This has always been a favorite leg of my Connecticut Shore ride,one that has, so far, covered every mile of the CT coastline except for the short stretch between Greenwich and the New York state line. This Sunday and Monday, the planets lined up just right so that I had two days off in a row AND my wife, who is not such an ambitious cyclist, was out of town. Therefore, you can imagine how psyched I was to get on my bike and go.
Work (summer outdoor concert production) has been physically demanding every day since July 5, so my legs were like jelly on Saturday night. But, despite falling asleep after 2am and having to rise at 5am to catch the Cross Sound Ferry from Orient Point, Long Island to New London, CT, I found my butt on the 8am ferry (it's a 1.5 hour drive from my house).
I hadn't made any plans, as I knew it'd be hit or miss as to whether I'd even be able to walk after Saturday night's show, but I decided at about 1:30am that I'd head toward Mystic and see if I wanted to go any further - say Misquamicut Beach or Narragansett, RI, two other favorite bike destinations of mine. I was a little nervous about getting back for Tuesday, so I pretty much knew I wasn't going much farther than Mystic.
Anyway, with a chronic stabbing pain in my left lower back, I departed the ferry in New London at 9:30am and began my brief (11-12 mile) hilly journey to Mystic. The temps were already up there and my two water bottles were just shy of boiling by the time I exited the ferry parking lot. Why didn't I buy some bottled water at the Cross Sound Deli? I guess I was just too excited.
The Gold Star Bridge, which takes you from the New London ferry landing area into Groton, was its usual b-tch to climb, mostly because I had been sleeping in an ice cold breeze on the ferry deck for an hour-and-a-half and had barely stretched for four minutes before getting on the bike. By the halfway point, I had already downed half a bottle of hot water. The coast downhill woke me up.
Then came the climb from Bridge Street to Rt. 1 -- followed by the climb up Fort Hill in Groton -- followed by climb after climb after climb into Mystic, which, at eleven miles away, felt like a trip across country by the time I arrived. Rolling into town past Mystic Pizza, Drawbridge Ice Cream, and Mystic Park felt great, though. Something about this place just makes me instantly relax. Perhaps it's all the memories I have of pedaling into the downtown area on breezy summer nights, filling a bag with donuts from Tim Horton's, and stretching out on a blanket to watch live music in the park. For whatever reason, I just love this place.
This time around, having already seen and done just about everything there is to do in Mystic, there was no pressure to squeeze anything in before it was time to go home, so the first thing I did was take a lap around Mystic Harbor and meet up with Rt. 27 to get to the hotel area. There, I quickly booked a room at the HOJO (it was Sunday morning already...MUCH easier than getting a room any other day of the week), checked in, dumped my panniers, and headed back into town for lunch in my disgusting, sweaty t-shirt. The folks at the Riverwalk Cafe looked at me like I was a garbage dump creature when I pulled up on my heavily-decaled bike and asked for a table, but I managed to convince them I wasn't dangerous and lunch turned out to be deliciously awesome. Then I headed back to the hotel, turned on the Tour De France, and took a three-hour nap.
Mystic Seaport was advertising free admission and live music from 5 to 8pm, so I really wanted to get there for that. After a salad bar dinner at the Steak Loft and a quick walk around Old Mystik Village (great place for off-beat stuff), I headed to the seaport. Unfortunately, the live music turned out to be a guy with a guitar singing some of the most depressing stuff I had ever heard, so I quickly exited. Instead, I headed back into downtown to sit in the park with the other tourists and watch the drawbridge open at 20 past the hour. Great breeze, great vibe, as always. Then I rode back to my hotel, hoping to grab a beer or two at the convenience store across the street so I could sit on my porch and watch the sun set. Hmm...no beer at convenience stores in Connecticut. Gotta find one of those state-run Package Stores. Not wanting to come off like I NEEDED a beer, I decided not to ask anyone where I could find a package store. Instead, I bought a huge soft-serve ice cream at Friendly's and brought it back to my room. So much for flattening the little ponch that's been growing around my belly recently.
Sunday night, the Weather Channel began forecasting severe weather for the area on Monday, including heavy rain, high winds, and "large hail." TRIP OVER, I figured, as I planned my early departure out of Mystic the following morning.
When I awoke at 7am, the sky was murky, but not as threatening as I had anticipated. I decided to skip breakfast anyway and get right over to the ferry. I departed the hotel at 8:10am and, despite having nightmares about it, got up the hill after Mystic Pizza pretty well. After that, though, the hills became torturous, and I actually began thinking that, at 48 years old, this might be my last trip of this type. I know you're probably mumbling "whimp" right now, but it takes A LOT to get me off the bike to walk it up a hill. This time, I did that three times in eleven miles!
Of course, I can dish out a bunch of excuses: exhaustion from work, the bad back, lack of stretching, lack of biking this year, no breakfast -- but I think I'm just losing my legs. By the time I reached the ferry terminal, I had forgotten all the bad parts and was mostly amazed that I had made it in just 45 minutes, record time for me. Still, it felt like the last time I would experience this rush.
All this may change by next summer. In fact, it probably will, as I still have many places to return to in order to collect decals for my bike. 'Wish I had started collecting them the FIRST time I rode to all these places. Anyway, for now, if anybody is looking for a good day or overnight trip, I highly recommend Mystic, Connecticut. If you're a "real" rider, which I no longer consider myself, the hills shouldn't bother you, and the destination is always worth it. Respond here and I will provide specific directions from the Orient Point/New London Ferry terminal.
PS: It's 4pm and it still hasn't started raining.