Sunday, December 6, 2015
Bagging two more New Hampshire towns:
Shelburne (#142) and Gorham (#143)
I never thought I'd go running north of Mount Washington in December—in shorts!
But a spell of unseasonably mild weather in our part of the world allowed me to bag two towns "north of the notches," as they say: rural Shelburne and comparatively cosmopolitan Gorham. And I didn't have to bundle up.
The date: Saturday, Dec. 5. The occasion: on my way to an annual silent film screening in the even-further north community of Dixfield, Maine. The goal: to run a minimum of 5K in at least a couple of towns that I doubt will ever hold an official road race.
I don't often get to run in towns this far north. But in planning this gig, I figured that on my way it might be possible to fit in a run among the enormous snowbanks usually in place by now.
Well, Mother Nature had other plans. The higher summits of the surrounding White Mountains are indeed white, but winter hasn't quite reached the valleys just.
Thus I found myself pulling off Route 2 at the Gorham / Shelburne line onto a grassy patch that made for a perfect parking spot.
As it became clear that the weather would be unseasonably nice, I actually had plans to bag four towns. Before Gorham / Shelburne, I had hoped to do a similar two-town run in Jefferson and Randolph, through which Route 2 also runs.
But coming up through Franconia Notch, I noticed a light coating of snow on the shoulder. And heading further through Twin Mountain, I watched as the temperature dropped below 40 degrees. Anything lower requires extra gear, which I didn't bring.
So I wasn't sure about the Jefferson / Randolph stretch, and then ultimately bagged it because that section of the road is narrow, with very little shoulder, and has a lot of steep ups and downs. That, plus the slushy roadside snow and the at-times heavy traffic, made me push on to Gorham / Shelburne.
It turned out to be the right decision. They're at a lower elevation, so the temp had recovered to the mid-forties by the time I pulled in. Plus, the road follows the Androscoggin River, which at this point flows along a flat stretch of valley. And Route 2 is in pretty good shape in these parts, too.
After measuring off 1.6 miles in each direction, I returned to the town line and began the Shelburne stretch at 3:25 p.m.
A long straightaway and then some up-and-down curves took me through some of the dense groves of birch trees for which Shelburne is known. Fun fact: Shelburne's population was 480 in 1859, but only 372 now. So it's one of those upcountry towns that went into decline after the Civil War and still haven't recovered.
I came back to the car at 4:03 p.m. meaning 38 minutes to do 3.2 miles. Nothing to brag about there.
Heading into Gorham for the second part of the run, it was starting to get dark in the valley even though some of the peaks high above us were still catching the light. The wind picked up a bit, but running in shorts still felt fine.
Talk about scenery! The rocky, snow-capped summit of Mount Madison, the nearest Presidential Range peak and rising high above us to the south, looked more like the Matterhorn than it deserved to.
After the rural emptiness of Shelburne, the town center of Gorham seemed like Midtown Manhattan. Stores, restaurants—even sidewalks! (The town's population is about 3,000.)
After my turn-around point, I was headed east-bound, meaning I could better see the day's fading light still kissing the upper reaches of ridges hemming us in. The snow had probably melted a bit and was now refreezing, making the higher spots look like they were lightly dusted with powdered sugar. (Can you tell I was hungry?)
Funny: in Gorham I passed signed promoting the town's 5K run on Thanksgiving. Ooops, missed it!
Reached the car at 4:43 p.m., meaning about 40 minutes for the final 3.2 miles. By then it was completely dark, but the temperature had dropped just a bit: to 41 degrees.
And so I had just enough time to drive up the street to the town's Subway (housed in a former bank branch office), where I changed into my performing clothes and got a sandwich.
Next up: this coming week I'm on a road trip to Ohio and Toronto, Canada, and so have an opportunity to claim as many as three new states in my quest to run at least 10K in all 50.