Last fall I linked three branches of the Rockingham rail trail together to form a big loop. I might have said I wouldn't do it again, as a 12 mile section of it is ATV churned up sand. You have to be in a special state of mind to slog through something like that, a similar state of mind as trudging through snow on a mountain bike. I figured with all the recent rain, the sand wouldn't be too loose. So I decided to do this 50+ mile loop again, this time in reverse to get the sandy business done first. Trail head parking is close by in an adjacent town.
Legend: GREEN=dirt rail trail, RED=paved road,
MAGENTA=paved rail trail
I used my trusty Dean hardtail. There were quite a few ATVs out on the Freemont Branch between Windham and Epping. 14 miles of this 18 mile section is open to ATVs. The surface was very soft, but not too squirrely. It required focus to maintain 12-13mph without going too hard or too easy. Once past the ATV section, ATV churn turned into horse churn. Not sure what I liked least - soft but smooth sand or firm but pock-marked gravel.
In Epping, the Portsmouth Branch is taken to Manchester. I have ridden this rail trail many times, often on a cross bike. It is closed to ATVs and many of the trouble areas have been dramatically improved over the last couple years. There was good return on calorie investment on this section.
Upon hitting Manchester, several miles of paved road are used to connect with the Manchester to Lawrence Branch rail trail. A portion of this rail trail is paved through Derry. The last section coming into Windham is dirt.
I completed the 51mi loop in 3.75 hours, much faster than last fall when I rode this loop. It was a nice Zone 2 workout for a chilly, misty day. Most of the rail trail drains well, but bike still got pretty messy. About 42 miles of this 51 mile loop is unpaved. I would not recommend <2" wide tires for it. I might do this loop again sometime, but only during another wet spells.