Hard to say, easy to ride

Biking is great, particularly when there’s a reward involved — something beyond sculpted quads and the relief of getting OFF that little seat after a couple hours.

My recent trip to Amherst with one of my longtime cycling buddies (you may remember her from last year’s multi-state odyssey) was similarly rewarding: exploring by bike is a great shared activity for mothers and daughters who aren’t into mani-pedis or spending beautiful weekend days inside shopping malls.

I’d been intrigued by the Norrwotuck Rail Trail for a long time, but put off visiting until this year because they’ve finally resurfaced it (I’ve given up trying to pronounce it). There had been an issue with the previous surface material containing broken glass that popped bike tires (which Mensa state employee approved that purchase?). It’s an 11-mile trail paralleling Route 9 from Amherst to North Hampton and crossing the Connecticut River. I’d love to know how the state managed to get the land and make the original trail in just 8 years (per the official history) while others have languished for decades, but that’s fodder for another post.

Our outing had many highlights, starting with a hearty breakfast at The Shed on Route 9.

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The first section of the trail from Amherst going west is under a beautiful canopy of trees. It’s secluded, with new benches and rest areas just installed along the way.

Heading west out of Amherst

Heading west out of Amherst

Then there’s a little tunnel under 4 lanes of traffic and you’re soon riding alongside farmland. Unlike some more suburban trails there are only a handful of businesses with direct access to the trail, including the curious combination of pub-ice cream stand-and tattoo parlor (must be in South Hadley!).

The "Quarters" rest area where you can get a tattoo or play classic video arcade games.

The “Quarters” rest area where you can get a tattoo or play classic video arcade games.

I was excited to cross the mighty Connecticut River on the trail’s repurposed railroad bridges. Why? I don’t know, I just always look over at them when I’m driving on the adjacent bridge and wish I was out there on my bike.. but I realized a lot of other people have the same idea, because it gets a little crowded in this section: people pushing strollers, kids on training wheels…

The bridges are the busiest part of the trail.

The bridges are the busiest part of the trail.

Closer to our goal of Northampton, things got a little dicey. They’re apparently still using some of the tracks here so the trail goes on the road for a while and it gets a bit confusing (there are signs but it’s a place where trails intersect and the signs don’t spell out which trail you’re following so you sort of have to know your way around).
It’s 6-something flat, easy miles to Northampton from where we started in Amherst. And this is why it’s worthwhile: you enter town with a birds-eye view of Main street, then get your pick of restaurants, shopping, street music and people-watching.

Birds eye view of downtown from the bridge

Birds eye view of downtown from the bridge

Our goal was to get to the Farmer’s market, where we learned about mushroom farming (no joke) and sampled the fruit of a baobab tree (have always heard about it, wouldn’t go out of my way to try it again). Typical of NoHo, the visit included war protesters and something unusual: a ukelele band. Can’t make this stuff up.

Ukelele band in downtown NoHo

Ukelele band in downtown NoHo

Of course my reward was having a little adventure with my daughter.

she's so sweet

she’s so sweet

I’m going to practice saying Norrwotuck a few times before I tackle the next one: the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail

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