My obsession with the White Mountains and Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire began nearly a year before I rode the famous route. I’d been testing BMW’s K 1600 B on a late-season ride on Vermont Route 100, just tootling along with all the Subarus, when I saw a guy on the side of the road standing atop an aged custom Harley, waving.
Curiosity got the best of me, so I swung the bagger around to meet Eric, a local mechanic, who said he was standing on his bike to get people to stop and make a donation for a friend and his wife who were in a motorcycle accident.
This would turn out to be Stanley Lynde and his wife, Laura, owners of Lynde Motorsports in Brattleboro, Vermont. There was an official GoFundMe webpage at the time, but Eric “didn’t do the internet.”
And his method seemed to work, with several people stopping by as we chatted, offering donations and well wishes. Eric, a veteran motorcyclist and builder who can no longer get out for big rides, was very emotional about the situation. When I asked him if there was something I could do beyond a donation, he promptly said yes, I could ride. Specifically, he requested I head up into the White Mountains and ride his favorite road, the Kancamagus Highway, in honor of the Lyndes.
And I tried. With all my heart. But a major storm blew in the next day, the only free day I had before returning the bike and flying home. Eric, his friends, and the road with the odd-sounding name were on my mind all winter long.
A COMMUNITY, NOT A CLUB
Late the next summer I was finally able to return to the Northeast, this time for a high-mileage test of BMW’s R 1200 RT. The Kancamagus, aka The Kanc (technically NH Route 112), topped my list of roads to explore.
I enlisted the help of Ed Conde, route master for New England Riders (NER, newenglandriders.org), an impressively large group (14,000+ strong on Facebook) that identifies as “a community of motorcyclists that self-organize to ride and have fun with other riders,” rather than a club, in which there would be things like dues and rules and officers.
Now, I’m a solo rider by nature, but after getting to know Ed and his wife, Debbie, online, I was excited to meet up with them and a small crew of NER riders to follow Ed’s “Best of the White Mountains” tracks, a 202-mile double loop that launches from Gorham, New Hampshire.
It was a Friday morning in September when I throttled out of Gorham with seven strangers, tracing the Androscoggin River eastward on U.S. Route 2, then crossing into Maine to head south on State Route 113. This rural highway is where the party started, with the road beginning to curve and roll as it swept its way up into the White Mountain National Forest.
Right away, it was clear this group could ride. On the way to the meeting point, I’d been thinking, “Okay, be patient, this could be a long day, be on your guard…” – all the things one should remember when joining an unknown group of riders. When we stopped at Evans Notch overlook for a breather, I learned these NER members are skilled because most had invested in training and trackdays, many under the tutelage of Ken Condon, author of Riding in the Zone.
THE MASTER PLANNER
The White Mountains, a roughly 90-mile segment of the much larger Appalachian Range, was created by western movement of the North American Plate more than 100 million years ago, long before the glaciers of the Ice Age covered them, then receded, smoothing sharp edges into the rounded notches and dished valleys we see today.
Our group was too early for the region’s famous fall colors, which suited these passionate riders just fine since it meant light traffic as we flowed down State Route 113. At Fryeburg, we followed Ed on a few quick turns to reach Hurricane Mountain Road, a narrow goat path of a backroad that constantly rises and dives, splashing through the densely forested hills, twisting just enough to heighten the senses.
I swear I didn’t tell Ed that I’m obsessed with road-trip pancakes; it just happened this group feels the same. Polly’s potential for addiction is real, and I’m happy I live thousands of miles away. Most of us went with pancake “samplers,” where you order three short stacks (yes, per person!), mixing and matching different batters and mix-ins.
It’s at this point I realize Ed Conde is more than just a nice guy with some ideas about good roads. Ed is a purveyor of truly fine roads, the kind of gems you simply wouldn’t find and connect on your own. And as I’ll learn over time, his skills aren’t limited to cataloging premium strands of tarmac; Ed sews in all the best views, bathroom stops, and restaurants, too.
It’s the secret stash a local rider might know, but Ed’s not a local here in New Hampshire. He and Debbie live near Boston, and it’s become their shared passion to travel on bikes – he on a Honda ST1300 and she on a Suzuki V-Strom 650 – exploring new states and creating a database of the best motorcycle roads, many of them stitched into day rides. Ed shares these elaborate ride plans and GPX tracks, which span from Nova Scotia all the way down to Alabama and Georgia, on the NER website.
It’s their way of giving back to the community, he says, for all the joy and treasured memories motorcycling has brought to their lives.
TIES THAT BIND
After conquering Hurricane Mountain Road, we traveled west on U.S. Route 302, taking time for a photo stop at the beautiful Cathedral Ledge viewpoint in Echo Lake State Park, before continuing to Bear Notch Road, another curvy delight with three worthy overlooks.
Then finally, up ahead, the road sign I’d been envisioning for almost a year: State Route 112, the famous Kancamagus.
While no one I was with that day knew the reason behind my request to ride this particular highway, I was sure they would feel equally compelled by Eric standing on his old Harley, feeling helpless about his friend’s fate.
Since that chance meeting, I’d learned Laura had survived her injuries, but sadly, Stanley had not. I carried his family in my heart as I rolled onto the Kanc.
PANCAKES FOR LUNCH
Just as Eric promised, the views from Route 112 were glorious. The highway is well-kept and curvaceous, chasing after the Swift River like a blackbird mobbing a hawk.
When we stopped at the Pemigewasset Overlook, everyone was in great spirits, laughing and telling stories. I didn’t even stop to wonder how it was these strangers I’d met only hours before now felt like old friends. We’ve all felt it, that current of shared experience that so instantly connects riders when and wherever we meet.
Unexpectedly, the ride only continued to get better as the day rolled on. Departing the Kanc, we reunited with Route 302 and headed east to Bath, where you’ll find The Brick Store, America’s oldest continuously run general store. The market is flanked by a popular ice cream shop, but we were headed for Polly’s Pancake Parlor on Route 117 for an afternoon feast of hotcakes and bacon.
From Polly’s we headed east to Franconia and followed U.S. Routes 3 and 302 to link together alpine lakes and waterfalls, crossing over our westbound route around Bartlett. There’s plenty to see and do on this section, but we kept an eager clip so we could start up the Mount Washington Auto Road, the capper of Ed’s “Best of the White Mountains” ride, well before the toll road’s cutoff entry time of 5 p.m.
A SLICE OF HEAVEN
Mount Washington (6,288 ft) is the most prominent peak west of the Mississippi and the highest mountain in the Northeast, but what’s really neat about it is the road that takes you to the summit. It’s just 7.6 miles long, but man, the views are forever. The drop-offs are too, which can rattle some, even though the mountain is well controlled by low speed limits and heavy traffic.
We arrived at the summit with just enough time to check out the museum and observation areas. This windy peak was also where I said goodbye to my new friends, since we’d head in different directions at the mountain’s base.
After snapping an action shot or two of the group halfway down the now heavily shaded northeastern slope of the mountain, park trucks pulled up, urging stragglers like me toward the gates. On a whim I asked if I could ride back up – “super quick” – to get a photo of the empty road.
I was floored when the guys said sure, I could have the 20 minutes or so it would take them to usher the remaining tourists from the lower lookout points.
And so began one of the most striking experiences of my 36 years of riding. I had the top half of Mount Washington to myself. Its Auto Road, which had been clogged an hour before, was now empty.
And I’m proud to say I didn’t rip up and down the famous toll road as I would’ve in the past. Instead, I focused every bit of energy on soaking up a scene that looked and felt like a literal slice of heaven.
By this point, my White Mountains ride had become way more than a report about a day trip in New England. It reminded me that I’m part of a huge, ever-present family. Showed me that true friends can be old, or new, or only in your heart.
No matter how far we wander, there will be other riders to make us feel at home.