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A Day Well Spent On New Hampshire ATV Trails

By Jessica Bowman; For The Clock
On November 24, 2017

A Day Well Spent On New Hampshire ATV Trails 

Jessica Bowman

For the Clock 

Past the daily factories and urban filled lives of our fellow Americans I, along with the members of my immediate family found a valley surrounded by the marigold and ma- roon colors of fall. Growing up half in Jupiter, Florida, half in Haverhill, New Hampshire it had always been common knowledge to me that ATV’s and dirt bikes were not allowed on main roads. Yet, here it seems with ATV trails calling every weekender out for a good time, driving ATV’s on the roads was in fact, legal.

Past the changing leaves that quite literally turn entire mountains into piles of gold was a large parking lot housing all kinds of off road vehicles, ATV’s and bikes. Since before I was born my father had been involved with riding dirt bikes for sport and recreation. I never quite understood the appeal until my Father, Mother, Uncle, Aunt and cousin piled out of two trucks and an Audi into Jericho Mountain State Park. I had never ridden a bike with a motor on it before and quite often would wonder how the riders kept from swaying and falling over. ATV’s were even further out of the question with my only experience being on the back of a friends four wheeler running circles around her house for just one summer day of my childhood.

It was a clear day, all around I could hear family’s unpacking their camping gear, laughing with each other. Children screaming in joy as they ran around like energizer rabbits, being a tedious task for their parents to rein in. The revving of motors and the familiar whir-r-r-vroom! of off road vehicles carries faintly from the lake.

Not a minute passes and I catch my mother walking the porch into the side door of the shop. Upon following her inside I find not only my mother, but my father and aunt as well paying for their tickets to ride.

“These state parks are always cheap,” my aunt chirps. “Best forty bucks I’ll ever spend.”

The two grey haired cashiers give us smiles and wizened eyes as my father dominates the conversation. The scene reminds me just how much of a social butterfly my father can be, and just how much I am not. After paying we went back to our spot by a large rock where we had set up an overhead canvas. My father and younger cousin could hardly scarf their food down fast enough.

Ever since Donny Jr. was barely eleven my uncle and father had got him involved in motorcycle racing. The trio had formed a supportive family unit in love with the sport. Donny Jr. was the first to finish his food. Upon starting up his dirt bike, only to attracted the attention of another park goer.

“God I miss the sound of a two-stroke,” he commented, his eyes sparkling. My father laughed and reminisced with him that the two-stroke was the dirt bike of their childhood. The conversation seemed to attract the rest of the passerby’s biker like wife and friends before they all got on their respective vehicles and wished us a good time on the trails.

Twenty minutes after my uncle went riding he sidled the ATV next to the canvas again.

Looking at me he asked, “Jess, have you gone?” I shook my head no.

“Don, why don’t you give her the quick rundown,” Aunt Francine says. I smile in spite of myself as Big Don calls me over and shows me how to start and control his ATV. And finally it is my turn to ride. The touchy throttle made the ATV jumpy and when Big Don handed me a helmet to put on, he warned, “It may be a bit big.”

I had seen my father wear helmets like these all the time. They encased the whole head and had a sort of muzzle that was capped off with a black triangle at the end. I wondered if I would start sounding like Darth Vader when I put it on. There was a small window for my eyes but it was not restricting. After two minutes this is what that button does explanation my uncle slapped me on the back and said “Go try it out!”

My muscles tensed with trepidation, but the feeling was pushed to the back of my mind as my thumb pushed on the throttle and it leaped forward. “Ease up on it,” My uncle shouted to me. I had seen some people riding over a hill on the far side of the parking lot where rocks cut off the partial trail and I figured I should start there. But after riding forward and turning around my uncle pointed to a small opening on a hill between trees. “That’s where the trails are,” is all I heard before I was speeding off toward them.

For the months prior my father had taken to riding his fixed up dirt bike on the trails around our house and filming it on his GoPro camera. He loved to show us every new video he made which consisted of a constant whirr-ing sound of his motor and nothing but lots of rocks on the ground and blurred trees as he rode by. I realized then, at the exact moment that the trails opened up to me-that no GoPro camera could ever capture.

The wind whips whatever shirt you are wearing, no matter how tight, around like a rag caught in a storm. Your sight becomes narrowed because you are going forward so fast, so fast and that everything else becomes inferior to your task.

Lots of the trees surrounding the trail were either evergreen or birch. The white trunks merged with spiny green leaves until the path looked like a mixture of Halloween bare branches and bright green Christmas colors.

I vaguely remembered my Aunt’s commentary upon googling the park’s website just minutes before. Jericho Mountain State Park included 75 miles of trails, many of which criss-cross the entire state of New Hampshire. The trails were so expansive one person could spend ten minutes riding at full speed without encountering another human. And this I found as I passed turn after turn. Twice already I had almost run the ATV into the ditch upon the insistence of road signs to stay to the right. It was not until I urged myself to go faster that I found the handlebars required a firm grip and tense arms to control where they steered; And that standing up gave me more resistance to the millions of bumps and washboard trails.

There came one point that the trees vanished, the sky opened up to me and I was surrounded only by grass stalks higher than my head. The trail had turned into something I had seen on professional motocross tracks with my Dad when I watched the big races with him. On almost every motocross track was a section of at least a dozen speed bumps, you could say, all very close together. The riders, my dad once explained to me, would have to either slow down and focus on not falling or speed up and with only strength and skill keep their bike steady going over the bumps. It was a test of who could be the better rider and it almost always worked to switch up who was in first place. The trail I was on, was similar in that it was not a dozen mini speed bumps but rather a gauntlet of large jutting rocks that with any other type of vehicle would prove impassable.

For a split moment I let my child’s imagination get away from me and allowed myself to pretend I was one of those riders in the big motocross race and it was my turn to prove my winning place over one of the most physically demanding parts of the track. With a determined grin and stars in my eyes my thumb pinned the throttle down to go as fast as I dared. I had my feet planted firmly on the sides of the ATV and I bent down like I was a triathlete aiming my body for the best aerodynamic pose. I let the suspense build as one by one the ATV tackled those rocks as if they were pebbles and once free of the gauntlet I let out a triumphant “Woo!” that ended on my hysterical laughter.

I rode those trails as far as I dared and after what felt like barely ten minutes but was more like thirty according to my mother, I turned around and went back. I came back to that parking lot a different person. I rode up professionally and in complete control of the ATV that I had not had before. Idling by the overhead canvas my uncle stood up and was first to greet me with, “Did you have fun?”

I nodded vigorously but feared that through the helmet they could not see the true feeling of joy and euphoria on my face. So I said with as much happiness as I could put into my voice, “Yeah! That was awesome.”

I had only ridden for about thirty minutes and a rough estimate of four-five miles, I figured out but after just one ride my fingers were sore. It became hard to move my thumb or to use it for force on the throttle again so instead of going full speed I was barely getting up to 15 miles an hour by the end of my ride. My father, uncle and cousin all went out at least five more times.

My father returned a few minutes after me with my cousin. He rode up and told everyone about the windmills he and Donny Jr. rode under. “They were huge but it felt like I could reach out and touch the blades. Those blades travel at 100 miles an hour but it just does not look like because they are so big.” My father spewed, ever the keeper of probably useless but amusing information. My father asked me how I liked riding and when a moment of silence followed my enthusiastic rambling about how much I loved it, my uncle filled the quiet with, “Yup, she’s hooked.”

My father looked at me with smiling eyes. “I knew she would be.” 


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