Earlier this summer, I wrote about the summer of 1994, which I spent racing the amateur kermesse circuit in Belgium. The fall of 1994 was also an important period for me. I started my “senior” year at Boston College, which was a year later than planned because I “stayed back” after my transfer from Boston University in 1993.
After a dozen butt kicking races in Belgium, my legs were shot when I returned to the USA in August. I raced the Killington Stage Race with my Ski Market teammate and friend, Jon Gallagher. We nearly scored an awesome victory in the second stage circuit race when I led him out in the massive field sprint. Originally known as the “Pepsi Road Race” and then the “Sunrise Mountain Road Race,” it was always one of the fastest road races in New England, with the most harrowing finish of any race we did. The course wasn’t hard enough to break up the field and with hilly stages four and five, the third stage downhill 80 kilometer/hour sprint is fearsome. It was always the best chance for a smart and/or big sprinter to score a victory at one of the premier races.
I thought I hit the front at the perfect moment, and gave it everything I had. I was leading the 150+ man field with 50 meters to go, spun out in my 53 x 12 gear, and Jon was right on my wheel. It was perfect! The field fanned across the road and I got swarmed as expected. He went by like a rocket in his 56 x 12, but ended up a disappointing second, by less than a wheel. The finish was memorialized in the 1995 race poster. The look on his face has “bummer” written all over it. The framed poster hangs in our bonus/exercise/toy room to this day. I’m clearly visible just off the winner’s left shoulder (13th place) along with a whole cadre of current and former teammates. Jon is just right of center with that look of disappointment after we nearly executed the perfect plan. It wasn’t a bad day for a two-man team, but 20 years later, it could have been half a wheel better. We have both gone on to have fine results in all kind of races, but that one will always be “the one that got away.”
I wish I had a digital copy of that photo to post, but I made do with a photo of the photo. If anyone has that photo in high-resolution digital, send it my way! The rest of the race was ho-hum. My legs were worked from all the riding I did over the summer. I was hoping for good late season form, but the fitness never really came around. It was disappointing to get worked over week in and week out in Belgium and then return to New England and have dead legs, but c’est la vie.
September on campus was an interesting time. I wrapped up my road cycling season at the Lake Sunapee Road Race. Later in October, I did the Boston Cup and Lynn Woods mountain bike races, which brings back good memories, and where I salvaged my season with decent results. Sunapee was a different story. It was two laps of the lake on a 23 mile loop for a total of 47 +/- miles. I was feeling good and on the last lap, forced my way into a breakaway on the rolling back side of the course with about eight miles to go. A couple of riders were with me, but they soon dropped off and left me alone on my solo quest. I built a nice lead of a few minutes and thought I had an incredible victory in hand.
I never looked back and just buried myself. I made it into the rotary at the bottom of the ski area access road and just hammered up the climb. I knew that the field was bearing down on me, but still thought I had it. All of a sudden, I faded badly and I got caught with the finish line in sight. I could have hung on to finish in the top 10 because the group was the small front group had splintered. The field had broke apart on the final climb. I was despondent and just sat up. In my mind, it was first or last. That’s kind of how the summer had gone. I remember coasting and waiting for everyone to go by me before taking off my helmet as I crossed the finish line and chucking it in disgust. It was a fitting end to a frustrating stretch.
So, the day after the race, I was back in Chestnut Hill, but school was closed for two days because of a major economic summit that was convened on campus. I think the President of the United States was coming, or something like that. I don’t recall. There was a ton of security and lots of restrictions. I used the opportunity to get out-of-town. I needed to clear my head and think through what I was going to do with life. I planned on returning to Horst Engineering, where I worked after quitting BU and before starting at BC. I had my final year of college ahead of me and needed to accomplish something to feel better.
A few years earlier on a Boy Scout trip, I had been thwarted in my attempt to climb Mount Katahdin, an important place for me. So, on a whim, I drove to Maine. I stopped in Freeport and bought a new backpack. Then, I camped out with my Aunt Terry, who was living in Topsham at the time. I got up very early on the Tuesday morning and drove to Baxter State Park. I hiked the mountain via the Knife Edge. It was a glorious day and was just what I needed. Attaining the summit on a solo journey that was very meaningful. I recall hiking in an L.L. Bean ensemble of flannel lined jeans, flannel shirt, and a wool fisherman’s sweater. I have photo proof.
I was really sore and stiff from the hike. I hadn’t walked that far in a long time. It had been all cycling all of the time since the fall of 1991. I drove back to Topsham and spent a second night there, before driving back to Boston early in the morning so I could make class on Wednesday. It all worked out. I got a new Mountainsmith backpack (made in the USA), which I still use today, and I had an awesome adventure. After that trip, the spontaneous solo adventure became a staple of my repertoire. I had just started Photography 101 at school, and got some really good black and white images that I developed myself in the photo lab. I’ve got contact sheets, but can’t find the 8.5 x 11’s. The photos here are scanned snapshots from the small camera I had at the time.
I returned to Katahdin again in 2002 and then again in 2012 for my 40th birthday. I wrote about that solo adventure on my blog.
The mountain holds a special place in my heart. I could use a trip there right now, but at the moment, can’t fit it in to the schedule. I’ll keep the images close and I’ll get there again. Pretty soon, I’ll be able to take my kids and show them why it is such a special place.