Monday, September 18, 2017

S24O - to Pawtuckaway State Park and back

S24O is simply a sub 24-hour, overnight ride. This means, we pack the bare minimum needed for 1 night stay somewhere in the wild, ride to our destination and come back the next day. All that in less than 24 hours.

Last Friday I decided to give it a try - leave my workplace earlier, around 3:30pm and ride to the distant Pawtuckaway State Park in New Hampshire, roughly 60mi (100km) away. This state park has a designated campground, located right on the shores of Pawtuckaway Lake and that's where I planned to stay for the night (even though it's not free).

Because weather was warm and it was only 1 night of camping, I managed to reduce my gear to pretty much bare minimum.
I use an ultralight Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 tent, which I like a lot (despite a few minor things that could be made better). But one issue difficult to solve when packing it on a bike is where to place poles. They are just too long. Once I strapped them separately to the bottom of top tube, the rest of the tent and the mattress fit in a stuff sack that I strapped to the seatpost. That left me with the sleeping bag, some food, spares and minor items (camera, phone, etc.) that I loaded into Apidura handlebar bag. The whole setup worked perfectly, although I would prefer placing the poles somewhere else, since it was awkward to portage bike over obstacles, when I had to lift it up by the top tube.

Day 1 (66mi or 106km)

Shortly after I left Bedford and was approaching Lowell, it started pouring heavily. In no time, I was completely soaked. I thought about stopping somewhere and waiting for rain to stop but I was kind of racing against the clock. I had 60mi to ride and sun was about to set soon. I paused only to pour water out of my shoes and squeeze out any water out of socks and shirt. It was very warm and humid and this kind of heavy rain felt just like a warm shower and didn't really bother me much.
I didn't stop in Lowell but I really liked its restored historical downtown. Looks like a very interesting place for a longer visit. I continued north through Windham to Chester. At this point it was already around 7pm and because of the thick layer of clouds, it got completely dark. I turned lights on and kept going but had to skip some forest trails I wanted to explore on the way. It was simply impossible to find entrance to some paths hidden in darkness.

I usually don't have a chance to ride at night and this was an interesting experience. There was little road traffic in rural New Hampshire. It was very warm, humid and loud, with noise of crickets playing their night tunes.

Some time around 8:45pm I arrived at the campground. I got a spot right at the lake, pitched my tent in darkness and thanks to nearby bathroom facilities I didn't even have to go to sleep with legs covered in mud. There were many people camping nearby but they didn't bother me since camping spots at the park are conveniently spread out. The campground overall looked attractive for a family camping day I'd like to try some time next year.

I didn't sleep that well. Somehow I couldn't fall asleep right away, then some large animal woke me up in the middle of the night. Not sure what it was, but it kept huffing, puffing and sniffing around my tent, making quite a noise. After I figured out that the only things I left outside are my smelly shoes, I decided not to investigate what that creature really was, as there was a remote chance it could've been a skunk. Fortunately, after not finding anything interesting, the thing went on its way into the dark forest.

Day 2 (78mi or 126km)

I woke up around 6am, when most other campers were still sleeping. The morning was even more humid than last night and a heavy cloud layer was hanging low over the lake. I packed my stuff and headed back. I had a long ride ahead.
My camping spot. No fly on the tent as I started to pack things already.

Bridge to Horse Island at 7am. Humid, wet, cloudy.

I didn't want to take the shortest route home but explore the area at least a bit. I took Mountain Trail towards Reservation Rd, but it turned out to be so rocky that I had to walk my bike a lot. It would likely be easier on a mountain bike, although there are sections on the trail where even a MTB would not be much help.
The Reservation Rd was certainly much more suited for my type of bicycle and the rest of park ride was enjoyable. Next, I got to a power line trail off Brown Rd, and it turned out that it didn't matter my shoes and socks were still wet from the previous day. I soaked them again trying to get through some flooded areas on the trail. One more stop to pour water out of shoes, squeeze out socks and I was ready to go.
Once I got to Raymond Rd I thought I could continue along the power line trail even though this section on map is marked "winter only". Well, there is a good reason for it. There is a small wooden bridge ahead you can see from Raymond Rd but unfortunately, there was absolutely no way I could get to it. The whole area is a wetland and it's only passable in winter once everything freezes over. I empirically verified that a detour was required by soaking my shoes for the second time that day when my front wheel sunk up to the axle in a ditch full of water.


At this point I had enough of off-road exploration and decided to take RT107 to Raymond. There, I merged with Rockingham Recreational Trail towards Epping and it was a very pleasant ride. The trail is wide, with hard-packed surface. Too bad crossings with major roads are not designed better. Right now, the trail lacks the feeling of continuity.
From Epping I took the southern section of the trail towards Sandown but it soon turned out to be a disappointment. The first part up to RT107/Main St is very bumpy and difficult to ride. It seems to be used mainly by horseback riders and the entire surface is destroyed by horse hooves.

Then the next section, south of Main St, was free of horse presence. Unfortunately, it seems to be frequently used by motocross bikers and it's just too sandy for my 35mm tires. Had I been there on a plus-sized mountain bike, the situation would've been different. I decided to abandon the trail and take a shortcut along RT111A to Salem, NH.
In Salem, I entered Salem Rail Trail that has a compacted gravel surface and would've been a good place to ride a bicycle, if only busy RT28 wasn't right next to it. Once the trail crosses Massachusetts border it turns into Methuen Rail Trail that started promising, but unfortunately then entered Lawrence where it runs next to an area occupied by a bunch of homeless people, tons of trash and derelict buildings. I teleported myself ASAP away from Lawrence and continued to Tewksbury.

The rest of the trip was relatively non-eventful as I managed to get lost only a couple of times. Navigating through some more remote areas around Billerica I finally reached familiar waters and arrived home at 3:15pm - a touch away from 24hrs mark.

The whole thing was fun even though it took me longer than I expected. If only Pawtuckaway Park was a bit closer! Weather was a bit of a problem. It would be nicer if it wasn't that humid but on the other hand, it would be likely much worse riding on a hot, sunny day. The one thing I have to remember about next time is spare waterproof socks.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

I disappeared in Catalonia for a while but I'm back

It's finally September. I'm waiting for the cooler weather to arrive as I'm a bit tired of the usual summer heat, especially that I spent the last week in rural Catalonia with my family. It was hot, sunny and pretty. I spent time starring at mountains, sleeping late and eating copious amounts of cured ham.

I didn't have my bike with me but it seems that I should return one day to tour some of the lower Pyrenees. Those scenic, unpaved roads are what I craved most and they can't be found anywhere here in New England.
Some roads will lead you to mountain tops, where you will find either an old monastery, view deck for tourists or at very least, a Catalan flag. No matter what's waiting for you at the top, be ready for stunning views.
At the end of our stay, we actually did just a bit of bike riding. I wanted to get a feeling of what Barcelona looks like and for that purpose, me and my brother rented bicycles to ride around the city. Judging by the bikes available for rent, fixies seem to be still fashionable in Barcelona. Thankfully though, they were configured with freewheels so at least I didn't have a chance to quickly kill myself.
Now it's time to revisit the usual grounds. Fall is absolutely the best time to ride bicycles here in Massachusetts - no heat but still warm, less bugs and pretty foliage colors. Can't wait!