New England, Motorcycle Heaven

Story by Ron Keys// Photos by Ron Keys
July 1 2009
Last stop on our motorcycle tour to New England

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” -Robert Burns

I had made extensive plans and had every detail worked out for our two-week vacation. The planned destinations were to be Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton. It was going to be the middle two weeks of September. This was good timing since the maritime weather should be OK, the kids would be back in school, family vacationers gone home and lodging a little bit cheaper since it was out of the peak season.

So, what happened? Pressure was brought to bare and my bride decided that she would rather go back to Maine and New England instead. After some late night ruminations, I decided that my 31-year investment in this relationship was not worth jeopardizing. I would once again make every decision in this family that my wife allows me to. All kidding aside though, the change in plans was fine with me and the Canadian Maritimes vacation will remain in my future plans.

The first destination on our new revised itinerary was to be a conference in Quebec City that my wife organized for her boss. We packed our little trailer right to the lid and left home, late as usual. The only way to get to Quebec City quickly is to take the super slab. Taking Route 40 east, through Montreal put us on the north side of the St. Lawrence River and I was pleasantly surprised at how light the traffic was, and the fact that everyone in my vicinity was driving with some degree of sanity.

Speaking with a local in Trois-Rivières who was riding with his daughter in a sidecar, told us the best route to Quebec City was along the two-lane on the south side of the river. Unfortunately, we are so often driven by the schedule rather than being able to take the time to smell the roses, so this scenic route would have to wait for another trip.

Quebec City was named from the Algonquin Indian word Kebec, which means, ‘where the river narrows’. I had driven by the city several times on my way to New Brunswick but had never taken the time to actually visit. Quebec City recently celebrated its 400th anniversary and what a place to see. It’s jam packed with history, from the old city to the Plains of Abraham, Ile d’Orleans, and the Montmorency Falls just to name a few. We didn’t want to leave after two-days, but we promised ourselves we would return to spend more of the time that is worthy of this incredible destination. It is so true that we travel the world over to see the sites and we miss what’s right on our doorstep.

On Thursday morning we packed up and headed south toward Maine. Once we were clear of the four-lane highway we encountered the patchwork quilt countryside and the dairy farms that the eastern townships of Quebec are so famous for.

The Mountains of Vermont on motorcycle tour rideAfter only a few miles inside the U.S. border, I knew we were in the backwoods of Maine. The countryside is gorgeous here, but one must make sure you don’t run too low on gasoline or you might end up walking. Stopping in a little logging town called Moose River for gas, we were directed to ‘a little place with a green roof just up the street’. All homemade food and I highly recommend ‘the little place with the green roof’ if you are ever in the area.

Heading southbound, we were looking for Bingham, Maine, where we would turn left and travel east through the hill country on Route 16 heading for the day’s destination; Bangor, Maine.

This part of America is stunningly beautiful with its twisty two-lane highways, dense lush forests, ponds, lakes, and rivers. Moose, bear, and deer are abundant here and one has to keep a wary eye since a collision would be devastating.

We made it to I 95 and continued our way south to Bangor. A little side trip to Orono, Maine unfortunately didn’t result in us meeting or even seeing Stephen King. We did however, find the head office of The Blue Knights, my other club, and we stopped by for a visit and a photo to prove that I was there.

There’s not much to see in Bangor, so first thing in the morning we started on our journey east on US 1A through Ellsworth and Trenton on our way to Acadia National Park.

At the end of the day, we stopped at a little motel/B&B and it was only after we had dinner and settled in that we found that our lovely little spot was at the end of the runway for the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport. Fortunately for us, most flights here are small private aircraft and the air traffic stops after it gets dark, but I was sure I could hear the plane’s tires hit the roof of our room a few times.

The next morning we took in Bar Harbor, Cadillac Mountain, and Mount Desert Island. If you are ever in this area, Acadia National Park is a ‘must see’. We travelled along miles of rugged seashore with the surf crashing into the rocks below. From the top of Cadillac Mountain we could see for miles and thoroughly enjoyed viewing all the coastal islands from this location.

The next morning we headed down Route 1 to Camden, Maine. As we came into town we were awestruck by the gorgeous old-money homes lining the main street. Clearly, some very wealthy sea captains lived in this town in years gone by. Many of these homes are now very posh B&Bs to be enjoyed by anyone who can afford it.

Riding down to the pier, we booked a cruise on the schooner Appledore before having lunch on the balcony of a restaurant that overlooked the harbour. Because it was September and vacation season was over, there were very few lineups and only about a dozen passengers had booked passage on the Appledore. The cruise out to the islands was interesting and very educational as the crew explained to us how sailors were able to navigate the world in days gone by.

Back on land once again, we headed southbound on Route 1 to Freeport, the home of L.L. Bean. Of course we had to spend the mandatory time shopping at L.L. Bean, which was quite interesting, but with a Gold Wing and a little trailer there isn’t much room left for purchases.

That evening we ate at a nice little seafood restaurant called The Muddy Rudder on Route 1, just south of Freeport. If you like seafood, we highly recommend this place.

The following day, our next stop along the way was Ogunquit. However, we once again took the time to drive along the coastal roads through places like Ocean Park, Biddeford Pool, Goose Rocks Beach and Kennebunkport. Some of these truly unique names have their roots in England or are derived from the Native American Indian. At Ogunquit we stayed at a hideaway called The Dunes and took time to walk along the Meridian Way and visit Perkins Cove. This area is the stuff postcards are made of.

After a few days of the salty breezes filling our noses, it was time to head inland toward the mountains. I had mapped out some very interesting two-lane highways that took us through places like Sanford, Waterboro, Limerick, Parsonsfield, Brownsburg and Fryeburg. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was back in England again. Making it to our destination of North Conway, New Hampshire, by midday, we had determined that we would stay for a couple of days and tour this area.

After a look at some tourist pamphlets, we decided to go to ‘Castle in the Clouds’. We arrived late in the day and were the last people to take the tram up to the castle on top of the mountain. It was a million dollar view and at an elevation of 2,975 feet, we could see all of Lake Winnipesaukee where the Laconia Bike Rally locates each year. The castle was built in the Ossipee range by a multi-millionaire named Tom Plant. Mr. Plant made his millions inventing machinery in the Boston area to mechanize the shoe industry. Eventually he lost everything after investing his money by way of a hot investment tip from a friend named Teddy Roosevelt (never trust a politician). When Mr. Plant died, he didn’t have enough money for a burial and was buried by the local citizens who had come to know and love him.

The next day dawned bright and clear, and a check of the weather at the top of Mt. Washington revealed that the temperature was about 50°F with the wind at 15 mph. We decided this was the day to travel up the eight mile Mt. Washington Auto Road to the top. It was here that the world’s worst weather was ever recorded in 1934; the wind speed was clocked at 231 mph, which still stands as the all-time surface wind speed record.

We left our trailer at the motel and travelled to the base where we were told that the top of the mountain was enveloped in clouds. I had been here on a previous trip and the weather had prevented me from going to the top then, so we decided to pay our fee and head up the mountain despite the consequences. We were given a tape to play that gave us a running history as we ascended the mountain. There were no barriers at the side of the gravel road for the last couple of miles, and with thousands of feet to the bottom of the mountain; my wife began to feel a bit uncomfortable.

The last mile proved the most interesting. The clouds closed in on us and I could only see about fifteen feet in front of me. We crept along about 10 km/h with me wiping the mist off my glasses and finally we saw the parking lot looming up ahead of us. It was so cloudy we could hardly find the buildings at the summit. After going through the museum, we decided it was time to go back down before the clouds really rolled in and we would be in more trouble.

Once out of the fog, we took in some of the breathtaking scenery at a few rest stops during our descent. As we coasted down the mountain I kept feeling a pain in my ribs. That would be my wife’s punches to inform me I was going too fast.

Once safely at the base, and now the proud owner of a ‘This Motorcycle Climbed Mt. Washington’ sticker, we turned left toward Gorham, and then west on Route 2. We meandered through the mountain roads and decided that the next town we came to we would have lunch. We rode by a couple of restaurants and I decided we had better go back because it didn’t look like we were going to find anything else for a while. I pulled in at a rest stop and, like a mirage, there in the middle of nowhere, was the magnificent old Mt. Washington Hotel and Resort. This is where the historical Bretton Woods International Conference was held just before the end of the Second World War. It was the result of that meeting of Allied nation leaders that later established the World Bank and a fixed currency value in terms of gold, and in later years, on the American dollar.

We rode up the driveway for almost a kilometre and drove right up to the valet at the front of the hotel. He laughed as he told me that he couldn’t park our Gold Wing, so we parked in the lot and walked right in as if we were registered guests. Sitting in the rear patio restaurant, we had one of the finest meals I have ever enjoyed while overlooking a tennis court and the golf course where the great masters come to play.

It’s sometimes funny how you come across things so unusual when you just let your front wheel run free and lead where it will. Sometimes an organized itinerary can ruin a perfectly good vacation. This was a day to be remembered forever.

The wonderful weather continued and it was time to leave this area and head toward home. We left North Conway heading north on Route 16 to Bartlett where we took Route 302 west to the seasonal Bear Notch Road, and the start of a wonderful day of riding. As the elevation increased in the White Mountain National Forest, so did the demands of the road. Sweeping left and right in the fresh morning air, the little trailer silently tacking behind, these are the ingredients that great vacations are made of.

At the top of Bear Notch, we started making our descent to the intersection of the Kancamagus Highway, another White Mountain thriller. Turning right onto Route 112, we began our climb once again with Mt. Kancamagus on our left. This highway was completed in 1959 and took us through one of the most beautiful areas of the National Forest. The name Kancamagus means “Fearless One”, and to ride this highway at speed reminds one that this highway was named correctly.

Once through Kancamagus Pass we coasted down into Lincoln, a skiers Mecca where Route 112 crosses I 93. Just past I 93, Route 112 meets Route 3 and here we stopped for breakfast at a lovely little hamlet called North Woodstock. We chatted with some folks at the table next to us who were riding north from Boston. I always find it a blessing when I’m riding that motorcyclists have become one great brotherhood of riders and one cannot help but meet other same spirited people when we stop here and there.

We had to cover a lot of miles because the weather, which up to now had been our friend, was about to unleash some moisture. We had to make Stowe, Vermont, by nightfall. We headed down Route 112 again and turned left onto Route 118, The Sawyer Highway. This was another typical mountain highway. We silently swept left and right enjoying the fresh pine laden morning air rushing through our nostrils. No foot peg scraping here, just nice gentle sweepers left and right and watching the power lines so I would know which way the road would turn when coming over blind hills.

At the town of Wentworth we hung a left onto 25A and followed it to the Connecticut River at the border of Vermont. Here, because we were tight for time, we headed south on I 91 through White River Junction to the exit for Vermont Route 11. We followed this and a combination of backcountry roads and finally came down out of the hills on Chester Mountain Road which dropped right into Weston, Vermont.

A trip through New England would not be complete without riding Vermont Route 100, and if you have never experienced the Vermont Country Store, then you simply must ride this road, which goes right through Weston and by the store’s front door. You can browse here for hours and when you get tired, you can take a book and sit in their reading area to brush up on some local history. It is truly a great place to visit when in Vermont.

North from Weston we experience Route 100 once again. We see everything from rugged mountains to peaceful valleys with grazing dairy cattle in the lush green fields of rural Vermont. The traffic was light and the road followed the mountain rivers to Waterbury, home of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. A tour of the factory is out because it’s late, but we get there just in time to order one of their hedonistic ice cream cones. I had my all time favourite, “Cherry Garcia”.

We made our way up the ever-familiar Route 100 into Stowe where my wife has made reservations for us at the Golden Eagle, one of our favourite places to stay. It’s fortunate that we made reservations since the annual Stowe British Car Rally was starting the following day and rooms were very limited. As promised, it starts to rain overnight and the British Car Rally folks experience the same conundrum as us, covering the vehicles to protect them from the showers.

The next morning we whiled away the hours over breakfast and waited for the rain to pass through. Our next destination was Montreal to visit with old friends from my racing past. We left Stowe and went north again on Route 100 and followed it to Route 109, over to Route 118. Route 118 took us north into Quebec and we crossed the border into La Belle Province with overcast skies and the threat of rain looking more promising all the time. Up till then we had not encountered a single drop of rain while riding.

At Cowansville, we took Route 139 north to the Eastern Townships Autoroute, Route 10, which is a quick but boring ride to Montreal. Passing through the eastern approaches to Montreal brought back many memories of my younger racing days when I lived and played in this area, some thirty-years ago.

I had a wonderful visit with my friends who own Montreal Harley-Davidson and Moto Internationale, and was invited to be their special guest at a grand opening celebration. My old friend John Bance, a member of our Yamaha racing team from the seventies, was visiting from England so we attended together as special guests of the owner and my good friend, Raymond Gref.

The next morning, the rain had stopped but the roads were wet and we had to travel for a few hours that day to get to Lachute. This was our first rain riding experience of the entire vacation. We donned our frog toggs and prepared for the worst, which never came, thank you. We arrived at Lac Louisa and the cottage at virtually the same time as our friends, Tom and Claire, and spent a wonderful evening reminiscing and bench racing. Tom and I have been friends for over thirty-five years.

The next day arrived and we depart for home. We made our way out of rural Quebec and crossed into Ontario at Hawkesbury where we made our way down to the 401 west at Cornwall. The ride was quiet as we both privately thought of the great vacation we have had and that this really is the end of the riding season except for a few day trips.

The long hard Canadian winter is in our not too distant future, but I’m already having dreams of hours spent in front of my computer laying out maps and routes to places we want to visit next year. Maybe we might even take that cancelled trip to PEI and Cape Breton? This is a wonderful land we live in and we are so fortunate to be citizens in a country that allows us the freedom and opportunity to grab life by the horns and ride with the wind.


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