Friday, September 5, 2014

Road Trip: Seeking a great burger in Western MA

Sometimes, I just get a craving for a great burger. It might just stem from growing up in Southern California and having regular access to In'N'Out or it might just be that most burger places I had come across in New England were pretty mediocre at best. Whatever the reason, this particular weekend, I had a craving. Digging through my list of highly recommended places, I spotted one that looked like it would fit the bill - local owned burger place specializing in grass-fed beef on house-made buns with a great selection of options to go on top. Best of all, it was located out in Western Massachusetts, which would mean the opportunity to explore some great roads on the Beemer. Not even 20 minutes later, I was geared up and headed out to start my quest.

For those unfamiliar with Massachusetts, the eastern part of the state, where Boston is situated, is relatively densely populated and has many decent roads for riding or driving that tend to be overwhelmed with traffic (not to mention terrible drivers) most of the time. However, the further west one goes in the state, the better conditions become as the population density thins significantly. In order to maximize my time in the fun parts, I selected a route that allowed me to quickly bypass a large part of the densely populated eastern part of the state and then took back roads the rest of the way, allowing me to really make the most of the bike's handling and electronically adjustable suspension.

Pulling off of Mass Pike and onto the back roads, I promptly stiffened the damping of said suspension and settled into a rhythm as I weaved the bike through all manners of sweeping corners dusted with just the right amount of tight bends. The noon sun hung high overhead, stealing away much of the shade the trees along both sides of the road would normally provide, but the overall temperature was pleasantly in the high-70s and mixed with the stiff breeze when in motion, I was actually pretty comfortable. Miles and miles of tree-lined two-lane highways would eventually carry me to the tiny college town of Northampton, MA.

Given that it was the summer and the colleges in the area would be out, I expected the downtown to be pretty empty, but there was actually quite a bit of activity. Cars occupied nearly all the parking spaces along the main street so I pulled off to a side street and found a place to stow the bike, conveniently under some shade. My destination, Local Burgers, was just at the corner and looked like it was fairly busy already. I walked in, helmet in tow, and scanned the menu once more before placing my order and settling into a stool at the counter with a root beer.

Before long, my meal arrived. One the surface, the burger looked pretty ordinary, but the first bite told a very different story. Cooked to a perfect medium rare, the locally-sourced grass-fed beef patty was lean, but packed with flavor. Onions and mushrooms, grilled and seasoned perfectly, were piled high on top and added just the right punch of texture and flavor. The tomato, sourced from a local vendor, was ripe and juicy, giving just the right touch of acidity. About the only thing I could have done without was the shredded lettuce, which I felt added little to the overall experience. Still, this was a fantastic burger and it quickly disappeared into my belly, washed down with the locally bottled root beer and plenty of water to keep me hydrated.

My craving now sated, I whipped out my phone and dug around a bit to find some appropriately fun roads for my journey home. Realizing that I was near my wife's alma mater, I worked in a detour to snap a few quick photos for her benefit. Luckily, the road there is one of the better driving roads in the area and winds a path next to the Connecticut River. Pausing briefly to grab the photo and reorient my navigation, I continue on my way, picking the windiest looking path I could find heading back towards Mass Pike. The afternoon sun was starting to feel a bit warm in the sky and the temperature had risen a few more degrees. Since I had promised to be home in time to head out to dinner with friends, I was under a bit of a tight deadline. That pushed the pace on the back roads up a bit, allowing me to make better use of the big Beemer's monster motor and powerful brakes.

Of course, as soon as I hit Mass Pike, the fuel light ticks on and the range counter appears on my dash. Less than 50 miles of fuel remaining and a solid 80+ miles to home. I grit my teeth, with at least one known fuel stop between my current location and home, I figure I should easily be able to make it. Keeping a steady pace and tucking in to minimize wind resistance, I manage to eke out some 70 miles before pulling into the fuel stop along the Mass Pike with just 0.2 of a gallon of fuel remaining in the tank. My range anxiety abated, I chat with a gas station employee who inquires about my bike before heading for home, my burger and winding road craving satisfied for the day.

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