Leaf Peeping: New England Fall Colors by Motorcycle

A motorcycle ride brings magic to New England's fall colors in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hamshire and Maine

_Walnut trees turning, yellow as the dawn.
Maple sugar being pulled down strong.
Frost shuns the pumpkin's orange glow.
Cornstalks wilting in cool October snow.
_—Keith Hipharp, New England in Fall

Halfway into our six-day run through the New England countryside, we hit that motorcycling nirvana point where the world simply went away. As my husband, Jim, took us through the White Mountains on our rented, fully outfitted Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, the deep blue sky met vivid green hills in a striking contrast. The mid-60s temperature and warm sunshine melded perfectly with the sweet sounds of bluegrass from the Harley's CD player. And as the passenger, I found the big backrest and seat wonderfully comfortable, even more so than on our own Harley Road King.

I'd heard stories about New England in the fall since I was a kid. For me, it always conjured a festival for the sensesI'd heard stories about New England in the fall since I was a kid. For me, it always conjured a festival for the senses>I'd heard stories about New England in the fall since I was a kid. For me, it always conjured a festival for the senses'd heard stories about New England in the fall since I was a kid. For me, it always conjured a festival for the senses—colors, smells and tastes blended in a warm and familiar sense; endless views; air crisp and refreshing.

We launched our voyage from Boston on Interstate 495 pushing north out of the city. My first concern was overcast skies and temperatures in the 50s that had us using every available layer, right down to neck gaiters. I'd longed for cool and crisp, but not this crisp!

Within an hour we were cruising U.S. Interstate 95 alongside some of Massachusetts' famous coastal villages, headed for Portsmouth, a sleepy historic town that is one of New Hampshire's oldest seacoast villages. For nearly four centuries people have called this area home, with George Washington, Daniel Webster, John Paul Jones and John Hancock all former guests in the Strawberry Banke area. With a huge Victorian-era church as the perfect town centerpiece, Portsmouth offers excellent restaurants, great shopping and several old bookstores.

On day two the sun broke through and dispelled my fears about the trip being too cold. After coffee at Breaking New Grounds we hopped on U.S. Interstate 95 and headed across the bridge into Maine. We passed Kittery and continued north past Kennebunkport and Saco. By lunchtime we rolled into Portland, which was first named Old Falmouth. The town later became a center for shipbuilding and trade, where Maine's expert craftsmen produced some of the best-built vessels in the world. Downtown Portland is rich with Victorian architecture, churches and, fittingly, an L.L. Bean outlet.

After lunch we headed out of Portland on Highway 26, which winds northeast through gorgeous New England countryside—rolling green pastures dotted with barns, antique shops and roadside stands selling pumpkins and apples. This quiet, two-lane road with only sparse traffic was a precursor to the rest of our ride. Highway 26 routed us around Auburn into the small towns of Poland, Norway and Paris. Here we wound around small lakes where the trees began showing more color. Scarecrows in entertaining poses marked the roadside. Just ahead we could see the White Mountains.

We stopped for the night in Gorham and, being prime season, had to search for a room since we had not made reservations. It was also here that the locals first referred to us as "leaf peepers." We took mild offense at first, but then gradually warmed to the term because we were, indeed, captivated by the changing colors of the hills. The landscape looked as though a painter had swept a brush across the treetops with bright shades of yellow, orange and red.

The next day was a perfect ride on two wheels through the White Mountains, which are not high by California standards, with most summits under 5000 feet. Regardless, the area offers beautiful views and multiple recreational activities. Attitash Bear Peak has the longest Alpine slide in North America as well as waterslides and horseback riding along the Saco River. The Cannon Aerial Tramway is an 80-passenger tram that takes visitors above the timberline to the 4200-foot Canon Mountain summit for outstanding views stretching into Maine, Vermont and even Canada. The postcard images from my childhood continued coming to life as we passed Glen Ellis Falls, hundreds of hiking trails and scenic covered bridges.

We continued south until we reached the Kancamagus highway. "The Kanc," as locals call it, traverses the White Mountains National Forest, crosses the flank of Mt. Kancamagus and climbs to nearly 3000 feet. The Kancamagus is a world-renowned riding area with easy twists and gentle turns under a canopy of trees. Undoubtedly one of the most spectacular sections of the White Mountains Trail, the Kancamagus runs for 34.5 miles.

From there we continued down Highway 112 and crossed the Connecticut River into Wells River, Vermont. Entering Wells River was like driving onto an old-time Hollywood movie set replete with old-fashioned establishments, such as T.J.'s Lunch Counter, a diner within the town's pharmacy.

From Wells River we headed west via U.S. Interstate 302 on a small, winding road cutting between open green fields and farmhouses. We cruised through Barre and continued on state Route 62, where we connected with U.S. Interstate 89 toward Vermont's state capital, Montpelier, and our next destination, Waterbury, Vermont, home of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. The requisite tour and product sampling was a delicious distraction.

We took state Route 100 south past the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, which is one of the top producers of fresh apple cider in New England and still uses a rack-and-cloth press built in the 1920s. As dusk approached, the farmhouses and fields of Vermont formed silhouettes against a wide-open sky. Eventually we skirted the Green Mountains past Sugarbush Ski Area and numerous small Vermont towns until we reached Killington, the largest ski resort in the eastern United States.

The next morning we backtracked a bit and eventually connected with U.S. Route 7 in Brandon, a little town chartered in 1761 that had more fine examples of architecture along its broad avenues. After lunch we continued south to Pittsford and the New England Maple Museum. The museum offers a trip through more than 200 years of maple-sugaring history, starting with the Native American discovery that maple sap cooked over an open fire produces sweet syrup. After our museum stop we spent the night in Manchester Center, a sleepy little town with many charming inns.

On our penultimate day, after a night at a hay barn built in the 1830s and converted into a cozy inn, we headed back out on U.S. Route 7 and into upstate New York with one more mission to fulfill. After crossing the river into East Fishkill, we dropped into the suburb of Rock Tavern, where we stopped to pay homage to Orange County Choppers. Although we didn't see Paul, Paul Jr. or Mikey, we did see a camera crew from the Discovery Channel's American Chopper and several other fans of the show milling around hoping for a glimpse of TV's chopper-building celebrities.

On our last day we headed into Connecticut, where the harsh reality of a Friday-night traffic jam made us long for the back roads of Vermont. After grinding along through the early evening heat and stop-and-go traffic, we made an unscheduled overnight stop in Hartford to escape the morass. We slipped back to Boston the next morning and returned our rented ride.

Fall in New England was all I had imagined as a child. And experiencing it from the back of a motorcycle added a thrill I had not anticipated. Truly, it's the only way to peep.

If you'd like to share your favorite ride that is 100 to 500 miles long and includes at least one interesting stop, send details of the route and your contact information to _Motorcycle Cruiser, 6420 Wilshire Blvd. Floor 17, Los Angeles, CA 90048-5515; or e-mail_ Jamie.Elvidge@primedia.com.

For more descriptions of our favorite motorcycle rides and destinations, visit the Rides and Destinations section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

Photography by the author.