I just completed a 350 mile tour of New England. A redemption trip of sorts after my recent ride down to the Eastern Shore of Virginia in August had suffered so many obvious failures. After licking my wounds, it dawned on me that Fall Color was fast approaching and that I, for a great long time, had wanted to parade through the northern territories. The timing was kismit.
The ride up was an easy train from Penn Station (Now Moynihan Hall) to White River Junction, VT, which is for all practical purposes also Hanover, NH. I arrived too late for real food options and picked up some gas station garbage and rode about two miles in hard rain. Fortunately the only time I would encounter regrettable rain during the trip.
Nice little dive motel in the pines overnight and then a loop of the prospects in the morning. Down to the Four Aces diner for a breakfast of Benedict and Popover. Back over to White River Jnctn, across the river, before circling around to Dartmouth. Though the campus was nice it all seemed rather impossibly small. Maybe my route just didn’t account for where to see and be seen but it appeared a very small college town. Hanover and its suburbs had clocked in at “best” NH town on multiple metrics. It was nice but I was missing ‘best’.
Over to Lebanon, NH where I picked up the Northern Rail Trail that would populate most of my day. Sprawling 35 mile stretch of really beautiful riding. Hadn’t counted on it being so rough, which slowed me down a lot. Towards mid-afternoon I shot down a steep long gravel road on the backside of Taylor Hill and rounded to a nicely paved palatial 4-lane highway. Where, I quickly flatted. And not just “flatted” but FLATTED Flatted. I should have inspected my tires better before the trip. Or much at all really. I knew the front wheel had a worn tread but hadn’t really looked at it. The gravel sections for the previous VA trip had roughed up the sidewall and this days riding had completely blown out the sidewall in one place and compromised it in others. The tire looked good and chewed on. This was a real problem. I patched the tube and tried to boot the tire with a piece of plastic. The patch wouldn’t hold and immediately I despaired. I was about 20 miles from any reasonable civilization in any direction. Flashes of that failed Minnesota trip twenty years ago where I could get a repair quick enough and had to bag it early. And now, just sweeping greenery and rural homes under a canopy of failed cell service.
Just as I was readying whatever Plan B was going to be, an SUV pulled over to a quick stop and asked if I needed any help. Attached to a hitch were two electric bikes and I knew immediately that these folks were truly sympathetic to my plight. I was introduced to Steve and Bette Abdu. They would be my first Trail Angels. Though it was not remotely en route for them, Steve offered to give me a lift to a bike store in Laconia that suggested it was open but refused all attempts to be reached by phone. Over the next half hour we get to know each other a bit. Luckily, the bike store was open and could refit me for a new tire and tube very quickly. I expected Steve and Bette to ditch but they waited to make sure everything was ok. After, I asked if I could take them to dinner at a local turkey spot where every day is Thanksgiving: Hart’s Turkey Farm. It too was not on their way but they agreed. Nice dinner and the day was getting quite dark. Steve refused to let me ride in the dark on the hills the final 20 miles to my hotel and I again agreed to take them up on their charity. In the state I was in it would have been hours getting there and in the darkest of night. And so to the other side of the lake we go. Even further away from their home. Not enough kind words can be said of Steve and Bette Abdu.
The second night was the Lake Wentworth Inn in Wolfeboro, NH. Wentworth is a spur of the larger Lake Winnipesaukee. Just outside the hotel door was the Cotton Valley Rail Trail that I would start the day with. More rustic than the prior day, and shorter. A ten mile route that exited at Cotton Mountain. A baleful hill that would be the only time I would have to get off and push my bike during the trip. It was a lowlight, to be sure. Probably 16-18% for 1k. Nice view of Squam from the top though. Immediately at the top I had routed myself onto a trail but quickly found that I was in for an exceptionally rough technical hiking trail that my road tires wouldn’t manage on my best day. I had to swing around the mountain and rejoin further up the route at Wakefield, on the Maine border. This would be me leaving NH for ME. The homes from here over to Portland were universally lovely. Lots of nice communities, but a bit of a blur.
Based on a conversation with the Abdus about the merits of Nashua, I’d been thinking about changing my exit from the trip. I hadn’t yet made a decision but I had begun to make minor adjustments. This meant me pulling up in Portland for the night rather than going further up the coast. The next day would see me bounding through surburban neighborhoods of Falmouth, Yarmouth and Freeport. Darting up to Wolf’s Neck park and then back to Freeport for the evening. At this point, I could very easily just kept riding up the coast of Maine ever northward. It was just wonderful. Sorry to be heading south and inevitably home.
Day Four, Freeport down to Wells. A better route back through Yarmouth and a nicer part of Portland. But the ‘gets’ here were all the tony properties from Portland south along the coast before and after Kennebunkport. It only then started to warm up and I could ride without a warm jacket on. I had spent the previous three days feeling cold despite three layers on the entire time. With the warmth, my mood improved. Also, the riding days were longer and I had shaken out a lot of the beginning of the ride to the point where things were just rolling smoothly. Seventy-five miles felt normal; opposed to the prior day which was just a crippled grousing forty miles. The difference was attitude.
The hotel in Wells was a bit dire. Lots of that town had just rolled up for the season. I can’t remember the last time I stayed some place with physical keys for the doors. The hotel was fine but it’s charming methy underpinnings would certainly not weather a revisit. The next morning I had wanted to go to some famous breakfast place that had just changed their hours and not posted them. I encountered that a number of times on the trip where places were just decidedly closed. Instead, the darkness of an early morning under Autumnal rain clouds.
The final day would start off with rain. I prayed that the weather would turn better as promised and lo it did. only an hour of lazy morning rain to contend with. Enough to get wet and leave spray but not enough that I would carry it all day. The sun came out a bit and I was able to encounter Portsmouth in its glory. For some reason I immediately took to Portsmouth. It was just the right kind of everything. Great breakfast at Ceres bakery. Cute downtown. The ride out was skipping across bays and inlets so that it felt like you were island hopping. My camera was smudged here and hence the moody photography.
South of Portsmouth was fine. The demeanor of the coast changed a bit. York Beach seemed like a really cute summer resort town but also in the mold of say the Jersey Shore. Too soon? And then lastly into MA and wrestling with a route to get me to Boston in time for my train and then home. This was my least favorite portion of the trip. My GPS was routing weird and had steered me to an impassable bog. And then an urban trailway with constant maintenance and urban offroading. What I should have done was taken the commuter train to downtown and bypassed the whole urban thing.
Glad I got this trip under me. I would absolutely do this again.
- always start with new tires; and cleats.
- resolve your kit before you start and not make-do.
- adaptability and positive headspace really helped me make the most of some difficult turns.
Bonus Content: The Ballad of Steve and Bette
On the NH/ME border on Tuesday (NOT Monday) afternoon, I wax poetic on the two Trail Angels that dug me out of my trouble. Halfway through the video, I encounter a washed out 9% downhill section one-handed and nearly come undone.