Road Trip 2021: Mount Washington Auto Road

Since we were in New Hampshire, the Mount Washington Auto Road was pretty much a must. Kenn has had a fascination with Mount Washington for many years; he frequently checks the conditions at the observatory at the top of the mountain. (Mount Washington held the record for the “fastest wind gust ever recorded on the surface of the Earth”, 231 mph, for almost 62 years. The record was broken in 1996 at Barrow Island, Australia during Typhoon Olivia.) As you might have guessed based on some of my earlier posts, the Appalachian Trail crosses Mount Washington.

Our initial plan was to ride the Cog Railway to the top of the mountain. However, since we didn’t make reservations in advance, there were no seats available. We looked into riding one of the non-cog trains but I wasn’t interested in spending almost $200 for the experience. So, it was time to decide if we could handle the drive. Now, driving up a mountain generally isn’t that big of a deal but the Auto Road isn’t just any road. As much as I love the mountains, windy/twisty roads with steep drop-offs and no guard rails are not my idea of fun – and that is pretty much a description of the Auto Road. I went online and watched a few videos of the drive and was comfortable that it was doable. So, it was time for one of those heart-to-heart discussions that are occasionally necessary in all relationships. I assured Kenn that I could handle the drive with no panic attacks and that if (when) I freaked out, I would grit my teeth and keep it internal so that I didn’t distract him while he was driving. He, on the other hand, had to swear that he would keep his eyes on the road. Now, this may seem like a simple request but it is a common issue for us; the whole time Kenn is driving it’s “look at this” and “did you see that?” with my answer being “No, because one of us needs to watch the road!” Kenn promised to focus on the road and not the scenery and we were set. We planned our drive for our first day in New Hampshire but it was closed due to the rain so, of course, we went the second day.

When you arrive at the entrance to the Auto Road, you pay your fee and get a bumper sticker that says “This vehicle climbed Mount Washington”. (When we stopped at the gift shop after our drive I bought a smaller magnet that says “This truck climbed Mount Washington”.) You also pass a sign stating “If you have a fear of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience.”😬 The drive starts off pretty much like any mountain road: windy, narrow, two lane, trees on both sides. The higher you climb, the fewer the trees. Once you get above the tree line, the road becomes more “exciting” eventually becoming two-way traffic on what is basically a one lane road. The Auto Road is paved – except for the steepest stretch, which is dirt. (I haven’t been able to find any explanation for the unpaved section. I’ve decided it’s because it is so steep and that vehicle tires may get better traction on the dirt rather than pavement.🤷‍♀️ If you know the answer, please enlighten me!)

Going up!

The closest I came to not keeping my freak out internalized happened not too far from the top of the mountain. There were a couple of vehicles coming toward us so Kenn and Ruby were hugging the right side of the road. The only problems with this were the hillside that was right outside the passenger door and the narrow drainage trench at the side of the road. I was terrified that we were going to get a wheel caught in the trench or break off a mirror on the hillside. When we met up with the truck coming toward us, both Kenn and the driver of the other truck rolled down their windows and folded their mirrors in to prevent a collision. Yes, the road is that narrow. Once we reached the parking lot, I was tempted to be overly dramatic and kiss the ground, but I refrained.😂

The area above the treeline is an alpine region where vegetation is scarce and fragile. The landscape is stark and beautiful.

Panoramic photo from just below the treeline

The rocky areas had a “lunar” feel to me.

I could see for miles and miles and miles…
Our Mount Washington selfie graced our 2021 Christmas cards

We spent an hour or more roaming around the top of the mountain before heading back down. I knew the “down” part of the drive was going to be the worst part for me since the passenger side of the truck would be on the side of the road featuring the drop-off and no guard rail. I told Kenn that I was just going to keep my eyes closed until we got below the treeline, at which point nature would provide a guardrail of sorts. I kept my promise except for when Kenn said “Oh no!” or something of the nature that you don’t want to hear when dealing with a two-way-traffice-on-a-one-lane-road situation. Remember the drainage trench I mentioned and how I was afraid we were going to get a wheel stuck in it? Well, some unfortunate driver headed up the road had done just that. Poor guy was stuck. So now, we had the addition of the traffic behind him having to pull all the way to the left side of the road to continue their trek which made the traffic flow even more thrilling. When we reached the base of the mountain, we passed the tow truck headed up to the rescue. I’m glad I wasn’t there to witness that scenario; my freak outs probably would not have remained internalized at that point.

So, yes, it is possible to survive the Mount Washington Auto Road even when you have a fear of heights and anxiety issues. And, I’m glad we did it. Oh, if you’re curious, the Auto Road is 7.6 miles long and the drive up the takes around 30 minutes; the drive down takes 30-45 depending on how often you stop to cool your breaks. The grade averages around 12%.

During our travels, whenever we ate out we tried things we had never had before. After we finished the Auto Road, we decided to eat a late lunch/early supper (what we call “lupper”) at The Public House Eatery in Gorham, NH. Best. Decision. Ever. Everything we had was delicious. Their signature pizza was seriously the best pizza we’ve ever had. Who knew teriyaki-glazed steak tips and mashed potatoes on a pizza could be so good?

Yummy!

Next week, Vermont and New York state. Until then, take care and happy trails!

Road Trip 2021: The White Mountains of New Hampshire

We finished our stay in Millinocket, Maine and journeyed to New Hampshire. Due to his interest in the Appalachian Trail, Kenn has read many books by through-hikers and the White Mountains were on his bucket list. Now, I love the mountains – any mountains; the mountains are where my soul feels most at peace. However, I knew nothing about the White Mountains and wasn’t sure what all of the fuss was about. Y’all. Holy cow. The White Mountains are… breathtaking. Sadly, none of my photos did them justice.

The White Mountains

We planned to spend two days in the area and made reservations at the Lincoln/Woodstock KOA Holiday, which was a fortunate choice; this was hands-down the best campground we stayed at the entire trip. You can read my review HERE. We planned to use the first day to drive the Mount Washington Auto Road, but it rained which meant the road was closed. However, the rain was a good thing in that it forced us to take a down day. We spent the morning doing laundry at the campground. (I was impressed by the laundry facilities; the equipment was commercial-grade and there was a working change machine.😮) Once the rain let up a bit we ventured into Lincoln for food and souvenir shopping. We ate at the Gypsy Cafe, a charming restaurant where both the decor and menu are eclectic. If I lived in the area, I’d eat there at least once a week.

Grilled cheese fondue at the Gypsy Cafe

By the time we ate and completed our souvenir/Christmas shopping, the rain finally let up and the clouds began to clear so we did a little exploring on our way back to the campground. This is when I was able to take my favorite photos from the area. I even made Kenn drop me off on a bridge so I could get a shot that I wanted.😂

The shot from the bridge
Clouds over the mountains

There’s a lot of this beautiful country that we have yet to see, but I would return to the White Mountains in a heartbeat.

Next week, the Mount Washington Auto Road. Until then, take care and happy trails!

Road Trip 2021: Baxter State Park & Mount Katahdin, Maine

When I last blogged about our road trip, we had traveled to Skowhegan, Maine to meet my long-time (40+ years!) pen pal and her husband. You can read about our visit HERE. We then left Skowhegan and journeyed to Millinocket, Maine where we stayed at the Wilderness Edge Campground which was an easy drive from Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin. (My full review of the campground can be found HERE.)

Site 41 at Wilderness Edge Campground

At this point in our journey, we were still eagerly looking for moose. Wilderness Edge offered “moose tours” but all of their tours were full when we arrived. However, a local lodge offered moose tours via boat; the tours were early morning and early evening to coincide with the times the moose would come out of the woods to drink from the lake. We elected to take the early morning tour so we were on the water at 7am. While no moose were seen, we did see a lot of beautiful scenery. And did I mention that it was cold? The temps would have been fine on shore but once you’re on a boat, speeding over the lake, it feels much colder. Thankfully, the tour hosts provided blankets. By the end of the two-hour trip, I was bundled up in a blanket in addition to my own cold weather gear.

Just before launch
Just after launch

We spent most of the next two days exploring Baxter State Park, home of Mount Katahdin. Kenn has long had a dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail. We have done numerous day hikes on southern parts of the trail and Kenn has done a few section hikes, beginning at Springer Mountain, Georgia, the southern terminus of the AT. Even though aging knees and an aching back seem to have put an end to Kenn’s AT dreams, seeing Mount Katahdin, which marks the northern terminus of the AT was on his bucket list.

Oddly enough, once we were in the park, we never set foot on Mount Katahdin. The first day, the parking lot(s) at the base of the mountain were full so we had to visit a different section of the park. When we returned the next day, rain was threatening and we elected to continue exploring the section of the park that we had visited the day before since we had only seen a small part of it. (Don’t worry; it was Kenn’s choice. This part of the trip was all for him.) We picked a section of the park and drove through it stopping whenever we felt like it. We took a few short hikes and saw a lot of amazing scenery, but still no moose. (Darn moose, LOL.) We even got to see otters playing in one of the lakes! All in all, it was an enjoyable, relaxing couple of days.

It wasn’t prime leaf season, but the leaves were starting to change
Tiny fungi
Baxter State Park selfie

Until next time, happy trails and… take a moment to back up your important files. The SD card in my phone recently failed, taking a lot of my photos with it. Fortunately, I had copied all of my trip photos to Dropbox so they were safe. Phew!