. I was walking home from the babysitter’s house and decided to take the long way, because it was different. That’s when a few of the older neighborhood boys surrounded me just up the street from my house. They held my arms behind my back and took turns punching me in the stomach. To this day I don’t know what possessed them: maybe I said something, maybe I was dressed the wrong way, maybe it was my turn, or maybe it was just because I was five and they were the big kids on the block. Getting jumped sucks. But it especially sucks when the safety of home is within sight. Just a half a block more and I was walking in the door, grabbing a snack, and lounging on the couch. But no, not that day. Instead I was absorbing blows from clenched fists with my intestines. All because I decided to take the long way home.

The last day of my Vermont to Rhode Island adventure promised to be a doozy: more than sixty miles on a mix of trails. The first ten miles were an easy jaunt on the Air Line trail into Massachusetts to Douglas State Forest. That was no problem: a cake walk. After just touching the edge of Mass, it was then down into Rhode Island onto the North-South Trail. This would take me all the way to the Washington Secondary Bike Path. This paved byway would ferry me east, and then northeast all the way to Providence and the end of my adventure.

I knew what to expect with the Air Line trail. I also knew Douglas State Forest, with its endless byways of babyheads. I could even guess what the Washington Rail Trail was going to be like given that it was a predictably paved rail-trail byway.

What I could not predict, however, was wait waited for me on the North-South Trail. There was dearth of online information, and most of it was from hikers who trudge the eighty or so miles from the Massachusetts border to the sea.

The North-South trail is in fact a bully. A bully that punches five year olds and bikepackers in the stomach, steals their lunch money and then mocks them in front of their friends. It is the kind of trail that leaves you second guessing whether you should have taken the other way home.  But I needed to learn that for myself.

I started out from my campsite, and the last miles of the Air Line Trail from the West Thompson Lake campground to Douglas were some of the best miles the Airline had to offer. I made great time, arriving at Douglas State Forest early enough to entertain thoughts of a leisurely ride into Providence over the next fifty or so miles. And the North-South trail, with its quaint sign and singletrack entrance, beckoned.

I had done some research on the North-South trail and was intrigued. Stretching all the way from Douglas to the ocean, the trail runs 78 miles down the backbone of the state. I had originally planned to ride the trail itself as a multi-day bikepack, setting out from Franklin. And so, when I was planning my cross-New England route, I naturally incorporated it into the trip.

The first hundred or so yards were deceptively rideable. Just enough to raise my hopes. I wound through a pine forest and then around a few glacial erratics. And then the nightmare began. The trail quickly devolved into what can only be described as glacial barf. Round rocks of all sizes spilled out around and through the trail making it completely unrideable. I spent the next two hours wrestling my seventy pound bike around and over the rocks. It was gut punch after gut punch. By the time I made it to Buck Hill Road, I was exhausted. But not defeated.

I regrouped as I rolled along pavement, and then onto packed doubletrack. The trail ducked into the woods, and wound around a small pond. I started making better time, and feeling better about my prospects of reaching Providence in time to catch an early evening train to Boston.

And then around George Washington State Park I ran into another rocky section of trail. The time dragged on and my energy waned. The five days of riding was catching up with me.

I was exhausted, but I was only I four and half hours, and twenty miles into my sixty mile day. The math was starting to go sideways and I was worried I wasn’t going to make it to Providence. The first ten miles had taken me an hour. The second ten took me three hours. The North South Trail was a black hole of rock gardens sucking progress from my wheels.

The map showed my planned route jutting west and then south to eventually reach the Washington bike path. I realized though, that instead of staying on the North-South trail, I could high tail it south on the road, making a B-Line for Coventry where I could join the rail trail on its way toward Providence. With a heavy rain in the forecast for that night, I opted for speed over singletrack and headed south.

The road section was far from easy though. It started with a long climb, with no tree cover. I sweated over the hot pavement, huffing and puffing my way to the top where I found the Oak Leaf Campground. Mercifully they had a soda machine on the grounds. I gulped down a coke and chatted with the caretaker, not hurrying to get out of the comfortably shaded chair where I had settled for the moment.

Eventually back onto the road I went, and thankfully was met with a blissfully long downhill cruise. Most of the route took me along State Road 94 which had spacious shoulders. But I eventually turned off onto Route 102 which covered the balance of the miles to Coventry where I hopped onto the rail trail.

From there it I hammered along the paved rail trail as it rolled onward to Providence. The scenery along the trail was decidedly pastoral as I passed by large reservoirs and through wooded lots. Slowly it became less suburban and more urban until I found myself at the end of the line, and amid the din of central Providence. I was thrust onto a four lane city street- at rush hour no less. The next two miles were the most hair raising miles of the entire trip; dodging through traffic on my way to the train station. But I survived. And I kept my lunch money.

And as I sat on the train on my way back to Boston, wolfing down a turkey sub, and watching the scenery roll by, I thought about all the places I had seen over the last five days. All the miles. All the sweat. All the toil. The relentless climbing on the Taconic Crest, the driving rain in Western Mass, the ribbons of rock down the Metacomet, and the brilliant green on the rail trails of central Connecticut. And yes, the gut punching grit of the North-South trail. And I didn’t want to change a thing. Sitting on the couch munching on snacks is overrated. The real life is found in the streets. So take the long way home: even if you do take a few gut punches now and again.

Here’s the map of the last day’s ride:

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