There’s something elegant about completing a loop. Out and back excursions are OK, but successfully circumnavigating an area is much more interesting. There’s more variety in the scenery and more challenge in the mapping and navigation. There’s something in the human psyche that loves finishing a circle.
I have favorite loops. For running, I like running around the Pequawket Pond or around the Kanc-Bald Hill loops. For hiking, I like Boulder Loop and Hedgehog. Skiing, East Pasture Loop or Maple Mountain/Ellis Loop are favorites. And, for biking, there’s Bear Notch and Wonalancet loops.
I recently rode one of the most scenic cycling loops — Brownfield’s Sam Brown Hill Road loop.
This ride is more like a balloon on the end of a string than a loop, but I’ll call it that anyway, because it does loop around. The usual start for this ride is the Fryeburg Visitor’s Center, on Route 302, right past the state line. The Sprockettes group met there last Friday. I started from Eaton, planning to meet them at the end of Haleytown Road.
The group of 10 riders turned left from the center’s parking lot, then quickly turned left again onto Haleytown Road. Haleytown Road is a little over 5 miles long. With smooth pavement and low traffic, it’s a good road for riding. Its rolling hills make it fun to ride and not too taxing.
Near Crystal Lake, I began my ride with an uphill climb on a road with many names — Snowville, Eaton Center Road, Brownfield or Hampshire Road, depending on where you start from and who’s naming it. It basically goes from Eaton to Brownfield, with left turn offs at Brownfield Road/Mill Street and Haleytown Road.
I forgot how steep that climb could be, especially with no warm-up. When I crested the hill by Stewart Road and turn to Snowvillage Inn, I knew the worst was over. From there, I rode up and down small hills. Traffic was light, pavement smooth, as I enjoyed riding one of my old favorite roads past streams, swamps, farms and forests.
After crossing into Maine, I reached the fun side of Asparagus Hill — the downside. On the way back, I would experience the grueling side of it — the long uphill climb. Marty Basch named this hill for the “asparagus” sign he once saw at its roadside farm. After I cruised down its shady side, I passed Porter Road on my right, then later, Brownfield Road/Mill Street on my left. Riding a short distance from that junction, I came to the Haleytown Road on my left. I was a little early so I waited in the shade on Haleytown. My distance at that point from Crystal Lake was about a little over 7 miles.
I saw riders approaching, and saw the first of the group, soon to be joined by the rest. It was a colorful group in multi-colored garb, looking like a skittles necklace winding down the road.
At the end of Haleytown, everyone turned left onto what’s named “Main Street” on the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, basically heading toward Brownfield. At Merrill Corner Road, we turned right, climbing up a gradual hill, and following it until we reached “Old County Road.”
There, we turned left, rode .3 miles gradually uphill to a right turn onto Sam Brown Hill Road. Someone asked me who Sam Brown was. I had to admit I didn’t know, but he has a nice almost 2-mile road named after him. In a short distance, we climbed to a "‘scenic view” — one of my favorites. Open fields at the top of the hill reveal views to the northwest and the mountains. I always stop here to admire the landscape. The group did the same. The long downhill from there is always exciting, as it crosses a bridge and passes a scenic pond and beach. Here the Mountain View Farm Guest House, a VRBO, offers guests a relaxing place to stay and recreate. At the end of Sam Brown Hill Road, we reached the junction with Porter Road. We turned right, heading back to West Brownfield and Eaton Center Road/ Hampshire Road/Snowville Road — whatever it’s called. My plan was to turn left there to head right up Asparagus Hill, back to Eaton. Two things deterred me — starting that climb with no warm-up and the chip truck behind us. I decided to stay with the group for a while and turned right with them.
At Brownfield Road/ Mill Street, I said goodbye, and turned around to ride my string back to Eaton. They continued on to Haleytown, where they turned left, to ride their five-mile string back to the Visitor’s Center.
The advantages of this ride are the scenery, usually low traffic (depends on time of day, day of the week), smooth pavement, moderate hills and low time commitment. You can do either version of the ride in two hours or less, depending on the speed of the group and the number of stops.
Other advantages are the variations possible to either shorten or lengthen the ride. Beginner riders might enjoy an “out-and-back” on Haleytown for 10 miles. Those who want a longer ride, could ride all the way to Brownfield, turn left at the triangle, ride Main Street to Route 113 junction, make a quick right/right turn onto Pig Street and take that nice flat road back to Route 160. A right turn there brings you back to the triangle and heading west toward Merrill Corner and the rest of the ride for a total ride of about 23 miles.
There are many possibilities. All you need are time, energy and a good set of maps to plan your loops. I use a combination of Delorme state atlases and gazetteers, topo maps and town maps to plan rides. I’ll also consult the Mount Washington Valley Bicycling Club’s “route library”: tinyurl.com/y9ex8eas for ideas. What maps don’t always tell me is if the road is paved or not, or how steep the hills are, and rough the road.
When I’m trying a “new” route, I sometimes drive them by car first, giving me a “heads up” idea of where the hills and dirt roads are. Other times, the adventurous spirit will take over and I’ll just go out there and explore where the roads lead me. I just need to be prepared for whatever comes my way with adequate maps, clothing, food, water, tools and tubes. I’ll carry a cell phone, but won’t depend on it. There are a lot of “dead" zones out there!
Enjoy your standard loops, but try to find new loops to ride, too. Discover novel ways around the block. If your bike is able to handle dirt and road, the possibilities expand exponentially. Grab a map and plot a circular course of whatever length your time and energy will allow. Love the loop!
Upcoming Cycling Events
Great Glen Trails Kona Summer Mountain Bike Series — Tuesdays, through Aug. 25, 3:30-7 p.m. This eight-week mountain bike race series is fun for adults and children. There are three course options of different lengths and difficulty: Long (5.3 miles), Short (3.9 miles) and Mini (1.2 miles). Riders pick their starting times and course. “Compete against the clock in this fun, easy-going series. Open to all ages and abilities, this is the perfect socially-distant outdoor activity you can do with the entire family.”
The cost for the series for adults is $65, juniors age 17-and-under pay $40. If you want to try it once, there’s the one-time rate is $14 for adults, $9 for juniors.
Mount Washington Valley Bicycling Club group rides: MWVBC is starting up their group rides again, but maintaining social distance and following COVID-19 guidelines. Visit their website to find rides that fit your schedule, skills and interests: tinyurl.com/y7w4kcf6.
Sally McMurdo is a bike safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Conway.