November 16, 2010

Washington - Becket Loop 1 (part 3)

At four corners, I rode straight for a mile or so on Lenox-Whitney Road, but as rain threatened I turned back. There is a lot, really a lot, of swampland high in the hills of western Massachusetts. It is fabulous, important wildlife habitat. Based on the theory that if it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck, I could tell you that I saw a bobcat on my ride today. But it was too far away to be certain and I didn’t get my binoculars on time. Certainly it looked like a bobcat: no tail, muscular, much bigger than a domestic cat. I suppose it could have been someone’s boxer in the woods, though that’s extremely unlikely. But I didn’t hear it quack, or meow. So I won’t tell you it was a bobcat. Today I also didn’t see moose, though there are a lot here.

There is a helicopter landing pad at Four Corners, and a chopper had just taken off as I arrived there. I haven’t been that near to one of them since I was in Ste. Enemie in the Cévennes Mountains, and it is almost as incongruous here. The road goes up two small hills before reaching Washington Mountain Road. This isn’t just good habitat for birds, moose, bobcats, it is also good habitat for beavers. I don’t know whether the winter storms or beaver control is harder for the road crew, but you will see all kinds of contraptions aimed at keeping water flowing. If the beavers dam the streams thoroughly the ponds flow up over the roads. It is said that in the early 18th century, people could travel almost anywhere in this part of the world by canoe navigating the extensive wetlands created and maintained by beavers. It is possible that they are only second to us humans in changing a habitat into something they prefer. 

The center of the town was here, high on the mountain. It's hard now to imagine the landscape as mostly cleared fields. What is now October Mountain State Forest was filled with bustling farms, businesses, a school or two. The historic town hall and the cemetery behind it tell something about the town’s history: no fancy buildings, no fancy monuments. These two stones tell their own story. The larger one reads: "Sally, wife of George Smith, died Sept. 7, 1793. Aged 26 years." The smaller, on the right, reads: "Sally, Daughter of George and Sally Smith, died Aug. 30th 1796. Aged 3 years." There is much history to be read here, sometimes literally on gravestones and plaques, sometimes in cellar holes now found in the woodlands.

Turning right on Washington Mountain Road, then left at Frost Road, I headed back to the car. And it was frosty. This road is steep. Map my Ride indicates a grade sometimes over 10% as it descends 400 or so feet in less than a mile. It  has recently been repaved, the road surface is smooth as an eggshell. It was easy to go fast. Easy and fun. Easy, fun, fast and cold. The sky had clouded up, and at 35 mph, 40 degrees is cold.

Click here to see the route, with map, cue sheet and climb details, on Map My Ride.
Rt. 8 & Lower Valley (at town park) /Lower Valley /Rt. 8 South /McNerney Road /County Road /Lenox-Whitney Road
West Branch Road /Washington Mountain Rd. (aka Pittsfield Rd.) / Frost Rd. /Route 8

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