FRANCONIA NOTCH, N.H.- Sam Damon wanted to show his future brother-in-law around the White Mountains. He figured he could show him the high points like the cliffs and mountain ranges of Franconia Notch State Park, the majesty of a grand hotel with a Presidential backdrop at the top of Crawford Notch, and the drama and hills of the winding Kancamagus Highway along the fast-moving Swift River.
Damon, 23, from Concord, had plotted about an 80-mile loop to showcase his home state to Andrew Gardner, 27, of Carbondale, Colo. -- on bicycles.
''Kind of the epic factor, I guess," Damon said before the two amateur bicycle racers rode off from the parking area at the Cannon Mountain aerial tram in the state park. ''The loop is scenic and you get to see a lot of the hot spots in New Hampshire."
Damon had done a challenging 100-mile White Mountain loop in about five hours. I was planning to tackle that route when I rolled up to them as they were getting ready to ride on.
My plan was simple. Carry the charge card and a small backpack and roll around the Whites. My partner, Jan Duprey, had come along but decided to wait in the pickup and crochet. That was OK. We had ridden the loop on a tandem bike a few years ago.
On this mountainous ride, there are plenty of diversions for those who pedal and those who don't. Motels are plentiful, with clusters on both sides of the Whites. Crawford Notch has the historic grande dame, the Mount Washington Hotel, and the new Appalachian Mountain Club Highland Center. Bartlett has a few places to stay along Route 302. Man-made entertainment includes the dancing bears at Clark's Trading Post in North Woodstock, the Conway Scenic Railroad through Crawford Notch, and the Alpine Slide down Attitash in Bartlett. Pizza, beer, and ice cream -- cyclists' favorites all -- are never far away.
The 34 miles along the sinuous, daunting Kancamagus Highway (Route 112) between Conway (the starting point) and Lincoln, the longest stretch without food or motels, is filled with natural wonders from the swimming holes by Lower Falls to the solid walls of Rocky Gorge. Touring cyclists hauling tents have six campgrounds to choose from, and there are well-placed benches at observation points and plenty of spots to fill water bottles. The Kanc's been getting cosmetic surgery of late, and shoulders are getting wider and parking areas have better flow.
At 2,890 feet, you're not even halfway to the summit of Mount Washington. But get to that marker at the top of the highway and relish the reward. A white-knuckle drive for the weary motorist, a spin along the Kanc is a badge of honor for a bicyclist. It comes complete with an endorphin rush from heading down hairpin turns into Lincoln, past Loon Mountain, with its restaurants, shops, and motels, before entering the land of Cannon cliffs and the jagged outlines of the Kinsman and Franconia ranges in the state park.
There is a 9-mile, multiuse path that rolls through the dark forest with its gnarled trees, ferns, and moss and along the rocky Pemigewasset River. During a cool morning after paying the tab at a Lincoln motel, the canopy breaks and the clouds roll across the top of Cannon's sheer cliffs, which await climbers jingling with carabiners and lugging ropes. The comforting smell of campfires fills the air as the hum of the parkway comes and goes. The granite-faced Old Man of the Mountain is no more, but below where he once stood guard anglers cast their lines into the chilled waters of Profile and Echo lakes. The Cannon Mountain tram awaits passengers and the green slopes next to the New England Ski Museum another white winter.
This is a bike path with a bite. It is steep and hilly in sections. Obey those bike walking directives near some of the more heavily-visited sections.
Bicyclists get a break on the rolling hills of Route 3 heading north to Twin Mountain and its motels, grocery stores, and gas stations, just before turning east on Route 302 to roll along the flowing Ammonoosuc River. The wide shoulder is a pleasure to pedal near the verdant slopes of Bretton Woods and the red-roofed Mount Washington Hotel, with its Presidential setting. Be sure to look for the stone Episcopal church just east of it and the benches across the way. Pause and take in Mount Washington and its neighbors. It's a spot I've often missed while pressing the accelerator. Wildflowers line the road near sections of Crawford Notch, where visitors might see moose but will undoubtedly see the outline of a white elephant on a rock ledge called Elephant Head at the entrance of Crawford Notch State Park.
It's going-down time when you see a sign with a truck and 13 percent grade. How sweet it is winding down the notch, passing the waterfalls and marveling at the cliffs on both sides. Even an ice cream stand promising 24 flavors and the site made famous by the Willey Slide of 1826 that killed nine people aren't enough to keep the wheels from rolling on down the glorious mountain pass.
What put the brakes on was seeing the future brothers-in-law, Damon and Gardner, just west of Bartlett. They were starting their ascent. ''This is pretty spectacular," said Gardner. ''It holds its own to anything out west."
We compared notes, and the two had done about 40 miles in the time it took me to do 35.
Then they told me they had stopped for coffee in Lincoln and Bartlett. That provided inspiration for a quick lunch at the Bear Notch Deli at the base of Bartlett's Bear Notch Road, another cycling challenge. Route 302 continued past the Alpine Slide to the farms and fields of West Side Road (cyclists can continue down 302 and take Route 16 into North Conway). Horses, sheep, cows, a farm stand, and a covered bridge are all part of the scenery before connecting with the Kanc again to complete the White Mountain circuit.
In two days, it is possible to ride around the Whites. In an e-mail, Damon updated me on the loop he had done with Gardner. They had gone the 80 miles or so in five hours -- including one more stop for coffee.
Marty Basch can be reached at www.martybasch.com.