A classic country cycle in New England
By Jack B. Rochester and Joan Paterson
Outside Online correspondents
n New England, leaves conjugate the seasons. And autumn days are visual poetry in yellows, oranges, reds, and golds.
On a 20-mile biking route through Cheshire County in southern New Hampshire we found not just autumn leaves but beautiful New England homes, bucolic farms, a small lake, and four classic covered bridges that crossed and recrossed the Ashuelot River, their reflections combining with the fall foliage to paint abstract pastels on the water's surface.
We started our ride at Route 32 and Sawyer's Crossing Road, pedaling north. Around the curve was our first covered bridge, the 159-foot Swanzey-Sawyer's Crossing bridge. Beyond, we rode through deep, enchanting woods spotted with saltboxes, Cape Cod cottages, and an occasional log cabin.
Next was the area's first covered bridge, the Swanzey-West Swanzey, built in 1831. Unlike most covered bridges, whose sides were boarded up to keep out the weather, this one still had its open lattice trusses, through which we peered and admired the riverfront homes and an old mill. Continuing south, we crossed Route 10 briefly and then returned to the back roads.
Just down the road from the local mini mart we found the former Swanzey-Slate covered bridge, which burned in 1993. Across the bridge, a sign outside a farm advertised real maple syrup, one of New England's true natural delights. Less than a mile down the road, we came to the 164-year-old Winchester-Coombs bridge, where the stone abutments were built without mortar.
We turned back and rode to Old Westport Road, then onto Indian Brook Road, where we pedaled on real country lanes with stone walls on either side, through miles of scenic farmlands, past cornfields, mountains, and a handsome old rusted silo. The lure of Rabbit Hollow Road sidetracked us; we found some woodsy doubletrack that split at a clearing into two snowmobile trails to Winchester and Richmond. But Swanzey Lake awaited, so we turned back.
Back on Indian Brook, we found a dirt road that circled the lake. We saw several great swimming holes to keep in mind for next summer, one with a big rock to leap from. Afternoon fishing was in full swing by the time we arrived at the spillway. On Swanzey Lake Road we came across a weathered old barn offering antiques, art, and other must-have items, like old bowling pins.
Just up the road was the last covered bridge on our route, the Swanzey-Carlton, now closed to auto traffic. Here we met 14-year-old Patterson Grant bicycling the back roads, as he often does, after school. Patterson, who built his mountain bike from scavenged parts, told us all about his plans to open a bike shop with his younger brother one day. So now we know who to call if we ever need repairs.
Jack Rochester and Joan Paterson are freelance writers in New Hampshire. They recommend the DeLorme New Hampshire Atlas and Gazetteer for planning bike tours.
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