The perfect ride isn't just about the route, the scenery, the elevation, or the speed -- it's about the people, too. So when a person calling himself "THE Jimbo" began writing a series of increasingly exuberant emails inviting us to be honorary citizens of HUPtopia, a magical land where dirt roads lead to snacks, ponies, and a few hills, we couldn't resist.
The team piled into a car on Sunday to drive up for the Tour of Henniker, a small town in the foothills of New Hampshire. We didn't know quite what we were in for -- Henniker isn't exactly a well-known New England landmark, and in what sense this was going to be a "tour" was yet to be seen. But we were excited to be able to crash HUP camp, a likeminded team of strong, tough, fast riders who also seem to agree the cornerstones of a good ride involve a little suffering, a fair amount of snacks, and a ton of camaraderie. You only have to take a look at their kits, which have a fanciful sketch of frites on the back, to know we are basically on the same page.
Jimbo and his wife, Gwen, generously welcomed us into their home for pre-ride fueling and preparations. Jimbo then gave the simplest pre-ride talk I can remember: follow the green H's that he had meticulously painted on the road. Especially after some of our recent rides, where it has occasionally felt like we are in an unending philosophical and existential debate about where we are and whether it matters if we even know, this was refreshingly easy.
With HUPsters and friends, we set off on beautiful country roads and gravel. The ride started out downhill and it was big, friendly, and fast. It was a reminder of how riding in a casual pack on the road is its own special kind of joy. After the long winter, rides like this can feel like an introduction to all the things we nearly forgot were fun about bicycling after months of riding on the trainer or braving bad roads and iffy early spring weather with just a few hardy souls.
As the morning wore on, we splintered into smaller groups, taking in our surroundings, enjoying the traffic-free roads, and generally feeling the novelty of being out and about with bare arms and legs. We made a brief stop at a general store, took a detour to cross a closed covered bridge (our first of the season!), and watched the miles fly by in the company of friends.
Our water bottles low, we refueled at a gas station where team HUP gave us pointers on the last 15 miles. There would be three "noticeable" hills, they warned.
The first one went by fast. It wasn't that bad. I was hopeful that "noticeable" also meant totally not that big of a deal. We descended to ride along a quiet, smooth road that skirted the Contoocook River that lulled us into a sense of peaceful meditation. Off guard, we turned toward Bear Hill Road. This was the kind of hill you can see from a long way away, cutting diagonally across the horizon, making your legs feel tired before you've even started to climb. We ground upward. There was consensus that this hill was definitely noticeable. We hit a short, steep section with some loose gravel. I began to feel alarmed. What counts as "noticeable"? How many were left? The route cut back down to the river. Then the third hill hit. We groaned and pedaled up, suffering just enough for that perfectly satisfying end-of-ride exhaustion.
When we got back to Jimbo HQ, there was lasagna, macaroni and cheese, beer, and HUP cupcakes as a reward. These roads are Jimbo's routine, but for us they were such a treat. Exploring someone else's beloved home turf, hills and all, is one of the greatest things about riding bikes with new friends. We can't say thank you enough to Jimbo, Gwen, and all of team HUP for welcoming us! Can't wait for the next one!