Up and Around Spofford Lake

Westmoreland South Village/Spofford Lake; 11.5 miles; moderate. Total elevation gain: 720 feet. This is a ride with a perfect elevation profile — the downhill is endless.

A ring of “hill towns” surrounds the old glacial lakebed of Keene. While Keene rides are mostly flat, the hill town rides tend to all have at least one moderate climb, and they’re more scenic. They’re also cooler than down in the banana belt of Keene.

Head east, up and over Chesterfield Hill, and park at the Westmoreland General Store/Town Offices/Post Office complex in what’s referred to as South Village in Westmoreland. Route 63 passes through so it only rates about a five on the lost villages scale, but it sure is pretty. If you’re into jewel box town libraries, check out Westmoreland’s, just a couple hundred yards west on South Village Road.

Start your ride coasting slightly downhill going south on Route 63 about three-tenths of a mile. After you cross Partridge Brook, turn left, slightly uphill onto Spofford Road. You’ll do a couple of short climbs as you amble along with the stream on your right. After about a mile you emerge into an elegant lost valley, sweeping meadows on both sides of the road, and the pointy little peak of Mt. Pistareen as your northern star. That’s where you’re headed. You’ll cross a sparkly stream at mile 2.1 with a dip-able pool just on the right side of the road. If the moniker “Pleasant Valley” wasn’t already claimed, it would apply here.

The meadows soothe, the untrafficked road lilts along, and then you start the climb. We like rides that start off easy, work into the major climb during the first third to half of the distance and then level off and coast downhill in the later stages. This climb, up to Spofford Village, comes at exactly the right point in the ride. It’s stepped, so you get a couple of breaks; the architecture is classic and toward the top it narrows into a little glen along the boundary of Chesterfield Gorge State Geological Wayside. (Stop here later on Route 9 for a cool, surprising walk to this hemlock-shaded cleft.) The crux of this ride is the short, very steep pitch (15 percent+ grade!) into the village. Make sure to gear way down — it feels a bit like climbing a wall — but it’s over quickly. Or, take a left at the base of the steep section to take a slightly less taxing route up to South Shore Road.

Now, take a right onto South Shore Road (9A) and amble along through Spofford Village, past a couple of abandoned stores and mills, into summer vacation land. Conveniently located halfway between Keene and Brattleboro, Spofford Lake is chock-a-block cottaged all the way around — hardly an undeveloped lot. And though some of these summer homes have been glitzified and turned into year-round homes, many feel old-timey and cozy. And while not as pristine as Silver, Dublin and Nubanusit lakes to the east of Keene, this is a spring-fed lake that is delightfully swimmable. You’ll pass the public Ware’s Grove Beach on your right — it’s shallow and family friendly, though perhaps a bit crowded for some in these pandemic times.

As the main road bears uphill to merge onto Route 9, you’ll continue straight ahead, through cottage-land till South Shore Road ends. An obvious bit of single track continues straight ahead and plops you out on Route 9 for about 500 feet — just the right amount of time to make you happy you’re not a road biker with the big semis barreling down on you from behind. At the intersection, take a right on Route 63 and leave much of the traffic behind. Now you’re homeward bound. Saunter along the lake, the road clinging to the lakeshore, and speculate about which cottage would suit you best.

A half-mile past the end of the lake, you’re ready for dessert. Imperceptibly, the road starts to pitch slightly downhill, you accelerate and let go. The descent goes on and on and on. There’s a flat-ish spot in the middle, then you keep going downhill. And when you think it’s all over, you go down some more. But it’s never steep enough to require braking. Nothing monumentally scenic… mostly empty woods, a few houses, a few curves — all gravy. This was just repaved in August 2018, so take advantage of the velvet asphalt before the frost heaves resurface.

This ride fits into our category of M.C. Escher rides. You’ve seen those Escher graphics that somehow trick the eye so that water is flowing downhill in a circle. You know it’s physically impossible and you can’t figure out how he manages to create the illusion. Similarly, there are bike loops that seem like there’s way more downhill than uphill (which is impossible if you’re biking a loop, as they have to be the same).

As the wind is whistling through your helmet along this stretch from Spofford Lake back to Westmoreland’s South Village, you think, “Wow, this downhill goes on forever. Did we actually climb this much?”

At the bottom, you swoop out into meadows, pass your first turn and yes, there’s a smidgeon of uphill back into the village. But you’re so exhilarated that it’s only a bit of a bother. Pop into the store for something cool and bubbly to round out the ride.

For a digital map of this route, go to mapmyride.com/routes/view/1746263423.