We roll out from my driveway at ten to nine, into a chilly, clear morning alive with the promise of warm sun, long miles, and prodigious hills.
Across the river and through the center of Northampton, flat and leisurely, the town just stretching its limbs in the bright morning. Folks out for their morning cuppa and a paper, no real traffic to speak of. A left onto side roads after the center, and the road turns up for the first time, destined stay up for most of the next ten miles. Climbing through Williamsburg and Conway, neither of us very spritely, mostly riding in unaccustomed silence.
Up goes the temperature, down goes my speed, on we press through the most sustained of the climbing for the day. It's not the start I was hoping for; the hills are really slowing me down.
Crossing the line into Ashfield, we decide to stop for spiritual and physical refreshment at Chapel Brook Falls. Water plashes and pours down sculptured, rocky channels, forming intimate pools and then flowing downward again. We strip off shoes and socks, step into the shocking cold, our eyes bugging out and smiles beginning to appear. New England at its best.
My new go-to energy food, an almond butter and honey sandwich, and a little time in the moist, cool shade. We have to force ourselves up and onward.
We top out for the day on a perfect, tiny side road in tiny Ashfield, grappling with a brutal ramp of about 150 yards; I only make it by weaving from shoulder to shoulder. The view is worth it. Hills beyond hills, fading into the distance, farmland, forest, we could be in any of the most beautiful places. Vision is sharpened by the clear air and the hypoxia.
A long descent down into Conway. Speed is the ultimate energy food; my legs awaken, we pass the halfway mark, find a paceline rhythm. Things are looking up. This is a great ride.
Right turn on to Whately Road, the last stretch of extended climbing. The last time we were here, Todd rode away from me, as he always does on the hills. I'm feeling feisty; I decide to see if I can prevent that today.
Up we go, me pushing harder than I have this year. The legs respond, it's all there, coming together. Detailed inner dialog recedes, replaced by elemental commands: "If you're going to chase, chase; if not, sit up. There is no in-between." I chase, and love the chase. And love that the chase is succeeding. I count the seconds between when he and I reach a landmark. I shave five seconds off the total. Ten. This is my goal ride for the spring, there's nothing later to save up for; I feel good, so I go all in. I almost catch Todd at the agreed-upon spot for our second sandwich. I feel good; very good. Words spill from us, excited talk.
Down, down, down from the hills we descend, daredeviling the turns, chatting on the flats, hammering up the ramps. The back way through Northampton and to the bridge. On a busy commercial street, an inattentive driver nearly t-bones Todd; foolishly close to his rear wheel, I hit the brakes and feel my rear wheel fishtail. Deep breath. Everyone's unscathed, driver's gone, so we move on.
The bridge over the river. Day's heating up.
Last challenge of the day: The mile-plus hill right before home. We both dread it, and my legs start to threaten big cramps as we begin it. Todd pulls ahead, but I manage to find a rhythm and leg angle that allows me to avoid seizing up. Up we go, up-up-up, and before you know it, we're standing in the shade of my driveway, smiling and shaking our heads in disbelief at the quality of the experience we have just created with a combination of hard work, camaraderie, and focused intention. 51 miles, 3,000 feet.
A good day's work.