Monday, March 13, 2006

Today's ride report

When the forecast for a Saturday in March says sunny and in the 50's, you have no choice but to get out on your motorcycle. Fortunately, my friend had called me up during the week and told me he could use some help on his lake house in Nelson, NH. Good excuse for a ride.

I headed west from Exeter around 9 a.m. Although the thermometers were reading around 50, when you're booking 65+ mph on the big highway, the breeze saps your body heat bit by bit until 50 doesn't feel so warm. Traffic was surprisingly heavy for a Saturday morning, and the strong winds made the ride challenging. Inevitably, as you passed a truck or car, a gust of wind would push you towards the car and the surprised look on the drivers face as he/she noticed the biker coming sideways towards them. The ride goes by fairly fast until you get to Bedford. That's because the road narrows to one lane each way and traffic lights take hold. The good news is that the blast of 50 degree air slows down so you body begins to reheat a bit.

As I rode west from Bedford, I began to notice more and more snow on the sides of the road. Apparently winter ends earlier at the coast. By the time I hit the top of Temple mountain, it felt quite cold, even though the bank thermometer in Peterborough read 52 degrees (drenched in sunshine and not traveling 65 mph).

Nelson is a small town (population about 600) whose greatest feature is Lake Nubanusit. The lake is also in Hancock, a quaint NH town also in the middle of nowhere. These towns lie a bit north of the great connector, Rt 101. For Nelson, heading west on 101, you get off in Dublin, the town with the ridiculously low speed limit and home of Yankee Publishing (Farmer's Almanac), and head into Harrisville. On the way from Harrisville to Dublin, you begin to appreciate good highway construction, mainly because you are no longer riding on one. The frost heaves create dips and bumps, cracks and ridges without regard to patterns or logic. Sometimes you ride fast and stand on the pegs to diminish the jarring. Other times you ride more slowly, trying futilely to avoid the worst of the bumps. No such luck.

The key question when you ride into Harrisville after being away for a few months, is "will the Harrisville General Store be open or out of business?" The store has had a few incarnations, most recently as a coffee/sandwich shop with a minimum of groceries and a fine wine selection. Last fall, on a ride to the area, it was open and populated by locals. This Saturday, when a cup of coffee would have warmed my insides, it was out of business. No signs to say opening soon or sorry we can't make money in the out of the way location.

After skirting by Harrisville Pond, you come to the road to the lake. The first few hundred feed are paved, or what passes for paved in frost heave season. After that, there are a couple of miles of dirt. In the summer, these roads are wonderful. They keep them flat and hard, with just enough gravel on the surface to induce a bit of drift at the right speeds (that would be in a car - bike drifting is for the truly adventurous or the Supermoto racers). In the winter, the frozen dirt works fine for plowing and driving. Not so much in the spring. The base was still hardpacked and solid, or at least you thought so. The problem was that there was a greasy layer of melted mud on top of the hardpack. Navigating this mess required intense concentration. You continuously looked for the line that was the flattest, but you needed to stay away from ruts. And nothing sudden, or you'll be wiping large brown patches off your black and red riding suit. No sudden braking, no sudden acceleration, no sudden turning moves. Keep it in a high gear and coast along.

Good fortune was on my side, and I made it into and later, out of the camp without incident. I briefly eyed the frozen lake, thinking that it might be safer to ride across that rather than exit on the not so frozen mud, but visions of sinking motorcycles filled my head and I decided otherwise.

The ride home was a bit warmer, and once I got off the mud and the frost heaves, mostly uneventful. I did notice that the fork seal on my left fork had blown and I was oozing oil down the tube, no doubt from the pounding of the bumpy roads. Something for the mechanic to make some money on, I guess.
After I got home, I parked the bike and pulled out the bucket and hose. A pile of dirt on my driveway gave evidence to the trip I had taken. The dirt will wash away, but not my memory of a nice day on the bike - 164 miles.

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