Chapter Six: A little luck in the Windiest Place on Earth

Hello all! So I need to make an adjustment from my last post. You see, I mentioned in Chapter Four that I lost the notebook in which I'd been journaling at some point on this trip. Well, that happened right around this point - sometime shortly before, or shortly after, the events of this day. As such, I got a campsite mixed up. Rather than camping comfortably in my tent the night before summiting Mount Washington, things were a little more... rugged.

You see, I had a harder time than expected while sitting in the Public House, trying to find a place to sleep for the night. After a half hour of browsing Google Maps, I decided to just... start ridging towards the auto road. I figured, "I'm sure I'll find... something."

Well, that was true. Just five minutes from Gorham on Route 16, I pulled into a trailhead. I was exhausted: I'd ridden across two states that day, and it was pushing 10:30pm. It was late, it was cold, and I just wanted to crawl into a sleeping bag. I decided it was time to go ahead and be a little rugged for the night: I pulled into the corner of the lot, laid out my tarp, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag. I rolled the bike onto the edge of the tarp, pinning it down with the weight of the fully-loaded machine. I then took the other corners, and fixed them to the bike. Finally, I crawled inside my "cowboy camp." I was pleasantly surprised - the warmth of the engine radiated off the lower end (along with the distinct smell of motor oil), and made for a cozy little sleeping spot.

I felt a little exposed - after all, I was, for all intents and purposed, sleeping in the open. I was anxious at first; I kept imagining raccoons or coyotes snooping around my "camp," or even worse, a curious black bear. But eventually? I slept. I drifted off into a deep, dream-filled sleep. I woke up once or twice, mainly because of the occasional passing car, but suddenly it was morning.

I woke up around 7am, and camp was broken down very quickly.

"I could get used to that." I thought. Having to set up and break down a tent every night and every morning was more time-consuming than I liked.

I rode back to Gorham for gas and coffee - I had a good two hours to kill before I could head up to Mt. Washington, so a caffeine fix was in order. I pulled into the Cumberland Farms, topped off on gas, and grabbed a small coffee. While enjoying the warm, sweet cup out by the bike, another biker pulled into the station. While he ran inside, I took a look at his bike: an early 2000's Harley with custom side cases, a matte black tank, and some really nice brass accenting hardware. What really drew my eye was the headlight.

While I was walking around the bike, the owner came back out. He was a portly guy, on the shorter side, with a long white beard. His stained blue jeans and leather vest screamed "classic biker." I told him I was admiring his bike, and we started talking. His name was Roy - he was a Texan, transplanted to New Hampshire about twenty years prior. We spoke about my trip, and he gave me some advice on rides in the area, wishing me safe travels on my trip. I mentioned my plans for the day, about going up Mount Washington, and his face went grim.

Note the old school headlamp!

"Hope you're not hoping for some sweeping views up there - the clouds tend to hang around for a while when they roll in." He said.

I looked up, and he had a point - it was mostly cloudy, about 80% cloud cover. I felt a little discouraged.

"Still," I said, "Going to run up anyways - maybe I'll get lucky!"

He laughed. Before parting ways, I asked him about his bike, and he gave me a rundown. My favorite piece, the headlight, had an interesting story: he'd harvested it off a first generation Model T! Very old school - he actually opened it up to show me how they used to have to physically light the headlamps with a striker. Looking back, it's tied for the coolest motorcycle mod I've seen so far.

I finished up my coffee, and started towards the mountain. I got optimistic - the wind was calming down significantly, and the temps were going up. I looked up, and the morning fog had started to clear rapidly. About ten minutes later, I'm sitting at the base of this massive, looming mountain. I paid the $20 fee to drive the auto road, and a small whiteboard outside the toll booth read: Temperature at Summit: 46 Degrees.

I stopped to add a layer, aka my thick wool sweater that, until then, had been living in my duffel bag, waiting to serve. I strapped everything securely in anticipation for the winding roads, and with a final glance upwards, I took off.

Let me say this: if you've never driven to the top of a mountain, do it. Find the nearest mountain with a summit auto road, and go for it. You wind up the side of a piece of the Earth that, in its own way, makes you feel small; it makes you feel a little insignificant. And with that feeling comes a sense of peace - a sense that, if you're as small as this mountain makes you feel, then all of your problems are small as well. It's the effect that seeing as much of the earth as possible has on you (if you let it happen, that is.)

Headed to the Auto Road!

Every few minutes, I'd pass signs marking the elevation: 2000ft. 2500ft. 3500 ft. 4000 ft. Finally, around 6,000 ft. above sea level, the clear September morning changed, and it changed quickly. In about 50 yards, I went from being able to see 30 miles to the east, to complete whiteout conditions - I was "living in a ping pong ball", to quote the old school mountaineers. I couldn't help but laugh and smile.

As I climbed through this blank canvas, dropping my speed slightly to compensate for the visibility (or lack thereof), I watched the terrain take over - the conifer forrest gave way to small, alpine shrubs strewn amongst the boulder fields.

I pulled into the parking lot just below the summit house, and couldn't strip my gear off quickly enough. I abandoned the bike, and ran to the edge of the parking lot. Below me, boulders marked a descent into a blank abyss - right down the side of the mountain. I crouched down, scooping up a handful of the weathered gravel. The boulders were covered in a vibrant, almost neon-green moss. I felt like I was on another planet.

After taking a few quick photos, I climbed the stairs to the summit. I walked around, reading the numerous, detailed plaques, all while taking in the scenery. Outside the summit house, a plaque read in large, white letters: "The highest wind ever observed by man was recorded here."

I spent an hour at the summit, and watched slowly as my luck changed. One by one, the clouds marched off to the east, and suddenly, almost like a magic trick, vanished as they evaporated into the morning sun. And finally, as the Mount Washington Cog Rail parked itself atop the summit, the skies opened up, gifting us all with almost-endless views as Maine announced its presence in the distance.

Mount Washington Cog Rail at the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire
The cog rail emerging from a blanket of clouds.

I made coffee as I sat on some old, rustic chairs nest to the Auto Train, and relaxed for a moment. The air was sweet, and once the large crowd of tourists dispersed after disembarking from the cog rail, it was quiet, spare for a light breeze. I acknowledged my luck, knowing that I was getting a view that truly is like hitting a lottery.

"Living in a Ping Pong Ball."

As I packed up my coffee press and my camera gear, I met a group of guys, all of them decked out in typical Adventure Rider garb - nylon crash pants, long boots, Klim ADV Jackets, gauntlet gloves: the whole getup. We started talking - David, Chris, and Lou. They'd just come up from Virginia, having spent about five days crossing New Hampshire and Vermont on the Northeast Backcountry Discovery Route (NEBDR), a crossing largely made on dirt and rural backroads!

"Y'all are tougher than me, that's for sure." I joked.

They all laughed.

"Dude, you're living the REAL adventure life." Dave said.

KTM and Suzuki Motorcycles at the summit of the Mount Washington Auto Road
My fully-loaded trusty steed, all in good company!

I walked down to the parking lot with them, and found that my VStrom had made friends: Dave's KTM 1090, Chris's KTM 790, and Lou's Honda Dual Sport. It stood out, but only slightly. It sounds cheesy I'm sure, but in that I felt initiated into the ADV scene. They all wished me luck on my journey, and Dave even offered any help with getting some gear from Klim as he "gets a pretty sick discount through [his] job." I filed that one away for future reference, that's for sure.

I geared up, and started down the mountain again. I stopped briefly, grabbing a few self portraits with the Presidential Range as my backdrop, and grabbed a few of the guys as they descended after me. I wound down the mountain, taking care to stop occasionally in order to cool my brakes. I felt some pity for the unprepared motorist that speeds down this road, and felt a little more than contempt for the rally cars the FLY up tot he summit. As I understand, the record time to get to the summit is just under five minutes and thirty seconds, set in 2021 during a tri-annual rally car race. Unreal considering it took me almost 25 minutes to drive to the summit...

The weather held decently well, and I rode south through a number of small towns on my way south to Durham, NH. I had plans to meet up with Mike, one of my long-time best friends, to go camping the following evening out in Bear Brook State Park, but I decided to drop into Durham a day early since I'd finished my Mt. Washington excursion early. I rode on through Conway, Ossippee Lake, Wakefield, and Rochester, all before finally arriving in Durham around 2pm.

I met Mike at his place - a small apartment complex just outside the main strip. He greeted me with open arms, and it felt great to see him after so long; I hadn't seen him in almost two years due to COVID, and the fact he was pretty well rooted up in New Hampshire. He graduated from UNH back in 2017, and just never really left. He lives there comfortably with his fiance, Amber, and I'm really glad he's built his life up in a region that he really fits.

We went for dinner, a small burger place right in downtown Durham, and I started west towards Bear Brook shortly before dark. I wished we could've hung out longer, but he was taking off for Maine for an overnight shift. I told him I looked forward to seeing him the next day, and clicked into gear.

It was one of those difficult nights, of which I've only had a few, where finding a campsite was almost impossible. It was dark, cold, and started raining just an hour after leaving Mike's. I took refuge at a gas station, and seriously considered asking the attendant to camp out behind the store. But I decided to give a last look at my Google Maps. One last attempt to find a campsite... and there it was. In green letters, "Twin Oaks Campground" popped up just five minutes down the road.

I found the campsite at the literal last second - Crystal, the manager, was walking out the door when I pulled up asking for a campsite. I asked the rate, and $25 was the magic number. To this day, I fully believe that $15-$25 for a campsite with showers is the perfect price point. I set up camp, built a fire (with some difficulty), and settled in for the night. I even showered, and despite the more... aromatic quality of the camp showers, it felt amazing to scrub off the sweat of the last few days. It made drifting off to sleep that night, all in the comfort of my tent, that much easier.

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