turning it up a notch

“…And where do you plan on burying her?”
The question, posed quite pleasantly by Dave N., interrupted a listing of New Hampshire notches: Bear, Crawford, Jefferson, plus a debate about the Kancamangus pass and a throwaway comment concerning Hurricane Road. We were at Ride.Studio.Cafe sipping post-ride caffeinated drinks, when it was revealed that I would be expected to spin my way through all of the above and then some. I slouched a little further into my seat as my eyes bounced between Dave and Chris, trying to pretend my legs didn’t hurt already from our earlier 30 mile spin.
Because though not usually one for spontaneity, I was headed up to New Hampshire the next day on a whim. “I’m taking you up to New Hampshire with our bikes,” the wording went, and doped up on an affogato with a carbon fiber loaner bike courtesy of Ride.Studio.Cafe., I had – happily, yet perhaps a little rashly – agreed.

The planned route – I only later learned – stretched north from North Conway up towards Crawford Notch, then to Jefferson. It turned east from there, before cutting south into a sliver of Maine. Bearing west would bring us back across the Maine-New Hampshire border into North Conway. 100 miles of spinning, but a ride that could be cut down to 60 or 80 depending on how we felt. It sounded almost quaint; a countryside jaunt with a few hills along the way.
Except, you know, we were talking about the White Mountains.
Had I understood the exact elevation of these combined passes, perhaps I would have exhibited some hesitation. Or outright refusal. Familiarity with the terrain, curiosity regarding elevation gain, or simply not being a dumbass and the ability to use Google Maps would have provided me with the necessary insight to just say no. Such skills would have informed me that this seemingly pleasant ride would take us up and near mountains named after whole families decimated by landslides on their slopes. Wikipedia would also have shredded any remaining romantic notions that I would survive the ride, much less make it up even one of those notches without drooling all over myself.
But here was a loaner bike and a boy promising adventure, and all I could say was yes, yes, yes.

An hour after kicking off from the parking lot, I was predictably regretting my conscious naïveté. On a compact crank for the first time in over a year, I impatiently struggled to establish some sort of rhythm while drafting off Chris’ 6’2” frame. I scampered along to his easy soft pedaling, our mismatched cadences mirroring our contrasting gaits even off the bike. Me scurrying low to the ground, taking three steps for every one of his long, loping strides; an extra couple of pedal strokes for every one of his.
Not as if there was anyone around to see our motley duo. Pedaling down roads sandwiched between forests, past signs warning to slow down in the event of moose, riding through White Mountain National Park is the stuff of nature-loving, loner dreams. Smooth asphalt leads towards mountains so picturesque they inspire both awe and a desire to conquer their beauty. Pedaling towards one mountain brings another into view, then another. Their sides sometimes scarred by ski runs, the uneven peaks layer themselves against the backdrop of a clear, clean sky that sparkles with stars at night.

Signs of civilization only came in the form of the occasional passing car and – in our case – construction crews building back roads where whole sections seem to have disappeared [thanks to Hurricane Irene]. A mechanical shovel took a swing at Chris before graciously lurching out of my way. We were never sure if it was on purpose, but a giant tank of Foster’s, sitting innocently atop an orange traffic barrel, probably had something to do with it, too.
Our momentum slowed after that, broken up further by more missing sections of asphalt. By the time we arrived at the base of Crawford Notch, my thighs were feeling flimsy despite the fact that the real climbing hadn’t even begun. I remember the road curving up before us, my wheezy breathing that started right before the last push, and the 13% grade slope that continued far longer than was really necessary. Chris’ black and white Cambridge kit skipped along up ahead as I crawled to the top. I put my head on my stem and looked for a place to lie down and die.

My legs feeling as stable as Costello’s in “Pump It Up,” we turned back after that, our bikes flying down that 13% grade. The wind roared in my ears, the deafening noise of blasting air like nothing I’d ever heard or felt before. We swung back the way we came, at times a little faster than on the way in, towards showers and food and beers.

“Next time,” Chris said, “next time, we’ll do the whole thing.”
I think I laughed in response. I may still get buried along the way, but I’ll take any excuse to ride up those New Hampshire mountains again.
And because we all love to eat… [places to refuel in North Conway]:
Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Company A hike if you’re walking from downtown North Conway but easily accessible by car, we grabbed dinner here post-ride. Portions are huge and the beer is yummy [we shared a sampler of about 7 different beers for about $7, but agreed that the Moat Brown was the best of the bunch].
Stairway Café Located one floor above street level [hence the name] in downtown North Conway, it’s an adorable space with a vintage-y feel. I inhaled most of my eggs, bacon, and pancakes, but the best part was that they offer locally made game meat sausages [the venison was pretty amazing]. If you’re in the area and hungry for brunch, this is your place.
[Fourth and last picture taken by Chris Gagne.]