Riding Western New England

    Rider Magazine
    Dec 15, 2009

By: David Partenio

With five vacation days and a full tank of gas, I wanted to embark on a motorcycle trip where the road itself was my resort, offering generous helpings of curves, little traffic and miles of endless scenery. My choice became obvious—I would journey through the western states of New England.

From my starting point in Danbury, Connecticut, I set out along Route 7 north, looking forward to the smell of pine trees and wildflowers replacing city smog and summer humidity. I didn’t have long to wait. In just a few miles, Route 7 enters Litchfield County and becomes a rural two-lane, following the twists and turns of the Housatonic River located just to the west. All of this starts less than two hours north of New York City. I wonder if the people living along these roads realize they have a small slice of motoring heaven right here on Earth.
Along Connecticut’s Route 7 is the town of Kent, where you can explore small bookstores, enjoy lunch or sip on some coffee while sitting outside admiring—what else?—other motorcyclists riding by. Kent is a popular destination for area motorcyclists, so be sure to give a wave as you enjoy your double latte. While in Kent, take a few minutes to visit the Sloane-Stanley Museum of Art or the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association, where all sorts of historical farm equipment is on display, including a vintage steam-powered motorcycle and some late 1800s steam tractors that look more like steam locomotives than modern tractors.
An advertisement for Litchfield County once declared that you don’t have to go far to feel far away. That’s certainly true when you make a side trip to visit the Hopkins Inn in New Preston, off Route 45, about 12 miles southeast of the town of Kent and Route 7. In addition to a secluded location atop a hill with a spectacular view of Lake Waramaug, the Hopkins Inn has been offering lodging since 1847 and features a restaurant and even a tasting room where
you can sample wines, some from their own vineyard.
Up the road a few miles on Route 7 is Kent Falls State Park, where you can view a cascading masterpiece with just a two-minute walk from the parking lot. The more athletic types can hike up to the top of the falls and look down at one of nature’s marvels.
No trip through New England would be complete without visiting a covered bridge. The red covered bridge in West Cornwall spanning the shallow Housatonic River is as tranquil as it is beautiful. I was thrilled to be riding my motorcycle across the wooden 242-foot span originally built in 1841 that’s just a few steps off Route 7. Modern bridges are wonderful feats of engineering, but there’s just something about a New England covered bridge that will forever attract painters, photographers and, yes, motorcyclists.
History buffs will enjoy spending a few minutes at the Beckley Blast Furnace in East Canaan, Connecticut, a few minutes off Route 7 by following the signs. At one time, these three- and four-story stone and cement furnaces dotted the landscape along the streams and rivers of western Connecticut and Massachusetts, and used the power of water to help create the iron that was important to America’s growing industrialization in the late 19th century. Though the Beckley furnace is quiet today and surrounded by grass and picnic tables, it isn’t hard to imagine the thick smoke and noise as dozens of workers toiled to produce metals.
The next day started with the New England sun overhead, and as I peered out my window I could see the chrome reflecting off my Honda Shadow ACE, which was ready to continue the journey.
Crossing Route 7 north into Massachusetts from Connecticut, you’ll find numerous antique shops to browse, but unless you have a trailer with your motorcycle you’ll probably want to ship home any treasures you find. Throughout much of Massachusetts, Route 7 meanders its way through small towns at the southern fringe of the Berkshire Mountain region.
It’s when you reach the northern portion of Massachusetts and leave Route 7 you’ll enjoy snakelike curves and the gorgeous mountains of Route 2. Also known as the Mohawk Trail, Route 2 is a 63-mile stretch of road that crosses the Berkshire Mountains while making its way east. The Mohawk Trail traces its origins back many centuries, initially as a trade route by foot, later for horses and wagons and ultimately as a modern passageway for vehicular traffic. It is said that the name of the Mohawk Trail comes from the Mohawk Tribe that inhabited the area, after the victory over the neighboring Pocumtuck Indians.
I expected to find lots of cars and tourists in this area, but for once, it seemed as though motorcycles ruled and cars were scarce. I found myself waving to scores of bikes riding toward me, all there to enjoy the terrific views and glassy smooth roadways.
Along the Mohawk Trail you’ll drive through the famous “hairpin turn,” which indeed looks like the end of a hairpin. It’s not too difficult to navigate on a motorcycle, but ride it slowly and enjoy it, especially if it’s raining. You’ll later spot an Elk as you ride farther along the trail through the town of Florida, but this Elk is a monument to members of the Elks organization that helped clear the Mohawk Trail roadway earlier this century after a severe winter ice storm blocked it.
In the town of North Adams is the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which features modern artwork and exhibits, including live maple trees being grown upside down in the museum’s courtyard. Even if you’re more into
Van Gogh than modern interpretation, it’s worth a visit. North Adams is also a gateway to visiting the nearly five-mile-long Hoosac Railroad tunnel, built with lots of manual labor in the 19th century by blasting through five miles of solid rock. No trip to the Mohawk Trail region is complete without seeing “Hail to the Sunrise,” a 900-pound bronze sculpture of a Native American in Charlemont overlooking the Deerfield River, to commemorate the Mohawk Indians of the area.
My final stop on the Mohawk Trail was Shelburne Falls, home to the beautiful “Bridge of Flowers.” It’s a stone-arch bridge about 6 feet wide open only to pedestrians. On either side of the center walkway are dozens of shrubs, flowers and plants along with several benches for sitting and reflecting. The bridge’s concept was sponsored in 1929 by the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club, using what was then an abandoned trolley bridge. It’s a mini-oasis in the heart of the Berkshire Mountains. Shelburne Falls is also a good place to get lunch.
For about $7 I was able to enjoy a hearty portion of fish and chips at the Foxtown Coffee Shop on Main Street. That’s including tax and tip!
I left the Mohawk Trail via Route 112 north to join Route 100 in Vermont. The light traffic and glorious shades of green will soon overwhelm you. They don’t call Vermont the Green Mountain State for nothing. Vermont offers hundreds of miles of two-lane bliss that cross through small New England towns and past lakes and streams with mountains on either side. A supreme being must have chosen Vermont as a huge canvas, who with the stroke of a paintbrush laid down a ribbon of black roadway sprinkled with lush trees and open sky—just for motorcyclists to enjoy. Beneath my helmet I had a silly grin that wouldn’t go away, and it only got wider the farther into Vermont I traveled.
You’ll find green and white Route 100 signs in Vermont that will help you find your way. And ride you will. The scenery shifts constantly, from tranquil ponds and roadside forests, to farms and mountains, plus old New England main streets with interesting pubs and inns. I spent two nights in Killington, Vermont, which served as my base of operations. Killington, well-known for skiing during the winter, is fairly empty in the summer, meaning lodging rates were off-peak and restaurants offered nightly specials. It just doesn’t get much better for motorcyclists—awesome roads and great deals, too.
My trip to Vermont included a trip to the antique car show in the town of Stowe. Stowe is about two hours north of Killington up Route 100. The road itself makes it worthwhile: you’ll pass a roadside waterfall and vistas of mountains will flank you on both sides. As a bonus, on the way to Stowe you can take the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory tour and visit the Cabot Cheese Company’s outlet store in Waterbury to sample their tasty cheeses. Be sure to buy at least one jug of sweet Vermont maple syrup; your pancakes will thank you.
One of Stowe’s culinary treats is the Grey Fox Inn, located on Route 108. Because the restaurant is known for having more than 80 versions of crepe-style pancakes the size of Frisbees, I ordered their bacon, potato and cheese version, with warm maple syrup smothered on top to sweeten the deal. Yummy.
After leaving the inns and beds and breakfast locations behind, Route 108 passes the Stowe ski resort and for about a half-mile stretch offers up some wickedly tight uphill curves surrounded by boulders at least 10 feet high. At its widest point this portion of the road is barely the width of two cars, and the sharp, blind curves and the lack of double-yellow lines make it exhilarating for motorcycles but also warrant caution.
I made my way back to Killington and could not believe I would be riding back home the next morning after five terrific days on the road. I am already planning my next motorcycle trip to New England. I want to visit the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont, originally purchased by the von Trapp family of The Sound of Music fame because the Vermont mountains reminded them of their home in Austria.
Before I took this trip some friends remarked, “Why not take the car?” But after a few days in New England, it’s obvious that two wheels triumph over four. I couldn’t imagine such beautiful roads from inside a car. That’s too much like air travel—you arrive at your destination not realizing all the interesting points that passed beneath you. Because to me, the journey always matters as much as the destination.
Originally published in the June 2009 issue of Rider ©
Honda Powersports
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