A magical ride from Maine to Hampshire

Stopped by the Kennebec River in Skowhegan. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)
Stopped by the Kennebec River in Skowhegan. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)

I was on vacation from my day job and was headed to my sister’s house in New Hampshire, but I wanted to make a day of it—and find a great ride to write about. My sister lives in Weare, near Concord, so the quick way would be to take I-95 south from Bangor and Route 4 across New Hampshire. But when you’re on two wheels and the weather is spectacular, why the hell would you want to do the quick route on the highway?

It was June 20, and it hadn’t occurred to me that it was the longest day of the year. My friend Tim Sample makes it a point to ride on the summer equinox from sunup until sundown, and while I didn’t quite do that, I had a good run. I left Bangor and headed east on U.S. Route 2, which is a stellar road all the way to New Hampshire. Route 2 is a quality ride pretty much the entire way, with a few minor rough spots not even worth mentioning. There’s nothing that makes you feel like you’re driving over the surface of the Moon, anyway.

I was even blessed with light traffic the entire way, from Bangor to Newport to Skowhegan, then on to Farmington and Rumford and later Bethel. It was a blue-sky day with scant fluffy clouds decorating it, and it made for a perfect ride. By the time I was going through the Maine mountains, the vistas had gone from wonderful to magnificent. But the full swath of the White Mountains in neighboring New Hampshire was yet to come.

My Honda Shadow Spirit VT750c2 loaded up and ready to roll. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)

The vistas just kept getting more resplendent as I went, constantly making the ride all the more magical. From Bethel, Maine, it’s barely a dozen miles to the border, and just eight or nine from there to Gorham, which was my destination. After enjoying a most fantastic wood-fired pizza lunch at one of the nicest eateries around, I picked up Route 16 for the second major leg of the trip. Just 8 miles from Gorham, the road passes the base of the incredible Mt. Washington. This was the Monday after Bike Week in Laconia, during which there’s a day the mountain is closed to non-motorcycles. This makes it a safer ride up, and especially back down, when we don’t have to contend with our cager friends. I’d have still braved it on this trip if I’d had the time that day, so I had to pass, but I’ve posted photos with this article from my ride up Mt. Washington on bike day back in 2012.

Even without the thrill of riding up Mt. Washington, the cruise through the White Mountains is nothing short of stunning. The entire length of Route 16 from Gorham to Ossipee was so amazing that I could have stopped at fifty places to take pictures, but at that rate I’d never have gotten anywhere.

There was one challenge, and one I’ve been hit with before: Conway. It’s a beautiful town, but there seems to be an aversion to any signage letting you know that you haven’t left Route 16. The last sign that I saw was right before Route 16A branches off to the right; from there, I found myself in Conway with traffic lights but no signs indicating that continuing straight kept me on Route 16. After traveling signless through Conway for several miles, I was finally convinced that I had missed a turn; I backtracked to Route 16A and the last Route 16 sign I could find, and went back through town. I still saw no signs, but this time stayed straight and, a mile or so beyond where I had turned around, finally found one. Maybe I just missed the signs, but after retracing my steps and looking for them again, it doesn’t seem likely. Anyway, don’t be fooled; stay straight through Conway, and you’ll be fine.

Mt. Washington, the crown jewel of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)

Route 16 is a quality two-lane road all the way, and it’s a pleasant ride even after the majestic mountains abate. Once I hit Ossipee, I picked up Route 28 and followed that into Hooksett. This is also a good ride, although you get into heavier traffic along the way, and of course the views aren’t as mind-numbingly awesome as the White Mountains ride. But New Hampshire is pretty much beautiful no matter where you’re riding, and the quality of Route 28 was as good as Route 16.

The final stretch before arriving at my sister’s house was interstate-free, as part of my plan, but this meant some confusing back-road jaunts with lots of twists and turns. The problem with online maps when you’re on a motorcycle is that you can’t really check to get your bearings, so I spent a lot of time taking wrong turns until I was at the end of my rope. Luckily, I happened upon a fellow biker on a Harley and asked him directions to Route 114; he instead led the way and got me there. There’s nothing like friends you’ve never met, and when you’re on a motorcycle you’re always sure to find one when you need one.

With lunch, photo stops, and getting lost a few times, this trip was over nine hours, including over six hours riding and 300 miles of road. From the perspective of scenic views, quality roads, and feeling good about every clean breath you take, the one-two punch of Route 2 in Maine and Route 16 in New Hampshire is hard to beat. It makes for a satisfying day of visual overload.

This was the beginning of my trip. For the trip home, I took U.S. Route 202 from Concord, N.H., all the way home to Bangor, Maine. You can read about that here.


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