While the White Mountains of New Hampshire are legendary among outdoor adventurers for their hiking trails and ski resorts, the recreational opportunities are almost endless. A few weeks ago, I decided to explore the Presidential Rail Trail, just north of the Presidential Range. The trailhead starts at a little pull-off on Route 2 in Gorham, NH. If you go downhill on the trail, you will probably encounter some ATVs, which use the same parking lot. However, the bike trail makes for a quiet, scenic ride. I left around 4:00 PM on a Wednesday during peak foliage season and only saw two cyclists and a few runners during my ride.
While this ride is certainly doable on a cyclocross or gravel grinder bike, a mountain bike or fat tire bike makes for a more enjoyable ride. There were plenty of rocks the size of my foot sticking out of the ground that could cause an accident if a cyclocross rider was to hit one at high speed.
After leaving the residential neighborhood it starts in, the trail meanders alongside a beautiful mountain stream. I stopped at several bridges along the way to take a few pictures of the stream below. The trail is a slow climb, but gradual enough that most riders should be able to make good time on it.
Near Randolph, the forest opens up to reveal large ponds formed by beaver dams on either side of the trail with views of the mountains beyond adorned with brightly colored autumn leaves. After reentering the forest and peddling a little further, I stopped at a bridge to get a few pictures of another stream. Getting back on my bike at about 5:15 PM, I peddled hard, knowing I would need to turn around soon to avoid being out after dark.
Seconds later, my brakes squealed loudly as I brought my bike to a sudden halt. Perhaps 20-25 yards ahead of me was North America’s most dangerous animal: a moose. While moose hold that title primarily because of the devastating results of vehicle collisions, they will often attack a perceived threat using dinner-plate-sized hooves, long legs, and bodies that can weigh 1,500 pounds.
I slowly maneuvered my bike to the side of the trail, keeping it between the moose and myself, looking for a large tree I could jump behind if the moose charged. Fortunately, this moose continued foraging in the trees next to the Appalachia trailhead. I unzipped my frame bag and tried to use my Panasonic ZS-50 pocket camera to get a few shots, but its poor low light performance rendered it useless in this situation. Putting it away, I now reached for my Olympus PEN E-PL7 and switched to the longest lens I had brought: a Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.7 portrait lens (85mm full frame equivalent). While I had brought that lens along mostly for close-up shots of flowers or insects, I thought I might be able to use it for a mediocre environmental portrait. But just as I started taking pictures, the moose began to stroll down the path in my direction! I reached into my pocket to pull out a small canister of pepper spray and moved a little closer to a large birch tree, just in case the moose decided to charge. I then took a few more pictures as the moose strolled past me, staying at the other side of the path. At that point, it was probably only about 12 feet away and I couldn’t even get its entire body in frame with that lens! It meandered about 20 yards down the path and continued to browse along the trail, occasionally looking back at me.
I got back on my bike and continued to the next bridge where I got some perfect photos of a little mountain stream. While the waterfall shots are undoubtedly the ones that someone would be more likely to hang on their wall, those photos of the moose tell a story that I will never forget!
After turning around at the bridge, I headed back toward my car, taking it slow for a while in case the moose was still nearby. Shortly after passing the area where I had seen the moose, I heard the sound of a single gunshot. I can’t help but wonder if that was the end of that young moose’s life. If so, I feel sorry for it in a way due to its peaceable disposition, but at the same time, it was clearly malnourished and likely wouldn’t have survived the winter.
The rest of the trip was an easy cruise down a steady slope; just the kind of experience that cyclists live for. I got back to my car just as the sun was setting with beautiful photos and memories I will never forget!
After an exciting encounter like this, there's nothing like sitting down with a good bowl of Harmony House Soup or Chili and recalling the adventure!
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