Loop rides are a thing of beauty. Start in one place, circumnavigate an area and arrive back where you started. It’s much more interesting than out-and-backs. You get the feeling of going on a journey and the satisfaction in completing the loop successfully. With a good map or two and a sense of the “lay” of the land, you can put together a great ride.
Last week, we ventured south to Tamworth to sample its network of dirt roads. The weather turned very cold and windy. The idea of riding through tall waving pines didn’t appeal to us. We changed to Plan B — find some place more open to ride. Peter Minnich drove toward Freedom. As we drove down Ossipee Lake Road, we spotted a new kiosk on the left. We pulled in, thinking we’d found some new trails to ride. I hopped out to check for a map at the kiosk but found only a logbook.
The last two entries, written two days before, warned, “Ticks — lots of them!” and “Hike not worth it — too many ticks!” I ran back to the car, hoping I hadn’t picked up any. But I had. In that short time, a tick had hitched a ride on my sock. I shook him out the window. Needless to say, we didn’t ride there.
We continued on to Shawtown Road, our destination the Freedom Town Forest trails. Most of the trails there are more like jeep roads, graveled and open. We thought we’d have better luck there avoiding ticks.
We turned off Ossipee Lake Road onto Shawtown Road and turned left at the first dirt road. That brought us to the Red Kiosk and a gated road. This is #5 on Freedom Town Forest maps (tinyurl.com/y8pxoslp). It marks the Jackman Ridge Trail Parking Lot, one of the entrances to the 2661-acre Freedom Town Forest.
Last May, we parked here and started up the trail. I was riding my gravel grinder and Peter rode his mountain bike. In winter, this is clearly a snowmobile access as noted by orange junction signs. If you have both the Freedom Forest Trail map and the Scrub Oak Scramblers Snowmobile map (sossc.com), you can plot out at least two different ride loops. Be aware the Freedom Town Forest map numbers refer to points of interest on the trails and not actual junctions.
We did not see any numbers on the trails, but there are some new wooden signs showing the way to Trout Pond and Mary’s Mountain. Very prominent on the ride are large, lettered snowmobile junction signs, pointing the way to various destinations. Having a snowmobile map in hand was helpful in finding our way.
We climbed up the rocky road, crossing some washed out areas and wet places. It was a little rough for my bike but easier for Peter on his mountain bike. We reached Trout Pond, #7 on the map, and stopped for a snack. That day, this lovely pond did not offer water fowl sightings but bugs were certainly there. I did not tarry long.
At town forest map #8 and snowmobile junction V, we turned right, heading across grassy fields. The roads connecting them were rougher, suffering from washing out and flooding. There were places that we had to dismount to pick our way around wet areas. On a bumpy downhill, I concluded my mountain bike with full suspension would be a better choice to ride here. The gravel grinder could handle it, but it wasn’t the most comfortable ride.
We arrived at the Blue Kiosk/ Mary’s Mountain Trail parking lot and snowmobile trail Junction T. On Scrub Oak Scramblers snowmobile map, this area is referred to as “Three Fingers” junction because of three different trails branch off from here. We headed down the smoother road toward Shawtown Road, turned right and rode back to the dirt road we’d started on to finish a 6-mile loop.
Last week, we started at the same place, the Red Kios. We both had mountain bikes this time, figuring early season riding would suit those best. Like our trip before, we rode up Jackman Ridge Trail. Before we turned onto to the Trout Pond spur (#7), we spied a shuffling creature ahead and recognized it as a porcupine. He avoided us, waddling off into the bushes before I could get a good picture of him. We visited the pond briefly but saw no waterfowl. We did spy brightly colored warblers in the pond-side bushes. Riding back up to the main trail, we avoided the right spur. The last time there, we rode that way and regretted it. It was rough, had blowdowns and submerged trail in places. We figured — been- there-done-that — don’t have to do it again.
Back on the main trail, Jackman Ridge, we continued up the road, past the Old Pequawket Trail Connector, "W” on the snowmobile trail sign. It was an option to get quickly down the ridge to the flatter ground of the Old Pequawket Trail and the “Airport.” In our past experience, we found it washed out in places and challenging riding. We opted to continue on Jackman Ridge Trail, past the next snowmobile junction “V.”
The main trail then heads into the woods and descends steeply down the ridge to Junction U. The riding was rough here, too, requiring both attention and skill to navigate. At the bottom, we spied trail sign “U”. If we turned right here, we would reach Lead Mine Road in a short distance. But, we opted to turn left, heading toward Ossipee Lake Road.
A fork at Junction C, we took the right turn toward the “Airport.” The ground was soft and squishy. Horse tracks made it bumpy as well. We negotiated around some wet spots but came to a halt when we saw only water ahead. Obviously, beaver and flooding activity made this way unpassable, unless you like wet feet. We didn’t. Turning around, we rode back to the junction, turned right on the Pequawket Trail. We bypassed the “Airport.”
The “Airport” is a strange anomaly in the middle of the woods. When I first saw it, I couldn’t imagine why someone would go to the trouble and expense to make a landing strip here. A wide swath of deep sand marks where it was going to be. My NH Gazetteer lists it as “White Mountain Gateway Airport.” In the past, when I tried to ride through it, the deep sand made my pedaling useless. I can’t imagine a plane would do any better. Guess it was someone’s crazy scheme that didn’t work out.
The Pequawket Trail was much easier riding. It led us back to Ossipee Lake Road, where we turned left and rode a short distance back to Shawtown Road. Turning left there, we completed this loop by turning up the first dirt road to ride back to the Red Kiosk and our car. The total mileage traveled was a little over six miles.
As we drove back, I discovered two more ticks had hitched a ride with me. I dispensed them to the wind. Take care when you’re out there riding and hiking- there are lots of ticks this year. Use repellents and check yourself when you get home. But, don’t let those bugs rule your life — get out and ride!
June 1: Bike Swap, Stan and Dan’s, North Conway.
Check the Mount Washington Valley Bicycling Club website: tinyurl.com/y6yklo8y for rides for all abilities and interests. Check out their new Bicycle Blog: tinyurl.com/y427bqt2 for impromptu rides posted by members wanting some company on their rides.
Sally McMurdo is a bike safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Conway.