Happy anniversary to me.
A couple of weeks ago marked my 13th anniversary of living in New Hampshire, surpassing by far any other place I've lived.
I've never second-guessed my decision to move east after graduating from the University of Illinois (yes, 13 years ago - where does time go?!). But at the time, the decision wasn't an easy one.
My parents had moved to New Hampshire just after my freshman year of college. I'd done the long-distance thing with college, coming home on significant holidays, becoming almost an expert at maneuvering through airports and bus stations to get there. Or here. I'd "adopted" families in Illinois for long weekends and short trips to escape campus.
When I graduated, I weighed the options of trying to get job in Illinois or moving to New Hampshire, where I'd be closer to my family. Although I sometimes miss the group of friends I left behind, by now we've all gone our separate ways, more or less, and made our own lives.
Weekends like this one that just past remind me to be grateful that I decided to make my life in New Hampshire.
One of the things that drew me to the Northeast, besides the proximity of my family, was its landscape - the ocean, the mountains, the overall country feel of the state. I'd come from suburban Chicago, where the only trees were on "forest preserves" and pavement and strip malls stretched for as far as the eye could see.
Not exactly ideal for someone whose interests officially include "doing anything outdoors."
TC and I racked up a total of 127 miles on our bikes this weekend, each mile spent enjoying our time together, the ongoing physical activity, the fresh air, the sights, the sounds, everything around us.
Our first two rides were "normal" length - a 33-mile Friday night-er (one of our new favorite ways to end a workweek) on some familiar country roads and a 29-mile pre-Memorial Day cook-out ride on Sunday morning.
We planned to take advantage of the Memorial Day holiday (and the good weather!) with my longest ride yet. On Sunday night, TC sat at the laptop and mapped out a good 60-plus-miler. I sat beside him pretending not to be nervous.
It probably goes without saying that riding 60-plus miles takes a bit of planning.
In addition to our thought-out route, we planned our fueling. A big breakfast of eggs and multi-grain toast and several energy bars and a peanut butter sandwich to eat along the way. We each packed two bottles of Heed (electrolyte drink) to carry on our bikes and brought along some cash to buy more fluids to fill our bottles at the half-way point.
The morning started a bit earlier than we expected, thanks to a couple of canines who were anxious to get outside. We were packed and on our bikes before 8 a.m.
We rode through the city toward our country loop that would take us through 10 New Hampshire towns. I was struck by the tranquility of the normally busy, hectic city street. The trip through the city usually involves careful maneuvering of traffic, kids, people walking and shouting on the sidewalks.
Yesterday morning, most of that commotion was gone. (We still saw a couple of alarmingly bad drivers - like someone waiting in line at a stop light who decided to go around the car in front of him to go through the intersection. And another person who went straight through an intersection from a lane clearly marked for a right turn only.)
We made our way through Manchester and into Goffstown (and a pretty tough hill), a bit of Dunbarton, then back to Goffstown where we rode down the town's main street, just missing the start of the Memorial Day parade. The street was lined with spectators as we pedaled through.
The trip continued through Weare and onto New Boston, where just before the 30-mile mark, we decided to stop for our first "real" fuel. (We'd eaten a granola-like bar early into the ride - remembering good endurance advice to eat before you're hungry.)
The stop at New Boston's general store was like stepping into a postcard. (This pic from the town's website shows the store. Judging by the cars out front, it was taken several years ago - but really, I can't be sure. It could have been taken yesterday.)
We sat on a bench and unwrapped the sandwiches we'd been carrying in the pockets of our cycling jerseys, washing them down with gulps of Heed from our bottles.
At the end of the long porch sat the obligatory "country man" - you know, the old fellow in a baseball-type hat, dirty jeans and boots. The one who has lived there his entire life, knows everyone, greets everyone and sits for hours catching up on town goings-on. I bet if I went there right now, he'd be there. Or someone just like him.
Across the street was a small library, I think, and a church. Quintessential New England if I ever saw it.
After purchasing some Gatorade and water to refill our bottles, we continued on up a series of up-and-down hills that brought us through Mont Vernon, another picture-perfect town with a small Town Hall, a white church and a now-closed general store in the town's center.
We made a "pit stop" at a diner in Milford for a bathroom break (a sign that we were doing well on the hydration!), cruising into town just in time for the town's Memorial Day services at the town gazebo in the center of town. Speeches crackled from a sound system and the high school band played the National Anthem as the parade lined up.
TC and I jumped on our bikes to get ahead of the procession, pedaling next through Amherst and Merrimack - where we made one slight wrong turn (more accurately, missed a turn) and ended up on a busier, more commercial road. At least for a while.
We got back on track and onto the back roads, bringing us through Bedford and eventually back to Manchester.
By the time we got home, we'd logged 65.1 miles - making it my longest ride by almost 20 miles. My legs were tired and I couldn't wait to eat some "real" food, but my mind was clearer and more rested than it had been in a while.
And another great New Hampshire experience was filed away in my memory.
Photo credits: Mont Vernon (top pic) - www.boston.com; New Boston store - new-boston.nh.us