Western MA Day Trip

How can I let a three day weekend with decent weather go by without at least one day trip? I had recent intel from a biker friend that the Mohawk Trail had fresh pavement, which inspired me to do another one of my loops of Western Massachusetts.  I did a similar loop once last year.  I didn’t retrace my steps precisely, but made sure to incorporate some fun bits I wanted to ride again – Rt. 116 between Deerfield and Adams, Mt. Greylock (which I hadn’t included in my previous trip), and the Mohawk Trail itself.  During a stop at the post office on my way out of town, someone noticing me dressed in biker gear warned me that it’s a holiday weekend, and the police would be out in force.  I’m well aware, but it was good advice regardless, and indeed I would see a great deal of law enforcement presence during my trip. Just so no one worries, I’ll make the disclaimer now that no, I wasn’t pulled over.

Whately DinerI’ve gotten fairly adept at planning a general route before my ride to program my GPS so that it actually takes me where I want to go, rather than the fastest route.  For this ride the fastest routes would’ve involved either superslab (despite the “avoid highways” feature) or going directly through the middle of Worcester, both of which I wanted to avoid.  So I first told it to take me to the center of Holden, which it did by a nice scenic route. After refueling the bike and myself, I continued on to Amherst, where I encountered the only nasty traffic I would see all day.  Route 9 goes right through the middle of Amherst College, and judging from the number of well dressed people I saw there it must’ve been graduation day. Oops. Despite having a water cooled bike, it’s still prone to overheating in heavy stop and go (mostly stop) traffic. As I crept through probably around five light cycles and watched the temperature gauge move higher and higher, I shut off the engine while stopped until just before I needed to move again to prevent overheating.  I’ve considered adding a small fan to the front of the radiator that I could turn on in circumstances like this to cool the engine off a little bit.  Typically I try to avoid riding into circumstances where this kind of traffic is a possibility, but there are never any guarantees.

From Amherst I picked up Rt. 116, which starts as a superslab heading north, then becomes a good size two-lane road, going right past the Yankee Candle factory. No, not just the store – the factory itself. Soon I found myself crossing Interstate 91, and feeling like I should have lunch before hitting the twisty bits of Rt. 116, which are sparsely populated.  A quick GPS search revealed that I was only half a mile away from the Whately Diner and Fillin’ Station, a bit of a legend in these parts as both a truck stop and a 1950s style diner. I parked alongside a BMW and Harley and had a good, inexpensive lunch. The air conditioning and being out of my riding gear felt good, too. Fortunately, much of the day was overcast, which kept me from getting too hot (my new mesh jacket is supposed to arrive on Tuesday, too late to help this weekend).

Then I rejoined Rt. 116 and soon got into the fun section.  This photo demonstrates what I mean – twisty, with some nice elevation changes, fairly reasonable speed limits, and a distinct lack of traffic. During the few minutes I stopped to take this picture not a single car went by in either direction. It was pretty much just a good, fun ride, with the road to myself most of the time.

As I approached Adams, a flood of memories came back to me.  I went to school at North Adams State College (now known as the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), and except for summers I lived in the northwest corner of the state during that time. Towns, roads, and places started looking familiar to me once again.  There have certainly been some changes, but not nearly as many as in the eastern part of the state where I now live.

Among the sights that came into view as I descended into Adams was Mt. Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts at a whopping 3,489 feet. (That was sarcasm. Mt. Washington, where I’m going in two weeks, dwarfs Greylock at 6,288 feet.) Twenty years ago, shortly after I first arrived at NASC, I rode my bicycle up Mt. Greylock.  I was still in great shape coming off a summer and several years of bicycle racing and touring.  It was the one and only time I rode a bike up the mountain – until now. This time, though, I’d have a 500cc engine to help.  It would also be a good shakedown before the Mt. Washington trip, just to make sure the bike is ready to be a mountain climber.

The ride up involves heading west out of North Adams, then taking a couple of poorly marked back roads to the edge of the park itself. A mile or so was rough pavement with loose sand all over it, but fortunately the rest of the road was in excellent shape, especially once in the park. It starts in the woods, with a series of tight hairpin turns. It was here that I noticed how much looking well beyond the turn itself helped me get through it – not that I was exceeding the 15mph limit in these turns, because though I’ve raced cars I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to going fast on a motorcycle. There are many hiker trails crossing the road, with a rumble strip before each one. The road remains narrow and twisty.  Oncoming cars seem to have an inordinate amount of difficulty staying on their own side of the solid yellow line, despite the lane being wide enough for them. The trees get smaller and smaller as you go up. There are a number of places to pull over and admire the scenery, but unfortunately the nearby trees have not been well maintained, and most of the awesome views I remember are now obscured by trees. Fortunately some great views still exist. Though not visible in the photo, a red tailed hawk decided to swoop in and steal the scene.

When I was at school, parking at the summit was free. Now it costs $2. I don’t begrudge them the money, but by now it was mid-afternoon, and I still had over 100 miles to cover with an expectation of being home for dinner, so I immediately went back down. Though I did stop for this photo opportunity on Mt. Fitch, which the road crosses on its way to Greylock. The trip down was a test of the brakes.  Near the bottom even my greatly impaired sense of smell could detect the odor of brake dust, and my front brake lever felt just a little bit squishier than before. But with two disk brakes in front and one on the rear the bike has plenty of braking power, especially in its currently unloaded state, so I had no trouble. I went straight back through North Adams and headed up the so called Western Summit, including the famous hairpin turn.

The Wigwam was a tourist trap as well as a scenic view, alive and well when I went to school there. Now it’s all closed and boarded up, its Minnetonka Moccasin sign well weathered from neglect. Yet another sign of decay in this area, which has been struggling ever since the mills closed.

From there, the Mohawk Trail passes through the most inappropriately named town of Florida, Massachusetts, and begins its descent to run alongside the quite appropriately named Cold River for several miles of twists and turns. This area was hit hard by Hurricane Irene last year, and was actually closed for several months because large portions of the road got washed away.  This is why there is so much brand new pavement between Drury and Charlemont. It is easy to see the areas that were repaired – new guardrails and grey rock that doesn’t match the more brown tones of the surrounding area.  The road is open, but there are still many areas of massive erosion, steep hillsides that used to be covered in trees that are now bare and brown as they got washed into the river. Those scars on the land will likely be there for years to come.

The road then straightens out a bit through Charlemont and into Shelburne Falls, where I pulled off at this scenic rest stop to stretch my legs and have a drink. When I left I fell in behind a couple of other bikes, and the three of us hung together all the way into Greenfield.  When I pulled up alongside the guy who had been in front of me for several fun miles, I saw that he was riding a Moto Guzzi, the only other bike I’m aware of that utilizes the transverse V-twin configuration of my Silverwing. His bike, of course, is a lot newer and nicer.

Rather than follow 2A through the center of Greenfield, I stayed on 2, which merges with Interstate 91  for an exit before heading east once again. I went onward over the scenic views of the French King Bridge, and around the paper mill in Erving. Route 2 has been completely rerouted since all those trips between college and home. It used to be that some rocket scientist had decided to plunk a paper mill directly in the middle of Route 2, which curved sharply around it. Trucks going in and out of the mill often tied up traffic for quite some time. But now there is a bypass that takes a wide path around the mill at full speed. Part of the old Route 2 now serves as the driveway to the mill, with plenty of parking for all the trucks without impeding traffic at all.

Soon Route 2 turned into a “Super 2” highway, with limited access but one lane in each direction with no center divider. There are few, if any, places where it is legal to pass, causing drivers to get even more frustrated with slow drivers and then pass anyway, sometimes with disastrous consequences. They’ve been trying for years to make this stretch of road safer, but haven’t tried the obvious method of adding a center divider so that people who weave across the center line don’t go into oncoming traffic. But I got through it OK, and Route 2 soon became the superslab I know it as back home.

There are any number of fun twisty back roads I could’ve taken home, but the truth is that I was running much later than expected, so rather than push my pace on the back roads I just took the highway home.  It’s not like I didn’t ride a lot of fun twisty back roads already during this trip. And I did make it home in time to take a shower before dinner. Superslab – the one way you really can make up for lost time on the road.

I got home to a disturbing discovery – the latch for my trunk had decided to separate its employment with my motorcycle sometime after my last fuel stop in Fitchburg. Bummer! The lock didn’t work anyway, but I would like to at least keep the trunk closed. I’ve already posted on the CX/GL forum looking for a replacement, but for now I’ll have to strap my cargo net over the top of it to keep it from flopping around.

All in all, a good ride, and I’m tired. Despite great weather today, I think I’ll take it easy on the bike and stay closer to home.

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