Sunday, December 6, 2015

48 Hours of Wendell-bury

Just back from a full weekend of December bike-tripping in the hills of Shutesbury and Wendell, Mass. My first time traveling on a bicycle since 1980—believe it.

See the discussion here about whether this was bikepacking or touring or bike-tripping or bike-cabining -- and whether it matters. (Hint: Doesn't matter).

Despite following the advice of a lot of ultralight travelers out there, my beloved Salsa Vaya ended up feeling very heavy indeed on some of the ridiculously muddy, rocky steeps on the way up to Shutesbury. However, I'm pleased overall with the ease and convenience of packing the (borrowed) panniers and handlebar bag, and the Vaya was extremely stable and well-mannered on its first loaded touring jaunt.  Extra-wide 45 mm Vee tires helped with the copious double-track and primitive roads we were unable to pass up.

I booked a small cabin at Temenos, a longstanding retreat center in Shutesbury on the former site of a hotel that offered 19th century visitors restorative dips in the nearby mineral springs. The center is at very tippy-top of Mount Mineral, at the end of a rugged and ridiculously steep dirt driveway off a dirt road.

We stayed in the small, comfortable Mu cabin (named for the ancient Zen concept of "neither one nor many").

Proof of the eponymous iron and manganese in the mountain is in the color (and taste) of the waters drawn from the large hand-pump. I'm betting my red blood cell count is up after this weekend.

After dark, the cabin is lit by kerosene lamp, and heated by a small (but very efficient) wood stove. I spent the first night alone, planning our route and dreaming of the riding to come.

Friends Will and Josh arrived the following morning, and we headed out for the meat of the trip: an attempt to hook up as much gravel as possible from our cabin door. It was an easy search: there's a large network of dirt roads throughout Shutesbury, which we sampled to get warmed up. After, we headed north to Wendell State Forest, a place I've lovingly explored with my Vaya before; we tried out new dirt on the north end of the park this time, then gradually wended our way back toward Shutesbury. We had a genuine bluebird day, sunny and nearly 50 degrees on December 5(!).

We hauled our carcasses back up the mountain just as it was turning dark, fired up the wood stove and got dinner going. Liberal overeating and libations soon followed, and Josh instigated a game of poker for matchstick stakes. Will burned the first batch of popcorn (then mastered the rest like a boss). Yours truly? I won all the matchsticks. Just ask the boys.

This morning, we slept in, ate, and cleaned the cabin to a sparkle. We loaded up, posed for the requisite heroic team photo, then rode our loaded bikes like rocket sleds down the mountain. There's no way I remember as many downhills on Friday as there appeared to be uphills today, but when all's said, I'm warm and funk-free in my house tonight, summing up this delightful adventure for you, dear reader.

Six weeks ago, the whole idea seemed like it might be a bit too much effort to be worth it. And, as usual, the reservations, coordination, and packing were, indeed, burdensome. However—as always—the rewards were manifold. The stories alone were worth the price of entry, and will oft be exaggerated around campfires in the future.

As we said when we raised our glasses at the end of a hard day yesterday: Here's to bikes in the woods!


kris said...

What fun! MA continues to entertain and inspire.

Jonathan Mauterer said...

Nice job! The vaya loves being loaded. Glad y'all got out!

David Chinery said...

Totally epic trip! I hope you catch the "bike touring" bug. My buddy and I do one every summer - in 2015 we were on the Mickleson Trail in South Dakota for 5 days. I hate the term, but it is a "credit card trip" since I too don't like to drag too much stuff along. For some reason I really enjoy all the planning, too.

Velosopher said...

Thanks kindly, David. I think I did catch the bug; I'm already thinking where else I can go and how soon.

I like the planning much more than the packing.