Water? Yeah, we’ve got that

- By Somervillain

After a brutally long, cold and snowy winter, I had been itching to get back to cycling. I bike commuted the short distance to work through most of the winter, but that type of cycling is insignificant and serves little more than utility. It doesn’t count. Cycling for the sake of cycling largely ceases during winter in New England, and I was eager to get back into doing long distances, to take in scenery, to have no deadline to be someplace, to explore. I happened to be up at our Catskills home for the weekend for other reasons, and the weather was promising to be perfect for a spring ride.

I had been wanting to try a new route that I mapped last year, which would take me to the Pepacton reservoir. It would take me over a couple of mountainous dirt roads which I’ve ridden before, but other than them it would be mostly new territory. I was keen on doing this route not because I was particularly drawn to seeing the reservoir, but because the route takes in a 10-mile, continuous descent, and the thrill of the descent is, primarily, what compels me to climb hills.

I had done only one long ride this season, just last week, so I wasn’t in good enough shape to tackle a mountainous ride of too much distance, not this early, but I wanted to get in 100k. Typically my Catskills routes average 1000 ft of elevation gain per 10 miles, but 6200 ft would be too much this early in the year– that’s like D2R2, a ride I spend all summer preparing for! So I cut some of the mountains out of the route, and incorporated 10-15 flat miles on either end, leaving some pronounced hills in the middle (and that 10-mile descent!) for a more reasonable 5000 ft overall elevation gain:

I started out in Bloomville, after having an excellent breakfast at Table On Ten, just down the hill from my house:

From there I followed the Delaware River, West Branch, along the flat Back River Road for 15 miles through Delhi to Hamden. But the flatness ends abruptly with the turn onto Basin Clove Rd, which takes you over the mountain separating Hamden from Downsville, shown in this photo:

Tapped sugar maples line Back River Road:

On to Basin Clove Rd, the first major climb: cat 3 with an average grade of 9.5% for more than two miles.

I’m never good at capturing the intensity of a climb looking up a hill, it always appears more accurately steep looking down it, so this is what it looked like behind me:

Initially, I lamented the lack of flourishing tree buds and other signs of sprouting greenery that mark the progression of spring.  A little early for that in these parts. I’d have to settle for the residual shades of grays and browns from a retreating winter. But I soon realized that early spring in the Catskills is the season of water– equally beautiful in its own right, and what I missed in terms of emerging spring color was made up for by the tumbling kinetics and sounds of water, everywhere and all around me. Mountainsides turn into waterfalls, drain ditches into mini rapids. It occurred to me that it was perhaps most appropriate that I was riding this route in early spring, because the visual (and audible!) cues to just how impactful this region is to New York City’s water supply were unavoidable.  You see, NYC gets its water from a network of man-made reservoirs located in the Catskills, built between the 1940s and the 1950s. The Pepacton is the largest of these. The water from the reservoirs is channeled through a network of aquaducts and tunnels to the city more than 100 miles away. NYC prides itself in its water, routinely judged among the finest municipal waters in the nation, and the city goes to great lengths to ensure the quality of its water is maintained through extensive land conservation efforts.

And it was here, climbing up Basin Clove Rd, that I first realized how much water drains down the mountains.  This is what the drain ditches looked like:

The sound of running water created a soothing wall of white noise, which helped me settle in to that meditative zen-like state you need to get into to help you focus on getting up the mountain.  Of course, stopping every so often for a break to take photos helps, too.

Eventually I reached the top of Basin Clove Rd, and got to enjoy a similar view to what I just showed you, only this was taken without turning my head backwards: the start of the 10-mile descent down, down, down Gregory Hollow Rd to Downsville:

More water along the way.

Did I mention water?

The sound of water was so pronounced, I took a recording of it:


Eventually the descent ended in Downsville, a small village with a convenience store, convenient for filling up my water bottles and using the restroom. The Pepacton reservoir’s western tip is in Downsville, less than a mile from the Downsville covered bridge.

From the Pepacton, there’s no way to get back to Bloomville without going over another mountain with at least one cat 3 climb. For the return I took Huntley Hollow Rd to Fall Clove Rd to Maggie Hoag Rd– each of these roads is a milder climb than Basin Clove Rd, but the first two still qualify separately as cat 3 climbs and collectively the three roads accounted for 2/3 of the total climbing, in just 1/3 the total distance of the route.

Fall Clove Rd is a beauty. Long and winding, with lots of moderate ups and downs, none too intense, and lots of pleasant pastureland views.

Maggie Hoag Rd, the last dirt segment and last climb of the route, was hard. Not according to the elevation profile, but because by now I had exhausted my reserves. Here it is (head turned backwards again):

Back in Bloomville, I realized that in just a few more weeks the dreary remains of winter will have finally vanished, having yielded to spring’s new growth, and by the time I get another ride in, everything will look different. And just as slowly as spring marches on toward summer, the sound of water will diminish.  And I’ll miss it.

Full route, with dirt sections in red.

pepacton

Battenkill

The Tour of the Battenkill is a spectacle. Easily the biggest 1-day race on the continent, the race brings 3000 racers to the tiny town of Cambridge, New York. For one weekend, bike racers significantly outnumber local humans, and even local cows.

gazette
Schenectady Daily Gazette

Battenkill is styled after the Spring Classics of Northern Europe, and the course is a real treat. The exact route changes every year, but it is always about 65 miles, with around 5000 feet of climbing. (The cat 2s do the course 1.25 times, and the pros and cat 1s do 1.5 for an even 100 miles.)

About 1/3 of the course, and most of the climbing, is on narrow dirt roads. The terrain is an effective stand-in for the various Classicbergs of Flanders, with many steep 5-minute power climbs on pitted dirt.  Although the route does change from year to year, there are a few signature features that are always in the race. Juniper Swamp (yes, really) is a very steep 2-minute dirt climb that almost always separates the field early. In the middle of the race, Meetinghouse Road is a ruler-straight series of corrugated steep dirt risers that are highly photogenic, but deeply painful. And finally, Stage Road is a make-or-break 6-minute dirt climb 5 miles from the finish.

Although there is a lot of climbing, it’s not a climber’s race. The hills aren’t long enough, and the other challenges of the course overwhelm the overall elevation change. The course rewards power, positioning, and bike handling.

Local phenom Alec Hoover on his way to a podium in the cat 3 race (Alec was a cat 5 last year):

bulmerD
John Bulmer

A note on the photographs in this post:  Battenkill is a highly photogenic race, and many talented photographers invest their time and effort to produce high-quality images of the event. I’ve used watermarked images in this post, but please follow the photographer’s link to see all of their fine work. 

This year’s course was the toughest I can remember, with a new section of brutal and relentless dirt climbs around mile 50. Even in perfect conditions, times on this course would have been 10-15 minutes slower than last year.

As in happened, conditions were far from perfect. The endless zombie winter that wouldn’t die left the ground frozen and drainage clogged well into the early spring. Ten days before the race, I rode the course with some friends, and some dirt sections were still covered with big patches of ice. One of our pre-ride group crashed on the ice, even.

During the ten days between the ice ride and the actual race, there was enough warmish weather to melt the ice. But the combination of continuing snowmelt, deep frost line, and heavy rains the day before the race meant that we knew we could expect sloppy conditions.

I was all kinds of nervous about the race. I’d been thinking about it, and training specifically for it, since last November. As the day approached, I fretted like Oskar Schindler about all the things I should have done but didn’t. More 8-minute intervals! More 3-hour threshold efforts!

I rode up to the race with my riding buddy Jim. Jim races for the Bicycle Depot, and he’s something of a local legend. He’s 50, a former Olympic rower, and had some vague stint in the armed forces that may or may not have been some sort of super-soldier experiment. What we know for sure is that Jim doesn’t feel pain the way normal people do.

As we drove up, we shared the usual nonsense pre-race plans: good places to try to attack, weighing the competition, that sort of thing. These plans never amount to anything, because as Mike Tyson said, everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth. My actual plan is usually just to conserve energy whenever possible and follow strong wheels. Jim’s pre-race plan is always to try to “race smarter”, but when the race actually starts, he usually goes off the front right away and time trials the entire race. Often enough, it works and he wins, partly because he’s a monster time trialist, and partly because, as mentioned earlier, he seems unable to feel pain. Knowing Jim and his habits, my secret plan for Battenkill was even simpler than my usual plan: I would glue myself to Jim’s wheel and hold on like grim death until my legs gave out.

We got to the race, hemmed and hawed about how much to wear in the cold drizzle, wisely chose to underdress, pinned on numbers (fancy fabric numbers this year), warmed up a tiny bit, and said hi to a bunch of racers we hadn’t seen since last fall. Spring races are always fun that way.

Race time. We lined up with 100 other guys in our cat 4B field, one of five cat 4 fields at this enormous race. Jim and I pointed out a couple of strong guys to each other, and I could see some other racers pointing out Jim to their friends. (Jim soloed off the front at Battenkill last year and won his field solo by nine minutes.) Shivery from cold and jittery from adrenaline, we waited for the countdown, clipped in, and followed our pace car through town for the neutral start. Jim worked his way right up to the front, as always, and I tagged along.

Once out of town, the moto ref shouted “racing!” and pulled away. Jim got in the drops and started chugging away at the front. I sat inches off his wheel and settled in, trying to keep things smooth and steady. The chit-chat stopped and the field lined out behind us. I could practically hear everybody thinking “already?!”

Through the iconic Eagleville covered bridge and onto the first dirt section. Surprise! Conditions were not just sloppy, they were full on cyclocross sticky rutted mud. Jim continued to hammer away at the front, and I stuck with him. Conditions didn’t allow for looking back, but given Jim’s relentless pace, and the mud, we were clearly shedding a lot of the field.

amorosa
Peter Amorosa

At mile 12, after a moderate paved climb, we hit Juniper Swamp, which was utter carnage. It looked like about half of the previous field was littered across the steep, muddy hill, trying to get back on their bikes, running up the hill, or just sitting on the side of the road sobbing. It was the bike race version of Antietam, or Gettysburg. Jim’s reptile-brain strategy of “pedal hard always” was suddenly brilliant, because it was critical to be at the front of the pack. About a dozen of us managed to ride the hill, while the remains of our field detonated against the exploded ordinance of the previous field.

Me in the black/orange; Jim in the Depot kit. Jim may or may not be aware that he is currently in the middle of a bike race.

koblenz
Barry Koblenz

Our lead group got over the hill and Jim finally relented to let us rotate through. After a few miles of pacelining, the moto ref told us we already had a minute and a half on the field. Many days were ruined at mile 12 of Battenkill this year.

We hit the next significant hill, Joe Bean Road, and Jim reasserted his need to set the pace. For the next 20 miles Jim hammered away Cancellara-style, as our lead group slowly attrited away. Eventually Jim got a bit of a gap off the front, which slowly and inexorably widened, second by second.

Around mile 45, with Jim about 10 seconds ahead and our chase group whittled down to 3 racers, we hit the new section of the course, which started with a very steep dirt wall of a climb. The front of the previous field (who had a 10-minute head start on us) was crawling up this hill like a group of ants. As we passed the previous field’s pace car, my two fellow chasers picked up the pace and I couldn’t respond. I watched them pull away, and descended into a dark, lonely place.

bulmerA6
John Bulmer

At this point I was 4th on the road, with 20 miles to go. I tried to settle into a strong TT pace and keep it smooth and steady, but riding alone at Battenkill, it’s hard to keep that deadly off-the-back defeatism out of your spirit. I’d realize I was slowing to sunday-ride pace, pick it back up, only to slowly lose focus and slow down again.

I had essentially cracked. Luckily, over the first 45 miles of the race, we had built up such a significant gap, and the field had shattered so completely, that I only lost three places over the last 20 miles. (Our field was so utterly fragmented that out of 100 racers, the largest group to cross the line at the same time was five guys, 15 minutes back.)

carney9
Meaghan Carney

I crossed the line in 7th place, with no other racers visible ahead or behind.

Jim was waiting at the line. The two chasers who dropped me had caught him, and he finished second.  This photo was taken just after the catch.  This amount of suffering, by the way, is what it takes to podium at Battenkill.

bulmerE
John Bulmer

This year’s Battenkill was not only the toughest Battenkill out of the three I’ve done, it was the toughest race I’ve done, full stop. Between the harder course and the muddy conditions, the race surpassed its reputation. It was, in a word, epic.

After Jim’s podium ceremony and chugging a quart of chocolate milk, we stood around in our sweaty kits for a while, trading shivering war stories with racers we knew. Eventually it started to snow, and we decided to get back to my van before our physical condition got medically dangerous.

Our trip home was an absolute comedy of errors. We got a half hour out of town, realized we’d forgotten our pit wheels, drove all the way back, picked up the wheels exactly where we’d dropped them off — apparently our wheel car never showed up for the race. Headed home again, planning to stop at the Falls Diner for a burger, realized we were going the wrong way, drove a half hour back to the diner, finally got our damn burgers (so good!), and eventually got home having accomplished the 2 hour return trip in something like 5 hours.

Another Battenkill in the books! A great race and a decent result.  Now the spring races are done. It’s time to take a couple of weeks off of training, relax and reset for the summer.

bulmerB1
John Bulmer

Here’s the race:

strava

PS. I couldn’t resist generating a little animated silliness using some of the many sequential images.  I’ve linked the images rather than embedding because they are incredibly distracting. Apologies to the very talented and prolific John Bulmer and Meaghan Carney.

Meetinghouse Road.
Stage Road.

- John S, aka globecanvas

The Big Move

Hi all–John F here!

It’s finally time. I’m moving on April 16th to my new place outside of New Paltz, New York. It’s only 25 miles from where I currently live.

The good news is that it gives me a whole new area to explore. Although I’ve ridden over the ridge many times, I haven’t spent nearly as much time over there as I have in the Catskills proper. In general, it’s flatter (unless you ride over the Shawangunk ridge, of course) and maybe a bit more populated. Nevertheless, this is good news for all you NYC area riders, because it’s much more accessible from the train than where I’m at now. Even though the hills are fewer and much less severe, it’s still gorgeous.

Van Alst

Now that the house hunt is done, I’ll be getting back to my regular twice weekly posting schedule shortly after the move. New routes and pictures!

John

medicalwriter.net

 

Warning: Bicycle Race Content

There are many ways to use a bicycle.

This blog is mostly about exploration, and illuminating the many pleasures of cycling in and around the Catskills. As such, I imagine that many readers place a high value on the ways a bicycle is a vehicle for exploration and self-sufficiency. It’s not about getting from point to point as quickly as possible; it’s about the path in between. Randonneurs don’t care about who gets there fastest, but they respect those who experience the best journey.

On the other hand… at a recent local event, I struck up a conversation with a guy wearing a shirt silkscreened with a stylized track bike.

trackbike

He turned out to be a lifestyle advocate for cycling as functional transportation. He didn’t own a car (David Byrne style). For him, bicycles are literally about getting from point to point — not about the speed, or the journey, but the simple fact of moving people and goods with no dependency on energy infrastructure. (I guess they didn’t have a shirt with a stylized cargo bike at the store.) While I certainly support his cause, he was a somewhat overzealous advocate. He was scornful of both recreational cyclists and racers, because he felt that they create a public perception of cycling as a leisure-class or athletic-niche activity.

All of which is to say, bicycles mean many things to many people. It’s human nature to self-select according to our interests, and it’s easy to caricature those whose interests don’t mesh with our own. Sheldon Brown, socks and SPD sandals, leather saddles. Lumberjack beards, skinny pants and brakeless fixed gear bikes. Garish lycra, shaved legs, and uncomfortable carbon frames.

Essentially, this is a big pre-apologia for posting a bike race report on Riding the Catskills. Racers are a small subset of bicycle enthusiasts, and a particularly easy subset to make fun of. Bicycle racing is contrived, narrow, and highly specialized. And it attracts people with obsessive tendencies. Most people have no idea how hard you have to work to be a mediocre bike racer!

But I do it anyway. Racing offers a completely different set of rewards from the other ways to use a bicycle. Like jumping out of an airplane, racing is a heightened experience. Success requires maintaining absolute focus on the moment, while another part of your brain constructs situational and tactical awareness, all while your body is trying to concentrate all of its energy into physical output. In my view, the measure of a successful race is not winning, it’s maintaining that heightened state for as long as possible.

The desire to achieve that state creates a strong compulsion. My buddy Jim rode his stationary indoor trainer so long this winter that his sweat literally ruined his aluminum handlebars. If you’ve ever ridden a trainer for even 20 minutes, you may have some inkling of how unnatural this is.

shweddy_bars[photo: Bicycle Depot]

For me, the compulsion manifests in winter riding that seems almost masochistic to outsiders. I’ve reported here on hundred-mile rides on a heavy singlespeed, icy roads and sand-covered descents. I haven’t reported on interval training and hill repeats, which are far more boring and can’t be prettied up and passed off as an appealing way to experience the Catskills.

The spring race season in upstate New York started last weekend, with the first race of the 3-week Trooper Brinkerhoff series in Coxsackie, in Greene County. The Trooper series (formerly known as the Johnny Cake Lane series) is a fast, rolling, very windy road race.

The weekend after the Trooper series is Battenkill, one of the biggest races in the country. This is a brutalizing route through gorgeous, hilly dairyland in New York’s Taconic Valley, not far from Bennington, Vermont. Battenkill is modeled on the cobbled Spring Classic races of Belgium, and features long sections of pitted dirt roads and sharp climbs. It’s a spectacle, too: thousands of racers invade the tiny town of Cambridge, New York, literally doubling the population for the weekend.

battenkill[photo: Schenectady Daily Gazette]

The local spring races conclude with the Hunter Mountain Spring Classic, a relatively new, hilly road race right in the middle of the Catskills.

I’ll be doing all of these races over the next two months, sprained knee willing. I probably won’t report on all of them, because I don’t want to bore everyone to death with race report navel-gazing. But I will report if anything interesting happens.

Like last weekend, when I won the Trooper race.  Smiley

Shortest race report ever: a field of 65 category 4/5 racers. A few breakaways tried to get away but fizzled in the wind. A pack of about 40 racers at the front was psyching itself up for a bunch sprint. At the 1k sign I took off from about 10 racers deep and never looked back. The surprise kilo attack worked, I got a gap, railed the final corner, and won the race by about a bike length over the chasing pack. That’s me, on the left, looking happy.

brinkerhoff
[photo: J. Harvey]

My goal for the spring races is to get the last few points for my cat 3 upgrade, then race open masters fields exclusively. Masters fields are very skilled and fast, so I will never again get another podium or upgrade point, but the quality of racing is high, and after all, it’s all about the journey, not the result.

- John S, aka globecanvas

Your Quarterly Pet Picture

I haven’t posted a pet picture in six months. Everyone is alive and well!

I have concerns

Cycling content: Nothing new to report; I’ve been out for a few 20-30 mile rides as weather and travel permits. But I do have a cycling story….

When I’m out riding, whenever I see my wife in the car, I wave, stick my tongue out and generally make a fool out of myself. Five or six times, the car has passed me and I’ve realized that it’s dark gray, not dark brown, and thus is driven by someone I don’t know. My wife was at the gym in town a month ago, and she saw James Bond (Daniel Craig) there; apparently he has a house a mile or two from ours. They left the gym at the same time, and she realized that he drives…a dark gray car that is otherwise identical to our car. So, Daniel Craig, if you read this, the fool on a bike who has been waving and sticking his tongue out at you is me!

I’ll get around to some real posts shortly…moving in just a few weeks.

John

medicalwriter.net

Echolalia

Here we are in the very grimmest part of winter. The Catskills are covered in a foot of old, gray snow, the kind of snow that says “it’s been cold for so long that even this month-old snow hasn’t melted” and also says “mother nature doesn’t even care enough about you to give you some nice fresh snow.”

There was a lovely period, a couple of weeks ago, where it was above freezing for maybe 2.5 hours, and we all frolicked gaily in our underwear. Then it went back down to 0F and the top inch of melted snow re-froze into a deadly, slick resin that encases our entire world. My back yard is incredibly treacherous. I need to put on crampons to take the compost out. Eventually March might go out like a lamb, but so far there has not even been the tiniest hint of spring.

Having grown bored with endless games of mumblety-peg and Russian roulette, I thought I might try to liven things up by recreating Ben’s excellent guest post from last week.  Of course, he did his ride in September, and I did my ride today, so everything looks a little different.

Our rides started out similarly, except that he has groovy bar-end shifters and my bike is encrusted with road snot. Plus I have my Zoidbergs on. With liner gloves underneath and a chemical foot warmer in there too.

1. Cuesheet

selfie

Ben rode from Poughkeepsie and I rode from home, but our routes converged at Butterville Road:

8. Shawangunk Ridge

butterville

From there, we both wended our way up to the Gunks.

This hairpin turn at the Trapps only has about a half ton of sand on it today. That’s because it’s a U.S. Highway and its maintenance is a matter of national security.

9. 180 turn

hairpin

Incidentally, a friend of mine thought this hairpin turn would be an excellent place to set up his food truck in the summertime. Everyone who rock climbs at the Gunks has to meander up this road, and they all need egg and cheese sandwiches both before and after conquering the crag. After going through the excruciating process of getting permission from the town of Gardiner, he finally parked his truck there one fine summer day and started his prep work. The state troopers showed up within 15 minutes and told him to move it or get arrested for endangerment. The moral is, always sell donuts at your food truck.

Ben and I parted virtual, asynchronous ways shortly after the first part of this climb. He went down Clove Road and forged some excellent backcountry connections to Tow Path Road. I didn’t do that, partly because it would be backtracking toward my house, and partly because backcountry is totally out of the question right now (see: earth covered in frozen resin, above). Instead I continued climbing, up to Minnewaska and over the top. It got colder. Descending sucked. I clamped my glove over my face to keep my nose from falling off.

The reward, though, was this bonus photo, looking north toward the Catskills from the descent.  That’s Overlook Mountain on the far right.

4455_

Yes, I have zip-tied plastic fenders to my cross bike. It also has John F’s weird (uh, but awesome! thanks John F) combination disc/rim brake wheels, and I just realized I left the 2-lb steel trainer skewer in the rear too, just for a little extra challenge. I originally intended to do this ride on the single speed, for full chest-thumping points, but I sprained my damn knee in a sledding mishap a couple of weeks ago, and probably my shin would fall off on South Gully Road.

Cold, cold, cold. Ben went over toward the Southern Catskills and did Lundy Road — totally out of the question right now, as is his refreshing dip in a waterfall, which would currently result in death from falling/concussion and bleeding to death long before hypothermia. Instead I went down Foordemoore Road, meeting up with Port Ben Road and re-joining virtual, asynchronous Ben after a few miles.

Foordemoore Road is sketchy even in the summertime, and it was really special today. Giant potholes full of ice, piles of sand, massive chunks of road surface that have become disincorporated from the road itself, etc. Luckily, I was too cold to care. I never before realized what a long, gradual descent Foordemoore Road is. By the time I got to the prison in Napanoch, I was dying to start climbing again.

Ben took a photo of the prison, but I didn’t stop, because there were a bunch of C.O.’s milling around and I didn’t feel like getting interrogated or shot. Maybe there was a prison break. Mercifully, the road turns up at the prison, because all I wanted to do was get some HR BPM’s going.

The long climb to Sam’s Point really starts here, though you can also start from the middle of Ellenville, or from Route 52. According to some web site somewhere, this is the longest climb on a paved road in the Hudson Valley, or in the Catskills, or some other set of qualifiers. That may be true by the numbers, though there are other climbs that take longer to get up and are much tougher (like Sugarloaf), but South Gully is definitely a classic climb, and one of my favorites. It starts and ends steep, and has a number of steep parts in the middle, but it’s varied and interesting, and never relentlessly brutal the way most Catskills superclimbs are.

Plus, climbing South Gully in the wintertime is like going to the beach!

22. Mt Meenagha Road

meenagha

I did some quick back of the envelope estimates, and calculated that there are about 800 billion tons of sand on the climb. Most places, there was a sort of line to follow, where some terrified driver had locked ‘em up going down the hill and dredged a canal through the sand with his smoking tires, so I followed that. Of course, that meant climbing in the descending lane, but I didn’t see any cars, because you’d have to be insane to drive this road in these conditions.

I lost traction many times on the climb, but luckily managed to stay clipped in the whole way. The interesting thing about this knee injury is that it doesn’t hurt so much when cycling, in fact riding seems to help it feel less stiff, but the twisting motion required to unclip the pedals is horrible and must be avoided at all costs. (I’m actually still clipped into the left pedal now, writing at my computer, and shortly I’ll be sleeping with the bike still attached to my foot.)

29 minutes after taking the previous photo, I hit the ride’s maximum elevation on Sam’s Point Road. I hooked a right and rolled down to the lovely stone church in Cragsmoor. This is one of the only places in the region where you can do a big climb, then look down on what you just climbed. For your photographic pleasure, I braved the frozen resin in my cycling boots. If I had slipped, I would have ended up back in Ellenville.

stone church

Interestingly, the descent off of Sam’s Point didn’t feel nearly as unbearably cold as the earlier descent off of Minnewaska. Either I was becoming permanently insensate, or it was warmer on the east side of the ridge than the west. Regardless of the reason, I’ll take it. A few miles of descending, some lovely rolling terrain on Oregon Trail and Indian Springs Road, then a 20-mile more-or-less straight shot home.

Thanks, Ben, for your fine guest post last week, and for providing me a reason to saddle up today. Otherwise it would have just been mumblety-peg again.

Capture

- John S, aka globecanvas

Win a Garmin: We Have a Winner!

Today, we have a post from Ben, resident of Brooklyn and the winner of the Win a Garmin! competition. I should have posted this back in October, but alas, life (mainly house hunting) got in the way. Anyway, I think we could all use a refresher on the beauty of the Catskills in the late summer to remind us that not all is ice, snow, pain, and suffering.

As Ben will attest, the Garmin arrived safe and sound, so this wasn’t just an evil ploy to generate content for Riding the Catskills. Stay tuned over the next week for the rules for this year’s Win a Garmin! contest. Suffice it to say it will be open to all riders, regardless of where you live. That means that this year, Catskill residents qualify for the contest.

Here’s Ben’s excellent story.

My original plan for this weekend was to upload my Ride With GPS route to a borrowed Garmin Etrex 30 GPS unit and have it seamlessly guide me turn-by-turn through a 100 mile route in Ulster County. At the laundromat the night before, my bike tipped over and the Etrex 30′s screen broke without even a direct impact. AAAARRRGGGG!

Route map

I cursed the borrowed Garmin and my poor fortune and jumped on Ride With GPS to print a paper cue sheet. A couple of months ago I paid for the bare-bones membership ($8/month – highly recommended) to print a cue sheets with more formatting options.

1. Cuesheet

In the morning, I grabbed a BLT on a Brooklyn Bagel and rode up to Grand Central Terminal. On a Saturday, trains leave at 6:43 am and 7:43 am for Poughkeepsie along the Metro North Railroad’s Harlem Line.

2. MNRR + Bicycle

Got to Poughkeepsie around 8:30 am and spun through some side streets.

3. Leaving Pougkeepsie

I routed up and over the Walkway Over The Hudson, a massive pedestrian/bike-only bridge. The entire span engulfed in a cloud giving it a strange surreal feel.

4. Walkway over Hudson

Next few miles are along the Hudson Valley Rail Trail. Turn left out of the big parking lot and onto smooth paved roads. I opted to cross 299 and follow Kisor and New Paltz Roads for the sake of being on lightly trafficked road. Eventually leading back to 299 and down into New Paltz.

5. Hudson Valley Rail Trail

I often stop at Mudd Puddle Coffee in New Paltz for a fruit scone (tucked one into a pocket for later too) and an espresso, as well as topping off my bidon.

6. Coffee and Scones

299 out of New Paltz is fast and smooth, though not much shoulder so keep your head on. Along the way I stole an apple at the Jenkins-Leukens Orchard and stopped to photograph the Shawangunk Ridge up ahead, which I would be crossing soon.

7. 299 & Butterville Road

8. Shawangunk Ridge

Hung a right at the Minnewaska Lodge and dropped into that small chainring, I was headed up for the next few miles.

9. 180 turn

This particular turn is really beautiful to me. I’ve always enjoyed tight, sharp corners and the scale of this particular curve always makes me smile.

10. Climbing 44

Up and over the ridge I took a right at Clove Road. It leads along the Clove Valley and is not very busy in terms of traffic. It’s a series of country roller roads with a lovely view of the valley between you and the ridge. The route heads west towards the Rondout Creek but turns left on Rock Hill Road to head south.

11. Clove Road Bridge

Halfway down Rock Hill Road the pavement ended at sort of cul-de-sac. A man was cutting logs with a chainsaw and I didn’t feel very welcome so I headed back to the last fork in the road and double checked my iPhone map. Rock Hill Road should have continued on, so I went back to the faux-de-sac. The lumberjack pointed to the woods and I could see a sort of double-track trail leaded on. He waved me to go ahead, and so I went on down the Rockiest, Hilliest, Road-that-can’t-even-be-called-a-road. It’s really meant for four-wheel-drive vehicles or ATVs, but my cross bike with 28s could almost handle it. It’s not easy to ride on, but a great technical challenge and I strongly feel that it should not be skipped.

[Note from JF: The same guy pointed me onto that "road!" He must think he's funny.]

12. Rock Hill Rd

13. Rock Hill Road backward

Follow the double-track south, eventually it turns west down the hill. Stay with it, hike if you must. Eventually, it will spit you out behind a house. Get on Lawrence Hill Road and enjoy the pavement again.

14. Stony Kill Rd

Lawrence Hill leads to Towpath, which leads to Stony Kill Road. Originally I planned to go down “Project 32 Road”, but this led me down a gravel driveway and through the woods and into local’s porch and they very graciously pointed me to their private road which took me down to Granite Road.

15. Project 32 Rd

Don’t do that! Just take Stony Kill all the way to Granite. Then to Berme. Then into Kerhonkson. I stopped here at a Stewart’s for to grab a salty snack.

Next I climbed out of Kerhonkson on Clay Hill and Cherrytown Road. At the Ranch & Resort turned onto Rogue Harbor Road. Shortly after, Rogue Harbor Road turns into glorious gravel.

Riding along a gravel road in the woods is spectacular for a city dweller!

17. Rogue Harbor Rd 2

Past a placid lake I turned right onto Lundy Road. I followed this gravel beast up 3/4 of the way to the end. The vehicle traffic was creating a dust storm and it the fun level dropped so I turned around. Descending Lundy was fast and loose. I stopped at a waterfall to relax, eat a snack and take in the woods a bit.

19. Lundy Road Swimming Hole

The water was cold and clear. I dipped my head in because I could and it felt fantastic!

I took Lundy back down across 209 to Port Ben Road. It leads across the valley and gives a killer view of the ridge you’re gonna cross in a bit.

20. Port Ben Road

Follow the directions from Port Ben to Berme Road well. I didn’t, and I ended up above Berme on Towpath Road. At a gate, an SUV rolled up and two men kindly helped me get oriented but warned me, “There’s bushwhackers up in these hills and they won’t hesitate to kill you son”.

Back on aptly named Berme Road, I rode parallel to the ridge eventually coming to a pair of prisons.

21. Ulster Correctional Facility

Took Berme Road through the prisons all the way to Canal Street in Ellenville. I stopped in Ellenville for fluids and some salty snacks. Don’t eat too much though, you’re about to gain an Imperial-Shit-Feet of elevation.

I took Main Street up up and out of Ellenville, hung a left onto Mt Meenagha where the real climbing begins.

22. Mt Meenagha Road

The grade on Mt Meenagha kicks up constantly.

23. Up Mount Meenegha Road

Mt Meenagha turns into South Gulley Road.

24. Up S Gulley Road

25. View Back Down S Gulley

A few cars that passed me on the climb came back down the mountain, and I saw why later. The road is “closed” for repair.  On such a steep section as this there are obvious problems with erosion and road infrastructure.

26. Road Closed

That’s okay, ’cause going around the heavy equipment meant car-free climbing for the rest of the journey.

28. South Gulley Keeps Climbing

I was able to use the entire road to climb, which is nice because some patches are loose and the grade keeps kicking up.

I took a left onto Sams Point Road. I had planned to ride around the lake and see some incredible views, but the folks at the gate did not like the idea. They told me, “Hopefully in the future we’ll have some sort of biking trails, sorry” and sent me on my way.

I flew down Sams Point Road, then a left on Vista Maria. I took a quick shot of the view here before the road dropped very quickly down the mountain.

29. View East from Vista Maria

The descent is fast and steep, and is good practice for high-speed descending. Keep your hands on the brake levers though: in NYC we get squirrels running halfway out and then running back into the woods, out here it’s a pair of 150 lb deer with antlers.

Rolled down 52 into Walker Valley, hung a left onto Oregon Trail Road. The next few turns were rolling back country roads. They led across the side of the ridge then down into the valley.

30. Ulster County 7

I rode up into Gardiner, NY to hop on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail for a bit of peaceful, unpaved path.

31. WVRT

That light at the end of the foliage tunnel was New Paltz, where I filled my bidon with iced coffee to boost me up out of the valley, across the Walkway Over The Hudson and back to the Poughkeepsie Train Station

32. Walkway over Hudson

Made it back to Grand Central by ~7:30 pm, ordered food to be delivered to my apartment while crossing the Manhattan Bridge, showered and ate a king’s feast after a solid day of marvelous adventuring by bike in Ulster County.