Mount Washington, NH
I've always wanted to go to the top of Mount Washington, New Hampshire, with its car road to the summit at 6,288 feet. When the local members of the Concours Owners Group (COG) decided to make a weekend of it, I was game to go. My boyfriend, Bob, loves to motorcycle, was thrilled.
Concours Visit, Aug 26 2000
We woke up early Saturday morning to gorgeous sunshine. We climbed on the bike and headed north from Massachusetts. We were running a bit late, so instead of meeting the COGgers at the starting point, we arranged to meet them at the top of the mountain. We drove through Massachusetts on a highway, but once we hit New Hampshire we found several smaller roads to wend along. Unfortunately it was Craft Fair season, so more than once we found ourselves in a long traffic jam, trying to get through a single cross-street area in a small New Hampshire town.
Eventually we found our way up to the Mount Washington region, as the mountains got taller and taller around us. It began to remind us of our trip through Alaska, and the feeling was intensified as we got up to Mount Washington. It is HUGE! It towers over its nearby range members, in the presidential range of the Appalachians.
The entry guard was apparently trying to scare us off. He first gave us a sticker, "This Bike Climbed Mount Washington," for our $14 entrance fee. He then proceeded to tell us how those with fears of heights shouldn't take this road, how the road switches from paved to gravel and back again, and how there were no guardrails at all on the entire length. Bikes needed to ride single file, with 60' between them, to go up safely. Undaunted, we nodded. He directed us to ride across a long grassy part to get around the cars stopped before us. Our first test, perhaps. We headed up the road.
The Mount Washington Auto Road was started in 1853, long before there were cars :) It is very narrow - two cars can barely pass each other, and on some of the hairpin turns (without guardrails, remember) the cars almost have to take turns to get around them. The beginning of the road is extremely steep, but luckily it's well paved and the tall trees on the sides of the road are quite reassuring. It's as you go up that I started to get nervous.
As you come above the treeline you are suddenly looking down at the tops of very tall pines. Looking out at huge mountains and ski slopes below you, you start to really worry about those cars coming down at you. If you're on the inside of the road, they are practically running you over in their attempt to stay clear of the edge. If you are on the outside, well, you are only a foot or two from a quite steep drop into nothingness. And in the meantime the road is going from paved to not-quite-paved and back again, and nervous drivers are looking at the scenery and veering into your lane ...
The driver ahead of us had this lovely habit of stopping every time he got nervous and, being on a large motorcycle, this was really nasty for us. Bob had to keep the bike going forward on various terrain types, at an incline that was often 12 degrees. All of this on a top-heavy bike, loaded with camping equipment. However, after a long dirt straightaway and then one last super-sharp turn near the top, we were on a final straightaway which lead to the parking lot.
Looking down at the Concours
We'd beat the rest of the COG group, so we climbed up from the parking lot to the building area, where they sold gifts and food. There was even a train that came up here, bringing passengers. Two engines arrived while we waited. Each pushed only one car, with a star-wheel keeping the train sort of locked into the track. The first engine was belching black smoke, while the second only gave off white smoke. Both were coal-fed.
Soon the COGgers arrived, and we said hello. At this point a large dark cloud was coming in, and I was worried about that dirt straightaway that was steep near the top. We decided to head down and get some food while the others looked around, since they had already eaten. Down we headed.
I was, if possible, even more nervous going down, with the thought of sliding right down and off the road, especially with the cloud. Bob, however, made the first sharp turn with ease and was quite confident after that. His banter to me was only responded to with short replies as I nervously watched the road. The landscape was gorgeous, however. Near the top it was much like Ireland - no trees, lots of rocks in green grass, with lots of little cairns built by the various hikers. Then you descended into short pines, and then into the tall ones. I was amazingly happy when we reached the bottom again, prompting Bob to call me a Flatlander during the remainder of the trip.
We headed back to the deli. I kept a watch for the boreal chickadee - a bird found in northern NH and Maine - but didn't sight one all weekend. We found the deli, though, and had some sandwiches while we waited for the COG guys to catch us. While we waited, another motorcycle came to ask us if we were the ones on the 'beamer'. Hmmmmmmmm. Soon the COG guys arrived, and we headed out to Tom's house.
We went across the Kancamagus Highway, which was beautiful. Its steep drops no longer bothered me, and I had tons of fun while we zoomed around corners and raced on straightaways. I wish I had pictures of this - it was beautiful with the eight Concours in formation with the mountains in the background. Then we went down into forests, picking up another Concours rider without a helmet while we passed near Loon. We lost him when we turned onto 118, which was one of our favorite parts of the trip. This road was windy and lovely, deep in a large forest. Quite, quite fun.
Soon we arrived at Tom's house, and set to preparing food. Bob cooked up a ton of burgers, hot dogs and chicken, and we sat around talking. We talked with Bill from Bar Harbour Maine, who is a plumber for the Rich and Famous there. He told us tales of their huge homes, and luxurious lives. His father did studies on the puffins and terns in the area, and he knew about Machias Seal Island, where we had a lot of fun puffin-watching.
We moved over to the campfire, and pulled chairs around while the teepee-shaped fire burned quite nicely. Steve from Maine was amazed that only he, Bob and I had not seen the Survivor series - everyone else seemed quite familiar with the island inhabitants and their doings. Brian and Carol were there - Brian was eager to stare at the stars. Indeed, we were able to see many shooting stars, even by the campfire, which led us to wonder what shooting stars were, how far they travelled, and if spaceships truly travelled in comets' tails.
Another Steve, who had watched Survivor, earned the nickname 'Straight Pipes' with his snoring habits. Scott, the homebrewer, had to leave early, but knew a friend of mine, John Stoffel. It's a small world! Paul and his wife told us about his bad back. Apparently she tried to warn him not to lift a box, and sure enough, when he did he learned his lesson.
Eventually we put out the fire and headed to bed. We soon fell asleep to the sound (far off) of Steve's snoring.
The next morning we were up at 9, when Pat, Tom's brother, made us some delicious eggs and hash browns. We packed up our tent, packed up the bike, and headed home! We did stop by the Parson's Family Winery and Flag Hill Winery on the way :)
Mount Washington Photos
Mount Washington, New Hampshire
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