If the worst thing that goes wrong on our journey, is settling in at Esther’s cousins in Lyme, NH for a two days rest and ending up being there for four days, then we are going to count ourselves as rather lucky. The weather turned from unpleasant, to unspeakable and we stayed put. A little further on and we may have been forced to rest in a $150 a night hotel and watched rain fall.
I had read reports of bike trips going so dreadfully wrong, that people had to suck the sugar coating from ibuprofen tablets for lack of anything else to eat. We keep things very simple, do not over plan and buy the best equipment. That is our way of doing things.
As luck would have it, Esther’s auntie was there for our visit. Auntie ‘M’ is a white witch and if you met her socially that would be how she introduced herself. This would leave you a little confused and short of a response for more than a moment and that is understandable. Think Mary Poppins and you just about have it right. We got around to the subject of exercise.”Oh I just can not swim at all, never been able to. The water just does not hold me up.”
It was seventy two hours later that we started to laugh about this. Proof, if such were needed of the old test for witches. There then, and you thought it was nonsense. It did stop raining for a short while and we biked down into the little town of Lyme. It has a spectacularly large graveyard for such a small place. Time and again there were examples of ‘died happily aged aged 92’ and such. This is an agreeable place and its citizens have ‘lived long and prospered’. We also found out why we have been seeing the flags at so many graves on our trip. It marks the grave of a veteran of any conflict. Probably could have guessed that, but had failed to so far.
We were waved off on a clear, rather cool morning, and dropped down to HWY 10 to pedal our way along the Connecticut River towards Orford. This is a desirable place to live and we had pressed our noses against the windows of estate agents a number of times. There were eye wateringly large numbers involved in living here. There was farming going on in the fields by the side of the road, but for the first ten miles or so it was a sort of Jacob Sheep, rare breed sort of hobby stuff rather than the green tractors sort. It did look lovely though.
We had our first appointment with the range of hills that sit between us and the coast. Black Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain are all lined up beyond North Haverhill and we were glad to meet them with fresh legs. These are seriously steep grades of 7,8,9 and 10% and we were glad to be doing them in the dry. Up, down and then back up we went towards North Woodstock. Finally, we descended, just after the vista of fall colours had opened up. The road was steep and atypically, well surfaced. That was a great day on the bike.
The forecast for that evening was not so great. We pulled into Maple Haven Campground and spoke with Drew the owner. He is a nice man. “I usually have a tent set up for bikers, but we lost it in the big storm.” That was nice. “I don’t like to see bikers getting wet”. We concurred. “I have got nice cabins”. Well that is great. “You can have one for the price of a tent pitch”. I told you he is a nice man.
It did not rain anywhere near as much as it should have but goodness was it cold the next morning. We set off from the cabin and within forty feet Esther manages to fall, cutting and bruising her leg. We have not even got off the campground and already we are having one of the worst moments of our trip. It is a stupid thing like taking the trash to the bin and hooking it under the bungee on the back rack that will end a project. Her leg looks bad and there is blood trickling down.
We have a 2,500 ft climb of White Mountain to do. We feel numb with shock and have just the very dregs of moral left. Up we go on HWY 112 beyond the ski resort of Lincoln and into the mist covered mountains. Whaleback Mountain, Mount Osceola and then through the Kancamagus Pass. Esther is in pain, but on she goes, proving once again what a good decision it was to marry her. The rain starts just before the summit and it brings out the sweet smell of the trees. Can it be that there is enough sugar stored for the canopy to smell of toffee apples. It smells as strong as the ‘Cheerios’ factory that we passed back in Buffalo.
The rain falls more heavily and we stop to put on the full wet gear at the summit. It is not bright and perhaps that is the problem. But the fall colours are not as good here as back in New York State. Off we go for the cold, fast ride down. It is really raining for quite a while and we start to get cold. It was 54’f at the top and some how, 2000ft lower it is just 55’f. Call us pathetic if you will, but we want a motel room for the night.
The trouble with ‘Motel Room Roulette’, is that you do not realise that you are playing it at the time. You also have no idea of the rules until it is too late. The first hotel asks $100 for the room, which is of course a ludicrous amount, so you pedal on. The second asks $125 and again you pedal on. But now you have much less enthusiasm and it is getting dark. The third and fourth quite obviously have ‘Views of the Lake’, so you do not even stop. In almost full dark you enter the most expensive looking town for the last 500 miles. There are B&B’s of course, but you go on, passing out of the town and into the night. There, in the middle of nowhere on HWY 302, you will come to a shabby motel for $75. It is 67 miles and 3,700ft of climbing since we started that morning. We try not to let this happen too often.
We bike out into a very cold, but dry morning wearing our winter gear for the first time. We are still high up and have a long drop with cold hands and ears. In the distance there is what may be the sea, but just as easily it could be one of the many big lakes. We are close now to the coast and that is the main thing, and I think we may need to ask where the sea officially begins.
Big climb days announce themselves in advance. Undulating days do not and can be even more difficult. We were in for an undulating sod of a day. Houses at the roadside were gearing up for Halloween and had been doing so for the last three weeks of our journey. Pumpkins are on doorsteps everywhere. I do not really like Halloween at all, and certainly not what British version has become. Back in my day such things were called ‘Demanding money with menaces’ and were against the law. Thugs banging at your door in black hoodies will always have the elderly turning off the lights and pretend not to be home.
Just a few miles up ahead we know there is the East coast of the USA. We started in Los Angeles and went up the West coast to Seattle, and now we have pedaled across a whole continent. It is all quite impressive and we are starting to consider what we have done. Well 6,300 miles and 230,000ft of climbing is what we have done and we are rather pleased with ourselves.
The Adventure Cycling routes never take you in a straight line, that is for sure. They also try to avoid big towns. If you have no cell phone signal, then you are probably in the right place and not lost. In the last 1,000 miles the number of people has increased along with an unwillingness to wait behind a touring cyclist making slow progress up a hill. The number of dead Skunks has also increased and the quality of the road surface deteriorated. The winters are harsh here and the States through which we are riding are bankrupt. Maintenance may occasionally include the road but certainly not the shoulder and they are appalling. We are the first bikes most people have ever encountered and needed to overtake and that means we are often cut up or oncoming traffic has to head for the ditch. This has got worse as we approach the Atlantic coast.
The USA is however a great place to travel by bike. It is full of random acts of kindness quite beyond what you will find in Europe. There are more “PRIVATE’ signs and ‘NO TRESPASSING’ signs than people in many parts, which is strange as they are by enlarge friendly. We arrive in Brunswick, ME. which is a nice place to wait for maps that should be here but are not. The forecast speaks of ‘morning frost’ and clear sky. We celebrate 4,200 miles coast to coast in a Diner, which seems like a good idea. It is not every day you cross a continent.