Monday, July 19, 2010

Rediscovering Familiar Places... and the Hills You Never Knew Were There

Yesterday was a special occasion for us, and we wanted to do something special to celebrate. We decided to visit an area of Seacoast New Hampshire and Southern Maine where we used to live a few years back - but for the first time, get around entirely on our bicycles.

We began by driving to Portsmouth, NH - which is only an hour North of Boston. We parked in a municipal lot, unfastened the bicycles, and set off. Portsmouth itself is a fantastic town and is very easy to cycle in, but our destination was Maine - which is accessible via a very cool truss lift bridge.

We had to wait for some ships to pass underneath, but they soon lowered the bridge and we walked our bicycles across.

The views from this bridge are amazing, and we even spotted a boat with some bicycles strapped to it.

The Co-Habitant's Myles.

And my Marianne, enjoying the view. I took the vintage mixte, because I wanted to be more upright than on my roadbike - so as to have a better view of the scenery and to carry a camera across my back. All of that I did, but at the expense of both comfort and speed: Despite her beauty, this bicycle is just not as pleasant to ride as the Rivendell Sam Hillborne, and without drop bars it is also not as fast. In fact, now that I am finally building up my custom new mixte, we have plans for Marianne that will rescue her from redundancy - but I will save that for later.

And here we are, in Kittery Maine. This was the first time we crossed a state line on bicycle.

I like to think that I know coastal Southern Maine like the back of my hand. And if you were to ask me, "Is it hilly?", a few days ago I would have answered "not at all" - and I would have been so wrong! It is amazing how we are just not as aware of topography in a car as we are on a bicycle.

We have a favourite road in this area that is an off-shoot of Route 1A and offers spectacular views of the coastline, and I simply do not remember this road having hills. But on my 12-speed Motobecane mixte, I was soon switching gears all over the place as I tried to keep up with the frequent and considerable changes in elevation.

Still, it was so worth it and our trip was spectacular; I would most definitely recommend Southern Maine for touring. The traffic on the roads was much lighter than we expected, and cycling was considerably more peaceful than in the countryside around Boston. There are many non-touristy spots in the Kittery, York, and Ogunquit areas where the beaches are pristine, the restaurants are inexpensive, and the landscape is not cluttered with "motel sprawl".

Steamers, caught on the property of the restaurant that serves them. When it comes to seafood in Maine, there is so much choice that you really need to know where to go, so it helps having once been a local. Our favourite place was right along our route, and we happily stopped by after all those lovely hills.

All in all, this was probably the nicest cycling trip we have taken so far. Next time we will figure out how to plan it so that we can keep going further North before turning back - maybe stay in a motel somewhere overnight. One of our favourite places on Earth has become even "favouriter", once traveled by bicycle.

27 comments:

  1. This bike date sounds utterly dreamy.

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  2. Thanks for taking me on vacation via this post.

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  3. lovely. We were in portsmouth in March and loved it. B's aunt is from kittery point and I think that whole area is so beautiful. So glad you got to get away and enjoy it.

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  4. Kittery Point is probably my favourite place in the area!

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  5. Mmm, that looks idyllic, Velouria! What a perfect day you had for touring. Your comments on Marianne vs Graham for touring are interesting. I suspect that had you not had the Rivendell bike you would have been delighted altogether with your day on Marianne. How does the gearing differ between the two ratio wise? Do you think you would have been as busy changing gears on the Rivendell?

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  6. So pretty! And very interesting about the hills and Marianne. I look forward to hearing about her transformation.

    I always forget how close southern Maine is because everyone I visit there is hours farther northeast.

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  7. awesome! great photos of what sounds like a great bicycle getaway.

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  8. Carinthia - The main difference is not even so much in gearing, as in speed perception: On the Hillborne, the ride feels so stable and safe that it does not feel as if I am going very fast even when I am. The Co-Habitant got me a computer for that bike, so now I can tell exactly what my speed is - and when cycling on my own, I am fairly comfortable with 16-17mph, and have gone as fast as 20mph. On the Motobecane mixte though, I begin to feel like I am going at a "dangerous speed" even at much lower speeds. So if I am going, say 14mph on the Motobecane, it feels as if I am going 20mph on the Hillborne, which is a pretty crazy difference in speed perception. The other major thing, is weight distribution. On Graham I feel zero pressure on my hands and zero pain anywhere, everything is balanced out. On the Motobecane, no matter how much I keep modifying it, something somewhere always hurts - be it my hands, or shoulders, or back. Over a long ride, it really takes a toll. But as for gearing - I had to shift about the same on the Hillborne when going up similar hills outside Boston, but the shifting on it works much easier, and it has a bigger choice of gears - which in situations like this I appreciate!

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  9. This post makes me miss salt water something bad. Why can't the mountains be right next to the ocean! :)

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  10. Amy - They can be: Mount Desert Island, Maine! Panoramic water views and (smallish) mountains. Bliss.

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  11. Beautiful. All of the photos are gorgeous (and perfect for your bikes wby the water pool). I love the boat with bikes strapped to it. This really makes me want to visit the area and ride bikes, of course. Not far from where a lot of my family lives.

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  12. Such a lovely area on such lovely bikes!

    What you say about hills is interesting. Drivers generally don't think about them. After you ride for a while, you'll take some hills for granted. Then someone who's a less experienced cyclist than you will accompany you on a ride: "I"--puff--"didn't"--huff---"know"---huff, puff--"there are"--huff--"hills"--puff--"here!"

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  13. Justine - That's happened to me while hiking in Austria. The woman I was with asked me to join her "for a walk in the woods". I asked whether we would be climbing any hills and she assured me that we would not. We ended up hiking to the top of a small mountain, where I gestured at the view below and pointed out to her that we had, er, climbed a small mountain. She was genuinely surprised. "True, I just never thought of it that way."

    Thanks Dottie, and you should definitely visit! The only sucky thing, is that there is no nice way to get to the general area on a bicycle from Boston, despite it being so close. Any route that is even remotely straight requires riding with aggressive traffic. But once you are in the NH Seacoast area, it seems that you can cycle as far North as you want, and it's pretty nice.

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  14. Just ah . . . ! Summertime on two wheels. Love this.

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  15. Great pictures Velouria, I would love to cycle around that place. The good thing about hills is that there is always also a "downhill" part :).

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  16. Hi. This is my first comment, although I have enjoyed reading your blog for a while. I just bought a mixte a few weeks ago and was wondering how to put it on my car's bike rack. We have a minivan, so the bike rack is not one that is on top of the car, but on the back. When you took your bikes to Portsmouth, how did you fit them on your car?

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  17. Beautiful! This looks like a wonderful day. I have visited Maine once and I really loved it, hopefully I'll return some day and - even better - get to visit some of it by bike. S.

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  18. Jennifer - Our bike rack is on the back of the car as well. It is a Thule rack that holds 2 bikes. With a mixte, you have to angle the frame on a diagonal, so that the mixte stays function as the top tube. It looks wacky, but it holds up fine.

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  19. Hi Velouria. Interesting comment about Marianne v. Graham. I find it easier/mentally more comfortable to go faster on my Pashley because it feels more stable; probably because it's a newer bike. Vintage bikes seem to lack some of the stability of modern bikes I find, although that might be a generalisation.

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  20. A loop frame or a mixte can also be held up by a Thule (we have that one, or you could get another brand) top bar substitute: here's one.

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  21. I searched all over your blog but I couldn't really come across the right post to ask this question.

    Have you ever traveled far distances with Eustacia Vye via car? I'm trying to figure out best way to carry my Princess Sovereign for a 250 mile trip and so far it seems like the only option I have with my car is getting a trunk rack and cross bar adaptor... Just wanted to know if you had any advice about transport!

    Also, your pictures have convinced me I need to go visit my friend in New Hampshire and bike with her right away.

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  22. Jenny, I haven't. The only time she has been on a car was when she came home from Harris Cyclery; I only ride her locally. But she should hold up fine on a rear rack for 250 miles, as long as the rack is rated for the weight. I think the rear car-rack is the best option, unless you have a pickup truck and can just put the bike sin the back.

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  23. I disagree that you can't get to Portsmouth by bike, it is just a long trip.

    The Boston-Portsmouth route has two options in the eastern portion, and the route through the swamps is vastly superior to tracking north along the coast. We did the latter for Memorial Day weekend last year and spent those hours in traffic, breathing beach-going fumes. Stay to the west as long as possible!

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  24. Charlotte - It is definitely doable in the way you describe, but would take a disproportionally long time for a ride the goal of which is to cycle along coastal Maine, and with just 1 day to spare. Even the train was not a realistic option: There are no trains to Portsmouth directly. And the first Northeaster train that stops in Dover, NH (a town that is sort of nearby) does not leave until 9:30am or so, which would mean that the train trip would have eaten up our whole morning.

    When we go on a long tour, we will follow your route to Maine via Western Mass for sure - it sounds like the nicest option by far.

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  25. Oh absolutely, sounds lovely. I was responding to your comment to Dottie, which appeared to be more general. I should have made that clear.

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  26. Funny, I just discovered your blog a few weeks ago. I've been reading regularly and happened to be on the Memorial Bridge the very same day! I read this post in Midcoast Maine in fact. My wife and I stayed in Portsmouth on our way up. There are some lovely places to be seen by bicycle along the coast and I definitely want to spend more time in the Kittery area.

    We saw the boat with the bikes strapped on and thought that's got to be the nicest way to travel the coast -- the best of both worlds.

    It looks like you had a great ride. It was a beautiful day for it.

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