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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Short Stop

First night, about halfway to Bike North Caronlina in Edenton, NC. We stopped at Medoc Mountain State Park near Hollister, NC. The place is nearly empty — Our Alto, an A-Liner, a large cookie-cutter trailer (they all look the same), and a tent. 

 

Medoc Mountain State Park, North Carolina, site #5
 
Nice little campground with about 36 spots, well-screened from one another. The bathhouse is clean and offers plenty of privacy and space. Found a tick crawling on me right after setup, however. 

Temperatures are in the mid-seventies, and it’s quite hot in the sun. But we put the sun shield in the Big Front Window, and that truly has made all the difference. With the roof fan venting and a couple of the shade-side windows open a crack, it was extremely tolerable inside. We have electricity, but we’re not “setting up” like normal since we’re leaving for the final leg to Edenton tomorrow morning. 

Chatted with one of the Rangers about the Alto, and gave her a tour. We were surprised to hear that she was somewhat familiar with the brand (from seeing one and then looking it up on the Internet) but she said she’d never been inside one.

The sun slowly sank to steal away the shade under our awning, so we moved around to the back and lounged about some in the gravity chairs, with a nice breeze blowing, until we munched the dinner we’d picked up along the way: chicken salad and crackers. We are unlikely to be able to check in for the ride until later in the day tomorrow. We’ll have a leisurely morning with tea/coffee and yogurt, hit the road and try to get a decent spot to set up without any electricity for the next 3 days of riding and eating seafood. At least the camper area where we’ve been assigned isn’t in the middle of a paved parking lot.

  1. Ride
  2. Eat
  3. Sleep
  4. Ride
  5. Repeat

Hoping for excellent weather, but we’re looking forward to riding along the flatlands for a change no matter what the skies do.

Blue Mountain State Park, Maine

(It has been a challenge to find wi-fi so I’m backed up on posts. Sorry for the delay)

Wednesday, August 19: Awoke late as we only have about a 3-hour drive to get to Blue Mountain State Park (ME) campground. Enjoyed a lovely breakfast of oatmeal, and included the English muffin we’d carried along since the New River Trail camp. Jack and I split it and I toasted it on our stove-top toaster. Yum.

Didn’t get started until around 10A, and rolled through beautiful Vermont and into New Hampshire, winding our way east while missing out the big mountain passes. As we approached NH, we discovered services to be rather thin along the route we’d chosen, so I was glad we’d filled the tank before leaving VT.

Into NH, we saw many “Motel cabins” — a throwback to another era still in operation up here in the north backwoods — and the scenery was nice, looking east to the mountains.

Ate lunch at a cute little cafe just outside of Bethel, Maine. It was called The Hitching Post and it had a deck with an ice-cream window like Cheri has at Tuggles Gap back home, plus you could go inside and order either take-away or sit-down. We sat down and noticed there was a definite “western” theme in the decor — what decor there was, that is.

The Hitching Post Cafe
The Hitching Post Cafe

But the food was delish and the folks were friendly, and after lunch we switched drivers for the last hour. Oddly, it was 89 or 90 degrees. Our young Hitching Post waitress complained of the heat, and we remarked that we Virginians believed it wasn’t supposed to get so hot up here in the northern country, and that we thought it was cooler down in VA right about now (they’re having a lot of rain at home, we hear).

We were interested to note that along the Androscoggin River, there is an actual Canoe Trail! Very interested to know more about that, but other than paralleling the Androscoggin for a long time, we know very little about it. Need to do some research for another trip.

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As we approached Weld, ME, where Mt. Blue State Park would be found, we passed one of those darned brown signs that said “state park camping turn here” but our guidance system said we still had 6 miles to go. So this time, we decided to follow the guidance and as it turns out, it appears that was a good choice. We had paved road right through Weld and down another recently re-paved road to the Park entrance, and we found the registration station, and soon we were at our site, #38.

The back-in was a 90 degree path, so we had to remove the anti-sway/load distribution bars, but the place we elected to remove them would not subsequently allow us to remove the jack post wheel.

So we put the bars back on, and I drove around the circle again so we’d be able to get them off at a place lower in the road so we could remove the wheel afterwards.

The final back-in was a snap, and it wasn’t long before we were all set up, but with no services.

And it was still HOT. Jack was pouring with sweat, even though we really didn’t have to work very hard to set up. But the humidity is extreme.

I fetched some filtered water from the nearest access point, which is also near the pit toilets. A friendly fellow camper reported that she’d gone down to the ranger’s station and discovered that shortly, a lot of rain was scheduled to really hammer us.

Jack and I got into Roomba and turned on the ceiling fan, plus got out the 12v oscillating fan we’d gotten from Tractor Supply, and sat down to cool off a little. As I write this, the sky is darkening, but the temps are still stifling. Without hook-up electricity, we cannot run the AC; and if it rains, we’ll have to close the ceiling fan, so I earnestly hope the weather will bring some breezes and cooler temps with the deluge. I’m thinking this is going to be a rather long night.

But our dinner was a reprise of what we had last night, and we’re set for victuals so bring it on, weather, bring it on.

Post Script: We decided that, although we were nicely tucked into the site, and Mt. Blue was nice enough, if it had been a weekend or a busy time, we would have felt chock-a-block and crowded. And the services were just ordinary.

Scenes from the drive:

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Second night camping

So we had a very long day at Safari Condo on Tuesday, when we picked up our Blue Roomba. Denis was very patient and tried to get us through the “training” quickly, but we had so many questions, it must have driven him totally mad. He never showed it, though.

  
We first saw our little baby Roomba with a big red bow on the bow, and that was very fun. We checked out the interior improvements we requested (extra storage in the loo with a shelf actually applied over the toilet; no microwave and that area converted into storage), and then got to the business of climbing our very steep learning curve. This ain’t like tent camping, I can tell you.

   
 

We (of course) took the required pix of us and Denis in front of our new baby, with bikes en suite, and then we were totally on our own. YIKES!

   
Denis and Jack.

Denis and Lee.  

Jack and Lee.

  

The total rig.

It was later than we’d thought we’d be when we left Safari Condo, so once we made it through the Jackman, Maine customs/border crossing, with a lovely chat about bicycling in Maine with the officer in charge, we headed into the town of Jackman.

Warning to anyone traveling that road: it is absolutely horrible, pocked, pitted, and buckled by heavy truck traffic and what must be horrid winters. Really rough way to learn how to tow a trailer weighing nearly a ton behind a smallish car. In our experience, even if they say you can go 50 or 55, you certainly don’t have to and probably don’t want to.

The scenery was quite fine, however. We traveled along a river but the forest was definitely winterized. Lots of snow still among the trees, and rough looking evergreens being the only greenery we saw. Not much had begun to bloom or emerge with spring growth at this point in their season.

We’d asked about reservations at Jackman Landing Campground back in Feb, and they said that April was their flood season so they didn’t take reservations.

But we stopped there anyway, as we were tired and ready to stop driving. While things were definitely spongey and wet, and certainly the lake was very high, there was some decent ground to park on, so we did, paying the proprietor $10. With the geese and the other water birds, we shared a resting spot that was quite glorious for the few minutes we had before the sun set.

   
Leveling before raising the roof.

Lots of snow still in evidence.

  So this was our first un-hitching, late and we were tired and hungry — but we managed.

Got to a place that sold everything from bottled water and Maine Kitche to beer & whiskey — and they had a deli type place, whose workers were kind enough to take pity on us southerners and make us a pizza, even though they had just closed. 

We took the pizza back to the campsite, opened our celebratory bottle of wine, and toasted our first day abroad with our Roomba. Very fine. 

The site had electricity, but no water, and we were staying for only the night anyway, so we got away not terribly early on Wed AM headed to Freeport, Maine (home of LL Bean). 

Found another place with a deli/food service place tucked back among the hunting and fishing equipment, which was behind the tampons and chips, and ate brunch. A major qualifying characteristic prompting our stop at this — what appeared to be a hunting outfitter — was that there was a large enough parking area that we didn’t have to back the trailer to get out again.

The road improved about halfway to Freeport, but was still like a roller-coaster in some places, so we experimented with the trailer’s load, and piled more of the heaviest things along the trailer’s axle and things seemed to be almost like we weren’t towing anything for a bit. But the quality of the road is a key element to feeling comfortable about towing, we’ve learned.

We seem to be the only peeps at this campground in Freeport — Recompense Shores or something weird. Even though we have a reservation, no one is in the office, and all the showers are locked up tight. So we picked a spot that looked open and flat (and not too wet) and are happily ensconsed for our days two and three, right next to the water. After setting up we had enough time to pop into town for a microbrew and a visit to the grocery store; and to begin to find places in the Roomba where all our trailer stuff will be stowed. More learning curve climbing, but this is the fun bit — the part we’ve been puzzling about and thinking about since last August when this route began to be mapped for us. 

It is a glorious world we live in, and that world is full of wonderful, friendly people who are often quite willing to help a couple of travelers out.

Is this life great or what?

   
After our dinner of seafood and cask conditioned microbeers, we turned on some of the Roomba lights to show what the solar-powered battery can accomplish.

A full moom in Roomba Land. 

Found Time

I’m really tired of snow.

But today, an obligation was taken off my calendar because of it. I just couldn’t get there from here. At least, not on time. Had it been an afternoon meeting, I could certainly have gone.

Since it wasn’t and I didn’t, I decided to declare today a “found time” day. Sure, I could have caught up on the “to do” list. I could have cleaned the house or done the laundry. I could have gotten just a wee bit more of a handle on several upcoming deadlines I’m going to have to really hammer soon. (Noticeably not among the options = shoveling snow. No way.)

I could have taken one more step toward finishing out the last week of falconry season in style by flying the birds. Not really too smart, after all, though — the wind was such that they would have been blown into Franklin County, I expect.

I could have done any of those things. But I didn’t.

I decided to have a day to myself, with no gotta do’s, only wanna do’s.

So I sat down with a new toy and played.

It’s a digital pen and USB tablet, gifted to me from a very generous friend, Leigh Rainey (thanks, Leigh!). I was wondering how to get used to it. I’ve never been much for creating something out of thin air, preferring instead to use a model, so to speak. So I checked out some of my fave printed B&W photographs. I stumbled upon one that I’d taken a long time ago, on another day when late March dumped a layer of snow on us in Meadows of Dan, and thought to myself, “How appropriate.” So I photocopied it with the setting on “light” and studied it. The image really took me back.

Back to when I was working at a horse farm in Floyd. We used the photo’s subject trailer to haul manure and sawdust to our garden, after I’d hauled each horse cookie out of the stalls. Many days, we’d park the trailer at the barn so the horse s**t could be wheelbarrowed straight from the stalls to the trailer (instead of having to pitchfork it from the steaming manure pile into the trailer, to then haul to our garden/compost pile at home).

It took me back to that March snow, sometime in the 90s, before I had a digital camera. That was a warm snow; heavy and wet. It lasted only a few hours (as opposed to this, which fell yesterday, 7 fluffy inches, with another inch overnight and drifts along the driveway of 18 inches or so; and looking forward to continued sub-freezing temps for another day and night “they” say).

And when I sat down with the pen-and-tablet, it took me back to when I was high school age, and had loved pen-and-ink drawing. I haven’t done much of that since — tried a couple of things on the iPad, but you gotta keep your hand floating above the surface with my generation of iPad in drawing mode. That’s not only imprecise and fiddly — it’s tiring.

This wonderful thingie Leigh gave me is truly fun and almost-but-not-quite-exactly like a pen and pad of paper. It is pressure sensitive, just like real life. It does, however, make much more noise than the scratching of a thin nib on paper.

I’ve spent all day experimenting; creating and discarding layers; mapping out how the “paper” will be arranged with which grays/layers/nib widths would go where. After quite a few false starts and do-overs (I love being able to use layers and to save the bits I like rather than tossing the entire piece of paper out), I finished what I think is my first digital pen-and-ink artwork.

I hope you like what I finally came up with — gotta say, it was fun. Now I’m all inspired to get back to pen-and-ink — only at the digital level, though (I’m such a techno-dweeb). I just don’t want to go back to those frustrating high school days using ink, pens with thousands of expensive nibs (that need cleaning every time you’re done, and sometimes fail altogether), and paper with no do-overs.

Not sure how I’ll find the time, though.

Thanks again, Leigh, for the inspiration and the tools.

And okay — thanks, universe, for the snow. Really ready for spring, but the Found Time has been glorious.

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Here’s what the trailer looks like today:

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