Journeying to Nashua, New Hampshire

How does one get from Boston, MA to Nashua, NH and back? You drive, of course. But how do you advice people who do not wish to drive, for whatever reason(s)?

This isn't just any hypothetical question that warrants a scornful look of disdain and a wave of the hand. I was recently placed in exactly this situation.

I have a car now. But in the not-so-distant past, I was rolling in the luxury of not having one: if you live in a transit-friendly city such as Boston, the many hassles of car ownership significantly outstrip the few benefits. What bliss! No endless searches for parking spots; no worries about traffic and gridlock; shooting gas prices? Too bad... I'll just hop a train or simply walk.

Until you have to get to Nashua and back, that is. A heated week of threading the web for commuter options revealed a startling truth: there was no easy way of getting to Nashua by 11:00 AM (which was a hard deadline). Worse still, the options were not even concretely documented!

If we had wanted to make this trip a few months earlier, life would have been simple. We would have made our way to Logan airport, jumped on a half-hourly shuttle bus, lost about $20 each, and been in Nashua in something short of a couple of hours.

But now, there were no shuttle buses. They existed only on outdated websites, proudly proclaiming their non-existent services, their contact phone numbers conveniently connecting to bio-tech firms way out in the middle of nowhere. Service cuts had been drastic, we were told. There was now a solitary bus that left Boston around 1:30 PM and stoped briefly at Nashua well into the twilight hours of the day. Not good enough for a 11:00 AM appointment, I am sure you will agree.

So here is what we did, and the adventure might well be of use to others in a similar predicament.

Step 1: Take the subway to Boston's North Station, one of the train stations with commuter rail service to the suburbs. Cost: $1.25 one-way. Travel time: about 20 minutes.

Step 2: Get to the commuter rail station. Now this is easier said that done. Surfacing from the underground subway station, you see a bizarre set of signs "guiding" you to the commuter rail terminals. One even "informs" you that your target destination is just across the street! Six years in Boston, and I was at a complete loss! Precious minutes were lost in the process of locating the blasted station, but we did so eventually (more by chance than anything else). It was conveniently hidden inside the Fleet Center, on Nashua Street (now how did they name that street after our final destination city?!!).

Step 3: Get tickets to Lowell, MA and board the commuter train. We did this easily enough. $5.25 one-way. The train departed minutes after we jumped on board. Talk about cutting it close!

Step 4: Get out at Lowell, and hunt for the LRTA (Lowell Regional Transit Authority) bus to Ayotte's Market in Hudson, NH. We saw an LRTA bus outside, but its destination was downtown Lowell. The desk labelled "tickets to bus and rail" was completely scary (as much as a desk by itself can be scary). We were told that there was only one bus to Hudson, and it left hours later! LRTA? what was that?!!

The driver of the Downtown Lowell LRTA bus was more helpful (and very friendly). We had to take his bus into Lowell, and catch another LRTA bus to Ayotte's Market! OK, we were making progress. Cost of shuttle: $0.30.

Step 5: Wait for the LRTA bus going from downtown Lowell to Dracut/Tyngsborough. The schedule indicated a wait of about an hour. We walked around Downtown, which was really quaint and populated by extremely friendly people. Cost: $1.50 one-way. When we got on the bus, we found that the driver and everybody else on the bus knew each other by name!

Everything was rosy, until we reached Ayotte's Market. This was located in Hudson, NH, just across the border from Massachusetts. We learnt that Ayotte's serves as the stateline that demarcates the two states. Our plan was to hire a cab from this location to Nashua, a distance of about 11 miles. Our bus driver had no idea about what to do to get a cab here. Our only solution was to hope for a miracle from the employees of Smokin' Joe, the market that stocked tax-free liquor and cigarettes for the out-of-staters who drove all the way across the border for cheap merchandise. New Hampshire's state motto (evident on all their vehicle license plates) is "Live free or Die". This was the place to head for products that were heavily taxed in other parts of the world.

Smokin' Joe's employees were very helpful in hunting down a cab number for us. This cab company happened to be in Nashua, so the cab would have to travel some 10 miles to get to us. While we waited, a helpful school bus driver offered to get us to Nashua for $10. The cab was nowhere to be found, and the clock was ticking towards 11:00, so we jumped into the bus. The only hitch was: the well-meaning gentleman had no clue about the route to our destination!

While we were discussing the best strategy, our cab pulled up. We promptly (and apologetically) deserted the school bus for a surer way to get to Nashua, only to discover that the cab driver was not much better with the routes!

Cab drivers are powerful people, however. They are wired directly into their headquarters. A short exchange over the radio, and we were on our way. The only question now was: how much does a 11-mile cab ride cost in New Hampshire? Was my bank account going to live free, or die? A cab to the airport in Boston, a mere 3 miles away, is about $30.

I asked the dreaded question. And sure enough, I was greeted with "I hate to tell you this, but...".

Oh-oh. Here it comes.

"... it is going to cost you $18.50".

Somebody pinch me! Is this for real? I had to ask. "Did you just say $18.50?"

"Yes, unfortunately, it is true."

"So it really is 'Live free or die' out here!"

To cut a long story (and ride) short, we got off at 11:15. Not bad, given the complete anarchy dogging this trip from beginning to (almost the) end.

We now know what to do if we ever have to make this trip again (hint: get a car!). And it isn't as bad as all these steps make it look like. You stay away from the highways all the way. You get to see the backroads and meet all the nice people. And you can doze off without worrying about veering off the road or into the cars around you.

Next time, we will hopefully be relaxed enough to take some pictures!

Last Updated 10th December 2005