Monday, July 29, 2013

"Witch" Way to New Hampshire? (Day 2: Salem to North Hampton, NH)

Posted 5/17/14 by Jeff

Miles: 47

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Day 2 was filled with life lessons.

Lessons like:

  • If you're a teacher, you probably get a discount at tourist spots. Or at least in Massachusetts.
  • If you're a transportation planner, you probably do not.
  • Be hopeful if it rains on you: first, because rain equals life, but second, because it just might yield a beautiful rainbow (or two).
  • The Danvers Rail Trail, north of Chestnut St., was not yet resurfaced on July 29, 2013. (But it would be a week later: another, but not the last, of such near-misses.)

Our second day route spanned the spectrum of American history...

...starting in one of the oldest European settlements on the continent and ending at a 1950s-style campground along a stroad dotted with big box retail.

We allotted time to explore Salem in the morning, and it was mid-afternoon by the time we hit the road. The lingering was worth it, however.

We woke up to the gentle gray of the maritime morning. Eve led our first yoga session of the trip on the beach. The serene cove of Waikiki Beach was soon populated with a group of paddleboarders. In contrast to the previous night's bustle of middle-school Macbeth actors hurriedly changing or washing off makeup in the campground bathroom between scenes ("Out, out, damned spot!"), the morning was very tranquil.

After packing up and heading into town, we enjoyed a tasty breakfast at the Red Line Cafe on Essex St. Eve had a salmon crepe, and I think I had the same.

It being a Monday, the Peabody-Essex Museum, to which Eve assigned rave reviews, was closed. So the Salem Witch Museum was Plan B.

In part, it was in the style of a traditional museum, with a handful of exhibit rooms. The main event was a multi-level gallery featuring a near-life-sized puppet show portraying, with a storyboard feel, the troubling tale of the Salem Witch Trials. While this type of setup might inevitably be susceptible to the "kitschy" stigma, this show was more polished and engaging.

When it was time to be on our way, we rode northwest out of town, en route to the Danvers Rail Trail (DRT) access point at Maple St. in Danvers.

As we approached the path's intersection with Chestnut St., however, we were stopped in our tracks by a construction truck.

This was not a bad thing. The truck was part of a construction crew surfacing this section of the trail with stone dust. Stone dust, you ask?

Detouring north on Cabot Rd., we parked our bikes near Danvers High School, I climbed up the rail embankment to see if we had reached the project endpoint, and there I saw the Iron Horse, hard at work.

Here's the description of the (soon-completed) project from the DRT folks:

Danvers and Wenham Rail Trails – New Surface Complete!

The last of the stone dust surface was installed on August 7, 2013. This five mile stretch makes for a smooth and enjoyable journey starting in Peabody and running through Danvers, Wenham, and beyond. We encourage you to take some time to explore and enjoy our new trail and all it has to offer. We want to thank the Department of Conservation and Recreation for the $50,000 grant awarded jointly to Wenham and Danvers to complete the surface, and to Iron Horse’s hard-working crew along with Lenny the incredibly good natured truck driver who navigated the trail so well.

More photos from the DRT site

The detour on residential collectors (Cabot, Burley, Maple) was pleasant, and we met back up with the DRT at Topsfield Rd.

Eve on the DRT at Topsfield Rd.

Here, the transponerd in me rejoiced as I spotted the first Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon (RRFB) of the trip. This is a good trail crossing enhancement for higher-speed facilities like Topsfield Rd., and I hope more of them are installed at appropriate crossings along the ECG route.

At Topsfield, we passed by The Bicycle Shop, appropriately located along the trail, in a new commercial building gracefully designed like an old train station.

By this time, although just to the west was I-95, which hosts 1/3 of the nation's vehicle miles traveled, and not far to the east was the Hamilton/Wenham MBTA commuter rail station, land-use wise, we were reaching the edges of the Boston metro area.

The feeling was more exurban and bucolic as we zig-zagged north on the likes of Bare Hill Rd., Pye Brook Ln., Boxford Rd., and Dodge Rd., low-traffic residential roads that make up a pretty nice interim on-road section of the ECG (Google map).

Cemetery near Byfield Parish Church

We followed the ECG on-road route down Elm St. and Middle Rd., through the Governor's Academy, the oldest continually operating boarding school in America (established 1763). The Martin H. Burns Wildlife Management Area was on our left.

We eventually reached the beginning of the path to Newburyport, the Clipper City Rail Trail, the first part (off of Highfield Rd.) being a dirt access drive in a power easement.

This short stretch led us to...the Newburyport MBTA station! It was a bit humbling to know that we rode for a day and a half, only to arrive at a place that could take us back to where we began in an hour and a half. But it was a milestone nonetheless, as we reached the paved part of the Clipper City trail, our second-last stretch in the state of Massachusetts.

The Clipper City Rail Trail gateway arch

Further down the trail

There was only one thing holding us back from New Hampshire, and that thing was ice cream.

Haley's Ice Cream

The Clipper City Rail trail opened in 2010 after Newburyport secured a 99-year lease of the old, unkempt rail corridor from MBTA, with design completed in 2007 and construction commencing in 2008. Phase 2, planned for construction starting in 2015, will extend the path to the east, along the Merrimack River and south to the town of Newbury (more info, same link as above). The long-term vision is to complete a trail loop that connects the Harborwalk, several neighborhoods, and the MBTA station (PDF map).

Merrimack River at Newburyport, looking east

Gillis Bridge, crossing the Merrimack, connecting Newburyport and Salisbury, MA

We'd have lingered a bit more by the river, but the second half of our day's journey was calling us.

Across the river, in Salisbury, we reached the Old Eastern Marsh Trail, part of Salisbury's coastal trail network. By the time we reached this ECG kiosk, a light drizzle had started. And we knew it was only 420 more miles to Calais, the apogee of the East Coast Greenway, and the town across the river border from St. Stephen, Land of Chocolate, our ultimate destination.

We dropped back onto the ECG on-road route on Beach Rd., which, as its name implied, took us east to the ocean. The rainbow was welcoming us there.

Is there chocolate at the end?

After the obligatory sun-squinting ocean double rainbow double selfie, our route refracted north along North End Blvd. (State Hwy. 1A), and in no time, we were in New Hampshire.

After a leisurely start to the day and the early afternoon departure from Salem, we had made good time, with only a couple of quick stops. It was 5:30pm on a July day, so there was still plenty of daylight left with which to cruise along the New Hampshire shoreline.

The pastoral inland of northeastern Massachusetts had given way to the touristy beach areas of Seabrook and Hampton. Hampton Beach was a strip of gift shops and restaurants, condos and hotels, arcades and ice cream, galleries with white-painted rails and sidewalk postcard racks, jewelry and swim shops, loaded with people. It felt like an old-school ocean vacation spot, retaining the air of a mid-century getaway from the hustle and bustle of the big city (cue newsreel voice here). People were meandering into the street, mixing with traffic.

We stopped at North Beach Bar & Grill with the intent of consuming a large quantity of food. Notwithstanding ice cream and usual packed snacks along the route, our last actual meal was brunch in Salem, 42 miles ago. The restaurant had pretty standard beach pub fare (or, as their slogan says, "Just a little piece of the breezy"), but the service was excellent. We could also charge our phones here.

After dinner, it was twilight, so we did our first fully-loaded night riding of the trip, weaving through Hampton neighborhoods to reach Lafayette Rd. (US-1, fast traffic and not much shoulder), where the Shel-Al Campground was.

(Bike lights were an obvious thing to bring, since we knew we'd be doing some night riding. Even if you plan to ride only during the day, bring them just in case.)

Shel-Al was packed with people, most already settled in for the night. We did the same, needing to rise early the next day to meet Bob Spiegelman, East Coast Greenway Alliance member and bike touring aficionado, for breakfast in Portsmouth.

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