Cycling the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail to Support Seek the Peak
2021-06-14 16:01:13.000 – Marty Basch, Windswept Editor
Spring was being snarky. Outside our Woodsville, NH motel room, the temperature was a wintry 37 degrees.
The Presidential Rail Trail between Whitefield and Gorham showcases the splendor of the northern Presidentials with Mount Washington’s summit towers in view.
Not what you want to see when you’re starting a bicycle trip from the banks of the Connecticut River on the Vermont border, heading east on the 83-mile Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail (xNHAT) to Bethel, ME.
So we donned multiple layers and gloves to start our late-May two-wheel overnight adventure on a collection of bumpy unpaved rail trails, dirt roads, bike paths and bucolic back roads across northern New Hampshire’s alpine splendor.
But my wife Jan and I knew we’d remove that gear quickly as the MWOBS regional forecast was calling for highs around 70. Even better, there’d be sunshine and a push from tailwinds out of the southwest at about 10 miles per hour.
Jan was all smiles at the Pondicherry viewing platform.
Riding before 7 a.m. from the Nootka Lodge, morning dew glistened, a yellow finch checked us out and a rabbit paid us no mind as we pedaled along the Ammonoosuc Rail Trail and its namesake river.
We’ve completed the trail twice before and thought it a fitting choice for the 21st Seek the Peak, given the stunning views of the northern Presidentials from the Presidential Rail Trail, the route’s sparkling, scenic leg. The trail is loaded with rail lore and wildlife, as we’ve ridden the PRT countless times on day trips seeing moose, deer, bear, lupine and other wildflowers.
Marianne Borowski created the xNHAT trail. An avid cyclist, she pieced it together from her arsenal of day rides, and officially unveiled it with maps, cue sheets, planning tips, and website (xnhat.org) in 2019. Borowski and other cycling enthusiasts are leading day trips along the multi-use trail on July 16 and 17 as part of Seek the Peak, Mount Washington Observatory’s largest annual fundraiser supporting their work in weather and climate science.
Jan and I threw in new twists for this trip.
Instead of doing it in an unhurried three days, we’d do it in two because Jan now owns a new pedal-assisted electric bike. Tired of me waiting for her and totally ticked off at walking up hills, the bike is a great equalizer. Her full-figured companion is named Zoe.
Jan and Zoe make their way along Israel River Road with its glorious scenery.
So the girls and I were off to a quick start with me on my trusted gravel bike. Jan and Zoe carried their essentials in two panniers including a charger, while I carried my necessities in my two saddlebags. We carried no camping gear as we hoped to overnight at Hub North in Gorham after a long 57-mile day.
Given how biking, hiking, paddling and more are now part of Seek the Peak, and all outdoor recreational pursuits are weather-dependent, we wanted to support MWOBS’ weather station—on the iconic rock pile—by cycling in the glow of the mountain’s impressive heritage.
That first day took us by small White Mountain towns like Bath, with its weathered covered bridge and The Brick Store containing a sweet selection of fudge. In Lisbon, we took a breather on the banks of the Ammonoosuc by its dam, as an angler plied the cold waters. Littleton, with its pedestrian covered bridge, old mills and shops like Littleton Bike and Fitness was the perfect place to shed layers and let the sun work its magic on pale legs.
Now the spotlight shone on Jan and Zoe. Outside of Littleton, the elevation rises sharply along Route 116 to Whitefield on a huge staggered hill that Jan has walked enough. Cycling behind me, she keenly waited until the slow travel lane emerged before rapidly pedaling past me with gloating laughter and a smile wider than Mount Washington’s shadow.
At the top, she waited for me. When I reached her, that smile was still there.
We descended into Whitefield’s Kings Square and sat outside the handsome gazebo eating some PB&Js before venturing into the grocery store for dinner items that included vital miniature boxes of cabernet.
Outside Whitefield, the scenery is striking. Wheel onto Airport Road and be wowed with that majestic alpine wall. Soon enough you’re on the PRT through splendid Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge and notice the uptick in people—cyclists, walkers, birders—all bound for a wooden viewing platform with gorgeous Cherry Pond, Presidential and Pliny Range views.
This is the best part of the trip—the PRT, paved Israel River Road and dirt Valley Road (though it was freshly graded which made for some maddening soft sections). Unfortunately, young Zoe started mouthing off a bit. We finally figured it was some debris caught between her tire and fender. The odometer was also misbehaving, failing to record Jan’s total miles.
But that was behind us upon reaching Hub North (hubnorthnh.com), about a half-mile off the trail. Once a Girl Scout camp, it’s now a property with stylin’ lodge and yurt glamping convenient to mountain bikers, skiers and hikers. We unwound, plugged in Zoe’s battery and slept soundly knowing we had only 26 miles left.
The Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail coincides with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail briefly on Hogan Road in Shelburne
With morning temps in the mid-40s, the Observatory forecast told of highs in the upper 70s and similar welcome tailwinds. That charged us up for another early start that included pedaling over a couple of bridges spanning Route 16 and the Androscoggin River. The trail keeps cyclists off busy Route 2 but that means navigating dirt Hogan Road with its rough and stony sections. We knew where to take it easy and where to travel at a brisk pace, eventually breathing easier as it reached its end by paved North Road where the bike route and white-blazed Appalachian Trail intersect. The famed Georgia-to-Maine footpath crosses the Mount Washington summit. Thankfully, the xNHAT does not.
Marty crosses a bridge in Bethel, ME during the final stretch to the banks of the Androscoggin River in Davis Park.
North Road is a paved road paradise, a shaded roller coaster ride. Jan easily rode ahead, enjoying the forest and field landscape, which leads past under-the-radar hiking trails maintained by the Shelburne Trails Club, and into Maine with its Mahoosuc Land Trust trailheads, one with a radiant flower garden.
Then at a Bethel red fire hydrant, we turned onto a bike path for the final glorious mile to Davis Park along the banks of the Androscoggin.
When I got there, Jan was still beaming.
Marty Basch, Windswept Editor
Marty Basch and his wife Jan are Observatory members, donors and volunteers. Together, they’ve ridden the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Canada to Mexico and done a couple of silly spring skiing rides on a tandem pulling a cart with their alpine descending devices. Marty has completed several solo bike tours including cycling from Maine to Alaska, Maine to Georgia, New Brunswick, Canada to Newfoundland and Labrador, and riding near and above the Arctic Circle in Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. An Explorers Club member, he’ll be leading a leisurely hour-long spin at Great Glen Trails during Seek the Peak on July 17. Jan and Marty can’t thank those enough who have donated to their 2021 Seek the Peak adventure along the xNHAT. They look forward to riding the trail together for a fourth time.
Marty Basch, Windswept Editor