Sunday September 19, 2021
Many motorcyclists know that a full day of wind therapy is an effective tool for overcoming sadness and healing the heart after a loss. Making new memories can be a good way to ease the pain of, and focus on, old ones. Char and I badly needed to get out of the house after a sad and stressful week, when we’d said goodbye at last to our pup, Tango. it had been quite some time since we’d been able to get away from the house for an entire day together. I searched the NER site files for inspiration, and decided on the Worcester County South Ramble ride, with a modified lunch stop location in Barre MA. I pinged a few friends to meet for lunch and got a few takers.
We’d had a decent amount of rain recently, but today was looking perfect for riding weather. We hit the highway around 09:00, making short work of I-495 up to Hopkinton. This ride would normally start further east in Westwood, but due to timing, we took Saddle Hill Rd and a couple nice smaller streets from route 135 to join up with the GPS route in Southborough. We followed the route on local roads back across 495 and around the eastern shore of Whitehall Reservoir, working our way out to Westboro Road and down through Upton into the Blackstone Valley once again.
Skimming the outskirts of Northbridge, we negotiated the blind curves of narrow Quaker Rd down into Uxbridge, where we crossed the Blackstone River at Rice City Pond. The route follows a few main roads now, leading us back northwest near the center of Whitinsville, passing historic mill buildings and ponds from a past era when this area was a center of industry. Eventually leaving Main Street through “the Village” – a neighborhood of historic row homes built for the mill workers’ families, we passed West End Creamery (a good stop I’m told) as we continued up through Purgatory Chasm State Park. If you have an hour or more, feel like a short rugged hike to stretch your legs and see some cool granite formations, it’s worth a stop. They charge a bit for parking now (used to be free to go and picnic there, or just hang out for the afternoon), but I’m not sure how well it’s enforced, especially off-season.
We zig-zagged down through Manchaug, probably one of the prettiest little MA towns you’ve never heard of, at least in this area of the state. Nice woods and lake views through there. Up through Sutton and the busier area around Millbury, and over to Oxford, where I finally had a chance to turn down Clara Barton Road and ride past the birthplace of the Red Cross’ founder. I’ve been seeing that sign on route 12 forever!
While scenic and pretty, the road surface was pretty awful on some of these little back roads leading us over into Charlton, especially being two-up. It was nice to explore some new passages through the area, however. There are some nice farm roads through this area that I enjoy riding, but they mostly run north-south, so you have to plan carefully if you are travelling crossways and hope to avoid the busier bottlenecks! This route does a nice job avoiding the busiest part of Southbridge to get you into Sturbridge.
It’s a hard thing to ride right past BT’s Smokehouse while they’re open and the smells are assaulting your senses, but we had a plan and people to meet, so we kept trucking. We turned off US 20 to take local roads up into Brookfield, zig-zagging on quiet lanes though Warren, New Braintree, and Hardwick, finally coming out on MA 122 in Barre. A half mile later, we arrived at the Stone Cow Brewery, our lunch stop of choice for the day.
This place has really grown a lot in the past few years – I remember when it was a simple little farm stand with just the stone cow out front to remember it by. I’ve heard several people mention it since then as having good beer and barbeque, so it’s been on my list to-try for a while. They’d only been open for an hour or so, but the parking lot was packed already. We were first to arrive in our group, so we used the convenient motorcycle-only parking on a strip of grass behind the store, and got the lay of the land.
Besides the original farm stand/store, there’s a bigger barn building set further back that houses the brewery and rustic indoor seating. Closer to the road is the barbeque pit/shack (likely for the olfactory effect on random passers-by), and there are plenty of outdoor picnic tables with a large shaded pavilion.
A couple on a Harley had just pulled in so we chit-chatted with them for a minute about the gorgeous weather, etc. They had ridden up from Rhode Island for the food, as this joint was a favorite of theirs. They recommended everything on the menu, though apparently the place is known for it’s smoked chicken. Meeting repeat customers is always a good sign.
Shortly thereafter, our friends Jeff and Erin arrived on their newish GSA 1250, along with Jeff’s brother Gary with wife Aimee on an FJR. We got in line at the BBQ shack, which wasn’t too long as they kept things moving. After placing your order, they take your cell number to text you when the food’s ready, a pretty efficient system to keep people moving through.
We grabbed a picnic table and chit-chatted until the food was ready, only 10 minutes or so later. Our friends Jim and Kelly arrived right about the time we were sitting back down with our food, so they got a chance to see what the food looked like before ordering.
I went with the pulled pork tacos, which were fresh and delicious. Char got the veggie burger, which was green (on purpose), but she said quite tasty. Jeff and Erin got the smoked half-chicken (which was a big hit) and some ribs (which they reported as just OK).
It was a perfect day for an outdoor lunch with friends, good to catch up and take our mind off things for a bit. Earlier, some of the others had bought some cans of the in-house IPA, which we eyed jealously. After finishing our meals, Char and I also headed inside to pick up a couple 4-packs to enjoy at home.
Most of the crew had to head toward home, but Jim and Kelly, looking very chic today on their Triumph Bonneville runabouts, decided to stick with us along the rest of the NER route, to enjoy some ice cream at Rota Spring Farm after lunch had time to settle in our bellies. We headed a mile down the road to Barre center (much better after all the recent years’ road construction completed) and picked up MA 62. A few miles east, and we turned on another series of nice back roads up through Hubbardston and Westminster.
Dipped a toe into Leominster, cruising by the relatively quiet pullouts along the ponds in the state forest that are often full of fishermen, boaters, and swimmers during summer months. A few miles looped us down next to quiet Sterling municipal airport and through downtown Sterling itself. We were quickly back out cruising the local farm-scape, and soon pulling into the busy lot at Rota Spring Farm, for some delicious fresh ice cream. Add a quick visit to the goats in the back – perfect ending to a nice day’s riding.