I’d like to let you in on a secret.
The New England Classic is the best charity ride that you probably never heard of.
What is the New England Classic? Part of the Tour de Cure series of rides, the NEC benefits the American Diabetes Association. But the NEC is not your ordinary one-day ride. It’s actually two rides in one: a two-day, 150-mile tour and a seven-day, 550-mile tour that begin this year on July 12.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am the co-chairman of the NEC organizing committee and I’ve done the ride 18 times. But don’t let an apparent conflict of interest in my recommendation get in the way of the truth. The New England Classic is the best time you can have on two wheels while doing something to improve the lives of other people – specifically the 26 million Americans with diabetes.
What makes it great is easy to C: It’s the challenge, the camaraderie, and the care you get from dedicated volunteers.
Both the two-day and seven-day rides offer cyclists a taste of the variety of New England riding. Starting with an enthusiastic sendoff in Woburn, riders head north toward the Merrimack River, meandering their way into New Hampshire on a terrific route with a final destination of the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
Dorm life and dining have come a long way since I was in college. Riders stay in air-conditioned dormitories – a welcome perk in July – and the UNH dining hall serves up a great selection of delicious food.
Day 2 brings NEC riders to the Maine coast as they travel through York, Ogunquit, Wells and the picturesque village of Kennebunkport. If you’ve got a hankering for seafood, this is the day to satisfy it. The only thing more numerous than clam shacks are photo ops at places such as Nubble Light, Moody Beach and Walker’s Point.
Two-day riders end their adventure at the University of New England in Biddeford, where they can shower and have dinner before climbing aboard coach buses that bring them back to the Woburn starting line. Riders’ bicycles make the return trip after being carefully and securely loaded onto a tractor-trailer provided through the generosity of UPS.
If you’re going to ride more than 100 miles in New England, it’s a safe bet the terrain won’t remain flat for long and the first two days of the NEC have their share of hills. But Day 3 is where the real challenge begins. Day 3 takes us from Maine back into New Hampshire heading toward North Conway and the White Mountain Region (the word to keep in mind here is mountain), with an ultimate destination of the Attitash Grand Summit Hotel in Bartlett, N.H. The food and accommodations at this ski resort are a well-earned reward after a day of climbing.
Since Day 4 begins in the White Mountains, things are looking up in the morning – way up. Heading out on Route 302, NEC riders take on the challenge of conquering Crawford Notch. This is one of the feathers in your cycling cap that makes the NEC great. After cresting the summit, you get one of the day’s many scenic views as you descend toward the Mount Washington Hotel.
The route continues on Route 302 heading toward Vermont but not before hitting one of my favorite rest stops, The Brick Store in Bath, N.H. This place is the oldest general store in America and among other offerings makes its own smoked cheeses and meats. You may not want these in your jersey pocket, but the NEC volunteers are happy to transport them for you to our Day 4 destination of Montpelier, Vt., and the cozy confines of the Capitol Plaza Hotel.
Day 5 is one of the NEC’s shortest days at about 60 miles. This is a beautiful day of riding through the river valleys of the Green Mountain State with gorgeous mountain vistas in the distance. Despite the shorter distance, you’ll still work up a healthy appetite making the climb to the ski areas of Killington, Vt., and The Summit Lodge where a hot tub and pool await.
Your reward for climbing at the end of Day 5 is an amazing downhill stretch in the first five miles of Day 6. We explore more of Vermont’s small towns and countryside with a fun stop at the Vermont Country Store in Rockingham, where you can stock up on gifts and goodies.
Our final night at the Best Western in Keene, N.H., includes a celebration of the riders and volunteers with ceremonies honoring their efforts on behalf of the American Diabetes Association. This night also highlights the camaraderie that develops among riders and volunteers after hundreds of miles on the road together.
On Day 7 you’ll ride back to Woburn like a conquering hero, riding through Southern New Hampshire and Central Mass. on the way, including a gorgeous section of Willard Brook State Forest on Route 119 in Townsend and Ashby.
The NEC is not a ride where you will feel lost in the crowd or like an outsider among veteran riders. Some riders form teams for fundraising but on the road the NEC is one big team, sometimes happily known as The Caravan of Crazies. The goal for this year is 200 riders and about a third will ride the seven-day route. You can always find someone who rides your pace but if you prefer to ride alone that’s fine, too.
The support from volunteers at rest stops and along the route is extraordinary. SAG and sweep vehicles keep track of every rider and you’ll check in at each of the well-stocked rest stops where you’ll find water, sports drinks, bananas and a variety of other snacks. Mechanical and medical support is also provided.
Whether you choose to ride the NEC for the weekend ($800 fundraising minimum) or the week ($2,600 fundraising minimum), you’ll find it a rewarding experience for you as a cyclist and for the American Diabetes Association. In short, it’s a sweet ride to help beat diabetes.
If you’ve got questions or want to register contact tour manager, Ryan Williams at email@example.com or 617-482-4580 extension 3456, or check out the New England Classic Tour de Cure website.
I’d like to let you in on a secret.