[lake francis]Bogged down by biking? Not here

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  As if on cue, two loons glided across the surface of the northern New Hampshire bog pond in the spruce-fir forested conservation land. They hadn’t been waiting for us, a couple of gravel road spinning cyclists, but it sure looked that way. The pair skimmed along East Inlet in Pittsburg just a few miles shy of the closed United States-Canadian border, as we watched by a dam in silence.

  Small 92-acre East Inlet and nearby 88-acre Scott Bog are part of the 25,000 acre Connecticut Lakes National Area owned and managed by New Hampshire Fish and Game under a conservation easement held by The Nature Conservancy.

  It is home to wildlife like moose, loon, deer and waterfowl, and visited by outdoors lovers like hikers, anglers, paddlers and cyclists, though bicyclists are likely near the bottom of the list. Pittsburg is loaded with dirt roads and now sees a large amount of visitors on motorized off-road vehicles as part of the expansive two-state 1,000-plus mile Ride the Wilds network.

  But that doesn’t mean gravel grinders can’t find stretches of bliss. They can.

  The state’s northernmost campground is Deer Mountain. It contains rudimentary services like spring fed water and pit toilets, but has glorious views of the Connecticut River which runs right through it from its start just 5 miles away at the Canadian border as it flows some 400-plus miles to the Atlantic Ocean.

  My wife Jan and I are frequent fliers there, making sure we hike to the source of the river at Fourth Connecticut Lake along a trail that weaves between the two countries allowing me to continue a long tradition, even during a pandemic, of leaving the country once a year.

  Since we always bring our hiking boots to also saunter over slices of the Cohos Trail like the wondrous Falls in the River and a gentle piece of Sophie’s Lane, we generally bring the tandem kayak also to watch for wildlife in East Inlet, Scott Bog, Lake Francis and three Connecticut Lakes. But this time we opted for bikes over boat to gently wade into the gravel and paved byways.

  The 10-11 mile moderately easy ride from the campground to East Inlet, Scott Bog and back is a fine introduction to what’s considered remote biking. True, you’re up and out there. But what makes it feel more isolated is the lack of cellphone reception and seeing signs along the way stating your location in the event of an emergency.

  East Inlet Road off U.S. Route 3 often called “Moose Alley,” is the pathway to the pond, largely uphill as it crosses over tributaries on wooden bridges. A large canopy kept the sun at bay and the Connecticut River flowed eagerly southbound alongside the road, easily visible through the trees, with an occasional vantage point for a closer look and a selfie.

  The pond is a great place to ponder and peer for flora and fauna before returning downhill and continuing on that gravel road (not returning to Route 3 yet) and experiencing some peaceful flattish level riding. The canopy opens up to a wide open expanse with rolling views into Canada before a small boat launch sign on a tree signals a turn and burst up a short hill before the grandeur of Scott Bog.

  There, we sat on boulders by its southern shore listening to the cry of loons. We ventured out to a wooden bench to listen to the wind breeze by and envy the occupants of the lone camp on the water’s eastern edge.

  On the pavement side, I did a few early morning 10 mile up and back rides to the border along Route 3. Mother Nature slapped me silly with mid-40 degree temperatures to wake up to cycling north of the 45th parallel.

  In the early morning, and with the border closed, it was like having your own wide bike path, save for the occasional angler bound for Third Connecticut Lake. The road’s a merciful roller coaster leading to the fenced border. But with a bike you can get so close and almost smell the poutines waiting on the other side. Alas, another time.

  Though we saw no moose yet again along Moose Alley — just seven deer, three southbound Cohos Trail hikers, two turkeys and one grouse — we will be back to ride, hopefully soon, across that border to the huge swells of Chartierville, its magnetic hill, Quebec’s Eastern Townships and beyond.