*This is a modified version of an article I wrote for the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce recently as part of a series on riding in New England.
As another season gets closer to an unfortunate close, it is always nice to look back on the short but sweet cycling season that we had. As I sit and reflect on the crazy year that 2020 was, I remember how emotionally releasing and relaxing a long ride in the hills and countryside of our beautiful part of Massachusetts felt. We all needed( I think) those moments of relief to forget and and escape the situation we are in. At the same time, that makes me think a lot about the 2021 season, and so some questions come to my mind. The first one for me is “what route did I like best”? Also, “where do I absolutely want to get back to”? How do you answer those questions? What new road or route did you like best? Where do you want to go again, and even what new places do you want to ride in?
Those are difficult questions to answer, right!? However, when I sit down and think about them, what currently comes to mind is getting lost on a gravel road somewhere in Franklin county, especially in the fall. The fall in New England is a kaleidoscope of colors for the eyes! There are not many places that you can be surrounded by such vibrant reds, yellows, oranges and yes, even greens! Not to mention the sweet smell of a burning fire somewhere in the
distance, and you’ve got all the makings of a classic Western Massachusetts fall ride. This is a beautiful time to ride, just as are the other seasons.
But where do you go to get off the beaten path? For a nice mix of gravel and paved roads, start in Conway. Park in front of the Fields Memorial library and start riding up 116. You’ll soon come to what was once called Burkeville. This was the historically industrial area of Conway back in the 1800s’. You’ll go under the famous Burkeville covered bridge onto Main Poland road. The Burkeville bridge is one of the last remaining covered Kingrod truss bridges in New England according to Wikipedia. Once on Main Poland road get ready for some sweet climbs and great views all the way up to Ashfield.
You will want to proceed onto Creamery road which will bring you behind Elmers Cafe in downtown Ashfield. Stop if they are open for a quick snack or cuppa joe and rest while taking in small town vibes. Don’t rush your stop, stay for a while. Once you are all rested up, head back out and find Baptist Corner road, your first left after leaving Ashfield. From here you have a great choice of a spider web of paved or gravel roads to choose from. Philips and Barnes roads are two of my favorite gravel roads up here, or stay on Baptist Corner until it turns into Wilder Hill. From here turn right onto Shelburne Falls road and head back to your car. All in all, you are looking at 25-30 miles of riding on paved and gravel roads, with around 2,400 feet of climbing.
Sometimes we are fortunate to have great weather into November and even December. As long as there is not a lot of snow or it is not much below freezing, enjoying a nice ride is still easily accomplished. So where do you still want to ride this year?
*Authors note: After completing this article I have since explored some gravel and old service roads in the area. Roads that used to lead to homesteads and farms in the early and mid 19th century. These areas while accessible have not been residential for over 100 years and offer excellent car-free riding.