Northampton Cycling Club member Henry van den Broek shares his experience at the 2023 Massochistah.
To read more about Henry’s adventures, visit his blog.
Get your epic print by the offical Massochistah professional photographer Eddie Medina
With more than 190 other gravel aficionados, I signed up for the 4th edition of the Massochistah. Massochistah is a spring gravel ride that explores some of the finest gravel roads of the Pioneer Valley hill towns.
Past editions have seen snow and ice, summer heat, drizzly rain, and, most of all MUD. This year’s edition was unique because of its new start location. Where in the past years, the Ashfield lake house was the event’s epicenter, this year’s edition started at the Edge Hill Golf course in Ashfield.
The new start location and the late pack of snow we got in March created an opportunity to tweak some of the routes. It still featured classic sections like Pine Hill, Main Poland, East Rd, Orcut, and Aggh, Smith; new sections included Bray and the whole of Murray. Where in the past, the short but steep Bellus climb was one of the first warmup climbs, it was now routed at the end as a “cooldown” climb. Ouch!
The riders had a menu of 3 different routes: the Dirty, which was 31 miles with 3500 ft of climbing. The Hurty, a 54-mile route with 6250 feet of climbing, and the Gurty, 69 miles long, with 8500 ft of climbing. All 3 of them qualified plenty for the 100ft per mile standard, indicating a hard ride.
The Gurty had 77 entries and started at 8am. The Hurty began at 9am with 50 registrants, and the Dirty started at 10am with 45 gravel enthusiasts. Since the event is a Youth and Adaptive cycling program fundraiser, there was also a Kids Brigade option, where 11 brave kids rode the Dirty with their parents and left with the Hurty riders at 9am.
I had initially signed up for the Gurty route, but since I was not feeling my best, I changed to the Hurty course. I wanted to relish some of the famous Croissants, I went early enough anyway to enjoy lots of pre-ride conversations, a delicious almond croissant, and coffee. On top of that I had ample time to wave off the Gurdy riders.
With the other Hurty riders, followed by the Kids brigade, we were sent off at 9am. The forecast predicted cloudy skies and temperatures in the 70ish. It turned out to be a beautiful sunny day where the temperature definitely hit the 80s. A slight burn on my arms was proof of that by the end of the day.
With my modest pace, I chatted with my co-riders and spoke with folks from Connecticut, Vermont, Eastern Mass, and the hill towns. Interestingly enough I talked to a few folks who were now local but had, like me, recently relocated from the Boston suburbs to the Pioneer Valley. Cycling had been a big part of the decision equation.
After admiring all the course signs I had put out the day before, riding through my hometown of Conway, and crossing Poland Gate, we soon arrived at our first rest stop at East Guinea Rd.
When I arrived, it was swarming with riders from both the Hurty and the Gurty. Dusty and Aimé handled the stop and had an impressive spread. Aimé showed me how to make his favorite ride food: a Brie/Jelly/Chocolat sandwich. Dusty ensured there was plenty of Brie, and Aimé insisted I should not skimp on the Jelly. By the time I finished my sandwich, all the riders had moved on, and I was left with the sag wagon.
The following section went past DAR forest along Goat Path (the nickname for Wing Hill Rd) which, despite the recent dry weather, still spotted some snow and a challenging mud section. Here I reconnected with a rider from Connecticut and promised him a view of Mt Monadnock on the top of West Rd. Indeed, we saw it hovering above the hazy horizon.
I came upon local riding legends Russ Loomis and Ted Lapinski chatting while descending West Rd. This was a good reason to pull over and, after chatting about all things bikes and tires, continued on. Later I would see see Russ again on Bellus.
Even though I planned to do the Hurty or at least part of it to get to the 2nd rest top at Meadowsweet farm, I was not feeling it and on top of that I was late. So when the Hurty and Dirty route split, I decided to stay on the Dirty route. After a lovely descent down Creamery Rd, I crossed rt 116 towards Murray. Here I connected with a couple from Pittsfield who were waiting for their son to come by and cheer him on.
On the home stretch, as anticipated, I found Bellus a bit devious but doable. Here I was passed by three riders from the Cycle Smart race team. Judging by their speed, it did not feel steep for them at all. Still, I arrived just after them at the finish at the Edge Hill golf club. I signed out and picked up the beautiful Massochistah t-shirt, after I dug into the great food and refreshments. While enjoying conversations, riders started to trickle in. When the Kids Brigade finished, they were welcomed by a big applause.
After the Band riders arrived (some rode the course as well, was my understanding), they provided some excellent live music. Everyone was enjoying the rest of the beautiful afternoon with good food, drinks, views, music and company.
Thanks, Aimé, Jason, Jonathan, and Leila, for organizing, all the volunteers to make it possible, and NCC for presenting this great event.