These tracks are single and ready to mingle!
Kelley and I have had plenty of adventures, but we’re just dipping our feet into couple’s bike touring. As a frequent bike commuter, Kelley was finally feeling like she had her cycling legs under her for some extended travel. We geared up the mountain bikes, slapped a route into the GPS, and headed off!
For Kelley’s first bike tour, New Hampshire made a great choice. Our route took us up MA-63, winding north through Leverett, Montague, and Northfield MA and over into New Hampshire. We also worked in 46 miles of off-road riding along the 4-season Ashuelot Rail Trail, a mixed-use trail that shifts between gravel, sand, single track, double track, and mud.
We used our mountain bikes instead of our road bikes in anticipation of some trail-time, and the route did not disappoint.
Kelley used Oveja Negra’s Front End Loader for her hammock tent and fleece, and a Rogue Panda seatbag for her sleeping bag. We kept her load light so she could rip the trails and enjoy the ride.
My Karate Monkey was in full hauling mode, with two panniers and framebags holding our clothes, cooking gear, my shelter and sleeping bag, our food, our tools, and our electronics. I’ll have a full breakdown of this fully loaded land-rover in a later post.
We kept a respectable pace and put down 50 miles in the first day without straining ourselves, a good ride for a first-time tourist. Kelley, to her credit, was kicking my butt on some of the hills and didn’t mind getting very, very sweaty in the 90º heat. We kept the sun at bay with repeated coatings of sunscreen, which ran down our arms and into our eyes in torrents. Yuck!
It was brutal. Still, Kelley’s will was unwavering and we hit Keene well before dark, grabbing dinner at a local bistro and making our way to camp.
We stealth camped in Robin Hood State Park, and didn’t use our camp stoves, although the fireworks we heard all night were likely the bigger forest fire threat. Our spot was right off the road, and well-hidden; we didn’t have any run-ins with locals, and left our site completely undisturbed thanks to the thick leaf-litter. Kelley used her new Hennessy Hammock to avoid the ravenous mosquitos, and I slept in my Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy. These ultralight shelters kept our pack weight small enough for almost all our gear to fit on one bike.
Both of us made personal modifications:
Kelley used Atlas Straps and a pair of carabiners to make quick adjustments to her hang tension, even after setting everything up. This eliminates the inevitable “re-hang” when you realize those two trees weren’t quite as far apart as they looked.
I threw out the internal delrin pole in my bivy for a simpler, more adjustable guyline. My yellow line attaches to a small loop of shock cord with a plastic hook, which firmly grasps the piping in the hood of the bivy. This mod keeps the bivy off my face, and gives me the option of rolling up the rain cover when the weather is nice. The shock cord keeps the wind from stressing the seams.
Simple, quick setups are ideal when you’re stealth camping, though the neon-green Alpine bivy isn’t perfect. Nevertheless, we were in and out of Keene without anyone noticing otherwise, though we were disturbed by the hacking cough-moan of a female deer at 5AM.
On the way back, we took the Ashuelot down to Wichester and then skipped over to Route 79, and linked together barely-used residential roads straight through the heart of the Northfield State Forest and Mt. Grace. Flower Hill Road is a stupendous effort, with a huge increase in elevation over a relatively short distance. The contour lines on my GPS were a hair away from each other. The descent down the other side into Northfield was equally thrilling, and I was absolutely pumped to have aerobars mounted on my bike.
And finally, the namesake of the route. If you’re spinning down 63 or wandering your way through the protected state forest, there’s an easy stop in Northfield for some ice cream. Northfield Creamie is a small, family-owned ice cream stand with a selection that is to die for. Eight-plus different kinds of sprinkles, local ice cream from all over the region, and delicious soft-serve don’t do justice as a description, but you get the idea.
We relished the break after the Flower Hill climb, and the stand was happy to refill our water bottles, twice. You know it’s the place to go when there’s a constant line all day long.
And with all the exhaustion, sunburn, bug bites, dirt, grime, sweat, blood, and tears of an extended tour, we finished Kelley’s first off-road bikepacking trip right back where we started in Amherst, MA, where we packed the car and headed for the coast. Kelley’s on vacation this week, so we’ll be enjoying a week of wandering Massachusetts by bike and a weekend backpacking trip in Vermont. This summer just keeps going and going!