Story and Photography by Adam Zuckerman
[A Winter Motorcycle Ride in Connecticut originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Rider magazine]
Sometimes the best Connecticut motorcycle ride in the world is the one that you can actually take. Even if it is only an hour or two on familiar roads near home. And sometimes those old, familiar roads show that they still have some magic hidden up their sleeves.
Having been trapped by the weather for more than a month, the over 50-degree forecast high for the following Sunday morning sounded better than a pardon from the warden. I got out the snowblower on Saturday afternoon and made a path from the bike parking spot to the road. It was already above freezing, so the snow was heavy but moved without a fight. I went to bed with the same excitement the kids have on Christmas eve.
When I looked out my window on Sunday morning the sky was gray. No, the air was white. A thick fog hung across the valley, so thick I could barely see the neighbor’s house. This could be the kind of humidity that carries cold right into your bones, so I dressed for it. Thermals, wool socks, electric vest, wool sweater, scarf, waterproof boots and riding suit. Helmet and heavy gauntlet gloves in hand, I stepped outside. My face was caressed by a warm, soft, humid breeze. It was almost like a lover’s touch compared to the icy claws of the past month.
Out from under its cover, the Guzzi started instantly and warmed up quickly. She is descended from Italian Air Force biplanes of The Great War, and her heritage shows when cold. First, she catches on one cylinder with a blat-blat-blat and then, with a little bit of throttle, the second joins in and she sings her song. I savored the carcinogenic smell of the motor running rich for the first few moments. This smell on cold air has always made me think of freedom or birds taking flight. A few remaining icy patches required careful paddling to the road, and then we were on our way.
The fog is thick in my valley, and the roads are slippery, so I ride slowly out of my neighborhood. This is a treat, seeing my most familiar surroundings slip in and out of billowing clouds of fog. In some places, I can even see it rising off the snow in the warm air.
First stop this morning is Marcus Dairy in Danbury, Connecticut, for breakfast and the weekly gathering of friends on two wheels. Surprisingly, there are barely a half-dozen bikes in the parking lot. I join a table of friends who came by car. The fellowship is worth making the trip, but not worth subjecting their bikes to roads wet with melting snow and salt-sand mix. Over coffee and eggs we talk about motorcycles and life.
After a long breakfast, I see that there is blue sky overhead. The forecast calls for afternoon rain followed by a cold front, and snow again in a few days. The window of opportunity is small, I must seize it or miss my chance. So I decide to take the long way home. North to New Milford, then an eastward loop back south to Newtown. A quick blast up the highway portion of U.S. 7 will get me past the commercialized outskirts of Danbury. Then I’ll follow residential roads up into New Milford to avoid the Route 7 traffic.
Hours have passed and the day is warmer, but the roads are still treacherous. Snowmelt wets the pavement and makes deep puddles. Decomposing leaves, as slippery as eels, are everywhere. And the sand just adds to the fun. My pace is slow. This ride, normally an hour, is going to take two. Perfect, because winter is long and my spirit needs the time on the road.
Coasting along at this pace, I can observe the New England countryside in detail. Cornfields poke their stubble through a blanket of snow. Hundreds of Canada geese congregate on a partially frozen lake. Creeks tumble over rocks in the valley alongside the road. I can see into barns with open doors. Some contain horses, others vintage tractors, and a few hold automobiles carefully covered, their shapes suggesting fat, flowing fenders or Detroit muscle.
The weather changes with the undulating landscape. In wooded valleys, there is a chill in the air and the snow is still thick. Fog covers the road in a thick blanket, reducing visibility to a few hundred feet or less. Then on open hillsides, the sun breaks through, melting enough snow that the earth peeks through. Horses congregate in the sunny corners of pastures, finding warmth and grass revealed.
The last section of road before I return to Newtown follows the Housatonic River. Boat docks and swimming floats are pulled up onto lawns and partially buried in snow, and covered boats sit beside them on trailers. As I cross the old iron bridge, I think how lucky I am to have a motorcycle that I can enjoy when a bit of warmth peeks into winter.
I have ridden the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Pacific Coast Highway, Trail Ridge Road, Deal’s Gap and many other “destination” roads. I wouldn’t trade getting out and riding this little piece of Connecticut today for any of them.