June 18, 2005


Scenic roads are a canvass upon which riders and their motorcycles meld to become artists in motion. The art of the adventure is simply more beautiful when the canvass is alive in three dimensional color and form.

I recently chanced to cruise such a trail in the foothills of New Hampshire's White Mountains. It's called "The Chinook Trail," and I don't believe that I'd seen it since childhood, when my parents took us to the famous "Sandwich Fair" in my dad's 1955 Nash Rambler. We called the Rambler "The Soup Can" due to its bizarre resemblance in both shape and color to a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup. Yes, long before Andy Warhol was made famous by painting that ubiquitous tin can, my family drove around in it.

I used to think that my mother actually loved canned Tomato soup. Yet as I aged and had children of my own I grew to appreciate that parents oftentimes prepare that which they know will bring the fewest complaints from the pod of pickey palates. This lesson was later reaffirmed by the absolute absence of premade soups from my mother's kitchen once her kids had grown and abandoned the homestead.

The Chinook Trail is a gorgeous two-lane ribbon of tar running through the valleys between the towns of Wonalancet and Tamworth. It's official designation is Rte. 113A. It is best reached by traveling north from Lake Winnipesauke on Rte. 109, just to the east of the town of Moultonborough. You ride north through Sandwich, up to North Sandwich, and then north to Whiteface and on to Wonalancet. Along the way you will see ponds, mountains, fields, and old farmhouses that were once stately and magnificent. Now their glory is faded, but they were once quite prosperous.

Wonalancet was once home to the famous Dog Sled Man, Arthur Walden. Walden, though born and raised in New Hampshire, learned the value of hardy sled dogs while seeking his fortune during the Alaska Gold Rush. He discovered that the right cross-breading of sled dogs produced a great line of hard-working, cooperative, smart, and well natured creatures who would gladly pull thousands of pounds of freight across snow packed stretches with neither injury nor complaint.
He returned to Wonalancet, married the love of his life, and began breeding his dogs. He soon had the right mix, and he named his favorite dog "Chinook."

Chinook and his descendents gained world fame in both racing and freight hauling. Admiral Byrd was more than pleased to enlist Walden and his best friend, Chinook, for his renknowned Antarctic adventure, writing in his book:

"Had it not been for the dogs, our attempts to conquer the Antarctic by air must have ended in failure. On January 17th, Walden's single team of thirteen dogs moves 3,500 pounds of supplies from ship to base, a distance of 16 miles each trip, in two journeys. Walden's team was the backbone of our transport. Seeing him rush his heavy loads along the trail, outstripping the younger men, it was difficult to believe that he was an old man. He was 58 years old, but he had the determination and strength of youth."

Chinook was sadly lost in the Antarctic. News of the tragedy was reported around the world. Walden reported that Chinook, now old and tiring more easily, tried to awake him three times on the night of the dog's 12th birthday. Something was bothering him, and Walden each time patted him and told him everything was fine. When Walden awoke in the morning, however, Chinook was gone, never to be found. Perhaps he heard Buck and the call of the wild.

On Walden's return to New Hampshire he found his wife dying and half his farm sold off. The State had just completed one of its earliest highway projects, a road using the same trail between Wonalancet and Tamworth that had been run so many times by Chinook when just a wooded path. The Governor wanted to name it in honor of Walden. But Walden asked that the road instead be named in honor of his beloved companion, Chinook. It will thus forever be "The Chinook Trail."