story and photography by Dan Bisbee
[Moose Ride: Motorcycle Touring from Vermont to Canada was originally published as a Favorite Ride in the March 2009 issue of Rider magazine]
The moose is North America’s largest mammal, and an estimated 7,000 of them call New Hampshire home. They are magnificent creatures, reason enough for my friends Dave, Dakota and I to set out on an autumn motorcycle ride through the northern part of the state to check out the foliage and hopefully spot a moose.
The days were getting short so we set out as soon as the temperature cleared 40 degrees. Moose are most active around dawn and dusk, and we did not wish to encounter one after dark. With bull moose routinely weighing more than the combined mass of our three bikes, we only wanted to meet one on our terms.
We entered New Hampshire from Guildhall, Vermont. Here, in the skinny part of the state, only 30 miles separates Vermont from Maine and the region is referred to as the Great North Woods. Our first stop was in the village of Stark on Route 110. The covered bridge and church have adorned countless postcards and calendars, so we stopped for the obligatory photo. The bridge originally relied on a Paddleford Truss design to support traffic when it was built in 1862. It has since been strengthened with steel I-beams to support modern traffic, while still retaining most of its 19th-century charm. The bridge was built to help parishioners get to the adjacent Union Church, built a few years earlier.
We continued east and turned onto Route 110A, which ends at Route 16. Route 16 is a fine piece of pavement hugging the banks of the Androscoggin River as it meanders through Thirteen Mile Woods Scenic Area. We stopped where some muddy moose tracks crossed the road. No moose, but at least we knew we were in the right area. The road through Thirteen Mile Woods is a popular one with motorcyclists, while the river attracts canoe enthusiasts and fishermen. We met a few of each group as we headed north to Errol.
The town of Errol thrives on outdoor recreation. Fishing and boating are the main draws in the summer, hunting in the fall, and snowmobiling is the preferred mode of transportation in the winter months. We pulled into the parking lot at the Northern Exposure restaurant and went inside for lunch, where we finally spotted a moose. It wasn’t quite what we had in mind, as it was on the menu. We decided to give it a try and were pleasantly surprised by our moose burgers.
After lunch we headed west on Route 26, twisting and turning through the northernmost crossing of the White Mountains to Dixville Notch. The Notch is home to The Balsams Grand Hotel. Nineteenth-century city folk escaped the oppressive heat and humidity of the city by summering in the White Mountains, and several Grand Hotels were constructed to serve these well-heeled travelers. The Balsams has maintained its exquisite level of service for more than 100 years. Judging by the number of high-end European vehicles in the parking lot, they are still doing an outstanding job of catering to affluent travelers in the 21st century.
In addition to The Balsams, Dixville Notch has one other claim to fame. It hosts the first voting in the national presidential election, with the polls opening at midnight. The polls can close as soon as all registered voters have voted. In 2004, George Bush defeated John Kerry 19 to seven here, with nine absentee ballots.
After leaving The Balsams, Route 26 descends to Colebrook, where we headed south a couple of miles to the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace. In late June, this place vibrates with motorcycles at the annual Blessing of the Bikes, but today it is quiet. Over to the right is a statue entitled “Motorcyclists in Prayer” consisting of a man and a woman kneeling, heads bowed, beside a motorcycle. The inscription reads:
Thank you for the marvel of the motorcycle, a machine of tremendous possibilities. Help me to achieve the skill to control it wisely like a tool shaping a better life for me and those around me.
We left the Shrine and headed toward the Canadian border with a detour on Route 145. This wild roller coaster of a road rises, falls and swoops across the landscape with a thoroughly enjoyable rhythm, and naturally we twisted the throttle a bit. Along this road we crossed the 45th parallel, putting us closer to the North Pole than the Equator. We were sad to see 145 end as it reconnected with Route 3 in Pittsburg.
The 25 miles of Route 3 from Pittsburg to the Canadian border is known as Moose Alley. The “Moose Crossing” signs here are a bit more urgent and we throttled back to cruising mode. Route 3 passes through the Connecticut Lakes region, the source of the Connecticut River. Water from here flows 350 miles south to Long Island Sound. Between the First and Second Connecticut Lakes, we rounded a corner to find three cars pulled over to the side of the road. This could only mean one thing: Moose! We weren’t disappointed. A big bull moose stood less than 100 feet off the road, his antlers spanning 4 feet. He seemed to be staring at something as I snapped a photo. It wasn’t until I looked up from my camera that I saw a cow moose standing in the shadows just 10 feet from the pavement; she calmly drank from a puddle while a crowd of a dozen people looked on. I snapped several more photos, but the images in the viewfinder failed to capture the true beauty and magnificence of these huge beasts. I set the camera down and just watched them for several minutes. Even with all the onlookers, the scene was quiet. A breeze finally shook me from the scene and reminded me that the daylight was getting short, and we still had a hundred miles to go.