Thursday, January 18, 2007

Is It Winter Yet?


What's going on here? It's nearing the end of January and we've yet to experience a snowfall of any real significance. Fortunately, there has been enough cold weather to allow the ski areas to make snow and get more than half their trails and slopes open. At least that's the case as I write this. To be honest, though, I suggest that anyone coming to ski or snowboard check the condition reports on the various ski area web sites or give us a call for an honest Cannon Mountain assessment.

Chris and I are again working in Cannon's Snowsports School (I really can't get out of the habit of calling it a "ski" school but it's PC to use "snowsports" so as to include snowboarding.) I'm now the assistant director so I don't teach much at all but instead "manage". Still get to ski a bunch though. Chris is now a veteran ski and snowboard instructor in the Cannon Kids School having taught for over three years.

Not to belabor this too much but this has been the most bizarre winter I've experienced since getting into the ski business 30 years ago. To add insult to injury, the weekend weather has been noticeably worse than on weekdays. Fortunately, we aren't snowmobilers but do feel sorry for those who are waiting for their trails to open. There are trails open up here but the cover ranges from thin to none. The only XC skiing is on the golf courses which can support skiing on a heavy frost. It certainly has been cold of late, though, so snowmaking efforts have been rewarding.

I can recommend skiing and riding at Cannon, though. They've done a really good job of making and grooming snow and, with even smaller than usual crowds, the mountain experience is excellent. How long will it last? Well, the snowmakers continue to pound out the manmade stuff so as long as it stays reasonably cold, we'll have skiing and riding.

As usual, Nancy and I are preparing for our April escape south. We will be closing the motel around April 4th and reopening on May 6th or 7th. We are going back to Iron Horse Campground, a motorcycle oriented campground in the Smokies of North Carolina, this time for almost two weeks. We really like the riding and the folks at this campground in Stecoah. Then it's on to Florida and a sailboat charter out of Punta Gorda on the west coast. We've done this before and are really excited about it. The boys fly down to Tampa to join us on the high seas and to see the grandparents. On the way home, we'll stop in Virginia for some more riding on and around the Skyline Drive.

The big news in Littleton is the impending opening of Lowe's right next to Home Depot. Will the area support two super stores like this? Hard to figure. Our fourth Chinese restaurant just opened on Main Street. It looks very nice but we would appreciate a little more variety. Personally, we still tend to head to the bar section of The 99 when we go out for a quick supper. The food is good, the atmosphere comfortable and the prices reasonable. There are new owners of the nearby Beal House Inn, considered by many as the best choice for a first-class dining experience in the area. We can't personally comment as yet. We understand that there are a couple of good restaurants in nearby Bethlehem which we hope to sample before too long.

Hey, did you notice gas prices dropping? We think that this past summer's business was affected by the price of gas. Perhaps by this coming summer folks will be used to the $2+/gallon prices and bring road travel to levels we enjoyed a couple of years ago. We certainly applaud the move to cars with better gas mileage.

Folks often ask us if we offer discounts for AARP, military, clergy and more. We don't. The only discount we offer is for AAA members because that association promotes our business through publications and their web site. The others don't. We are a small operation and carefully set our rates so as to provide the best value in the region. We aren't always the cheapest around but are definitely less expensive than the larger chain-affiliated places. Our units are clean, comfortable and easily accessible because you park right outside your room. You can also walk to the Main Street business area.

That's all I've got for now. If you'd like to get in touch with us, do so via email (info@mapleleafmotel.com) or by phone at 1-888-513-LEAF between 8 am and 10 pm.

Rick

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.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

May 2006 - Our Vacation Is Over


OK, it's taken a while to get this thing up and running but here's the inaugural blog from The Owen Family, owners, managers and entire staff of Littleton's Maple Leaf Motel. Our goals for this effort are modest - we merely want to share news, travel tips, random thoughts and the occasional photo about our motel, the White Mountains region, and the family. Our publishing schedule is extremely loose. And we encourage guests, friends, and relatives to make comments and share information and pictures.

The less said about the winter, the better I suppose. We had almost no snowfall, even worse than last year. In spite of that, personally, we had a pretty good winter. Both Rick and Christopher worked in the Snowsports School once again, Rick as a supervisor, Christopher as a ski/snowboard instructor in the kids school. Spencer skied almost every weekend but Nancy only enjoyed a couple of days.

Having just returned from our annual month-long vacation in the warmer climes, we are quite busy getting ready for summertime. The lawn has been mowed twice and fertilized once and looks pretty good. The pool is uncovered and almost full. The house is getting new shingles. The units are getting their thorough spring cleaning and repairs. And, of course, we eagerly await phone calls and guests. We certainly hope that the late spring/early summer weather is better than last year's.

There's not much really new to report on in the region. Littleton, politics aside, is still healthy and growing at a slow but steady pace. A new Walgreen's will open soon on the site of the former Clam Shell restaurant which is kind of too bad as the Shell was the area's most popular dining place. Plus, we already have four pharmacy/convenience stores. Downtown Main Street, only a short walk from The Maple Leaf, continues to thrive in spite of the influx of chain stores outside of town. Strolling downtown is still a good way to spend a couple of hours.

Over the winter, local politics got kind of ugly with attacks on our elected and appointed town leaders around disputes over much-needed facilities for the police and town offices. It's a reflection of the national political scene I suppose with calm dialogue and compromise considered a weakness rather than a strength.

Now, back to issues likely of more interest to you, dear reader.

Spring has definitely taken hold. Golf courses in the area are looking good with abundant rainfall helping out. Fortunately, we didn't get the foot of rain that devastated the southern part of our state. We have a few deals for our guests on greens and cart fees, by the way. The regional attractions, both manmade and natural, if not already open, will be welcoming visitors very soon. I haven't heard of anything signficantly new and different but they're all interesting and a good value. From a natural perspective, our part of New Hampshire remains relatively untouched by development. Other than Bretton Woods/Mt. Washington Hotel area, there is almost no development going on at all. This is quite a contrast to the North Conway area and almost every place south of Franconia Notch where condo and second home construction is still rampant. Sometimes you win by standing still I guess.

Hey, Owen Family, how was your vacation?

Thanks for asking. It was great. With motorcycles aboard Nancy and I spent a bunch of time in the mountains of North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia enjoying some truly outstanding riding on twisty, smooth and empty roads. Here's a shot from The Blue Ridge Highway in Virginia. We put about 1,500 miles on the bikes. We spent six nights at The Iron Horse Campground in Stecoah, North Carolina. This is a motorcycles-only place in the middle of some absolutely awesome countryside about 15 miles from Deals Gap, considered by many as the best 11 miles on motorcycling in the country. The people were great and we look forward to returning next year. If anyone is heading south for riding, we can certainly give you our opinions about where to go.

The kids flew down to Florida for a 10-day stay in the Keys. Two great snorkling trips and way too much hot hot weather were quite a contrast to winter in New Hampshire. Saw some amazing fish and reefs. For two days we camped out at Bahia Honda State Park only a few feet from the ocean. We also saw a hundred degrees in the shade one day which kept us from doing much at all. The Keys are pretty neat but oh so far to drive, even from northern Georgia.

I've got to say that we continue to be impressed with the overall friendliness of almost everyone we meet in the South. Fortunately, there still seems to exist a courtliness and unhurried manner to the rural Southeast. Can't speak for cities as we don't go to them on these trips.

We do have a few groups already booked for the summer months including motorcycle groups from Connecticut, Canada and a Honda ST1300 bunch from all over. Our "cowboy shoot" folks will be back for a few weekends throughout the spring, summer and fall. We're also starting to hear from our regular families as they plan their warm weather trips. Greeting returning guests is always a special pleasure.

For now, that's it. Keep in touch, drive safely and visit often.