Tour de Cheese: Massachusetts Day Three.
Bicycle touring with a schedule is not really what it’s meant to be. Touring is about taking your time, absorbing the views, the time, the places, and resetting your internal clock. All at your own pace.
So two days with ‘appointments’ at cheesemakers meant I had a little hustling to do every now and again - which isn’t ideal when the route you are taking is circuitous, and the bike you ride is equal to your own weight.
Somehow I’d held it together, but with no scheduled stops, today was a day to
Today I could tour.
Getting up at 7.30 (late for me), and leaving my room at 8.30, allowed me to meander down through the lovely Turners Falls, over the river and up the hill to Greenfield. Fuelling up with coffee and cookies, today was to be a day of smooth, relatively flat riding, until the final 10 km or so, where I would have to crest the hills to get me through the Berkshires.
From Greenfield to Shelburne Falls, the roads were very much back roads, which is a great way to start a ride. It gives you time to wake up and open your eyes, literally and figuratively. As you move relatively slowly, these hidden routes show you a side of America which is missed and forgotten, if you flash by in a car on an Interstate or major route. It is here that you see the old barns, tractors and farm buildings which are in the final stages of decay - falling apart, but not yet fallen down.
I think of the conversations I’d had with Bob at Westfield, Pam at Robinsons and Ben at Chase Hill. All of them talked to me about land prices in Massachusetts being ridiculously - too - expensive. Active farmers struggle with the payments for large lots of land, or have to keep their land small, or abandon the fields and import their milk/curd. Farmers from the past who lived in and worked these building couldn’t keep the money in better than the money out, and let their livelihood run away through their hands.
These places are relics now, not necessarily because of a lack of desire to work the fields, but because this desire can’t overcome the financial obstacles. Small scale farming needs help. If we can do this, little rural areas just like this would begin to become successful again.
After a stop of Shelburne Falls (Glacial Potholes people!) for more coffee, my route followed the Mohawk Trail. This trail started life as a Native American trail which headed west to Williamstown, yet year by year it grew in traffic until today, is is basically Route 2. Dotted along the ‘trail’ are long-abandoned old-timey tourist stops, as well as several homesteads of families who worked the land (read: had servants work the land) but who also acted as safe houses for slaves who had escaped the South and the Confederacy, to be free people in the North.
Route 2 runs along the Deerfield river, but it isn’t until my route slips off to the right at an old river ford, towards the town of Zoar, that the feeling of riding within this beautiful environment is able to sink in.
The old river road hugs tightly to the Deerfield, and moves up and down the spurs of land as they force the river to contort - all the time heading slightly upwards, towards the small mountain range ahead, where the water source springs. Hawks glide overhead, until they become dive-bombers, zipping into the brush to swoop back up grasping a chipmunk.
The grip of the bicycle’s tyres on the road, your breathing and the tinkling music of flowing water are the only sounds you can hear.
And it’s those moments when bicycle touring gives you fulfillment through the connection you begin to make with your surroundings. You can lift your eyes up, down, left or right, and feel where you are, and feel that you are part of it.
You have earned these moments. Your legs and lungs have lifted you to this place. This was all you, buddy.
Riding along the river is bliss, but we also have a mountain to climb ahead, to an elevation of 2800’, no less. And to the town of Florida, indeed. Yes, Florida.
I can write about the thrill and enjoyment on a bike, but sometimes, you’ve also just got to grind, and the climb to lift me out of the valley and to Florida was just that - a grind. 4 km/2 miles of 9% gradient on the touring bike was a beast. I span up very slowly, slow enough to have time to take off my helmet, pull out my map, see where I’m going, take a photo and then put it back. All while moving… I was going very very slowly.
But, that’s OK, right? Because at the top, at the view of both east and west at the summit, there was the valley lying down below, and there lay my achievement for the day.
Now gliding into North Adams, past the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and finally into Williamstown, the day came to an end. But even though it was relatively short, the fullness and richness of the day made me not want to stop, but to get up and go all over again.
That’s touring for you.