Last Saturday promised to be a great day for cycling. Although the morning started cool, the weatherman predicted a sunny day, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s — a perfect day for riding the Wonalancet Loop. It was a bit breezy, but that might be an advantage when climbing that loop’s many hills. Riders might start feeling chilly, but they’d finish all warmed up.
Mount Washington Valley Bicycling Club’s website listed the ride as a “Scenic Saturday Ride, Wonalancet Loop No. 6 (from Tamworth) Ride Codes C/3.5/38.” The codes at the end meant it was C — an intermediate level ride, with speeds averaging 13-15 mph, 3.5-moderate climbing, and 38 — approximately 38 miles long. Additional information gave the elevation gain of around 2,300 feet. There definitely would be some hills on that ride.
The Wonalancet Loop is one of my favorite rides. It hadn’t been listed much this season and I’d missed it. It’s a scenic ride that takes you through Tamworth, Sandwich and Wonalancet. Most of the route is on low-traffic roads. It’s one of the few road rides around where you can actually relax and enjoy the views. When I saw MWVBC’s post, I had to go.
Because of this year’s traffic and erratic driver behavior, I have been staying off paved roads, preferring dirt roads and trails for riding. However, this route and the timing after Labor Day crowds had left, made it appealing for a road ride. My problem was I hadn’t even ridden 38 miles this season. Would my legs be up to it?
On Mount Washington Valley Bicycling Club’s Route Library there are actually six “Wonalancet Loops” listed (tinyurl.com/8vkdap2k). What I consider the original “Wonalancet Loop” is the shortest one — 22.4 miles. It’s a great early season ride, rated 4 — “challenging hills,” with 1,196 feet elevation gain. It’s listed on MWVBC’s Route Library as Wonalancet Loop No. 3. It starts at Brett School in Tamworth, turns left on Route 113, then turns right on Whittier Road. At the junction with Route 25, the route goes right.
On Route 25, traffic increases as well as its speed. Fortunately, this highway has a wide breakdown lane that makes it doable. In a short distance of about 3 miles, the route turns right at Bennett Corners onto Route 113. After four relatively flat miles on Route 113, riders come to the junction of Route 113 and 113A. In the Loop No. 3 ride, the route turns right onto 113A, heading toward Whiteface and eventually Wonalancet. Then, it returns to Tamworth.
Saturday’s ride, led by Tamworth’s Bill Anderson, was the “Wonalancet Loop No. 6.” It started in the same place and followed Loop 3’s course until the 113/113A junction in North Sandwich. There the group of 11 cyclists turned left to follow Route 113 toward Center Sandwich. Arriving there, cyclists paused to regroup before turning left onto Route 109 and tackling the long climb to Sandwich.
Finally reaching the top of the hill, we stopped to catch our breath and remove some layers. As we admired the handiwork of restored buildings of a proposed bed and breakfast inn, we wondered if it had ever been able to open. We saw no signs. Hopefully, someday it will. With its awesome views and interesting architecture and sculptures, it would be a great place to stay.
At Sandwich, we turned left on Little Pond Road, for a downhill reprieve. We flew past the “Great Wall of Sandwich” and Little Pond before we started climbing again. At Vittum Hill Road, the group turned left and climbed some more. Vittum Hill is one of my favorite roads. There is very little traffic on it, it’s quiet and shady, and makes for a scenic cutover to Route 25.
At Route 25, we turned left. Crossing the road there took some caution, but we all made it. Cranking along Route 25 for about 2 miles, we came to the Route 113 junction at Bennett Corners again. Crossing there was even trickier, with oncoming and turning traffic. Retracing our previous ride leg on Route 113, we pedaled to the 113/113A junction. This time, we turned right onto 113A, now following the original Wonalancet Loop route 3.
It had been some years since I’d ridden that loop, but the hills all came back to me! Up and down the roller coaster hills I pedaled — tucking on the downhills, cranking up the uphills. Riding toward Whiteface, I passed Pothole Falls. The parking lot was empty. On a busy, hot summer’s day, it would have been full.
Gearing down, I climbed up the hill past the watering trough spring but didn’t stop to refill my water bottles that day. Pedaling up another hill, and then another, eventually, I made it to Wonalancet. The white church greeted me across the field.
At the chapel, I stopped to have snacks and catch up with others in the group. The weather had turned warm and sunny. Blue skies and light clouds framed the scene. This spot is always a good one for relaxing and refueling before tackling the last hills of the Wonalancet Loop.
More climbing ensued until we finally crested the last hill. Tired cyclists relaxed for the long downhill into Tamworth. Brand new pavement made coasting into town and back to the school a breeze. There we gathered and said our goodbyes.
It had been a good ride. No matter which Wonalancet Loop you take, you’ll have a challenging, rewarding, and picturesque ride, away from the hustle and bustle of the Valley. Riding those back roads of Tamworth, Sandwich and Wonalancet is always a pleasure.
Check out MWVBC’s Route Library, and pick the Wonalancet Loop that suits your time, energy, and interests. With six routes to choose from, there’s something there for anyone who wants a scenic route and doesn’t mind some hills.
Summer Race Series Mountain Bike Race: Saturday, Sept. 25, Bartlett, Fields of Attitash, last of the five-race series. For information and to register, go to tinyurl.com/2f87mwkr.
Plan a weekend of riding before the end of beautiful summer days. We'll post some suggested routes soon for informal group rides on Sunday throughout the MWV as well as a night ride from the race venue through Bartlett Friday night. Check out facebook.com/mwvsummerraceseries for more details.
Sally McMurdo is a bike safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Conway.