Three city girls take on mountain biking at New
Hampshire’s Waterville Valley.
New Hampshire's Waterville Valley
boasts great scenery to go along with some great mountain bike trails.
The White Mountains
cover the northernmost quarter of the state of New Hampshire and a small
section of western Maine. Part of the Appalachian Trail, they contain
the highest peak in the northeastern United States: Mount Washington,
which stands over six thousand feet.
“Plus,” my friend
Jenn intones as she reads from our guidebook, “they’re considered the
‘most rugged mountains in all of New England.’” We are making our way
out of Boston in rush-hour traffic one Friday evening after work — three
city girls heading into the wilderness for the weekend.
“I hope we see a
moose,” I say. We have read that they are ungainly but majestic animals.
In the backseat, crowded amongst our duffle bags and backpacks and food
supplies (sesame crackers, sharp cheddar, a bag of kettle corn, a bottle
of red wine), our third, Rebecca, laughs. The only one of us who grew up
hiking in the woods and paddling a canoe through the marshes of
Massachusetts’ South Shore, she is amused by our inexperience with the
out of doors.
The next morning,
waking up in our cozy suite at the Golden Eagle Lodge in Waterville
Valley, near the entrance to the White Mountains, it is Rebecca who
convinces us to try mountain biking. We have raised the window blinds to
a fantastic view of the surrounding peaks, their rolling contours
revealed in the full sunshine of early morning. It is late summer, and
our lodging includes an array of warm-weather activities from which we
can choose: nine holes of golf, canoe or kayak rental, clay-court
tennis, or mountain biking. Jenn and I have never tried mountain biking
before, but Rebecca assures us this is not a problem. “Just wear long
pants,” she says, pointing a finger at my bare shins, “in case you fall
Jenn raises an
eyebrow in my direction. She is used to wearing suits and high heels
everyday as a director at a big insurance company in the city. I am more
of a jeans and flip-flops girl, myself, but I know that riding my bike
to the farmer’s market in my neighborhood doesn’t exactly qualify me as
Before breakfast, we
check in with the guys at the Waterville Valley Adventure Center, who
wear five o’clock shadows and are remarkably laid back about the
adventure we are about to undertake. “We’ll get some bikes together for
you,” one tells us. “Just come back in a little while.” He can tell what
we’ll need just by looking at us, evidently, and sure enough, having
fortified ourselves with coffee and biscuits from the Coffee Emporium
upstairs, we return to find three bikes at the ready. The helmets we
select from a shelf, and Rebecca shows us how to put them on. One of the
guys gives us directions from the Adventure Center past the tennis
courts and the golf course to the chairlift at Snow’s Mountain.
The bike park on this
mountain contains more than thirty miles of trails — including parts of
a cross-country ski trail network, along with old logging roads, fire
roads and hiking paths. The pamphlet we’re given describes “gnarly
singletrack” routes down the face of the mountain, but we opt for the
“more relaxed” Livermore Road trail. The friendly man behind the counter
at the lift traces the route for us on a map and offers to take our
picture with our bikes. He can tell we’re not locals.
A small group of
other bikers lines up for the lift, and one by one our bikes go up
first, fastened onto the sides of empty seats by agile young staffers. I
realize this is only the second time in my life I’ve ridden a chairlift
(the first having been on an awkward school trip in junior high), so
Jenn goes with me, and Rebecca gets a seat all to herself. As the lift
brings us higher, we gain a better and better vantage on the stunning
views of the seven 4,000-foot peaks that surround the valley. They look
green and blue with fluffy white clouds that float above them in an
azure sky. Improbably, we begin to hear strains of an operatic aria —
being sung, it turns out, by the man who unfastens our bikes at the top
of the mountain.
The trail starts off
steep and rocky, and we work to control the bikes and keep from tipping
over as we make our way single-file down this rather vertical stretch.
But soon enough, the trail opens up, and though I have visions of
running right into a large boulder and being tossed over my handlebars,
it never happens. The terrain is varied, and despite warnings about mud
from recent rainfall, it only materializes in low-lying areas that I
maneuver through more slowly.
Mountain biking is a
different way of being in the woods — rather than peering into the
greenery as I would do while hiking, I am focused squarely on the ground
in front of my front tire. It’s not the sound of animals scampering
through the underbrush that I’m listening to but the whoosh of the wind
in my ears and the ping of stones off my spokes. There is no way to look
out for a moose.
Jenn is a good
distance ahead of me, and Rebecca is out of sight by now at the head of
our small pack. But soon we meet at a wooden bridge where we stop to
lean our bikes against a railing and watch teenage boys jumping from a
piece of earth that makes a platform above an icy stream, fed by water
from the mountain. My chain has chewed a ragged hole in the left leg of
my pants, and our backs are spattered with mud. But the air has that
cool, crisp feel of late summer and early fall in New England, and the
sun continues to shine.
Back on our bikes,
the trail becomes a gently sloping path for a stretch and then picks us
speed as we descend more vertically again. I realize that I’m gripping
the brakes less, allowing myself to go faster, trusting the bike to
carry me over bumpy patches, trusting myself to negotiate around bigger
rocks. As we all gain confidence, we ride faster, letting out whoops of
glee as the woods fly by in a blur. The final part of the trail takes us
onto a paved road, and suddenly I miss the excitement of the dirt path.
By the time we return
to Waterville Valley’s Town Center to turn in our rental bikes, we are
as giddy with adventure and covered in dirt and sweat as good bikers
should be — three city girls with fresh mountain air on our faces.
For more information on mountain biking
at Waterville, go to
or call the Adventure Center at (603)-236-4666. Mountain biking season
runs from the end of May through mid-October. Daily trail passes begin
at $6, and adult bike rentals start at $25 for a half day.
Calabretta is a Boston-based travel writer who has written
for the Boston Globe and Plenty Magazine.