Nova Scotia – Pt 2 (2011)

Map Link (southbound)

Friday

Back to the USA. We had no real plans for the rest of the trip. We knew that we could probably be home Saturday night if we wanted to, but I didn’t want to. It’d been so long since I’ve been able to get out on a “real” ride that I felt that I should hold out as long as possible on this one. I knew that Dan felt otherwise and would just as soon get home on Saturday, but we would see how each day went and go from there.

We meandered our way to and through Moncton and then were tricked by the GPS from there to Fredericton. We thought that the route it had for us was more back roads, but instead it was the TCH for miles and miles. Boring beyond words, but at least it was fast. We debated another ferry crossing, but instead of chancing it (we still had no cash) Dan took us on a merry river road near Coytown, near the eastern outskirts of Fredericton. The river was running high but it didn’t look like it had flooded recently; nothing like what we’d seen in Vermont, New Hampshire and even our own state of New Jersey. Green, lush pasture on one side and the fat, slow St Johns River on the other kept us company for miles. We wormed our way through Fredericton itself, a pleasant and bustling town, before shooting south towards McAdams.

We took Route 3 to Route 4 and from there crossed into St Croix. It was easily one of the most disappointing roads I’d been on all week. Sure, I expect the TCH to be boring as all get-out, but this road, on the map, looked like it could be fun! But it wasn’t. It was straight. The long, rolling hills made sure to give you a view of the straight road as it stretched out miles in front of you. The few small towns that it passed through were charming enough, but there were few of them and they were blips on the mileage clock. The only two things of note were the Briggs & Little Woolen Mills Ltd outlet store we passed (and I should have stopped at) and the McAdam Railway Station.

The border crossing was almost as uneventful as the one the previous week. I am reminded of the story my Dad told me recently: he and my mom were coming back from a week in Canada and he complained to me how surly the Canadian border guards were. They grunted commands, wouldn’t respond to friendly conversation and were generally overbearing. I then told my dad that since he was coming back into the States, those were the American border guards. Yep, welcome home. Our border guard wasn’t so bad, but he did ask us to remove our helmets, get off the bikes and rifled through my cases a little bit. Harrumph. But it wasn’t long before we were on our way through Maine, home of even longer and straighter roads than southern New Brunswick.

We meandered through a lot of backwoods Maine. There wasn’t a lot to see. Quite a few pine trees, some small, poor-looking villages, a couple of moose caution signs (but no moose) and well… yeah, that was about it. We eventually found a place to camp near Skowhegan, NH. The GPS and signs promised us the “Over Yonder” campground but when we pulled up we found a Jellystone campground. The man in charge informed us that it had recently been taken over (not too recently though, as they already had the cheesy Yogi Bear statue at the entrance). The price was the cheapest we’d found yet and once we got to the site we realized why: it was probably the least appealing campground we’d been to on the entire trip. We shunned the wooden shelter on our site and set up our tent under the pine trees, in one of the few spaces not taken over by tree roots. Dan gave up on the day and crawled into the tent to sleep, but I walked around the campground and read for a bit before joining him. I was loathing the idea of going into the tent too early, as I found it unbearably uncomfortable after only a few hours. It only got worse throughout the trip; I apparently need a thicker sleeping mat.

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Riding north of Frederickton, NB along the St John River

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Barn new Frederickton, NB

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Beautiful train station at McAdams, New Brunswick

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More straight roads in New Brunswick

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Crossing the border at St Croix, New Brunswick

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Maine roads look nice

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Really straight roads – that white mark on the far hill is the road

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Dirt roads!

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The Jellystone Campground in Skowhegan, ME. It was not impressive at all

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Mushroom at our campsite – it was quite large

Saturday

Today was just about it. We could run straight home and be in our own bed tonight (a tempting thought, to be sure) or meander our way back and spend one more night on the road (tempting, but in a different way). We started by meandering.

We followed Hwy 2 west across the rest of Maine, enjoying the joke of “riding through Mexico” (Maine), which was a surprisingly lively-looking town. In fact, most of the towns we passed through that morning were lively and for the most part, tidy and well-kept. This was even more evident in New Hampshire where it looked like every building we passed was holding the key to prosperity. We crossed into New Hampshire on the Molly Stark Scenic Byway that edged the northern border of the White Mountain National Forest. The road was fast and smooth and had some interesting tree-covered mountains along it. Before long we entered the town of Gorham and Dan pulled into a parking lot. He asked if wanted to see Mt Washington. “Yes, very much”, I replied. It had been one of those “it would be nice to see this on our trip” items, but since I wasn’t sure exactly where it was in relation to where we were, I hadn’t thought too much about it. Dan consulted his GPS – much to our surprise, it was less than 10 miles away! We backtracked through town and headed south on White Mountain Rd (#16) until we saw the signs for the “Mt Washington Auto Road”. I had been curious about this road since we had moved to the East Coast. Now I was finally going to be able to experience it.

The cost seemed excessive: $15 for each motorcycle for the 8 mile ride to the top. Oh well – we were here, the mountain was here and it looked to be a good day for it. The blackboard at the entrance advertised 47mph winds, 57F degrees and views of “100 miles”. I don’t think a better day existed.

A white minivan from Ontario was the only thing in front of us and it held us to the strict “20mph” speed limit. I took this time to check out the trees, rocks, road edges… 20mph is really, really slow, especially on the 1150. Eventually the trees got smaller and thinner. I could see the mountains around us. In fact, I could see mountains in about 3 states by the time we got to the top. It really was a clear day. The road was usually just wide enough for two vehicles to pass and it was fun to watch the nervous drivers do “the dance” as they negotiated the narrow road past each other.

One thing I was really looking forward to was where the pavement ended and the dirt began. I’d heard many stories of the “narrow dirt road with no guard rails and a drop of hundreds of feet”. It turned out that the dirt section was only 1 mile long and was in better condition than most paved roads I’ve been on. Sure, it got pretty narrow at some points (more dancing from the vehicles in front of us) but nothing death-defying. But then again, I’m not afraid of heights and I was on a (relatively) skinny motorcycle and the conditions were perfect.

Speaking of vehicles in front of us, by now we’d picked up a hugely annoying and slow “fart machine” that held up even the minivan from Ontario. All I could hear was the exhaust coming back to us as the rider cautiously worked his way around each bend in the road. Fortunately we were near the top so I didn’t have to listen to him (or crawl behind him) for too long.

Now we were at the top, along with a hundred or so of our closest friends. Motorcycles of all kinds were parked in the gravel lots and cars crammed in where they could. I checked my watch: it had taken us about 20 or minutes to work our way up the 8 miles to the top. Travis Pastrana, a famous rally car driver, had recently broken the speed record of the Mt Washington Hillclimb. His time? 6 minutes, 20 seconds. But he didn’t have a minivan in front of him. To compare, the very first race up the mountain was won in 1904 with a time of 24 minutes, 37 seconds. I’m going to guess that vehicle and road conditions have improved greatly since then.

We left our bikes behind and climbed the stairs to the observatory and museum at the top, along with the rest of the sightseers. The views were indeed incredible (considering that there were no volcanoes to break up the horizon) and every direction I looked was limited only by the distant haze of the atmosphere itself. The wind was steady but not too strong. It certainly was nothing near the highest winds ever observed by man, right there at the top, of 237mph. And the Tip Top Hotel was nicely restored and open to walk through, giving one a glimpse of life from the 1800’s when it was built.

There is only so much to see at the top, even on a day like today, and we headed back down the hill, once again caught behind a frightened driver who, much to my surprise and relief, let us pass as soon as it was safe. A couple of other cars – as well as a couple of bikes – also let us pass and the trip down went much, much quicker than the one up.

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Yard/Tag/Garage sales – they were everywhere!

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Mexico, Maine. A surprisingly prosperous-looking place

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Riding on the Molly Stark Scenic Byway

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Many moose signs, but nary a moose

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Some people have it all worked out

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The Mt Washington Auto Road

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The top, from the bottom

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Here we go!

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Up some more!

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I’ve been on paved roads in rougher condition

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Up, up, up!

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Nope. No guardrails at all

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Still no guardrails

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The Tip Top House – restored original hotel from 1853

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View to the north

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View to the southeast

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Informative sign (and Dan)

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My BMW had plenty of admirers when we got back

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Heading back down the auto road

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Lower portion of the road is visible

Set up in the field at the bottom of the mountain was a bunch of canvas tents, the kind often used for Civil War re-enactments. Dan and I parked the bikes and wandered over to check them out. It turns out that they were Revolutionary War re-enactors and were just as passionate about their era as the Civil War guys. We talked to one man who knew more than anyone ought to know about Hudson Bay blankets and then were fed homemade bread by a couple of women standing near their tent. Everyone was friendly and just wanted to talk about their “hobby”. I could understand, even if I couldn’t focus for as long as they wanted to talk.

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Third time’s the charm. He had two misfires before this one

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Coming back from the shooting range

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The blanket man instructs two youngsters

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Brass ladies

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Kids will always be kids

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View of Revolutionary encampment

Dan and I eventually pulled ourselves away from the camp and the mountain and headed south. We fell in with a loose line of traffic that kept us company for as long as we stayed on the main scenic roads. At this point it was becoming more difficult to find the back roads without getting thrown on the interstate. I let Dan lead us for a while, since he was being fickle about whether or not to stop. So off we went, around the north side of Lake Winnipesaukee, around Concord (a very white-painted town that looked expensive) and then through some pastures and woodlands. Dan took a lot of turns down a lot of tiny roads and it was fun to wonder just where he was going. I had originally put “Keene, NH” into my GPS but the roads Dan was picking out conflicted with what I had in front of me. At one stop I asked him “Where are you taking us?” He smiled and said “Stick with me, baby; I’ll take you nowhere.”

We eventually did end up in Keene and immediately found a delightful and tasty Mexican restaurant called Pedraza’s. We sat outside and watched the college kids walk by while we munched on chips and salsa, and then two of the largest portions of food I’d seen in a long time were brought to our table. I had a massive basic burrito and it was fantastic, while Dan had a seafood meal full of shrimp and vegetables. We were well sated by the time we left.

Dan’s GPS promised us a campground on the southern end of town, but mine didn’t. We gave it a try but found that the property had been developed and there would be no camping at that location. I’m thinking that we need to update the 5-year old information on his GPS. We then focused on my GPS which promised us a lakeside campsite by Lake Swanzey, just six easy miles from town. I led the way, eventually wandering up a quiet residential street. Odd, I thought, but not totally unheard of. Then we came to a small cul-de-sac where the only outlet was marked with an official sign that read “Class 6 Road. No maintenance. Proceed at your own risk.” It was a muddy track but it looked possible. The GPS promised us that it would only be .7 miles long so we thought we’d give it a go. Dan was gracious enough to allow me to go first and I took off down the track. Puddles from recent rains filled in depressions that stretched from one side to the other. Trees towered on both sides, lending a gloomy visage to the scene. My 1150 bounced over ruts and rocks and I did my best to avoid the puddles, as the mud was very slippery. There was no avoiding one particular puddle and the rear of the bike fishtailed wildly as I pulled my way out the other side. I thought for sure I was going down but managed to save it. I rode a little further ahead before glancing behind me. Dan was aiming for the other side of the puddle I’d just taken, hit it and fishtailed a little bit before plowing on. By the time we were 2 tenths of a mile in I stopped dead in my tracks. There was no way I could or would continue: the mud had been churned up to probably a depth of 12”. The road in front of us could barely be considered a road. The culprit was sitting nearby: a tractor-type machine with tires 4’ tall and wrapped in heavy chains. Some logging activity had been taking place and the machinery was not kind to the road were on. It was the end of a long day, the sun was going down and – most of all – we didn’t have to do it.

We backtracked through the puddles and down the neighborhood streets. It wasn’t a very long detour and pretty soon we were at the lakefront campground the GPS had promised us. The site we ended up with was nice, but no where near the lake. Oh well, it was quiet and we’d be sleeping soon anyway. We took a walk around and checked out the campers who must live there most of the year. Once again, cords of firewood were stacked up, Christmas lights hung merrily from the campers and signs hung from the trees. These people took their camping seriously.

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New Hampshire backroads

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New Hampshire roads

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Camping at Swanzey Lake

Sunday

Home. Today would be a short day: back roads over to New York and then bomb down I-87 to home. The sky was bright above us as we followed Rt 9 west to Brattleboro, VT where I was charmed by the brick buildings, waterways and clean streets. From there we saw little else but evidence of the horrendous floods that had been through the area only weeks before. The entire town of Wilmington had been damaged, with businesses spreading their entire belongings out in the sunshine in an attempt at salvage. The road itself showed the scars of recent repair, with many rebuilt washouts filled in and stretches of gravel still in place. The DOT was working hard to get things back to normal. It was amazing to see the remaining effects of the flooding, knowing full well that the local’s lives would take even longer to recover.

We made our final fuel stop in Bennington, VT before hopping onto the interstate. It would be a quick two hours home – except for the traffic. I’d been hoping that by crossing into New Jersey this early in the day that we’d miss most of the traffic, but the DOT sign had alerted us that there was an accident ahead and all lanes were closed. Fortunately, the accident site was beyond our exit and we only had to deal with a general slow down for a few miles. It was a fast trip to our driveway and Dan grinned as he sat on his bike, waiting for me to open the garage door for him. Welcome home!

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I figured that I should get at least one covered bridge photo. We passed at least three of them that day

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Vermont road damage

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Remains of a swollen river

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View from Hogback Ridge in Vermont

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Dan, still waiting patiently for me

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Yay. Traffic on I-87 south

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All traffic should look this good

Return to Part 1

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