Litchfield Joy Ride

This post first appeared on ADVrider. It was, as the list below suggests, my first ride report; my first attempt at using a message board to post content; and pretty domesticated as far as moto-adventures go.

But it got me hooked on three things—exploring New England on two wheels; taking lots of pictures; and coming home to document it all.

Hope you enjoy it. I sure as hell did.

A few caveats:

  1. This is my first ride report
  2. This is my first attempt at wordpress (originally had to understand BBCode to post on ADVrider here
  3. This might be weak sauce by adventure standards, but it was a joy for me

So: lumpen middle-aged dad-guy steals away from work obligations on Isle of Manhattan and family obligations in the bubble of Fairfield county for 12 hours of aimless, unfettered solo New England joy. My moto-throne: an over-farkled, under-adventured F8GS, that has heretofore been used primarily for trips to the train station (I like to think of myself as an ADVcommuter), or to Stop & Shop to fetch Coffee Mate non-dairy creamer.

All balls.

But for someone whose other ride is a Vespa Granturismo, this was a start. You gotta start somewhere.

So to start.

Here’s my F8, in its cozy moto-nest, sidled up next to its Italian little sister (plus various and sundry other suburban crap):

An observation: I notice that in some ride reports, folks like to blur-out their license plates. Mine, I present to you in unscrambled photorealistic glory. I thought about scrambling it, then figured: everywhere you drive, people can see your license plate. It’s known to the DMV, and exists as a very public “tag.” If someone wants to crop it out of your picture and photoshop it into a bike crash as a piece of evidence for a criminal court case, so be it. I’m going to concentrate on more concrete (or metal) risks, like SUV moms dual-fisting their iphones and iced lattes. They will kill you. A pilfered jpeg of an online license plate? Not so much.

But I digress. So let’s get dressed.

Full armored kit? Check. Fullface helmet? Check (although I seem to be in the minority here in Connecticut, which may be striving to lead the nation in catastrophic head injuries with our lid-optional helmet law. Hey, I’m as libertarian as the next guy, but it’s illegal to drive without a [I]seatbelt[/I]. But without head protection? Really?)

Other checkmarks: Seltzer, the king of all non-alcoholic beverages? Check. Towel, trunks & flips for an unplanned dip? Check.

Air in tires?

Check. Now zero-out the GPS…

And let’s roll!

First stop is for human fueling, at the venerable Sycamore Drive-In in Bethel, CT. If you haven’t been here for a Dagwood or a steakburger or their homemade (yes dude, homemade) root beer, then you haven’t drunk deeply from the cup of American fryer grease. Not that anything here is particularly greasy. Just classic.

I succumb to the little nutritional wifey angel on my shoulder, and go egg whites with the western omelet.

But I capitulate to the bellygod within, and wet-vac it. Who needs a dishwasher?

Then burp, brap, and deeper into New England.

First, across this pretty span over Lake Lillinonah (actually, just a dammed-up section of the lower Housatonic).

It’s a little brisk (and way early) for a victory dunk, so I just snap a shot of the F8 (would it be bad luck to call it the Fate?) and ramble.

BTW, here’s yours truly, a New Yorker born but a New Englander by love, schooling, marriage, family, affection, appreciation, and temperament.

Did I mention I love New England?

Take Bridgewater.

The last remaining dry town in CT (Increase Mather would approve), a clapboard and starched congregationalist idyll perched on the thinning up-valley Housatonic.

I want to put it on a toast triangle and gobble it up, churchspires, sugar maple, lead glass and all. Delicious.

Then I’d ride over to Roxbury for a Ketel One martini. Up. Ice cold, with olives. And I’d toast the puritan tastemakers for keepin’ it real (stark). But it’s 11 am, and I’m all coffee (or seltzer) when on two-wheels.

So onwards and upwards with the map.

Next up, Roxbury, CT. Erstwhile home to Ethan Allen, Frank McCourt, Arthur Miller, Graydon Carter, Alexander Calder, and other creative folks who grooved on its ascetic splendor. They came for the peace and quiet.

I come for this.

Judd’s Bridge Road is The Road Of My Dreams, a macadam granite carpet winding along a stony river, with occasional farms, barns and a wood-planked bridge punctuating the long stretches of Litchfield forest.

It is peg-standing New England glory, and while I haven’t graduated from the stock Bridgestone Battle Wings that came on the bike, I brap it a little, throw some roost, and try to keep the back wheel from stepping too sideways. The flying rock chips might be shards of granite from the Mine Hill boulders cleaved to make the Brooklyn Bridge, or Grand Central Station (thank you, Wikipedia). Roxbury equals rocks. Equals joy.

It’s so good, I ride the entire length, twice. Then head for the (deeper Litchfield) hills, starting with Washington.

Somewhere along Route 47, I saw a sign and steep turn off for Judea Cemetery Road. So I took it.

And found my way to this.

A Revolutionary War-era resting place called the Old Judea Burying Ground.

And all patriotic platitudes aside, none of us would be here riding farkled BMWs and enjoying our middle-aged girth were it not for guys like Judah Baldwin and Abner Moseley and Jeff Liberty, who lived in an England so new, there wasn’t even a name for it yet.

Admiration, acknowledgement, remembrance, and respect. I happen to think that places like this are American holy ground. If you ever find yourself in the Litchfield Hills, stop by to pay your respects.

Several miles (and one giant metaphor) later, I found myself passing (and having to stop to capture, thus reminding myself that relatively speaking, and all of life’s travails notwithstanding, so many of us are living on) this:

Onwards to Litchfield, the eponymous center of these hills.

And birthplace of the abolitionist heroine, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

All of this history, unplanned for and stumbled upon. But that’s New England for you. But while I have an appetite for history, I’m hungry for lunch. So I head northeast, passing through Torrington, and head for here:

Where I stumble upon this odd little place for human refueling #2:

The Eclectic Frog Cafe lives up to its name. It’s in a small clapboard residential house, with a front porch. Open the door, and you’re (literally) in a tiny five-by-five foot pine-floored foyer, with a miniature counter and potato chips rack, and a (not-miniature) woman sitting on a stool, her back to the closed kitchen door, ready to “take your order.” To your right is the living room (?!) which, with the addition of 2 or 3 tables and chairs has become an ersatz deli dining room.

If you were a kid and your sister said “let’s play Subway!” and you set up a sandwich shop in the front hall of your parents’ house, this would be it. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, you can actually see it here.

In contrast with the “restaurant’s” space—which was on the narrow edge between charming and bizarre—the sandwich was epic. Wifey nutrition-angel was pulling for the the turkey on whole wheat (“whyncha have mustard instead of mayo?”), but the warm Caribbean Pulled Pork on a sesame bun pulled way harder.

It was better than it had any right to be, and was consumed abruptly and completely. Then I waved to New Hartford’s Finest (headquartered right across the street) and headed to an occasional weekend wintering spot to see what it looked like without the snow.

That would be here.

It takes me less time to drive here to ski on a winter weekend than it does for me to drive/train/subway to work. I take the kids to Sundown when we get a dumping, and while the longest run can barely awaken the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your legs, hey, it’s skiing, Mr. Easy Street.

Still, the hill looks kinda funny carpeted with grass.

I ride up through the hills and around the lakes north of New Hartford, and while the postprandial afternoon latens, I see the dotted line at the top of my GPS indicating the edge of Larger Massachusetts (a song from from Robert Pollard & Doug Gillard’s 1999 classic, Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department.


I can’t resist quoting:

Through driving, often you come along

where folks form focus and meet
when you blink and meet me…

The medium sized world is making a comeback
the world at large is drowning…
disappearing, crawling up, and out forever

(BTW, if New England is my temple, Robert Pollard—an Ohioan—is my high priest. He’s worth discovering, and maybe even worship, like New England).

And so I cross an invisible line and over into another state, where I happen upon Granville, a smaller Massachusetts town that bumps down into the map of Connecticut like a little land-peninsula.

I pull into here for a PowerAde (ya know, I like the touch of carbonation) and a brief bench sit, as my ass has ceased to have any feeling, even with the sheepskin asspad. In fact, it only manages to tingle faintly, just like the PowerAde. Coincidence?

Not sure why, but I want to thank whomever chose to say “Thanks for visiting Granville” instead of “Thank You for Visiting Granville.” It sound so much more normal and human, and less like an ATM. The Granville Country Store sells their own aged cheddar cheese, among a little bit of everything else. And it’s not cheesy in the least—a straight up, simple country store.

Thanks, Granville.

Before swinging south into Connecticut, I head west for a bit, rolling through here…

And pausing to admire these handsome, empty roadside stables. Stables need rides, and my F8 is happy to accommodate, pausing for rest, watering and shade until the ride home.

It’s time to head south. Here, at the apex of my ride, I’ve ridden just shy of 100 New England miles. And in another 100 miles, after falling like a pachinko ball down through the bumpy map of Connecticut, I’ll be home, feeling like a slightly more arthritic version of Max from Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are.

I’ll pull off my armored costume, thank God I avoided the monsters, and hope there’s something warm for dinner (thanks, Liebe).

It wasn’t Dakar or the Trans Alaska highway. But most rides never are. And New England road joy is equal to joys far more remote.

Time to get back to ADVparenting and ADVcommuting and ADVworking.

Thanks for riding along.

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