By Jonathan O'Keeffe
Published 10/16/2011; Updated 12/20/2021

by Jonathan O’Keeffe » Sun Oct 16, 2011 12:23 am
Just noticed this was my first Saturday Morning Ride in about a month and a half — can’t believe it has been that long. It felt good to get back in the groove with a great ride on a perfect (but windy) autumn day. Andrew and I rode over from Amherst together, and he punctured on about the last 10 meters of the bike path, which delayed our start a little bit, but we eventually rolled from the Academy at about 9:15 AM with seven riders — Andrew and I, along with Paul, Chris, Elissa, Mike Y, and Ron.

Inspired by the Great River Ride last weekend, I had plotted out a route that would take us out to the signature climb on that ride — the seemingly-endless straight-line ascent up East River Road in the town of Chester. We’ve never been out there on a Saturday ride that I’m aware of, so I thought it would be fun to chalk up some new roads. The group was up for the challenge, especially given the high winds forecast for the day, thinking that a route in the hills might spare us from the worst of the winds.

We headed up Chesterfield Road, up the 18% wall, and took a left on Northwest Road, climbing further on rolling hills past the Krug Sugarbush and a nasty chip-sealed section that was more like loose sandy gravel. Regrouped in scenic Chesterfield center, where Andrew departed due to time constraints. The rest of us took Rt. 143 west on the screaming descent down to the Westfield River. This descent would have been a lot more fun without the stiff headwinds and occasional huge crossinds, which were kind of a recurring theme throughout the rest of the day.

After crossing the river, there’s a long climb up into Worthington, where we stopped to refuel. Then, a left turn onto River Road for a spectacular descent along the Middle Branch of the Westfield River. This descends steeply for about three miles on beautiful new pavement, and then further for another five miles along decent pavement, accompanied throughout on the left-hand side by the gorgeous Westfield River. Unfortunately, the nice pavement deteriorates once you cross over into Middlefield and then Chester, and eventually turns into a bombed-out stretch of huge gaping holes in the roadway, along with already-deteriorating repair work.

At the end of this section is the aforementioned East River Road climb, which begins with a long stretch at about 10%, and then bends around a right-hand turn to reveal a huge endless section pointing straight up to a barely-visible point far overhead. Paul mentioned that the only way of coping with this stretch psychologicaly was to count telephone poles; this seemed reasonable, but I lost count at about 20 or so. Paul and Chris were distant specks on the hill in front of me, but I did see Paul surging at the finish to increase his lead to 50 meters or so.

We turned left at the top for a big descent down Bromley Rd, where the crosswinds were again a major hazard, at one point blowing large branches from overhead right on top of us. We picked up Rt. 112 in Huntington and headed north. I’m always looking for new roads, so rather than taking us up the Rt. 66 climb, I instead directed us up the earlier right-hand turn on County Road. I was trying to stay away from the long boring slog up Rt. 66 from Rt. 112, which we did successfully avoid, but at the cost of a truly monster climb up County Road, where my computer at one point was showing grades of 24%. We eventually rejoined Rt. 66 near the high point, and finally were able to enjoy some tailwinds on the eastbound descent back toward Northampton.

The group broke up in NoHo, but Chris, Paul, and I continued eastward on Bay Rd through South Amherst. I was starting to bonk a bit at this point and struggled though every minor climb on this section. Chris split off, and Paul and I headed back toward Amherst. Avoiding heavy traffic on College St, we veered onto a sidewalk at low speed, where Paul cut his wheel a bit too sharply and toppled over. He was a bit banged up but appeared to be OK, and split off to head home, but I later learned that he ended up in the ER at Cooley Dickinson with a bruised hip and what turned out to be a broken wrist. This is the same guy who walked away from a 28 mph crash into a ditch on this year’s D2R2 with only minor scrapes — there’s no rhyme or reason to how these things work out, so be careful out there, folks.

For the group portion of the ride (Noho back to Noho), I ended up with 58 miles @ 16.3 mph, 6,300′ of climbing. Others spent a long periods stopped waiting for me, so their averages were probably faster.

Important note: We’re continuing the Saturday morning rides through the fall until the snow flies, but starting next weekend, we will be reverting to the old start time of 10 AM instead of 9 AM, to give ourselves a few extra minutes for the day to warm up before we start our ride.