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, apr├ęs-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.