|Squannacook River, mile 19|
In the end, it was 43.50 miles, over three hours in the saddle, most of the morning and into the afternoon. En bicyclette. Through time and place. Lemonstar to Shirley, home town, past childhood split level ranch house and on up the road then down the road into West Groton and then to the wildlife management area, the Squannacook River swimming hole where I spent many summer afternoons and evenings with Tom and friends and where I hurled into space on a rope swing and dropped into the cool tea colored waters, and where, in high school years, we partied and called the spot “Silky’s”, I don’t know why, now fly fishermen know the banks well and there isn’t a piece of garbage to be seen and the big tree with the rope swing has vanished, the bank eroded away by the river’s inevitable hunger.
|Pepperell, Mass, mile 22|
Onward, into Pepperell and a visit with friend TS who hails from Lowell, the nephew of Jack Kerouac, his aunt Kerouac’s third wife, TS met the besotted writer genius tragic Boddhisattva fool a couple of times, TS now archival specialist, learned book man, musician, big-handed Greek, generous, gentle, welcoming. And then onward, back roads in the woods, New Englanders on a sunny April morning raking their yards, burning leaves, waving back if I wave, whiz down Heald St. and into the center of Pepperell aka Pepperville, old town blighted by fast food plastic and scruff streets, a river flows through it though they tore down the big brick mill long ago aside the rushing waters.
There’s a rail trail in Pepperell, it goes north into New Hampshire and south toward Ayer, I picked it up and headed south, it’s a mostly flat trail with gradual inclines south toward Groton and then a gradual declination after that, I huffed it and tried to keep my cadence firm, tried to maintain around 17 m.p.h., occasionally fatigued I dipped the speed to 15 m.p.h or so and occasionally other rail trailers caused me to slow too and I’d call out “passing on your left!” At one point along the eight or so miles that I was covering of the trail I glanced behind me and saw someone oncoming, someone using me as their rabbit so I “dug into my suitcase of courage” (to borrow an inimitable Paul Sherwenism) and picked up the pace to 20 m.p.h. and kept the predator at bay until I bailed off the trail and headed for the road that crosses behind the old Fort Devens airport, I’ve always called it River Rd but that’s not really what it’s named, nevertheless it does follow the Nashua River and I enjoy this stretch, many, many years ago my father trapped muskrats along this river and I would often go with him to check the trap line and I recalled those days as I pedaled with growing fatigue along the pavement (flat) toward Devens, and the Main Gate, across from which the road ended.
|Nashua River, mile 31|
Devens used to be Fort Devens of course, the largest army base in New England once-upon-a-time, I spent many, many hours on the base, in fact I was BORN on the base (though the hospital has long since been torn down), I’d buy albums at the PX, enjoy summer swims in the outdoor pools, go to the movies at one of the three theaters (“Destroy All Monsters” 1968 was a favorite, “Taxi Driver” 1974 I was too young to see but saw it anyway, “Slap Shot” 1977 we lived for hockey), today the fort is just the town of Devens though there is a Federal prison hospital and the news just came that the scurrilous wretch Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been transferred there, I rode across Devens anyway (going nowhere near the prison facility) and exited back into Shirley and from there rode on with weary legs past my elementary school (Lura A. White School) and down what we used to call “Tummy Tickle Rd” because of its ups and downs, and then finally atop Rice Hill and Gove Farm from which point you look across one of the very last apple orchards in the city that birthed Johnny Appleseed down into the city of Lemonstar.
|Rice Hill and Gove Farm Looking Toward Lemonstar, mile 40|
Then three miles or so through the ‘hood and back to the home neighborhood and, famished, a focused effort in the kitchen & at the grill and in no time (well, within an hour of getting back), a big grilled ribeye steak from the CSA in Groton, sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions, roasted cauliflower, two glasses of pinot noir from Oregon, two pints of water, and a cup of Russian Caravan tea … and the ride was duly finalized.
|All That’s Left|