After spending three days in one of our new favorite places, Vermont, we hooked up Stan the Airstream and headed east to New Hampshire. When the idea of Tin Sheets was conceived and we started planning our first trip, Jay stated that he wanted to see the fall colors in New England. Spending nine years in New Hampshire as a student, teacher, athlete, ski racing and sailing coach, and still somehow finding time to sleep and eat, he’d never had a chance to truly appreciate the experience of a New England fall in all its colorful glory, so off we went in search of all of the reds, oranges, and golds that we could find.
What to See: Summit of Mount Washington
Coming from the Rockies, we’re used to expansive views of beautiful vistas from high points. In fact, we have such a fondness for summits that we named the tables at our wedding (and included pictures of us at the top) after various mountain passes throughout Colorado. Admittedly, when we think of East Coast “mountains”, we snicker and try hard not to make a snide remark about how they’re really more hills than mountains. Well, the fine state of New Hampshire put us in our place. With a summit elevation of 6,288 feet, Mount Washington is not only the highest peak in New Hampshire, but all of the Northeastern U.S. An even greater claim to fame is that for most of the 20th Century, it held the record for the highest recorded wind gust in the world of 231 miles per hour, recorded in 1934. Yes, New Hampshire held the record for the highest gust of wind; which, pardon the pun, blows us away.
The views at the summit are phenomenal, and the drive up the Mount Washington Auto Road to the summit makes the experience even more memorable. Much like the drive we did up the Mount Mansfield Auto Toll Road in Vermont, the Mount Washington road requires a toll of $29 per car; and includes an informational CD, a friendly reminder to be safe and slow on your ascent, and a bumper sticker allowing you to brag that “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington”. Unlike Mount Mansfield, the drive had significantly more tight switchbacks, precarious drop-offs, and steeper grades (up to 12%), making for a gorgeous drive surprisingly reminiscent of some Colorado passes. Once we reached the copious parking at the summit, we got out with Finley, who is welcome everywhere except in the buildings, and explored the summit. There is a weather observatory at the summit in which a team of observers live and study the weather, frequently performing crazy stunts. Check out this video of two of the resident weather observers trying to walk into 109 mph winds last year. More than just the observatory and a sign indicating the high point, you can also check out the Visitor’s Center which includes a museum, snack bar, gift shop, and post office; as well as the Summit Stage Office, an historic building originally used to shuttle cog railway passengers down to the Glen House at the base, which is literally chained to the ground to ensure that it doesn’t blow away.
Between the beautiful drive climbing 4,618 feet though pine forests up to stunning 360º views overlooking the White Mountains and the historical significance of the place which proclaims itself “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”; a drive up the Mount Washington Auto Road and a stroll around the summit is an experience not to be missed in New Hampshire and earns 5 out of 5 rivets.
Mount Washington Summit & Auto Road: 5 / 5 Rivets
What to Do: Hike Mount Cardigan
As Jay was starting middle school back in the ’90s, he was given two choices for schooling based on where his family was living at the time- home school or boarding school. Being the independent and adventurous individual that he is, he chose boarding school and spent 7th through 9th grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, New Hampshire. He is the first to tell you about what an incredible time he had from an educational, social, and overall life perspective. In fact, he loved it so much that he returned as a teacher for two years after graduating from college. One of the highlights of his time both as a student and teacher was the annual hike that all students and a few chosen faculty members made up nearby Mount Cardigan. During our stay in Franconia, we made a day trip to visit the school and decided it was also the perfect opportunity for us to hike the mountain that Jay associated with so many great memories of his youth and that Jen had heard so much about.
A 3.1-mile loop trail with 1,250 feet in elevation gain, it was a moderate hike that definitely got the leg muscles and lungs burning. Starting on a wooded trail that crosses over numerous bridges and trickling springs, the trail eventually leads to a long stretch in which you walk at relatively steep angles on giant slabs of granite. Once reaching tree line, the granite slabs become even more immense and the views extend from the quaint towns below all the way to the White Mountains nearly halfway across the state. Perhaps the biggest surprise as we neared the summit was the wind. We’ve hiked 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado, also called 14ers (La Plata Peak being one of our most memorable), and know to expect wind and lots of it at the summit. On top of a 3,156-foot peak, this is not something we expected and we were wrong. It wasn’t just breezy at the top, it was nearly 14er-level windy, so much so that we found ourselves standing in the shadow of a building chained to the ground for the second time in as many days. Wind aside, the hike provided good exercise, beautiful views, and gave Jay the opportunity to share a fond memory with Jen and Finley; for these reasons, we give our hike up Mount Cardigan five out of five rivets.
Mount Cardigan Hike: 5 / 5 Rivets
What to Eat: Dunkin’ Donuts
We know, we know, we’ve been preaching about how we’re traveling across the country and making a concerted effort to eat regionally specific foods, so why Dunkin’ Donuts? First of all, because donuts. Again, we challenge you to find a donut lover with the same level of donut devotion as Jen, but we digress. Shortly after embarking on this trip, we’d stumbled across an article about two people who had traveled throughout the country trying local foods and in their travels discovered that there are many places in the U.S. that have no local or regional specialties, and more frequently than they’d anticipated ran into no locally-owned, only chain restaurants. We set out hoping to have a different experience, but were disappointed to find that there weren’t an amazing number of restaurants in the Northeast thus far. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few gems, as well as some chain restaurants that we enjoy (please bring In-N-Out to Colorado!), and seeing as we were in the land of Dunkin’ Donuts and because donuts, it felt like a perfect stop on a gloomy morning before heading out to be leaf peepers.
The closest Dunks (as it’s referred to by the locals) was just down the road from us in Littleton, NH. We’re not sure if it would be possible to find a more stereotypical New England town than Littleton- from the white steeple church to the old pub to the streets of clapboard houses, it doesn’t get much more perfectly picturesque, especially once you add in the vibrantly colored trees with their changing leaves. Seeing as it was fall, it was mandatory that we get some pumpkin donuts to go with our “black coffee”, not to be confused with a “regular coffee” which for reasons that baffle us Westerners is coffee with cream and two sugars, not the opposite of decaf like everywhere else. Thankfully, Jay had educated Jen on the proper way to order coffee to save her from the mistake of a wrong order (which he learned through firsthand experience while a college student in Manchester, NH). Our coffee orders placed correctly, we headed out to enjoy the vibrant colors that make fall leaf viewing in New England a nearly spiritual experience and enjoyed a few donuts each (because one is never enough). Not the most epic donut, but certainly a good standby and a bit of a treat, since the closest Dunkin’ Donuts to us at home is almost three hours away, earns our pumpkin donuts and black coffees four out of five rivets.
Dunkin’ Donuts: 4 / 5 Rivets