Last Saturday was shaping up to be a great day for cycling. Although the morning started out chilly, the meteorologist predicted a sunny day, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s – a perfect day to hike the Wonalancet Loop. It was a bit windy, but it might be an advantage to climb the many hills on this loop. The runners might start to get cold, but they would all end up warmed up.
The Mount Washington Valley Bicycling Club website listed the ride as a “Scenic Saturday Ride, Wonalancet Loop No. 6 (from Tamworth) Ride Codes C / 3.5 / 38”. Codes at the end meant it was C – an intermediate level ride, with average speeds of 13-15 mph, moderate climb of 3.5, and 38 – about 38 miles long. Additional information gave an elevation gain of approximately 2,300 feet. There would definitely be some hills on this route.
The Wonalancet Loop is one of my favorite rides. He hadn’t been listed much this season and I missed him. It’s a scenic ride that takes you through Tamworth, Sandwich and Wonalancet. Most of the route is on low traffic roads. This is one of the few road walks where you can actually relax and enjoy the view. When I saw the MWVBC post, I had to go.
Due to this year’s traffic and erratic driver behavior, I stayed off the paved roads, preferring dirt roads and trails to ride. However, this route and the timing after the Labor Day crowds left made it appealing for a ride down the road. My problem was that I hadn’t even done 38 miles this season. Would my legs be up to it?
On the Mount Washington Valley Bicycling Club’s route library, there are actually six listed “Wonalancet Loops” (tinyurl.com/8vkdap2k). What I consider to be the original “Wonalancet Loop” is the shortest – 22.4 miles. This is a great early season hike, rated 4 – “difficult hills” with a positive elevation gain of 1,196 feet. It is listed on the MWVBC Route Library as Wonalancet Loop # 3. It starts at Brett School in Tamworth, turns left onto Route 113, then right onto Whittier Road. At the intersection with Route 25, the road turns right.
On Route 25, the traffic increases as well as its speed. Fortunately, this highway has a wide recovery lane that makes it doable. For a short distance of about 3 miles, the road turns right at Bennett Corners on Route 113. After four relatively flat miles on Route 113, cyclists arrive at the junction of Routes 113 and 113A. In Loop 3, the road turns right onto the 113A, towards Whiteface and finally Wonalancet. Then it comes back to Tamworth.
Saturday’s race, led by Bill Anderson of Tamworth, was “Wonalancet Loop No. 6”. It started at the same spot and followed the Loop 3 route to junction 113 / 113A in North Sandwich. There the group of 11 cyclists turned left to follow route 113 towards Center Sandwich. Arriving there, the cyclists stopped to regroup before turning left onto Route 109 and tackling the long climb to Sandwich.
Finally arriving at the top of the hill, we stopped to catch our breath and remove a few layers. While admiring the manual work of the restored buildings of a project from inn to bed and breakfast, we wondered if he had ever been able to open. We saw no sign. Hopefully one day it will be. With its awe-inspiring views and interesting architecture and sculptures, this would be a great place to stay.
At Sandwich, we turned left onto Little Pond Road, for a respite downhill. We flew over the “Great Wall of Sandwich” and Little Pond before starting to climb again. At Vittum Hill Road, the group turned left and climbed a bit more. Vittum Hill is one of my favorite routes. There is very little traffic on it, it’s quiet and shady, and makes a scenic transition to Route 25.
At Route 25, we turned left. Crossing the road there required some caution, but we all made it. Driving along Route 25 for about 2 miles, we again came to the junction of Route 113 at Bennett Corners. The crossing was even more difficult, with the traffic in the opposite direction and in turns. Retracing our previous stop on Route 113, we cycled to junction 113 / 113A. This time we turned right onto the 113A, now following the original Wonalancet Loop 3 route.
It had been a few years since I hiked this loop but the hills all came back to me! Up and down the roller coaster, I pedaled – going back downhill, going uphill. Heading to Whiteface, I passed Pothole Falls. The parking lot was empty. On a hot, busy summer day it would have been full.
On the way down, I walked up the hill past the watering source, but didn’t stop to fill my water bottles that day. Going up another hill, then another, finally, I arrived in Wonalancet. The white church greeted me across the field.
At the chapel, I stopped to grab some snacks and catch up with the others in the group. The weather had become hot and sunny. A blue sky and light clouds framed the scene. This spot is always conducive to relaxation and refueling before tackling the last hills of the Wonalancet loop.
More climbing ensued until we finally reached the last hill. Tired cyclists relaxed for the long descent to Tamworth. A brand new roadway made it easier to get into the city and back to school. There we gathered and said our farewells.
It had been a good ride. Whichever Wonalancet Loop you take, you will experience a challenging, rewarding and scenic ride away from the hustle and bustle of the valley. Driving on the back roads of Tamworth, Sandwich and Wonalancet is always a pleasure.
Check out MWVBC’s route library and choose the Wonalancet loop that suits your time, energy and interests. With six routes to choose from, there is something for anyone who wants a scenic route and doesn’t shy away from some hills.
Summer Race Series Mountain Bike Race: Saturday, September 25, Bartlett, Fields of Attitash, last in the five-race series. For more information and to register, visit tinyurl.com/2f87mwkr.
Plan a riding weekend before the end of the beautiful summer days. We will soon be posting some route suggestions for informal group outings on Sunday throughout the MWV, as well as a night outing from the race venue to Bartlett on Friday evening. See facebook.com/mwvsummerraceseries for more details.
Sally McMurdo is a bicycle safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Conway.