Ashuelot Rail Trail
In the mid-1800s Keene, N.H. was a manufacturing center, serving as a hub for three railroads: the Manchester & Keene Railroad, the Ashuelot Railroad, and the Cheshire Railroad. With the decline of the railroads in the twentieth century, the Ashuelot and Cheshire Railroads were transformed into rail trails.
The entire trail, called either the Cheshire Rail Trail and/or the Ashuelot Rail Trail depending on which direction you go, is about 42 miles long.
We started in the center of Keene, where we had booked a very nice, spacious and clean room at the Mariott. On our way to our room, we noted a Starbucks in the lobby, a big plus. The rail trail literally runs through the hotel parking lot so the beginning of the ride entails a wee bit of in-town navigating, but folks in cars were mindful of bikes, courteous, and the crosswalks are clearly marked. The Ashuelot trail (not sure how to pronounce that), which is 21.5 miles long, follows the Ashuelot River south to Hinsdale in southern N.H. I rode a hybrid and Bill was on a gravel bike, both of which were just perfect. My slightly fat tires and a bit of suspension proved to be very comfortable on the variety of surfaces we encountered. Mountain bikes would also be fine; I wouldn’t recommend a road bike, as the terrain is multi surface: paved, gravel, sand, roots, grass, pine needles, just about everything.
The trail started off paved in town and continued over a very old bridge over Route 101, either side lined with Black Eyed Susans in abundance, the effect being flying on a bike through a Van Gogh painting. Pavement turned gradually into gravel for several miles and eventually to more gravel, then dirt, then smooshed grass. The terrain and surrounding land is surprisingly varied: shaded woods, lush pastures sometimes with offshoots into people’s backyards, farmland, soft pine needle paths, trestle bridges over the river from time to time. All in all a fabulous ride, predictably unpopulated on a Tuesday afternoon. Much of the trail looked as though it got a lot of use in the winter with snowmobiles. We didn’t make it all the way to the end, although after our ride, I found out that in the town of Ashuelot, there is a covered bridge built in 1864, considered one of New England’s most sophisticated covered bridges with a span of 169 feet and featuring intricate latticework. Next time! A note of caution: five or so miles out of Keene, the trail crossed road three times with no cross walks. Be careful! The road was curvy and the traffic was fast, so you have to be alert.
We searched in vain for a wine store in Keene, a college town; apparently the N.H. state liquor store is just five minutes away on the highway, so if you want a decent bottle of wine for the room, think ahead. For dinner, Bill found a first rate restaurant within walking distance of our hotel, called Luca’s Mediterranean Café.
Owned by Luca Paris and his wife, we highly recommend it! Great wine list, vegetarian options, delectable entrees and desserts. Also pleasing interior, friendly servers, and a very snazzy ladies room.
In the morning, we found a hippy dippy breakfast sandwich shop called Brewbaker’s café where I ordered a custom sandwich (egg, cheese, tomato, onion), fortifying me for a lengthy browse at Eagle Books, a used bookstore owned by the charming Sylvia Felix.
A wonderful mid-week trip ;-)