It's May in New England, so the black flies are driving everyone crazy. If you can get up early enough, you can run or hike before the warmth of the sun wakes up the little terrors. However, if you want to enjoy a sunny spring day outside, you'd better be moving faster than the black flies can.
I'd had a camping and trail running adventure (accompanied by three awesome mountain bikers) planned for last weekend, but the black flies were early and vicious this season, so we decided to look for a Plan B. Biking is a great way to be outdoors and unbothered by the flies, but I have a fairly weak skill set. My endurance helps me compensate a lot, but I'm not efficient with cadence or shifting, I'm intimidated by speed, and technical trails are overwhelming. I'm a tourist on my bike. I have a nice comfy hybrid that I ride on rail trails and coastal byways; I stop for every view and every cafe.
I suggested to the bikers that if they wanted to explore the Presidential Rail Trail, somewhere I'd also never been, I'd be able to keep up with them on my bike too. It was an easy sell, a low-key adventure with a decent chance at group cohesion. Rail trails, built with train travel in mind, are wide, straight, and rarely feature steep grades.
We had a fantastic day. Although the trail runs from Gorham to Whitefield, New Hampshire, a distance of over 18 miles, we entered at Bowman, just before the midpoint. Online guides suggested that the views continuing west, and especially on the return east, would be stunning. We were not disappointed.
The Presidential Rail Trail is closed to motorized traffic once snowmobile season is over, so it's a relaxing ride without faster traffic or exhaust. Some of the more remote stretches get a little grassy, but there is always a well-traveled track and even chickenshit little me had the skills to manage the ride.
We rode all the way out to the Pondicherry Wildlife Sanctuary, stopping at the viewing platform at Waumbek junction. There are additional trails to explore by foot, but the bike path brings you through the major wetlands and to the shore of Cherry Pond. This is an excellent place to watch birds, and folks have reported seeing plenty of moose out there this year.
Our return trip featured incredible view of the Presidential Range, drawing closer as we returned to our cars. Although there was a slight uphill for most of our return, the view more than made up for the exertion. With a mile left on our ride, we reached the bridge over the Israel River and took a quick dip to freshen up before driving home.
A lovely advantage to this trail is its accessibility. With several parking lots along the 18 mile stretch, folks can walk, run or ride for as short or as long as they prefer. And because it is well marked and technically easy, it's a great intro to the White Mountains for folks who are still developing biking or backcountry skills.
It won't be hard to convince me to return. I'm considering running a full traverse once the bugs settle for the season and our whole group is already talking about another bike trip in the fall foliage. So careful if you decide to explore out there--it's habit forming!