A few months ago a friend of mine bought a motorcycle and asked me where he could find some nice winding roads like you see in the commercials. I shrugged, “Up the mountains…” I had forgotten this whole conversation when he asked me recently if I would like to join him for a trip into the White Mountains. Sure, why not. I didn’t ask what was in the White Mountains that was so interesting, I just assumed he wanted to go up Mount Washington… because that’s what everyone does. I should probably note, even though I live in New Hampshire, the three hour drive has kept me away from such a trip until now and… well…. I vastly underestimated a great deal of things.
I should probably mention yesterday was one huge clusterfuck from sun up to sun down and how I managed to get anything done is beyond me. I learned that morning, by randomly looking it up, that Mount Washington was closing for the season the same day I was going up it and also it closes at 4PM. And they stop allowing people up it forty-five minutes before closing. He showed up at 11ish. We had time…
After a minute talking I headed to the Prius to drive, he got on his motorcycle to follow. My GPS immediately decided to be an ass. It would NOT recognize Mount Washington Auto Road, no matter how many ways I tried to type it in. Eventually I had to just punch in 1 Route 16. This took way too long but we were on our way!
The GPS again thought it’d be hilarious to take some bizarre route… Clearly it was drunk today. None-the-less I drove until 1PM and then took an exit to find a gas station, as was the plan, but by this time I had already lost my follower. How I don’t know. I was trying to behave myself. He scooted off ahead and was several exits further than me so after a brief discussion we decided to just head north and try to make it, although by now we’d just be slipping under the radar. My GPS said I’d get there at exactly 3 but after several miscommunications, and taking a wrong exit, it was now reading 3:17. Crap. I had to put a move on. So I sped up, zipping through the mountains. It was GORGEOUS. Suddenly I was surrounded on all sides by vibrant oranges, yellows, and reds, every tree blushing as I went by. If I created the world this is what I would make it look like! The fall foliage made me skip for joy. And the mountains!
Forgive me for thinking so little of mountains in New England but I didn’t think the White Mountains were anything special… I mean I have been all through New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts, and although all these states have mountains they’re just cute little tree covered hills for the most part. But the White Mountains? They were proper mountains! They started to grow in size I drove closer and they took my breath away. They towered above me as I drove past all these places I had heard of but am yet to explore – the gorge, the White Mountains National Forest, the Basin… I will definitely be coming back!! This reminded me of my days out west when I was floored by the sight of the Rockies. These weren’t quite as grand but for New England they were still pretty impressive! I can’t believe this was hiding here all along. New England continues to surprise me and keep me in absolute awe.
Eventually I ended up close to the Auto Road but my GPS thought it’d be funny to drop me off in the middle of the woods… so I turned around two or three times trying to find this place. My friend had already made it. The gorgeous weather and the fact it was the last day to go up made the toll keepers more lenient. they were still letting people in but by now it was well past 3PM. I looked it up online – apparently the Glen House was near by. My GPS also didn’t know what the Glen House was and when I attempted to get navigation on my phone the internet kicked out. What can I expect in the mountains? I was irritated. Very irritated. And I had skipped lunch to race here.
Finally my GPS read “Approaching Mount Washington Auto Road.” I was ready to fling that piece of shit out the window… “WHY couldn’t you have told me that an hour ago?!” Low and behold there was the road! I drove in and went through. The guy at the gate told me I had ten minutes before they start shuffling people off the mountain. I smiled, forked over an outrageous $29 and continued on! I had my follower back, waiting for me just beyond the gate he drove up behind me.
I’ve been up and down mountain roads before. I’ve driven on narrow roads. I’ve even driven on roads with cliffs or embankments. I had no issue with any of this but I can’t say I expected this road to be like one of those death roads like you see in photos of South America. It was just wide enough to let two cars through, practically kissing mirrors as they passed. To one side was the mountain, no ditch or breakdown lane, just a wall of unforgiving granite. The other side of the road was a sheer cliff face – no guardrails, no nothing to catch you if you didn’t drive exactly where you needed to. It was a winding snake of a road with no room for error ‘least you wanted to topple off and die… and apparently people do… every year. Probably should have known that before I tried it. I was actually doing pretty well but it kept going… up and up and up… and then other cars started to come down and we both had to inch by each other going two miles an hour, a feet that the Prius was not really up for if I am to be completely honest. Prius has a habit of sliding backwards whenever I am going under 15 miles an hour…. so this was actually more difficult than just passing another car and trying not to die. It’s at this point I started cursing loudly and to myself. Then the car would pass and I would be OK again… until I glanced over to my side. I could suddenly see just how far up in the air I truly was and just how fucked I’d be if I messed this up. No room or time for stopping I just kept climbing! So did my friend on the motorcycle. I wondered at times if I was going too fast or slow for him… but he stayed back there.
This was the longest seven and a half miles I have ever driven. By the time I got to the top I threw the Prius in the first parking spot I saw and leapt out to kiss the ground. I MADE IT. And I couldn’t feel more invigorated or alive as I did just then. There, just beyond the ground I was so thankful for standing on, there was the most amazing view I have ever seen. Stretched out for miles and miles there were dozens of peaks and mountain tops all layered like cards in a deck. A raven flew on the currents as wind swirled and swooped. I couldn’t help but think of all the Nordic myths where their gods live at the top of the world, looking down.
“We made it!” I laughed.
“Yes. We did.” I think my travel buddy was a bit speechless. Turns out he had no idea what Mount Washington was and this was far more of a challenge than he probably anticipated when he got up this morning. Though he told me it was worth the trip next time he’d try the train. Good call. At least he was on a motorcycle… with a lot more maneuvering room… so there’s that.
There was remarkably little cloud cover today so I got a few pretty decent snaps. We were able to wander the summit w here there were a few tourist attractions – a building that I think was a restaurant, a gift shop, a train stop, the actual summit, a weather station… a little marker gloating over the record for the world’s fastest wind recorded here. It was 231 miles per hour if you’re wondering.
For years I had seen cars with bumper stickers reading, “this car climbed Mount Washington!” and I always thought it was some stupid gimmicky little thing but after doing it myself and not shitting a brick I felt I deserved a bumper sticker too. They were sold out as far as I could tell. Ah well…. it wasn’t meant to be.
This was the perfect time to come up the mountain because on the way down there was no traffic coming up it, being closed and all. This meant the trip down was a lot easier! I could glide down the middle of the road and be just fine! The rest of the cars ahead of me did the same and before I knew it the smell of burning breaks became all too apparent. There are many turn offs on the way with little signs alerting us to stop and let our breaks cool down. I saw many cars turn off… but the Prius is small and only smelled for a moment. I let it sit when I got to the bottom…
After this we drove into town, grabbed a bite to eat at McDonalds and talked for a bit. I asked if this adventure was worth it, feeling slightly bad it was such an extreme outing for the first time out. Although I felt exhilarated by the challenge, proud to have accomplished it, I am not so sure my friend here was experiencing the same high. Perhaps I am just too much for polite company. SIGH.
The drive home was three hours and twenty minutes in the dark. I cranked up the Led Zeppelin and enjoyed the ride. Life is good.