My perennial motorcycle-riding-cohort Tony Costa met me up in Northampton last Saturday, to take advantage of the near perfect weather conditions for a two wheeled road flight over the rolling Berkshires, to the toppermost of Massachusetts....the towering Mount Greylock.
But first, the man was craving some pizza for breakfast, from Sam's...
He scarfed down the slice and we were soon setting out, north by northwest, making good time along the back roads of the western edges of the Pioneer Valley. We were quickly in Ashfield at about lunchtime proper, where we pulled over at a favorite biker stop, the Lakehouse bar and restaurant. We set out on the porch over the water for a spell, and I filled up with a delicious good ol' all-American cheeseburger and fries.
A little farther, and we hooked up with route 116: climbing, winding and twisting blissfully through wide open wind-swept pasture land, cutting through leafy tunnels of forest, and puttering past classic old New England town centers like Plainfield, Cheshire and Savoy. Finally, the road began to slope downwards, and we were dropped into the arms of the far off town of Adams. Stopping for gas here, we could see the final destination looming in the distance.
Greylock has just recently reopened after an extensive repaving of the 8 miles or so of road to the top. The ride up now is smooth as silk, in high contrast to the near 19th century conditions of the old road. But bikers take note, and beware of loose gravel from the road sides that have accumulated in the middle of the road, especially in several of the hairpin turns. Both of us had a couple of heart-in-the-throat moments as our wheels nearly broke loose from the pavement and threatened to toss us into oncoming traffic.
Nearing the top, several awe inspiring vistas suddenly present themselves.
We pulled over for a look, and chatted with some intrepid hikers who were enjoying the scenery while limbering up for their return hike back down...
...behind us, several even more intrepid bicyclists zoomed back down.
These healthy souls reminded me just how badly I've succumbed to the siren song of the combustion engine and the easy temptations of paved roadway. I need to dust off my hiking boots when I get back home, I thought to myself. Then Tony turned away from the passing bicyclists, looked me dead in the eye, and said with all seriousness: "Screwwww thaaaat..."
Yes Tony, screw that, indeed. For today...we ride.
Another mile or so, and the top is finally at hand. Bikers are directed to their own parking section, away from the four wheeled species.
A very short walk from the parking area, and the top of the mountain breaks through the trees. Before taking in any scenery though, Tony took the opportunity to engage the local authorities and notify them about the loose gravel situation, before somebody really gets hurt...
Meanwhile, I made my way over to Bascom Lodge, a sturdy old building with food, shelter, and bunks for overnight stays for the Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. With incredible views, it must be one of the top stops for the hikers along the Appalachian Trail.
From one of the windows I could see some painters had set up shop down below.
It was a busy day up on the summit, and on a broad grassy area dozens of tourists of all stripes criss-crossing and mixing with hikers of various calibre; all taking in the grandest view in Massachusetts.
There were a lot of day hikers, with light packs and half-drunk bottles of spring water...
...but two guys resting on the grass caught my attention; Wirey, weather-worn and grizzle-bearded, next to them all the heavier gear and trappings of serious hikers. I had to know where these guys had started from, and mustered up the resolution to ask them. They were friendly, and the younger guy told me with a broad smile that they had set out on March 11, from Springer Mountain...Georgia...
...sure enough, the very beginning of the 2100 miles or so of Appalachian Trail.
Georgia. Freaking Georgia. Nearly five months of daily hiking so far. And they meant to finish; all the way to the still far off Mount Katadhin, in Maine..
They weren't going to stay at the lodge overnight. They had stopped here for some vittles, but found that the lodge only takes cash. So they'll take advantage of the good weather and proceed immediately down the mountain to the next shelter.
Big Brass ones. 35 pounds on their backs, for 2100+ miles. My feet usually start to hurt after about, say, three miles. Moving solely on their own schedules, after a long while they finally got up, geared up, and set out for the next leg of their long journey.
I watched them with admiration as they rambled off, over the side of the hill and disappearing into the brush. Then turning back around I caught the eye of consummate urbanite Tony C, who glanced at me sideways and muttered under his breath: "screwwww thaaaaat..."
Next stop, Greylock's iconic tower, which was open for a 360 view of the Earth below.
Like the other buildings on the summit, the tower was built during the 1930's, with a war memorial design to the domed entrance.
From there it's a spiraling staircase to the observation platform about 90 feet up, where there are windows all around for all around views.
The tower makes the tallest mountain in Massachusetts feel even taller.
We hung out for a little while, recharging in the bright sun and cool breezes. It was a great ride, but half done; Time to get back home, along our own trails...