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!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What's Good

This is what is good in life: Spending hours on the Internet when I should be working, wending my way through oceans of flotsam, to finally find the one extant picture in the world of the very model and color bike I bought in the summer of 1981 (except mine had Fiamme Red Label rims and tubular tires and more racing-oriented cranks and "cluster," as we used to call what is now the cassette) after returning from a month of touring on a burgundy Japanese boat anchor all over the West Coast. I was 17. This was "the Mercedes of bicycles," made to exacting mechanical and esthetic standards by the venerable Austro-Daimler company way over there in Europe, towards which all bikies were gazing non-stop, because this was before Lance -- before even Lemond -- and Europe was where legends were born. If I ever find a decent version of this bike for sale, I'm really in trouble.

Also good is finding a picture of a jersey I never saw before, but probably will spend way too much money on one day, if I ever find one for sale.

But this? This actually happens every weekend on my street: The neighbor kids (nine, seven, and four) hold a sprint criterium – over and over and over again – down our dead-end street, with the little one's sister (who's about seven) at the other end yelling out announcer-type statements like, "AND THE RACE IS ABOUT TO BEGIN!!" This, this is the best of all.