Friday, July 14, 2006

Our Guide To Motorcycling Enjoyment, Part 1

The hills and valleys are alive with the sound of motorcycles as more and more folks find out that we live among some of the best riding in the country. And, if you like to ride, The Maple Leaf Motel is pretty ideally located to serve as your touring base. Great rides start at our doorstep and include roads throughout central and northern New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. The common threads running through all of our recommended roads and routes include little traffic, generally good road surfaces and terrific scenery.

The Maple Leaf is also a great place to stop just for a night for those folks heading to or from the Maine coast, northern Vermont, the Montreal region and New York's Adirondack Mountains. We're just a mile from I-93, seconds from Route 302, and minutes from Route 2, both very popular east-west travel routes.

Dealers & Mechanics. Right here in Littleton we have dealers for Honda, Kawasaki, Victory, and Harley Davidson. Within a half hour, you can find Yamaha and Suzuki dealers, too. There is also a pretty good and versatile independent mechanic in Littleton. None of these dealers are large but all have service departments and carry basic accessories, parts and gear.

NOTEWORTHY ROADS

The Kancamagus Highway. I don't know if there ever has been a book or magazine article about New England riding published that hasn't included "The Kanc". This 40+ mile long two-lane is the must-ride road in New Hampshire. It runs from Lincoln to Conway through The White Mountain National Forest with no services of any kind. The hype is well earned as this is indeed a memorable ride up and over Kancamagus Pass. Lots of thick forest, gurgling rivers and great views. For pure enjoyment, however, there are a few things to consider.

On some weekends and daily throughout the foliage season, The Kanc's popularity draws a lot of traffic and can make for some frustrating traveling. There aren't a lot of passing zones and we haven't found folks to be very accommodating to motorcycles as they gawk at the distracting scenery. Best bet when getting stuck behind a bunch of sloggers is to pull of into one of the many attractive pull-offs and take a deep breath or two. Over the past few years there has been road construction taking place, mostly on the Conway end of The Kanc. In the rain this can make for some muddy travel.

Make The Kanc part of an excellent circle tour of the White Mountains by combining it with Route 302.

Bear Notch Road. It's short (only 9 miles long), narrow and an absolutely terrific way to avoid North Conway (see below). It connects The Kanc and NH Route 302 in Bartlett and is closed during the winter. Bear Notch Road is marked but still can be easily missed on either end. The road itself is as twisty a ribbon of asphalt as you'll find anywhere around but is quite narrow and often bumpy with frostheaves. The rewards include solitude and little or no traffic. We don't recommend it at nights as wildlife is abundant, it's very dark and you're pretty far from any kind of aid should something come amiss. Very few trucks and rv's make this trip but it's a good idea to stay on your side of the road, particularly on some of the sharper corners.

Route 302. This popular road runs from Barre, Vermont all the way to the Maine Coast near Portland. We'll deal only with the section from Littleton east to North Conway, NH, a distance of about 50 miles. This smooth two-laner begins right here in town, heads through Bethlehem towards Mt. Washington and Crawford Notch. About 20 minutes from Littleton, the Presidential Range including Mt. Washington, the highest peak in NE USA, becomes visible. You'll pass by the grand Mt. Washington Hotel after Twin Mountain and then enter into Crawford Notch State Park. Descending into Crawford Notch is pretty neat and you end up riding through a narrow valley with majestic mountains on both sides. Eventually, you wind up in the town of Glen where Routes 16 and 302 merge. Head south and you'll likely find yourself stuck in traffic in North Conway with its miles of outlet stores and traffic lights. Or, as we prefer, you can head north on Route 16 towards Pinkham Notch, Gorham and The Mt. Washington Auto Road.

The Mt. Washington Auto Road. Another White Mountain icon for cars and motorcycles, this is an adventure you'll always remember. Privately owned, and as a result toll-charging, The Auto Road rises over 3,000 feet in eight miles to the highest point in New England and the home of some of the worst weather in the world. Fortunately, the really bad weather takes place in the winter, when the Road is closed. However, on any given day, it can get really uncomfortable on Mt. Washington. Prepare for drastic temperature drops and pay attention to the conditions sign at the bottom and to the advice of the toll taker. Consider, too, taking a guided tour in one of the vans instead of taking your bike up and down.

The first half of the climb is in dense woods. It's paved and twisty and first and second gear only. The second half of the climb is above treeline and is mostly packed dirt. It's pretty narrow, there are no guardrails and the rider dares not take his concentration off the road itself. Save the sightseeing for the numerous pulloffs. At the summit, there is a striking building with a snack bar, rest rooms, and museum. Coming down, let the gearing do the braking and keep in mind that the dirt road can be slippery. I find that using the rear brake more than usual helps maintain control. This is not a road to be taken lightly but the rewards are incomparable. Even if visibility at the summit is somewhat limited, the trip is memorable and something you'll talk about for years.

NH Route 135 from Littleton to Woodsville. VT Route 5 from Wells River to St. Johnsbury. This pleasant 60 mile ride starts almost at our doorstep and runs along the Connecticut River, the border between New Hampshire and Vermont. The setting is bucolic farmland with enough twists and turns to keep the riding itself interesting. There's very little traffic on this back country road and you'll pass through only one little town, Monroe, which has no services whatsoever. Reaching Woodsville, cross over into Vermont and take Route 5 north. Once again, you're riding alongside the Connecticut River. Route 5 is in better shape overall than 135, few frostheaves for one thing, and is just as attractive a ride as Route 135. From St. Johnsbury, grab I-93 for a quick trip back to Littleton.

VT Route 102 from Lancaster, NH to Canaan, VT. This is another personal favorite of Rick's and somewhat of a secret. It really starts just across the Connecticut River from Lancaster but you won't find any corresponding Vermont town on the map. This country road follows the Connecticut River, the border between Vermont and New Hampshire, almost into Canada. It begins about 20 miles north of The Maple Leaf and meanders through farmland and a couple of very small villages. Your as likely to overtake a tractor as a car. In Canaan you can just turn around and head back down 102, cross the river and head south on NH Route 3, or head west then south on VT Route 114 to Island Pond. It's all good.

NH Route 16, Errol to Berlin. Getting to this road is fun no matter what route you take from The Maple Leaf. Your reward is an interesting 30 mile ride alongside the Androscoggin River with little or no traffic and some terrific sweeping turns. For some reason, it really feels neat riding along the river and there are plenty of spots to pull off and take a quiet break. There are virtually no services between the two towns. Berlin is an old paper mill town with little to attract sightseers. Matter of fact, we usually head west on NH Route 110 before you reach Berlin and head to Groveton, then south back to Littleton,

North Conway. There's only one reason to visit this town; shopping. The former resort town has become an outlet shopping mecca with traffic and traffic lights galore. There are ways to avoid the hustle and bustle, bypasses that we will be glad to share with you. The best one, West Side Road, isn't well marked but is well worth finding. Ask us.

Frostheaves, Moose & Other Hazards. Great roads, spectacular scenery, and light traffic. What to worry about? Well, there are few things to be aware of. For example, our winters can be fairly fierce and as a result, many of our secondary roads get torn up by frost resulting in cracks and bumps even in the summertime. In the middle of a sharp curve, these can be quite upsetting. Frostheaves can be found on any road other than the interstates, often without warning. You'll see lots of moose warning signs. Don't dismiss them as moose are a real threat. For one thing, they are a lot taller and larger than deer and have been known to crush small trucks. They have no natural enemies any more and seem oblivious to cars, bikes, and man. At night, their eyes don't reflect light like a deer's so there is often no early warning of a crossing moose. Deer are a problem too as they are most everywhere it seems. More and more, we see turkeys, whole flocks of them, wandering around. Once when following a bunch of guests on sportbikes, Rick came around a corner to find turkey feathers floating through the air and a dying turkey in the middle of the road. It was funny, sort of. Not for the turkey, though.

Our Wednesday Night Ice Cream Runs. Throughout the summer, we have a standing ride from The Maple Leaf to various ice cream stands within 30 or 40 miles away. Sometimes just a couple of bikes show up, other times we may see ten or more. We usually leave at about 6:30 and anyone is invited to join us, no matter what they ride.