White Mountains Tour
|Franconia Notch (including John Allen's Franconia Notch Bike Path Fiasco)|
After heading off the bed around midnight last night, I heard a shout outside, "Oh my gosh!" Thinking it was the neighbors watching the ball game, I turned on the TV and indeed the Red Sox had tied the game at the bottom of the ninth. A scream, "yeah", from outside when the Sox finally won in the 12th at 1:30 AM confirmed it was indeed the neighbors. So I was running on low sleep, as I had to get up at 5 AM for the 2.5 hour drive from Boston to Conway.
Instead of starting in Conway, I started a little further north so I could ride part of the way with Tom and Marianne. Therefore, instead of starting on the Kancamagus Highway directly from Conway, we would instead ride to Bartlett and then ride over Bear Notch before descending down to the Kanc.
We parted ways at the Kanc and then I started the climb up west towards the pass. As I climbed the pass, the clouds rolled in, the headwinds did also, and I had to put on clothing instead of removing it. The fall foliage in the Conway area was slightly past peak, and as I climbed up the Kanc it was most definitely past peak.
After topping the Kancamagus Pass at 2860 feet, it was about a 13 mile downhill into Lincoln. I had put on all of my cold weather gear, including the balaclava, as the temperature was somewhere in the high 30s to low 40s. The first 4 miles downhill was 9% grade, yet the bad pavement and headwind required an intense pedaling effort in order to maintain a 20 mph speed, Yet will all this, the harsh ride downhill was still better than a good day at work!
After a quick lunch in Lincoln I headed north on Route 3 to start the climb to Franconia Notch. As the gap narrows Route 3 merges onto Interstate 93 and cyclists have to use the bike path through the area.
Since the road takes the path of least resistance through the narrow notch, the bike path goes through several ups and downs steeper than the road - although the path goes mostly uphill in the northbound direction. Although the path is very scenic, caution is indicated due to the numerous blind curves and wet leaves, and many cyclists recommended that the path be avoided on weekends, as it gets a lot of use at that time. I only saw one other cyclist and a handful of pedestrians.
Somewhere in there I crested Franconia Notch at 1896 feet. Soon thereafter, Interstate 93 and Route 3 split apart again, and a short section of straight slightly downhill path connects back to Route 3 after this point. I was starting to get some wheel shimmy, which was surprising as the headset was OK and the front wheel was only slightly out of true. After stopping to investigate, closer inspection of the front wheel indicated that all of the spokes had loosened up. I should know better than to use new equipment on the road! Nevertheless, I was able to tighten all the spokes well enough for the rest of the day's ride.
It was a nice slightly downhill cruise into Twin Mountain. I found my hotel, checked in, and found out that I was the only guest for the night. Looks like I've hit the slow period between the leaf peepers and the first snow. Had I known it would be this empty, I would not have made an advance reservation, as I have learned from my cross-USA bike trip that hotel rates are negotiable.
Since the hotel owners had to post some flyers in town for the Chamber of Commerce, I was able to get a ride to the takeout place to get some food for dinner. The allowed me to get back in time for the ball game to start (5 PM). Plenty of time for eating, the game, and fixing the wheel and shifting problems.
The Sox finally won at the bottom of the 14th at 11 PM, so off to sleep. Luckily I have a short day tomorrow, so I can sleep in.
I got a good night's sleep, waking up a little before 8:00 and getting on the road before 9:30. The grass in the hotel lawn had a layer of frost on it when I woke up but it had disappeared by the time I hit the road.
Before I left, the hotel owner had asked where I was headed. When I told him Gorham, he had thought I would be taking the direct way through Jefferson and Randolph, which would be about 30 miles. He was surprised that I was taking the longer and harder way through Crawford Notch and Pinkham Notch.
Highway 302 eastbound starts a gradual uphill after leaving Twin Mountain. Snow capped Mount Washington, the highest peak in New Hampshire at 6288 feet, quickly comes into view. Even on the uphill, riding into the wind, I was in full cold weather gear, including balaclava and long-fingered gloves. Also, my wheel repair from last night was holding out quite well.
Once I crested Crawford Notch at 1773 feet, I quickly saw why Tom had recommended I ride it in this direction: a sign reading [downhill] "13% grade, next 4 miles". After this fast downhill, the downhill grade became more gradual, although I could soft pedal with little effort to maintain a speed in the high teens, even into the wind. There were still some yellow leaves on the trees lining the roadway.
After a quick lunch at the convenient store/deli in Bartlett, I continued east on 302, therefore riding along a five mile section of roadway that I cycled yesterday, although in the reverse direction this time.
After reaching the town of Glen, I turned north on 16 for the climb up to Pinkham Notch. By then, the temperature had gotten into the 50s, so I was just down to my long sleeved jersey and shorts.
I crested Pinkham Notch at 2032 feet and quickly had to stop to put some more clothing back on for the descent. The town of Gorham was at the bottom of the hill. I had no problems finding my hotel, and it was a good thing I had a reservation, as the hotel was full for the night.
|no major passes|
Since last night's baseball game only lasted nine innings :-) I got a good night's sleep.
The temperature was 27 degrees and foggy when I walked to breakfast at 7:30. When I hit the road an hour later, the temperature was about the same but at least the fog had burned off. I had used the last few items of clothing that had not yet been used - the rain pants, shoe booties, and mittens - in order to keep warm. I discovered that shifting Campy Ergo with mittens is a lot easier than trying to shift Shimano STI with mittens.
Route 2 through Gorham has a Main Street sort of feel to it, but when the four lane Route 16 turns north past Wal-Mart it has that, well, strip mall atmosphere. Had it not been for the town line signage, I would not have noticed the transition from Gorham into Berlin, the biggest city or town that I passed through on this tour. Berlin was a fairly depressing place to ride through, as the economic livelihood of the community is dependent on whether or not the paper mill happens to be in operation at the time.
By the time I reached Berlin, my left achilles tendon was starting to bother me a bit. I believe it was due to a combination of the cold weather, a sore calf muscle, and the need to improve my flexibility. Therefore, I decided to make today's ride a bit shorter by taking 110 directly to West Milan, rather than taking the longer route via East Milan Road and 110A.
Route 110 was a bit hillier, though, as it climbs out of one river valley in Berlin and drops into another river valley in West Milan. After that, it was a quiet, pleasant slightly downhill route following the river to Groveton.
After Groveton, the ride would follow along the Connecticut River north to Colebrook. Instead of using Route 3 in New Hampshire, Tom had suggested going a bit south to cross over to the Vermont side of the river before heading north. Since I was trying to save a few miles, I tried to find the bridge a few miles north in Stratford, but I missed it and had to continue along Route 3 to North Stratford.
Once I crossed into Vermont, the riding was much more pleasant and also avoided the truck traffic. However, the Vermont side was flatter and at river level, so the headwind was a little chilly blowing off the river.
Just ten miles south of the Canadian border, the bridge back over to Colebrook, New Hampshire was easy to find. By the time I got to the hotel, the temperature had warmed up to the high 50s, the warmest weather yet so far.
I found the drivers in town to be courteous - sometimes a little too courteous, in my opinion. For example, when leaving the town library (where I was checking email) waiting for a break in the traffic to turn left on the main street, the motorist on my left had stopped, then the motorist on my right stopped, giving me a clear path to turn left. I didn't really need them to stop, since I wouldn't have had to wait very long in the light traffic to find a break - although I wasn't complaining! [Tom and I were discussing this phenomenon after the ride. A couple of weeks ago he had taken a group of friends on a two week bicycle tour in the area, and some of his friends who had bicycled in many places around the US and the world had mentioned that the drivers in this area were the most courteous they had ever observed anywhere. We guessed that it was due to two factors: bicyclists were somewhat of a novelty in the area, and motorists in that area weren't in much of a hurry to get from A to B.]
The hotel had free coffee in the lobby in the morning. The owner is a diehard Red Sox fan so we talked about last night's ball game. He also mentioned all of the various places he had lived before ending up in Colebrook. This wasn't the first person I met on the way who has traveled all over the place yet had settled in a small town.
Yesterday I had gone a day out of my way so that I could ride over both sides of Dixville Notch (1871 feet) today. The detour was worth it. Like many of the other notches, the climb was gradual, but then on the final approach the road gets steeper in order to make it through the narrow gap. Traffic was essentially non-existent in the area.
It was cooler on the other side of the notch, and a headwind made it necessary to pedal even on the steep downhill. It was completely overcast - although it did not rain - and the temperature was hovering around the mid to high 30s (Fahrenheit, not Celsius).
When I arrived in Errol, the librarian had told me that this was the coldest part of New Hampshire and it should be warmer by the time I got to Bethel. The general store across the street didn't have any indoor tables, so I bought a sandwich there and brought it back inside the library to eat.
After passing Umbagog Lake, the road surface went from good to poor a few miles out of Errol, so I didn't need the road signs to tell me that I had left New Hampshire and entered Maine. Since there aren't many places to cross from New Hampshire into Maine, I was surprised that this route was still lightly traveled.
Grafton Notch wasn't the steepest of the notches, but certainly very scenic and secluded. I saw some snow on one of the high peaks on the approach to the notch. Indeed, the temperature did seem to warm up a bit once I made it to the other side of the notch.
Highway 26 then merges into US 2 for uneventful remaining five miles into the village of Bethel.
I got on the road early today so that I would finish in time for the two hour drive back to Boston before Friday night.
Leaving Bethel, Maine, North Road on the north side of the Androscoggin River is an excellent scenic alternate to the more heavily traveled US 2. For the first time on the trip I saw a moose crossing the road, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to get my camera out in time to prove it.
After rejoining the main highway briefly to get to the town of Gilead, I turned south on Highway 113 towards Evans Notch. This is a narrow but lightly traveled road that follows a creek as it makes the climb up to the notch. I only saw five automobiles in the first hour. The road is narrow enough for the trees to completely cover and shade the road in a few places. The ground was wet from an early morning rain, but the weather was just overcast when I was passing through. Clearly I had saved the best notch for last.
After cresting the notch, I was on a steep downgrade. Clearly the climb was easier the direction I cycled it, north to south.
The route then meandered along the Maine / New Hampshire border before reaching a decision point at North Fryeburg, ME. I could either take the hilly direct way to North Conway or the longer flatter along US 302 through Fryeburg, ME and Conway, NH.
I opted for the direct way over Hurricane Mountain Road. This is a popular route for the club cycling and racer crowd. Once I turned onto the road, I was greeted with a narrow road with new pavement and a sign indicating that the road was not suitable for RVs, trucks, and other large vehicles.
Rather than a climb with switchbacks, this road took a more direct route uphill with a 17% grade for about two miles. I believe the 17% was an average as there were short "flat" sections with about 10% grade alternating with steeper sections over 20% grade. I was getting warm on the uphill so I had to strip down to my jersey and shorts.
The downhill was almost as steep as the uphill, with a 15% average grade over two miles. The downhill had a few switchbacks near the top, and I had to keep my speed lower than I would normally need to for this kind of downhill, since the brakes on this bike were not as effective as on my other bikes. I hate it when my equipment becomes a limiting factor! The brake pads were a little on the hard side, so I knew I could replace them inexpensively at the end of the tour in order to get better stopping power.
Soon I was back at 302/16 in North Conway and headed back to Tom's house for the conclusion of a good week-long ride. Although I had missed the peak foliage by riding the route in late October, I thought it was still a good time of year for this ride as it was between the leaf-peeping and ski seasons.