Something you don’t expect on a rail trail is seeing headlights behind you as you take a glance to see where your wife may be.
With each turn, the headlights came closer until my wife called out warning me of a truck.
It was a massive dump truck loaded with dirt on the Presidential Rail Trail.
It barely squeezed over a bridge, and took up more than the width of the trail. But the driver passed with a smile, soon coming upon a front end loader where the cargo was deposited and work began repairing a washed out section of the trail.
Such is life on the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail.
The beauty of having the 83-mile multi-surfaced XNHAT between Woodsville and Bethel, Maine, so close to the valley is that you can do it whenever and how many times you want. In 2019, during its inaugural year, my wife Jan and I did it end-to-end, west to east, over three days in June and became official end-to-enders earning a celebratory patch commemorating the achievement.
This year we decided to do it again, but differently, drawing on a bit of Appalachian Trail culture into our decision-making during the time of COVID-19. The Appalachian Trail, as many crossover bikers/hikers know, has its own lingo. Northbound thru-hikers going from Georgia to Maine are NoBos while southbound hikers are SoBos.
Complete the trail in one long journey and you’re an end-to-ender. Do it in sections over time and become a section hiker. Start in the middle and head north or south, then eventually return to that same staring point and reverse direction to become a flip-flopper.
So we decided to become section biking EastBos, versus WestBos, and something of season shifters, opting to ride the route in September starting in summer and ending in fall.
During a time of pandemic, it meant we could err on the side of caution. But it also meant utilizing shuttle services as we decided to use one car. So for two sections of the trail, we used family.
On the other section we used Maura at Your Service (mauraatyourservice.com), listed on the XNHAT web site xnhat.org. Instead of trying to time pickup at the end of the day, we biked to our car instead of from it, which made for early starts that were well-worth it even if it meant starting one day with temps in the high 30s and Jan wearing socks as mittens.
We did it in three sections: Gorham to Bethel 24 miles, Woodsville to Littleton 22 miles and Littleton to Gorham 37 miles, saving the best for last with a sweeping canopy of color during the 10 mile downhill from Bowman to Gorham along the PRT.
Though this felt more like three separate day rides instead of going on a staycation escape of a nice short bike tour. Trying it as we did got us to see the changes along the route from infrastructure improvements to the joys of stuffing farm stand cucumbers in a backpack as Jan carried what she needed in a handlebar bag while I carried everything we needed in a backpack. It was nice to travel light.
On North Road in Bethel, we saw the advancements of the Mahoosuc Land Trust with its Esker Loop that opened last October. The MLT’s pollinator garden was showing its colors, much more vibrant in September than June. A washed out bridge on Hogan Road had been repaired since last summer. We rolled instead of having to carry bikes like last year.
As summer turned to fall, we saw the first flashes of color. There were no bugs, and little midweek trail traffic though Gorham seems to have the most usage with its various entry points.
A detour in Whiitefield because of a Hazen Road bridge repair (now completed) took us up an eight percent graded road with farm, forest and alpine views to Colby Road with similar scenics before experiencing the new few miles of surface in the spectacular Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, the work so new we came upon an employee still rolling the trail. We saw the new Beaver Deceivers installed along the PRT to prevent flooding from beaver activity.
Now that we’ve ridden the trail in June and September, who knows what next year may bring? Maybe we can, to borrow from Four Thousand Footer Club parlance, become gravel “Gridiots” and ply the trail every month of the year whether by bike, foot or skis.