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  • Trans New Hampshire Expedition 2008

    Its 9pm and our speed is reduced to a crawl as the enveloping fog reduces visibility to mere feet. I cant tell if headlights on or headlights off is better. The corn rows on both sides of the road are the only indicators that we are still on track. At this point, we are about an hour late to the meeting spot and this walking pace isn’t helping the situation. A set of headlights was appearing ahead of us. “First car we’ve seen in miles.” Kate says. As it comes closer we both slow and attempt to stay on the non-visible road. It wasn’t until he was almost next to us that we realized it was one of our expedition partners, Jay, totally lost and unable to find the meeting spot in the dense fog. “I could have killed you guys. Where have you been?!” We got him turned around and made our way to the cabin that we are calling home for the night. The other partners arrived over the next couple of hours and we made plans to depart in the morning to the Canadian border.

    The Trans New Hampshire Expedition has been a trip in plans for several months. Kate and I have lived in New Hampshire our whole lives, and while we have visited many parts of the state, we never took the time to really explore and experience what New Hampshire was all about. The goal was to travel the state, from the border of Canada to the rocky shores of Rye and see as much as we could in the middle.

    It was clear from the beginning that this trip would be a lot more enjoyable with a few friends in tow. Out came the contact list of people we had met on the trails or friends from past lives. With us came Josh and Caren, a couple with an appreciable hatred for anyone that litters, Jay and his daughter Samantha from New York, Ernie, Sherry, and their talkative four year old, Colin, and Tina, driving the only Jeep in a group otherwise filled with Toyotas. We knew this would be a good group when everyone agreed to come along.
    This was a three day adventure that involved camping in temperatures bordering single digits, long days of driving, off road trails to test the skills and vehicles of all, and lots of photographic opportunities. Lots of preparation was taken to assure our gear would be up to the test. With only three days to traverse the state and many sights to see, we couldn’t let a vehicle breakdown delay the group for long. It was agreed early on that any repair that takes longer than 30 minutes to complete will be completed alone while the rest of the group continues on the journey. Once repaired, that person must find a way to meet back up with the group at a point further down the state. Tools were packed along with extra fluids and spare parts. There would be a significant amount of trail driving and lots of chances for breakage.

    Day One started with a delicious and filling breakfast of eggs and bacon. This would be the last meal we will have indoors for quite some time. We pack up our gear and on daybreak we make our way straight to the Canadian border where the trip officially begins. There is only one road into Canada and the top 13 miles of it are known as “Moose Alley”. It’s a section of road that crosses through very active moose territory and you are almost guaranteed to see a moose snacking by the side of the road if you travel through. We were not so lucky. With a bit of a late start and a delay to take some photos, it was past peak moose hours, and with hunting season starting the next day, the moose were most likely busy hiding out. Once we arrived at the border. We found it to be a brisk 22 degrees F, a surprising drop from the 40 degrees it was when we left camp just an hour south. There were no bathrooms available and we contemplated what would happen if we ran into the woods at the border to use the outside restroom. After a few of us tested our theories about what would happen, and after a few quick photos and a wave to the border official, we started the journey south, back down moose alley, and still didn’t see any moose. A tip for the adventure traveler – Outdoor bathrooms at the Canadian border do not get you arrested, as long as no one sees you do it.

    It was now bordering 11am and we were a couple hours behind. The route was modified for the first, but certainly not last, time of the adventure. The new route takes us down through many small towns and mountainous areas. The 45th Parallel North is crossed at 11:55am. The 45th is a circle of latitude that is 45 degrees north of the Earth’s equatorial plane. The 45th parallel is often called the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole. It was coming onto lunch time and a waterfall presented itself on the side of the road. This wasn’t listed on the route or the maps, but it was a great place to stop for lunch and do a bit of hiking around the base.

    The next few hours were spent recalculating routes and trying to find the most scenic ways through the small towns of northern New Hampshire. We eventually made our way to the base of Mount Washington, home of the world’s worst weather and the highest peak in the northeastern United States. This alone is pretty impressive, but there is also a road that travels up the mountain, curving and twisting the whole way up. Partially dirt, and mostly lined by several hundred foot drops, it is a not a route for those afraid of heights or unsure drivers. I cant imagine how the racers cope with speeds of over 100mph up these roads in the Hillclimb Auto Race each year. One wrong move could easily send a driver plummeting to their death. As we head up the mountain and break through cloud level, the skies start to clear and we are greeted by a crystal clear view of the land around us. Wind speed at the summit hit 73mph earlier that day and was blowing at a fairly steady 30mph with gusts much higher. The temperature at the summit was a bitter 4 degrees F. Directional ice crystals had formed on every exposed surface of the mountain, a deposit of the water in the clouds as they blew past. The trip up is the easy part. As we headed down we put the truck in low gear to attempt to use engine braking as much as possible, but with the automatic transmission and 4:30 gearing, the engine braking wasn’t enough to slow us and brake pressure was necessary. About one mile down the road, with an average 11.6% grade, our brakes started to lose pressure as they generated heat. The added weight of our camping gear, and the larger than stock tires, proved to be too much, even for our upgraded braking system. With the brakes fading fast and a certainly life ending drop to the side of us, we needed to stop and let the brakes cool, but stopping in the middle of the road wasn’t an option. Thankfully, a pull-off appeared just around the bend and we were able to stop for a moment to let the brakes chill in the 4 degree air. Once back on the road, a pulsing pressure was used to apply the brakes and not overheat them while we travelled down the rest of the way. At the bottom, we planned our next destination and hit the roads once again.
    With foliage in peak colors, the famous Kancamagus Highway was our next destination. The Kancamagus is a winding route through the mountains with several overlooks and a parallel river at the start. It was bordering on nightfall though and we were unsure if we could make it. A couple hours later, it was obvious that we weren’t going to reach the Kancamagus in the daylight. We decided to set up camp at the beginning of the highway and on sunrise, break to the mountains for some sunrise photographs.

    This night would be primitive camping in tents and in trucks for those of us with sleeping platforms. With temperatures again bordering single digits, I was glad to be sleeping in our truck where the heat was just an arms length away if needed. Thankfully, it wasn’t needed until about 5am, and by then, it was time to get up anyway.

    Day Two begins with a run through the Kancamagus as the sun rose, and it was a sight to see. Such amazing foliage combined with mountain overlooks and the rising sun made for some awesome views. After the Kancamagus, we shot off to some unimproved roads that would bring us further down through the state. The roads proved to be very scenic and some wildlife was seen, but still no moose. After passing a couple of covered bridges we encountered a trail that required the lockers to be engaged and the winchline to be pulled. The trail was abandoned by most in the group, with Tina in the Jeep making it through and out the other side. She later met up with us as we navigated our way back around to the intended route.

    Eventually, we wound up at the Inn we had reserved for the night. A small Inn, run by a very friendly husband and wife team was a very nice addition to the trip, and the showers were necessary after two days of being out in the wilderness and on the trails without running water. Everyone in the group went to their individual rooms after dinner and crashed. A few days on the roads and trails is tiring.

    Day Three began with a three course breakfast and we said our goodbyes and thank yous to the owner. After some photos outside, it was straight to the last network of trails that would lead us closer to our destination at the seascoast. Three hours and many miles of mud and rocks later, we emerged back on the pavement to make our final run to the beach. A quick trip through Goffstown led us through the town pumpkin racing festival, where giant (1500lb) pumpkins are grown, then hollowed out enough for grown men to fit inside and race them down the river, all in 40-50 degree air temperatures. I don’t want to know how cold the water is.

    The group finally arrived at Hampton Beach and gathered around to look out to the ocean. A quick run down the coast into Rye was in order, and the group quickly said their goodbyes and headed off. Im sure we will all be back up over the next year, doing some more exploring of the towns we passed through.

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