RA88: Kancamagus Pass

Orford NH to Jigger Johnson Campground (east of Kancamagus Pass) NH – 64.2 miles

When we met Nancy yesterday, she asked where we were staying tonight, and when we told her she remarked, “You’re going to do Lincoln Pass and Kancamagus Pass both in the same day?!”  On paper, today’s ride looked challenging, 60 miles that finished with a couple of 2000 foot climbs.

Jack and I started out on a different mission, though, to get a proper “Welcome to New Hampshire” photograph for our collection.  We found one just north of our campsite back across a bridge into Vermont (used in the last post).  Oh the trouble we go to to amuse ourselves.

We also looked up and down the street for a breakfast place but found none.  The AC maps indicated that the next town, Piermont NH, had a restaurant, but when we got there we found nothing.   We continued north on NH10 following a lovely river lined with many sweet little homes and farms.  Weather today at first threatened more rain, but transformed itself into intense blue skies and puffy clouds, about 65F.  Perfect riding weather.

Hmmm, a round barn

In North Haverhill NH, a place called “The Little Grille” beckoned to us but we saw that it opened at 11am, i.e. no breakfast.  A nice girl in the parking lot, though, approached us and offered to open the place up early to get us a soda or something.  Instead we asked about breakfast and she directed us to a place 5 miles out on our route.  She said, “There’ll be some climbing before you get there.”

Indeed there was.  We turned east onto NH116 and began climbing.  Spying some loaded touring bikes ahead not from our team, we finally approached Jerry and Sheri, two cross country riders we’d been hearing about (Portland OR to Bar Harbor ME).  They’d met almost everyone from our group except Jack and me at different times over the last couple of days.  We shared stories as we rode and finally reached our breakfast place, The Cider Café at Windy Ridge Orchard.  The  four of us chatted it up outside with beverages for a while, and they eventually left us to enjoy a bigger breakfast.   This trip celebrated their retirement.  Like us, they were already becoming sad that the trip was nearing its end.

At the Windy Ridge Orchard

After breakfast, the road steepened plenty with a few sections of granny crunching, but nothing like those climbs 2 days ago, and nowhere near the length.  The hill rose about 1000 feet, dropped, then rose another 800 feet before peaking out, and the effort did not unduly tax us.  On the downside descent, I took a quick glance at my cyclometer and it already read 40 mph, so I did a slight tuck with hands still on the brake housings (not on the drops) and reached 44 mph.  Plenty fast on a bagged bike.  The descent was a marvelous 8 miles or so.  I later learned that Gary hit over 50 mph on this stretch!

Phenomenal riding in the NH mountains

We stopped in North Woodstock NH (not half a million strong).  This place appears to be a tourist town but has all manner of interesting shops.  We found Peg’s Breakfast and Lunch and enjoyed a light meal there.  In its sister town, Lincoln NH, we stopped at the Price Grabber grocery store for provisions.  Our campsite tonight would have no food services available, and this was the last town.

And then, what we’d been waiting for: the Kancamagus Pass.  Frank says he’s ridden this road many times.  one description of it is to “Crank the Kanc.”  On the AC maps profile chart it is a real spike, even though it tops out at only 2855 feet.  Jack and I set in to the task, and soon enough found that the grade was much kinder than almost any other “mountain” grade we’d ridden in Vermont or New Hampshire.  Maybe 9% or 10% tops, with most of it lower.  I rode my middle chainring almost to the top, resorting to my granny only in a few portions.

Ascending through the Kancamagus Pass
Mountain lakes along the way
This scenery is even more stunning in person

But the views!  Fantastic riding along branch rivers, with the water crashing and swirling beside us over small rock falls.  Stands of pine trees.  Marshy bogs where I was sure there’d be a moose (nope).   Dense thicketed woods where I was sure there’d be a bear (nope).  And those intense blue skies with puffy white clouds, plenty of sunshine, and perfect temperatures.  Does it get any better than this?

We're sure to see a moose?

At the top Jack and I stopped for pie and water, and decided that a “pass” photo was in order since this was the final mountain pass before the Atlantic.

Last mountain pass heading east
Excellent spot for pie

Nice descent on the eastern side of Kancamagus.  The slope is fairly shallow, starting at 7% and decreasing from there, so the descent is nothing but fun.  We easily found our campsite about 9 miles from the top, a USFS place called Jigger Johnson Campground.   We noted right away that posted signs saying, due to Hurricane Irene, the campground would close tomorrow (Saturday) at noon and reopen on Tuesday morning.

Bill, Gary, and Roger were already here.  Frank had headed down to Conway for bonus miles.  We all set up our tents and sat around joking and eating.  The ranger rode by and told us all the tents would need to be moved off the pinestraw and onto the stony gravel pad – campground rules.  We wondered if this rule-happy ranger has ever tent camped in her life.

Beautiful campsite at Jigger Johnson

Jesse eventually showed up looking pretty beat (he was actually battling a cold).  I thought maybe he’d have stayed in Lincoln for the night but here he was – way to go Jesse.  Frank too finally returned glowing from his extra efforts.

We all discussed the next few days with Hurricane Irene scheduled to hit.  All of us now plan to go to Frank’s summer ranch house tomorrow night, and we will very likely stay there for a day or even two waiting out the storm.  Jack, Roger, and I will then continue on our way towards Bar Harbor, while the rest will make a 20+ mile ride in to Portland ME to conclude their tour.

As I’ve stated, this realization makes me a little sad.  Tonight’s night in camp is the last for Team RA, at least outside.  We joked around more than usual before turning in.  The sadness is mixed in with a lot of other emotions linked to finishing such a long tour.

61 miles today, and probably 5000 feet of climbing.  Once again I sit in my tent typing.  Jesse is snoring, and Roger has had a small fit and has just moved his tent away, which pretty much cracked us up.  The family next door is peppy and vocal – hopefully they will respect the quiet rule (at 10PM).  They’re reading trivia questions from some board game at the moment…