My favorite recipe

I ruined the grass-fed beef, overcooked it. Damn.

But when you’ve spent a full day biking, hiking in the woods, and exploring an out-of-the-way place, it’s the concept of a hearty meal and a couple beers at the end, not so much the flavor (and ability to chew it). At least I think so.

The day was as close to perfect as I can imagine. We drove to Quabbin Reservoir near Petersham, unloaded the bikes and yes, donned our anti-hunter blaze orange. It took a while pedaling toward the former town common for the solitude to sink in. There was no noise but the sound of our tires on the pavement. We rode past cellar holes for homes and the former Eagle Hotel, by long stone walls, until the pavement ended where the outskirts of the town of Dana (and others) were swallowed by the damming of the Swift River in 1939. The vista there reminded me of Lake Tahoe, and yet we were only seeing a fraction of the lake.

stone walls and cellar holes are some of the few indications that communities once thrived here

We stood there a minute, and the lake’s gentle undulations made bubbles pop off the tops of exposed rocks on the shore. It was very still, sun but no breeze, no other people in sight all day. Wow.

Quabbin, from the road's end looking north

Our first adventure was finding the Indian Kitchen, a cave in a ridge. Fortunately I had an expert tour guide, and a smart one, too: when we lost sight of the orange blazes on trees leading to the cave, he started leaving trail markers of his own, which I never would have thought to do as we climbed over rocks and downed trees in the general direction of the ridge. We hung a white bag in a tree, then his orange vest, as signposts for getting back to the trail.

The Kitchen is a place where a weak section of rock broke off from the ridge, creating a natural shelter. Of course there’s lore involved, hence the name. More interesting were the notes from visitors in the last couple years, left in a glass jar on a shelf (with extra pens and paper). Scout troops, hiking clubs, and others like us who relish the adventure of finding these remote places. I tore my name and credit card info off of a gas station receipt that was in my wallet and left our names, the date and the summary, “A perfect day.”

notes left by those who'd found the cave before us

Our next stop was supposed to be found by memory, but the afternoon sunlight gave it away. Something bright shone in the woods on the other side of the road when we emerged from the Kitchen. It was the remains of the Air Force plane that crashed during a flour bombing run on one of the lake’s islands. The huge divot the plane dug into the soft floor of the pine grove where it crashed is still quite clear. Twisted wreckage is strewn all around, prompting guesses at their intended purposes (wing? driveshaft?).

this plane was used to drop flour bombs in target practice at Quabbin before it crashed

We moved on, collecting the bikes at the end of the road and heading back toward Dana. The Halloween snowstorm and probably Hurricane Irene before that have left many side roads impassable, but tire tracks showed that the main roads are patrolled from time to time. Trying to get to our next objective was challenging even by foot due to the tree damage.

storm damage makes some areas difficult to access (this is a road)

The next checkpoint was difficult to find. My companion had been there before, but his recollection of the site was challenged by the lack of landmarks. Should we leave the road at the bottom of this hill or the next? He chose well, but it still took some searching. We split up and scoured a ridge about 100 yards from the road where a farmhouse once stood. The reward was bittersweet, as it was the gravestone of a six-year-old boy who died in 1851. His name was Wendell, and his was the only grave left (accidentally, we guess) by those charged with tearing down homes and erasing signs of human habitation before the dam was capped.

wendell's gravestone

On such a quiet day, it was appropriate to sit for a few minutes and wonder about Wendell, as well as about his parents and the community that was here in 1851. Someone had left a smooth blue rock at the base of his headstone. Words couldn’t improve on that.

Our last stop was enjoyed with a dose of adrenaline. After hiking out from Wendell’s former home site, we picked up the bikes and pedaled up one of those long, long, gradual inclines that stretches on forever. While the scenery didn’t vary much from stone walls and bare trees on both sides, there was nothing not to enjoy. I particularly enjoyed the fact that we didn’t turn right onto a steeper road.

the endless, slight incline of Skinner Hill Road

Forgive me, but cruising down the aptly-named cracked pavement of Dead Man’s Curve didn’t allow for photography. It was a rush. It ended at Grave’s Landing, back at the lake. We had a snack, sat in the sun and watched some ducks fly low over the water, the white undersides of their wings flashing at us. Then a loon called from the far shore. Wow.

One the way back to Route 2, we picked up the grass-fed beef  at the Petersham Country Store in the picturesque center of a drowsy town. I tried braising it in red wine and left it on a little too long while we talked about our adventure. The only imperfect part of the day.

and then I screwed up dinner


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