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LD Ride Day 4: Monuments & Merriment September 6, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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I woke reasonably early and went outside to wipe the dew off the bike.  I half thought to get underway, but the Colonial House Inn breakfast was scheduled to start at 9:01.  While I was eager to make efficient mileage to make it home that night, I was not eager to leave the friendly comfort of the inn.  I sat in the common room for a while, intending to work on the blog, but instead entered a conversation with a woman who is a “regular” there, who dressed in sweats and slippers, looked like she was comfortably at home.  I made my way to the dining room shortly after 9:01 and sat at a table with two couples.

For breakfast, I enjoyed a delicious bowl of Scottish oats with maple syrup  and a uniquely New England egg dish similar to eggs benedict.  Breakfast conversation was lively and entertaining, with each of us sharing the experiences of our travels and of New England.  I made a few notes for possible future scenic rides in Vermont and Alabama from their recommendations.  Somehow or another the conversation drifted into genealogy, as I guess it often does in New England with who descended from whom on the Mayflower, when the older woman mentioned that her family was “only” known for a woman who massacred Indians. 

I was taken aback and asked “Are you talking about Hannah Duston?!?”.  I don’t know who was more surprised, me at meeting a descendent of the famed heroine or her at my knowing of the story.  In 1697, Hannah, her 6-day-old baby, and her nurse were taken in an Indian raid in Haverill, MA and marched with other captives toward Canada.  Early in the march, the Indians killed the infant, crushing her against a tree.  When the group camped on a river island in what is now Penacook, New Hampshire, Hannah with the help of her nurse and a 14 year old boy prisoner, attacked the band of their 12 captors in their sleep with tomahawks, slaying and scalping 10 of them.  They slowly returned home under cover of night, bringing the scalps as proof to collect a bounty for their deeds.  Hannah Duston is believed to be the first woman in America to be honored with a statue, erected in 1861 in Haverill, and another erected in 1874 in Penacook.

After a hearty breakfast and interesting conversation, I found Jeff, the innkeeper, to pay for my stay.  We chatted a little while about my ride, and he mentioned that if (when) I come back he’ll get his bike out and take me through some of his favorite country rides.  I packed the bike slowly in the cool foggy morn, wishing I could stay longer.   I saddled up and headed done the road continuing south on SR100 toward Londonderry.

SR100 continued to be an enjoyable ride, tempting me to explore the countryside, but my objective was to get home to leave me a day of “collection” before getting back to work Tuesday.  I picked up SR11 west at Londonderry to make some time on US7 south. 

Even US7 was a delightfully scenic ride and traffic was moving very well.  I was thinking about how spectacular the forested vista would be when the leaves changed, when I noticed something odd ahead in the distance.  A shaft of gray stone emerging straight up from the forest lay ahead west of the highway.  I was perplexed as to what it could be.  I was quite a distance off, but this monolith conspicuously rising far above the trees looked enormous.  As US7 took me closer, I contemplated taking an exit that looked like it may take me toward the obelisk, but “practicality” pushed me southward to avoid the “distraction” from my trek home. 

US7 put me right into the middle of Bennington where I saw signs for the “Battle Monument”… no idea what battle, but I was guessing that’s my obelisk.  Being this close, I had to see it.   I hung a right onto SR9 and pulled into a station for gas, bio-break, coffee, and to re-assess my route and schedule. 

Following the signs for the battle monument, I rode through a quaint residential area up a hill to the enormous stone spire.  It was quite impressive to approach.  The park grounds were quite small, magnifying the presence of the structure.  I parked the bike a walked to the visitors center.  Tours $2: “Huh, can’t beat that.”  It seems rare to find tourist attactions in that cost-void between “free” and “over-priced”.  The attraction was one of those local oddities that didn’t draw the hordes of tourists like the monuments in DC, making it more pleasant and relaxing.  There were maybe five families milling about.  The victors center was tiny, staffed with elderly cheerful volunteers who enjoyed talking with the youngsters, or at least the well-behaved ones.

I purused the gift shop finding a bottle of late season dark amber maple syrup (a favorite), and was approached by a loquacious fellow who was there with visiting family.  He asked about my bike and my trip, pausing only long enough for me to start to answer before telling me about the bike he used to have, and about how he is afraid of heights so he never goes up into the monument, but that his brother’s (holy terror) kids would get a kick out it.  I got into line to pay for my syrup and tour admission, standing behind that family.  As the curator counted heads for admission, I again heard the fear-of-heights story explaining that he would not be going up.  Eventually getting my wristband for the tour, I walked out to the grounds to drop off my syrup at the bike before perambulating the grounds.

BattleMonument

Battle Monument of Bennington

The monument was to the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Bennington.  Like many such monuments, it commemorated a local “turning point” in the war.  But the interesting thing about this monument is its dedication to neighboring New Hampshire militia troops that came in to defend the fledgling Republic of Vermont.  The Brittish, with their victories at Ticonderoga and Mount Independence, were set on splitting off New England from the remainder of the American forces.  However, losses in the following battle at Hubbardton left the Redcoats in need of supplies before they could advance to complete their Saratoga Campaign.  Brittish General John Bergoyne sent a mixed dettachment of 700-800 Germans, Canadians, Loyalists, Regulars and Indians to capture the supply depot at Bennington thinking it was defended by only 500 men.  However, the Vermont Republic, after the Brittish victory at Ticonderoga, had called for help from New Hampshire, who pulled together a force of 2000 militia under command of General John Stark to defend Bennington.  In a series of two engagements including the addition of 550 reinforcements by the British and 350 Green Mountain Boys under the command of Seth Warner, the Americans held off the British killing 270 and taking 700 prisoner while only sustaining losses of 30 killed and 40 wounded.  Burgoyne continued his campaign and still in dire need of supplies, and ended up surrendering his total force of 8000 in Stillwater, New York, following the Battle of Saratoga.

I walked the periphery of the small grounds noting the statues and memorials honoring Stark, Warner, and the New Hampshire militiamen.  I walked up to the monument, again ending up behind the little clan from the gift shop, just in time to hear the acrophobic story one more time told to the ranger at the entrance.  I packed into the elevator with the group watching as one particularly “instigating” youngster coerced another into sticking his tongue into a small battery-powered fan.  The elevator operator was a very kindly yet rugged older man who quite obviously had not been a stranger to hard country work in his youth, and had been operating that elevator for quite some time.  He gave snippets of his tourist patter in a relaxed cadance that felt authentic and unhurried. 

Getting to the “top” , that being 2/3 of the way up, the elevator opened to a viewing platform overlooking the countryside of three states though its elongated windows.  It was a nice view nice to see, but quick to take in, and a few minutes later I was back on the ground.  Making one more pit stop before getting on the bike, I saw a flyer for the Bennington Garlic Festival.  “Thats’ cool” I thought.  I love garlic and really would have like to have gone to that…. 

I saddled up again and headed back down Monument Avenue picking up SR 9 west, immediately hitting a traffic back up.  I got a bit anxious as I inched forward.  I had lost time already, and now I was losing more.  But the day was beautiful and I was on the bike in a charming New England town, so I relaxed a bit and settled in for the crawl.  As it neared the Bennington fairgrounds I saw what it was:  The Garlic Festival.  However, being too focused on just getting through the traffic, when I got to the entrance, I flew ahead being the only vehicle not turning left into the event.

I think I made it a half mile before realizing the absolute stupidity of my action.  When I was at the Monument, it didn’t even register that the festival was today, only that “I would have liked to have gone”.  Now here I was on the open road, “living the dream” and riding right past what I was out to discover.  A quick U-turn and I was back in traffic heading back east, but this time eager to make a right turn (literally and figuratively) into the festival grounds.

As I got to the front of the line the cop directing traffic gave me a look that I couldn’t quite tell if it was “Welcome back” or a “I saw you blow by here a minute ago, so keep it down buddy'”.  Either way, I was ushered in and directed to the motorcycle only parking right up front by the gate.  Squeezing my bike in into the line of about a dozen others, I dismounted and headed into the Garlic Festival.

I was pretty stoked by my decision to stop.  Nothing puts local flavor on display like a small town festival.  Funny that it doesn’t seem to work as well for larger communities — but there is a palpable familiarity with a small town festival.  You get a sense that people actually know each other and are there to celebrate something, rather than just shuffling about in small herds as seems to happen in more “Metropolitan” festivals.  Not that Bennington is “small”, but it is just small enough to carry that local feeling. 

The festival was a celebration of that wonderful stinking rose, that ubiquitous aromatic bulb, the bane of vampires, the rustic’s theriac… garlic.  I was immediately inundated with temptation — garlic loaves, garlic scones, garlic oils, garlic sauces, garlic chutneys…. I knew I had limited packing space and no refrigeration — so I knew I had a difficult triage ahead.  I decided to walk the circuit first — then cycle back to make my purchases.  A good strategy despite the fact that I broke my own rule upon reaching the Saxtons River Distillery exhibit.  Marked by a long line, they were giving out free taste samples of Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur (or a “proper” taste for a nominal fee). I got in line and watched the expressions of the folks leaving having tried the libation.  There were not a lot of people walking off with bottles, many grimacing from the potency of the potable.  But it was the reaction of two elderly ladies that I latched on:  the shocked facial surprise at the strength of the spirit, and the smiling astoundment at how good it was.  I ordered my “proper taste” and immediately knew I was buying a bottle with its rich sweet maple aroma, a healthy burn, and smooth finish.  For years I had thought maple would make a grand liqueur and was ecstatic to have found it.

I continued to wander the grounds sampling garlic dips, garlic salsas, garlic pretzels, and of course raw garlic.  I ended up with quite a haul to load onto the bike:  my maple liqueur, garlic peanuts, garlic scones, garlic braid, garlic aioli, and a big bag of garlic kettle corn.  Am glad I was a minimalist packer at the start of this trip. 

It was past noon when I left heading west on SR9 with no regrets on the time spent.  I crossed into New York a short while later getting my final state ABC picture for the year.  I continued on a nice ride on SR7 toward Troy, where I decided it was time to start picking up some miles. I hopped on I-787 south to pick up I-90 west to Schenectady, where I picked up I-88 west. Traffic was flowing well and I was making good time.  I hopped off I-88 in Oneonta for gas, red bull, and my “O” city point.  As interstates go, I-88 was not bad; widely snaking with decent scenery.  I  picked up I-81 south near Binghamton which led me back into the northeast corner of Pennsylvania. 

I was due for a break by the first Pennsylvania rest stop where I was surprised and delighted to find the Free Masons providing free refreshments — hot dogs, chips, baked goods, coffee, soda, water…  I’d seen free coffee charity stops before — but not full meals, and at this point, I needed it.  It was getting to be late afternoon and I was faced (again) with the mileage decision:  press on to get home very late, but sleep in my own bed…. or take my time and spend the night in PA.  My next major town (not that that was a requirement) was Scranton.. With the theme song from “The Office” repeating in my head, I decided that would be my stop for the night.

I picked an exit which I believed to be centrally located and pulled into the first convenience store I found for a Red Bull and bar/lodging/event advice.  My first attempt at getting information from a guy waiting in the passenger seat of a filthy beat up sedan turn up bubkes, with the extent of his help being: “There’s nuthin'”.  “Really?” I asked.  “Not a single bar or restaurant in all of Scranton worth setting foot into?”  Such an uninspired, miserable man.  I doubted his ability to enjoy anything, anywhere.  The next guy was far more helpful — rattling off a half dozen places he figured someone looking like me would be interested in.  I got the rough directions to two general areas and headed out.

Finding the first bar was easy, and the guy was right; I liked it.  It was a neighborhood bar with a lot of local flavor, not a lot of class, and very friendly.  The problem was a lack of lodging anywhere nearby.  I ordered a beer and chatted with the barmaid to get refined directions to the downtown bar district with some hotels nearby.  I’m not sure if people really “get” that I seek the little cheap motels on purpose, or if these types of accommodations are just too forgettable by the locals — but I ended up with directions to the downtown Hilton and was on my way. 

Reaching downtown I was surprised to find streets blocked off — Another Festival!  I had ridden right into Scranton’s annual Italian Festival, yet oddly no one I had spoken to thus far had mentioned it.  The Hilton was well located a half block off from the main festivities.  I checked in, unloaded the bike, had the bags sent to the room, and navigated the crowded street to get my bike parked in the Hilton garage. 

I walked across the streetstraight from the garage into the festival, still wearing my leathers (a small tactical error).  While appearance had one child convinced I was some sort of cowboy, I spent the better part of the evening drenched in sweat in the absence of a riding wind. 

The festival was almost completely food vendors selling cheap Italian street fare (pizza slices, calzone, and the like), which was a bit disappointing.  I did manage to find one place serving tortellini that wasn’t horrible.  But what was more surprising was the fact that it was a dry festival… no wine!  I shuffled along with the crowd about the square; seating was at a significant premium so people watching wasn’t even much fun without a perch.  While the locals seemed to enjoy milling about in circles past food stands, I’d take a pass on the Scranton Italian festival. (While still not “metropolitan, it had just crossed into out of the small town festival flavor, and into the aimless milling-about genre.)

I made it a relatively early night stopping off in the deserted lobby bar of my hotel for a night cap, and headed up to my room to find my bags and helmet neatly stacked at the foot of the bed.  Quite a day.  Two festivals (one great and another not so much), a decent ride, a really cool monument, and predictably comfortable accommodations for the night.

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LD Ride Day 3: Man I Got Lucky September 5, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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Am sitting in a little ice cream shop, drinking coffee and waiting for my breakfast of eggs over easy, home fries, sausage, and toast.  I really didn’t expect to be here, but had the fortune of coming across an outdoor art show this morning here in Ocean Park, Maine and decided to stop.

I got on the road in Biddeford less than an hour ago, a little after 8:00 and headed north on US-1.  It is a strange familiarity, traveling on a distant extent of a highway that runs close to home.  It seems odd that being 6 states removed, that I can give direction to my house in only four roads.

I stopped for gas and coffee in Saco, then got off US1 taking SR9 to the coast.  At 120 feet to the shoreline (on the GPS anyway), the bike reached her closest proximity to the ocean in Camp Ellis.  I continued on SR9 along the coast, happening upon the art show.  Amidst the sea of cars, I parked in the one perfectly placed spot across from the park and found that most of the activity was here at the ice cream shop cum breakfast counter.  My luck continued getting the only available table.  I’m sitting by the window, watching folks walking to the art show, and getting hungrier with the scent of each hot breakfast making its way out of the kitchen destined for a neighboring table….  And here comes mine 🙂

Camp-Ellis

Over looking the Atlantic at Camp Ellis, Maine

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Breakfast was good, but otherwise unexceptional.  I sat people-watching as I ate, and noticed a family unpacking their SUV to walk to the beach a couple blocks away.  Being by birth a land-locked South Dakotan, I’ve never really “caught on” to the “beach thing” and the thought that struck me this morning was how encumbered a trip to the beach seems to be.  I watched as the family extricated folding chairs, umbrellas, coolers, towels, blankets, boogie boards, and backpacks out the back of the car like a magician pulling an endless buries of rabbits from his hat.  They loaded themselves up to carry all this stuff  down the street to go sit in the sand.  Doesn’t seem “relaxing” to me.  Even if the beach itself is really wonderfully soothing, at some point they’ll have to carry all that crap back to the car.  I don’t get it.

After breakfast I strolled the art show in the park.  A lot of littoral work: seascapes, shorelines, boats, and gulls… meh.   Not that I was surprised by the ubiquitous maritime motif, but I was hoping for just a little more variety.  There was one artist whose work drew my focus.  He had beautiful photography printed to canvas giving a vague illusion of being a painting without trying to be. I suppose a true aficionado would likely consider it more of a gimmick than art, but I was quite transfixed by the surreal depth of one foggy forest piece for several minutes, and half thought to have it shipped home.

I continued up the coast along SR9 to find where a big touristing strip lay at Old Orchard Beach.  I didn’t know it was there, else I might not have stopped earlier for breakfast.  I was surprised at the number of people in the streets for the relatively early hour.  There lots of hotels, shops, restaurants, and bars all within a close proximity.  It looked like fun place to stay (for future reference, if I decide to give the beach decent try…).

As SR9 turned a sharp corner back toward US-1, I rode through what turns out to be my east-most extent at longitude W70° 20.6750′.  Going back west on SR9, I stopped at a state wildlife management area with a prominent sign to pick up my Maine ABC point.  I continued straight on to pick up a great ride on Broadturn Road to find my new “old friend” US-202, which I took NNE to pick up US-302 heading NW.  As I glided through the sylvan countryside, I thought how much better the ride was shaping up, compared to yesterday afternoon.  It was beautiful.  The weather was sunny.  It was warm to stand still, but pleasantly chilly on the bike in a Henley and vest.

Me-in-MaineApproaching the New Hampshire border in Fryeburg I stopped for coffee and an ABC point (for my “F” city) at the local post office.  An elderly man watching me balance the magazine on the bike and line up on post office sign was convinced that I needed to be in the picture as well and offered to take it.

After crossing into New Hampshire, US-302 proved even more delightful than US-202.  Lots of great sweeps and beautiful scenery.  I hoped off US-302 to pick up SR112 via SR16 outside of Center Conway which took me through White Mountain National Forest.  It was marked as a scenic route in my Harley atlas and most certainly did not disappoint.  Following along the Swift River, the road had that intimacy with the landscape that I really enjoy.  I stopped at a picnic area next to the river to try to capture the beauty of cascading water over the rocky riverbed.  But it seems half of New Hampshire had the same notion to enjoy the area as well that day.  I forewent the picture, holding onto memory of the views from the road as it wound through the forest.  I really should consider a helmet cam one of these days.

White Mountain National Park

White Mountain National Park

Beaver Pond

Beaver Pond

The road headed upward climbing the side of Mount Kancamangus losing a bit of the intimacy but affording some great vistas.  I stopped at a couple scenic overlooks and again at a pleasant picnic area at Beaver Pond a short distance from the Appalachian Trail.  I was not the only rider taking advantage of the beautiful New England weather that day, seeing scores on the road and dozens at the stops.  I continued on to meet back up with US-302 a couple miles ahead of the Vermont border.

After securing my Vermont point in Wells River, I continued toward Monteplier, traveling about 30-odd miles to Barre before a kindly old man in a pickup warned me to not get caught without a helmet!  Whoa! I was so lucky.  I actually passed two cops riding through Vermont with my hair blowing in the wind. One was directing traffic for a funeral (he did stare at me oddly,but didn’t motion for me to pull over or even point like I was missing something) and the other had someone else pulled over.  I mistakenly thought I was helmet-free until New York; I guess I didn’t check Vermont.

Italian-American Monument in Barre, VT

Italian-American Monument in Barre, VT

I immediately crossed the right turn lane to get off the road into the parking lot of Mister Z’s Pizza, where I decided I was hungry and needed to catch up on taking blog notes anyway.  I took a seat at a booth with a window overlooking the bike.  I ordered a small Italian Stallion pizza (meat, meat, and more meat)and a beer, and looked out the window seeing the Barre police pass by… twice.  Man, was I lucky.

I took my time working on finishing the delicious pizza, prioritizing the gooey, cheesy, greasy, meaty center and leaving behind only a pan of pizza-bones.  Looking at my atlas, I was kind of thankful I had forgotten my passport.  Canada would have been barely attainable at the significant expense of an enjoyable pace.  I decided to start heading home.  My only remaining trip objective was to ride SR100, which was supposed to be a great road with a lot of sweeps.  I backtracked a little bit to take SR14 out of town heading south to pick up SR107 west to pick up SR100 between Stockbridge and Pittsfield.  Pretty much the whole ride from Barre was great and SR100 did not disappoint.  Great sweeps on beautiful countryside.  I would very much like to make a return trip to finally see the famed foliage of fall.

I strove to make it to Londonderry, but given the angle of the setting sun and on-coming chill of riding in the cool valleys, I started looking for lodging at Weston.  Catching a store clerk  as he was closing up shop, I learned of a place, the Continental House Inn, a bit further up the road that was supposedly “the only place” around there.  Given yesterday’s bad luck in not having a reservation at Bentley’s in Maine,  I hurried on figuring they’d probably be full, and I’d have some more miles to go before I slept.  The inn was pretty easy to spot, and I was heartened that in addition to its New England rustic charm that their sign proudly said “Motorcycle Friendly”.  I pulled up to see about half a dozen motel rooms, that all looked occupied; the remainder of the building looked more to be a farm house.  I parked the bike and walked up to what kind-of looked like an office, or at least less like a motel room.  The two older folks in they yard didn’t so much as look up as I walked by in full leathers in search of the office.  As I got closer, I realized I was not headed in the right direction when I heard a delicate voice behind me.  “What are you looking for?” the voice asked.  I turned to find an adorable little girl, maybe 6 years old with a very business like demeanor.  I told here I was looking for the office. “That’s not the office,” she said matter-of-factly, “The office is over here,” pointing at the sign that said “Office”.  I sheepishly followed her back past the elderly couple, who again didn’t move or glance. A retriever stood up giving a few of pro forma barks.  The little girl explained that he was friendly and was just doing his part to protect the place.  She then gave me very specific directions on getting through the two doors before me to find the innkeeper.

I was heartily welcomed by the owner, Jeff, and was introduced to his little assistant (his daughter, Alexis) and to his wife, Kim, who was busy baking something wonderful in the kitchen.  I learned that the motel was booked for the night, but that they had rooms available in the inn.  Wondering what the room rate rate of a charming Vermont Inn on a Labor Day holiday weekend would be, but concerned that my options were limited, I immediately said “I’ll take it!” and was delighted to find that the price was only 2/3 the rate I spent at the dump in Biddeford the night before, and included homemade breakfast.  Jeff then gave me a a tour of the inn.  I could not believe how lucky I was to have found the place; simply wonderful.  There was a great common area with TV, couches, games, books, coffee, cookies, fireplace.  It had such a familial feel, like staying in the home of kindly relatives in the country.  I was shown to the dining room and the ice machine, and was led upstairs to a narrow hallway to my room.  It was a tiny New England Farmhouse-appointed room with sloping ceilings matching the pitch of the gabled roof.  The bed was a comfortable queen.  I could not get over how wonderfully charming this place was.  I was right across from the bathroom which was clean, dry, and well decorated — again giving the feeling of staying with relatives, only cleaner and without the feeling of imposition. 

I pulled the Sturgis Pack off the bike and carried it up the creaky steps and down the very narrow, low-ceilinged hallway to my room.  I espyied my silhouette in a mirror at the end of the hall: a shaggy ogre lumbering with my leather-clad girth inches of each wall. Settling into my room, I pulled out the cell phone to tweet my discovery of this wonderful inn, only to find no signal.  I smiled, thinking how delightfully appropriate that was, and pulled out the laptop to find a strong wifi signal.  Smiling again, at how much I loved this place, I settled in to work on the route and the blog for a little while before dinner.  But soon I felt a bit peckish, and I headed down to the common room to ask Jeff about my restaurant options.

I was greeted by my first name, as though by family, reinforcing the sincere hospitality feel of the place.  I learned that for dinner, my best option was back up the road a couple of miles in Weston at a small restaurant called the Bryant House – a part of the Vermont Country Store.  As suggested by the name it was an historic 1827 residence.  Like everything else in the area, the restaurant house was delightfully charming.  I sat in the bar area and read the history chronicled in the menu… about the house, the furniture, and about the bar.  For dinner, I opted to go light, figuring it would be heresy to leave New England without having a lobster roll (also realizing I probably should have had one in Maine; Doh).  I caught up on my trip notes with a glass of Chardonnay waiting for my meal.

I had estimated the size my hunger perfectly, forewent any dessert, and rode back to the inn in the cold dark.  I half-thought to sit for a while in the common area and watch Lawrence Welk, but elected to instead stay up in my room, comfortably snug in bed catching up on emails, tweets, and blogs for a little while before drifting off to sleep.  I left the windows open, and enjoyed the cool Vermont night breeze.  Man, I got lucky today.