I woke up at sunrise to the distinct sounds of people walking past my tent. Poking my head out, I quickly realized my miscalculation: the parking lot I'd chosen as my sleep-spot was in fact a hiking trailhead, and the people I'd heard were some early-risers getting out for a sunrise walk.
I opened the tent, and was greeted with exactly the type of scenery I dreamt of on this trip. Morning fog rolling off the river, rain drops staining my forehead as I poked my head through the opening, and the main event: my bike, loaded to the brim, standing there waiting for me.
I packed up camp, pausing briefly to capture some photos. The scene was straight out of Lord of the Rings. Back at the bike, luggage slowly made it's way back into the cases - a (very damp) tent, followed by my sleeping gear, then finally my duffel bag/guitar strapped to the top case. I was already growing tired fo the guitar; the constant worry of loosing it was quickly outweighing the novelty of having it around. I knew I'd need to drop it off with a friend somewhere.
I pulled away shortly after 9am, and pointed the bike towards town. I stopped at a hardware store to try and find some gas canisters - I was working with two half-full containers, and wasn't entirely sure I'd be able to make the breakfast I wanted. The hardware store was out, but the small town grocer across the street had one in stock. I paid a premium - $10 for a canister I'd pay $5 for at a Walmart, but it was a necessary evil.
I turned east towards Bolton, and more specifically a spot right off Route 2 called the "Bolton Potholes." Although located on private land, the Bolton Potholes are a swimming area open to the public through and agreement with the landowners and the Vermont River Conservatory. I'm a sucker for a nice waterfall, so when I saw the name come up on my GPS, I couldn't help myself. Pulling out of the parking lot, I noticed an issue: my handlebars wouldn't turn to full lock to the left. I thought it was potentially just in my head, but made a mental note to keep an eye on it.
The ride over was gorgeous - the sun coming up over the Green Mountains, coupled with the cool morning air and the rolling farmland to my right, it was all a recipe for beauty. I pulled into the "parking lot", nothing more than a dirt pull off outside the main road, and unloaded my stuff - a dehydrated meal for breakfast, my camp stove, my bathing suit, towel, and all my camera gear. I set off on the "hike" up to the potholes, and quickly found the short trail that wound down to the riverbed. A massive "welcome" sign marked the spot, and gave special warning about areas to avoid. One that stood out was the "Eagle Eye", where, apparently, two people have drowned in recent memory.
It wasn't lost on me how inherently unsafe it was to go swimming in a mountain stream by myself. Then again, so can be quitting your job, selling all of your stuff, and hopping on a two year motorcycle trip. At the end of the day, risk management and not doing anything stupid is the name of the game in these circumstances. You do everything you can to minimize the danger, and accept that it's there.
The scene on the river was stunning. Two main waterfalls, each cascading into their respective potholes. Like the potholes you see on main roads, riverbed potholes are a geologic feature that occurs when a hard mineral, like quartz, gets caught in a crack in the rock. Over time, water currents cause these hard sediments to rotate, effectively allowing them to drill out almost perfect circles in the hard riverbed. The resulting feature is truly the closest thing to a natural swimming pool you can find. While they're inherently beautiful, the underlying currents can, and do, cause problems if you're not careful.
I spent a good two hours at the potholes, and had the entire area to myself. I soaked in the frigid mountain waters, and thought of my brother while doing so. My oldest brother, Larry, has been studying the Wim Hoff method for a long time now, and he's been preaching the benefits of cold plunges for just as long. I've always been a little ambivalent, but it was hard to deny the utter euphoria you feel once you take the plunge and allow your body to adapt. It felt like a microcosm of this whole trip: immediate fear before jumping in, followed by a bit of a shock once you hit the water, then followed by intense, almost euphoric feelings of satisfaction. I couldn't help but smile.
After a quick lunch, I headed back to the bike, packed up, and rode east. My goal was to reach the Mount Washington Auto Road in northern New Hampshire before sundown, but first I'd ride up and over Smuggler's Notch, a mountain pass just an hour from Burlington. Turning onto Rt. 100 north, I stopped at a gas station around noon for gas and coffee. It's hard to beat a cup of $1 gas station coffee, and that's a hill I'm willing to die on.
While enjoying my coffee, I decided to look the bike over, just to make sure everything was strapped down correctly. While giving the front end a look, a finally saw it: the source of my turning issue. For whatever reason, whether it be the vibrations from the 1000cc engine, or the bad-luck gremlins that seem to plague most long-term travelers at one time or another, the two main fairing bolts had come loose while I was riding. One of them had disappeared onto the road somewhere between Saranac Lake and Waterbury Center, while the other had conveniently gotten snagged below the fairing frame, and was now gouging into the soft aluminum of the fork brace. I had officially discovered my first "on the road" mechanical issue that would need troubleshooting.
First thing's first was removing my duffel bag so I could get to my tool kit, a pain in it's own right, followed by the annoying process of removing my side fairings to make some space. A number of small bolts and plastic rivets that, once off, would never really go back into the same place. Once the fairings were off, I got a better look at the problem - the bolt was wedged into the soft aluminum so snugly, I was going to have to employ one of the more subtle mechanic skills to get it out of there: brute force. Just as I was worrying about getting it out of there by myself, a guy walked over. His name was Jim, and he was stopping for gas on his Harley Street Glide.
"You okay over there?" he asked. We both laughed, and I gestured to the bike.
"Oh, you know. Day to day stuff!" I said.
I explained the issue, and he offered to help out with a second pair of hands. He held the handlebars at full lock to the right, and I went to town on hammering out the stuck bolt. It took a good few whacks with my flathead screwdriver, but the bolt finally came loose with a loud *ping*.
Next thing I needed was a new set of bolts that matched the missing (and now thrashed) one. I asked Jim,
"Hey, is there a hardware store nearby?"
He pointed past me. "Look behind you."
I turned, and as luck would have it, just across the street was a True Value hardware store. I considered myself lucky, thanked Jim for his help, and wished him safe travels. Five minutes later, I had all of the hardware I needed (plus some extras for good measure), and ten minutes after that? The bike was put back together, and I was ready to keep moving on east.
I finished my coffee, mounted the saddle, and kept on towards Smuggler's Notch. The weather, the roads, and the scenery were perfect for a mellow afternoon ride. Turning left in Stowe, I started north on Rt. 108. A traffic jam from a car accident rerouted me onto some local dirt roads briefly, but I then found myself winding up and over the narrow mountain passes for witch Smuggler's Notch is known. I swerved around switchback after switchback, passing the massive granite boulder fields - debris from high atop the surrounding mountains.
I descended into the valley below, stopping briefly to send the drone up for some photos. Here's one:
I glanced down at my phone: 3pm. I knew that getting to the Mount Washington Summit was a wash, so I resolved to getting as close to Gorham, NH as possible. I rolled on the throttle, east on Route 2, through small town after small town. "The Dead Zone" by Stephen King played in my ear, and the closing chapter started just as I crossed over the border into Lancaster, New Hampshire.
As I rode into town, I found myself quickly engulfed in, and I suppose as a part of, a Homecoming Procession. I thought back to my high school days, and laughed; we never leaned into the whole "school spirit homecoming dance" thing.
I finally rolled into Gorham just after sunset, stopping for dinner at the Public House Eatery. The warm food was a welcome treat, as the temperatures had dropped quickly once the sun dipped behind the mountains. I spoke with an older couple sitting a few tables over, as they'd commented on the loaded up bike parked outside their window. They were traveling to the area from Boston in their built out camper van, and we shared some stories of the road. They wished me safe travels as they paid their bill and went on their way.
I stuck around for an hour or two, warming my body and browsing google maps for a place to sleep for the night. I'd been thinking all day on strategies for stealth camping. I decided to check out nearby hiking trailheads: I figured that they'd be places that are tucked away off main roads, places that aren't patrolled by police too often, and places that aren't inherently unsafe.
Just my luck: there were half a dozen trailheads right off Route 2 just a few miles minutes outside of Gorham. 20 minutes after walking out of the Public House, I was sitting warmly in my tent, browsing instagram, cozy and warm in my sleeping bag at the Owl's Head Trailhead. I reflected on my day, and was proud of myself: the rhythm of the road, of being an adventurer, was already sinking in quickly. I was excited for the next day: I'd summit my first mountain - the tallest in the northeast: Mount Washington.