The week started with a fun pickleball session. Paula was still in Scotland, and I played for 2.5 hours. The next day, I went out and pre-rode the NCC Hilltown Gravel course for this week, starting remotely in West Deerfield. I only had to make a slight change to the route in Greenfield, avoiding the big roundabout where I-91 and Route 2 intersect.

Closed Shelburne Falls road

Wednesday morning, I did a short run in my new Hoka Speedgoat trail running shoes. They felt great, and the new wool running socks I bought along with them were good as well. There was no pickleball because I had to pick up Paula from the airport in Hartford. Driving there, I ended up in a huge thunderstorm that caused some delays. Fortunately, the plane was not affected.

Hoka shoes

On Thursday, the NCC Hilltown Gravel ride train always leaves on time, so David, Meg, and I left at 5:30 pm for the third episode of the Hill Gravel series. This time, I started remotely in West Deerfield at the banks of the Deerfield River. It paid off, as within 5 minutes we caught up with the locomotives of the cargo train from North Adams to Greenfield. The train was hooting, and we were too—at least in my memory.

Soon after, we went off track and onto our first gravel section, a rolling climb up Hawks Road. After the brand new asphalt at the bottom of Hawks, the rutted-out and loose gravel felt extra rough. If you haven’t gone up this road, I highly recommend it. It feels like you are being teleported from the Pioneer Valley into a pastoral valley somewhere in the middle of Vermont. We left "Vermont" on a short asphalt climb and hit another section of gravel on Taylor Road. Here, as I had hoped, Jason caught up to us. A busy day had trouble letting him go, but he made up 10 minutes in no time.

David, My self and Jason. 📸Meg

When we hit Greenfield Road, we descended into its namesake town and left Old Albany for our next pass. At the bottom, we came through the hairpin, which I mistakenly announced as a U-turn, confusing Meg, who thought we were immediately going back up. My second language part of the brain was not working today. As we rode up the closed-off Shelburn Falls Road, for some reason, I could not think of the words for "Edible Arrangements." At sweet spot pace, the only words I could utter were "Edibles," "Editable Bouquets," and "Flowers you can eat," much to the misunderstanding of my companions. At some point, I just gave up—actually, they did before me. Just now, Google gave me some suggestions: "Fruit Basket" and "Fruit Arrangements." Oh well. I should have just said it in Dutch: “Fruit Mand.” We almost lost David into the canyons along the side of the road. The only traffic we came across was a golf cart and a food truck.

On Lucy Fiske, we learned that it is “No Mow May,” after which we turned back to Greenfield Road. This time, we took a right on Old Albany Road. Jason led the way down for a fun descent along the washed-out gravel, followed by Meg, who earned a Strava cup, then David, and me following David’s lines. We had to skip the powerline stop, but we regrouped at Clarkdale's Apple Orchard, where the blossoming apple trees looked and smelled amazing. With a swift traverse along Lower Road (a paceline attempt was made), we returned from a super fun ride.

First night in the campervan

Friday, I drove out to Red Apple Farm with my van and camped overnight. It was a cold night, and I could barely keep myself warm even with a comforter and a warm wool blanket. The next morning, I was supposed to start with a group of riders at 8:50 am. While waiting for the group, I ran into another group with Jenny, Aiyala, and Sharon. They were riding with Karen, Rachel, and David. After I took some group photos for them, we decided to ride together.

David, Karen, Rachel, Sharon, Jenny, Aiyanna, and myself

The route was amazing, 100 km of beautiful dirt and gravel roads. We started with a long trail section towards the Quabbin. The group was going at a nice pace, and we made good progress. Along the way, we passed another group where one of the riders had crashed and, we later heard, had to abandon with a concussion. After chatting with Rachel, I found out she had finished the 2023 edition of PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1200 km ultra-endurance ride in France).

Half way stop

At the halfway stop, Rob was waiting for us with yummy sandwiches. Since I had been playing with my drone, I missed the nice pies, but at least I got some at the end. We continued our ride, passed through Orange, and had some more gravel sections. In total, the route consisted of 40% unpaved surface. When we were near Lake Tully, we avoided a steep road climb by taking the scenic road, a gravel road turned steep single-track, which brought us to the foot of Doanna's Falls. Here, we stopped to take photos, and then Aiyanna's bike fell down the side towards the water 10 feet below.

Fetching Aiyanna's fallen bike

Fortunately, we were able to retrieve it, and besides a slightly bent derailleur hanger, the bike was operational, and Aiyanna could continue. We still had 15 miles to go. By the end, I definitely felt the effort, while the ladies were powering on strong. I was able to keep up, but barely. We finished the ride in less than 5 hours of moving time. The hamburger, beer, and pie were well deserved.

Another great gravel section

Even though I was really tired from the ride the day before, I did meet with Mac for a trail run in the woods behind his house. Kula, his new golden retriever puppy, joined us, and we were out for almost an hour. It was a good week.

Mac and Kula

This week on veloviewer