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Outdoor Adventures: Riding the ex-rails in the Presidentials

  • Cycling along the Presidential Rail Trail, near Gorham, N.H. affords many excellent mountain vistas. The trail is part of the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail, which spans 83 miles between Woodsville and Bethel, Maine. (Marty Basch photograph)

Special to the Valley News
Published: 6/29/2019 9:00:09 PM
Modified: 6/29/2019 9:00:05 PM

We were stopped in the early morning construction on Union Street in Littleton, N.H., when the flagman gave us the green light. He said “pedal pushers” into his radio, indicating we were the last through the thin line of traffic.

Ironic, as we were indeed pedaling and at times pushing our way across the White Mountains, northern New Hampshire and a little piece of Maine on the Cross New Hampshire Adventure Trail, a new 83-mile dirt and paved route from Woodsville to Bethel, Maine.

The heartening journey is a natural continuation of the Cross Vermont Trail, which ends at the Connecticut River and Wells River. In Woodsville, the xNHAT embarks and entertains on the ATV-shared Ammonoosuc Rail Trail and back roads into Littleton and Whitefield. Then the routes’ gems are revealed — the Presidential Rail Trail and birder-friendly Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge — with spectacular northern mountain views from the road and trail. Eventually downhill into Gorham, the ride becomes a rubble-strewn river ramble along the Androscoggin on obscure Hogan Road before following rolling North Road to a victory mile on the recreation trail in Bethel.

Developed by avid cyclist Marianne Borowski, of Glen, N.H., who was inspired by the Cross Vermont Trail, she contacted its staff and was encouraged to continue eastward. With mapping and a few exploratory trips, she pieced it together and put up a website,, with cue sheets, maps and valuable insight.

With lodging, food, services and bike shops along the way, the route is ripe with history, trusses, bridges — some covered — mountains, rivers, forests and small towns. For rail trail lovers, it’s no tamed smooth paved surface. This is wild rail ride with ballast, gravel, cinder, sand and high grassy two-track. Swoon and curse. With the right wide tires, decent bike skills and great attitude, you can roll across the state.

Armed with a tailwind, cue sheets, a mountain bike, gravel bike, four panniers and handle-bar bag for our takeout-and-delivery meal tour, my wife, Jan, and I became successful end-to-enders (you can get a patch) riding the trail in mid-June with a decent window of avoiding rain.

We had the Ammonoosuc Rail Trail to ourselves on an afternoon start following morning downpours. The trail drained well as we meandered into Bath, crossing the grand covered bridge to the historic Brick Store for tasty samples. Armed with fudge, we continued on to Lisbon, stopping to rest by the dam. We watched anglers at work and kids riding scooters before continuing on rambling back roads like gentle River Road that followed the rail trail.

We rejoined the trail in Littleton, nearly ending the 22-mile day. Staying at the Littleton Motel, we could walk to the Pollyanna statue, Riverwalk, Schiling Brewery, Chutters candy, bike shop, Presidential candidate-favored diner, Perfido’s Market and more.

Out the next day early in Whitefield, Jan ran into a former employee of hers as we stopped for coffee and tonic water (best opened in a kitchen sink after the miles) for cocktails later. At the Presidential Rail Trail, we encountered a kayak-wheeling Loon Preservation Committee researcher. We all swatted bugs before cycling into the heart of the journey with its outstanding water and mountain views.

Later, we stopped at the Israel River Campground for some snacks before tackling dirt Valley Road with lovely lupines popping up. Gorham was active with hikers, bikers and trail runners. We chatted with a cycling couple going the other way after they said congratulations as we rode by. They were doing the trail in chunks — section bikers —and had seen us twice before.

We ended the 37-mile day about a half-mile off the trail at Hub North, a supercool glamping and lodge-style property. We appreciated both the hospitality and pizza delivery.

Out before 7 a.m. with late-morning rain forecast, we enjoyed the view from the shared ATV trestle over the Androscoggin before tackling Hogan Road, a taxing undertaking which included carrying bikes through a washout from a fall 2017 storm. Hogan Road crosses the Appalachian Trail. When we were done, we saw flares and a state trooper on North Road. A downed power line stopped traffic, but he allowed us to carefully go under. That meant we had the rolling pavement to ourselves for miles before light rain fell in Maine.

But that didn’t matter. Character-building showers fell during our victory spin in Davis Park, marking the culmination of a sweet ride by a wealth of northern treasures.

Marty Basch can be reached at

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