My cousin Jim Pace, an avid motorcyclist and native of New Hampshire, and I had long discussed touring New England from his home in Barrington, and our bucket-list ride was finally planned for last summer. Indian Motorcycles arranged for me to borrow a 2020 Chieftain Elite from Motorcycles of Manchester, so with all of the pieces in place, I flew to New Hampshire in July. The ride to Barrington gave me an opportunity to get accustomed to the bike.
Not long after cousin Jim and I embarked on a loop ride around Lake Winnipesaukee. Leaving Barrington on New Hampshire Route 11, gradual sweepers punctuated by a few tight turns took us along the western side of Bow Lake. Here, towns and traffic gradually disappear and the road begins to elevate to the Lake Winnipesaukee Scenic Islands Viewing Area, cresting a high embankment revealing elevated views of Diamond, Rattlesnake and Sleeper’s Island in the lake below, with rolling foothill mountains in the distance.
At Glendale, NHR3 and NHR25 wind for 26 miles along the western shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. The lakefront town of Weirs Beach, location of the annual Laconia Motorcycle Week rally that brings thousands of motorcyclists to the area each June, is also a popular spot for tourists. After stopping for some locally made ice cream and people watching, we continued northeast on low stress two-lane country highway through mild curves, rolling hills and forest until reaching NHR16, also known as the White Mountain Highway, then turned south through the towns of Ossipee, Wakefield and Milton. A detour on First Crown Point Road for a quick jaunt through Blue Job Mountain State Forest and it was back to Barrington, completing a 3.5-hour, 150-mile afternoon ride.
The next day’s plan was to ride 60 miles north on a loop that would encompass both the Franconia and Crawford Notches, the well-known valley passes through the White Mountains. Heading north on NH16 through scenic countryside, we passed through the town of Milton, and happened upon the most surprising photo op of the week — an abandoned truck trailer painted bright yellow, with the classic Indian Motocycles logo painted in red and a rendering of a 1940’s vintage Chief motorcycle. It was an absolute must stop for photos of the new Chieftain.
At Union, NHR153 is the preferred route, offering taller hills and tighter curves than the highway. Once to Conway, we headed west on the must-ride Kancamagus Highway. The first 20 miles of the highway begins leisurely and sedate, paralleling the Swift River to the Sugar Hill Scenic Vista, featuring hiking trails and the opportunity to take a cool dip on a hot summer’s day. But the fun for a rider is in the second 20 miles, where the valley between Mount Hancock and Mount Osceola offer major changes in elevation and a sequence of increasingly challenging twisties, topped by a 200-degree classic hairpin turn around the Hancock Overlook.
At the town of Woodstock, the Kancamagus ends. Turning north on U.S. Route 3, the Daniel Webster Highway is a relaxing ride that leads through Franconia Notch State Park, a focal point for hiking trails that go up to five mountains: Lafayette, Liberty, Flume, and the Cannon and Kinsman Mountains that surround the park. North of Franconia Notch, U.S. Route 3 goes east toward U.S. Route 302 and Mount Washington. Here the skies clouded, and intermittent light rain began to fall, putting a damper on the enjoyment of the day. A quick stop to don rain gear and take photos of the magnificent Mt. Washington Hotel on a cloudy day, and we continued through the Crawford Notch to Conway, where sunshine and blue sky returned. After a stop for bygone-era photos at the Conway Railroad Museum, we returned to Barrington through broken clouds, completing 205 miles and 4.75 hours of ride time. The loop was spectacular, but we would need another opportunity to fully enjoy the Crawford Notch and Washington Hotel in better weather.
By midweek, the days had become sunny, clear and blue, perfect for a ride to the top of Mt. Washington State Park. Taking NH16 north for 75 miles brought us to the park entrance at about 1 p.m. After paying the $20 entrance fee and getting our “This Bike Climbed Mt. Washington” bumper stickers, we started up the very twisty, ribbon-thin 7.6-mile Auto Road to the top of Mt. Washington. The road is hardly wide enough for two cars, and the ride to the summit was made all the more interesting by a heavy fog that settled on the mountain about halfway up, sometimes limiting vision to less than 50 feet, with a road section under repair reduced to dirt and gravel. Keep calm, and keep moving. Still, I couldn’t pass up opportunities for ghost-like photos, with headlights appearing and disappearing as they passed in the fog.
At the road’s end is Mount Washington State Park, a 60-acre site topping the 6,288-foot summit of the Northeast’s highest peak, surrounded by the 750,000-acre White Mountain National Forest. Mt. Washington is famous for having the highest recorded wind velocity ever measured in the U.S., an astounding 231 mph, and the summit building built in the 1930s is chained to the ground in order to withstand the sometimes very high winds. On clear days, summit views extend as far as 130 miles to Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Quebec and out to the Atlantic Ocean. Breaks in the fog allowed for some amazing views into the Tuckerman Ravine. The well-known Appalachian Trail also crosses the Auto Road about halfway up to the summit.
The Sherman Adams Building houses the Mount Washington Observatory and Museum, and the Tip-Top House, a hotel built in 1853 and renovated in 1986 for historic tours. While Covid-19 restrictions had closed these facilities to the public, the Mt. Washington Cog Railway was operating. Built in 1866 by Sylvester Marsh, these unique and beautiful period trains use a giant cog-style gear and rack system to pull railcars up the mountain at angles from 25 to as great as 38 degrees, transporting visitors from the Marshfield Base Station near the Mt. Washington Hotel to the top of the mountain.
As rainy weather had previously kept us from experiencing the Crawford Notch and Mt. Washington Hotel in all their brilliant glory, we took a detour on U.S. Route 302 to make another pass through the notch and a get second look at the hotel. This time, we were not disappointed. Closing in on the golden hour, the late afternoon sunlight bathed the steep mountainsides in deep amber as we rode through the notch.
The Mt. Washington Hotel is a massive and beautiful structure of the grandest design built in 1902. Its history boasts the signing of the agreement for the creation of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in 1944, and the filming of scenes from the movie “The Shining,” as well as supposedly being haunted by a ghost named Carolyn, the wife of the hotel’s builder and first owner, Joseph Stickney. I am not sure, however, if any of this information recommends a night’s stay there! After a walk through the hotel to take in the building’s beautiful interior and the large semi-circular patio that overlooks the golf course and mountains behind, and we were riding once again.
Passing through the town of Freedom, we saw an old rustic barn with a sign reading “Freedom Farm” above its double doors, an obvious final photo-op of the day. With the afternoon spent on Mt. Washington, we arrived home after dark, completing a 225-mile loop.
The next day it was time for something completely different — a seaside ride on the coast of Maine. Taking NHR9 and Dover Point Road to Portsmouth then crossing the Maine border, we rode out toward the Atlantic coast on Maine Route 103, a lovely Maine low-country ride along small rivers and waterways and through coastal communities, serene and peaceful. MR103 changes road names from Shapleigh to Whipple to Tenny Hill to Brave Boat Harbor Road before crossing the York River, leading to a right turn onto U.S. 1A, also known as Long Beach Ave. Within a few miles, the road turns parallel to the coast and within feet of the Atlantic Ocean, often separated only by public beach and sidewalk. The day granted perfect riding weather — clear blue skies, low 80-degree temperatures and scattered cumulus. A detour on Nubble Road through spectacular oceanfront residences led to the Nubble Lighthouse, perched on its own island and picture-perfect. North of the lighthouse, we continued through the York Cliffs, Bald Head and Ogunquit areas, with the road becoming less populated as it reached the coastal Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, then to the beautiful town of Kennebunkport, vacation spot of presidents. Maine Route 9A to New Hampshire Route 9 served for a fine open-country ride on the one-hour return to Barrington.
My arrangements with Indian included returning the motorcycle in Florida, and later that week I began the ride south. New Hampshire and Maine had been new territory for me, and there is a lot of riding there yet to be done. Looks like I’ll need a bigger bucket.