By Lance Oliver
This story originally appeared in the October 2005 issue of American Motorcyclist.
Starting in the red-brick Berkshire Mountain town of North Adams, Mass., I’m looking for the turnoff for a real step up in elevation. At Notch Road, I turn left and immediately begin climbing into the Mount Greylock Reservation.
This nature preserve was created in the late 1800s to protect the area around its namesake mountain, the highest point in Massachusetts at 3,491 feet. Back then, the vast timber around Mount Greylock had been cleared for farming or logging. Today, I’m riding through thick forests that have regrown during the intervening century.
The road up Mount Greylock, about a lane and a half wide, at best, twists unpredictably through gentle curves and diabolical switchbacks marred by speed bumps made by both man and nature. The man-made ones are marked with faded yellow paint. But there are no warnings for the washboard ripples left by Berkshire winters.
Eternally wet patches under the lush forest canopy make traction questionable. Moss actually grows onto the edges of the asphalt and pops up in the cracks.
Fortunately, the V-Strom is perfectly suited to this road. The dual-sport tires provide an extra measure of security in the wet spots, and the riding position keeps me upright and in control.
Parts of the road are steep. At times, I’m climbing at more than 300 feet per minute, according to the GPS, even though I never get out of second gear.
When I finally burst into the open above 3,000 feet, it’s a different world. The terrain resembles a sub-alpine Canadian landscape. Spruce and firs have that unique, lopsided look you find only at high elevations, their windward branches stunted by wind and winter.
Even on this relatively calm sunny day, wind whistles past the Veterans War Memorial Tower on the summit, and the temperature has dropped more than 10 degrees since North Adams.
Next stop? Vermont Route 100.
I cross the Vermont-Massachusetts line and pick up the famous motorcycling road. Vermont Route 100 winds through virtually the entire length of the state.
In the southern half of the state, Route 100 runs through a few villages with the prosperous look and ice-cream-shop-density associated with tourist destinations. Farther north, Route 100 follows the eastern edge of the Green Mountain National Forest, running alongside mountain ridges and meandering New England streams. Here, the shopping opportunities grow scarce (thankfully) and the riding gets a whole lot better.
Up here, the towns are so small, and the curves so sweeping, that it’s easy to fall into a rhythm, get where you’re going, and lament the fact that it didn’t take longer.
As good as Route 100 is, I’m itching to use some of the adventure-touring potential the V-Strom promises. So, when I see the turnoff for Lincoln Gap, I take it.
Clouds are creeping lower over the mountains, and the temperature has dropped into the 60s. The map is iffy about the presence of pavement over Lincoln Gap, and the first tiny drops of rain are beginning to pelt my faceshield.
OK, I was looking for an adventure, and it appears I’ll find one.
Within 2 miles of turning off Route 100, the asphalt yields to hard-packed dirt. Fortunately, pavement resumes a bit later when I begin climbing for real. I’ve got the right gear, so the rain doesn’t really bother me, and the few miles to the top aren’t bad at all.
A sign at a trailhead parking lot marks the high point of this road: 2,424 feet. Nearby, four guys are shouldering backpacks to hike the trail in the now-steady rain. I ask them to take a photo, “so I have proof I was crazy enough to come up here.”
“Hey,” one replies. “We’re here, too.”
We share a silent moment of brotherhood: the few, the not-so-proud, the ones who, as my grandmother back in West Virginia used to say, “don’t have the sense to come in out of the rain.”
Getting down off Lincoln Gap proves to be harder than going up, mainly because the rain doesn’t give out, but the pavement does.
On the steep, downhill dirt road, I have two options: the slick, hard-packed mud of the tire tracks, or the wet and sloppy gravel in between.
At times, 15 mph shows on the GPS, and that feels plenty fast, especially for someone who’s done more than 99 percent of his lifetime riding on pavement. Fortunately, the V-Strom handles this surface better than an ordinary street bike would.
Once the asphalt resumes, I’m back in my element. In fact, I emerge from the mud of Lincoln Gap onto the very pleasant surprise of Vermont Route 17.
Soon, I’m swooping along Route 17 as it climbs over Appalachian Gap, and the numbers on my GPS rise above 2,300 feet again, before descending to take me back to Route 100.
It’s still pouring rain, and I’m distracted by the beauty of thundering waterfalls crashing down the mountainside just feet from the road, but this is a ride worth repeating. Route 17 serves up the tight hairpins and snarled mountain curves missing from Route 100.
The V-Strom’s tires, which handled the mud of Lincoln Gap just fine, and provided plenty of grip on dry pavement, really earn their keep in the wet.
I can only imagine how good Route 17 must be when it’s dry. I hope to come back someday to find out.