By Chris Stratton
Published 09/03/2022; Updated 09/06/2022

It must have been the day’s perfect weather, because a total of six riders turned out on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend for a 59 mile ride to Shelburne Falls

We rolled out of Pulaski Park at 9:05 with five, and then a sixth joined us at the turn in Leeds just before the warmup climb up Audobon.   Our number consisted of four typically C/C+ riders, and given the lack of a Saturday B ride offering this holiday weekend, two faster folk who joined us to socialize and chat through the long climb of Ashfield Road, while explaining that they’d probably be departing for a faster return from there.   I’d originally cut the extra bit on Creamery Road out of the plan to keep the total below 60 miles, but everyone seemed on board with adding it back in, and leading a ride with a strong group like this seems to mostly involve sending email, packing an extra spare tube, counting heads, and chairing the group discussion of impromptu modifications – so by unanimous consent we rode a beautiful but climby extra mile and half before coming out at Elmer’s Store.  Our four continuing riders were well stocked with supplies to push on to Shelburne Falls, but the two turning back headed a brief bit up the road to Neighbour’s Store before starting their speed run south.  Thanks for the company and conversation, and hope you had a great ride back!

Our route onwards repeated the initial bit of Baptist Corner Road used in last weekend’s ride, and once it again its was scenically beautiful, but also hilly – if I hand’t been struggling to keep up, I’d probably have taken a few pictures.   This time of course we did the whole thing rather then turn off on Beldingville, and the last mile or so of it (I guess technically Wilder Hill Road) was so freshly repaved I worried there could be an oil residue that might make things a bit interesting, but fortunately apart from one easily remedied dropped chain it was a smooth ride.

Shelburne Falls road seemed in great shape – fresh perfect pavement where I’d remembered potholes, and seemingly complete down to perfectly shaped curbs and gleaming new guardrail, needing nothing more than perhaps coming back to paint the fog line.   I was just congratulating myself for having correctly assessed the situation from afar, when upon crossing the tracks, we encountered a few hundred yards of gravel!



It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it looks – it’s far, far better than the current state of Damon Road at least!  Actually there was a fair amount of clay in it, and it was well packed down by passing vehicles, so not too much trouble at all.

But we all survived, and the Village of Shelburne Falls was picturesque as ever:



We stopped for supplies the the Co-Op.



The famous Bridge of Flowers (a former trolley bridge now a gardened pedestrian crossing) had been closed when I was last there in the first fall of COVID, but was finally open to see, though a bit narrow and crowded to even walk a bike onto, so I had to settle for a few quick pictures while my ride companions watched mine.




But with our mileage not even half complete, it was time to ride across the road bridge, and find our way via 2A to route 2.

The previous time I’d been to Shelburne Falls I rode the whole way to Greenfield on the shoulder of route 2, which is workable as it’s fairly wide, though the final descent is quite something.  Still, even as much as route 2 is workable, it’s not particularly enjoyable.   I’d debated at length between leaving it earlier on Shelburne Center Road which promised a rough or unpaved stretch, or later via a tiny bit of Old Greenfield to Zariah Fisk, and announced the route with that later more verified-surface choice, but as we rolled out of Shelburne Falls just left it that we’d stop at the Shelburne Center turn and make a group decision there.  Unsurprisingly, by that point people were interested in an alternative to the busy state highway, so although everyone else was on a conventional road bike we unanimously agreed to take our chances on the backroads.

At first we had a wonderful curving descent on well-paved surface, but then… gravel!   And on a climb no less!   With the 32mm tires my bike is currently wearing for road rides it should have been no issue, and if my legs hadn’t been AWOL all week it probably wouldn’t have been much challenge, but although those on conventional road bikes managed to stay ahead on the climbs and rather dusty levels that followed, I think this stretch is about at the limit of the sort of “short unpaved segment” that can be legitimately inserted into a “road ride” with the explanation of “making a critical connection”

Still, we got through it and paving resumed shortly before the crossing of Zariah Fisk road and the taxing (but mercifully not too long) climb on South Shelburne remembered only too well from the Hatfield Lion’s Club ride earlier this summer.  As more than one in the group reminded, the descent on the final strech of South Shelburne Road from there to catch Fairview at the edge of Greenfield has some issues,… and they were right!   As we passed Old Albany road I allowed my attention to wander to contemplating it, and debating if I’ll ever try it, with the result that I missed seeing what was in front of me on South Shelburne, and bounced directly through one of the worst potholes on the route!

Fortunately both wheels and tubes survived and I caught up with the others waiting at a a turn where we set off in the direction of Upper Road and our next major goal of the Stillwater bridge. It’s been a power challenged week, and though I was briefly in the midst of things I didn’t quite stay in on an early climb.

Oh yes… the wind!   It had become a quite energetically blustery day, and blowing upriver as it always seems to (at least at any hour when you’re trying to ride south!)

Fortunately, after Stillwater the flatter terrain put me at less of a disadvantage, so for much of the way from there south, I had the privilege of joining my three stronger companions in one of the most usefully effective and cooperative pacelines that I’ve ever had a chance to be part of.  In many ways, I think four is the perfect size to use such a strategy – still small enough that you can communicate and it’s easy to fall out and get on the back before traffic becomes an issue, but large enough to get a pretty serious break before you’re up again.  Everyone contributed according to their ability, which is to say that I tried to give it at least a third of a mile though the fact that others did much more was a key to getting us back against the wind at the pace we did.  Having a compact ride also made it easy to discuss our final intentions, which meant that by the time we crossed back over 91, we all knew where everyone else would be departing the ride.

I’d like to extend a huge thanks to everyone who joined in this ride, either for the climb up to South Ashfield, or the overall Shelburne Falls adventure.  It’s a place I’ve been wanting to return to for a long time, and it was an honor and privilege to do so in your company!