13 – 28 May 2013
Based on many recommendations I decided to continue north to the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Adirondacks in upstate New York. A number of people had also recommeded visiting Acadia National Park in Maine but I skipped it because it would be a detour for a week just to go there and back – and as far as I could tell not much to experience on the way....maybe another good time....
I intended to leave Boston early Monday morning but it was 11am before I finally hit the road. It was a 2 hour nightmare getting out of the city, because of many google-errors (especially in roundabouts), wrong directions from people (incl. two police officers), same street names in different neighbourhoods, etc. When I got back on track the first half of the day was fairly boring through mostly run-down residential areas on big and bad roads and sometimes challenging because the rail-trail was gravel and stones. The last half along the coast was much better through many small villages and areas with huge mansions.... however, parts of the coast looked terrible because of the big, ugly walls of gravel and rocks built to protect the expensive properties from storms. All the way I was struggling with the headwind - it was only 12C (55F) and with the windchill it could have been cold but the sun made it pleasant. With a bit of difficulty I found the forest I had planned to camp in – though not easy to find a secluded spot to pitch the tent with the many trails.
The next day was 130k (80 miles) inland towards Conway and the White Mountains, so before I left the coast I remembered to enjoy the last kilometres along the ocean knowing it would be about 4 months before I get to California and the west coast (I don't recall having been away from the ocean so long before in my life). It was a beautiful day but riding on big roads there was not much to see – the first half was endless rolling hills while the other half primarily was uphill. At the end of the day I went on some backroads through forest and along lakes but unfortunately it was now overcast making it less spectacular.... As always starting up after a break my knee started swelling and I was still cursing at the bicycle tire/mudguard problem (and myself for not getting it fixed)... Along the way I met many friendly and helpful people – everytime taking the opportunity to ask whether to take road 112 directly west through the White Mountains or 302 a bit further north and 30k (20 miles) longer. Most people said 112 was more spectacular but bicyclists recommended 302 as equally beautiful and more bicycle friendly (big shoulders, less busy, less steep, etc.). Still undecided I camped a couple of kilometres before Conway where the road split.
The next morning I asked more people in Conway for recommendations and ended up taking 302 through Mt. Washington Valley – for a mountain road it was pretty “flat” - quite hilly but only a few steep sections. Most of the road was through small villages and forest and along rivers but providing disappointingly few spectacular views – it made me wonder whether I would have been better off with 112 but since it's retorical question I quickly dismissed the thought. It was a beautiful day until 15.30 when dark clouds gathered and ½ hour later it was pouring down. I decided to continue as it was still early and I couldn't pitch the tent in the rain anyway. Google suggested I took the rail-trail 30k (20 miles) from Littleton to Woodsville – however previous experiences told me it might not be feasible, so I asked some locals who confirmed my suspicion that it was a dirt track with big stones. The alternative was a narrow 2-lane road without shoulder which wasn't fun in the heavy rain. 1½ hour later I asked for camping recommendations at a gas station – I got several suggestions and a warning where not to camp as a big bear had been seen there recently. From the gas station I rode 8k (5 miles) before a (temporary) break in the showers made me stop and pitch the tent. I think I ended up close to where I shouldn't camp, so for the first time on this trip I followed the wildcaping “ bear instructions” and cooked 100 metres (300 feet) from the tent as well as placing everything with a smell (food, kitchen appliances, toiletries, etc.) high up between trees. Because of the continuous showers it took 2½ hours to pitch the tent and eat (normally 30-45 minutes), so it was dark when I got in the tent. 5 minutes later I heard a bear coming through the forest with the characteristic grunting/snorting – random timing or had it been watching me for a while? It walked around the tent and also went in the direction of the stored food, etc. I got a bit excited at first but since nothing happened in ½ hour I put in my earplugs and went to sleep despite the bear still snooping around outside.
Heavy rain during the night but a nice morning. Admittedly, I looked a bit extra round the forest while packing and having breakfast but no sign of the bear.... I rode the last kilometres to Woodsville and then west into Vermont enjoying the hilly road through countryside with mountains, valleys and rivers/creeks. After a while google suggested another long rail-trail but again locals told me, they had just removed the tracks/planks leaving a stony gravel path. Impassable for me I stayed on the big road riding over two mountains in 20k (14 miles) without my map indicating it was a mountainous area (much more hilly than the White Mountains). Despite the climbs the big road was less interesting taking me through urban areas and a couple of big towns. Another day where people where friendly, talkative, curious and interested in my trip; for instance in the evening when I knocked a door to ask for camping suggestions – I disturbed a family in the middle of dinner, but no problem... long conversation and a delicious slice of pizza before I headed down to the river to pitch the tent in a fern preserve.
A cloudy morning so I took my time as the weather improved during breakfast. On the way to the New York State ferry google sent me on several country roads (some I took, some I didn't) – very hilly but nice views including the White Mountains I came from in the east and the Adirondacks I was approaching in the west. The woman at the ticket booth was kind giving me a free ferry ticket as well as a map and recommendations for the Adirondacks – very nice views on the short ferry ride. On the New York side I had to ride 24k (15 miles) south before heading west towards the mountains - being along the river I imagined it would be a “flat” transport stretch but it was very hilly from the moment I left the ferry. And it got even worse mid afternoon after Elisabethtown where I rode 13k (8 miles) continuously uphill just to go all the way down in a steep downhill race for 3k (2 miles) – I 'm not sure I would have made that 17-20% climb had I come from the other side. A few kilometres later I started another steep 10k (6 miles) climb from Keene towards Lake Placid. Not surprisingly I had had headwind no matter what direction I rode during the day (!) but it vanished during the last climb which was nice since the sun disappered behind the mountains. As it was getting late and I wanted to experience the beautiful scenery in daytime I camped between a couple of lakes recommended by an old lady I spoke to in Keene – very interesting listening to her stories about the region and how it had developed over her lifetime.
It was a lovely morning so I got up early - at the nearby picnic area I dried my equipment in the sun while having breakfast and enjoying the nice views of the lakes and mountains. It was an easy and lovely 16k (10 miles) ride into Lake Placid with all the remains from the 1980 Winter Olympics. Many people had recommended coming here but I found it overhyped/touristic, so instead of spending time in town I bicycled around first Mirror Lake and then Lake Placid – the first one provided great views but the latter hardly any as the lake shore was overcrowded with big mansions. I continued to Saranac Lake town where I had lunch at a pond. On my way out of town I barely avoided being hit by a right turning car at a light – no signaling and apparently no orientation. I'm pretty sure it was a visitor as the locals must be used to bicyclists – just this day I met more than a hundred people riding around the area. Right turning cars are one of my biggest challenges as people are not used to bicyclists and therefore don't know how to behave around us. For instance when I go straight and there is a dedicated right turn lane - I go on the left side of the lane so people can come in behind me, but instead they speed up and cut me off by going in front.... similar situations occur at right turns without the dedicated right lane because few people want to wait for a bicycle to pass. Anyway, I considered doing a 35k (22 miles) loop detour to Tupper Lake if it was not too steep and the views were nice – an elderly woman confirmed this, but seriously I got to stop asking people who never rode a bike or whose biggest merits are riding ½ kilometre within town limits! It was of course very hilly and there were few lake views – most of the time I rode in the forest looking at pine trees. Fortunately, this day I had very good legs (contrary to yesterday) so the extra kilometres didn't matter – infact I rode so fast that I missed a turn and did a 10 kilometres detour (I don't know if that's what happened but sometimes the main road goes right/left at an intersection and the continuing road just gets a new number). Recommended by a local girl I camped at a still closed state camp ground by the lake. A bit weird walking around the huge area with hundreds of empty camp spots, but great to be able to camp quietly right by the lakeside. Less fantastic was the countless mosquitos seemingly unaffacted by my repellent....
It was a fairly flat stretch the last 80k (50 miles) to the Canadian border – out of the mountains and forests and through countryside, villages and small towns. The last 20k (12 miles) through the Akwesasne reservation – I can't believe how the US have “solved” the native American challenge by allowing them to run tax free casinos, sell cheap cigarettes, etc. You don't have to be a rocket science professor to know what comes along with these businesses.... A couple of bridges brought me over St. Lawrence River to Cornwall, Ontario and then a long, meticulous questioning by the Canadian immigration before I could bicycle the last 10k to Kevin's place right by the river finishing this leg of my trip – around 800k (500 miles). Not only was I welcomed by Kevin but also by the MacLean family owning a large chunk of land on the coast – second-to-none friendliness, hospitality and generosity by everybody. They let me have my own cabin in the backwoods, fed me (so I could regain some of the lost weight), sowed my bicycle shorts and slepping bag inliner, helped me fix my bicycle, etc. It rained most of my 10 days stay, so I had ample time to update my homepage and catch up on other practicalities. We had many conversations on small and big subjects and in between the showers we rode around the property on ATVs, had several big bonfires, shot beebee-guns and in general just had a good time relaxing over a beer or two.