I got back from a ten-day trip to New England and found a copy of Ken Aiken’s book in the mail. Dang! I wish I had brought it with me! I would have made some deviations in my brief six-state ride. Ken knows his territory well.
Not that I’m a stranger to New England. I grew up there, perfected my dubious riding techniques in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, and have been to most of the places Ken talks about. And many he doesn’t. I’ve ridden Down East to Lubec, Maine, as far east as one can go in the U S of A. Followed the Connecticut River 400 miles from Long Island Sound to Pittsburg, New Hampshire. Been to Newport, Vermont, and Newport, Rhode Island.
The six states that make up New England cover over 70,000 square miles – almost half of that is just the state of Maine – with more miles of roads than I know how to count. Ken can’t cover everything, so he breaks it down into 28 loop rides, and only three, two in northern Maine, one in northwest Vermont, am I not at least somewhat familiar with.
First thing I liked about the book were the photos. It’s all color, and just browsing through the pages will stimulate anyone to go traveling – even someone who never thought of going to New England. Color makes a big difference, whether the picture is of the Maine coast or of a covered bridge. I should add that the cover says this is the 4th edition of Motorcycle Journeys Through New England, but in truth it is a brand-new book; the previous editions were by a different author and done in black and white – not nearly as effective.
And Ken’s rides are great. Everybody should love Ride 5, The Green Mountain Gaps in Vermont, which covers some of the more entertaining roads in that part of New England. He does mention my favorite, Lincoln Gap, in a caption to a photo, but the map showing his recommended route sensibly avoids it … the gravel can be a little tricky on a wet day.
Speaking of maps, they might have been done a little better, although I appreciate space and legibility constraints, as they do not include all the numbered minor roads that Ken goes on. In the mile-by-mile itinerary for Ride 5 it reads: “43.2 Hard right onto Rte 53 in Forest Dale” – but there’s no 53 on the map. Or Route 103 in Maine. Et cetera. The book’s maps will get you through a ride, but might leave you a bit perplexed, especially if you are reading about the next day’s ride while having supper. I’d recommend having an old-fashioned paper map along, as I find the larger view gives a better idea of where I am going.
Minor hurdles. Ken is a good writer, and the 350 pages are a pleasure to read. And the pictures are a delight. I do recommend having it in your tankbag should you ever go to New England. And if you hadn’t ever planned on going Down East, and you read this book, you might change your mind.
For more information: Ken Aiken’s Motorcycle Journeys Through New England is published by and available from Whitehorse Press, whitehorsegear.com (800-531-1133) for $27.95; it can also be ordered through your local bookstore.