Cold Comfort Tour of New England

Cold in June?

The coldest winter ride I was ever on? That would be the one in southern Vermont, but what made the trip exceptional is that the happy excursion occurred just a few years ago, in June. Yep, June.

Normally, the words “New England” and “summer” don’t jog the mind into thinking about low temperatures. Descriptors that cue up in the brainpan are things like cozy towns with bleached church spires, weathered barns, Revolutionary-era rock walls, clam chowder…

I came across all those on my ride, but also found myself waylaid by the unwelcome appearance of frost. Which would have been expected in November, but—from what I recall of the few summers I spent in Vermont—hordes of mosquitoes, clambakes and kids skinny-dipping at the watering hole seem more the norm. You’ll notice ice-fishing isn’t on that list.

New England, motorcycle touring, tour, bikers
The welcoming hospitality of New England—"Bikers Welcome"Photography by Andrew Cherney

The Best-Laid Plans
What's indisputable, though, is that summer was when tech editor Mark Zimmerman and I planned to invade Americade. You know, that time of year when all young men (and crusty journalists) dust off the long-sequestered riding gear and hit the road en masse. And Lake George was ripe for the sowing—I hadn't cruised Canada Street in well over a decade, and Zimmerman was a self-professed Americade virgin (and the guy who'd assured me the riding would be especially tasty this time of year).

We’d decided to use Zimmy’s conveniently located chateau in Connecticut as a starting point—he’d already picked up my mount for the week, a spanking-new Moto Guzzi California Vintage, from the local dealership. The bike came outfitted with luggage and, with its demi shield hitting me about chest high, a smidge of wind protection too. Zimmerman would be aboard his long-term Victory Kingpin Tour, also ably equipped for touring.

We were in business.

Or so we thought.

New England, motorcycle touring, tour, bikers
The thicker clouds rolling in didn't exactly lift our spirits...June gloom alright.Photography by Andrew Cherney

Our rain-slicked departure should have served as the first warning that complacency can be cruel. Gloomy showers tracked our path north along Route 7, the wet planks of Bulls Bridge and Cornwall fading behind in our rooster tails. Things didn’t get much better in northwestern Connecticut—with the Housatonic River lurking in the background, intermittent rain still dampened our spirits. It wasn’t quite a deluge, just enough to piss us off. No wonder that by the time the Massachusetts state line heaved into view a soggy two hours later, we were primed for a rest stop; the historic New Boston Inn just outside of Otis beckoned to us like a paparazzo to Paris Hilton. The oldest tavern in Berkshire County didn’t disappoint—we ordered up two homemade maple-apple pies and hot coffee and dug in like rabid wolves.

And yeah, maple-apple tastes even better than it sounds…

Bellies full and souls warmed, we continued the wet slog north. Rainy rides sometimes have a calming effect, but when you’re on deadline, they can flood your mind with near-toxic levels of anxiety. The paranoia was short-lived, however, and we soon rumbled into Vermont and our overnight stop, the Gray Ghost Inn in Mount Snow Valley. Two hundred miles in four hours—I’d forgotten how long it can take to cover short distances back East when you bypass the superslab.

New England, motorcycle touring, tour, bikers
The rain-slicked roads and gloomy weather should have been a warning that showers could still soak us.Photography by Andrew Cherney

Room at The Inn
As we pulled our soggy asses into the Ghost's parking lot, our gracious hosts, Magnus and Carina Thorsson, were waiting with smiles and room keys. Both are riders and market their 26-room inn as "a B&B for bikers." The Thorssons can provide guests with trip itineraries, maps and even special dinners for large groups staying at the inn. So when the gregarious Magnus suggested we all convene at a restaurant in nearby Wilmington to talk shop about riding southern Vermont, it was hard to say no. By the time we hit the sack that night, we knew all the local routes like the back of our hands.

The next day dawned clear and…cold. With a layer of frost lacing the windshields of the bikes and Magnus advising that there was probably black ice lingering on parts of the road, we decided it was a good opportunity to chill in the Gray Ghost’s sprawling lounge with some maps and plan our assault on Americade in greater detail.

New England, motorcycle touring, tour, bikers
Clearer skies and hopes slightly lifted, we were off to Americade.Photography by Andrew Cherney

Sixty minutes and 10 degrees later, the sun was high, and we were sweeping through the slalom-style turns in the Green Mountain National Forest, blitzing hamlets stocked with nothing more than a general store and a school. The region’s landscape is shaped like an egg carton, with tiny towns sprouting in the low-lying cups between the hilly crags. These seemingly isolated pockets of culture appear almost frozen in time, unscathed by the commercial weight of a Wal-Mart or ugly strip malls. It was a helluva breather.

It all went south on Route 30, though, as lightning suddenly began to explode around us. We were forced to pull into a small café to dodge the big-time waterworks and nasty electrical spikes. The temperature (not surprisingly) dropped, and then the power went out, forcing all the patrons to sit there humbly, nursing coffees and watching the angry storm unleash a spectacular thunder-and-light show. Which was absolutely okay—it forced us to slow down and unhook from the grid. Sometimes simple is better.

New England, motorcycle touring, tour, bikers
The hospitable people at Gray Ghost Inn gave us plenty of help with scheduling our route...just genuine bike friendly people.Photography by Andrew Cherney

Everybody Rally
We could've poked around the backcountry of New England for months, but it was rally time. Route 9 took us west across Vermont, with lovely narrow lanes, no shoulders and gobs of lush greenery crowding the corners. The Guzzi was an enjoyable companion on the sweepers, as long as I didn't demand too much of it. A 29-degree rake meant the bike served up responsive steering, but the harsh rear suspension made mid-corner bumps uncomfortably noticeable. The only other damper was the persistent chill in the air that chased us all the way to the NY border. But just as we'd resigned ourselves to a week of frosty riding, the sun pushed back the clouds near the junction of I-87 and Route 7.

Related:

Hallelujah—we hadn’t seen daylight like this in 72 hours, and it had become officially toasty (80 degrees) by the time we rolled through Saratoga Springs and into the chaos of Americade. After 200 miles of empty country roads, the sheer density of machinery on Canada Street was a shock to the system. But even considering it’s the location of one of the world’s largest motorcycle touring rallies, Lake George is still a quintessentially scenic slice of the Adirondacks. And because ’Cade is more of a social mixer for sport-tourers and cruisers, we didn’t witness any shows of speed or hostile attitudes. Still, with large groups of bikes trolling around, I came to realize the Guzzi’s overgeared tranny usually needed a downshift to efficiently complete the many passes I attempted.

New England, motorcycle touring, tour, bikers
A view that goes for miles and miles, a motorcycle in the parking lot, and warm food in our bellies.Photography by Andrew Cherney

After a bite at the Shoreline Restaurant overlooking the southern end of the lake, Zimmerman and I dropped the badass biker act and morphed into a pair of gee-whiz tourists at Fort William Henry. The fort was a major locale in the French and Indian War of the late 1700s and a setting for James Fenimore Cooper's classic The Last of the Mohicans. Tour guides outfitted in 18th-century period dress circle around the grounds, adding a touch of realism to the proceedings.

Historically enlightened, we contemplated our next move—duck into the Roaring Brook Ranch, stroll the TourExpo vendor area or snag a boat ride on the lake? Not surprisingly, we chose instead to jump on the bikes and explore the area’s roads. And we had absolutely no regrets.

New England, motorcycle touring, tour, bikers
Yum...Cheese!Photography by Andrew Cherney
New England, motorcycle touring, tour, bikers
The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls was one of the last beautiful stops of our tour.Photography by Andrew Cherney

Trail Home
Back in Vermont, we packed and bid the Thorssons good-bye. Zimmerman had an entertaining return route planned, sweeping us south into Massachusetts and onto the Mohawk Trail—the first established scenic route in New England. The ride west on Route 2 would serve up scenes of kitsch back-to-back with historical sights like the Indian Bridge, the bizarre Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls and, finally, epic vistas of the Berkshires.

Luckily, the quality of the return ride to Connecticut took on a brighter hue than our first trip, with blue skies and back roads that never came within a dozen miles of an interstate. In fact, at a gas stop, we heard temperatures were forecast to approach 90 degrees for the rest of the week. The coldest ride I ever took was ending as a scorcher.

Resources:
New Boston Inn
www.newbostoninn.com

Gray Ghost Inn
www.grayghostinn.com

Lake George Shoreline Restaurant and Cruises
www.lakegeorgeshoreline.com

Fort William Henry Museum
www.fwhmuseum.com

Mohawk Trail
www.mohawktrail.com