Boredom is rarely found while sitting on a bicycle seat. Life in slow motion — at least compared to that of a speeding car — results in seeing nuances, like the flutter of a falling leaf, more clearly. Smells are often highlighted too, like the hearty smoke from hearths coming from homes along the way.
Just as cycling with a historian will fill you in on yesterday's way of life and pedaling with an engineer may yield a newfound appreciation for the skill and planning that goes into building a bridge, rolling along with a naturalist is like putting a microscope to a familiar landscape. You'll discover all that you've been missing over the miles.
Such was case last weekend in Gorham during the fourth annual Mountain Bike Festival, a tandem effort by the Top Notch Inn and Coos Cycling Club. The end of season celebration attracted mountain bikers from both sides of the notch (including several White Mountain chapter New England Bike Association and Mount Washington Valley Bicycling Club members) and beyond.
It was a chance for the cycling club to showcase its handiwork on new trails like the playful Pumphouse Trail, a one-mile swooping wiggle leaving Airport Road from — you guessed it — the pump house and the half-mile Hinchey Trail connecting Moose Brook State Park and the Presidential Rail Trail.
The club went out to buff and blow miles of trails, creating clear thin strings to follow within the tracks during the group rides for different abilities in the area.
But also on the knobby-tired menu was a Presidential Rail Trail eco tour led by Appalachian Mountain Club naturalist Nicky Pizzo, also a Coos Cycling Club member.
With some wet weather and temperatures in the high 50s on Saturday, a group of several riders left Main Street for Airport Road and a short stretch of the glorious Presidential Rail Trail, an 18-mile wide pathway between Gorham and Whitefield. Though the northern Presidentials were cloaked in cloud, there was plenty of burnt oranges, browns, yellows and more colors in the northern hardwood forest.
It didn't take long for the eyes of the naturalist to find a stand of birches, a reason to dismount and school the group about the three types of those trees found in the region: gray, yellow and white. White, or paper birch, is the most readily spotted while the yellow birch is noted for its green-like bark. Those birch also have mustaches, those dark pigments found on their bark. Basically, it's where a branch was or will be.
Pizzo had many more tasty tidbits about trees, birds and mammals along the way. Conifers, those cone-bearing trees, can be identified by their needles. Look closely a Balsam fir and the flat needles. Remember that by saying "flat friendly fir." Crush the needles and breathe deep to get the smell associated with a Christmas tree. Pluck the needles from a red spruce. They're sharp and square. Remember them with "sharp, square, red spruce."
Those beech trees with beech nuts, loved by bear and deer, have to be some 45 years old before they produce those nuts. Those trees also attract birds like chickadees, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers. Quite the motley crew, they're homies when they're hungry hunting for insects so they cruise together as "mixed foraging flocks."
The birds don't compete. There are more eyeballs to find bugs and watch for predators. Plus, they capture their prey different ways. Nuthatches stick their beaks in the bark while chickadees hang from branches.
Then there are the mammals. The eagle-eyed naturalist spotted what she suspected were the feint tracks of a coyote. What caught her eye? The fact that the tracks were in a straight line. That's how coyotes walk. Soon enough a lesson was held on the various tracks left by mammals.
She characterized them as walkers, bounders, waddlers and hoppers. Bounders, like weasels, have short legs and narrow bodies. Hoppers. like rabbits and squirrels, have hind legs longer than their front feet. Waddlers kind of have big butts like bears, beavers and raccoons.
So be sure to ride a mile or two in someone else's cycling shoes. You'll definitely see the trees that make up the forest.