Words: Guest Author | Date:
“There is no spring in New England” the saying goes. One day you are experiencing the bleak cold of winter (some years lasting well into June.) The next you are in the full grip of summer. Most times not even a day separates the two, the weather going straight from one season to the next. The worst part about it is that you never know when it will happen. One day you’ll be up to your neck in sweaters, pulling on long pants and looking out at the cold, barren landscape in front of you. The next, you’ll be peeling off layers as fast as you can to reveal the pale white skin of areas that haven’t felt the outside air in what feels like decades.
This year, somehow, that switch of the seasons happened on the very same day we chose to do our 110-mile jaunt out of Litchfield, Connecticut and through its surrounding hills. This was painfully obvious from the first light of day. Looking out the window upon waking I knew it was going to be hot and I took this moment alone to ponder the way that this might affect the ride. I was trying to figure out what to wear for the day, and basing it on the frigid night before wasn’t going to do the trick.
The waves of heat ascending off the pavement as I stared out the window were talking another language. One that spoke of sweat and pain, sun and scorch. Having ridden and raced quite a few times under the sweltering sun of the Northeast, the mental checklist snapped to the forefront of my mind. Nutrition, clothing, the length of the ride and the group riding with me were all concerns, as I’ve seen people do some crazy things in the heat.
Nutrition shouldn’t be an issue, being that all of us are like-minded able-bodied fit adults. Yet it always is, especially in the heat. Drinking tends not to present a problem as the thirst levels escalate with the temperature. But, eating is another story as it is easy to dismiss food when it’s hot. Not wanting to choke down a cardboard flavored bar or attempt to stomach the sickly-sweet taste of a GU packet is understandable, however, not acceptable.
It was a combination of anger and frustration that I felt as I dug through my gear bag, looking for the extra bottle that I knew was in there somewhere. “Why does it have to be today?” Why does summer have to swoop in with Helios hot on it’s heels? I could feel it before we even got on our bikes. I knew all too well the choking heat that descends upon you whenever you stop–making for the strange dichotomy of not wanting to ride but not wanting to stop, just wanting to be done.
Having the right clothing would be essential for this ride. More so than the others. In cold weather you can pile on more layers, pull on arm-warmers, slather on embrocation, or throw on jackets. In the heat you can only take off so much, before you’re down to your bib-shorts looking like you’re about to snap on your headgear and wrestle. I switched up my clothing choice at the last minute, choosing the feathery Classic Sportwool Jersey over the Lightweight Jersey for a few different reasons. Full-zip and a looser fit meant that the jersey could (and would) come off at a moments notice- such as the chance to swim in a local watering hole, or the need to be fully unzipped to allow all possible air in. Also, the cinch at the bottom meant that more fluids could be carried without any jersey pocket sag.
So this is the thing about the New England summer. You never know when it is going to happen, and when it does one is never prepared for the extremity. Still, the instant-heat on the ride was about to take eight very competent riders and turn them into mush. Though we were all pseudo-joking about melting, combusting and burning before we even started pedaling, we knew that we couldn’t let a one-day jump from 50 to 95 degrees keep us from riding.
There’s another classic American saying that we also believe up here in the Northeast, “when the going gets tough…”
Part 1 – Working Farm
Part 2 – End of Improved Road
Part 3 – Beer, Wine, Guns and Ammo
Part 4 – End of Times
Part 5 – Ride Description
Two hundred million years ago, during the Triassic period, the land that’s now Connecticut boasted massive mountain peaks created by the tectonic collision of proto-continents. Geologists estimate these mountains were larger than the modern day Himalayas. Alas, little about modern Connecticut, the humble state located between the metropolises of New York and Boston, suggests it was once a place of gigantic mountainous terrain. Over time, the shifting glaciers buffed these great peaks down to create the rolling hills that dominate the landscape of this north-western corner of the state.
On June 7th 2008, the Continental team rode 106-miles in the Litchfield Hills of north-western Connecticut, briefly breaching into the neighboring states of New York and Massachusetts. The ride is a tour of colonial villages and surrounding farmlands. This region remains largely unfettered by the encroachments of modern development and remains with a certain timelessness to it. This region of the state delivers frequent reminders of the previous inhabitants who have toiled in the oft-difficult New England climate.
Setting south from the village green of Litchfield, the route heads toward Beach Street, which leads into farmlands that really start the ride. Flanked by fields of working farms, the road turns to dirt at the turn onto Town Hill Road, which starts rolling enough to get the blood flowing five miles in.
We pour onto Route 63, flanked by stonewalls constructed by early farmers frustrated by the fact that their fields were full of rocks left by the receding glaciers. Turning north, the road reaches a local high point, brimming with northern views of the Berkshires hills. With hills in the distance and a cow-filled pasture below, the route descends to the left over Hautboy Hill to Cornwall Hollow.
In the hollow, there is a crossroads marked by a cannonball-adorned monument to a local veteran of the Mexican and Civil war. The route moves towards Lake Road, an ascending avenue flanked by tall pines providing a welcomed shade that makes the climb a promenade of sorts. Short, steep climbs on Cream Hill Road repetitively punish the legs nearly to the point of breaking just before one of the longest descents of the day down Music Mountain.
Once the musical descent stops you pass a local auto track at Lime Rock and head onto Salmon Kill Road, an idyllic road that flows along a bubbling brook. As flocks of birds dart overhead from field to field, the shaded dank dirt road descent drops us into the town of Salisbury.
After refilling bottles at the gurgling natural spring in the center of Salisbury, we’re out of the saddle again on the rising dirt road of Mount Riga, a 3.5-mile climb cooled by tree cover and mountain run-off. A quick dip into South Pond atop the climb offers a welcomed reprieve from the heat of the instant New England summer.
Out of the water and revived, we ride eight miles in relative remoteness crossing into Massachusetts, then into Bash Bish State Park, which spans the state line of Massachusetts and New York. With only a few turns of the cranks we’ve crossed from Connecticut to Massachusetts to New York and with a right down the road, we’re back in Mass, cutting across the flat farmland of the Housatonic River Valley and heading towards the small town of Mill River, that has everything a cyclist may need, so long as all they need is a general store.
Leaving Mill River, we rode south back into Connecticut and along the steady low-grade climb of Route 272 towards Norfolk, nestled below Haystack mountain, which brings to mind the phrase ‘land of milk and honey’ with its funky colonial buildings plotted around its center green. From the town green in Norfolk, the route moves to Mountain Road, a variably paved route with dirt rollers that passes Wagnum Lake and leads to a ripping descent down Canaan Mountain Road.
From the base of the descent, the ride continues past the typically flooded Cobble Road on Undermountain Road and back onto Route 63. With a brief back track through Cornwall Hollow we’re 90-miles in and completely wilted. With the Mohawk Mountain Ski Area poking out from behind the trees we can clearly see what lies ahead, the aptly named Great Hill Road.
Once known as the Cathedral of the Pines before it was planed by a tornado, Great Hill Road is the final big push of the ride. The climb is followed by some not so subtle rollers that pass a farm who’s main crop surely appears to be rocks given the abundance of them in the fields. As we roll through the minimal town green of Milton, these final miles are a fitting capstone to a hardy ride through a region that has garnered character through the harsh New England climate.
Part 6 – Cue Sheet
Click cue sheet for PDF version.