One Of The Best 600K Brevets In The USA - No Doubt About It!
By Larry Midura, East Syracuse, New York
The Berkshire Brevet Series 600K is probably one of the most beautiful road-bike cycling rides of its kind in the USA. This veteran randonneur has done numerous 600K brevets since 1994 in New York, California, Ohio and New England, but Don Podolski’s 600K of the Berkshire Brevet series is a ride that any serious long distance cyclist should not miss in his or her lifetime. It feels and rides like a three mountain pass 600K – that is the feeling of accomplishment it produces for the long distance cyclist!
This 600K is special in the sense that because the experienced cyclist will enjoy the mountains, hillsides, valleys and quiet roads of the Catskills of New York, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts and northern Connecticut. The scenery becomes breathtaking as the rider crosses the Hudson river Valley from Dutchess County, New York, into the Catskills.
The first leg of the ride begins in the early morning hours from Westfield, Massachusetts, and heads south zig-zagging through the rural roads of Massachusetts into northern Connecticut, particularly the sleepy-hollow town of Simsbury, Connecticut, as the sunrise approaches.
Then we pick-up Connecticut Route 44 for the first of three major climbing segments of this 600K. After about 40K of warming-up, we start on Route 44 to climb Cannaan Mountain in northern Connecticut from about an altitude ofabout 200 feet above sea level to about 1300 feet above sea level. The summit is reached in about 20K with a descent to the first Control in Millerton, New York, exactly on the Connecticut/New York border.
Leg two is then a romp through Dutchess County of New York on rolling country roads as we approach Rhinebeck, New York, to cross the Hudson River at the Kingston Bridge. The lyrics of the rolling Stones song “Wild Horses” will echo in your mind as you see the many horse corrals of the New York farms on the outskirts of Rhinebeck. Many horses will be galloping as you will be pumping, and you probably will not see many cows on this leg of the journey. The cows are mostly in upstate New York.
Across the Hudson, we climb up to the quaint resort town of Woodstock, New York. Yoe will have a vista of the peaks of Overlook Mountain of the Catskills as you climb into Woodstock. Sidewalk cafes, art galleries and craft shops line the streets as you approach the second Control at the Overlook Cycle Shop. We enjoy a quick lunch here, and then head into the Blackhead Mountains of the New York Catskills. While cycling this portion, we pass in the deep Catskill forest, the eastern religious monastery known as the Karma Triyana Dharmachakrabetween Woodstock and Phonecia.
While cycling from the Hudson River crossing to the summit of our second major climbing leg, to the ski areas known as HunterMountain and Ski Windham, we experience about 2,000 feet of vertical climbing over about a 50K distance. The stretch of the climb from Phonecia to Hunter Mountain Ski area is the difficult section of the climb. There is a series ofclimbs and rollers between Hunter and the third Control at Windham, that keep your heart, legs, and lungs pumping away!
Well, after a late afternoon snack at the Windham Control, it is almost downhill for about 15K descending NY Route 23 eastbound to Cairo. Then the route changes direction to a south to north course through some rolling terrain through Greenville, Westerloo and then climbing some big rollers up to Warners Lake just outside Schenectady, New York. A great downhill roll into Schenectady is the reward for pumping against the northwesterly headwinds that kick-in as you cycled in a northerly direction.
Rolling through Schenectady by sunset is the goal for a relaxing flat stretch to our sleep Control in Saratoga Springs, New York, at the Serotta Cycling Company Training facility just off Route 50 on Geyser Road. This year we were treated to the rock sounds of Vermont’s popular artist group known as Phish as we passed th Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Route 50. When you arrive at the Serotta Cycle Company, you will be welcomed by the ride staff, including the ride organizer Don Podolski, who will offer you a hearty home-cooked meal of gourmet quality, a place to shower and rest for several hours, and a breakfast to get you back on your route in the morning of the next day. ( In 2006 the Serotta Farmhouse was converted to office space requiring a change in checkpoint location)
The fifth leg begins for most of the long-distance cyclists on the next day in the early morning. The Green Mountains of Vermont beckon as the sun rises on day two. It begins rolling down to the banks of the Hudson River, and crossing it at the New York town of Schuylerville. Small, but quaint towns in New York such as Greenwich and Cambridge keep the cyclists entertained with rolling hills in-between those communities. As the sun rises outside Bennington, the ride passes the Bennington Battlefield Historical Monument about 10 K outside of our next, fifth Control, in the college town of Bennington, Vermont.
After breakfast on day two, the sixth leg begins with the most difficult climb of the ride ahead. This is a bona-fide western style mountain pass type climb up Route 9 from Bennington, Vermont, to Searsburg, Vermont. It lasts about 20K, and it begins at the Bennington, Vermont, elevation of about 680 feet above sea level, until the summit at Searsburg of about 2,680 feet. Yes, it is a mighty climb that produces burning thighs and a lot of sweat. But it is well worth the trek and the view atop of Vermont’s Green Mountain and the vision of the Molly Stark Trail.
From atop Route 9 at Searsburg, we take a turn onto route 8 towards Readsboro, Vermont, and have a spectacular view of a modern windmill energy farm atop a ridge of Prospect mountain at 2767 feet above sea level. Then the fun begins – a great 10K descent down Vermont’s Route 100 into Heartwellville, Vermont on a newly paved road. Then we roll into Massachusetts along a gorge of Sherman reservoir where the original Yankee Atomic power plant in Rowe, Massachusetts, was built and operating for many decades. In fact, this rider, and writer in his younger years, was given an in-door tour with a grammar school class of that atomic power plant when it was newly built almost forty years ago!
Well, 20K later from Heartwellville, Vermont, we arrive in Charlemont, Massachusetts, on the Mohawk Trail, route 2, along the banks of the Deerfield River. The alpine ski area, Berkshire east, formerly known as Thunder Mountain, in this riders youth, faces the rider with a super vista just across the Deerfield river before you drop onto Route 2.
The pace again picks up as we cycle along the Deerfield River to our seventh and final Control at Shelburne Falls. A quick lunch again at McCusker’s Deli, and back into some rolling terrain into Hampshire County, Massachusetts, a super roll-down to the banks of the Connecticut River on Route 116 from Conway, and then some more rolls and climbs through farms and rural villages of Hampshire and Hampden county, to the finish at Westfield.
The goal has been achieved for a randonneur: Qualification to ride in another 1200K event this year!!! Yeah, it felt good, real good, especially since it was a little quicker time than last year!
Larry Midura, the writer, has completed a number of 1200K rides around the world, including Paris-Brest-Paris, Boston-Montreal-Boston, London-Edinburgh-London, Perth-Albany-Perth, and the Swedish 1200K.