Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Moswetuset Hummock

I made a wonderful discovery on my regular riding route this past Sunday. I was zipping along the East Squantum Street Causeway in Quincy, when I approached this outcropping of trees on the right side of the road...

I've passed by this spot many times before. It rises out of the salt marshes all on its own, has a small parking lot near the road, and a path that wraps around its edges. I've always thought, "I should really stop here and check it out", but I never have -- mainly because East Squantum Street is simply one of the most wonderful roads on which to ride fast! Just look at this picture I took of it last summer...

It's got a nice wide shoulder and beautiful views on either side, tailor-made for putting the bike into a giant gear and ratcheting up the sped. So I had always just careened on by, never managing to stop at that odd little hill.

But this past Sunday, a small turn of fate pulled me in...

I had just replaced my front tire earlier that week. So riding down the causeway on Sunday morning, I was struck by an annoying thought: "I wonder if I turned the quick-release lever too tight when I put the wheel back on?" Now you know what happens when you get a thought like that ... there's no relief until you stop to address it. So for the first time in my life, I slowed my bike down and pulled into what I would soon learn was the Moswetuset Hummock.

After checking my wheel (of course it was fine), I got curious and made my way toward the mound of trees. Walking along the path I had so often seen from afar, the first thing I came across was this historical marker:

So the name "Massachusetts" came from this very spot!

Apparently, Native American Chief Chickatawbut led the Massachusett tribe from the top of Moswetuset Hummock, on which I was standing. Moswetuset means "hill in the shape of an arrowhead", which eventually became "Massachusett" (if you don't see the resemblance, try saying the two names out loud a few times). Colonial settlers met with Chickatawbut and eventually adopted the tribe's name.

Walking my bike around the little path, it truly is a beautiful place...

I imagine it will be even more beautiful later this spring.

It's hard to believe an entire people were led from this little mound. But when you live in a place like Boston, there's rarely a hill or valley that doesn't have some story behind it. The tides of history may have passed by Moswetuset Hummock for the time being, but it still seemed to have a special aura about it. I'm glad I finally slowed down long enough to notice.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Tale of Two Hills

I added hills back into my riding this past weekend -- something I like to do a couple weeks into the start of a new season. It lets me work the winter stiffness out of my legs before getting down to some serious cycling.

So early Saturday morning, I hit Milton Hill in Milton, Mass.

It's a small, but decent hill to climb after the long winter break. It begins with a steady incline, followed by a false-flat in the middle, and then a steep section near the top. Once you reach the summit, there's a very nice view to enjoy...

The grassy area is called Hutchinson's Field, named after Thomas Hutchinson, the last Royal Governor of Massachusetts. He built his country estate on this very spot. Hutchinson ruled Massachusetts during the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre -- so as you might imagine, he wasn't a very popular figure in these parts some 235 years ago.

The next day, I rode up and over the Quarry Hills in Quincy, Mass....

...and then to the top of Penn's Hill a couple miles away...

That cairn at the summit marks the spot where Abigail Adams watched the smoke rise from Boston Harbor during the Battle of Bunker Hill. Her husband, John Adams, was in Philadelphia at the time, attending the Continental Congress. When word of the battle reached her home, Abigail Adams took her 10-year-old daughter Nabby and 7-year-old son John Quincy (future president) by the hands, left her home at the base of Penn's Hill, and climbed to the top for a closer look. It's a very steep climb on a bike ... I can't imagine what it was like dragging two kids with the sound of cannons firing in the distance. Returning home that evening, she wrote her husband a detailed letter, describing the historic events she witnessed.

You can still visit the John Adams and John Quincy Adams birthplaces at the bottom of the hill today.

So to recap, I rode Milton Hill on Saturday and Penn's Hill on Sunday. Two hills, two sides of history...

One bike.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Dream Ride

There are two kinds of bike rides: those you've ridden and those you dream about riding someday. This colored-pencil drawing I created over the weekend is from one of those dream rides:

It's of a small section of Route 2 between North Adams and Charlemont in northwestern Massachusetts. Also known as the Mohawk Trail, Route 2 follows an old Native American and colonial trade path through the high mountains of the northern Berkshires.

I've driven the Mohawk Trail many times on trips to western Massachusetts, and I always think the same thing: I have got to come back here someday on my bike! It would be a challenging ride, surrounded on all sides by mountains. But it's intensely beautiful; the kind of beauty I really like -- a winding road through a dark pine forest, tucked away in a deep valley, and the vague memory of ancient tales hanging in the mist. The forest itself is one of the oldest in New England, with Hemlocks that are nearly 500 years old and White Pines that reach upwards of 160 feet, the tallest trees in New England.

It would be a thrilling ride ... someday. But for now I'm happy to enjoy the dream as I wait for spring to arrive. So when I saw that my local art supply store was having a sale on colored pencils, I bought a 24-color set and went to work on a little corner of the dream ride.

It was kind of strange, but for the first time I actually had the sensation I was there in the forest while drawing. Coloring in the black asphalt of the road, I could sense its smooth surface, how nice it would feel gliding under my 25-millimeter tires. And the different shades of green in the grass, and the browns and reds of the bark ... it all felt like I was bringing these magical woods to life on the page.

I also really enjoyed the sounds of drawing with colored pencils -- the clickety-clack of dropping one pencil and picking up another, and the light scratching of the lead on paper. It reminded me of the soothing, mechanical rhythms of cycling ... where machine and imagination all come together.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Ride Before the Rain

What a great ride this morning! I got up at 5:45 a.m., checked outside ... cloudy with strong winds. Good enough! The forecasters had called for heavy rain all weekend, but it looked like there might be a small window in the weather where I could squeeze in a ride.

I switched on the Weatherscan channel though, and there it was -- a big, very ominous-looking mass of precipitation on the radar, heading our way. And it was cold ... 39 degrees.

But I really wanted to ride. So out I went.

Incredibly, I felt great, despite the cold and blustery conditions. When I reached Quincy Shore Drive the ocean winds really started to howl. So I shifted down to a lower gear, leaned into the drops of my handlebars ... and enjoyed every minute of it.

Riding out to the Squantum peninsula, the winds continued to force me into lower and lower gears. But then riding back the opposite direction, those headwinds became tailwinds, and it was amazing. I threw the bike into my biggest chainring and cranked out an exhilarating pace on the wonderfully flat, wide-shouldered, and scenic East Squantum Street. Like always, there were almost no cars on the road that early ... it was just me, the bike, the wind, and a few runners and walkers out on that cold morning.

As I turned onto my home street the rain finally started to fall. Whew! Made it just in time. Since then the rain has been coming down in sheets all day long. But it's fine. I've already claimed my little corner of the weekend. Now I can just enjoy a nice rainy day.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Light Above the Bike Shop

I was driving home from the Berkshire Hills last week with a friend, when we passed the Arcadian Shop ... a wonderful outdoors store full of hiking and climbing gear, clothes, books, a cafe, friendly staff, and a fantastic bike section. Located in the heart of western Massachusetts, the store always felt to me like a kind of gateway to the rugged, more adventurous corners of the beautiful Berkshires.

Driving by it that evening though, it was well past open-hours and the shop was completely dark ... all except for one lone light in an upper corner window. I didn't have a camera, so I painted this picture over the weekend...

I took a lot of creative license with this painting (i.e. I left out things I didn't know how to paint). So be sure to check out the Arcadian Shop website if you would like a more accurate idea of what it looks like!

We passed the shop so quickly in the car that I couldn't see anything inside the lit window. It was just one warm yellow square in an otherwise dark building.

So I thought to myself ... why is that light on? Did someone simply forget to turn off the stockroom lamp? Or maybe the owner was sitting at a desk in the upper room, adding up the receipts for the day. Yes, that was probably it.

But that's not where my mind went...

Instead, I imagined that somewhere inside the store, the shop-owner's road bike was leaning against a wall, and he or she was upstairs, sitting at the computer late into the night, writing about the day's adventures on the bike. Maybe it was a tough climb on the dark and winding Richmond Mountain Road. Or a monumental trek up Mt. Greylock. Or it could just as easily have been a contemplative spin around the little Berkshire village of Lenox that inspired that nighttime typing.

Whatever the chosen road, the romance and adventurous spirit of cycling lives on long after a ride has ended. A great bike shop reminds me of those feelings. So if you happen to pass by your own neighborhood bike shop late at night and notice that a light is still on, be sure to be quiet. You never know what wonderful stories are in the process of being told...