Skyline Trail Ride, with Ride Noho

The brilliance of Aldo, is that he knows just how much to challenge his cycling guests without pushing them over the precipice.  He forewarned us that this ride was hard, but that we would have no trouble completing it.  Of course, this is all relative.  If you ride every day, and have a good climbing physique, well, it’s no hill for a climber, as they say.

We started the day as every day starts at this cycling camp, with breakfast at Sylvester’s in Northampton.  Keith, Dan and I walked down from our motel, the Quality Inn on the outskirts of Noho, and joined Aldo, Elaine and Jan at the restaurant.  Aldo and Elaine run Ride Noho.  Jan was a guest, who is a regular and one of the few who have ridden with Aldo every year since he started his cycling camp.  Jan is an automobile design engineer and a superb cyclist who races cyclocross, among other events.  Keith, my friend from college, is a primary care physician in the Boston area who cycles regularly and had recently completed the Pan-Mass challenge.  Dan, who flew in from San Francisco, is a researcher at the world’s most famous search engine, and besides riding regularly also races.  In fact, he has competed in the Green Mountain Stage Race.  These were the boys I was to join on this long, arduous ride through the Berkshires.  We engaged in our usual breakfast banter, talking about the ride, but also just chatting about the news of the day.  I had a single pancake for breakfast, loaded with blueberries, although the pancake was plate filling size.  After breakfast it was back to the motel to don our cycling clothes and meet up for the ride.

We met in the parking lot of the Hotel Northampton, also an option for camp riders.  Joining us was Bob Johnson, the ex-marine I mentioned in my previous blog.  He is a combination ride leader and tour guide, with detailed knowledge of the area in which we would be riding.  It’s basically his backyard, where he rides regularly.  Bob always shows great compassion for those of us who can’t ride like he can, which is everyone else.  This ride was to be a supported ride.  Either Aldo or Elaine would be driving the van while the other rode, to provide water and food as needed.  There were few options otherwise for us along the way.   It was also going to be a hot and steamy day, with temperatures into the high eighties and high humidity.  It’s not like running, though.  For one thing, it’s no problem to take a water bottle or two on the bike.  Also, after every climb, with the sun bearing down and sweat dripping into one’s eyes, there’s the marvelous relief of the fast downhill, with a cooling breeze in the face.

The route, from Northampton to Skyline Trail and back.

The route, from Northampton to Skyline Trail and back.

We checked tires and equipment, then hopped upon the bikes and headed out.  First thing I noticed was that my backside was still terribly sore, as it had not yet gotten used to the saddle.  This would be a problem the whole ride, but one I was willing to endure.  As we left Northampton, we traveled a familiar route for the first few miles, then started in to the mountains.  There really was no flat riding for most of the ride.  We were either climbing or descending.  Mostly we were climbing the first half, and some of the climbs were fairly challenging, getting over 10% grade in spots.  The descents proved to be fast and fun, with good pavement and no sharp turns.  Elaine rode the first half with Aldo driving the van.  They switched at midway along the route.

One of the remarkable aspects to Western Massachusetts is the number of small farms throughout the area.  One often hears how small farms are dying, that the cost of running the farm exceeds the returns, that big supermarkets and clubs like Costco have ruined things for the small farmer.  Running contrary to those trends, the small farmers of Western Massachusetts have strong support among people living in this area, who enjoy the benefits of locally grown, seasonal farm produce.  This is according to articles on the U Mass website and agriculture associations in the area.  One issue raised by a number of articles, that of the average age of farmers, and whether young people are willing to go into farming, seems to rely on the profitability of the farms.  For the last twenty years, the profits have been good, and young, sometimes inexperienced, farmers are willing to take over.  This is aided by government support, in terms of tax benefits if land is committed long-term to farming.  During our ride in this decidedly rural part of the state, we passed dozens of farms which, by appearance, seemed quite productive.  We also passed a unique instillation along Skyline Trail in Chester, a solar farm.  Doing a little research, it seems this very large instillation of solar panels covering many acres and capable of several megawatts of electricity production, is a project of Solectria Corporation, a subsidiary of Yaskawa America.  It is a subsidiary of Yaskawa Electric Company of Japan, a giant company started one hundred years ago as a motor manufacturer, and expanded globally into many businesses.  Apparently, they think it is a good idea to own solar electric production in rural areas.

Back to the ride, though.  As we tooled along Skyline Trail, the riding was very enjoyable, with rolling hills and a temperature definitely cooler at around 1800 feet elevation, than back in Northampton.

Beautiful view along the Skyline Trail in Western Massachusetts.

Beautiful view along the Skyline Trail in Western Massachusetts.

We got to the end of Skyline Trail and plummeted back down to Hinsdale, where we stopped for a bite and some water.  We then set out, at around mile 45, for the big climb of the day.  Starting in Hinsdale we rode up to Peru, a tiny postage stamp of a place along the road.  The climb was 4.8 miles long, started fairly steep, in the 12-14 % range the first half, then eased a bit to around 5% the rest of the way.  Since my climbing skills had suffered being off the bike for so long (since last year at this time), I was being given encouraging words, such as “you want a ride up in the van?”, and “shall I push you as we hit the steepest part?”.  Needless to say, this kind of encouragement, while said in earnest, can only be taken as reverse psychology.  No, I didn’t want to get in the van or have a hand on my back, but thanks anyway, I can handle it.  So, off we went.  The faster riders ascended quickly and I have no idea if they suffered a bit or a lot.  Any climb can be a killer if one races up.  I took my time and made it up very nicely, and was pleased to have done so.  I did stand a good part of the way, due to those old ischial tuberosities making themselves known.  We still had another 3o miles to go before getting back to Noho, including a few lesser climbs, but the hardest part was over.  In total, we went 79 miles and climbed around 6800 feet.

After our return, we all congratulated ourselves for a ride well done, and very enjoyable.  The van support was critical given the heat and humidity, although on a cooler, dryer day in the fall this would be doable without the van.  In fact, it would be quite stunning as the leaves turned colors.  Aldo, Elaine and Bob did a great job leading us.

Our group headed back to our respective hotel rooms for some rest and a shower.   That night we celebrated, not just this ride, but having the opportunity to enjoy escaping from work for four days and go cycling with good friends.  We went to the Sierra Grille in Northampton, had a fine meal, and after dinner and desert, even went to Herrel’s Ice Cream Parlor, ranked as the #1 restaurant in Northampton on TripAdvisor.com.  They don’t serve dinner, but they do desert very well.

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