Ahead of our 2009 summer vacation I checked the Berkshire Cycling Association website to see if there were any group rides I could participate in. There were touring rides on Wednesday morning and Thursday evening. I sent an email asking about the details of the morning ride, and got a reply from Margie who told me that I was welcome to ride with them. The pace might be 12 mph plus or minus, and there were two "significant climbs" on the route. It sounded great so Kathi and I headed down the day after we arrived in Massachusetts. While I was riding, Kathi planned on doing some shopping in nearby Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Remember Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant? Same place.
The ride started from Muddy Brook School, near Great Barrington, and facing Monument Mountain. Monument Mountain is said to have provided the inspiration for Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. We arrived early so I could assemble my bike. Shortly after, Margie and the others arrived. I was introduced around, and at about 9:00 we assembled for a brief pre-ride meeting. The ride had a ride leader, and a ride sweeper who would ride with anyone who fell a bit behind. No one would be left behind, but if you went off the front you were on your own.
Ominously, most everyone was talking about one of the hills on the route. Names like "The Wall" were bandied about. Hmmm. I thought I'd be ok with my 39/27, but still, this was my first ride in the area after driving all day the day before. All 15 or so of us introduced themselves and then we were off.
Everyone was very friendly and I moved through the group to chat with most of the riders. The ride headed north along Route 7 back to Stockbridge, where we passed Kathi, who had just parked the car. This was nice because I knew where she parked, and parking is sometimes difficult in Stockbridge.
The route was very nice, with some rolling hills. We rode on route 102 east through Tyringham, and at about 11 miles we stopped to re-group at Monterey Road. This was just before the start of "The Wall". Along the way the ride leader had clued me in about the climb. It was about 1.8 miles long and was described in various cycling publications as one of the most difficult in Massachusetts. Hmmm. The road runs through or near Beartown State Forest (click the link for lots of information about this great outdoor recreational area).
So, after re-grouping, we started off in small groups for the climb so there would be less congestion on the hill. I was quickly in my 27 once the hill started in earnest, and I needed every bit of that. Two miles at 5 miles an hour does take a bit of time. I almost made it. About 40 feet from the top I gassed out, and realised that I could fall over or walk. Falling sucks so I got off to walk the rest. The following downhill was pretty nice, and we re-grouped again at the Monterey Country store at the bottom.
The other significant climb wasn't as bad as Monterey Road, but it was still a climb and still took my 27. But the descent from the top was spectacular! Pretty long, great surface, winding turns. I don't know if I broke any group ettiquette, but I did pass a couple of people on the descent. But safely. Carrying a few extra pounds does have benefits on descents, and I drop down them like a rock.
Back at the school I said goodbye to everyone and then rode back to Stockbridge to meet-up with Kathi. I had a great time riding with this BCA group, and thank them for making me feel welcome. I wish that my local club would have rides organized like they do. But I think this is about as likely as finding a 2-mile climb requiring a 39/27 in Indiana. A final note: on the way back to Lenox I had occasion to see a black bear running into the brush on the left side of the road heading back to Lenox! I'd never seen one before so it took a second to realize what I'd just seen. By that time it was long gone. Thankfully.