I have use-it-or-lose-it floating holidays to burn before December 19. I didn't want to waste a 14 hour round trip to PA for one day of riding on Monday. So I went to Strava and started exploring for something more local-ish. Hmm, what New England area is under-represented in my off-road riding? Much of central and western Mass is. I hadn't been to the Holyoke range in while. Quite techy material there though. I was thinking of a more endurance/over-distance type ride.
A loop popped up nearby in Amherst. I knew there was riding around there and I had never been to the college town. A loop several have done, including riders I know, was labeled as "epic." My typical weekend trail rides have been in the 40-60 mile range this summer, so I was wondering how a 35 mile ride could be epic. I grabbed the track, made a few tweaks to it, and loaded it into the Garmin 705.
It was even colder getting up on Monday than it was on Sunday. Dang. At least the wind died down some. Might as well start getting acclimated to the ski season while still on the bike. Nothing like a good freezer burn to the lungs first thing in the morning. At least it got above 20F by the time I got to the trailhead in Amherst.
I had no idea what kind of trails the route followed. Zero intel. Turns out it follows bits of the Robert Frost and M&M trails and whole bunches of logging roads, ATV tracks and forest service roads. I was a bit dismayed heading to Amherst to see a pretty good dusting of snow on the ground. That over oak leaves ought to prove interesting.
Oak leaves on smooth granite. At least I was going up.
Heading out, the route goes into an immediate 700ft climb. Some of it was super chunky at 20% grade. Yeah, that seared my lungs alright. The steeper bits of the descent where somewhat terrifying. Oak leaves covered chunder, which is unpredictable even when you can see it. Then mix a little snow in with the leaves, well, I might as well have been on a toboggan. My reward for all the hard work was achie wrists from death gripping the brakes. This would repeat over and over.
Forest service road through Rattlesnake Gutter, a scenic gorge through the mountains
The route had a pretty remote vibe to it. I had big blocks of time where I encountered no one. Never saw any hunters, which surprised me. The climb up Mt Toby was the high point of the ride for me, literally and figuratively. A well maintained forest service road led to the fire tower up top. There was a view from the tower, but I chickened out climbing to the top of it. The steps appeared a little too weathered for my liking.
View north from part way up the fire tower on Mt Toby
View from a ledge above Rt 116 in Sunderland
The five mile descent from Mt Toby was quite good too. The first half was more leaves over chunder death grip braking, but the bottom half was more like a jeep road run-out. A short climb at the 26 mile mark pretty near killed me. I cleaned it, but just barely for like five minutes straight. I was shot after that.
The track I grabbed from Strava was from a Garmin 500 and of very poor quality. This proved frustrating numerous times. I'd be riding along, 200ft, 300ft, sometimes maybe more than 400ft off the track, following the only trail or road in the area. Then I'd come to a split and had no idea which way to go, as the track I was following was junk. I'd pick one, and after several hundred feet I could begin to see if it was right or wrong. Too often I picked the wrong way.
I had hoped to add Sugarloaf Mtn and the Deerfield Ridge across the Connecticut River to the ride, but my progress was pretty pathetic up to this point. I'll have to wait for a non-leafy day for that. For D2R2 riders, the Deerfield ridge is that tall, long ridge line you see across the parking cornfields to the east. A trail runs across the top of the ridge.
Stream crossing on M&M trail
Late in the ride I hit another piece of the Robert Frost trail. It went up on a rocky ridge and went up and down fall lines. A couple pitches were even challenging hike-a-bikes. Mentally, I was ready to be done with the ride. Then it occurred to me, I grabbed a Garmin 500 track, and Strava recalculates distance with these devices. The actual distance might be much longer than 35 miles and I might have twice as far to go to get back than I think I do. Ugh!
The route passed through many parcels of land, some state, a lot of local conservation land, and some private. There were random sections of honest singletrack sprinkled throughout, but it was mostly wider tracks used by ATVs, forest access or logging. Quite often a single track was beat down on the wider trails.
It was good to close the loop a couple miles or so out from the car, as I knew it was all downhill from there. I finished with 39mi, 6200ft of climbing, in 4.7hrs moving time. I expected about an hour less moving time. This ride beat me to a pulp despite riding my sofa bike. Some of that is probably due to apprehension on the leafy, sketchy descents. I'd probably do this loop again, before leaf drop, and after a long dry spell. I suspect many sections are susceptible to muddiness. On Monday, the ground, and even some stream crossings, were frozen solid.