Several years ago, before I ever rode epics such as the D2R2, in the morning of a gloriously hot New England May day, I set out from home on a solo ride that changed my view of where one should ride bikes. I don’t remember what led me to the dirt of Judd’s Bridge Road. Probably I thought it would be cooler along the Shepaug, cool enough to draw me off the pavement and risk flatting on the dirt.
I do know that I didn’t know where I’d go at the actual bridge on Judd’s Bridge Road. The likely option was turning around. I could have gone straight onto Tunnel Road, but that was abandoned and I wasn’t sure my road bike could handle it. I could have gone right and up Battle Swamp, but at that point I hadn’t yet embraced climbing, and Battle Swamp is one gnarly climb. That left turning left over the river and continuing on Judd’s Bridge toward New Milford. And while I didn’t know that road well then, the fact that it pointed directly at the side of Second Hill, which tops out 500 feet higher than the Shepaug, made it obvious that there’d be some gnarly climbing there as well. I decided to just poke my nose across the river, staying on the flats, maybe try to see where the old railroad had gone, and then turn home.
Crossing the Shepaug on the wooden deck of Judd’s Bridge, the air buzzed with insects and the hillsides that enclosed me were covered with the green lace of early summer. Passing through Judd’s Bridge Farm, black beef cows languished in the shade. A tenth of a mile in, Judd’s Bridge Road went vertical. But another road turned right, north up the valley, one I’d never travelled before. Walker Brook Road, the sign said.
It was quiet there. An old barn stood before me, and I felt light and alone in the way that I had sometimes felt as a boy during summer vacations. It was as if I could pass through the landscape unnoticed; in this Twilight Zone moment, Walker Brook Road called me to ride its shady dirt.
Walker Brook Road rose gradually, following first the Shepaug valley and then its own eponymous one. The riverine woods were open on both sides, and it was half a mile to the first house. In a Robert Frost moment, other dirt roads came in from both sides there, but I stayed my course. Soon, I was pedaling alongside a narrow pasture, dodging sandy spots in the road, the air smelling sweet and grassy, and then I was back into the woods. The valley narrowed, and the climb steepened just a little, but that was concurrent with the shade deepening and the air cooling because of the brook running along the road.
“I’ll turn back when this road Ts with another,” I thought. Chores called, and Pat would be worried.
Meanwhile, I climbed for miles through the summer day, passing just a few side roads and not many houses. I felt free, like I have driving endless roads in the West. I felt wonderment, discovering this place ten miles from home. Eventually reaching a T-intersection, the dream ended and I knew where I was. Even if I hadn’t promised myself I’d reverse here, even if home wasn’t calling me, I wouldn’t have wanted to cross that T. I knew the road ahead. It was nice, but it wasn’t what lay behind. Turning around, I descended what I’d climbed, making a perfect flight down the valley. There were no cars, no people; only me pedaling fast down a dirt road on a summer day, and knowing that this was how I should ride bikes.