Sunday, August 15, 2010

Biking the Kennebec Valley Trail

I love rail-trails. So when figured out that there's a 16-mile trail near where I'm staying with family in Maine, I decided to forgo my plan to do a 40-mile route and ride the Kennebec Valley Trail from North Anson to Bingham and back.

There wasn't much information out there, though, which was surprising. So in the end, I went to Google Maps and looked up bike routes between Madison and Bingham, and it seemed to indicate that the rail trail started around the North Anson Cemetery so that's where I went. It was already a reasonable distance from Skowhegan, so I decided to drive to the start and bike from there (that irks me - it seems a bit of a cop out!).

I found the trail with no trouble, but it wasn't actually clear that it was the start at that point. It seemed as good a point to start as any, though. There wasn't any parking so I parked around the corner at the North Anson Community School, though that might not have been an option if it wasn't a Sunday.

I knew it wasn't a typical rail trail from the get-go: the surface was variable, with gravel, sand, rocks, and washboard sections. I'm accustomed to hard-packed fine gravel, but this was a bit of a challenge. I really wouldn't recommend it for people with road bikes, and even mountain bikers should be sure to have good treads on their tires. I was riding my Thorn with 1.75-inch tires pumped up far too hard - but I preferred less traction to a puncture.

Turns out that the primary users of the trail aren't bikers or walkers at all - they're ATVs in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter. I came across a half dozen or so ATV riders today, and they were all pleasant enough (except one, who was going too fast and didn't give me much space). And for their use, I'm sure the trail would be perfectly fine. But I didn't see any other cyclists today.

The first half of the trail was pleasant (apart from the surface), but a bit monotonous: woods and the odd bit of cornfields.

At about halfway, I reached Solon and the big dam and bridge. It was a nice oasis there - a beautiful open space with views up up and down the Kennebec and even a picnic table. After that bridge, the path is more scenic, running right along the river. But with the views come more ATVs, and the road surface didn't really improve.

Finally, I reached the unceremonious end of the trail at a motel in Bingham - and popped out on busy 50+ mph Route 201. I asked in a little grocery store how to get back to North Anson and it turned out that all I had to do was cross a nearby bridge and head down Route 16 (201A). That was really nice - a wide, newly-paved road with some nice rolling hills. The only catch was that the road was officially closed just before North Anson, but since the road works weren't active on a Sunday, I was able to walk my bike the 100 feet through the mounds of dirt and diggers. And in a few minutes, I was back at the car and headed back.

So at the end of the day, I probably wouldn't do the trail again without different tires and even then, there are much more interesting places to go around here, I think. Very much looking forward to my ride around Acadia later this week!

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