Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rides in November: Fact Finding and Favorite Spots

Last Sunday the cellist led us on a field trip to the Maine Mountain Division Trail. It parallels a portion of her route to Windham, Maine, where she teaches orchestra in the middle and high schools three days a week. She was thinking the trail might provide an opportunity for her to do some park and ride commutes when the days lengthen again in the latter part of the school year.

The first part of the trail in Standish, from Route 35, is a dirt road of compacted glacial till. The fine-grained sediment looks sandy, but was not loose and treacherous the way sand can be. The bad news was that the till contains cobblestones about the size of a potato, which stud the surface with endless bumps. They're not the jagged tire-slicers we have further inland, but the jolting was relentless. The cellist decided years ago she did not like anything resembling mountain biking, so this initial surface aggravated her considerably.

The Cross Checks are well suited to handle rough bits, but their forks are not as robust as real mountain bike forks, whether rigid or sprung.

Once the trail descended to the rail line we reached the paved part that looks like your typical multi-use path. On the dirt, multi-users included people on horseback and many dog-walkers. The horse folk advised us that their mounts were calm enough for us to ride past, but they couldn't guarantee other horses would be as accommodating. Most of the dog walkers just looked at us like something someone else neglected to put into a plastic bag for proper disposal.
 I didn't take a lot of pictures because we needed to keep moving to complete the route well before dark. I had my well-lit bike, but the cellist would have to make do with Beamers and blinkies if we let sunset overtake us. Beside that, the scenery was nice but not outstanding enough to make me interrupt the ride.
 This bridge over the Presumpscot River brought us to a stop while traffic cleared from the pathway. The center strip of the wooden deck has been reinforced with that recycled plastic lumber stuff, creating a one-way path where tight two-way passage might have been possible. The raised edges of the plastic planking create a tripping hazard even if the rider has the whole pathway to use. The plastic slabs are warped, presenting an undulating surface with some raised seams even down the middle of it.
A stupid idea. I hope they get rid of it. If you notice, in the pictures of the bridge on the trail's website the decking does not have this added reinforcement.

On a warm Sunday, albeit a cloudier one than the forecast seemed to promise, the trail saw a lot of use. Planners must feel gratified when people prove the popularity of a project like this. On the other hand, it can lead to other problems of conflicting styles of use. Other problems arise as users try to get on at access points where the planners might not have anticipated as many people trying to leave vehicles, for instance.

In Windham we left the segregated world of the path and joined the rest of vehicular traffic.  No one went out of their way to bother us but it does raise the stress level when motor vehicles are buzzing by. Anyone who has ridden with traffic for a few years has had enough encounters to know that anyone at any time could decide to inflict some bullshit. They probably won't. But they might. The bicyclist is an oddity in this country. Some of you may live where these oddities are more numerous, but the cyclist is still in the minority, perhaps well tolerated in places (better in some than in others) but almost nowhere welcomed and encouraged. We are encouraged to drive to side paths to enjoy our little hobby out of everyone's way. When we ball up our little fists and insist on having our piece of the road we may be granted it, but some of our fellow travelers will express their opinion. Traffic riding calls for extending the senses while simultaneously thickening your hide.

The total round trip, including about four miles each way on the roads, came to about 18 1/2 miles.

The next day I went out to do one of my favorite routes, taking in Huntress Bridge Road. Huntress Bridge Road traverses a tamarack swamp on the border of New Hampshire and Maine. I missed the peak golden  color of the tamarack needles. There are still a few pale ones left. They made delicate compositions with winterberry shrubs splashed among them.

The red berries hang in the dun-colored framework of leafless branches.
The day was unseasonably warm again. You wouldn't know it from the sky. It was a typical November gray. The beech and oak leaves have turned russet brown. The sun slides cross the southern horizon, lower each day. I prefer clouds because they eliminate blinding glare.

Riding didn't fit the the schedule on Tuesday, Wednesday or today. Tomorrow I'll be back on the commuting trail, finding out if the rails and fallen leaves on the Cotton Valley Trail are merely wet or actually icy.

1 comment:

Steve A said...

Re harassment. I am frequently amazed at just how random it really is. And how it has almost no correlation with dangerous motorist actions. At least dangerous actions tend to occur mainly in somewhat predictable circumstances that cyclists can learn and influence.