Sunday, July 26, 2015

Almost to West Virginia

Once again I set out to explore an abbreviated version ofone of Cyndi's Loudon County gravel routes. Since I had been slugging down coffee all the way out to Purcellville, my first destination after unloading the bike at Loudon Valley High School was the terminus of the W&OD Trail so I could use the rest room. While there I overheard some locals giving some very confusing directions to a pair of cyclists. I have to give these riders props: it was 8 AM, they had already ridden 40 miles, and they were looking for some local roads to add another 20 before heading back so that they would finish at an even 100 miles for the day. Still, I couldn't help a little bit of a smirk when the locals asked them, "can you handle unpaved roads?" and they said, "no, not on these bikes." Hah! Chalk one up for the gravel grinder over the fancy road bike. As I mentioned, the two locals were giving them very complicated and contradictory ideas. I hope those guys eventually found their way home!

My plan was to do a loop out west of Purcellville, and down through Round Hill. Purcellville sits pretty close to the West Virginia border and so in my route I also included a little detour off the loop to try to ride over the border into WV. That detour wound up being a very vertical (but paved) road: 700 feet of elevation gain in about 2 miles. I huffed and puffed and made it all the way up. Near the end of the road, though, I came around a corner and was surprised to find a very big dog sitting right in the middle of the road. I was so taken aback that I stopped pedaling and, being on an uphill and being clipped in, immediately came to a stop and fell over. My bikey friends assure me that this happens to everyone every once in a while. Slightly scraped and a little rattled, I watched the dog, which turned out to be obviously old and arthritic. When a cat came over and rubbed up against it I realized it probably wasn't all that fierce and decided to continue on past it.

I rode to the end of Sunny Ridge Road but wound up not quite making it to West Virginia. The end of Sunny Ridge Road led into Mountain Orchard Lane, an even more vertical loose gravel road that I, still a little rattled from my fall, decided I didn't want to attempt on my bike. So, I turned around about 3/4 of a mile short of the border. Next time I head that way I think I'll walk uP Mountain Orchard so I can set foot over the border.

Other than that it was a typical gravel ride: pretty scenery, some filling-loosening washboard ridges, and of course an unplanned deviation from my planned route. I think I need to work out some better sort of cue sheet or use my phone, since on these rides I always wind up on the wrong road at some point. This time I made a wrong turn in Round Hill and cut about four miles off my planned ride by turning onto Rt. 7 back towards Purcellville rather than continuing south for a bigger loop.
Sign Where the Pavement Ends

Upon completing my ride I took advantage of my proximity to the Leesburg Outlets and went shoe shopping! I think I was pretty rank from sweating my way through twenty-something miles, but it was a slow morning in a slow shopping season and the shopkeepers were willing to indulge a stanky customer - particularly one who wound up buying two pairs of shoes.

A bagel and coffee from Panera, and then home I went. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Hike on Mt. Greylock

First of all, let me say that "Mount Greylock" sounds like it should be a terrifying location the Hobbits have to pass through in Lord of the Rings, when in fact it is a pleasant state park in Massachusetts. On a similar note, "Officer Shaft Hunter" sounds more like the name of a gay porn star than the name of an actual Maryland state trooper who lost his life in the line of duty. Don't get me wrong - I mean no disrespect to Officer Hunter or his sacrifice. That's just the first thing I thought of when I noticed that a section of I95 in Maryland had been dedicated to his memory. Perhaps there is something wrong with me.

Anyway, I had been really happy that Valerie had agreed to go on a long hike on the Ashuwilltikook Trail. The trail was pretty and was within Valerie's comfort level of wilderness (flat, paved, and with not too many bugs). Still, I had been jonesing to get out into the real outdoors and had been intrigued by the proximity of the aforementioned Mt. Greylock, which at 3,200 ft. is the highest point in Massachusetts. Unfortunately we were running out of days on our Berkshires trip and I couldn't see how I was going to get away for a day of hiking. To my total surprise, Valerie suggested going there and going for a hike, which leads me to the following conclusion:

The subliminal suggestion app I installed on her iPhone is working.

Anyway, on a grey but comfortable morning we set out for the mountain, which was a short drive from our timeshare. The good folks at the Visitor's Center suggested a hike that took us along a gravel forest road past the park's primitive campground out to a nice vista. Gravel, somewhat flat - again, within Valerie's wilderness tolerance level.

The park's campground was interesting (and deserted, despite it being nice weather and the middle of summer - though it was a week day). There must be bears up there, since each campsite had a bear proof locker. Also, the campground was such a short walk from the parking lot that you really wouldn't need to backpack to get there. You could easily wheel a wheelbarrow full of camping gear up the gravel road to the place and set yourself up the world's cushiest "primitive" campsite.

Valerie Taking in the View
We continued up the forest road until we came to what was, in fact, a beautiful view. We sat at a picnic table and soaked it in in silence for about two minutes, at which time a very chatty group of eight senior citizen hikers arrived and swarmed the area. Eight people meant four pairs in simultaneous conversation, the loudest of which involved one guy's history of dental work. "I have at least 15 crowns. Some of them have been replaced one, some two times ..." This talented raconteur smoothly segued from general dental discourse into a particularly entertaining anecdote about the dental exam he went through when he applied to the Air Force Academy. Just as he started recounting the third day of the entrance process I jumped up and, using the element of surprise, tackled him and threw him over the edge of the cliff. In the stunned silence that followed I resumed my contemplation of the view before us.


As our hiking pal was beginning to recount the third day of his Air Force Academy physical I reached the point where I could not take this root canal of a conversation any more and so we got up and left. We hiked back to the car and drove to the summit. Admission to the park is free, but they charge you $6 per car to drive up to the summit. The good news is that the guy collecting money was on his lunch break when we got to the top and so he just waved us through. All scenic vistas are nice, but a bargain vista is the best! After a quick snack at the lodge (excellent curried squash soup!) we explored the summit. It was something of a cloudy day and so the view from the top was not as spectacular as I'm sure it is other days. Still, it was clear enough for us to see not only Massachusetts but also New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont! The lack of macro scale views also led us to concentrate on the smaller things - there were lots of lovely wildflowers about.
Mountain Wildflowers

Then it was down, down, down. We were a little low on gas and on the way up I was noticing that the "Distance To Empty" indicator was going down about four miles for every mile we drove. Fortunately, with gravity in our favor the indicator barely budged on the ten miles back down the mountain.

Cheers to Valerie for enduring a somewhat hilly, bear infested, cloudy mountain hike!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

Yesterday Valerie was ready for a little downtime and so I set off on my on for a bike ride on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. We had hiked three miles of the trail (six miles round trip) a couple of days earlier and I set out to ride its entire 11.8 mile length. I parked at the southern trail head in Lanesborough and set out.

View Along the Ashuwillticook Trail
After the first mile or so I started covering the same section we had walked, which includes some lovely lake views. Past our walking turnaround point at Rt. 8 in Cheshire the trail turned more remote, with fewer buildings in site and thicker vegetation surrounding the trail.

At about mile 10 I pulled into Adams. I decided to take a quick detour through the town, figuring that if I found a decent place to take I break I'd stop there; otherwise I would continue on to the northern terminus in North Adams. As I was riding through town I heard a loud "SPROING!" sort of noise. I've heard that sound on this particular bike before, but it took me a minute to realize what it was - a broken spoke. My Marin is a pretty bulletproof bike, but has a flaw in that the wheels have a low spoke count. I think this leads to too much stress on each spoke, leading to broken spokes. Over the years I've popped a few - mostly when I used to tow the boys in a bike trailer.

With the spoke broken the wheel went out of true, making the bike impossible to ride because the wobbly rim would rub against the brakes. In retrospect, I could have opened the rear brake to eliminate the rubbing and tried riding home. I'm not sure this would have been a good idea: I think I was better off broken down in the town of Adams than I would have been if the wheel had disintegrated further somewhere on one of those remote stretches of trail.

In my brief ride through town I had recognized that Adams is not exactly a happening town. Few businesses were open on a Wednesday afternoon. I chained the bike up and wandered into The Daily Grind, which I had already eyeballed as a place to take a break. It's a dusty old coffee shop and was completely empty save for the three people working these. When I asked for the cup of coffee the proprietor made clear to me that he didn't have fancy coffee drinks, just the Thermoses of coffee over on a side counter. He said he had tried fancy drinks and selling high end beans but "the town wasn't ready for it." I assured him that all I was looking for was a regular old cup of coffee. I poured myself a cup of what turned out to be a lukewarm brew and sat down at the counter. I explained my situation and asked if there was a taxi service in town. He seemed doubtful that I could get a taxi on short notice other than having one come up from Pittsfield, but he did give me the phone book so I could try the couple of services listed. Unfortunately, I had no cell phone service (cell phone service in the Berkshires is terrible!). I was about to ask them if I could use their phone when the proprietor came up with a novel solution - he had an old bike in the back he would lend me to ride back to my car. Then I could drive back, return his bike and pick mine up. Actually, he said he'd be just as happy if I made off with his bike! It had been sitting in the back for any number of years and he just hadn't gotten around to getting rid of it. Which gives you some idea what kind of shape this bike was in ...

I used my pump to put some air in the tires (Presta valves!), checked the thing over and off I went. I only filled the tires part way for fear of popping the old tubes. I also avoided shifting the front derailleur since it looked extremely gunked up. The rear shifted fine, so with the half-filled tires I had a hybrid which functioned in essence like a 7 speed beach cruiser. It was something of a nerve-wracking and uncomfortable ride - riding this too-small bike and praying it held together for ten miles, which fortunately, it did!

By the time I got back the restaurant was fairly busy and I got some strange looks as I wheeled a bike through the place. The owner was by that time busy with the dinner rush and so I gave him a quick thanks and went on my way.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Some Walks in the Berkshires

We arrived in the Berkshires just in time to participate in the Pittsfield Independence Day 5K! This race was run along the town parade route just ahead of the parade. The good: big cheering section of parade-goers lining the course. The bad: strict time limit. Valerie made it just under the wire. Rainy, cold (by our standards of July weather!) but a lot of fun!

At the Completion of the 5K

A couple of days later we did a 6 mile walk on the Ashuwillticook rail trail. Pretty trail, with views of lakes and mountains. And convenient places for a lunch break and post-walk ice cream! Ashuuwillticook seems like a pretty long name, but once you get the hang of it it's a lot shorter to say than "Washington and Old Dominion." I returned to this trail for a bike ride, which turned out to be an experience (see separate post).

Along the Ashuwillticook Trail