I knew which forest I was in, and I knew most of the trails, but I didn’t have a clue where I’d ended up. Reading the tea leaves of sweat and effort told me the trailhead was downhill, but it didn’t matter. I had water, a CLIF bar, ambition, and reckless abandon. Up and up.
The beginning of my ride went exactly to plan. I left home around 10am, feeling like Lance Armstrong in the late 90’s. My legs pumped and strained against the fat tread on my tires, which grabbed the pavement with two fists, holding back my pace on the hills before the trailhead. I never drive out to the trail, ever, so my radius of good off-roading is only as large as I’m willing to push it out.
Amethyst Brook was as beautiful as ever, and despite a small parade of dogs at the start, I had the entire complex to myself. I kicked around between roots for a while before hitting the big hills. There’s a couple of gnarly climbs in Amethyst Brook, very technical streambeds with tons of loose rock. I’m getting faster and lighter on my climbs, but I still put a foot down here and there, the chink-crunch of pedal strikes echoing past the white noise of the stream.
I knew where I was up until the forest disappeared. A whole swath of it was leveled, gone, a long, winding highway-sized clearing left spiraling down the mountainside. A trail is a trail, so I spun on down after it.
Good riding, until my front wheel vanished in front of me.
Muck doesn’t quite cover it; this was an ocean with too much sediment. The whole path glistened, the air hung heavy with earth, and my tires sunk two inches straight down. I was churning up flecks of dark mud with every pedal stroke and coating my shins and shoes. This was a Land Rover commercial; I couldn’t believe I was getting over it. Who needs fatbikes?
I followed the slick down for about three quarters of a mile before I found the staging area for the hewn forest. The loggers didn’t seem to mind my presence, throwing a wave towards me, or maybe towards OSHA regulations, I’m not sure. They didn’t ask me to leave.
I watched for a while. Most of the logging that happens in Amherst, Hadley, Deerfield, Conway, and the other towns in the Pioneer Valley is pretty well regulated for sustainable practices, so I wasn’t too concerned. It makes the top half of my trail ride pretty ugly, but the logging roads afforded their own opportunities, so it’s a wash.
I finally found that massive sand pit again. Last time Kelley and I were here, it was September 2014. Everything looked the same, barring the rising tide of mud that replaced the flat, empty desert at the foot of the peeling cliffs. It still makes for a nice picture, though.
I rode onward toward Amherst Center again, taking corners slightly faster the second time around and generally having a good time. Some of the stumps left over from the cleared logging path had dirt pressed up against their sides, affording plenty of curb-height jumps and lips to kick the bike over. I’m not hooked on being airborne yet, but I’m having fun flirting with it.
I picked up the bunny trail past Amherst Farmer’s Supply and did the loop back onto the bike path by Amherst College, and I took it really fast. I’m glad nobody else was on it, or I might’ve had to bail into the trees. Ripping and roaring through the gravel paths and sunny, grassy tunnels was such a rush. It feels like a Mobeius strip; all of the climbing happens after big turns and slow, gradual slopes so you barely feel the ascent. It’s one big roller coaster.
I was spoiled today, and if this is the end of summer weather, I really think I used it to the fullest.
I had one new piece of kit this ride. Nick over at Rogue Panda Designs is pushing more and more frame bags to production, including this clean-cut Alamo top tube bag. If you don’t mind a wait, you can get it in whatever color you like, but he’s got a few colors in stock all the time. These still look like the best midpoint between quality and value on the market.
I don’t know how he does it, but his stuff is about $15+ less than everyone else’s, and still just as durable and precise. The Alamo has MOLLE-style webbing loops all along the bottom, so you can move the velcro strap wherever you want (or add a second/third). That should make it compatible with just about anyone else’s framebag, too.
Keep riding, everyone!