Ashuelot River Campground, NH

June 22-24

The first thing I don’t want to forget to report is that we saw a low-flying, close-our-overpass bald eagle en route from Gilbert Lake to Swanzey, New Hampshire. Of course, I didn’t get a photo of it, but it was very cool to see so close.

We arrived later than we expected to Ashuelot River Campground—a private campground we’d visited driving home from picking up our trailer from Safari Condo during the spring of 2015. You can read more about our first stay at Ashuelot and the Swanzey/Keen area at my blog post here.

But en route, our path was blocked by an unknown emergency and we detoured along a rutted, mostly-dirt road over a mountain and through the streams.

We drove slowly, primarily because we had not the first clue where we were going—but also to keep the jostling of the trailer to a minimum. Eventually, we made it back to the road blocked by the emergency and carried on our merry way (after letting the oh-so-patient drivers behind get past the slow-moving snail of a blue blockade we fondly call “Roomba”).

The campground, still managed by Chuck and Laura, has been considerably expanded. Many more sites with electric and water line the banks of the river, and many folks were floating, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing along the river.

Our campsite is perfect (#35) because there was hardly anyone nearby, and we made it into a pull-through so our “view” was of the river and Roomba was parallel to the shore. It was a nice, flat site.

In our planning for Camping in the Time of Plague, we had been informed that Ashuelot was accepting only guests who were “self-contained.” Although we do have an on-board toilet, we use the “closet” as a pantry. It would be difficult to either convert it to its intended use (unnecessary to date) or to use it for both functions.

Knowing this, we purchased a portable camp or boat toilet, and we figured out how to fit up our screen house, with its drop-down rain curtains, as our privacy area that would include use as a private shower.

By the time of our arrival, however, Chuck and Laura had built small toilet houses with running water and porcelain fixtures—and had hired someone to come in every 4 hours between 8AM and 8PM to disinfect them. There was no hot water, but what delightful news, and right across the road fro our site, too. There was even a roomy dishwashing station on the structure.

Relieved that the only use we had to make of the screen house was for showers (using the shower port already on the utility side of the trailer), we also were gratified that there was plenty of room for the screen house to be properly set up. The utility side also turned out to be the sunny side, so we got the extra boost of having the screen house shade the trailer.

It was plenty hot in NH, so we ran our AC almost constantly. Next to the river, there were also plenty of mosquitoes. 

Despite asking everyone to self-check-in, Chuck and Laura had opened the office to a limited number of people at one time, so it was easy to access the campground’s free wifi around the office. The wifi was robust, so it was easy to get a good signal by sitting outside in Adirondack chairs or along the porch.

Our first full day there, we planned to return to the Ashuelot River Rail Trail that connects Keen to Swanzey. Upon uncovering the bikes, however, we found there had been a major failure of our bike rack. 

The problem could have been so much worse—but it was bad enough. One vertical side of the aluminum tube (in the shape of an upside-down “U”) that actually holds the rack onto the front of the Alto had snapped in two right at the fitting that secures it to the trailer. The opposite vertical part of the tube was bent at the same spot. If it also had broken, who knows what would have happened to the bikes and the trailer. (In the pic on the right, I tried to remove or at least lessen the distracting effect of the background. Hope I didn’t make it even more “noisy” for you by mistake.)

So instead of riding the trail before the heat and humidity set in, we called the bike rack manufacturer (Arvika), to see what might be done. Our goal was to get them to overnight the part to us, but the timing was tricky—located in Canada, Arvkia would be celebrating a Quebec holiday the next day, making it impossible for it to reach us before we left Ashuelot.

While the guy on the other end of the line (who happened to be the owner) promised to see if he had the part in stock, and if he did, whether or not it had been painted—we gave him our schedule and discussed shipping to our next destination campground in VT (whom we’d already called to see if they could accept such a shipment).

There was nothing to do but carry on until we heard back from him. So we rode our bikes. As before, we rode from Swanzey to Keen on the Ashuelot River Rail Trail (about 6 miles).

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We got to Keen before lunchtime, so we had a snack sitting in the shade outside the pub we’d visited 5 years ago. Then we checked our map (a more thorough one than what we’d had before) to find out how to continue north from Keen. The updated map was excellent, with many cycling trails outlined on the Monadnock Region Bicycle Routes map.

Wending our way through town on the Industrial Heritage trail in Keen, we saw these cool bike rack-cum-park bench structures.

They marked the beginning of the rail trail to Walpole—another 7 miles one-way—on the Cheshire Rail Trail, which was excellent up until we climbed quite steeply uphill (wondering how a train might have managed the grade) to a road crossing called Aldrich Road. Although we did cross Aldrich and go another 2 miles to a capped landfill, the footing from the north side of Aldrich until we gave up was terrible. Enormous rocks proud of the surface, deep sand, and tough gravel made those 2 miles of the ride not any fun at all. If you head north out of Keen toward Walpole on the Cheshire, take our advice and turn around at Aldrich Road.

Back at camp, we’d logged ~25 miles at an average speed of 10 MPH. It was in the mid-80s by then, and we’d had a couple of snacks along the way, but we’d missed lunch. Happily, we had taken some lamb chops out of the freezer and accompanied them with baked potatoes (grown by John and Mary) and grilled baby zucchini. It was an excellent endpoint for a strange and vigorous day.

After our ride and before it was cool enough to get into the screen house to shower, I lounged beside the river while Jack went to the office area to get wifi and see if Arvika might have found the part we needed. Once the site was shaded, we discovered our shower house rig worked out great. We didn’t even need to heat the water—between the hose baking in the sun and the ambient heat of the day, it was an excellent, private, roomy, and wonderful shower.

Not having been able to reach Arvika, we realized there was no option but to figure out how to pack the bikes into the trailer to transport them. So we spent our last day engineering the fit, and how the rest of the pack would work when the bikes took up space we usually use for other gear.

We did a “dry run” by taking the front wheels off the bikes and wrapping them (to keep grease from painting a new color scheme inside the trailer) in enormous leaf bags we obtained from the local grocery store despite Chuck’s warning that the locals didn’t really appreciate interactions with visitors from other states during Covid-19. Once we figured out how to do it and where everything would go, we settled down to an easy pasta dinner while the bagged bikes cooled their heels outside.

The pack up morning was stressful as we tried to keep the bikes safe and the interior of Roomba from getting ripped, punctured, greased, or dented. We had most of our bedding packed around the bikes to keep them from bouncing around. For my part, being in charge of the interior stowage process, I had to remember an entirely new procedure to be sure this or that would go there before we cut off access to that or the other.

Lesson One for Camping in the Time of Plague: ADAPT. Think smart, stay safe, consider options, and adapt to whatever arises.

All things considered, we did a pretty good job of adapting to not having a bike rack. The bikes (and Roomba) made it without incident to our next destination, Sugar Ridge Campground near Danville, Vermont.

ADDENDUM: I forgot to note that we’d discovered President Trudeau had extended the closure of the Canadian border, making it impossible for us to keep our service appointment at Safari Condo—the stay afterward at the Canadian campground we’d reserved was likewise, toast. Instead, we’ll “drop back and punt” and stay at Robert Moses State Park in New York for those 7 days. In addition, the group for whom I edit and layout their quarterly magazine officially canceled their annual meeting (which I’m expected to attend) due to Covid-19. This year, it was to be held in Pittsburgh, one of my favorite cities. While we will stay at the campground we’d originally reserved near the site of the convention, and while we will ride the Great Allegheny Passage as we’d planned, I won’t need to pull out any of the “nice” clothes I brought along to wear as an employee of that group during their big annual meeting.

Again: Watchword = adapt.

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Two Rails 2 Trails Rides

Yesterday we set out from the campsite straight along a connector path through the Dickenson Forest to get to the Ashuelot River Rail Trail that goes to Keene, NH, a small college city. Our path through the forest was mostly ride-able (we had to walk the bikes a couple of times to travel over roots etc.) but it was totally lovely. Once we got onto the trail proper, it was a great surface and a nice ride. Reminscent of the New River Trail back home, with trestle crossings across water.

  We stopped along the way to visit a covered bridge, at least two of which are still in regular use by vehicle traffic around these parts.  I didn’t get any iPhone pix of the bridge itself because there was so much traffic!

By the time we got to Keene, only about 6 miles, it was time for a mid-morning snack, but we saw a local brew pub, so we decided on an early lunch.

Boy what a lunch. Beer-battered onion rings to die for, an excellent ESB, and a delicious sandwich. We were quite happy with our discovery.   

We tried to find the connection in Keene to the Cheshire Rail Trail, but were stymied. Could not for the life of us find any signage or anyone to ask.

Gave up on Cheshire for the day and rode straight back to Swanzey and our campsite and had a shower, and a bit of a lie-about for the rest of the beautiful evening. Ate the rest of the grilled turkey over a very fine salad with feta cheese, played a game of Skip-Bo, listened to a bit of an audiobook we’d begun on the way here, and turned in early.

This AM, we decided that, instead of trying to find the Cheshire trail out of Keene, which we knew to be problematic, we would drive to Troy where our “guidebook” said there was parking, and we’d ride to Keene from there. Reason being that very near Keene on the Cheshire trail was a historic stone-built, arched bridge that was worth seeing.

So we drove to Troy and found a nice person who was tending a small graveyard adjacent to the restored Rail Depot, who strongly recommended we head south instead of north along the Cheshire trail.


We told him we’d try that another time, and headed north only to find broken glass, deep sand, and really rough going not far along the poorly maintained trail bed.

So we about-faced, lubed our chains and checked our tires for imbedded glass and decided to take our friend’s recommendation and head south, first to Fitzwilliam, and then to the NH state line (about 14 miles), about-face, and return, then go see the stone arch bridge via Subaru.

While the Cheshire Trail began okay, it quickly deteriorated. For the next 6 miles we were alternating between huge rocks/bolders in the trail, deep mud, deep sand, and really tough, eroded footing. Many signs of ATV and dirt bike (motorized, i.e., prohibited) use were clearly evident. Some places we even had to walk (we call that “cross-training” when the going gets rough enough to walk one’s bike). Our assumption is that there are some landowner disputes ongoing and someone is pissing on someone else’s shoes along that stretch. Whatever the origins, the trail is not something I would recommend to anyone other than those interested in technical mountain biking.

The highlight was this lovely, large lake we passed quite early in the ride. I managed to get a pano shot of the whole thing, and you can see the Cheshire Trail at the far right. 

We managed to plod forward, but finally gave up the effort at Rt. 119, just outside of Fitzwilliam, and elected to find a lunch stop and see what the safest road route back to our car might be.

Found an excellent diner called The Flip Side, very popular judging by the number of cars outside. We had an excellent meal and topped it off with some of the best ice cream we’ve had: Anabelle’s Ice Cream. Not quite as good as Homestead Creamery ice cream back home, but very good and welcome on this hot difficult day.

None of the wait staff in the diner knew of the local roads, and so could not make a recommendation on how best we might stay off the major Rt. 12 and all its traffic.

Asked a handy policeman, parked near where we thought we could get to a back road headed the right direction, but he was not helpful as he said that Rt. 12 was the best road for us.

We went along our chosen back roads anyway, and had a splendid ride through quiet neighborhoods with lovely homes along a nearly traffic-less path. Glorious. The best four miles of our 11 mile day, no contest.

Once back at the car, we loaded the bikes and tried to find the elusive stone arch bridge. Following our “guidebook” (which we borrowed from the friendly camp manager/owner but noticed it’s about 8 years out of date) proved useless. By happenstance, we discovered a big sign noting the bridge, and a turn-out, and so we parked and walked up to the top. 

The renovation of the bridge above and below is ongoing, and soon it will be open to the public and a part of a civic park — but not part of the Cheshire Trail (we never did find where that was supposed to head out of Keene). There were no banisters/guard rails installed yet, but they were working on the footing and doing a lot of erosion control. This was the view upstream from the top:


I hiked down off the opposite end, into the woods and tried to get to a spot on the right bank of what you can see in the photo above, to get a shot of the bridge itself. And then I found a nice patch of fiddle head ferns, and as you can see below, might have gotten slightly carried away with the pix.

After the bridge stop, we did some grocery shopping and headed back to camp to start dinner: pork chops and vegetables in foil cooked on the grill. Yum.

  
  

Goodbye Cape Cod, Hello New Hampshire!

We had a truly delightful “final supper” with my sister-in-law, Ini; and my niece, Lee up in Provincetown. They had worked all day taking down the “Appearances” art, sculpture, writing, and dance showcase, and everyone was nearly dead on their feet. Ini & Lee’s kind (and talented) hostess, Dot, opted out of accompanying us. But she generously offered her place as a parking spot (saving us significant trouble and $) and we walked back into the downtown seeking a place called The Squealing Pig, which we thought might be a ribs and Bar-B-Que place.

  
But it was better! I think the only thing made from a pig on the menu was a ham sandwich. Both the food and the atmosphere was neighborhood pub style, and we had a wonderful time. Fish and Chips, Shepherd’s Pie, but also fried chicken, and spicy beef kabobs — and Tuscan fries doused in black truffle oil and parmesean cheese. OMH, what a delightful flavor.

  
And great draft beers on tap. The only downside of the meal was sitting next to an enormous TV screen — Ini and I had our backs to it, but Lee and Jack had to face it, and the lighting effects were less than ideal. Even though the place was loud, it was not because of the TVs. Folks were simply having a great time with friends and with the staff, who were excellent hosts. I highly recommend the place, but don’t expect a pulled pork sandwich on the menu.

Lee & Ini were bussing to their flight home the next day, and we hitched and headed to New Hampshire, but not before having our second visit to an excellent bakery and coffee spot right in Eastham near the campground. We’d only discovered it the morning before we had to leave, which is unfortunate because I could have spent a lot of time there. Excellent baked goods including doghnuts, muffins, and some of the best bagles I’ve had in quite a while. It is called the Hole in One, and it is attached to a full-fledged restaurant called the Fairway (note a theme here?). We knew it was a popular place our first morning in Eastham because there was a line out the door for service. All the locals pick up their breakfast and coffee there.

The best thing about it was that, along with many flavors of bagle, they had flavored cream cheese to apply to them: jalapeno cream cheese, scallion cream cheese, and (wait for it) BACON and SPINACH cream cheese! I had an excellent plain bagle with that lovely bacon and spinach topping; Jack had an asiago cheese bagle with scallion topping and they were both excellent.

We’re getting the hang of this hitching and road-readying routine, but still got away on a beautiful sunny morning later than we’d expected. Uneventful trip to Swanzey, NH, to a campground on the Ashuelot River (pronounced, near as I can tell, Ash-WAY-Lot). The host is a great outdoors enthusiast, who is also a bicyclist. We didn’t get officially checked in until our first morning there (May 5 — today) because he’s always out and about, readying his place (which at this point is nearly empty) and getting everything ship-shape for the season. 

One of the reasons we chose this campground is its easy access to the Ashuelot Recreational Trail, another Rail Trail to add to our list. We will take our first wheel on it this AM.

  
The Ashuelot River is chewing its way into the short trail-link from our campground to the Rail Trail.

Last night we found a really big supermarket and did some shopping for groceries so we might not have to drive anywhere the entire time we’re here! We grilled some turkey tenders and added a salad and some pasta with pesto to the mix and sat outside (until the mosquitoes chased us inside) and it was a lovely evening.

Keene is a little college town we’re looking forward to exploring via bike, as it is one of the points of interest on the Rail Trail. From there, we understand there are other connecting bike trails to explore. Lots of pictures to take.