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Riding between the raindrops

As the Wheels Turn

June 24, 2009
Rain, rain, go away, I want to ride my bike today. If you don't get out when the fair weather window opens, you may not get out at all. Tuesday, Sally and I squeezed in a pleasant afternoon ride of the Bear Notch Loop, trying to stay clear of the growling Harleys all the way around. Bear Notch is a fine half-day loop; 41 miles round trip from my house in Glen. Right now the road surfaces are all in great shape. It is worth noting that another cyclist got knocked off his bike on Passaconaway Road by a loose dog. It has happened before, some years ago, and we all kept a sharp eye for awhile. Time to look sharp again.

On Wednesday evening we joined the NEMBA mountain bike ride led by Leo Rossignol. A group of about twenty riders roamed around the single track in the Davis Hill area, a place I haven't ridden much lately. It's a big area with lots of room for exploring. Recent rains left many mud holes and running streams to ford. It was a bit of a mudfest and the mud shows no sign of abating. Just gotta live with it. Maybe by the time of the Maine Bike Rally on July 10 through 12, the trails will have dried up.

Last Saturday the clouds hung heavy but the rain held off all day. We went out after noon, knowing that trail conditions would be wet, an understatement. We drove to Bartlett Village and turned south on Bear Notch Road, parking in the snowmobile parking lot on the left, just north of the winter gate.

We took the first right and rode the gravel road (FR 44) west into the Experimental Forest. The five or six miles of gravel roads in the Bartlett Experimental Forest are open to public travel and offer fine opportunities for cycling, though the climb up is steady and long, requiring some effort. Shuttles to the top of Bear Notch to enjoy the down hill run were once popular for armchair downhillers. Attitash still lists them on their website at $12 per ride.

The Experimental Forest is a research field station administered by the U.S. Forest Service. Studies of ecology and management of northern hardwood forests are ongoing. Evidence of the many studies are visible from the roads. Bicycle travel off the gravel roads is prohibited. If you are interested in the studies being conducted in the Experimental Forest, go to www.fs.fed.us/ne/durham/4155/bartlett.htm for a detailed overview.

We turned left about three quarters of a mile west of Bear Notch Road, just before the water tank, and rode south about a mile, turned left again and rode back out to Bear Notch Road. We turned right and rode a short distance on the paved road, then crossed and turned left at an opening marked by two boulders which are somewhat obscured by brush. A single track trail enters between the boulders. This is the high point of the Reservoir Brook Trail.

The Reservoir Brook Trail descends about a mile and a half to a wooden bridge on the left. Crossing the bridge and climbing a short, steep hill brings you back to Bear Notch Road. At the top we took a side trail that forks right and goes east toward Pothole Falls. There are two brook crossings between Bear Notch Road and the trail fork. Both are more or less rideable depending on water conditions and rider commitment. With the amount of recent rain, both brooks were torrents, requiring wet-foot wading.

After climbing out of the streambed, the trail reaches a flat spot where it forks. We rode the right fork which climbs for a short distance to a T-junction. We turned left and descended cautiously over slimy-wet rocks and roots to another T-junction. Turning right at this junction takes you steeply uphill to Pothole Falls, an interesting waterfall marked by natural erosion holes in the ledges. If you visit the falls, use extreme caution when approaching the edge. This was the site of a serious accident several years ago when a cyclist slipped on the rocks and fell to the bottom of the falls. It should be noted that there is no cell phone service in this area.

Due to the trail conditions, we chose to continue down at the second junction. Below a large downed tree, the trail was mostly clear sailing down to the Reservoir Brook Trail, and on down to the wooden bridge. At the bridge, we turned right, climbed a short hill and descended through what I call the Hawk Woods, in memory of having been attacked from above an angry Northern Goshawk. Somewhere I have an old helmet with her talon marks still visible in it.

The descent to the dead end of Foster Street is a pleasant downhill run through white pine forest, though ATVs have torn up much of the lower section of the trail. We rode out Foster Street and just happened to arrive back at Bear Notch Road by the railroad tracks as the big Chinese-made transformer rumbled slowly by on its way from Canada to East Conway. A big crowd had gathered at the crossing to watch it pass.

Had the weather been more settled, we planned to drive north to Gorham to give the Moose Brook State Park trails another try. We rode there last September but ran short of daylight. So, we didn't get to ride all the single-track. These trails are the work of local Gorham riders Jason and Kara Hunter, with help from the White Mountain Chapter of NEMBA. The single-tracks are not marked on the State Park map available at the ranger station. In fact, the ranger I spoke to didn't even know the trails existed, although I'd been assured their construction had been authorized.

Anyway, a nice map is available on the NEMBA website: www.nemba.org; click on the NEMBA Chapters, scroll down the White Mountains NEMBA and click on WM NEMBA Blog, there you'll find Moose Brook State Park listed on the page menu in the upper right corner. As the map shows, the single-tracks cluster on the east side of Berry Farm Road that passes through the park. Climb up the gravel road and watch for single-track entrances (not signed last year). Pick one and ride back down. There are more trail miles than it first appears. The hillside location makes for some challenging ups and downs.

While in the Gorham area, don't forget to give the Presidential Rail Trail a try. You cross over it on your way in to Moose Brook State Park. The riding on the old railroad grade is gentle and the cinder surface solid enough for hybrid tires. A good sampling of this rail trail is to ride west from Gorham about four miles to the Pinkham Road junction, then turn around and ride back downhill. The mountain scenery is excellent and unexpected. The rail trail follows the course of the Moose River (not to be confused with Moose Brook) through a steep valley between Pine Mountain and Randolph Hill.

Watch for the old concrete structure on the right near one of the bridges over the river. Apparently this was a mineral spring water bottling plant, back in the day. A trail enters the woods by the bottling plant ruins, that climbs up out of the hollow and comes out on a paved road near the top of Randolph Hill where the pipeline access road might be picked up and ridden back downhill to the rail trail. Without too much effort, a full day of exploratory riding could be had. I can't wait to get back up there and have another go at it.

Mark your calendar for the Maine Bike Rally on July 10, 11, and 12. Remember, locals ride for free. All you have to do is register at www.bikemaine.org. Road ride leaders and sweeps are still needed. If you're interested, call Sally McMurdo at 383-9405.

As soon as the rain stops, get out there and ride, ride, ride.

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