The woods are not as interesting in the winter as at other times of year. Everything is covered with snow and looks the same. There are very few critters to see, and nothing is growing. Towards the end of this winter, though, I added a new activity.
I bought a new bike! I call it a road bike, but Specialized calls it a multi-use bike. I guess the proper term would be hybrid. I bought it to ride for fun, to work, and on errands. Panniers make it good for commuting and grocery shopping. Anna got a new bike, too, and we found a fun new place to ride: rail trails!
I read somewhere about the Norwottuck Rail Trail, and since Anna is going to school in Amherst, it seemed like a good ride to try. The trail starts in the center of Amherst, and runs on old railbed all the way to the center of Northampton. The trail doesn’t go through UMASS, but there is a connector that runs from Southwest residential area to the trail near Route 9.
The route is mostly level, and is all paved. The road crossings are well marked, and the busiest ones, at crosswalks, have lights. There is a long bridge across the Connecticut river. Driving on the Route 9 bridge across the river, you can see the rail trail bridge, but I always figured it was an abandoned railroad bridge.
This is the approach to the bridge from the Hadley side, going towards Northampton. The river is huge, and the bridge is really long. It has a deck made of weathered wood, and is fenced on both sides so there is no way to fall into the river!
There are many underpasses along the trail. I don’t know if they were built from scratch for the trail, or if they were re-purposed from the railroad days.
Shortly before the trail arrives in the center of Northampton, there is a weird spot. I don’t know if the trail builders ran out of money, or ran out of ideas. The trail ends in a neighborhood near some railroad tracks that seem to still be in use. A sign says “Rail trail toward downtown” but there is no sign of the trail.
It turns out that you have to walk along a short dirt path, along the tracks for a while, carry your bike across the tracks, walk along the tracks a bit more, and down another dirt path. Then the rail trail re-appears! Better signage would be appreciated.
Northampton is a busy place! It took us about an hour to ride there, and Anna says the bus ride isn’t much shorter than that. The trail runs past an old trail station. and over a really cool bridge in downtown.
There are lots of restaurants, and quirky little shops in town. There are tons of people walking around, and way too much traffic. People park bikes everywhere. We found a small bike rack near the end of the trail, but people lock bikes to railing, benches, and other bikes.
We had lunch at a really good casual restaurant called Local Burger. Grass fed burgers with your choice of toppings, homemade fries and great milkshakes.
There are places along the trail where parking is provided, and there seemed to be more trail users near these areas. Lots of runners, walkers, families with kids on scooters, and of course, bikers. We saw two groups on fancy road bikes, wearing techy riding clothes, but most of the riders seemed more casual. What surprised me though, was how many people bike without helmets. I wonder if they drive without seatbelts, too.
This summer’s project is going to be to find, and ride, rail trails and bike paths around southern New England. I’ll let you know which ones are worth the trip. Heading out soon for a trail run. Go play outside.