Saturday, I felt good. I'd slept two complete nights in a row -- like manna from heaven these days. I just had to go spend my new-found energy.
I cooked up a mostly-gravel ride for my Salsa Vaya; there were some roads I'd learned of from reading the route maps of an infamous annual late-winter ride in these parts, called Cushman-Roubaix. I strung them together with some of the other gravel I've found in recent months, and voila! 37 miles, almost half of it unpave'. Much of that was very vertical, and therein lay the rub; before long, I found myself humping up a 14% sandy grade. There was lots more like that over there in Pelham, and, after an hour of such labors, I was inspired to name the route, "The Tenderizer." The first 40% will definitely soften you up.
The overall ride, however, was so rewarding that the town of Pelham was fully forgiven for dressing its most ridiculous grades in a costume of loose sand and rock. (It seems like most towns do that out here, and it's baffling; wouldn't steep roads be easier to maintain if they were paved?) Even on the uphills, I had the feeling I was riding on singletrack, so close, deep and verdant were the woods:
Brooks babbled and burbled through lush roadsides:
I passed a neatly coiffed and perfectly-set house, surrounded by natural beauty...
A closer look revealed a 6-foot-high burger boy ready to serve rowers on the pond...
Mists enshrouded fertile hillsides...
And a friend was readily made in an upland pasture.
That was just during the climbing. I was moving too fast to get any shots of the long, exhilarating descent from Shutesbury Center to North Leverett Road and the Leverett Co-op, my frequent lunch stop. I can't recommend Montague Road highly enough, a lengthy, snaking bobsled ride that occassionally found little whoops of joy escaping my lips as my rear wheel did small fishtails around bends. From the Co-op (after a quick field repair of my rear derailluer) came another great gravelly descent, down Hemenway Road all the way to Route 63.
I am loving graveling more and more. Paved roads around here mostly have surfaces chopped up by other weather-related damage. That chop will slow you down and jounce you without remorse -- it's effect is wearing, interfering, annoying. Gravel, on the other hand, while also quite irregular, feels more like texture. It forgives, it lets me lose traction for an exciting moment or two (and I've come to love rather than fear that moment), it keeps me on alert.
Most of all, it feels real.
These roads are made of stuff you can find on a walk in the woods. They have the same surface our cycling ancestors pioneered the sport on -- first on bone-rattling, precarious high-wheelers, later on the relatively sporty, 28-pound safety bike. They completed the first centuries and cross-country tours on those beastly machines, on roads just like these (maybe worse) probably in times I couldn't beat on silkiest tarmac. They competed in the first stage races, grinding themselves to a filthy pulp day and night for weeks. They were hard, hard people.
But I think they also knew, more deeply than we hard-paved roadies, forever seeking the smoothest, slickest ride, that dirt equals fun. Why do you think folks who ride the looser surfaces almost always post a shot or two of their grubby bikes and splattered legs?
Dirt equals fun. Go ride some.