Autumn road trip: clouds and no crowds

My husband and I drove north for a hastily-planned weekend trip for some hiking and biking, past the peak autumn foliage and the oppressive crowds driving to see it. The cloudy weather got cloudier. Traffic got lighter. When we stopped at a little inn on U.S. 2, we were exactly where we wanted to be.

You can call it “past peak.” I call it just fine.

narrow road in autumn, Weeks State Park New Hampshire, photo by Ellen Kolb
Weeks State Park auto road. All photos by Ellen Kolb.

It was not a weekend for grand vistas or clear night skies. Low clouds were the rule. My favorite lookout spot on the Weeks State Park Auto Road, which usually features a showstopping view of the Presidential Range, featured nothing but a wall of fog.

sunset and fog with fire tower, Prospect Mountain NH, photo by Ellen Kolb
Weeks State Park: sunset and fog on Prospect Mountain.

So instead of looking at things miles away, I spent more time looking at things like the carpet of red maple leaves under my feet. I liked walking for miles in the cool conditions. Segments of the Presidential Rail Trail were ideal.

bicyclist on Presidential Rail Trail, autumn, New Hampshire, photo by Ellen Kolb
Presidential Rail Trail, Gorham NH

The only noisy mile of trail was one I shared with ATVs in Gorham when I wanted to get a look at the Androscoggin River from a trail bridge. Once I’d done that, I scooted back west to where the trail was closed to motorized traffic. Once I was on that stretch, I saw a grand total of three other people in five miles of walking.

Androscoggin River in Gorham New Hampshire
Androscoggin River, Gorham NH: low in October after a dry summer

At one point during the weekend, the clouds lifted enough to reveal nearby Cherry Mountain, which for once wasn’t just a visual foil to all the other peaks in the area. I was lucky enough to be walking in the Pondicherry area when the sun came out and the view opened up.

Cherry Mountain, Jefferson New Hampshire. Photo by Ellen Kolb
Cherry Mountain, Jefferson NH

Note: there’s been extensive work recently on the Presidential trail in the Pondicherry area. The unpaved surface there is in the best shape it can be.

Favorite rail trails

I’m reading a biography of Theodore Roosevelt. A description of a jam-packed campaign tour that he undertook in 1912 via rail includes Nashua, New Hampshire and Ayer, Massachusetts on a list of stops.

Hello, Nashua River Rail Trail. It appeals to my inner history buff that whenever I’m there, I’m retracing a path that was once traveled by a former President.

Who knows how many other distinguished passengers were once conveyed by rail along paths I take today? I’m sure there are stories I haven’t heard yet.

The NRRT has long been my favorite local rail trail, but the Goffstown Rail Trail along with its Piscataquog cousin in Manchester has become a contender. The connection between the Goffstown and Manchester trails was worth the wait. I’m particularly fond of the segment between West Side Arena and Danis Park Road. I get to use the pedestrian bridge that finally replaced the abandoned trestle over the Piscataquog River, and then I walk with just enough people on the trail to make it a pleasant experience. It’s a place of peace and quiet but not isolation.

I’ve yet to explore the full length of the Rockingham Recreational Trail between the Manchester/Auburn line and Newfields, but the westernmost segment alone does not disappoint with its views of Lake Massabesic.

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View from the trail’s main parking area, just south of the Massabesic traffic circle.

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Massabesic Lake seen from a boat launch along the trail: imagine the variety of birds to be seen and heard here.

My single visit to the trail along the old Troy-to-Fitzwilliam line left me determined to come back and explore more of Cheshire County’s rail trails.

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Heading from Troy to Fitzwilliam on a foggy day: silent, eerie beauty.

The Presidential Rail Trail and its crown jewel, the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, are too far away for me to visit more than once a year. An easy mile-and-a-half hike from Airport Road in Whitefield leads to one of New Hampshire’s hidden treasures.

For eight years, I’ve relied on Charles F. Martin’s comprehensive book New Hampshire Rail Trails for information about the location and history of these and other trails. You could order the book online, but I prefer finding my trail guides at local book shops. The browsing always yields new resources for planning future trips.