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Herons and Beavers and Bears, Oh My!

After one unseasonably cool day here in the Berkshires, the weather warmed up again and became more like its usual self, so I hopped on my bike for a few more rides. I found a cycling group that meets at a local bike shop in Greenfield several nights a week, including Mondays when they have a group for beginners. I went on Monday of last week, since I am a beginner on these hills as well as with riding on roads in a group outside of an organized event. I had a great time riding south with the group down to Deerfield, through Historic Deerfield village, and back up to Greenfield. Being in a group prohibited me from taking any photos during the ride, so I have nothing to show here.

Feeling great about that ride, I decided to join the group again on Sunday for a ride down to Hatfield. Let's just say I confirmed my suspected cycling limitations while riding with a more experienced (read: well trained and in shape) group. After about five miles, it became apparent I would not be able to keep up with their speed, so one of the guys volunteered to escort me down to South Deerfield and back to the shop. Not to be deterred, however, I returned to the beginners group on Monday, where I shared my experience from the previous day with the other newbies: If you drop even three feet behind the other riders in a peloton, you've dropped off forever. It is a bear trying to catch up, and mostly only works if everyone else slows down. That's my first bear story.

The second bear story happened yesterday, Tuesday. I had decided to recover from the fast, furious, and photograph-free rides of Sunday and Monday by taking a nice, slow ride with Bruce on what is quickly becoming a favorite trail of ours, the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. (See our previous blog post.) My legs protested at first, even on the flat, smooth surface, but eventually warmed up and shut up.

Jens Voight on the origin of "Shut up, legs!"

We were riding south from the trailhead in North Adams for only a short while when a gorgeous blue heron rose from the wetlands to our right. With just a bank of small trees and bushes between us, we were able to see directly into one of the heron's eyes and see its powerful and majestic wings up close. The area's celebrated summer resident flew effortlessly and gracefully past us and quickly outpaced us in its beautiful flight.

Shortly after the heron flew by, we rode past more wetlands full of cattails and reeds, and I even saw some bamboo growing on the side of the trail. The beaver dam we saw last time we visited this trail was still present and well maintained, so I hopped down to get a good picture of it this time. Although we didn't actually see any of the dam's inhabitants swimming around or sunning themselves yesterday, we did see evidence of them and that is good enough for me! I think beavers are one of nature's coolest animals, and I am fascinated by the way they construct their extensive underground homes.

Beaver dam, Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, MA

Beaver dam, Ashuwillticook Rail Trail

I knew there were also bears in these here hills, but I had never seen one with my own two eyes in real life. Until yesterday!

The hills of the Berkshires, Western MA

Berkshire mountains

We were on our way back home on the Mohawk Trail (in the car after our ride) when we came around a bend and saw a big, black creature crossing the road in the distance. I thought it was a wolf at first, but that didn't seem to fit the size, and then I noticed that the beast had no tail. I shouted, "It's a bear!" at about the same time that it turned towards our car. Seeing its impending peril, it took off for the woods. It paused again momentarily at the edge of the road, so I hoped to get a photo of the magnificent mammal when we passed by, but it turned again and quickly vanished into the trees and underbrush. I was reminded that you can never outrun a bear, and apparently, you can't do so even in a car.

All in all, it was another great day on the rail trail, made even more memorable by the sightings of herons and beavers and bears. Oh my!

Eat your heart out, George Takei.

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