Monday, July 9, 2012

Two days in New Hampshire's White Mountains

New Hampshire is less than 40 miles away from our home in Manchester, Vermont, so we often cross the Connecticut River which marks the border between the two states on our BMW F800GS. This past weekend we met Mike's brother Wayne, and his wife Colleen who both ride BMWs, in North Conway, NH. Vermont and New Hampshire may once have been part of the New Hampshire Grants before the Revolutionary War, but there are many differences today in the landscape and the riding.

Mike and I take the scenic route whenever possible, but the threat of rain and thunderstorms sent us onto the 91 interstate for about 30 fast and windy miles before we crossed the Connecticut River in Fairlee and rode through beautiful Orford, NH. We headed east onto Route 112, which in Lincoln becomes the 34.5 mile Kancamagus scenic byway. 

The "Kank" winds through the 800,000 acre White Mountain National Forest with the motto 'Land of Many Uses'. It seemed like there was a scenic overlook, camp ground, hiking trail, or spot to access one of the rock and boulder-filled streams that ran along the highway at least every mile. We saw cars with kayaks and canoes loaded on top, pick-up trucks pulling boats and campers, people on bicycles, hikers - and lots of motorcycles. What we didn't see were hotels, motels, touristy stores, restaurants, gas stations, or even an ice cream stand. The Kank is all about the scenery, mountains, and forests without any modern trappings.

I caught glimpses of the mountains through the dense pine forests as we rode along the highway, but to truly enjoy the views we needed to pull over and stop at a scenic overlook. The Kank's eastern end is at the junction of route 16, and then it was just a few miles to traffic-snarled, family vacation fun-packed North Conway. We live in a mountain tourist town, but Manchester is a quiet backwater compared to North Conway. We stayed at a Comfort Inn that also boasted a large mini-golf course and indoor pool. The room was amazingly quiet considering the printed warning in our room that encouraged parents to prevent their children from using the hallways as a playground, a strict 10pm quiet time, and patience at the complementary breakfast which typically draws large crowds. We walked 1/2 mile to a local steakhouse for dinner, and managed to meet the 10pm curfew without any problems. We planned a 9am start in the morning for an all-day circular ride that would take us past the high points - visually and elevation-wise - in the heart of the White Mountains.

leaving North Conway 

We headed toward Mt. Washington, at 6,288' the highest point in the White Mountain Presidential Range as well as New England. The tallest mountain is named for the first president, the second tallest for the second president, etc. We skipped riding up the auto road to the top of Mt. Washington because the windchill at the summit was 30 degrees, with winds blasting between 30 and 40 mph. Not my type of motorcycle weather!

We continued on Route 16 along the Androscoggin River with views of mountains, trees, an occasional kayak or raft; but very few cars or motorcycles. It's the height of tourist season, right after the 4th of July, but once we left the most popular tourist areas we had the road to ourselves.

Androscoggin River

We continued on Route 26 heading west, riding through Dixville Notch which is the site of the magnificent The Balsalms Grand Resort. It looks like the castles we saw next to lakes in the Italian Alps, and seemed completely out of place in the North Country, where ATVs, signs warning about moose crossing the road, and hikers are abundant
The Balsalms
Dixville Notch

My stomach growling, I was beginning to think lunch was out of the question since we rarely saw even a gas station, much less a restaurant. We were thrilled to find the North Country Restaurant in Groveton, NH at the intersection of Route 16 and Route 3. This was family dining at it's best:  Mike ate every bit of a hot turkey sandwich with homemade mashed potatoes and gravy before he dove into a large slice of lemon meringue pie with a good three inches of fluffy meringue floating above the lemon filling.

Stuffed and happy, we stayed on Route 3 heading for Franconia Notch and the site of the famous Old Man of the Mountain. The granite rock face on Cannon Mountain that is the inspiration for the profile seen throughout New Hampshire actually fell off the mountain in 2003. Even without the famous face in the rocks, it's a beautiful area with hiking and waterfalls.

the Old Man of the Mountain was at the top of the granite in the background

NH state road sign with the Old Man's profile

We had one last stretch of road to take us back to North Conway:  the Kank. We took a detour over Bear Notch Road, closed to everything except snowmobiles and cross-country skiers in the winter, but fun for motorcycles in the summer.

We rode about 180 miles over a seven hour period that gave us views of the highest mountain in New England, a majestic hotel, and tiny towns in the middle of a forested wilderness. Exactly what we were looking for!

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