Western Massachusetts

Western Massachusetts
Adventure is going into the unknown. Even on familiar roads, I can never anticipate what will be seen or experienced. Nor can I predict how it will all end. As my bike dove into an impossibly green canyon, these thoughts arose superimposed on beautiful images of the landscape and analysis of the asphalt ribbon. But if these thoughts were premonitions, I certainly didn't heed them.

Day 1

The narrow twisting road follows the rust-colored Deerfield River as it descends from the Green Mountains of Vermont. The hillsides are impossibly steep  -  any closer to vertical and they would be cliffs  -  and the road cuts along their flanks high above the rapidly flowing water. The foliage is lush green, growing right to the edge of the asphalt before arching over into the already narrow lanes. This is my favorite road in the Berkshires and its only flaw is that it's far too short.

I turn onto the Mohawk Trail and head west. Now designated Route 2, this old Indian path, which runs through the mountains from the Connecticut River to the Hudson, has become one of the most popular motorcycle touring roads in Massachusetts. Today is no exception and I have plenty of two-wheel company as I wind through the northern Berkshire Mountains and down into the old mill town of North Adams.

I pass the turn leading to the Greylock Reservation, but the group of bikes behind me peels off Route 2 and heads up the Notch Road. Despite the rough asphalt leading to the highest summit in Massachusetts, Mt. Greylock is the most popular motorcycling destination in the Berkshires. I've taken this side trip several times, but not today.

The Moonlight Grill on Route 2 is an excellent place to stop for a bite to eat, but the crowded parking lot deters me from stopping for breakfast. Instead, I venture onto Spring Street, the downtown shopping area for Williamstown. Situated in the middle of the campus of Williams College, it has a unique flavor: hip cafés, conventional businesses housed in staid nineteenth-century commercial blocks, and Images Cinema, one of those rare movie houses that specializes in art films, showing classic, independent, and foreign footage.

I finally take a break at the wonderful picnic area at the intersection of Routes 43 and 7. Across the highway, the Five Corners Store offers all the necessary fixings for a fine picnic lunch, but a coffee and muffin is sufficient this morning. Route 43 runs along the Jericho Valley, a low pass through the mountain range that forms the boundary between Massachusetts and New York. It leads to Route 22, one of the most frequented touring roads in eastern New York, which becomes just a short connector for me today. The sole purpose of taking this highway is to enable me to head east, this time climbing over the Taconic Mountain Range and enjoying the wide sweeping turns this portion of Route 20 is known for.

Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick while living near Pittsfield; his friend and mentor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, wrote the Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables while living in Lenox. Norman Rockwell called the Berkshires home for many years, but whenever I think of this area, I can't help recalling Arlo Guthrie and "Alice's Restaurant." Route 41 is a wonderful road that takes me from the Hancock Shaker Village, a restored settlement of 20 buildings on 1,000 acres that is one of the finest surviving examples of the Shaker lifestyle, south through West Stockbridge and into Great Barrington.

Many people consider Great Barrington to be the cultural center of the Berkshires. It hosts numerous music festivals, concerts, and performances in the summer months (mostly classical and chamber music, but also jazz and some folk) and its art galleries, antique shops, cafés and restaurants make this an interesting town in which to spend a weekend. I take a stroll down tree-lined Main Street, the first in the United States to have electric lights, and onto Railroad Street, one of the oldest in our country. Just past the town hall there is a monument commemorating the armed resistance against the British  -  two years before the Revolutionary War. Also worth a mention, the first official freeing of a black slave took place here. Just a few of the footnotes to the dynamic histories in these now bucolic tourist towns; histories proudly proclaimed on bronze plaques mounted on buildings and monuments throughout the Berkshires.

After crossing the Massachusetts-Connecticut border and just a mile past the Salisbury School, I notice the white sign marking the turn onto Taconic Road. This is a beautiful shortcut leading to Route 44, but my established trip plan calls for me to continue south into the village. Upon reaching Salisbury I head north on Route 44, passing the well-marked eastern end of the shortcut, and find myself back in Massachusetts.

In Sheffield, almost every fourth or fifth building seems to be an antique shop, but since antiquing and motorcycling rarely mix, I continue without stopping. Turning onto Maple Avenue, which becomes Sheffield Road, I meander south on a succession of local roads  -  River, Southfield, Canaan  -  back into Connecticut. Route 44E takes me to Route 272N and I'm back on rough narrow pavement until reaching Route 183. (Riders on full-dress touring machines should consider continuing on Route 7N from Sheffield to Route 23E in Great Barrington instead of venturing down these local roads.)

I had expectations of being able to make good time once I was on Route 23, but it turns out to be posted for 35mph. Twisting through the southern Berkshires, this scenic touring road begs to be ridden beyond the speed limit. Fortunately, no one is paying the slightest attention to the speed limit today, so I end up sedately cruising east to Woronoco in fifth gear.

The serpentine pavement of Route 112 between Huntington and the junction of Route 66 has more motorcycles than cars on it today. Besides being a portion of a popular east-west touring route, the road appears a part of a local rally underway at Littleville Lake. North of Route 66, the road becomes ideal for sport riding and I'm thoroughly enjoying it all as I wind along Little River.

Beyond Worthington Corners I once again take another shortcut, using Windsor Road to connect Route 143W to Route 9W. After taking Route 8A north and east, I have to hunt for the last segment of today's riding. I'm looking for an unfamiliar turn and, of course, miss it and have to backtrack. Like most local highways it frequently changes name every few miles  -  Loop Road, Chapel Road, Black Brook Road  -  but I easily find my way since all the possible alternate turns are onto gravel surfaces. By the time I make it back to Route 2, I'm ready to make camp for the night.