Meg and I once again completed our longest self-supported bike tour yet: seven days of dirt roads, singletrack, surprisingly nice Vermont corner stores, and Heady Topper. I'm dividing this journey into seven posts, one for each day.
Through the power of internet magic, I'm posting all seven links at the top of this first post. Each link will start working once I actually write the post for that day. But until then, enjoy my absurd 404 page.
Meg and I wake up at 6am for an espresso & an english muffin. This fuels our ride down the Ammonoosuc Rail Trail.
The trail ride starts with some rough going: lots of baby heads and soft, sandy surface. Our tires sink into the soil. We hopscotch rocks and mud puddles. But thanks to striking fall foliage, the excitement of a full week's bike vacation, and a shared affection for fog, we push south to Lisbon, where the trail improves.
This is the first time we've biked the entire length of the trail to the VT border. It's really neat! Like most rail trails, the Ammonoosuc features a number of old rail bridges. My favorite looms high above a sandy beach just down the trail from Bath. We'll return next summer for a swim -- for now, the water is a tad cold for a dip.
Shortly after the high bridge, a rafter of turkeys appears in the path. We creep up for a photo op, but they, uh... fly away down the trail. For a sizable distance. Huh. Earlier in the day, we followed a fawn down the trail for a while, but "flying turkeys" are my favorite memory.
On the subject of "cool stuff you don't see from a car": Bath, NH is home to a very long, very pretty, covered bridge that you can only view properly from the rail trail. It's a great spot to consider eating a donut, but decide against it because you're saving stomach space for a breakfast sandwich.
After a brief spooky road ride across the VT border to Wells River, we reach our second breakfast destination: The Hatchbox, a very small towable trailer transformed into a breakfast sandwich kitchen. But they're unexpectedly closed "for the weekend". Sigh -- VT small businesses strike again! So we settle for a stop at the nearby diner, Tuttle's, instead.
When we mapped out our route, I dreaded one section of the ride the most: the brief post-breakfast stint on the shoulder of US-302 from Woodsville to Groton. It's technically part of the Cross Vermont Trail, or XVT. But Meg and I have driven a car along that stretch of road before, and the wide shoulders did nothing to ease my worries about 50MPH speed limits and claustrophobic guard rails.
Fortunately, I was completely wrong.
Heading out from breakfast, the road is a smidge busy. But Meg reminds me that the XVT repeatedly diverts onto side roads and trails to keep bicycles off 302 as much as possible. We soon follow the XVT signage off the road onto a stretch of doubletrack. It leads through a quiet, peaceful, mushroom-filled chunk of forest completely separated from the road. We pass under the highway and the highway off ramps. A picnic bench presents an opportunity for a cider donut within spitting distance of the highway. Because somehow Vermont managed to make a park near a highway a pleasant place to be. Who knew?
On the subject of those donuts... we stored them overnight in our bike bags before setting out. When we opened up the bag for a pre-lunch snack, we discovered that something ate its way through the bag and into one of the donuts for an overnight bite. A mouse? A hungry late-night Nate or Meg? Who knows?
Post mouse-surprise, we spot a large, dark, long-legged animal on the trail ahead of us. It quickly noticed us and sped off, but Meg's completely convinced it was an adolescent moose. I didn't see a white flashing tail, and it definitely had long legs, so who's to say? We'll call it the first moose sighting of our New England experience.
We soon rejoin the road, where the XVT signs (or lack thereof) immediately stymie us. They aren't ideal -- we frequently hit intersections with no indication of how to stick to the XVT. But thanks to Ride With GPS and Osmand, we (roughly) figure it out. Eventually. None of the roads are busy, the weather is beautiful, and the foliage just keeps getting better. Neither of us minds getting a little lost.
Eventually, we end up on "Old Railroad Bed," a proto-rail trail through Groton State Forest. This trail has it all: lakes, brilliant autumn oranges, reds, and yellows, massive boulders, easy grades, friendly people, vintage bikes, knives, lollipops -- exactly what you'd expect on a bike ride through the Vermont woods this time of year. And we spot our first sugar bush (of many), complete with a massive network of blueish sap piping.
With time, the XVT diverts from the "Old Railroad Bed" to dirt roads, plummeting towards Marshfield. Meg still resents me for making her climb a steep uphill around here because I saw a really cool waterfall. Some things, you just can't forgive. But it was a really cool waterfall.
Our course briefly separates from the XVT for a visit to the Marshfield Village Store, where we:
Now we make our first major mistake of the journey: we diverge from the old railroad bed. All because we're too lazy to climb the hills we just descended to reach the general store. We end up riding down the shoulder of route 2, where the leaf peepers drive as fast as possible to get to their AirBnBs by nightfall. The shoulder literally crumbles under our tires, and even if most drivers are polite, I'll never get used to RVs driving by me at 50MPH.
After a few harrowing miles on 2, we reach Onion River campground. The owners are incredibly friendly, and even deliver firewood to our campsite. Special thanks to Onion River for accommodating us despite a massive group reservation consuming most of their sites. We called ahead well in advance to make sure it was OK, but it was still kind of them.
A couple of heady toppers, 2-human Gin Rummy, a campfire, and a sub later at our riverside campsite, we lay our tired, smoky, smelly bones down in the tent. Life is good.
Check out part 2 (whenever I finish writing it -- maybe I already have?) at Day 2 (Marshfield to the Lincoln Gap).