All photos by Dave Trumpore
As the sun falls away from its summer dominance of the New England skyline, nearly every tree across the region begins to cut its losses. The leaves are too taxing for the food they provide, and the trees, selfish to the last, abandon them to the cold, cutting off the supply of chlorophyll that drugs them into a homogenous shade of green all summer. Soon, the leaves will fall and coat the forest floor, humbly fading into future food for the trunks that abandoned them.
But for a few brief, mischievous and beautiful moments, the blades of birch, maple, oak, ash and hickory refuse to go gently into the good night of winter, brandishing their distinctive pigments in a full-scale rebellion of color.
From afar, the contrast is entirely visual. But up close, hurtling across the peel of the earth on a pair of wheels, the shifting season affects every sensory vector. Dropping temps and a dose of chilly moisture revitalize the dirt. Trees begin to shed their bounties, with maples covering the turf in a rough-haired swath of red and orange. A ceiling of yellow and gold trembles above, still affixed to the poplars, elms and snow-white birches, until they, too, succumb to the weather. Autumn’s blue skies are sharper and clearer than those of summer, and the final two hours of the day invigorate the landscape, crystalline amber light contrasted against black shadows. On even the most objectively abysmal days, a soaking grey rain will crank the palette to electric hues. When dusted by the odd October snow, there is little room left for thought. There is just instinct and awe, felt to the bone.
Your tires convey every detail of the changing earth underneath. Even in rain, the sheet of maple and birch leaves conceals an impressive grip; their skin is too thin to separate tire from terrain, allowing you to amble on gleefully while the smell of decay hangs in the heavy air. Then an interlude of full-day sun dries them to a crinkle, and you bathe in creeks of orange and yellow, feeling but not seeing the trail, a popcorn symphony cracking beneath your wheels. The trail dives into a pool of gold, and—CLANG!—your front rim meets a piece of granite buried in the depths of the leaf litter. Then it’s over the handlebars, and your hand-shoulder-torso meet a pile of roots, the blow softened by a blanket of birch leaves.
The only universal menace is the oak. The last species still wearing foliage, it scatters stout leaves and piles of acorns in a cohort altogether opposed to traction. It’s devious enough to bring about the end of the season for some. But for others, it is simply a reason to increase the gamble: to see if the oak leaves are so packed and wet, or so dry and riddled with acorns, that you slip on your ass at the first corner, while your accomplices carry on with maddening gaiety and equally wet haunches all the same.