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Trail Exploring and Satisfaction

By: Jonathan Mauterer
This weekend I decided it was time for a solo trip. I have neglected my race bike for a while and figured it needed some love. I refreshed the Stans, adjusted the derailleur, and replaced a set of worn brake pads. To finish everything off I borrowed a friend's frame bag that would fit my bike. Packed everything up, planned a route, and hit the trails. 

The big goal for this trip was to link a few new trails to extend a previous route. Secondarily I really just needed a recharge and to get excited about biking again. Both were successful. My legs felt great the whole trip, the bike handled flawlessly, and the route was a TON of fun.

I set off from The Notch Visitor Center in Amherst, MA. I'm so lucky to live only 5 miles away from such an expansive trail system. I tucked into a short cut for a mountain bikers paradise known as the Batchelor Street trail system. I wasn't after this level of technical single track, but a map mis-read put me on one of the crazier trails that B-street has to offer... After a quick tangle with insanity and a few very confused looks from normal empty bike riders I was back on path to some more manageable rocky double track. 

I made it through each of my connections with only 2 or 3 turn arounds. My plan was to connect the south side of the Holyoke range over to the north side via some saddle. I checked out Strava heatmaps and everything seemed to say it was possible. Technology won, it was! After a much shorter time climbing than I expected I was blasting downhill towards my first pavement connection. 

After about .5mi I was expecting a turn on to a gravel road.. but I saw nothing. I stopped went back and saw a driveway. Upon further inspection this did seem to be a road that cut through but possibly private. I turned my conscience off for a few seconds and blasted down the hill. I passed one house, two houses, and saw the gravel ahead... "well,  if this was a driveway, I won't be here very long" I thought. As soon as I hit the gravel I saw a "authorized vehicles only" sign... Yep... my conscience is still turned off. I cranked down the gravel road until I found my trail connection to pick up the Robert Frost Trail.

I've done a lot of riding on the RFT. It connects a LOT of stuff for me and is very close. There are some sections that are specifically off limits to mountain bikes, and that's just fine.. nobody really likes riding a mountain bike through a swamp anyway. I wasn't planning on riding the whole RFT, but at times I would definitely be looking for the orange blazes to ensure I was on the right path. 

This new section of trail apparently stayed wet a good portion of the year. I jumped from 14" wide foot bridge to foot bridge trying to maneuver my back wheel around the tighter cornered bridges. I had my first good bikepacking fall when I managed to securely lock my 2.35" front tire between the gap of the 2x6's and a deep root hole just before the bridge started, ouch.

After making my way through the bridge maze I came to some new growth forest that ran along an open field. Looking out over the field I felt this looked familiar. Of course it does! I was looking right back at the bike path from the other side of the field. I've passed this field often but never really knew where those gravel paths led. After biking a bit more I ended up right on the bike path and won't have to wonder anymore.

I took a quick dirt trail from the bike path that led to the back of a neighborhood.. definitely got some house envy riding through here. I didn't mind the pavement so much as this looked like a really nice place. There are a few trails I saw darting off in to the woods throughout the neighborhood. After further map inspection from home I see that I can knock off a little bit of pavement from this route. After making my way through the residential area I popped out at the start of my "usual" bikepacking route. Amethyst Brook.

When I reached the trail head at Amethyst Brook my Garmin read 11 miles. Not bad! I'm always looking to expand on my trip and these trails were a perfect fit. I rode past the lot of post-Thanksgiving-family-in-town-gotta-go-for-a-walk groups and got to explain what I was doing a few times "Yes, like backpacking, but with a bike." "No, this doesn't have an engine." The higher I got on the trail the fewer encounters I had with people. Once I made the turn off the Robert Frost Trail I saw nobody. 

This approach trip was somewhat all or nothing. I really wasn't interested in taking bail options and I wanted to get a full idea of the mileage I could link with limited pavement. This led me up steep trails that had me walking, but the break was welcomed. After all, I'm on my own schedule and I know there are rocks at the top that are going to be a blast to ride!

After picking my way through the mile long rock garden I linked up to the familiar descent down Rattlesnake Gutter and down towards the Leverett Village Co-op. This sense of familiarity and the personal record of a time I had put down from Amethyst Brook to the co-op had me feeling confident for the second trail exploration part of my approach. I had an easy 30 minutes to relax before hitting my time of 2pm to depart on the final push of the day. 

I finished up my snacks, packed my pizza crust in my bag for dinner, and hit the road again. This section of pavement was just short of a half mile, excellent. The trade off was that it was connecting to another steep powerline trail. I had been on this powerline trail before, but was during an "analog" paper maps and compass route exploring trip. While it was a fun trip I avoided descending this trail because I thought it might dead end and I KNEW I wouldn't want to climb back up. Well here I was lining up for the climb. 

I set off past another "something something you probably shouldn't be here" sign. There were marked trails in the forest lining the gravel so I didn't feel as bad. I pedaled up as fast as I could trying to get out of view so nobody would be offended if they did arrive. After what I thought was a decent effort I looked back to see the progress I had made was very minimal. Ok.. so this is a steep climb after all. I alternated between walking over the loose sections and pedaling and eventually made it to a very familiar trail. I was back at the M&M that I had been lost on during my "analog" trip. 

I was so excited to know that this trail connected with the powerline trail and that I could make it there with only .4mi of pavement from the co-op that I sent off a celebratory text to my friend who loaned me the frame bag. I'm she was just as excited as me. I put away the phone and got back to pedaling. While I wasn't short on light, I still didn't want to get caught on slightly unfamiliar trails in the dark. I pedaled away and kept looking behind me getting crazy deja vu and reminiscing over my "analog" trip and how much fun I had, how stressful seeing these confusing trail crossings were, and rehashing all the thoughts I had at the time.

I managed to take another spill on this trail in basically the same way as before. Wedge my front tire in between two hard spots and add a bit of a dip. This one left me on the ground to mentally regroup. It hurt. Nothing was broken so I eventually got up and went about my ride. A few minutes down the trail I decided to check my phone to see my location on the trail... but it wasn't there. I backtracked a bit to the crash site and after rummaging through some leaves I managed to catch a quick reflection from the screen shining through. Phone clipped back onto my bike and I was on my way. 

Once I reached my final trail connection I knew I was all set. I started to relax and think about how nice sleep would be. I rolled in to camp with daylight to spare. I gathered a bit of fire wood, opened up some snacks, and soaked in an awesome day on the bike. 

Day 2

I don't remember sleeping much until about 6am when the sound of rain held my attention. The wind was blowing pretty crazy all night and the sound of rustling leaves didn't help me fall asleep. That changed to rain and I specifically remember sleeping great. 

At about 9am I knew I had to wake up. I had planned to have someone meet me on a bike to show me a new connection to some other trails. They were planning on being there at 8:55, but I got a text that they were running 15 minutes late, this was basically the snooze button for me and I pushed sleep until 9. The rain still hadn't let up when they arrived, but as he rolled in with his fat 3.8" tires buzzing down the trail the look on his face said he wasn't fazed one bit. 

I met Michael, my trail guide for the day, while riding up Mt. Greylock last winter. For some reason we all figured it'd be a good idea to head up the highest mountain in Massachusetts, in the winter, on bikes... Actually, it was a great idea. We all had a blast, nobody got frostbite, and I made a lot of awesome connections in the bike world around here.

For the day we wouldn't have to deal with ice, snow, or even much wilderness. We did however have to deal with chilly rain and slick New England trails. Rocks and roots are rough, throw some leaves on top and it's just deadly. I knew he'd be all set on his 3.8" Surly Nates, but I was a little less than confident on my post race season Schwalbe Rocket Rons. Either way, I had to get home and I wasn't taking the pavement option. 

I started off leading the way. The first order of business was the descent of Dry Hill Rd., which is a pretty funny name because it was anything but dry. I had previously climbed this exact trail and these rocks were merely traction filled obstacles to have a blast over. This time around bouncing down the the now stream they were all wheel sweepers and stabby sharp things waiting for you to fall. Michael was falling in love at each new bedrock section we came across. I'm pretty sure he's sold on returning to this trail at some drier point in time.

After the swoopy asphalt descent at the end of Dry Hill Rd. we finally reached The Montague Plains. This trail system was new to me and I had never even ridden past this on a bike. Michael on the other hand regularly rides here all year long. A quick look at his Strava history and I knew he was the guy for the job of leading me through. He asked me if I wanted straight through or "something with.. well.... a little bit of a climb" route. I wasn't sure how my legs would be at this point but we both decided the rest of our route for the day had enough climbing to make up for it. We decided on the straight flat route. 

After pedaling through the sandy flats we ended up at the start of the Canalside Rail Trail. This is right at the north end of the Deerfield Ridge which we were about to climb. Perfect place to stop for a snack. Michael had packed an extra lunch with him which I gladly accepted. The treat for the day was a Thanksgiving day leftover casserole. Squash, dressing, mashed potatoes, and turkey. Was very excellent. After a quick second to eat we both took a shot of some maple syrup and were on our way.

The trail head for the Deerfield Ridge was a bit hidden, but some late braking and sharp turning and we were both headed up hill. Neither of us had expected such a steep start so the noise of gears straining to climb to the big ring were noticeable. I managed to mash up enough that I could let off the power and let my gears catch up. After I was shifted I started on the steeper part of the climb. I fully expected to lose traction as I had been doing all day, but for some reason when I had to shift from seated pedaling to out of the saddle, the wheel just stuck. I was standing and cranking full force on the rear wheel. I was so amazed that I didn't lose traction that I turned around to yell at Michael "It's sticky! Do you see this?!". He was confused and thought I meant there were sticks on the trail... and of course me spending so much attention on yelling back to him I lost the climb. I walked the remainder of the steep section, but was confident to hop back on and pedal up the rest of the way. 

Once in to the Ridge a bit we came across some powerline construction equipment. I took this time to gobble at a group of turkeys (apparently called a "rafter"?) and snap a few bike pictures. We heard gunshots in the distance and knew there was a firing range nearby. A few minutes into the trail from the quarry and we saw signs... This was a time that having a conscience turned on or off didn't matter. We pedaled a little faster, even if logic said we'd be fine.

The rain still hadn't stopped, but we were now back on trails I was familiar with. We made the final climb of the day up to Pocumtuck Rock or "The Rock" as it's known. I wasn't very interested in stopping as my goretex jacket had saturated, my gloves were soaked, and I was feeling a bit chilly. I pedaled over to the cliff side and spent a minute watching the clouds move out over the fields, dipping in to other valley, and rolling off the cliffs in front of me and felt much better about it.

From here my thoughts were whether I should camp another night as planned or head home. I really had more than enough satisfaction in my ride as a whole and the number of new trails I had explored. My legs really weren't fatigued, I wasn't exhausted, and I could certainly MANAGE another day out. I split ways with Michael as he biked back to his shop and I rolled in to town. I settled it over pizza that the trip was a success and I was headed back home.

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