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.

Day 72: Rochester to Wells Beach, ME

The rain tapered off and left behind a stiff north wind. Added to an air temperature in the 40s, it meant that our last day was also one of our coldest. We left around 11am after my old friend Jon Crispin, a professional photographer, showed up to record the festivities. We had 25 miles to go before the end of the trail at Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells Beach, Maine.

Traffic remained heavy but we were sheltered from the wind, and before too long we crossed the state line and turned east on state route 9. The road was flat and before long the buildings thinned out. We rode thorugh a coastal deciduous forest that was being stripped of its leaves in the raw wind. We reached the town of Wells and turned north on US Route 1, picking our way through the cars and broken asphalt and closed fish-fry restaurants until we reached the entrance to the Reserve. It is a beautiful spot, a preserved farm complex on 2,200 acres, and we spent an hour talking with scientists and the President of the Board about its dual mission of research and education (see separate post).

About 2:30 pm we threaded our way down Drakes Island Road to the Preserve’s beach, where we ceremonially dipped our tires in the water. We also unveiled the hat of Al Craig, in whose memory Jim and Sara made the trip, for the last time. Sara brought some bubbly and we had a toast, but it was too cold to stay long. So we went to a nearby restaurant and said our goodbyes over tasty bowls of real clam chowder. Then it was time to disband.

The trip ended well. We finished in good shape physically, and Jim and I still like each other enough to plan more rides together. Not until it warms up, though. The three of us finished up so tired, and with so many unprocessed memories and emotions, that we all felt stunned. In the weeks after the trip ended, some of those memories came bubbling back up in my mind up at odd moments. It made me think of a big pot of soup simmering on the back burner, its flavor changing slowly over time. This trip will be nourishing us for a long, long time.