A low rumble sounded. I’m pedaling up Old Cherry Mountain Road into White Mountain National Forest, enjoying the stunning forest gently hugging the dirt road, squarely centered on being fully present in this moment. My friends are out of sight behind me, but not worried … we’ll all regroup at the top.
That’s interesting, I didn’t realize there was a logging operation nearby.
A short distance later, the low rumble sounds again.
That’s not logging operations. That’s a thunderstorm. We need to set up camp NOW.
A few years back my friend Karen sent me a website for the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail (XNHAT). At the time, there wasn’t a lot of information other than a Map My Ride link and a few pages with trail conditions, including that ATVs had chewed up a section of the rail trail pretty badly. We put this in our back pockets for a future adventure when more information was available – but it was appealing because of the gentle rail trail grades, lots of dirt, and biking across New Hampshire.
Earlier this year I saw the Northern White Mountains Overnight Loop (NWM Loop) on Bikepacking.com and immediately wanted to do the ride for the scenery. But with a 6 hour drive to the start, I needed a bit more to make it worth the drive.
Karen, our friend Ashley, and I originally planned to ride the Brattleboro Loop from bikepacking.com but as the year progressed and the weather was persistently rainy, we decided to find something more in line with a Type I fun trip.
Enter the mashup of the XNHAT and NWM Loop: start from Woodsville, NH (a mere 4 hours from my house) and ride to Maine and back with the scenic NWM Loop hooked in on the eastbound ride over 3 days (2 nights). My friend Jean also joined us.
Day One Highlights
- The Ammonoosuc Rail Trail isn’t your typical rail train in that it allows OHRV/ATVs. The gravel can get deep and chunky at times as well as significant washboarding. Wider tires help, but our hands were continually going numb from the vibrations.
- The bridges and trestles are wide and well maintained, offering stunning views along the river
- Seeing a buck running through the river. We watched for a bit to make sure a bear wasn’t chasing it before continuing on.
- Covered Bridge at Bath
- Old Train station in Lisbon
- Lunch at Littleton Diner
- Getting caught in a pop up rain storm leaving Littleton
- 11 miles of exposed pavement (Route 116) from Littleton to Whitefield is by far the least enjoyable part of the journey.
- The shoulder is wide, but it’s a busy road with lots of logging trucks and virtually no shade or opportunities for shelter when weather changes
- Deciding to pick up extra water in Whitefield since we intended to dispersed camp in White Mountain National Forest
- Getting caught in another pop-up rainstorm as we leave Whitefield. This has got to be a record year for rainfall in the Northeast.
- Back on quiet backroads and the start of actual climbing, not the gentle rail trail grades we’ve been enjoying so far
- Old Cherry Mountain Rd is a fantastic climb into White Mountain National Forest
- checking dispersed campsite after campsite and finding them all occupied. Feeling disheartened, but also that we need to get set up quickly because a thunderstorm is approaching.
- Recalling there is a campground at the bottom of the descent … and going up to the front door of the house to see if we can get a site …. quickly
- Spending the next hour on their covered front porch while thunderstorms form, merge, and then move south … while another forms in its place and dumping lots and lots of rain.
- Fortunately the campground had hot showers for the coldest among us … and the owners brought us firewood so we could have a fire
- Setting up camp, enjoying dinner and laughter by the fire
- Helinox chairs are worth the weight when it’s been raining!
- Finishing the day at 50 miles
Day Two Highlights
- Everything is somehow still wet from overnight – but the temps are rapidly rising and drying things off
- checking the weather forecast and realizing Sunday is 95% chance of .5″ of rain and by heading westbound, we won’t see any tapering off. Sunday is our longest day, an expected 65 miles on the Presidential Rail Trail, Route 116, and Ammonoosuc Rail Trails.
- Making the decision to finish the NWM Loop portion of the route and then head back to the cars for a total of 57 miles for the day.
- It’s hot. We take frequent breaks in the shade
- Turning left onto Jefferson Notch Rd and feeling relieved to see it’s a gorgeous shaded dirt road
- Everyone taking the climb at their own pace
- SO HOT at the summit!! Photos, food, quick break in the shade, then 6 miles downhill
- Learning the Presidential Rail Trail is significantly more rustic than the Ammonoosuc Rail Trail. But the views!!
- Sled dog kennel!!
- The heat is starting to get to some in the group so we start taking frequent breaks in whatever shade we can find
- Whitefield Market for food and time in the A/C
- lunch in the shady grass at the center common park was peak bike adventure happiness
- Back on Route 116, which is still really exposed but now really hot as well
- Arriving in Littleton and deciding to head to the river and put our feet in
- GAME CHANGER! The river was so refreshing and cool.
- It’s all downhill from here, with gravity gently pulling our bikes a little faster
- Arriving back at our cars tired, dirty, sweaty, and happy for the overnight adventure with girl friends
Pro Tips & Takeaways
- Align expectations prior to the start. Want to stop for photos and ice cream? Prefer to heads-down hammer between resupply stops? Be open and honest about this. Not everyone knew each other on this trip and talking over dinner about what we hoped to get from this trip put us all in the same mindset so we could have an amazing time together.
- Be sure to “train” and acclimate. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know “training” generally means finding something similar to what you’re about to do and doing that a few times before the trip. If you prefer a training plan, knock yourself out.
- This includes in all kinds of conditions – hot, cold, rain, exposure, shade. Know how your body reacts and how to adjust on the ride. And if the situation goes sideways, always prioritize health over schedules or expectations. Do not put yourself in a dangerous place for whatever perceived “glory” you’ll get from the trip.
- Planning is essential for any adventure – know options and have back up plans.
- We expected to camp at the dispersed campsites but they were already claimed with no one around to ask if we could share the site. Thankfully we had scoped a campground on the planning map that had room for us for the night.
- Also changing our plans due to weather. Much easier to consider because we knew where the route option points were and distance between towns/resupply.
- Prioritize packing for health and safety on the trip. Literally putting out legs in the ice cold river helped relieve the heat of the day and provided a nice respite.
- Creature Comforts are important too!
- Box Wine was worth the weight while around the campfire the first night
- As were the Helinox and Z-chairs. The deluge had made everything at the campsite completely soaked – having a dry place to sit and warm ourselves by the fire was amazing
- Rail Trail grades are appealing – but know the energy consumption increases as the surface gets progressively more rustic. Long stretches at a 1-2% incline can also sap energy reserves! Fuel appropriately and consider tire choice before heading out.
- Not every adventure has to be EXTREME. Be safe, have fun, pick two.
total gear+supplies weight estimated at 24 pounds
bike weight estimated at 25 pounds
The Bike & The Packs
Salsa Cutthroat GRX600, size 52
modifications: 11-40 cassette
Teravail Rutland 42mm <– very pleased at the low rolling resistance and good traction in the chunk
Salsa bolt-on framebag
Revelate Designs Pronghorn Harness w/small drybag <–no impediment to shifters and minimized overpacking
Revelate Designs Egress Pocket
Revelate Designs Nano Panniers
Revelate Designs Gas Can
Topeak Explore MTB rack
Sea to Summit eVent waterproof compression sack, Medium (14L)
26oz water bottles, mounted to fork
17oz collapsible Platypus bottle for extra water on Day 2
Attire On the Bike
- Pactimo Summit 12-hour Bibs
- Pactimo zero-weight SS baselayer
- Pactimo 2019 Brand Ambassador jersey
- UnderArmor Infinity Mid-Sports Bra <– fantastically light and breathable support
- Smartwool PhD Ultralight run socks
- Pearl Izumi X-Alp mountain bike shoes
- Showers Pass Syncline CC jacket in leaf green
- Pactimo thermal arm and knee warmers
- Pactimo 2019 Brand Ambassador wind vest
- Extra Pactimo Bibs and wool socks
- Title Nine Swelter Shelter dress
- sleep bra & underwear
- wool sleep set (leggings, long sleeve, socks)
- fleece hat and gloves
- 850-fill puffy jacket
- Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL1 tent and footprint
- Sea to Summit Trail 50* sleeping quilt
- Sea to Summit Reactor liner
- Thermarest NeoAir XLite Women’s sleep pad
- Exped Mega inflatable pillow
- toiletries (travel size toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, tweezers)
- Wilderness Wipes
- Chamois Butt’r travel packets
- medications sorted into plastic jewelry bags (morning, afternoon, evening)
- day hike first aid kit
- camp toilet paper and titanium trowel
- Emergency mylar blanket
- wallet pouch with laminated photocopies of my ID, insurance card, and covid-19 vaccination card, cash, and a credit card
- MSR Pocket Rocket stove and fuel
- GSI Soloist Cookset
- Grounds to Hounds enameled tin mug
- Sea to Summit long-handle spork
Mechanical & Tools
- pocket knife and lighter
- extra velcro and voile straps
- multi-tool, tire levers, CO2 for MTB tires
- spare tube
- spare brake pads
- spare shifter cable
- travel size chain lube and shop towels
- 2 Pack It Gourmet dehydrated dinners
- 2 baggies of Quick oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts mixed in
- instant coffee and baggie of powdered creamer
- ClifBars, assorted
- Skratch Labs gummies (sour cherry is my fave)
- Nuun Sport + Caffeine Mango Orange
- Skratch Labs hydration, individual packets
- Skratch Labs Recovery Beverage, horchata flavor
- Lunch in towns during resupply