Adventure Bike

New Hampshire #graveliswhereyouridenotwhatyouride

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.

Soul:Ride

Wake:Up

It all starts with the realisation that depression is starting to take me, the stresses of daily life has been building for months. I’m slowly being worn down, eroded, changing me into someone I do want to be. I’ve let life get in the way and stopped doing the things that are important, cycling is one of those things, when I stop cycling I know I have a problem that needs to be resolved quickly. I’ve not ridden with the club for weeks, I miss the banter, I miss being pushed to my limit, I miss the Jelly Snakes.

It’s time to ride

Self:Motivation

So I got the itchy feet thing going on, I’ve had a few crap weeks and I need to de stress myself. That’s when the thoughts start to wander, thinking of big rides in far off places. Riding through big empty landscapes with nothing but my thoughts and my bike for company. Well that’s all a long way off and sounds expensive, plus I won’t get away with taking time out for another trip until I’ve taken my partner Alice away for a proper holiday.

I’m lucky enough to live in Plymouth, on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park so why not make use of it. So it’s Thursday, I’m tired and I’m fed up at work. That makes my mind up for me, I can pack the bike when I get home and ride it to work fully loaded with all my camping kit. That way I can head out straight from work on Friday, I can get a night under the stars and some much needed mental down time.

I want to practice using my camera for time lapse and video before my big Summer Solstice ride. I set about shooting time lapse in the back yard of me prepping the bike ready for camping. I want to be able to tell a story without talking, I want to relay that sense of tranquillity and peacefulness you only get when you’re truly alone. Most of all I want to capture the feeling of the moors, it’s timelessness, its history. It is a beautiful place.

I ride a Penhale Bicycle Co. “B’Stard”, a gorgeous little steel framed hardtail prototype. I have a custom made frame bag, the rest of my bike bags are all from Alpkit. Their stuff is really well made and not too expensive.

After fitting all the bags and packing everything I need for an overnighter I head in to charge batteries for my Nikon and grind enough coffee beans to keep me going on my little trip. I just ordered a GoPro from my favourite bike shop Rockin Bikes at Yelverton, if it arrives during the day on Friday I’ll pick it up on the way to the moors. I have a spare 64Gb memory card ready to fit into it.

Day:One

Friday morning, it’s dull and grey and looks like rain is on the way. I grab the rest of my kit and head out for work early to try and beat the rain, The bike is heavy but still feels good. I get to work just before the rain moves in, so far things are going in my favour. I check the forecast and am pleased to see it’s due to clear up in the afternoon with a nice sunny evening with only light winds. I start to think about where I’ll ride and more importantly where I’ll camp.

Initially I decide the camp should be in Outholme Wood, just to the east of Sheeps Tor. I know there is a stream there where I can have an easy source of water. But this will leave me in the shade most of the evening, after a quick check of the map I decide camp should be in the small valley where Devonport Leat emerges from a tunnel not far from Nuns Cross and White Works Cottage. I know there is a stone cross that I will be able to feature in a time lapse of the sun setting behind it. The valley is sheltered but quite high up on the Moor and will leave me a good view out over the landscape and the setting sun. Devonport Leat runs with clear fresh water year round (I’ll still use my Sawyer inline filter though, you can never be too sure) so plenty of water for fresh coffee.

So that’s about as much planning as I need to do, now I just have to get through the day in the office. Now that I know where I’m going and have all my kit with me I just want to head off. Clock watching is mind numbingly infuriating, time to try and focus on project plans and contracts.

Eleven:Thirty approaches, so does the rain. It gradually gets harder as the wind picks up, colleagues start ribbing me about why anyone would want to go out riding and camping in this weather. The forecast will be right, the sun will come out. I will go regardless, as I know as soon as I’m out there it will all be worth it no matter what the weather throws at me. But there will be sun, I know there will.

Twelve:Thirty Still it rains. It rains hard and the wind is fresh

One:Thirty The clouds break up, the sun comes out and the wind gradually starts to ease off. Things really are looking up, I rang Rockin Bikes, James lets me know the delivery has not arrived yet. If it arrives before I leave James has agreed to unbox it and start it charging so I can use it on the way out. I have an Anker charger with me that has enough power to charge the GoPro and my iPhone a couple of times but it would be better to have it charged before I go.

Only a couple of hours to go, more tea needed. I’m finding it impossible to concentrate on work. I’m planning the shoot for the timelapse sequence in my head, I just hope the weather leaves me with a good sunset. If the skies stay clear I’ll have a go at capturing the Milky Way as it tracks across the sky. Where I’m planning to camp is reasonably well protected from light pollution, fingers crossed it stays clear.

Three:Fifty Only ten minutes left before the off, no phone call from Rockin Bikes, so I’m not hopeful they have received their delivery. Oh well I still have my Nikon. The wind has picked up again but at least it’s dry, although if the wind keeps blowing like this I will have to camp at Outholme after all. The other site will be too exposed as the wind will be whistling up the valley.

Four: PM I lock my PC get changed into my cycling kit and grab my bike from the bike shed. The sun is out as I head out away from work, I head through Roborough and then hang a right and drop downhill to Bickleigh, passing the 42 Commando’s barracks as I go. I hit the cycle track (route 27) and head for Yelverton, the bike is heavy but well balanced with my camping kit spaced out evenly between the three bags I use. I roll into RockinBikes after about forty minutes of riding, good news. James had received the GoPro, unboxed it and put it on charge for me. We have a slight issue when he tries to switch it on, it’s dead. After a short panic from James that he’s been sent a duff unit, he opens the back cover to find that he forgot to fit the battery. I rib him for a while because that’s what friends do. His turn to laugh at me, I go to fit the memory card only to find I have the wrong size. There is nowhere within ten miles that sells the card I need. Oh well I have my Nikon D3200, three batteries and two 64Gb memory cards. I pay the man and head off towards Burrator Reservoir.

I ride to the left of the road on a track that lifts me higher up and provides great views out over the reservoir. I ride in glorious sunshine before dropping down and joining the Widowmaker Trail. I ride up this rock strewn track for a mile or so, until it’s crossed by Devonport Leat. This is where I turn right and follow this old watercourse as it meanders across the moors, I’m following it upstream in the late evening sun. The wind is easing off so it looks like it’ll be ok to camp up here instead the low level camp behind Sheeps Tor. After a while I come to the old stone cross (insert Reference) I keep on going and as I round the bend I see my campsite. Two old beach trees next to a small ruined building, it’s fallen down granite block walls barely more than a few feet high. I roll into the small flat area in front of the ruin and the trees, this will be home for the night. The view is amazing looking back down over the rolling moors towards Sheeps Tor in the distance, the shadows are getting longer and the light is changing; taking on an orange glow. Looks like it’s going to be a good sunset. I unpack the Nikon, tripod and interval timer. It’s time to get a quick bit of video before I start my first timelapse. I take a quick shot of me riding into camp then set the camera up to start the time lapse, I want to capture me rolling in and setting up my little camp for the night. I need to work quickly as I really want to capture the sun setting behind the stone cross.

I ride to the left of the road on a track that lifts me higher up and provides great views out over the reservoir. I ride in glorious sunshine before dropping down and joining the Widowmaker Trail. I ride up this rock strewn track for a mile or so, until it’s crossed by Devonport Leat. This is where I turn right and follow this old watercourse as it meanders across the moors, I’m following it upstream in the late evening sun. The wind is easing off so it looks like it’ll be ok to camp up here instead the low level camp behind Sheeps Tor. After a while I come to the old stone cross (insert Reference) I keep on going and as I round the bend I see my campsite. Two old beach trees next to a small ruined building, it’s fallen down granite block walls barely more than a few feet high. I roll into the small flat area in front of the ruin and the trees, this will be home for the night. The view is amazing looking back down over the rolling moors towards Sheeps Tor in the distance, the shadows are getting longer and the light is changing; taking on an orange glow. Looks like it’s going to be a good sunset. I unpack the Nikon, tripod and interval timer. It’s time to get a quick bit of video before I start my first timelapse. I take a quick shot of me riding into camp then set the camera up to start the time lapse, I want to capture me rolling in and setting up my little camp for the night. I need to work quickly as I really want to capture the sun setting behind the stone cross.

I’m using my little Vango one man tent for the first time, turns out it’s very quick and easy to put up. In no time at all I have the tent up, bed roll inflated and sleeping bag in and ready for use. I grab my stove and cooking pots out of the frame bag and go to fetch water for a coffee. I bring the water to a rolling boil, just to be on the safe side. 

You never know what’s fallen in and died upstream. I have a Sawyer inline water filter with me which I use to refill my Camelback, this great little filter gets rid of microbial as well as particulate contaminationWith camp set up and a fresh coffee brewing I head off to set the camera up for some time lapse, I find a great spot back along the track I rode in on. I set the camera up, switch the auto focus off and start the interval timer running. I’m shooting at one frame per second, when I stitch it all together at home I’ll play it back at between thirty and sixty frames per second. I want the movement of the clouds passing over to be smooth and fluid.  

With the camera set and running I head back to camp to cook some food, then decide to take the stove and dinner back to the camera. The interval timer will only take 400 shots before it needs resetting, I don’t want to risk it stopping while I’m cooking.

It turns out to be a fabulous sunset, the weather has been great so far. As the light fails I head back to camp and find my hip flask full of Sloe Gin. I pack up and get into my tent to bed down for the night as I go to pull the zip of the flysheet up I seen a heron fly low overhead, I lie there for a while listening to cuckoos in the distance.

A fairly perfect end to the day. 

Day:Two

I’m awake early, it’s starting to get light at around four thirty, I lay there in the warm comfort of my sleeping bag until just after five. It’s no good, I’m awake so I decide to get up and get the coffee on. I’m glad for this choice as soon as I’m out of the tent, the light is magical. The ground is covered in a heavy layer of dew, as I look up the valley towards the rising sun the ground appears silver and sparkles in the low morning light. I go to get water for coffee and I am struck by the beauty of the scene before me. This is Dartmoor in all of its ancient magical beauty, being up before the sun burns off the dew, provides me with some great photos.

After a couple of cups of coffee I cook chili and rice for breakfast, ok so I don’t exactly cook it I just warm it up. Anyway it tastes good and fills a gap. By now the sun has started to rise properly and the dew on the tent is drying, I’ll soon be able to start packing it up.

I set the camera up on the bank above camp and start the interval timer again, more time lapse. 

After packing up camp and taking some video of me leaving, I take one final look at where I camped. I’m pleased to say you could not tell that I had been there.

I ride off towards White Works Cottage and join the Princetown track at Nuns Cross. When I get to Princetown I briefly ride on tarmac back towards Yelverton before turning off and heading off-piste back towards Burrator and Devonport Leat. There’s no track here, so it’s a bit slower going. The sun is warm and there is only the most gentle of breezes, it’s a beautiful day to be out on a bike. Eventually I pick up the trail that runs beside the Leat, it’s dry, hard packed and runs nice and quick. I let the bike run, picking up speed and the tyres start to hum.

There’s nothing quite like good fast singletrack, for me it’s one of the greatest pleasures in mountain biking. It’s over way to soon as I’m dumped back onto the road that runs around the reservoir. I leave it as soon as I can, heading up a nice trail along the side of Sheeps Tor. This trail ends at Joey’s Lane, a nice technical rocky track with numerous rock drop offs. It’s a short trip back on tarmac until I get to the start of one of my favourite descents, Banana Trail. It’s a steep drop down through the woods beside the dam, lot’s of rooty drop offs and tight switchback turns. With all the camping kit the bike is heavy and hard to slow down, by the time I get to the bottom I have a grin a mile wide. Not only am I alive, but I still have all my limbs! I cross the river at the bottom and stop for a coffee on the edge of a meadow.  

I take time now to do some wood carving with the bushcraft knife I made a few weeks ago. I make myself a spoon, not because I need one but just because I’ve never made one before. I while the time away sat in the sun drinking coffee and wood carving, the sound of the water flowing over the rocks beside me, and the gentle song of birds are the only sounds here. I can’t put off the inevitable much longer though. It’s time for me to leave the woods and head home. I stop back in at Rockin Bikes on the way home for a coffee and a chat, before picking up cycle route 27 and heading back into Plymouth. By the time I arrive back at the house I’ve done fifty five miles, that’s not even remotely epic. It doesn’t matter though, I got away from the rat race, the people, the constant buzz of an increasingly technological society and I grounded myself back in the earth.

Go ride your bike, ride it to the shop, ride it to the pub, ride it around the world. It doesn’t matter how far you go, as long as you go. 

 

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