People from all over the United States and world descend on New England in the fall, searching for “peak foliage.” They consult their foliage apps, check online updates and ask the natives, “When is it going to be peak?”
Who really knows? You can only guess it’ll be somewhere around the middle of October. Many factors influence when it comes. Drier summers sometimes bring it earlier. Cold temperatures usually speed it along. Rain and wind can wipe it out too early. Sometimes, visitors get lucky and hit it at just the right time.
“Peak foliage” is a subjective term. What I consider peak may not match another’s viewpoint. There are stages of peak, too. I’d say it’s partially peak now. Bright orange and reds can be seen on the mountainsides, but the yellows and browns are just starting to show. Unfortunately, stiff winds and rain can take all that color away, and we’ll be “past peak.”
Tuesday, the rain stopped, and the sun and blue skies came out. It was time to do our own cycling foliage tour.
Looking for dirt road riding with good views across waterways and fields, we chose one of our favorites, Potter Road in Eaton, as our starting point.
Driving south on Route 153 from Conway, we turned left on Potter Road. We usually park on the right side of the road, after the first little bridge over Snow Brook. However, our spot was taken by walkers using the road for exercise and enjoyment. Finding a place farther down the road, we parked, got out the bikes and prepared to ride.
October’s a tricky time for riding. It seems warm when you’re in the car, but once you start riding, you notice moving air and declining sunlight make it colder. Fortunately, we were prepared with layers and long-fingered gloves if we needed them. At one point, before I warmed up, I wished I brought a hat or headband — my ears were cold! Such is fickle fall weather.
Potter Road passes by Buttermilk Hollow, where Snow Brook winds its way through the swamp. It’s always a good place to look for early foliage, bird life and beaver activity. Its colors were fading now, and many trees stood bare. It was still colorful, but past its peak.
By the new bridge, where the brook makes its Conway Lake entrance, we stopped to admire a bright tree hanging over the water, its reflection looking like fire. At the lake’s south end, where kayakers and canoeists put in, we looked across to distant mountains and colorful foliage views.
Riding on to Greely (Greeley) Road junction, we turned right. From our usual starting place, this would be about 1 1/2 miles, but was shorter that day. There’s controversy about the road name spelling. At this junction, the sign says “Greeley” but the last “e” has been painted over. At the other end, it reads, “Greeley Road,” as it does on town maps and gazetteer.
The road is named for Adolphus W. Greely, who fought in the Civil War, led an Arctic expedition in 1881, became a brigadier general and chief of Army Signal Corps in 1886, and retired in 1908 as a major general.
In 1935, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor. He bought the Isaac Bean Farm for a summer retreat when he retired, and reached it via Potter Road and a discontinued Dolloff Road.
Eventually, the town took over this road and renamed it in his honor, but misspelled the name on their maps and signs, adding that third “e.” That’s why you see it spelled two ways — one wants it to be correct, the other wants it to match the maps.
Read William Marvel’s article on the subject (go to tinyurl.com/yy4febcc). It will explain it all.
Greeley Road is a steep road, not maintained in winter. For cycling, it requires strong legs, low gearing, and, for some, pedal assist. From the Potter Road junction to its terminus with Leavitt Road, it climbs almost 300 feet in less than 2 miles. At the beginning, its pitches are gradual, but as it got steeper, Peter switched to “active” mode, and I shifted to the lowest gears. I wasn’t cold after that climb!
At the top, a summer cottage looks over a view to the valley. Paved Leavitt Road goes steeply up to the left to join Gulf Road in less than ½ mile. Turn here to make a 14-mile loop. Bearing left on Gulf Road, there’s a rewarding 2-mile downhill to Mill Street. A left turn onto Mill Street brings you back to Potter Road in about a mile. A left turn there on the dirt road brings you back to the usual starting point in about 4 miles.
It was too late Tuesday for us to ride the big loop, so we opted for a shorter one to give us foliage views. At the Greeley Road/Leavitt Road junction, we turned right. I believe it’s called Little Field Road, but there’s no sign. We bypassed a super steep road to the right that we’ve done before (didn’t need to do it again!).
Knowing a better way around Birch Hill, we rode straight ahead through a tree-lined road that opened up to an expansive meadow view full of fall colors.
We parked our bikes under a heavy-laden apple tree on its edge. Green fields in the foreground contrasted with flamboyant foliage in the woods and mountains beyond. We’d found our “peak.”
Descending past an old graveyard, we turned right at junction of Birch Hill and Littlefield roads. If we had continued straight down the hill on Birch Hill Road, we’d shortly come to Snowville/Brownfield Road.
Depending which way we turned, we could make other tar and dirt loops, but that’s another article.
Turning right on the Birch Hill cup-handle, we passed small farms, cottages and numerous stone walls.
The road was getting shadier with fall’s fading light. We stopped at a clearing with a view of lake and vibrant mountains, then descended that steep road back to Greeley Road junction. It was getting darker and colder — time to go home.
After a quick, chilly descent, we turned left at Potter Road and cycled back to the van. Passing by the lake’s end, we spotted canoeists completing their foliage tour as well. Whether, it was the ”peak” peek or not was immaterial. We had an invigorating ride and they had a pleasant paddle on a beautiful fall day. I think we were all satisfied.
If there’s good weather, get out there soon to catch the colorful “fall-iage,” as my grandson calls it, before it’s all gone.
UPCOMING BIKE EVENTS: Don’t miss this Saturday’s (Oct. 12, from 6-10 p.m.) Leaf Peeper Bike Bash, presented by WM NEMBA & Backyard Concept at Theater in the Wood in Intervale. Potluck, beer, movies and ride films, guest speaker and vendors.
Also, on Saturday, Oct. 12, Cranmore Mountain Resort will be the hub for mountain bikers to meet for group rides, test0ride bikes and sip Frontside Coffee Roasters coffee. There’ll be something for everyone. Rides go out at 9 a.m. Check White Mountain Nemea Facebook page for more details and information.
Thursday, Oct. 17, 5:30-7:30 p.m., MWV Bicycling Club’s Fall Meeting is at Red Parka Pub in Glen. Celebrate the riding season with free apps, cash bar, and raffle prizes.
Sally McMurdo is a bike safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Glen.