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UFO Hefeweizen, 3:30 p.m.
Style: American unfiltered wheat beer
History: Brewed since 1998
Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 4.8%
The lemon wedge drops with delicious aplomb into my cup of golden liquid. A swirl of carbonation chases the wedge as it sinks below my condensation-moistened thumb then rises back to the top where it floats like a tropical island in the beer's frothy white head. I take a swig, swallowing half the glass.
I rode 136 miles for this swig, from the Harpoon Brewery on the Boston Harbor to the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor, Vermont—my longest ride ever. And one of my most rewarding.
We started with the sunrise peeking over the Atlantic Ocean, 500 of us buzzing around the parking lot of the Harpoon Brewery on a clear Saturday morning in mid-June, fueling up with complimentary muffins and partaking more urgently of the preride tune-ups. Formerly used by the Navy to build ships, the Harpoon Brewery's oblong, red brick building has held gleaming silver tanks of water, malt, hops and yeast for the past 27 years.
We are scheduled to leave in 30-person waves, designated by the average speed we think we can maintain. The first, the 16-mile-per-hour riders—helmet mirrors, CamelBaks and the odd hybrid—departs at 6 a.m. The 22-plus-mph group—aerobars, deep-dish carbon wheels and the odd pro triathlete—leaves last, at 7:30 a.m. Veteran announcer Richard Fries, whose exuberant voice puts arm hairs on end at races across the country, pleads "Save some beer for me!" as I roll out with the 19-mph-ers. We start slow, cruising down centuries-old cobbled streets, past Revolutionary War-era landmarks and classic New England pubs. When we come to a full stop near Harvard Square, I share my anticipation of the awaiting kegs with a fellow rider.
"Actually, I'm not too into beer after eating all those Clif Bars and Shots," he says. "I wish they had big jugs of milk waiting for us." The surrounding cyclists let out a collective, stomach-churning groan.
To no one in particular, I say, "Just 130 more miles to beer."
Summer Beer, 4:10 p.m.
Style: Kolsch-style ale
History: Brewed since 1999
ABV: 5.0% Availability: April to August
I'm already buzzed when I begin nursing my second refreshment. I must look kind of lost, because Brett Simmons waves me over to his picnic table. The demolished remnants of grilled chicken, burgers and assorted sides provided by the Windsor Volunteer Fire Department litter the checkered tablecloth. Everyone's showered, fed, smiling.
Brett was 12 years old when he started collecting beer cans with his dad. Today the collection, which includes more than 3,000 cans—not to mention other breweriana like old signs and bottle openers—engulfs his boyhood home near Cooperstown, New York. Living near the Baseball Hall of Fame, Brett's father harbored pro-ball-player dreams for his son. Growing up to be a brewer at Harpoon, Brett says, ended up being "a close second."
Brett is sitting with Jaime Schier, who's also a brewer for Harpoon. Jaime's wife, Mary, his daughter Allison, and their friend Susan worked the 100-mile-mark rest stop, and in doing so were granted $500 toward the charity of their choice by Harpoon. As the second of only two feed stations on the B2B (the first is at mile 50), their rest stop was a welcome relief--as well as a daunting landmark.
I'd breezed to the first rest stop tucked behind the Blue Hills Bicycling Club, a racer-ish-looking group from south of Boston. Another 86 miles seemed like a formality—until I saw my newfound hammerhead friends from Blue Hills fanning themselves at the edge of a nearby stream, their fully unzipped jerseys revealing bright-red chests.
My replacement pack for the next 50 miles—which contained the bulk of the B2B's 6,000-plus feet of climbing, including a gradual 1,000-foot ascent from miles 50 to 55—consisted of the much less serious squadras Monsters in the Basement and Can Crash Cycling Club. Deprived of my free ride, when I finally reached the rest stop at mile 100, I was tempted to join the riders I saw lying across 25-pound bags of ice. Instead, I reached for the jars of pickles and tubs of pretzel sticks. Sure, it could be argued that I was replacing the valuable electrolytes and salt I'd lost through sweating out a tough 50 miles; but really, the pretzels reminded me there were just 36 more miles to beer.
Brown Session Ale, 4:41 p.m.
Style: American brown ale
History: Brewed since 2007 ABV: 4.3%
The beer line is long when I sidle up to Joe Tack, a former brewer at Harpoon who's now in biopharmaceuticals—creating beer from live yeast, Joe tells me, was the first bioscience. Gregarious and worldly, Joe retains enough New England grit to down the occasional PBR tallboy during hard training rides.
At mile 125, both Joe and I encountered the collective worry of the B2B—that a bonk might keep us from the molasses-like Brown Session Ale we knew awaited us. Besides his recent bike tour of Burma, Joe's training consisted mostly of his 20-mile round-trip commute. But, having ridden six B2Bs—every one but the first—he knew how to handle the ever-more-steeply tiered hills that lead into Windsor; he was stopped at an ice cream stand, licking a chocolate-chip cookie-dough sugar cone when I came pedaling by. I'd been chugging along at 20 mph when the double yellow line began making psychedelic squiggles and the songbirds suddenly sang in eerie unison. I was bonking. Only through a now-obsessive thirst for ale did I summit the final, cruel climb. The brewery was at the top.
Harpoon IPA, 5:45 p.m.
Style: India Pale Ale
History: Brewed since 1993
"Ah, carbohydrates," sighs a still-chamois-clad cyclist as he totters away from the beer tent, Harpoon in hand. Yes, I've read that the carbohydrates from beer do little to replenish glycogen stores—and even turn to fat more quickly than the sugars from more healthful sources. Obviously the research of a wine drinker.