“Did you get any bites?”, I asked my fishing and bikepacking buddy Ken. “Yeah, mosquito bites,” he replied. We were bikepacking in northern New Hampshire just a few miles south of the US/Canadian Border in an area called the Republic of Indian Stream. Largely owned by lumber companies, it’s crisscrossed by hundreds of miles of gravel logging roads that are open for public use by hunters, fisherman, ATVs, and snowmobiles. We were exploring the area for future bikepacking adventures and to check out the fly fishing that the area is known for.
The Republic of Indian Stream was an actual country, created in 1832, as a result of a border dispute between the United States and the British Province of Quebec. Both countries tried to collect taxes from the local population of about 300, so they promptly set up their own country in protest, with an independent constitution. Called “Streamers,” they were absorbed back into New Hampshire in 1836 and officially became a part of the United States again in 1842. See Wikipedia for the blow-by-blow details.
I’ve taken a few trips in this general area (near Pittsburg, NH) in recent years to bushwhack New Hampshire 3000 footers near the Canadian Border and hike some of the northern trails listed in the White Mountain Guide. It’s very different from the gentrified atmosphere of the White Mountain National Forest, with the same wild west feel you get in the areas of rural Maine dominated by the logging industry. The residents are very nice and helpful, but cell phone access is virtually non-existent, most of the roads aren’t paved, and ATV’s and pickup trucks far outnumber passenger cars. Self-sufficiency is the name of the game and a higher level of preparedness is required since you’re usually off-the-grid.
On this trip we were exploring the gravel roads that run along Indian Stream and Perry Stream, two wild streams that purportedly hold brook trout. We packed up our Tenkara fishing gear, our backpacking gear, and our bikes. I’d planned our trip route on Caltopo and we double-checked it in the New Hampshire Delorme Gazetteer. We both downloaded the GaiaGPS maps for the area onto our phones for offline use and headed to the north country. Things didn’t exactly work out as planned, though.
We’d wanted to ride a loop west from Rt 3, down (south) the gravel road adjacent to Indian Stream, head east and then back up (north) along Perry Stream, and then back to Rt 3. I called it the Republic of Indian Stream Loop and it looked great, on paper, at least.
It quickly became apparent that our maps were incomplete and in some areas, just wrong. I more or less expected that with our USGS maps which haven’t been updated since the 90’s (at the latest), but I was surprised at how incomplete our New Hampshire Delorme Gazetteer maps were. Still, it’s understandable given that the north country is largely private land run as a tree farm with new roads being build all the time to haul wood out, and not a publicly designated recreational space.
Only some of the roads marked on our maps didn’t exist and we didn’t know anything about the rich set of ATV trails that span the area. We only got clued in on this other trail and road system when we popped into Young’s General Store for a 6 pack. Young’s is a local institution in the north country, just off Rt 3, and one of the last places to buy gas, beer or food, before you hit the Canadian border.
Young’s was selling a local ATV map at the counter, so I bought one because I have a hard time resisting maps. It was eye-opening and exposed us to an entire trail system we hadn’t known existed. Unfortunately the map wasn’t very good, even though it was superimposed on a very hazy and outdated USGS topographic map. But just being able to see how the trails intersected with one another was a big step forward.
While ATV routes are open to gravel bikers, they’re kind of a mixed bag. For one, it’s hard to secure maps of the ATV trail system because they’re published by each club separately and most are NOT online. The State of New Hampshire does publish an ATV club list, which is a good place to start compiling beta, but it’s kind of hit or miss. The ATV trails themselves can be quite rough or busy with ATV traffic, which can be a scary proposition when you’re trying to be seen on a bicycle in a cloud of dust. The more difficult ATV trails are also quite steep, which doesn’t matter as much to a gas-powered ATV, but may require too much effort to climb on a loaded bike.
Based on this (limited) experience, I suspect it’s best to scout ATV roads/trails from a motor vehicle before you try to ride them on a bike or assemble them into a longer bikepacking route. Scouting ATV roads from a bike is very time-consuming and doing it from a car or truck is much more time efficient. This will also help you decide whether you’ll enjoy riding them, let you map the route, and help you assess any safety issues ahead of time. Riding with a bikepacking load is also far more strenuous and having a good read on the elevation gain and the surface conditions you can expect is really important.
Back to our adventure. Based on this new beta, we decided to spilt our trip into two parts. The first was to ride up Indian Stream road and fish along the way. Indian Stream was running low, but it was still a big enough river that waders were in order. We had a pleasant day, riding, then stopping to fish, riding again, until we’d ridden twenty miles (out and back) fully loaded with our fishing and camping gear. We’d intended to find a good stealth site, but eventually gave up because we couldn’t find anything that suited our tastes.
I’m pretty picky when it comes to picking a good unprepared campsite and we couldn’t find anything that we really liked. The vegetation in this part of the north country is largely low-lying browse that’s grown in after an area has been cut for timber. While this makes it great for wildlife and provides them with a lot of cover, it’s awful if you’re used to walking through open woods with a lot of space between the trees to set up a tent or hang a hammock.
We rode back to Ken’s car and then drove up the gravel road next to Perry Stream, where we found a passable site for the night. Not great, but passable. We’d camped near a gorge and a long boulder garden on Perry Stream, so we grabbed our fishing gear the next morning and worked our way downriver. It’s a beautiful section the river, with a lightly used fisherman’s path, and fairly open woods so you can bushwhack downstream. I started at the gorge and worked my way about a 1/2 mile downstream, fishing every pool, rock, eddy line, pour over, run, and drop.
Nothing again! Ken and I didn’t even get a bite. Our north country fishing and bikepacking trip had been a bust. We threw in the towel and drove back south, rather than waste another day with so little to show for it. If there was one silver lining, it had been the gravel biking, which had been grand, but I suspect we were too aggressive to couple it with fly fishing and bikepacking on the same trip. I’m tempted to go back next time and base camp, while riding down different gravel roads by day to simplify things and cover a larger area.
While this trip was a dud, I’m not through with the North Country, fly fishing, bushwhacking, gravel riding, or bikepacking through it. There’s definitely huge potential there, but it’s going to take a lot more time to learn about the best areas to go. The next region I plan to explore is the Nash Stream Forest, which is farther south near, Stark and Lancaster. It still has that north country feel to it, but is a little more approachable because it’s not quite as remote. I have a feeling my north country project is going to take many, many trips to unfold, but that there is gold at the end of the rainbow.