Sunday, December 30, 2012

Amherst Cross-country Skiing and a Winterized Salsa Vaya

I've been off work for a week or so, and as you may have heard, it's been a friggin' winter wonderland here in New England this past few days. I have indeed taken good advantage of this delightful combination of circumstances.

We got our first real snow in a year on Thursday night. Not much -- a few inches -- but it was enough to merit digging out the cross-country skis and head to our local hilly golf course. It was technically a weekday morning, and there were delightfully few others around. I parked on the shoulder, clicked in, and off I went. Once I climbed to the top of the hill, I discovered an extensive network of wooded trails off the back of the course, and amassed one-and-a-half hours poking around back there. Not bad for the season kick-off.

Friday, I spent part of the afternoon at my LBS -- Hampshire Bicycle Exchange -- chatting away with the good-natured staff and taking advantage of the off-season lull to commandeer some of their professional-grade tools. (Oh, joy!) I finally properly (re-)installed on the Vaya the fenders and rack I'd bought from them a couple weeks ago. Consequently, yesterday found me tooling around downtown Hadley on said bicycle, sporting my stylish new black Ortlieb pannier and running every errand I could think of to extend the ride. (Pix and reviews of all gear to come, in the new year.)

During a what-the-heck addition of a back road with a good view of the Holyokes, the next snow started dumping, and I made for home. 

I'm rediscovering the joys of winter riding, both through commuting to my new one-day-a-week private practice office, and going everywhere by bike this vacation. It's been the healthiest, happiest vacation I can remember.

That snow yesterday turned into three or four more inches overnight (oh, the joy of hearing the plows going by all night!) and I headed back to the golf course this morning to find out where those trails really led. Miles of woodsy tracks led me on and on, though I was out of food and the needle was on E. Postcardy tableaus of snow-laden pine branches against bright cobalt skies, and very few fellow travellers, once I really got out there. Two good hours of exploration and exertion, followed by an exemplary guten-free, aprés-ski grilled sandwich and hot java at Cushman Market, clomping around in my ski boots. 

Thence, homeward, fully sated.

How often I've said it, and yet I keep discovering it: The Pioneer Valley is an outdoor paradise. Get out there!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mineral Hills Winery Ride

Had a chance to ride this morning to a delightful Northampton coffee visit with dear friends in town from Minneapolis. We were singing the praises of the Pioneer Valley, and later in the day, I got a little taste of why it's such a special place.

Another, more local friend wasn't available until 3 pm, so I lunched at the incomparable Green Bean and then saddled up for a quick visit to the hills of Florence. Up Spring Street, left on Chesterfield, and then left on a new road for me -- Sylvester. Very pretty little hills, and good climbing, but I had to return to town soon; hot coffee and a good friend were calling. Spied a sign reading, "Mineral Hills Winery and honey products, .8 mi." and decided that would be a good turnaround point.

As I pulled up, I saw a big "Open" flag on the porch, so, out of neighborly curiosity, I lifted my bike against a post so that I might see what was what inside. A man came hustling out of the fields to the right of the building and introduced himself as Larry Godard, co-owner of the place. Did I want to be shown around? When a guy as transparently nice as Larry asks to show you around his winery, there's only one right answer.

They've been there since '84, he said, and have grown from apples into bee-keeping and, most recently, wine-making -- very successfully, it seems. They're carried by many of the nicer local stores, and the only marketing so far has been word-of-mouth. The facility includes a pleasant store in front, and then the working portion of the farm in back:

Vats for making the wine

Casks for storing and aging

Out back, the farm runs to the ridgeline -- plenty of room for grapes, apples, and bees 

Mineral Hills, he explained, grows varieties of grapes suited to harsh New England weather (so different from the weather in the famous French regions where wine is made). Larry solicits new ideas from  universities throughout the States working on that niche of the agricultural arena. To round things out, he's making mead (wine from honey), which is another sleeper industry here in the Valley, and even apple wine -- an old-fashioned libation if ever there was one.

Wine tastings run Friday through Sunday, but December marks the end of the season, so go soon if you're interested. For lots more pictures, details on where to buy their product, and so on, swing by their Web site.

Get on a bike; tool around, and take a new road. In the Pioneer Valley, you'll almost always find something to delight you.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Season of Lights

Since buying a pretty serious headlight and a very strong blinkie a month ago, I've been enjoying the heck out of night-time rides for the first time ever. There's always something new in cycling; you just have to dig around. More on that later.

For the non, just a note to say that I used the lights to do a dusk ride tonight after it dusted snow all day. A good day, cleaning house, doing some desk work, a nap, then a trip with Mrs. V to pick out a small Christmas tree at the tree farm half a mile down the road. Then, saddled up the Vaya (but forgot the clip-on fender -- d'oh!) and did some grass, farm field, and road riding, with a bunch of hills thrown in to wake up the legs, which are growing sleepy with winter ponderosity.

I stopped at the most photogenic house in the neighborhood to capture a dusky snapshot as a gift to you, dear reder. Here's a toast to the season of lights -- all kinds of lights.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

From Dam to Dam

Got out on Thanksgiving for a quick re-build ride -- I'd been sick most of the week before, and was still getting back into shape. Because I was due to help out with the house before guests arrived, I did a quick 18 miles over one of the most persistently steep hills in the neighborhood -- Gulf Road, in Belchertown. One of my favorite climbs, with a lovely brook burbling beside it almost the whole way up.  A nature preserve rewards me at the top: Scarborough Brook, brought to us by those excellent folks at Kestrel Land Trust. If you live near the Pioneer Valley, please consider helping them; they help ensure that the area stays beautiful and natural.

Scarborough Brook preserve from road

Further inspection revealed an impressive beaver dam and pond:

Beaver leftovers

Beaver works

Yesterday, a longer jaunt down to a human-made dam, on the Quabbin Reservoir:

Local towns were razed and flooded in the 1930s to produce a scenic,  functional reservoir 

The big hill in the middle is the one the loop climbs 

Someone was dissatisfied with the service for the port-a-potty at the top
View from the top, as sunset approacheth

Steel, water, earth, sky

I try to be thankful all the time, not just on Thanksgiving, but it's hard to avoid a special rush of grattitude this weekend for the beautiful place in which we live. It's some of the best riding I've done anywhere.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Carpe Turkey

The sun is a fat orange ball of promise, sitting on the horizon line, visible right through the trees. It's 30 degrees, I have a closet-full of wool, two bikes to choose from, and a marvelous spouse sleeping peacefully while I breakfast and plan a route.

I sure am thankful.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jamis Quest: The Power of Comfort

I've owned my Jamis Quest for about seven months now, a full cycling season -- if you don't count the full season that is late fall, winter, and early spring. Love 'em all, I do, but seven months has given me some perspective on the ups and downs of the Quest. Bottom line, I think this is an under-recognized bicycle, and I'm going to tell you why.

Before the Quest, my main paved-road bike was a 2007 Cannondale CAAD 8, a very light, very responsive bicycle with geometry that stretched me too far out to reach handlebars that were too low, even with the stem pointing upward. Riding that aluminum razor blade, I was the fastest I'll probably ever be on a bike, and the handling was hair-trigger responsive, but the price in stiff back and neck were too high. 

I wanted to explore the proposition that I would ride better, longer, and more often on a comfortable bike. My search for an affordable, high quality ride that left me fresh after 50 miles led me to  Hampshire Bicycle Exchange, local purveyors of gently used and sensible but well-made new bikes. I shop there as frequently as possible; co-owner Chris is a true man of the people re: all things two-wheeled. It was he who recommended the Quest.

2011 Jamis Quest Femme 
Just looking at the photo, you can see that the head tube is unusually tall, and leaving the stem at a positive 6 degrees only adds to the height of the bars -- all to the good. The standard Quest also has a "square" geometry (a top tube equal in length to the seat tube's height), and therefore a relatively short reach. However, Chris recommended that I opt for the Quest Femme (which, fortunately, is differentiated only by a dashing red paint job) because the top tube is even shorter --one centimeter shy of the men's version. The resulting 53 cm top tube creates a near-replica of the cockpit of my Salsa Vaya, to date the most comfortable bike I've ridden (but not suited to long paved-road rides in the hills).

The idea of steel appealed to me; I'd owned the Vaya for nearly a year and the feel of its steel frame reminded me of some of the best rides I'd done as a shaver back in the hoary '80s. Steel has flaws, without a doubt (as does every material) but the first few pedal strokes on the Quest's worthy 631 Reynolds steel always make me feel like I'm home. For me, that settles the question of the rightness of any bike.

*     *     *

Over the course of the season, I put the comfort proposition to the test, and it proved true.

As the months passed, I found that the more relaxed fit gave me permission to ride at my own pace. I am a recovering faux-racer; for my first few years on the bike, all rides, even solo ones, were races or served some unattainable, serious training purpose. This season, the Quest and I took the time to sit up and soak in the scenery. This led to a series of rides on which my average speed was glacial, but the pleasure factor was very high. 

In a kind twist, those long, slow rides in the hottest months of the summer led to greatly increased strength and endurance in the fall. Usually I start tapering off distance and intensity in September; this year, that hasn't happened. I'm feeling strong and eager to go here in mid-November. Simply put: Increased comfort --> longer, more challenging rides --> greater fitness. I've even lost more weight over the summer than I usually do. 

This explains how the Quest, a heavier, more relaxed bike than I was used to, got "faster" over time. Proposition proved -- to my satisfaction, at least.

I've been running the Vittoria Zaffiro Pro 700 x 25 tires that came with the bike; they're not bad, stickier than I expected and reasonably well-planted in the corners, and no flats this year. I'll soon be upgrading to some 700 x 28s, and am leaning toward the Panaracer (née Rivendell) Roll-y Pol-ys. I've been doing lots of reading about the return to the randonneur and sport-touring-style bikes of decades past, and I like the ideas; they seem to me extensions of my theory about the long-term benefits of comfort. One of those ideas is using fat, comfortable tires made with the same high-quality, low-weight materials that finer road racing tires feature. (For more on these ideas, see Rivendell's site, or go to Lovely Bike.)

The Quest handles surprisingly nimbly for what the marketeers these days are calling an "endurance geometry" bike. Now that the Porsche-like handling of the CAAD 8 has faded from muscle-memory, I find it surprisingly easy (given the weight, frame material, and wheel base) to change my line. One thing the Quest won't do is dive into corners; you could profitably undertake a long, competitive group ride on this bike, but you can rule it out for your local Thursday-night criterium. 

Surprisingly, though, that conservative quality does not translate to rock-solid straight lines. Removing a jacket while riding hands-free works fine on the Quest at speed, but at lower speeds, the front end has a tendency toward wobble that disallows hands-free riding. On the other hand, in high-speed descents, when I grip the front of the bends so as to have a finger on each brake lever, a  shimmy evolves that can be disconcerting.

Another flaw: Looking backward over one's shoulder leads all-too-quickly to the sphincter-tightening realization that one is in the middle of the road, and has no idea how one got there so suddenly. On a bike of this weight and comfort level, I expect better tracking. 

Even with the extra weight of steel, I rather like climbing hills on the Quest; its 30-tooth small-ringed triple has allowed me a cadence I can sustain for the five or six-mile, 6-to-10-per-cent grinds around here. I had a much studlier SRAM Rival 50/34 compact double on the CAAD -- an excellent crankset for the price, but just not low enough gearing for my knees. Note that the Quest is available with the SRAM double). 

Though it is much easier on my neck and shoulders than previous bikes, I still end long rides with stiffness. I'm still working on this problem, which might be remedied by a shorter, steeper stem than the 100 mm/6 degree number that comes stock. I've already replaced the stock Ritchey Biomax handlebars with Salsa's Pro Road 2 bars. These have a smooth, old-fashioned curve with no ill-fitting "ergonomic" bends in the drops, and no befuddling back-sweep like the Ritcheys (a shape I could never understand for handlebars). The Pro Roads have a deep drop which I figured would offset the height I plan to get the bars to, eventually; the large drop will hopefully create the option of a dramatically more aerodynamic position for the famed Pioneer Valley headwinds, or for long chases. I got the bars in a spacious 44 cm width, to see if opening my chest in the more common on-the-hoods position might relieve some of the neck pain, too. I'd say this worked, but results are mixed; the feel good up top, but I have a little too much lateral leverage on the bars sometimes, which might explain some of the high-speed shimmy in the drops. 

Salsa Pro Road 2 bars
*     *     *

In all, I like the Quest very much. It rides enjoyably, and I can ride it longer. It's also very pretty -- and we all know that's at the top of the list of priorities. It features a smooth-shifting drivetrain, with an Ultegra rear derailleur and a 105 front -- good spec for a $1,700 MSRP item (often available for much less). The Mavic Aksium rims strike a good balance between lightness and durability.

In the larger picture, this bike has allowed me to confirm early thoughts about the benefits of comfort. I plan to continue trying to make the Quest even more comfortable, but I suspect that, as usual, I'll reach a point of diminishing returns, and will choose a new bike to follow through on new ideas. 

In the meantime, you'll see me out there Questing. Be sure to say hi!

Note: Now read the review update, posted half a year later.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

Despite a beautiful morning of chilly temps and (finally!) clear skies yesterday, it was clear before many miles had elapsed that the legs were just not answering the call. Even a stop for a bit of tasty joe to jump-start the neurons didn't do the trick.

I climbed Cave Hill Road in Leverett, the first real ascent I had planned. At the top, I was knackered, so I decided to toss the route for the day and do a long-awaited detour. Right at the apex of the hill, there's a sign for the New England Peace Pagoda, a widely-known worship site for Buddhists and seekers around the country. I'd topped this hill so many times, but never ventured off the road and up the steep trail to the very tippy-top, where devotees have created, I discovered, a small paradise.

The pagoda peeks through the trees on the trail

It's size and sparkling facade make a strong impression 

Walking around back reveals niches in which the Buddha does his thing...

...which seems to include taking a nap. Now there's a path I can get with!

Prayer flags snap in the wind everywhere on the idyllic grounds

A peaceful rock garden has patterns raked into the white pebbles

Many paths, one goal. I often travel my path by bicycle.

After snapping the photo above, I sat to do a bit of meditation in the warm sun. About five minutes in, just as my nervous system was hitting the peace groove, I heard a loud crash and opened my eyes to see my bike blown over by the wind (or a trickster deity; I'm still not sure). I had to bust out the multi-tool and do some surgery on the rear derailleur right there by the rock garden. I tried to work as meditatively as I could. 

I think the lesson was something along the lines of, "Mindfulness includes propping up your bike carefully, Grasshopper."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Steel, Rubber and Muscle

Just before I rolled out of the garage yesterday, geared up for a rugged ride up a long, steep dirt road, I said to Mrs. V, "I'm off to do what I want to do. Nothing to do with invoices, leases, clients expecting miracles from me, clients expecting the worst from me, commitments, or forms. Just steel, rubber and muscle."

The simple and elemental nature of biking is often a efficacious remedy for quotidian woes.

It's been a busy couple of weeks, filled with sleepless nights, anxiety, and not a little excitement. I'm taking the next step in establishing my private therapy practice, and, on Wednesday, I signed a lease for a one-day-a-week rental in a lovely, expensive office space. The countless ramifications of this step have been rattling around my brain like steel bearings in a thermos bottle, day and night.

Yesterday's ride was balm to the soul. Long dirt-road foray. Beautiful fall colors. Cushy tires on the Vaya to absorb the endless end-of-season washboarding. I returned a new man.

No pix yesterday; phone was recharging. Kind of nice to be forced to attend directly to the beauty, instead of "capturing" it and thinking, I can enjoy that later.

Instead of illustrations of yesterday's jaunt, I offer these random shots of our lovely farm-centric river valley. With Hurricane Sandy on the way, who knows what these fields will look like in a couple days? The hazards of tilling a rich-soiled flood plain. 

If the flooding isn't too bad, perhaps we also won't lose power for days, like we did in last year's Halloween storm. Wish us luck!

Hadley tree farm, and the Holyokes beyond

 Lovely dirt roads run through the alluringly
named, and oft-flooded, Honeypot neighborhood of Hadley

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fall Treasure in Whately and Conway

A very fine day in the Valley yesterday, one of those that used to get called "indian summer." (Though I'm sure that if I didn't enclose that in quotes, the lunatic-fringe PC warriors from Amherst would firebomb my house. PC folks are so tolerant; they believe you should be and do anything you want, as long as it's just like them.)

Over the river and through the woods, to the funky houses I went today. Folks around here love to 'spress themselves (to paraphrase the Isley Brothers), including and especially in their front yard. This is the upside of living in an alternative-style community: bike riding is like a treasure hunt or gallery walk.

As I climbed out of Northampton on North Farms Road, I caught sight of this familiar fence: 

But then also noticed, for the first time, smaller sculptures on the rock wall in the front:

Further on up the road (I'm going to quit quoting songs sometime soon, here), I turned left onto  Masterson Road in Whately, and visited a sculpture I've taken to calling the Strawberry Queen. She is all carved out of one tree, if you can believe it:

Would a quote from Strawberry Fields go amiss here? Or perhaps from Strawberry Alarm Clock?

The Queen looks as if she's paused, enraptured, in the middle of a royal strawberry gesture (notice the smaller berry in her hand, which she's maybe about to confer on a fruity knight); if you turn around, you can understand why she's eternally distracted:

You can also see how far above the tree-tops I've climbed. There was more to come, some absurdly steep ramps of,  I would guess, about 17 percent grade. The rewards, however, become manifest at the top of Masterson -- a unque view of the Valley, all the way across the Connecticut River and into the Pelham hills, about 15 miles away. How 'bout those fall colors, folks?

The gorgeousity put me in a mood to ramble, so I poked around further uphill. Finally, at the tippy-top of Whately, I discovered a majestic old barn, lately renovated for some mysterious purpose, whether business or residential, who can say (the Strawberry Queen's castle?) but just look at the handsome results:

Riding is never more rewarding than it is at this time of year in Western Mass. If you're out this way, give a shout and we'll ramble together.

Friday, October 12, 2012

You did NOT!

Everytime I think I'm getting bored with the same old road bike, I get reminded: Think different.

If your jaw doesn't drop the first time you see this, I don't know how to help you.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Shelburne Falls: A Fitting End

For a couple years, I've had the goal of riding from our house on the right bank of the Connecticut over the river and way up into Shelburne Falls, in the foothills of the Berkshire range. That idyllic little hamlet is only 25 miles away by back road, but they're some of the most beautiful -- and steep -- miles I know 'round this amazing place called the Pioneer Valley.

A couple weeks ago, I fixed my mind on this quest, and I planned it for Columbus Day weekend, which is when I like to do a wing-ding season closer: long, hard, and with killer views of peak autumnal hues. In this case, I talked my friend Todd into joining me in riding up into Shelburne Falls, where our wives and his daughter would drive up to meet us. We'd all have lunch together, soak in the seasonal colors, and then he and I would ride back home via the route by which we came.

As it turned out, the day was everything I'd hoped for -- and then some. Care to come along and re-live it with me? It's a good tale, this one, and it takes a bit to tell it; you may want to wait 'til you have a cup of coffee and ten minutes to spare.

I started from my place in the chilly, grey morning, and picked Todd up in Sunderland, where we crossed the river and warmed up on the respectable grades of Route 116 leading to Conway.

From there, we took a right on Shelburne Falls Road. A few rolling miles later, the climbing began in earnest, with daunting grades, but delicious brooks running through the forest by the road to keep us refreshed and eager.

As we approached the border of Buckland (the town that makes up well over half of what is locally called Shelburne Falls), the skies cleared, the view opened up nicely, and our hearts soared:

We also spied Quirky New England as we entered town:

We reached McCusker's Market on Conway Street, and waited in the warm sun for the ladies, while the fellow at the next table bragged into his cell phone about being out for a ride in his Corvette, and took a long line of bets on football games. The gals arrived with lunch, which we tore into. Provisions were refreshed at the store, ice cream cones were purchased next door, and we wandered over the Deerfield River via the Bridge of Flowers, a former railroad trestle converted to a charming floral landmark thousands visit every year:

We introduced Todd's family to the waterfall and sculptural glacial potholes on the other side of the river:

Around this time, Todd and I noticed dark clouds moving in, and decided it was time to take our leave. About 300 feet out of town, the derailleur trouble I'd been having all morning blossomed into a full-on drivetrain melt-down. Todd patiently helped me by the side of the road, while storm clouds gathered and winds picked up. As the trouble persisted, he turned a politely deaf ear to my fulminations and conspiracy theories. Finally, I wangled five (mostly) useable gears out of the deal -- unfortunately not including my lowest, which I would have loved to use for climbing the many hills we had flown down during our generally upward ride into town.

Onward we moved, and down came the rain. We donned jacket or vest, bowed our heads, and soldiered on through wind and wet. Each time we passed scenery that had wowed us earlier in the day, it brought into sharp relief the difference between our current mood and the way we felt when we'd first passed that way. 

However, I am something of a bike-duck. I actually like riding in the rain, as long as it's not pouring. The worst of the downpour was brief, and my mood picked up even more as it became apparent I would have enough cooperation from the gear gods to make it all the way home. A long, fast descent toward Conway further boosted my spirits, but little did I know what felicitous fun would finish the cheering up, once we reached that cozy burg: Morris dancers!

This delightful tradition from Olde England is practiced by many a geek from Newer England these days. I knew what they were doing long before they came into focus, because I could hear the merry ching-ching-chinging of the pad of bells wrapped 'round each dancer's shins, and the sound of an ancient tune honking out on an old concertina (a small accordion-like instrument). Then, of course, there are the group shouts, joined by each dancer with full-throated vigor.

Todd, who'd never been exposed to such unrepentant nerdery before, seem somewhat transfixed; a goggle-eyed combination of shock and fascination played across his features. When the tune was done, everyone, including us, roared approval. The rain had lightened but was not altogether gone, and I turned to Todd, saying, "If they can do that in the rain, we have no excuses."

Onward and downward, and across the Connecticut. I dropped him off at his place with many a "well done" exchanged, and soft-pedaled my way home through the gentle rain, taking the long way home to enjoy the back roads and the chance at lingering, once more, in the genuinely great outdoors, on a bicycle, and for the last big hurrah of the season.

As I neared home, I caught sight of an odd shape atop a fence post in my peripheral vision. Turning to see, I was pierced to the core by the fierce stare of an imposing red-tailed hawk. He was not more than nine feet away, perching proud and utterly unafraid.

Thunderstruck, I circled around slowly and approached him again, and, as I did, he gracefully lifted off and winged into the middle distance. It tooke me a few moments to digest what had just happened. The residual feeling was unmistakeable: I'd been given a visit by a totem animal, to remind me of something so important, it can't be conveyed by words, but only by that riveting gaze.

From uplifting camaraderie to a tough solo finish, from warm sun and unmatched scenery to soul-testing slogs through the rain with a semi-functioning bike, this ride included an instance of every reason I ever climb on a bike. The hawk, though... that was grace, a punctuation mark, both fierce exclamation point and and consciousness-raising comma.

May your rides these days be as rewarding. Here's a tip: Go out looking for good stuff and you'll be more likely find it.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

East Chestnut Hill

Thirty-six miles, twenty-five hundred feet of climbing. I wouldn't have thought too much of a ride of this difficulty a few years ago, but things have gotten busy in Velophoriaville, and I was delighted today to have the legs and time to be able to enjoy the whole thing.

Started with a lot of steady climbing, including the legendary 4.5 mile climb up Shutesbury Road from North Amherst, where I discovered a lovely bridge and brook on a tiny side road.

This is what you miss when you're doing 30 or 40 mph, my typical speed on this hill -- going down (gravity is my performance enhancing drug). Shutesbury Road is often called the S-Curves by cognoscenti, and descending it is more fun than downhill skiing. The local masochists gazelles also like to time-trial up this puppy; I say, goody for them. It nearly finished me the last time I tried it. I took it steady today and felt good at the top, where I took a quick stretch break in front of a Shutesbury church that's nearly 200 years old.

On to Lake Wyola and a left down North Leverett Road. Then, a twist: A turn up East Chestnut Hill Road in Leverett, where I've never ridden before, mainly because the map says, "There be nasty grades there," some up to 15%. Yes, they were redonculusly steep, but the rewards equaled the effort. It was picture-book perfect up there, tiny ancient farmhouses tucked into near-vertical hillsides, the woods thick all around, riding slowly through swirls of tiny golden leaves drifting to the ground. Then, sudden mountain meadow vistas, with nothing but brilliantly-dressed peaks intimately looming. This, friends, was a highly concentrated dose of what I go out on rides looking for.

From there, it was all descending (at first, down white-knuckle grades), eating lunch, and plowing on home.

Occasionally, I get antsy to see distant, picturesque places. I've been living in New England for 15 years as of this month, and sometimes the initial wonder is missing. But while slow-pedaling through the wonderland up East Chestnut Hill this afternoon, there was no place on earth I'd rather have been.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

I Raced the Sun

Muted orange, blaze of red
amid the summer green
Could any Monet or Seurat
compare to what I've seen

On an early morning ride
in sun-streaked chilly mist?
The siren song of dawn I found
too potent to resist

Forgive this tantalizing scrap,
If not enough to sate
I raced the sun to coffee-time
And now I'm running late

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I Spy

Sighted on morning run, 7:30 a.m.:

Steam rising from a black mailbox warming in the morning sun.

An angry-happy dog -- angrily barking before I petted him, happy during, and angry again after.

Sun slanting through the pockets of morning mist gathered in the bottoms of nearby hills.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Seven Towns

It's been a while since I posted a good old-fashioned ride report, partly because, after four years of blogging and following blogs, I've begun to realize a sobering fact: Ride reports are boring to all except those who rode. They all look alike; "I struggled here; I flew down that hill; took a picture of such and such perfect view."

I don't care, and the reason I don't care is that yesterday was such a superior day and ride, I just have to tell you about it. Bore-warned is bore-armed.

Temps in the 60s, bone-dry air, and spotless deep-blue sky greeted me as I wheeled out of the garage. All the angst and delay of the morning washed away in about three minutes. I set out immediately for the longest sustained climb in my neighborhood to start the day, which included four miles in which I gained 1,000 feet of altitude. What with a crazy-busy summer and early fall, I am a little out of shape, so I selected this crucible to get the worst of the climbing out of the way. Often, the rest of the ride, no matter how long, is euphoric once I know I'm done with the worst of the suffering.

It worked out just that way. I rode east from Amherst, up and up til I reached Pelham, refusing to unclip til I reached Route 202, the end of the climb. The worst part of this road isn't the grades, it's the absurd condition of the road. Hoiking myself up a steep ramp after 25 minutes of hard labor is bad enough; being battered while doing it only adds insult to injury.

I took a stretching break in the lee of the Pelham Town Hall and Museum.

Back in the saddle. Onward and upward on Shutesbury Road, where I ran across some equine friends taking repast in an idyllic field. The new, low angle of the sun made every familiar sight crisp and new:

It was chilly in the shade, just toasty enough in the sun -- a perfect day for a long ride:

From Shutesbury Center, I continued to Lake Wyola, passing an old-school pumpkin stand along the way:

Hung a left at Wyola and the road turned downhill -- finally -- catching up to and chatting with a local rider out taking advantage, just like me. Lunch at my favorite break place, the front lawn of the Leverett Co-op:

Stuffed myself with a large sandwich I'd toted up that whole climb (because few businesses even in Massachusetts sell wheat-free sandwiches). Planned it right this week -- climb first, then eat, then descend while digesting. I digested my way down to Route 63, then turned north for the Montague Bookmill -- "Books you don't need in a place you can't find" is their inimitable tagline -- which was jammed to overflowing with happy cafe-goers and readers out in the gentle sun:

... and piled high at indoor tables overlooking the splashing, chuckling river below:

A forest of bicycles were leaned against every available surface. I filled my water bottles in one of their unique bathrooms:

Saddled up, took a left on Meadow Street, a new road to me, and this is the point where the Velophoria set in. The first stretch of Meadow is the prettiest little two miles I may have seen in this beautiful valley of ours; my head was swiveling all over the place and I was high as a kite on the rural beauty. I took no pictures, because no pictures would capture the Intimate New England Perfection: the angles of light, the intimation of hills in the distance, the whiff of magic in the air. We locals are aware that the rest of the world comes to where we live in order to experience the very best of autumn.

Meadow Street eventually becomes Falls Road, and it's apparent why, and also apparent why it's a cycling destination for many in the Valley:

Thence, on down the river via side roads, to avoid Route 47 and its mid-day cars. Here, at last, fatigue began to settle on me like a heavy blanket. Food was no longer fueling me, position changes no longer relieved the aches and pains. Eight or nine miles of this is more than enough, though we've all endured our share for much longer. But even discomfort could not dampen my spirits this day. I pulled back into the garage all aglow with good health and good cheer, regretting not having tacked on the extra mile and 250 feet I'd been considering. Ah well -- next time. For today, 41 miles and 2,200 feet.

Get out there, northerners -- fall is brief!