The Seacoast Covid-19 Tour
A month and a half of social distancing has made everyone keenly aware of how important it is to get outside. While dinners, games, and Zoom provide us with opportunities to connect, nothing beats the feel of sunshine on a nice day. My in-laws Wally and Nancy embraced this philosophy and became zen masters of the daily bike ride. It was always a leisurely jaunt filled with good conversation and included a visit to a breakfast joint. Perfect way to start the day.
Over the years, my wife and my love of biking has evolved from organized rides to self-supported weeklong tours. Unfortunately, this year Covid wiped out our Netherlands tour and caused us to string together substitute local day trips.
First ride on the docket was the Durham-Merrimac Tea Time Loop. This was originally a shakedown ride for our 42-day West Coast Odyssey Tour. It heads south from Durham through Newmarket, Newfields, Exeter and finally crosses into Merrimac, Mass. Wally and Nancy's house at Green Tree Farm served as the official lunch stop before the return leg back to Durham.
Bright and early, we reassembled our veteran Bike The Five Boros Tour crew (Al, Janet and Jenna) and headed south. With the temp in the low 50's, gloves where a must. By the time we reached Exeter, the sun was out and it was time for a coffee break. Thankfully, D Square Java was open and made some great drinks.
miles to reach our lunch stop at Green Tree Farm. It is my wife's childhood home and is legendary for its hospitality. People always seemed to drop in for a cup of tea and a mint square. In honor of Janet's mom Nancy, we pulled out the griddle and feasted on grilled cheese sandwiches.
Next up, and the next day, was The Kittery Lobster Roll Ride. This route heads north through Dover and connects to the East Coast Greenway. You get a chance to sample some quiet country roads and have a ton of lunch options in either Kittery or Portsmouth. The post-lunch leg passes through Pease and then crosses the Piscataqua River before a stretch on Route 4 back to Durham.
The weather forecast was iffy so we got an early start and headed towards Dover. The Bellamy Road-Cataract Road route avoids congestion and gives you a good view of the Cocheco River from the Dover Community Trail at Fisher Street.
The sun was peaking out by the time we reached South Berwick. Perfect time to stop for coffee and a snack at the Early Bird Cafe. Since we live in Covid times, we had an egg and cheese english muffin on the bench in front of the cafe.
South Berwick is a good place to connect to the East Coast Greenway. Just before the Early Bird Cafe, it heads south towards Kittery and just after the cafe, it heads north towards Portland. Despite having done both routes before, I picked the wrong way and headed north. Even with 2 I-phones and a Garmin, it took us about 6 miles to realize our mistake.
After we figuring out where in the heck we were, we plotted a route south. It included miles of scenic dirt roads and a really weird Paul Bunyan totem. Four miles out from Kittery, we called ahead for large lobster rolls with fries.
Ready for lunch, we arrived at Bob's Clam Hut next to the Kittery Trading Post. They really had the Covid take out business down. Social distancing and masks were the norm. The problem for bikers was that the only seating option was an outdoor bench. Since the temp had dropped into the 40's, a warm spot would have been welcome. Upside was that the lobster roll was great.
The skies darkened and the wind picked up on the ride back to Durham. The route across the Piscataqua River no longer crosses the General Sullivan Bridge and instead is a bike lane on the new bridge. On cue, the rain started a few miles from home. Little cold over the 2nd half, but overall a nice ride. This route logged in at 48 miles and had some hills in Maine.
Rain forced us to take the next day off, but the following day, we were back at it and rode the Off the Beaten Path Ride. It heads south to Newmarket through Lee, Epping, and finally Durham. As the ride name implies, it sticks to smaller roads dotted with farms and conservation land.
Seems like every bike tour, we hit rain, and this one was no different. Steady showers and cool temps are not the greatest motivators, but we rallied and hit the road.
As I mentioned, most of this ride passes by farms, and the pressure to convert them into subdivisions is evident. The Durham, Newmarket, and Epping Conservation Commissions have done a great job of acquiring and managing some beautiful properties. Their efforts show that development and conservation can work together to enhance communities.
The section just after crossing Route 125 is a real highlight of the ride. As you head north you pass the Fox Run Conservation Area . It has a small park that is a perfect spot for kids to learn to fish. Epping gives way to Lee and the pavement gives way to dirt roads. Not many cars on this stretch.
One problem with this ride is that there are very few coffee break options. Newmarket is a little early in the ride and Sunny's Cafe is the only option during the Lee leg. While google said they were open, when we arrived, they were closed for renovations. Hunger got the better of us and we decided to head back to our house in Wedgewood.
Despite the rain and lack of food, this was a nice ride. Short 25 miler.
The weather forecast for the rest of the week was not promising, so we decided to shorten the tour to 4 rides. Our last day was 57 degrees and sunny and seemed perfect for a ride to the ocean. The Beach Ride runs south to Newmarket through Stratham, North Hampton, Rye, Portsmouth and then back through Pease to Durham. One theme of the Covid-19 tour was the many great river views, and the bridge on Route 108 north of Stratham offered a nice view of the Squamscott River.
As we crossed over 95 and headed north from North Hampton towards Rye, the homes got fancier, and we spied a rider training at Runnymeade Farm Racing Stables.
Turns out this stable is famous and has produced 45 stake-winning thoroughbred race horses including the 1968 Kentucky Derby winner. Just in case you have a few million sitting around, the place is for sale.
At about the 20 mile mark, we finally saw the ocean and stopped for lunch at The Beach Plum. Janet had the lobster clam chowder and I had the lobster seafood chowder. Both were excellent. After lunch, it was north along the coast on 1A, and then back through Portsmouth, Pease and finally Durham. Despite the sun, the ocean wind made this ride colder than expected, and it logged in at at a surprising 48 miles.
The final tally for the Seacoast Covid-19 tour was 168 miles over the 4 rides, and our only regret was not getting in a 5th ride. The tour was also a reminder of how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful area.
In case you missed the route maps, you can find them at The Seacoast Covid-19 Tour Page.