Day 2 | White Mountains Bike Tour
Waking up without an alarm is always the best part about camping. Unfortunately, I forgot that I wasn’t on a camping trip and that I still had almost 90 miles left to ride on the bike tour. Ahead of us, was still a long climb up to Pinkham Notch where we’d try to hike up to Mount Washington, a hike people usually take their entire day to complete. But we didn’t have an entire day to dedicate to the hike, but instead it was only going to be a small part of a very long day. Not to mention, all the gear that we left to dry overnight overnight was still just as wet as it was the night before because air was so damp. And wet clothes and wet gear meant everything was going to heavier and be super uncomfortable to wear. But hey, at least it wasn’t raining…yet.
To raise the morning morale, as we threw our wet riding gear back on, I decided to fire up my MSR camp stove and whip up a pot of beef flavored rice. I hoped something as simple as warm rice would make a make that morning a little better. But just as the water started to boil, the rain decided to say ‘Good Morning’ as well. We quickly scrambled under a pavilion in the center of the campground where we feverishly stuffed all our gear onto the bikes in hopes to keep it as dry as possible. I then ran back out to our campsite to get the rice and finish cooking it. The meal was no 5-star restaurant, but it was exactly what I needed to get my body warm again. Not to mention a great change of pace from the constant cycle of granola bar consumption I was on to intake calories.
Once we ate every last piece of rice, we clipped our helmets on, and headed back out into the rain. It was a slow roll back onto the road, getting the body familiar with riding again. Any thought of an easy warmup for the legs was quickly dashed by the climb we ran into immediately outside of the campground. We hadn’t noticed it on the ride in because of the darkness, and we weren’t sure how long the climb was going to be since a thick layer of fog rolled in that morning. The visibility was reduced to a mere 100 feet. At that point, I wasn’t sure what I was more worried about, the endless climb or a car not seeing me through the fog as it drove around a corner. I can tell you now, it was definitely the climb. There is nothing worse than riding your bike uphill and not knowing how much longer you have to push it for.
The steepness of the 9% pitch of the road started to get to me. I had to zig-zagged back and forth across the empty road in any hopes to find a less steep line up the hill. And at one point, I didn’t have enough speed to keep the bike upright as I tried to turn it back across the road and went down, hard. Falling down on your bike is already an embarrassing scenario, but now imagine a bike that weighs three times your normal bike falling onto you as well. I gashed my calf up on my chain ring, but luckily I think my pride took the brunt of the fall. Half an hour later, we crested that morning’s climb over the pass and made an epic descent from the top. We cruised downhill along the Saco River for the next 10 miles. Realizing now, that I go on rides after work that only last 10 miles makes me appreciate the scale of this bike tour. The rain bounced off the golden leaves that covered us and onto our helmets. The water from Eddie’s rear tire directly pelted my glasses, rendering them both useful and useless at the same time. I couldn’t see for sh!t out of them, but without them I would’ve been getting sprayed right in the eyes. It was a lose-lose.
At mile 84, we finally reached Highway 2 that runs parallel to the Androscoggin River on the northern border of the National Forest. Passing across the state line back into New Hampshire, we pedaled through the rain and down the relatively flat highway until we reached the town of Gorham (mile 95). But of course New Hampshire never makes things easy. Just outside of town, a set of railroad tracks diagonally cross the road. Normally, an easy obstacle to navigate; but after days of riding, wet conditions, and a loaded bike that’s hard to maneuver, all bets were off. I crossed the tracks first, doing by best to hit them perpendicular to my tire, with Eddie in tow. As I looked back to see if he made it, I heard a loud grunt as I watched his bike tire turn parallel to the track and get caught in the train track, sending Eddie hard to the pavement. All the traffic in the road immediately stopped. All eyes were on Eddie, who was laying on the train tracks with his bike on top of him. Eddie gave the thumbs up and righted himself, and the bike. With a sigh of relief, all the cars on released their brakes and continued about their business. Luckily only minor road rash was the result, and like my fall earlier that morning, more damage was done to his pride. With no time to dwell, we pedaled the rest of the way, safely, into town.
Even though it was only a couple of hours after we started our ride, we had to stop and eat whenever we could to replace the nutrients that granola bars and candy lacked. So we raided the shelves of a convenience store for all it was worth to pack in the calories. Obviously not literally, but it felt like it. I bought a pack of donuts, a container of Greek Yogurt, family sized Swedish Fish, a large bottle of Powerade, and a few peanut butter cracker packages. Over 1,000 calories were demolished out front of the store window in only 10 minutes. Talk about a cycling hunger. The town of Gorham is at the intersection between Highway 2 and route 16 which cuts up the valley to the base of Mount Washington which laid 20 miles, and 1300ft of vertical gain, ahead of us. And like every mile before, we clicked in, and started to pedal.
To our surprise, the sun began to peak its head out of the clouds as we climbed past the Dolly Copp Campground. But with that glorious, warm sun, came more and more wind. We not only had a steep incline to manage, but a gusting +30 mph headwinds as well. Right around mile 103, near the entrance to the Mt. Washington Autoroad, the sun really began to shine and refracted a magnificent rainbow on the mountainside. The trees had so much water on them from all the rain, which allowed the side of the mountain to light up with every color of the spectrum. A sight I will remember for the rest of my life. Too bad my water-logged camera bag left my lens fogged up, resulting in some poor-quality photos.
With the sun still out, we passed by Wildcat Ski Resort on our left who’s trees still had all their leaves on them. Showing us a perfect canvas of fall foliage. The deep reds and orange glistened in the sun. The constant view of the changing leaves made every climb significantly more manageable. As we crested Pinkham Notch, past the Visitor Center parking lot, we looked over at each other to discuss the likelihood of us actually reaching the top of Mount Washington like we had planned. With little deliberation, realized that there was no way we could climb to the summit in the current conditions safely and in a timely manner. The clouds were so low on the mountain that you couldn’t even see the base of Tuckerman’s Ravine, let alone its summit. It would’ve taken us hours longer than expected, and neither of us wanted to be biking into the darkness of a New Hampshire night again. So we didn’t stop, and kept our momentum headed toward down towards the town of Jackson.
Like I’ve said before, what goes up, must come down. And down we flew from Pinkham Notch for another 10 miles. This switchbacking stretch of road has some of the most scenic views in New England. High above the valley, you can see so much of the White Mountains on a clear day. And I’d been dreaming about riding it since my first trip to Mt. Washington in 2014. It was a dream come true;except, in my dream there was no rain, which had, of course, come back on our descent. But flying down those turns, passing by people parked on the shoulder to take a picture of the trees was exhilarating. I would love to know how many pictures Eddie and I are in the background of from all the leaf-peepers we saw.
Passing through the town of Jackson, we looked up places to eat, and settled on the packed joint called Red Fox Bar & Grille at mile 115. Eddie’s stomach was still on the fritz, so I was the only one who ordered a beer. One juice hamburger later, and a ton of awkward stares at our outfits from the other patrons, we were back on the bikes. But for once, the weather report was forecasting no rain, and the clouds were agreeing with it. Allowing us to ride for one of the first times on the trip without any rain gear on, a liberating experience.
Turning right onto Crawford Notch road, we cruised along the Saco River as we passed by Attitash Mountain and through Bartlett, New Hampshire at Mile 124. This brought back memories of a weekend the previous winter where my friends and I rented a ski house for some of the coldest skiing I’ve ever done. But we weren’t on skis, and there were no lifts, which meant we had to pedal uphill for the rest of the day to reach our next campsite. And on this stretch climbing was right when I started to feel the pain. Every single pedal stroke was excruciatingly painful on my left knee. Specifically to the outside, right between the joint. I had never felt something so painful in my knee before, as it would lock out on every downstroke on the pedal. I tried every different foot position, fiddled with my cleat orientation, and was constantly stretching to find any way to alleviate the pain. But nothing worked. Eddie, at this point, was pulling far in front of me while I was trying my hardest to pedal with my opposite leg the last 5 miles into camp. The entire time, I was weighing the options in my head. I kept thinking what if I were to quit, and hitch hike back to the car, or wait for Eddie to finish and come back for me. The pain was unbearable and I didn’t think I’d be able to ride at all the next day. But at some point during the last mile, when the signs for the camp ground came into view, I realized something.I realized that the pain was never getting any worse. No matter how hard or softly I pedaled, it just hurt, a lot! And that meant there was no point for me to give up over a little bit of pain if I wasn’t making it worse, right?!
With more stoke than ever, we rode into the Crawford Notch Campground at mile 131. Unlike the previous night, this place was bustling. The guy at the front desk pointed us to the remaining open campsites and off we went. It was incredibly nice to have made it to camp with plenty of daylight left. Riding through the dark the night before was an adventure I was not looking forward to repeating. At the same time, I couldn’t help but calculate in my head, that the daylight we still had, could have been used to hike a mountain on our route. And Eddie shared my same thoughts when I mentioned it to him. Instead of using that time to hike another mountain, that would have inevitably left us riding in the dark, we were sipping on a few beers we got from the camp store. And rather than setting up camp in the dark, we were already laughing about how ridiculous the day was.
We started out in the pouring rain climbing a seriously steep hill. Then we both took tumbles off the bike in the early morning hours. Capped our day off with a wind-beaten climb up Pinkham Notch before having the descent of our lives. Plus the foliage looked even more incredible than the previous day, on the account that we actually had sun to shine on the leaves. And most importantly we were in agreement about one thing. That up until this point, this was by far the hardest thing we’d ever done. But we still had one more day, and the forecast was predicting the worst weather yet. It was going to be raining harder, temperatures would be colder, and the wind was going to be worse than either of the previous two days. But like I always said, prepare for the worst and you’ll never be disappointed.