Last January, my girlfriend Stella surprised me with an unusual birthday gift: a four day biking tour of the Sunapee region of New Hampshire.
I’d been on long bikes ride before. This one was different. At the end of each day’s bike ride, there would be a bed and breakfast type inn waiting for me. A good night’s sleep, a hearty breakfast next day, a packed lunch to eat on the road, then a sumptuous dinner at night. As her homemade birthday card to me said, “Four days of biking and writing and eating from me!” I insisted that she come along with me, so the writing part had to wait.
The day, Sunday, September 12, finally arrived. We first drove to the last inn in the itinerary, Henniker House, to drop off Stella’s car. This was in case we were too tired to bike on the fourth day. Then we headed north to Highland Lake Inn, in East Andover. We settled into our room, met our innkeepers, and were given an orientation on the tour by Will, the owner of a nearby bike shop, called Out Spokin’. Will delivered Stella’s rental bike and showed her its features (I had brought my own bike). After his short talk, he was nice enough to pump my tires with air and adjust my seat height.
Dinner that night was flank steak over rice, tomato soup, salad, and a sinful dessert with the innkeepers, Pecco and his wife Gail, their son, and a couple of other visitors.
Next day, with map and directions in hand, we set out on our bikes for the Blue Acorn Inn in Sunapee.
We covered 25 miles the first day, riding along a blend of highways, country lanes and dirt roads. We discovered hills (and our leg muscles), pedaling as far as our bodies would allow, then pushing our bikes up to the crests. The rides downhill were fun and exhilarating, but potentially dangerous. The odd acorn or pebble had to be avoided. We mostly rode single file, changing position every mile or so. Conversation was a sporadic thing, since it was hard to hear as wind rushed past our ears.
We saw farmhouses, barns, cows, sheep, a bounding deer, and a small, dark whatever-it-was dashing across the road. Dogs of all sizes and voices barked and yipped. An old yellow hound dog left his yard to investigate; he just sniffed us and ambled away.
It rained now and then. I put on a clear plastic rain poncho; Stella did not. It felt very cold at times; good thing we dressed in layers. We ate our packed lunch of chicken and salad on the information booth porch in downtown New London.
After lunch Stella got on her bike and rode a short way on the town sidewalk. Her tire fell into a trench which made her fall into the street. I hurried over to help. She had hurt her thumb, but not badly, and scraped her inner arm. But she gamely got up, after some retail therapy at a gift shop, she continued the trek.
My only mishap was wearing the wrong shoes. My toes got squashed together and started to hurt – later one toe got infected. We were lucky that only these minor things happened to us.
We reached the Blue Acorn without further trouble. Dinner that night was a simple repast of teriyaki chicken, mashed potatoes, and veggies. Our innkeeper/cook Kurt made a special dessert called Lava Cake, baked in the shape of a heart. Awww. We walked around the old farmhouse at sunset and watched the moon come up.
Breakfast the next day was served by his wife Deb; a rich repast of eggs, toast, fruit and endless cups of coffee. For entertainment, Snickers the Maine Coon cat watched us through a glass window and boxed it with his paws. All of the breakfasts we enjoyed at the inns were roughly the same – all delicious and more than we could eat.
Deb packed a good lunch for us – turkey and cheese wraps, homemade cookies, apples and bottle water – and off we went, this time heading for the Rosewood Country Inn in Bradford.
The roads near Lake Sunapee were very hilly – in fact a ski area loomed nearby. But despite the uphill climbs, we made our next destination in record time, and before noon. The owners of the Rosewood, Dick and Lesley, upgraded us to the Thomas Jefferson room (complete with a jacuzzi) and let us settle in. After a good soak, we lolled the afternoon away, exploring the inn, the beautiful surroundings, and a nearby horse farm. Later, we saw one of the horses pulling a wagonload of people.
Lesley made us a dinner of bow tie pasta, tomato sauce, salad and dessert. Dick was our waiter. We had the enormous place to ourselves and took in the rich atmosphere. Many years ago, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford stayed there.
Another day, another great breakfast, another packed lunch. This time we were going to the Henniker House. This stretch included some of the most pleasant biking – not too hilly, lots of sparsely traveled back roads. But we were confused by Will’s directions, which did not always match the road signs (some of which had been stolen and not replaced.) As we reached Hillsboro and then Henniker, we did more riding along busy West Main Street.
We stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts for an iced tea break. It felt odd arriving there by bike. Afterwards we rode the remaining stretch to the Henniker House, right off the main street.
Last Stop – and a Night Out
We arrived early, and when we pressed the doorbell no one was home. So we shopped in a few nearby stores. When we came back the innkeeper was still out, so we called the number on the door and Kate arrived a few minutes later. She showed us to our room and gave a certificate to a Mexican restaurant. She also told us that her other guest was a famous author and he would be speaking that night at New England College, right down the road, and signing his books.
Our dinner of tacos, burritos and nachos was delicious, and we had lots of leftovers. We walked to the college and took our seats in a small auditorium. The author, David Macaulay, gave a slide show presentation and talked about his works, the best known being The Way Things Work. He’s an architect by training but has made a career of illustrating and writing books about the building of bridges, castles, mosques and cathedrals, with a few children’s books for good measure. Stella bought a book which Macaulay signed. We walked home at night with warm September breezes.
The following day consisted of breakfast, trying (and failing) to secure Stella’s rental bike to her car – the bike rack was missing a piece. Kate called the other three inns to see if they had the piece (they didn’t) so we attached my lighter bike and called Will to pick up the rental. He was happy to oblige.
We drove back to Andover to pick up my car and stopped in Franklin for a nice Korean lunch. Then we took the two cars back to Concord to unpack, and finally to nap.
Four days of biking and eating and fun, all courtesy of Stella. A trip we will never forget.