The Dallas Cowboy’s Hall of Fame quarterback, Roger Staubach once said when asked about the nature of hard work “There is no traffic jam along the extra mile”. While I am inclined to believe that a little extra effort in the pursuit of a worthy goal is a good thing, I can also say with a high degree of confidence that there is sometimes black ice glazing the road along the course of that extra mile. Especially along the ME/NH border this past weekend.
I’m always a sucker for a road trip and since the weather has been so ridiculously fickle this winter here in coastal Maine, I decided to pack up the fat bike for a scouting ride in the White Mountains of NH. Spurred on by Dunkin Donuts coffee, patches of grass showing in the yard and the forecast of warm temperatures later that day I hopped in the car before dawn and headed north by northwest toward higher ground. Though this corner of SW Maine is off the beaten path of most people traveling through the state, it’s also remarkably close to everywhere.
Within an hour my efforts were rewarded as the vision of snowbanks lining the road emerged in the glow of the headlights like something out of a Hallmark card proclaiming “Season’s Greetings”. Problem was, the next instant the car was oddly pointed straight at one of those snowbanks even though my steering wheel was currently turned somewhere to the left of straight to negotiate the turn that had presented itself in the road. I’d hit a patch of dreaded “black ice” that had formed overnight. The greeting card dawn had changed from light to dark in a millisecond.
Since my exodus last summer from the great parched state of California I’ve driven in a little bit of snow and ice here in the Northeast (not to mention instincts learned from late night abandoned snow-covered parking lot, sliding car<ahem> “vehicle dynamics exercises” from my 20’s) so my foot immediately came off the throttle, followed by an excruciatingly long second before my front tires regained traction, followed by the familiar snap reaction of the rear end of the VW over-correcting with the new-found traction, followed by a steering wheel correction toward the snow bank to avoid a spin, followed by a lurid slide on the shoulder with the reapplication of the throttle followed by an audible “phewww!” from my mouth as I continued along my merry way with the snowbanks once again parallel to the direction of my travel.
Oh, and I immediately reduced my speed by about 20 mph lest I find myself a shiny ornament wrapped around a fragrant balsam fir tree. Perhaps more importantly the shiny new bike strapped to the back of my car was safe.
Yup, a new bike – or more specifically a new frame to which I had spent my Saturday evening transferring my old parts. My battle weary 9:Zero:7 that I had won at the Arrowhead 135 pre-race raffle yrs ago had finally given up the ghost and cracked at the seat tube. Fair thee well mighty warrior, I’ll see you again in the happy hunting grounds.
Saturday afternoon I had picked up this spiffy titanium Carver O’Beast from the friendly folks at Bikeman/Bath Cycle and Ski. I’ve heard good things about the Carver brand plus <ayuh>, she’s designed right here in the Pine Tree State. As the saying goes: drink local, buy local, ride local right? While my entire order was not complete the Bikeman guys took advantage of the traffic jam free roads along the extra mile and bent over backwards to press in my new headset and have the frame ready for me to pick up rather than waiting a few days and paying for shipping costs. Huge kudos to the Bikeman/Carver guys.
25 slowly driven, black ice laced miles later (so much for “ride local” but hey, we don’t have any snow!) I arrived at the foot of Jefferson Notch. To quote another great (Vanilla Ice – “great” is open to interpretation): “Ice, Ice baby”. Amazing what you can ride when you have 480 carbide tipped studs bristling from your tires.
Jefferson Notch Rd holds the distinction as being New Hampshire’s highest elevation “maintained” road at a whopping 3000ft (insert West Coast laughter here). In summer you can drive this dirt road and cut up and over “the notch” (that’s “pass” to you on the West Coast) from near Gorham, NH through the White Mountain National Forest to the foot of Mount Washington (the northeast’s highest peak and home to some of the worst weather outside of Antarctica). In winter it’s a snowmobile route, well… when it snows in winter it’s a snowmobile route. Oh, it’s a STEEP snowmobile route.
Even though it’s been a weird winter in these parts, what the Ice Coast lacks in elevation it makes up for in ferocious and changeable weather. Just last week it had been minus 40 deg F in this area, followed by a drastic warmup to near 50 deg F in the days before I arrived. This weekend the temperatures were a mild 20ish with lightly falling snow. The result was some fantastic conditions for fat biking at higher elevations. In between? Not so much. At least it keeps the crowds away.
Upward I continued on the ice, ice baby. A few flakes of snow fell too. A sketchy descent ensued as I plummeted down the other side as precipitously as Vanilla Ice’s career. Occasionally I slid, slid baby but the studs, studs saved me.
20 years ago I had ridden this route in summer on my mountain bike as part of a longer ride so it wasn’t totally unfamiliar terrain. In some ways it felt like a homecoming of sorts. The scent of balsam fir in the air, the cheerful songs of chickadees (the colder the better for those little guys) scouring the branches above the rush of water in the streams and rivers beside the road – all the things I’ve missed about the Northeast while out wandering in the deserts of the Southwest. And as Roger Staubach predicted, not a soul was encountered the entire time I was out riding.
Aside from the occasional slip on the ice, that’s how we roll out here along the course of the extra mile.