Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Mountains or the Shore? Let's Do Both!

Time for a recap of our New England bike route.  As you can see from the map, we came up the west side of Vermont, then cut across the state to Lake Willoughby.  After our wonderful week there, described in our last post, it was time to make for the shore.  We came through this way in 1995 and explored many of the classic passes of northern New England:  Smuggler's Notch, Kinsman's Notch, the Kankamagus Highway, Crawford Notch and Evans Notch.  Our tandem friends Janet and Steve had already explored the first of these, and decided to do Kinsman's and "The Kank" on the way to Maine.  We opted to take a different route through a part of northern New Hampshire we hadn't seen, allowing us to revisit Evans Notch, our favorite.  Our separate routes reconverged in Fryeburg Maine.
Our route was less dramatic, but not without its charm.  The roads were typically narrow and a bit beat-up from hard winters in Vermont, and better in New Hampshire where this sign made us hopeful.  We could have upped the odds of seeing a moose by taking a $50 Moose Viewing Trip (advertised as having a 97% success rate), but saved the money and no moose came along to reward us for our parsimoniousness.  We did however stumble into starkly beautiful Stark, NH.  It is named for Revolutionary General John Stark, but the name fit the architecture of its little library, church, covered bridge and old hotel, and also the way of life 150 years ago, when the gravestones (complete with foot markers showing the length of the coffins) were set up for Phoebe, who died at the age of 21, and her little Andrew, who followed his mother 8 days later at the age of 1 1/2.

These New Englanders are renowned for their practicality and frugality.  Why waste a perfectly good roof on a covered bridge, only covering the bridge?  With the harsh winters they get up here, we're sure it makes perfectly good sense to put the town's mailboxes under that roof as well.
As noted above, we took this route to enjoy Evans Notch a second time.  Unlike its famous neighbors Franconia, Crawford and Pinkham Notches, routes that were heavily travelled even before Henry Ford started tinkering with gasoline engines, Evans Notch was unexplored until the CCC built a road through here in the '30s.  It hasn't changed in 80 years.  It is so quiet, only 2 cars passed us in the 15 miles up and over the main part of the pass!  It didn't have the bright yellows with touches of red and orange that adorned the forest 15 years ago when we were here in late September, but it was beautiful nonetheless.
However what has changed, we're sad to report, is our own engines.  15 years ago we started 15 miles further from the pass, and we have no recollection of walking any part of the climb.  While we did have maybe 6-8 pounds less baggage on that trip, that doesn't completely explain our decision to walk about 1/2 mile of the steepest part of the climb this time around.  We'll chalk it up to "stretching our legs" and say it was good for us, a healthy decision, OK? 

Our plans to meet up with Steve and Janet worked just fine, and we enjoyed a nice rest day in Fryeburg in typical fashion, by being active doing something different than cycling.  Once again it was canoeing, this time on the Saco River.  We came through this area two years ago and had planned to do two days of canoeing.  Surprise, 2007 had the second-wettest July in their history, and the river was so high it was closed to canoeing as too dangerous.  This time it was just right.  We're hoping to get a photo of us and our canoe from Steve and Janet to put in here once they get things sorted out -- alas they're working people and are already back at their jobs in Seattle! -- but for now we'll settle for a photo we took of them the next day, joining us for the ride south to southern Maine past some of the lakes and lakeside cabins (think On Golden Pond, for example) that the area is famous for.

At South Berwick, Maine we said our farewells and headed in to Portsmouth NH, as Steve and Janet had plans to meet up with their daughter and future son-in-law the next day for a 3-day family bike ride to Boston.  We all had been nervously following the news of Hurricane Earl, but it turned out to be a Perfect Storm -- as in perfectly well-behaved!  It stayed well offshore so the winds never got above 25 mph, it was far enough away that the rain wasn't all that heavy, and -- best of all -- it came through between midnight and 4 am so we woke up to a beautiful day.  We spent an extra day in Portsmouth to wander through the old streets admiring the well-kept and ancient homes there -- these first two photos are of houses built in the the 1700s through early 1800's.

We also wandered past the Moffatt-Ladd House, where William Whipple lived in the 1770's and planted a tree in the side yard to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence when he arrived back from being one of the signers in Philadelphia.  And, of course, we couldn't help exploring an old cemetary or two.

Portsmouth is on the south side of the Piscataqua River, and we stopped to admire the view across the river to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which is actually in Kittery, Maine.  We were walking back from the river when Louise caught a glimpse of a familiar tandem bike gliding by.  We yelled but Steve and Janet didn't notice us as they were a block away by this time, but a quick cell phone call "caught" them a few blocks away and we had time for a quick hello to Cari and Jack, whom we had not seen in three years, and yet another good-bye to Steve and Janet.

Since Portsmouth is a few miles back from the open ocean, it wasn't until the next day that we got our first glimpse of the Atlantic, complete with the Isle of Shoals islands in the distance, and an attractive salt marsh across the road behind the barrier beach the road took. 

The extended Sisson family had continued on to Hampton NH for the night while we stayed in Portsmouth, but that next day we were riding through Newburyport, Mass. when who do we see waiting at a traffic light to our left but Steve, Janet, Cari and Jack!  Since we were all headed to the Clam Box Restaurant in Ipswich, we rode together for a few miles and enjoyed one last lunch together before our third good-bye, which turned out to be the final one.  By the way, do you think we ordered enough fried clams?

After one more night in Beverly MA we reached Salem, home of course of the infamous witch trials, of the House of the Seven Gables (pictured here), and of the Salem-to-Boston Ferry.  We were now ready to begin the watery phase of our trip -- ten ferry rides over the next fourteen days, bringing us to Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and other places we'll tell you about in our next blog entry.  We'll end with a few images from the first two rides, both on fast ferries.  The first was a short hop to Boston, with views of the rocky shore and a distant Boston across some of the islands in Boston Harbor before the close-in view of Beantown from the water, with a 19th-century fort on the left for added color:

Then, after a short ride along the downtown waterfront from Long Wharf to the World Trade Center, we boarded our second catamaran fast ferry for an only slightly longer ride out to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod.  We'll close with this view of the P'town harbor dominated by the Pilgrim Tower erected in 1910 to commemorate the first landing of the Pilgrims there -- Plymouth was where they headed a few months later for its more abundant water, timber and arable land.  Cape Cod, here we come!

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