Day 70: Manchester VT to Georges Mills, NH

We woke up to a hard frost that did not thaw until after 9am. Riding a bicycle in late October can be just as pleasant as riding one in June, but you only get a few hours a day to enjoy yourself. Tania left to go to work and we set off just before 10 am with 70 miles and the Green Mountains in front of us. We knew the sun would set at 6pm sharp. We would spend the day on Route 11 in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Maybe the months of riding had toughened us, or maybe we had scared ourselves with too much advance information, but the Green Mountains weren’t nearly as challenging as we expected them to be. We climbed for about five miles and the road leveled out and we were soon coasting and climbing, the hills small and manageable. We stopped in Londonderry to talk to John Wright of Taylor Farm (see separate post), then pressed on.

We were hungry by the time we reached the next town, Chester. The big disappointment of the day came when a bakery that we were counting on had closed. In the off-season in tourist areas, people often close on a whim. Just down the road was an old building with an interesting-looking café and two young women behind the counter. We ordered two lunch specials and two hot drinks, sat in two mismatched but interesting chairs, listened to pleasant music featuring a woman singing in a foreign tongue, and wandered around the racks of bulk nuts, vitamin supplements, and stones with words like “imagine” carved into them. Jim got into a conversation with one of the woman, who said that she was from South America, her husband was a shaman, and that every year they went to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to encourage Native Americans to re-connect their ancient memories with the legends of South American tribes, because they were all the same thousands of years ago. Then we paid up: $28.

“That was a fantastic experience,” said Jim, with no trace of irony. “We’ve been Vermonted.” Earlier he had wondered aloud how all these people made a living. The Moon Dog Café gave us our answer. They sell $14 sandwiches to people like us.

We rode over a ridge and down into Springfield, a congested mill town that fortunately had bike lanes and a bike path. Then we crossed the Connecticut River and entered New Hampshire, and the next thirty miles were a slog along a busy highway and a really long commercial strip that ran from well south of Claremont to well beyond Newport. Fortunately route 11 had a wide shoulder, so we never were in danger, but the noise and anxiety of heavy traffic nearby took their toll. Clouds were thickening and the light was failing when we started up the west shore of Lake Sunapee. Sara had found us a two-bedroom cabin with a kitchen, so we ate in, watched satellite TV, and plotted the last two days of the ride. Rain was predicted.

Day 71: Georges Mills to Rochester, NH

Our cabin for the night was on Little Sunapee Lake, and we woke up on Tuesday, October 21st to a view of perfectly calm water. The morning weather forecast said the rain wouldn’t start until around nightfall, so we set off at 9am under mostly sunny skies. It turned out to be a beautiful day for a ride – slightly warmer than the last few days, with brilliant sunshine poking through and fall scenery that was still spectacular.

Unfortunately for us, New Hampshire is a densely populated state. A lot of our ride on Tuesday was along busy highways, We were relatively safe because the state has put wide shoulders along most of its roads, but it’s strictly business when you’re riding in highway traffic. I didn’t take many pictures. We rode through New London, Andover, and Tilton, which had a statue in the middle of the highway that was just too weirdly beautiful to ignore. Then we went on to Franklin, where we got off Route 11 and the traffic fell away.

We started toward Rochester on state route 140 and went through Belmont. Jim explored the public library building, and reported that it was really old and that the door made a scary squeaking sound when you opened it, but that the two women inside were very friendly and the bathroom was clean. We ate lunch at the town’s one diner – it was a new place, and they didn’t know if they could make a grilled cheese sandwich. “How can you not know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich?”, asked Jim.

Most of the townships we rode through had welcome signs that gave their founding dates, and most of them were settled well before the Revolutionary War. We rode past the Gilmanton Town Pound, a corral of huge old stones that was used in the early days to safeguard cattle that had wandered off their owner’s property. I hope they still use it sometimes.

A marker told us that the rural road we were following was the “Old Province Road,” one of the first highways in New Hampshire. It was authorized in 1765 to supply northern settlements from the tidewater port of Durham. Many of the houses along the road were from the 18th or early 19th century, and the scenery was probably the same for us as it had been for travelers 200 years ago. We were finishing our ride down the hills toward the coast. At one point we crested a small rise and thirty miles of plains lay in front of us. We probably could have seen the ocean if the clouds hadn’t gotten in the way.

It might have been a 240-year-old highway, but it was also very much in the here and now. New Hampshire was a battleground state in the 2008 Presidential election, and we saw more signs for McCain than for Obama in rural New Hampshire. But the closer we got to the coast, the better Obama showed. More impressive was the profusion of lawn signs for local offices. They really like electing people up here, and they really like lawn signs. Or maybe it’s just that the election was just 13 days away.

We rode through Rochester as the first sprinkles of rain started. We were safe in the motel Sara had found for us by the time the weather got yucky. It was the second 70-mile day in a row and we were beyond exhausted, so we ordered a pizza and zoned out on TV. We noted tomorrow’s forecast: much colder, with a strong north wind. Yet we only had 25 more miles until the end of the trip. At that point, I was so eager to be finished that I would have done it naked.