It's not like I needed to get away, Jenn and I were already "away", but the opportunity to explore around some of New Hampshire's lovely gravelly dirt roads was hard to pass up.
For someone who spent his late teens and early twenties ripping through a major metropolis delivering packages, I rarely enjoy riding the road any more. Not sure if it’s the lack of adrenaline or more likely my brain remembering the pain from meeting with a few thousand pounds of deadly speeding metal, but any chance of riding quiet back roads, dirt or that oh so fashionable road surface "gravel", makes me a happy camper.
When planning our East Coast trip, I was looking at a big multi-day jaunt to the Northern Rail trail, a 48 mile mixed surface route with another 150 miles of dirt travel back and forth to get to it. As my escape time drew closer, the threat of big storms plus a lack of fitness made me look for an alternate route.
I have a few websites that I use for adventure planning and exploring but one of the my new favorites is http://gravelmap.com/. Check out their site and you'll find a ton of dirt road rides to explore. When I saw the weather forecast I had to make new plans and when I dropped in my location onto the website map, up popped some glorious gravel back roads not far from my mother-in-law's lake house on Lake Winnipesaukee, just south of New Hampshire's White Mountains.
Friday's weather prediction thankfully didn’t hold true and I didn't wake to thunderstorms and torrential rain. Instead the sun was shining, the skies were clear and my lakeside cup of coffee didn’t have any bugs in it.
Pedaling north from the lake, I was glad of my light set up. Including all my camping gear, food and water, my bike was still under 40lbs. The only issue I had was the incessant buzzing of my WTB Nineline's on the pavement, still it wasn’t as annoying as the buzzing of the slowly increasing number of bugs that seemed to be chasing me.
New England, New Hampshire in particular, is so very British but the clouds of mosquitos were doing their best rendition of my least favorite Scottish ballad, "Flight of the Midgeys" For those unfamiliar, the Scottish Midge is an evil little biting bug that loves to chase unsuspecting humans through the lowlands and highlands of Scotland, the mosquitos had obviously taken a correspondence course from them.
My first gravel was less than 6 miles from my start, a lovely rolling road, fast fun, well packed and most of all, quiet. Through the trees, glorious and green, I pedaled, not noticing the building clouds but noticing the days increasing heat and humidity, after all, this was New England in the summer. 90 degrees and somewhere close to 90% humidity, welcome to summer.
The air was so humid it was chunky, I wasn't breathing, rather taking bites of air. I know I'm a from a country where it rains a lot but having lived in the desert for the last 18 years humidity is something I try not to deal with. Pedaling up a climb, pouring sweat, I was passed by a long since retired jogger and his dog, yeah I need to train more.
As the rain started to fall so did the temperature. The big drops of water were enough to dissuade the mosquitos from biting but not enough to slow my ride. I'd like to say I was feeling refreshed but I just felt like I'd taken a warm shower with all my clothes on.
Gravel roads are wonderful things when they're made well, no big puddles, traction for days and for the most part, people avoid them in their shiny cars. Cresting the top of School House Road in Sandwich, I began think of lunch.
OK, so here’s the story, Earl Of Sandwich asked for some meat in between 2 slices of bread for lunch, or something along those lines - from that day forward we eat a meal named after him. So when you arrive in a place like Sandwich you assume that you might be able to buy said meat and 2 slices of bread concoction. Well, you'd be wrong. Yes there's an inn, closed. There's a yoga studio, no lunch. Pottery, got plates, no bread. Luckily I packed some Clif Bars!
Talking to the 4 cops hanging out in the center of the town I asked where the closest place for lunch would be. They all pointed back to where I'd started, err… no. I'd paid enough to get these 30 miles, I'll head down to the other side of Squam Lake, thanked the officers for their help and pedaled off in the opposite direction.
The map said the route I was taking required high clearance 4x4 vehicles and I was quite excited for a 6 mile trail run but a lack of calories had me a little worried. Dropping into the trail I found a smooth, crushed gravel surface that was probably pretty new. Rolling along at a good clip, passing an unnamed lake, watching fish jump for lunch, thinking a fly rod would have been a good traveling companion.
I rolled into Holderness and stopped at the first store I saw. They had amazing meats and cheeses. I selected a fine artisanal bottle of Powerade and was greeted by the snooty girl behind the counter asking if "that's all?". Yup, that’s all, I'm heading to the gas station grocery store for some fancy food.
Sometimes you camp, sometimes you just pass out at the side of the road in a ditch. I was lucky enough to find a deserted farm, big house, boarded up and a beautiful oak tree to camp under. I gathered some wood, cleaned a spot to light my fire and enjoyed the ambiance while being drenched in sweat with my friends the mosquitos.
Sleeping under the stars is something I love, but something I don’t do often enough. I zipped up my bivvy bag, the mesh defeating the little angry bugs that were after my blood. A couple of cans of a really good local IPA and my kindle, staring at the stars,
The sun rose and so did the bugs. After a hasty cup of coffee I packed my minimal load and rolled, relying on speed to avoid Kamikaze winged creatures. 2 hours of rolling broken pavement ahead of me, an afternoon of dangling my feet in the lake in front.
I'd dreamt of finding a nice place to stop and get a real breakfast, something meaty and terribly American, but the draw of fast route home and sitting with a good cuppa on the dock was too much.