Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tripoli Road and Thornton Gap

I have wanted to ride Tripoli Road in the White Mountains of New Hampshire since I first saw it several years ago when skiing into the Greeley Ponds and Mad River Notch from Livermore Road near Waterville Valley.  Tripoli Road isn't plowed in the winter and while it might be a decent ski, it was more appealing to ski on the narrower trails rather than an unplowed road. It helped that the the narrow trails led to what I know to be an interesting destination, Greeley Ponds.  I did drive part of it once, from Route 93, to climb Mount Tecumseh in the mid 90s but I only drove to the trail head and back to the highway.  So when the family reunion was planned for the Woodstock, NH area, I planned a ride: head south on NH 175 to Upper Mad River Road, follow Upper Mad River to NH 49 to Tripoli Road.  I was very familiar with NH 49, which is a beautiful drive in the winter and a very nice drive to the trail head for the Welch Dickey hike during the summer or fall (which is well worth doing - the views for the effort are quite rewarding).

I tried the route counter clockwise early on the morning of July 4th.  The day would be very hot but the morning was comparatively cool with some fog.  I rode my Surly Cross Check, which is equipped with dynamo powered lighting and wore my reflector vest.  While I started out after sunrise, I tend to be more cautious and try to be more visible in areas where people may not be expecting cyclists, especially early in the mornings.  The ride south on 175 was almost 8 miles of steep rollers - the road is well outside the lowlands of the Pemigewasset River and the road was largely empty and rural.  Upper Mad River Road was even more rural and quieter - I don't think any cars passed me that morning - and just as hilly.  Route 49 was also quiet at that early hour and was quite lovely and much easier on my sleepy muscles.  I had great views of Mounts Welch and Dickey and the slopes of Osceola and Tecumseh.  Route 49 and the first leg of Tripoli Road was in great shape - very fresh pavement and painted lines.  But once I passed the parking for skiing into Mad River Notch, the pavement was either in good condition or torn up in places.  And I was surprised to see that the east side of the road was paved at all.  The pavement ended at the summit of Thornton Gap (about 2300 feet).  The descent on the unpaved section of Tripoli Road was fine although it wasn't fast for me as I braked heavily.  I passed the guard station on the road (all locked up).  There is dispersed camping on the road but you need permits to do so, which are available at the station .  There were a number of cars parked on the road and there were occupied campsites near the cars.  Many people were active by then (I started the ascent around 6:30AM).  In some ways it was like driving through a very long, very dispersed campground.

The ride was fun to do and a very nice route generally.  I did the ride on 700x32 tires but I saw another cyclist doing it on a Specialized road bike with 700x23 tires (although he did the ride in reverse after recently flatting on his front tire, nearly catastrophically, on the dirt descent).  The ride was somewhat hilly, about 2800 feet of climbing in 30 miles according to ridewithgps.com.  The surprising thing to me was the amount of climbing besides the main climb on Tripoli Road.  The hills were fairly steep and frequent, except on Route 49.

I did the ride in reverse on Saturday afternoon in the heat (with ice cold water, thankfully).  The ascent up to Thornton Gap was about 1500 feet in 7 miles and unrelenting (call it an hour of exercise near my maximum heart rate).  But the payoff, besides the cool breeze on the summit of the gap, was the long, fast descent in the Mad River Valley.  I think I would choose the clockwise route if I were to do this ride in the future.

The unmarked, nondescript summit of Thornton Gap.  The road turns to dirt right at the summit.  There were no steep sections and the surface was in great shape.

A section of the paved east side of Tripoli Road.  It was more of a wide paved trail through the woods than a road.

A downed Luna Moth.  I had only known about these from The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle.  It was noticeably large and the color stood out on the fresh pavement so I had to stop to confirm what it was.

My ride for the two trips.  It wasn't meant to be light.  I carried extra liquids and a lock in the pannier.  Both remained unused.

Total mileage for the long weekend: 60 miles, total elevation gain: about 5600 feet.

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