Mud Season Roads

I keep my skis in the truck because the season is not yet over.  But if I want to be totally honest with myself, I know I won’t head out again this winter. Sure, if it were 55 degrees and sunny to the point where I risk a goggle tan, heck yeah I would be out there. But mostly the roads aren’t clear enough to start road biking and my truck just feels sort of empty when its not toting my toys. So for now my skis come along with me to work. My helmet rolls around the backseat. Grassy patches of not quite green expand across the slopes while plow-compressed bergs of snow and ice recede from the bike lanes on Route 302.

I know outdoor enthusiasts who vote blue and act green are not supposed to be avid proponents of long aimless drives in vehicles propelled by antiquated internal combustion engines. But hey, I’m a reckless poet as much as I’m a screaming liberal. I unexpectedly got out of work early this past week, but none of my friends or family were so lucky.  It was too nice a day to sit in a bar and scribble some attention-seeking blog post. I had a large iced coffee in hand, sunglasses on my face, and a great book on tape. I decided to go for a drive.

New Hampshire roads are not for the faint of heart. I’ve learned the hard way how frost heaves can splash drinks from secure cupholders to clean khakis. Even worse is when you’re the road cyclist potentially on the receiving end of a sports car bumper as that driver seeks to preserve the presentation quality of his pants by swerving around some of April’s wind debris. Seasoned North Country travelers learn the smooth art of straddling some heaves while dodging other potholes, all the while keeping one eye on the hills as their snowy nightgowns melt away.

I drove north to Route 3. I looked at the Presidential Range, each peak dusty white near its summit and lightening through shades of gray from rocky brown to hints of greening trees. I listened to a book about the little discussed Wilderness War in 1777 America. My window was down, though the heat was directed at my feet and set to low. I took off my warn winter hat and allowed the crisp spring air to chill my scalp. I sipped, I listened, I looked, and I drove.

New Hampshire’s North Country, its roads curving around pine groves, white birch woods, and family-sized graveyards. The ruggedness of this area and the people who live here is beautifully apparent. One house will be all exposed Tyvek, the mailbox post crudely pounded between cinderblock stabilizers; a bike that hasn’t known a rider in years rusts in the un-mowed grass lining the dirt driveway. The neighbors run an inn bursting with New England charm. An old dairy barn has been repaired and repurposed for weddings where the guests all drink Old Fashions out of mason jars, the men in suspenders and bow ties, the women wear braided hair and peasant dresses, while the valets park Subaru Outbacks and Toyota Tacomas with New Hampshire plates.

I kept driving east so the sun would begin to set behind me. I wanted the hills painted with evening light for my return trip. Shadows grew longer, commuters began to leave their long work days to return to loving families, home-cooked meals, and the last fires heating wood stoves that would soon host family photos or baskets of potpourri as they rest over their summer vacation. I turned around near the Maine border, took off my sunglasses, and drove toward home at a leaf peeper’s pace. I didn’t tell anybody about my experience. I expect more purity will come across for the reader this way. My aimless drive, undiscussed, undescribed, and undisclosed until now. I enjoyed it enough to do it all again. Now I know the secret. It can’t be planned. Exploring the wild North between seasons has to be so spontaneous you almost don’t it’s happening until you’re already doing it. Then you can’t wait to turn left instead of right, north instead of south, and do it all again.

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