Monday, August 6, 2012

Day 5 - Franconia Notch, NH to Portland, Maine (that is)

We were looking forward to three big things today! Mt. Washington of the White Mountains, actually entering Maine, having a clandestine meeting with long lost, never met before, friends.

I love Mt. Washington. This probably comes from my one time desire to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. Mt. Washington is one of those difficult peaks that are completely unpredictable (from a hiking perspective). When visiting the mountain by vehicle you are "safer" from weather vagaries and can usually come back another day. From a hiking perspective you kinda have to take what you get. With average highs of 54 and 53 degrees in July and August, respectively, you can assume that it will at least be chilly. And those are the warm months.

Mt. Washington is 6288 ft in height (1917 m) and the highest peak in the Northeast U.S. For 76 years it held the record for the highest wind gust directly measured (by man) at the Earth's surface, 231 mph (372 km/h). The mountain is also famous for extremely erratic weather that can be very dangerous to anyone on the mountain.

We were last here in 2007, and didn't have a lot of time. Instead of attempting to hike to the peak (can you say sucking wind greater than it whips by the mountain?), we took the famous Mount Washington Cog Railway. The Cog Railway is the world's first mountain-climbing cog railway and the second steepest. Average grade is 25%, with the max grade being 37.41%. At that time the coal engine was still heavily in use and this is what we rode to the summit, since then steam and biodiesel engines have taken over.

Here are some pictures from the 2007 trip.

The only way I could get the base and summit in the same shot.
Jacob's ladder is a 300 ft long trestle with a grade of 37.41%.

This time around Oilburner had the scheme in his head to ride his bike up the Auto Road.  The Mt. Washington Auto Road, opened in 1861, is America's oldest man-made tourist attraction.  This 7.6 mile drive covers 4500 ft elevation and is 87% paved and 13% gravel.  Yes.  I know those statistics.  :)

We saw the storm coming on radar Monday night.  His only hope was that it would blow through quickly.  Waking up to the raindrops tinking against the window dashed that hope.  The availability of the auto road is weather and condition dependent.  Can you guess that it might not be open to motorcycles in rain and winds?

In the big picture we only needed to get to Portland today, about 100 miles away.  Our original plan to ride the Auto Road would have taken a chunk of time and gotten us to Portland in the early afternoon.  With the rain still falling and the Auto Road out, we pulled out the iPad's and maps to look for alternative destinations.

The light of day (not to mention restful sleep) allowed me to view the area.  This is a happening area!
The airport.
Sweet thing!
Franconia Inn
The airport is just to the right of the parking lot.
This is about it.  The setting is wonderful.  The world is quiet.  I would love to return here.

While I was covering the maps I started seeing some interesting city names: Berlin, Norway, Paris, Poland, Naples.  HHhmmmm....I could have a themed field day!!  I mapped out a route that would take us through the Whites, into Berlin, followed by Norway, then on to Portland.

We obviously weren't in any rush with the rain.  The storm should blow over by noon, so we took that as our approximate depature time.  I told you, no rush.  :)
Flume Cascade
Since we were passing by the Auto Road we decided to stop and have a look-see if they were open.  Nope.  The high winds at the summit prevented motorcycles from ascending.  We entertained the idea of just paying for the Guided Tour and going up in the Stage.  But nixed the idea thinking of the cloud cover and 15 ft visibility.
Mount Washington is somewhere back in those clouds.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, we were running behind schedule, so we dropped Berlin.  Then we worked our way onto a few interesting backroads.  Transportation crews had not been this way in quite a few years.  The GS bounded and trounced through the frost heaves and gravel filled pot holes.  The RT was doing well, just throwing Oilburner around a little bit more.  The nice thing?  No banjo music.

We arrived in Norway around 2 pm starving.  It was a long time since 8 am breakfast.  I stopped us at the first place I smelled.  Ari's Pizza.  (Why can't I find my image of the pizza place??)
I guess only the pizza is important?  Best pizza since CA.
I really wish Ari's was closer to me.

Now we were running really late to get into Portland and we had people waiting!!  Our GPS' were pointing us to our lodgings.  We were actually going to be staying someplace for two whole nights!  Gasp.  The luxury of not having to load the bikes in the morning.  What were we going to do with ourselves?

I mentioned Airbnb earlier.  If you don't know, it is a website where people can advertise space they have available for rent.  It can be as simple as a spare room in their home, a basement apartment, or an entire house.  A host will post a listing for their space and a guest will look through postings to find something suiting their needs.  All payments go through Airbnb.  Guest funds are held and the host is paid 24 hours after the guest checks in.  This site allows comments, ratings, and referrals, so you can have confidence in expectations.

We were told that hotel/loding in Portland can be expensive.  After a modicum of research we discovered that was definitely true.  This is where I learned about Airbnb.  And I learned about a wonderful carriage house (living quarters above a garage) near downtown Portland.  The place had good reviews, and despite Oilburner's reservations (since he wasn't coming up with any alternatives), I booked it.  Very good move on my part!

We arrived to find that the owners had cleared a space in their garage where we could park our bikes.  The room was wonderfully comfortable and fully self contained.  We had a bed, small dining table,  sofa with ottoman, shower, coffee maker, mini-fridge, and a desk.  The place was clean and exactly right for us.  The owners were super friendly, willing to sit on the patio and tell us all about the area, places to go, places to eat, everything.  We would have pounced on that, but we had someone waiting that was just as knowledgeable AND knew the best motorbiking er...scootering roads around.

Mike of Scooter for Fun, his sidekick (or is that the other way around) Tom of Scooter by the Sea and Mike's Beautiful Redheaded Wife were waiting on us!  I called Mike and he set the train in motion.  Tom stopped by for a quick hello before heading off to his oh-so-difficult and boring night job with the Sea Dogs.  Rough life!  Mike and "R" (BRW) kindly offered to drive us to dinner so we didn't have to get on the bikes (and could drink!).
The Dogfish Cafe was it.  Dark atmosphere and good food, and soon had us talking like long lost friends.  Then Mike whipped out turn-by-turn instructions for our proposed route of the morrow.  Boy, just as if he had known my love of maps! much as I appreciated the route info, after 4 hard days of navigation I was content to sit back, follow someone else's taillight, and become thoroughly lost engulfed in the Maine scenery and culture.

After dinner began the driving tour of Portland.  We were introduced to the Portland Observatory.
Not quite the obseratory you would think.  This place is situated for viewing the harbor and could identify ships rounding the headland.  Knowing the ship gave the info of the cargo.  The workers could be assembled and dockside for unloading by the time the ship docked.  Nifty system before GPS.  ;)  We also drive over the oldest portion of trolley tracks and cobblestones of Portland.  most of the streets have been redone, but a small portion was left for historical purposes.  We drove past the "small" mansions of the Western Promenade.  Then we looped through the equally beautiful East End of Munjoy Hill.  No pictures since it was night.  Though it was great to once again sit next to an expanse of ocean, breathing in the salt air, and watching the reflections of lights waiver on the water.

I must admit, I loved the feel of Portland.  Wonderful culture and art mixed in with a good nightlife; feeling safe being on the streets downtown at 10 o'clock at night.  Don't have that in Atlanta.  Sigh.

Oilburner and I were starting to nod off in the back seat.  Mike and BRW drove us home with instructions to sleep as late as we wanted.  When we were up and ready to go, give them a shout.  Mike would swing by and lead us to their place for breakfast and meet up with Tom to start our day.

YEEHAW!!!!!  Bring on the Sun!


  1. Yay! I knew it! You got to meet Tom & Mike. You lucky Sea Dogs!! And, even a surprise: BRW. Love the photo of the Observatory. The room in Portland looks fabulous.

    1. Yep! It was a GREAT day riding with them. I was so excited to learn that BRW would be riding along that day. Great conversations, great sites, lots of laughing and fun. It was a long day and we lost Tom to another game. But they did not get me lost. ;)

      That room was so comfortable! Very isolated, no noisy neighbors. Wish we had more time and would have sat on the patio. The owners were wonderful.

  2. Lori

    I always wondered what a "Notch" is?

    We don't use that word in a topographical context over here!


    1. A "Notch" is a mountain pass. But it was with a startling laugh that I realized it is a Notch in the northeast and a "Gap" in the southeast.

      What is used in the UK?

    2. A pass!

      Thanks for the explanation.


    3. How delightfully simple. :)

  3. Some wonderful photos from the trip and I, also, especially like the one of the observatory (though it looks like a lighthouse). That is one part of the country that I haven't visited in a long time. The last time was work-related and over thirty years ago. I need to go back. Another road trip?!

    1. Richard, thank you. But I feel woefully negligent in my photo taking on this trip. I can only hope the few that I have will bring back all the great memories.

      I would say that physically you need a road trip. It will help work out those muscles. You will be sore every evening. Requires walking and stretching before bedtime. A trip to the northeast might be just the ticket. You will have to swing through Georgia to pick me up though.

  4. Lori:

    Now I'm jealous. You got to meet Mike and Tom, and especially the BRW. Staying at the same place for two days is pure luxury. At least you are safe in the thoughts that you are not going to be lost with your most excellent hosts

    Riding the Wet Coast
    My Flickr // My YouTube

    1. Bob, don't be jealous. It will be your turn soon enough. Though BRW will definitely give you a run for your money. I really wish we had planned a couple more days everywhere to more time with all people. Live and learn. Now we are just figuring ways of how to go visit. :)

  5. Beautiful pictures and you got to meet more moto-bloggers. YAY

    I think it is way cool you had your own little bloggers convention going on.

    I've never been east of Chicago (30 years ago) but sure would like to some day.

    1. Brandy, thank you! I was just so thrilled that Mike, Tom and BRW made themselves available to be tour guides. They are all so knowledgeable, and had so many stories to tell of the area, it was incredible. I didn't want the ay to end.

      I highly recommend a visit to the northeast, or South(!!) at least once. I've been in love with Maine for years. This just reawakened the desire.

  6. Mount Washington sounds like a fun and interesting ride, specially if the weather is bad....too bad they close it to motorcycles when that happens.

    I wonder if they'd let a guy on three wheels through? :)

    Having said that, they do shut down Pikes Peak and Mount Evans during the high wind periods....

    Nice pictures


    Redleg's Rides

    Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

  7. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.
    You've captured the essence of being on the coast. The heavy, misty air, laid-back atmosphere, there is nothing like it!
    Very nice!