Ride Report: New Hampshire, Mount Washington and Kancamagus Highway
On August 14, 15 and 16, Masukomi and I did a three-day weekend of riding on the bikes. It was a test trip to acquaint me with being gone on the bikes, motorcycle camping, test our gear and also for the sheer joy of getting away for a weekend on the bikes.
This was our route (or you can view a Google Map I created from our GPS data):
Saturday, August 14, 2010
We hadn’t planned a route and packed ahead of time, so we got a late start on Saturday morning. I had to do some work before we left, while Masukomi planned a route for us – then we both had to pack and get everything on the bikes.
By the time we left, it was around 11:30AM.
The first part of the trip sucked. Riding north on I-93 and I-95 the traffic was stopped in several places, so we had to repeatedly stop ON THE INTERSTATE, and when we were moving through those sections, we were only going 10-30MPH. It wasn’t until after we left Portsmouth, NH that we were really able to get anything resembling speed – AFTER we got off the interstate. It was crazy. Interstate was boring and traffic was annoying – wasn’t a particularly good start to the trip.
After we left Porstmouth, we were riding north from NH-4 to NH-16, which was highway speeds (~55 MPH) but the scenery was much better than what we left behind on the interstate. We were riding through wooded areas, and we passed very few towns or signs of civilization other than the major road we were riding. It wasn’t until we got well north that we started riding through small towns, which mostly consisted of a few shops and some houses along the road that we passed through pretty quickly.
We reached Conway around 3:00PM, I think. Our original plan had been to ride across the Kancamagus Highway (NH-112) and do a loop around the White Mountains and then up to our campground at Milan Hill State Park in Milan, NH. I had decided while riding that if we didn’t hit the Kancamagus by 3:30PM, it wasn’t worth trying to do that loop and still get to our campground. We’d be rushing, if we could make it at all, and I was pretty sure I’d want to stop for photos on the Kancamagus because I remember it being quite picturesque. We hadn’t had lunch at that point, so we still needed to stop for food – we opted to stop for food in North Conway and then ride straight up to our campground. We hit this “family dining” place:
Where the food was fairly tasty, but the service was horrible. We wanted to sit by the windows so we could keep an eye on the bikes and our stuff, but the wait staff apparently hadn’t decided who would wait on us, so we had no waitress. Masukomi eventually had to go track someone down to place our order, and it didn’t improve from there. The food was good, but we didn’t get to leave until close to 5PM so there was no way we could make the Kancamagus and still get to our campground.
Instead, we headed north directly from North Conway. We’d realized along the way that we’d like to grab a few things we hadn’t brought along, and were surprised to find everyone’s favorite mass chain store in the beautiful White Mountains.
Yes. That’s right. It’s a Wal-Mart. With those beautiful mountains in the background. As much as it was convenient to be able to pop in and grab a few things, I was a little depressed to run into a Wal-Mart in such a beautiful place. There was a Shaw’s grocery store that had failed a few blocks away, and it looks like this super Wal-Mart (which also had a grocery section) was probably the reason.
Back on the road, the scenery on the way to the campground was beautiful. This was by far the best riding of the trip so far. I hadn’t expected a simple trip to a campground to be so picturesque and beautiful, but it was. It was my favorite riding of the day. The air was getting cooler and it smelled so clean and glorious, we couldn’t help stopping for pics at a few spots.
When we got to our campground, Masukomi pointed out that it had a fire tower and we might get some good photos if we climbed it. She was right.
It was a beautiful state park, and a beautiful place to sleep.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
The sunset was beautiful, but we decided to visit the fire tower again in the morning to see what kinda pics we could get of the mountains.
And off in the distance, the Behemoth: Mount Washington.
We got off to kind of a late start because we still haven’t mastered the routine of camping. (For info about our campgrounds and camping, see my camping post here. We stopped in North Conway at a “Book and Coffee” house where we had breakfast sandwiches and I had a delicious mocha, practically in the shadow of Mount Washington. Which brought us to another decision to make.
The day before, when we drove past Mount Washington on our way north to the campground, Masukomi had expressed a definite interest in riding up Mount Washington. She thought it looked awesome and definitely wanted to do it. At this point, we were already crunched for time, and there was no way to do Mount Washington and still do the other stuff we had planned for the day. I rationalized that we had no idea when we’d be this far north in New Hampshire again, and if she really wanted to do it, we should do it. The other riding we had planned was for Western Vermont along Lake Champlain, but I told her that we planned to do the Puppy Dog Route probably next month, which would take us into Vermont, so I could do Lake Champlain then.
It was time to start thinking like we were on the trip. If there’s something we want to do while we’re on the trip, we should do it. We may get back to South America and Central America someday, but who knows how it will have changed by then, and we’ve got a bunch of other trips before we’d make a return trip there. So we had to start getting into the mindset of “we’re here and we don’t know when we’ll be here again” so if there’s something we want to do, we should do it. The wind on the summit was low (around 12MPH) and the day was mostly clear, so even if we did come back to Mount Washington again, we might not have conditions this good to ride it.
So we did. We took the bikes up Mount Washington. It was an 8-mile trip that had us climbing to over 6,000 feet. Speed was slow – around 20MPH – and one section of the road was hard-packed dirt that was wet because of the moisture at that altitude and made me a little nervous. No guardrails, narrow roads. But that’s something I’ll have to get used to for CA and SA, so it was good for me to have done it here. The roads were narrow for cars passing abreast, but on the motorcycle there was plenty of room – I was so glad to be on the bike! The landscape was beautiful, but I was avoiding looking around much because I may have a *slight* problem with heights, and may have been ever-so-slightly nervous about driving up Mount Washington. I’ve been on top of Mount Washington twice before, but that had been on the Cog Railway, with someone else driving.
Unfortunately, the higher we got (and the more spectacular the views) the more we ran into cloud. From the summit of Mount Washington, we could see hardly anything. Here are a few pics we did grab:
I was a bit sad for Masukomi that she didn’t get to see the view from the summit because of the clouds. I’ve been at the top of Mount Washington before, so I knew how spectacular it was, but she totally missed out. That’s ok, though – we’ll have the Andes later which will totally kick Mount Washington’s ass. Plus we got good views going up and down, and she got some video of the views going down, so she did still get some pretty.
Took forever to go back down Mount Washington, because most of the cars in front of us were automatics relying on their brakes to get them down. With our bikes, we were able to cruise down in first gear much of the way and the engine braking did the work for us – we barely had to use our brakes, except when the cars in front of us would stop. One car we got stuck behind was going like 10-15MPH most of the way down, so when we got down and started going 60 MPH again, it was a bit of a shock to the system.
Rode on from Mount Washington down to Conway to pick up the Kancamagus highway. We got stuck in nasty traffic again in North Conway and Conway, and it took far longer than it should have to get to Conway. Stopped to grab lunch at a Mexican place that we’d seen the day before on the way up, which turned out to be surprisingly tasty. I think the lack of a good sleep the night before and being stuck in traffic for so long was wearing on me, because I felt pretty burned out, tired and exhausted during lunch. I think it was around 2-3PM, but it felt late and we were both tired. We perked up a bit after we left the restaurant (it had been quite dark in there and I think that was part of the problem) and rode across the Kancamagus.
It was pretty and nice, but not as scenic as I’d remembered it being. The ride up to the campground the night before had been just as pretty and a lot less touristy. Along the way, all of the water I’d been drinking, plus the soda I’d scarfed down at the restaurant, caught up with me and we had to stop for an unplanned restroom trip at a little pull off. Ahh, nature. Rode along and got a few scenic shots, but not much to compare to the stuff we’d already seen:
We stopped at a gas station in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, where we realized there was no way we’d make it to the campground we’d originally planned to hit in VT. Masukomi looked up a new place to stop while I used the bathroom again, and grabbed a little snack and soda to have with dinner.
From North Woodstock, we headed toward White River Junction, Vermont. I heartily approve of the route that the GPS sent us on to reach White River Junction. We went down 112 a bit more to 118, which took us up and over another smaller mountain. The roads were small and wooded – a two-lane “highway” that was more like a back road with speed limits of 35-45MPH through some of the best riding of the trip. There were twisties and hills and trees right up to the road, and it was beautiful.
When we intersected it, we got on NH 25C, which took us up and over another small mountain, past a beautiful lake and through picturesque and scenic farm land. We’d be riding along through the woods and hills, and suddenly we’d ride into an open spot with farm land on one side of the road, and mountains behind, and a little house or two. It was beautiful. It reminded me of the Vermont I fell in love with when I first moved to Boston in 2005, and I would have been quite happy to have done nothing more than ride those roads for the entire trip. I’m thinking the PDR will be a lot like that, and I’m totally psyched for it. NH-25C was possibly my favorite road of the trip. (And of course, there was no place to stop so I don’t have pictures – I’m going to have to get better about that for our trip through SA and CA.)
After that, a short stint on I-91 took us to White River Junction, and from there it was a few minutes to Queechee State Park where we were camping. To see a report on the camping, check out my camping post here.
Monday, August 16, 2010
We woke up Monday to a rainy, soggy day. There was rain in the forecast for the day, so I knew we’d be riding in the rain. It would be my first real experience riding in the rain – previously I’d done only a short ride about 8 miles from home on a soggy, misty day.
Took us a while to get on the road again, and then we ended up scouring the nearby areas for a Bank of America ATM so I could make a deposit and pay some credit card bills that were due that day. I felt stupid for not doing it sooner, and it was a PITA having to deal with this on the road when I just wanted to be putting miles behind us. Because it was supposed to rain, we’d just opted to take the most direct route back home – a few hours of interstate riding. Interstate is boring, but it’s fast, and neither of us thought we’d appreciate nice riding when we were soggy and wet – particularly as I had no wet weather gear at all.
It started raining just as we finished up the errand and were heading toward the interstate. We ended up riding for over 2 hours in wet, soggy rain. It was my first experience with this. I knew it was supposed to rain, but I’d opted to leave the vents open in my coat and not bother to put the rain liner in my pants because I was hot and figured the rain would be welcome – it would just cool me down. Unfortunately, I failed to appreciate the effects that 70MPH wind from the interstate can have on a wet body. It wasn’t long before I was cool, then downright cold. I turned on my heated grips, and was thankful for them through my soggy gloves, but I was getting really cold and worn. We also hadn’t had breakfast, and I hadn’t even had a protein bar or anything.
When we got to the big New Hampshire Liquor Store, which I believe is somewhere in I-93 after Concord (heading south) we pulled off to mess with the GPS and try to find something to eat. At this point, I’d been riding for two hours in the rain with my vents open on the interstate and no food. It was around 1PM, I think. We found a Denny’s about 30 minutes south of where we were, and opted to make a run for it, although I found once I stopped that I barely had enough energy to start going again. I was worried about making it the 30 minutes, but I just kept going and we eventually did make it to Denny’s.
Let me tell you: I’ve never appreciated a Denny’s meal like that one.
I got a huge breakfast, and I gobbled it up like I was starving. I’m not a fast eater, but I tore through that meal like it was nothing. Masukomi, too, ate her meal really fast, and then had an extra serving of eggs. We were so very hungry and exhausted from riding through the rain, and our bodies wanted the energy. Denny’s had never tasted so good.
Luckily, when we did hit the road again, the rain had stopped and we were rain-free all the way home from there. It was only about another 45 minutes, I think, to get home from where we stopped for breakfast (at close to 2PM). Our gear was still wet and sopping, but it helped that the rain had stopped. When we did get home, we walked the dogs and then passed out and napped for a few hours. We were both completely exhausted.
What I Learned on Our Weekend Motorcycle Trip
The weekend motorcycle trip was a good learning experience for me. I reached some important conclusions that will hopefully keep me healthy and happy on the trip:
- Eat when you can. Opportunistic eating was our big weak point, and if I go too long without eating, I start having problems. I need to make it a point to eat before I get ravenously hungry, because by that point I’m not operating at full capacity. If we’re near food, we should eat – not hit the road and assume we’ll encounter food later.
- Rain gear. Rain gear. Rain gear. I need it. I need to close my vents and wear rain-appropriate clothing when we ride in the rain. I’ve since had another trip in the rain (on Tuesday) where I rode with my jacket vents fully closed and the rain liner in my pants. It helped. I still need to get some waterproof gloves and waterproof boots for the trip.
- I enjoy riding. I wanted more riding at the end of the weekend – three days was too short. The rhythm of riding and camping is absolutely fantastic for me. I am very much looking forward to our next test trip, and I think SA and CA are going to be great!