Day 8: Portsmouth, NH to Marblehead, MA 78 miles 2,017 feet
Do stone walls make better neighbors, or perhaps just stronger, more self reliant children, an homage to Mark, my dear friend from Santa Barbara. As luck would have it, I met Mark in the cockpit of a 32 foot sailboat off the coast of Santa Barbara over 20 years ago. At the time I was 45 and Mark was 46, not the age that you typically meet new life long friends. Mark and I have been to hell and back together, several times, both on and off the boat. I can honestly say that there is no one else on the planet that I would want along if I was shipwrecked or lost in a forest or desert. Mark, the oldest of 4 sons, was raised in Mellis, Massachusetts. His father instilled old school New England work ethics and self sufficiency on Mark and his brothers from an early age. By the time they were 12, the boys needed to spend a night in the woods by themselves, with just a pen knife and a small book of matches. Mark’s father also wanted to keep the boys occupied with physical labor, to build both their physical strength and their character. New England is littered with rocks left over from the last ice age, both above and below ground. The early farmers had to clear tons of rocks from their fields, and with no other use for the rocks, they simply built rocks walls to delineate their property and fields. Mark’s dad kept his boys busy building rock walls for no other reason than to keep them occupied and out of trouble. Several years ago, when Mark was back east visiting with his family, his dad asked the boys what they remembered the most about growing up. Without any hesitation, they all shouted out in unison, “hauling rocks to build walls.” I can’t say if those rock walls helped with his neighbors, but Mark’s character and self reliance is beyond reproach. As I rode through rural New Hampshire and Massachusetts today, I saw literally miles of loose stacked stone walls and instantly thought of Mark.
I would have enjoyed having some time to linger and explore Portsmouth but forecasts of afternoon thunderstorms dashed those hopes as I slowly pedaled away, stopping just to grab a few snapshots of it’s fine architecture. Portsmouth was once one of the busiest ports and shipbuilding cites in the US which created great wealth for many, allowing them to build grand homes, many of which are still standing to this day. On my short trip through the city I saw countless stately brick Federal and clapboard Colonial homes dotting my route.
After crossing several bridges and a few small islands I was riding along the coastline with an occasional inland detour for about 20 miles. The coast was riddled with majestic “summer cottages” reminiscent of Newport, RI. I’m certain that the house staff spent much more time in those cottages than the owners. The inland homes were much more modest but contained numerous charming inns and B&B’s, I additionally enjoyed this portion of the route as it provided me with brief repast from the strong headwinds buffeting the coast ahead of the incoming front.
Upon entering the town of Hampton Beach the single family homes were suddenly replaced by multistory hotels, condominiums, and shops of all varieties. I felt like I could have been in any one of a dozen Southern California beach towns. Seabrook was the final coastal town on the route and I was happy to turn inland where the trees provided much welcomed screening from the building headwinds. My route cue sheet advised me that I should be leaving the pavement and entering the Salisbury Rail Trail, but the entrance was nowhere in sight. Apparently it was located in a parking lot behind an auto repair shop and not readily visible from the street, better signage would have been helpful. A hundred yards down the crushed gravel trail I left New Hampshire and entered Massachusetts, my arrival was noted by a simple vertical 4x4 white post with the state name but no welcome notice.
The trail wound through the Salisbury Salt Marsh Wildlife Area with abundant sea birds resting or feeding in the high marsh grasses. We crossed the Merrimack River and briefly rode city streets through Newburyport, an old industrial city before riding through a multitude of rural towns on the way to Marblehead. We rolled through farmland, horse country, forests, and alongside many ponds where I spied the first evidence of leaves beginning to change color, a harbinger of the fall foliage spectacle that is absent from California. With luck, we will see this spectacle played out for several weeks as our southward route follows the advancing color changes (see link below.) At about the 50 mile mark we turned off the paved road once again onto the Topsfield Linear Common, a single track through grasses that had the most abundant collection of trees beginning to show off their fall colors.
By the time we reached Peabody we were back on city streets and paved trails, dealing with urban drivers, potholes, and congestion, till the end of the day. I was utilizing a sophisticated app based navigation system (Ridewithgps) but still made several mistakes trying to discern the correct path. As the route began to dump me on a highway a cue advised me to take the dirt path through a hole in a chain link fence. Unfortunately, someone must have recently cut the tall grass along the short dirt path and the dirt was barely visible under the fallen grass. I did in fact ride through a hole someone had cut through the fence, perhaps with tin snips. My favorite miscue advised me to make a left turn onto a rails to trails path, but when I arrived at the specified turn, the train tracks where still in place. I guess the route planners and the workers responsible for removing the tracks had not communicated completely on this one. With a bit of luck and some help from Google maps, I finally found my hotel, the Harbor Light Inn. The historic inn dates back to 1729 but is probably not the best choice on a bike tour as you need to carry your bike and gear up two to three flights of narrow curving stairs. On the plus side they had a small tavern stocked with beer and where happy to make me some post ride snacks to hold me over till dinner. We will be spending two nights at the inn as Marblehead is our first rest stop on our journey. We have now ticked off 2 states with 13 to go.
Cumulative Ride Totals
Miles 462 Feet Climbed 21,419
For more details on my route see Strava link
See here fall foliage map