Author Archives: John Schwartz

A Single Speed Odyssey

I’ve been riding the crap out of the single speed winter bike I built up a few weeks ago. It’s very handy to have two different gear combinations on the bike, and a couple of times I have changed gears mid-ride, which takes about a minute.

The roads are all covered with salt and sand and occasionally slush. It’s comforting to ride a bike without listening to grit pass through the derailleur pulleys, or rim brakes grinding sand into the braking surface. It just doesn’t feel like there’s anything that can break on this bike. (Plus, getting back on a real road bike in the spring is going to feel like collecting a video game power-up.)

Yesterday I set off to do 5 hours through the mountains. Between the hills, the road conditions, and the single speed, I knew it wouldn’t be a ton of miles, but I wanted to get in a good long day of pedaling.

Here’s a popular swimming hole on the Peterskill creek. Although the water is mostly not frozen solid, there was nobody swimming today.

peterskill

For most of the first 40 miles of the ride, I was following the Rondout river, which runs through my back yard, all the way back to its source on Peekamoose Mountain. Here’s the obligatory bike-at-the-reservoir shot, at the Rondout reservoir (which it must be admitted is far less photogenic than the Ashokan reservoir).

reservoir

Riding up the mountain pass, the Rondout gets narrower and faster. The road is sometimes right next to the river, and sometimes 60 feet above. The second photo is Blue Hole, a remote but absolutely gorgeous swimming hole. Nobody swimming today though.

rondout

blue hole

From Ellenville all the way to the top of the Peekamoose pass is about 25 miles at an average grade of 1.5%, which is just about perfect on a single speed. Of course it’s not just a ramp, there are many short steeper sections along the way, but I was running 42×16 all day and it was just fine.

The road conditions through the mountain valley were poor. The snow is just about gone at my house, but there was still a good 12 inches on the ground in the Southern Catskills, and a couple of freeze/thaw cycles means there’s a good amount of snow and ice on the road. The local road crews have dumped copious amounts of sand, but in many places that just seems to encase and preserve the ice. I had to pick a line through the ice, which made for slow going but was generally not too dangerous, especially because I saw exactly one vehicle for literally an hour, and he was friendly (or nervous) enough to come to a complete stop until I was past him.

The 5-mile descent off the north side of Peekamoose is much steeper than the ascent from the south, but the road cleared up quickly. Honestly, I think part of the reason is that there’s a town boundary right at the top of the pass and the town of Olive has better highway department resources than the town of Denning. I rode the brakes through the first, super-steep part of the descent, but after that it was smooth sailing.

While cruising down the descent, I became suffused with a sense of well-being and happiness. I had been on the bike for 4 hours, and although the pitches weren’t especially steep, I had climbed about 4000 feet with a decently big gear (70 gear inches). Endorphins? Dopamine? I have no idea, but it was a fantastic and unfamiliar feeling, not just “I feel pretty good,” but an all-encompassing sense of goodness. I hadn’t been eating much, just one bar since starting out; I don’t know if that was a contributing factor.

At the bottom of the descent I had intended to turn toward home, which would be about another hour of riding, but instead I called home to make sure my wife would be there to meet the kids’ school bus, and turned the other way, back into the mountains. I intentionally rode up Piney Point Road, which is a brutal climb with a crux pitch of well over 20%. I managed to ride it on the 42×16, although it wasn’t pretty, and I’m glad there wasn’t any traffic coming the other way because I was using the whole road. The sense of well-being persisted, and would last the entire rest of the ride.

piney point

Things got a bit surreal heading into Woodstock, because a cement truck had slid off the road, but the troopers let me ride through the roadblock and continue on. The sun slowly set over the final rolling 20 miles of the ride, from Woodstock around the east end of the Ashokan Reservoir, and down Spillway Road.

barn

The ride ended up being nearly 6 hours, my longest day in the saddle in almost a year, but if the daylight hadn’t come to an end, I could have kept right on riding.

Capture

— John S, aka globecanvas

The Legendary Black Beast of Aaargh

Globecanvas here.  New bike day!

Sure, it’s not artisanal, bespoke, fashioned by crafty dwarves, or worth the GDP of a small island nation. On the contrary, it’s a mass produced gas pipe chariot that weighs almost twice as much as my race bike.

But it’s a superfun ride, and most importantly, it’s something I can beat the crap out of without having to do much more than hose it off and lube the chain. I expect to put a lot of miles on it this winter.

reservoir

reservoir 2

It’s a Surly Straggler frameset, Hayes CX-5 brakes, 32-spoke 30mm DT Swiss wheels. Every component is heavy and practically indestructible. I especially like the brakes, which significantly outperform the Avid BB7s on my cross bike, admittedly with a significant weight penalty. The only non-bulletproof concession is Grand Prix 4 Seasons 28c tires. I personally can’t bear the ride of hard commuter tires, and I can’t afford handmade rubber. I find the 4 Seasons to be a great in-betweener tire. I do wish they made them in a 32 or bigger size though.

I got the frameset from Billy at Overlook Mountain Bikes in Woodstock, who really went the extra mile to get my size, which wasn’t technically in stock anywhere in the world. (I’m a 54 in every bike ever, but the Straggler geometry is extra long, so I needed a 52.) The Bicycle Depot in New Paltz came through, as always, with excellent component advice and everything else.

I set the bike up single speed, but with two chainrings and two cogs, to give me a couple of gear options, 42×16 (70 gear inches) and 40×18 (60 gear inches). 42×16 will get the most use, but I’ve been doing big hill repeats a couple of times a week for training, so I also wanted a small enough gear to haul this hunk of iron up Mohonk 5 or 6 times in a row.

I had to take the bike out for an inaugural ride on day one, even though it was 40 degrees, foggy and raining.

bridge

Visibility was not great in the low-lying areas, so I headed up toward the Catskills. I was also curious how 42×16 would work on some of the more significant hills up toward Woodstock. It turned out to be mostly fine, up to maybe 10% grade; I could manage a cadence of somewhere around 20 and still keep the bike moving forward without either weaving like a drunken mailman or hauling hard enough on the pedals/bars to rupture my spleen.

Riding single speed is a great experience. The drive train is quiet and smooth, and the only way to adjust effort for grade is to make your legs go faster or slower. It’s a more connected, dare I say holistic experience than riding a geared bike. On the down side, you just can’t get where you’re going as fast.

Here’s the Ashokan Spillway, always an impressive sight.  I know it’s a recurring theme for me, but I wonder how many New York City residents realize what a scenic journey their tap water has taken before arriving in their bathroom.

spillway

I did unintentionally end up on Yerry Hill in Woodstock, which has 1/2 mile of 12% and a final kicker of over 20%. (I was aiming for Ohayo Mountain, which is a real climb but not a gutbuster, but I missed the turn.) Yerry Hill is especially mean in that there’s a really steep section that looks for all the world like it tops out, and then you come around a little bend and see the stupidly steep section in front of you. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t quite make it up the kicker in 42×16, but it wasn’t completely out of the question, and I think I could have managed in 40×18.

All in all, a great first ride on a fun bike. By the time I got home, my right hand was completely numb and my shoes were full of freezing water. What more could you ask for?

Capture

 

— John S, aka globecanvas

The Searchlight in the Big Yard Swings Around with the Gun

And spotlights the snowflakes like dust in the sun.

Eastern NY Maximum Security Correctional Facility.  I was nervous taking a photo (which is why it’s crooked and blurry), but hey, if Google can do it…

prison

The Rondout Reservoir, yet another major piece of New York City infrastructure way up here in the Catskills.

reservoir

View from the top of Yeagerville Road in the Southern Catskills, looking back towards the Gunks.  This spot is not terribly far from John F’s soon-to-be-former house, but it’s about 2000 feet higher.

yeagerville

The further into the Catskills, the deeper the snowy, sandy, salty glop.  I have always thought the town of Denning must get some kind of ridiculous bulk discount on sand, or else they are trying to become a beachfront community.

One of the nice waterfalls on Peekamoose-Sundown Road.  This is basically the perfect road, over 10 miles through a Catskills valley with no intersections at all.  The Rondout Creek starts in the hollow as a trickle, and follows the road for miles before dumping into the reservoir.  The water in this photo will eventually provide crisp, clear mountain water for somebody’s toilet in Brooklyn.

waterfall

When I got home I took a photo of my gloppy bike.  Only after looking at the photo did I notice I had broken a spoke.  Hooray for 32-spoke wheels!  And disc brakes too, I suppose.

glop

My winter rig is my cross bike, geared 1×10 with a 32T cassette, 28c road tires, and jury-rigged plastic fenders.  I can’t figure out how to fender the front wheel in front of the head tube, though, which is inconvenient because it means descending at any speed results in a splattery face.  I was mincing down the icy, snowy descents today, but I still ate a lot of salt.

Here’s the route:

Capture

Raw GPX here.

— John S, aka globecanvas

Recon

Hi, Globecanvas here.

There are some spectacular dirt roads in Dutchess County, and somewhere out there in the ether is an excellent cycling loop that makes use of both the Walkway over the Hudson, in Poughkeepsie, and the Rhinecliff Bridge, north of Kingston. Yesterday I did not do that excellent loop. It was a nice ride, but not the sublime day that it should have been.

Although I have ridden plenty in Dutchess County, somewhere between Poughkeepsie and Rhinebeck there is a blank spot in my worldview, sort of like the “here be dragons” vagueness in old maps. On yesterday’s ride I managed to choose all of the least fun roads through this blank spot, making for an unsublime 12 miles in the middle of an otherwise great ride.

Sometime in the next week or two I’ll do this loop right. For now, though, I’ll just post a few photos.

The Rifton highlands, between New Paltz and the Hudson River, are one of my favorite areas to ride. This area is quite unlike the Gunks to the west. The signal feature of this terrain is long, swampy folds between low ridges. There’s very little traffic and the roads are generally excellent. It’s a great way to connect from Kingston to New Paltz or Poughkeepsie.

swamp

The Swarte Kill, or Black Creek, runs through here.

black creek

The Walkway over the Hudson is a tremendous local resource. Thanks to the determined efforts of a small group of local volunteers, we now have a state park spanning the Hudson River. On a summer day, literally thousands of people enjoy the incredible views, and throughout the year, the Walkway enables bicycle commutes and generally improves everyone’s quality of life.

Here’s the view from the Walkway, looking south toward Bear Mountain, on a clear day in May.

walkway_may

Yesterday the bridge was foggy and frozen.

walkway

Finally, the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse, seen from Rhinecliff Landing, as the fog was lifting at last.

lighthouse

Here’s the route, but miles 20-32 are suboptimal.  I’ll post a real ride report on this route once I get it all worked out.

Capture

— John S, aka globecanvas

Graph theory, Eulerian circuits, and the Catskills

How’s that for a nerdy post title? Globecanvas here.

In my previous post, I wrote that you might like to follow the Mohonk Preserve route I posted, or you might just want to bike into the Preserve and see where the spirit takes you.

That advice works in the Preserve, because the carriage roads are dense, and intersections are frequent, relatively speaking. It does not work in the Catskills. As with any mountain range, the topography of the Catskills defines a system with sparse edges (that is, mountain passes) and infrequent vertices (that is, intersections). Unless you have lights, lots of food, and no evening plans, you should at least casually plan your route before cycling into the Catskills.

Add the additional factor that cyclists almost universally hate to retrace their route — we love our loops — and the result is that route planning becomes an exercise in creating Eulerian circuits.  (Score a math nerd point if the you are now waiting for a Konigsberg reference.)

For example, imagine you are starting in Woodstock and you want to climb both Platte Clove and Kaaterskill Falls. Even though both climbs are within 7 miles of Woodstock, you have to ride 85 miles if you don’t want to retrace your route. These two climbs happen to be the only passes through the entire eastern escarpment of the Northern Catskills, so if you want to get from the top of one to the base of the other, you have to ride a long way around.

platteclove-kaaterskill

Climbing Peekamoose in the Southern Catskills has the same problem. Starting from Rosendale, the climb is less than 20 miles away, but the shortest loop that includes Peekamose is 70 miles long.

peekamoose

Of course, these are only “problems” in the mathematical sense of the word. After all, long, scenic roads with no intersections are the whole point of riding through the Catskills! The only actual problem is finding enough hours in the day to ride where you want to go.

Which brings me to today’s route. I wanted to do an actual Catskills ride, but I only had about 4 hours. My go-to route for this sort of medium range ride follows the entire edge of the Southern Catskills, from one end to the other. (This happens to be a big loop around John F’s soon-to-be-former house, and he’s written about parts of this route before, which much nicer photography, so I’ll keep this ride report on the brief side.)

I started from Rosendale, because I live there, but I also mapped the route from New Paltz if you prefer to start there. Either way, this route has over 100 feet per mile of climbing, so be prepared for a nice low average speed.

The first part of the ride is on some very quiet, pretty roads along the back side of the Shawangunk ridge. Towpath Road and Stony Kill Road are personal favorites, winding roads with varied terrain and occasional vistas looking toward the Southern Catskills. The peak to the far right is Ashokan High Point. We’ll be there in about 2 1/2 hours.

lawrence hill

After a high speed descent down the ridge into the sad-looking hamlet of Kerhonkson (sorry, Kerhonksonians), the road turns upward again as the route enters the Catskills highlands. The highlight of this part of the ride is Upper Cherrytown Road, a lovely 10-mile stretch of road with no intersections, along the edge of the mountains. I was impressed by the even distribution of these cows. I also had a bit of deja vu. This may be the second time these cows have appeared on this blog.

cows

This part of the ride is a long, gradual climb to the Vernooykill Falls trail, which John F has written about before. This path is the only way through the Southern Catskills over to the next pass to the west, but it’s borderline on a road bike, so although it’s a lovely path, I passed on by.

vernooykill

The houses and farms along the west side of the road all have mountains in their back yards. This is Mombaccus Mountain, a minor Catskills peak with a couple of nice steep dead-end climbs.

high point

The route then circles Ashokan High Point.  It’s not the highest mountain even in this part of the Catskills, but its high prominence catches the eye from as far away as Dutchess County. High Point Mountain Road is a five star road that follows the skirts of the mountain, with occasional peeks at the Ashokan Reservoir below.

The road is mostly up, but with short and quite steep descents. One of the descents has a farm at the bottom with all sorts of roaming chickens, guinea hens, and assorted avian road hazards. Be careful! Newman once ran over a chicken here and was then chased by an irate farmer. The road also ends in a steep downhill to a stop sign, so be careful there as well.

At the end of High Point Mountain Road, a right turn leads to Route 28A, which circles the west end of the Ashokan Reservoir and crosses the Esopus Creek. 28A ends at Route 28, which is the major route through the center of the Catskills, and a road best avoided on a bicycle. It’s somewhat scenic, but the combination of high-speed traffic and the valley wind tunnel effect is unappealing. Luckily, two excellent roads lead off the other side of Route 28.  Piney Point Road is a great option if you are heading towards Woodstock.

I was about ready to start heading back, so I chose Upper Boiceville Road, which looks at first like an access lane for the high school parking lot, but in fact leads to a surprisingly tough climb up Bostock Mountain Road. This is 2 miles at almost 7% grade, the final 3/4 mile at over 9%. Even on a ride with over 6700 feet of climbing, this hill stands out in the elevation profile, at mile 43.

elevation

The top of Bostock Mountain was the high elevation of the ride, but unfortunately the road is on the back side of the summit and wooded, so no breathtaking vistas. A fast descent leads back to Route 28, thankfully less than a mile from Reservoir Road, which crosses the Ashokan Reservoir, and leads to the maximally scenic path along the south side. Plenty of mountain vistas here, including a spectacular view of the Burroughs Range. At least 6 of the Catskills high peaks are visible in this photo, including Slide Mountain dead center, the highest peak of all.

reservoir

Also visible are whitecaps on the reservoir. It was a very windy day!

After I took that photo I turned around to find a young deer nonchalantly grazing behind me. I could have reached out and pet it if I wanted to. I give this adorable road hazard about 3 weeks to learn what cars are, or else result in a bad day for somebody.

deer

From there, it was a familiar and mostly downhill roll home.

One thing I like about this ride along the edge of the Catskills is its roundness. As I mentioned earlier, cyclists tend to avoid out-and-back routes. A corollary, I suppose, is that especially round routes are extra appealing, at least to me. Maybe that’s weird.

Capture

Alternate route starting in New Paltz here, raw GPX file here.

— John S, aka globecanvas

Hot Rocks: the Best of the Mohonk Preserve

Hi, Globecanvas again.

Today’s ride is not a hidden gem. It’s a gem that is in plain view.

Between the Mohonk Preserve, Mohonk Mountain House, and Minnewaska State Park, there are thousands of acres of contiguous preserved open space, and over 100 miles of interconnected carriage roads and trails. Every inch is worth the trip.

This is a popular tourist destination for cyclists, hikers, leaf peepers and rock climbers, so it’s hardly a secret backwoods passage. But even on a perfect late fall day like today, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s, we saw only a handful of people all day — a couple of rock climbers, a few hikers, and a couple of cyclists.

In the fall, I ride these carriage roads at least once a week, sometimes more. The Nature Conservancy called this area one of Earth’s “Last Great Places,” and although that may sound like a marketing pitch, it’s easy to get rapturous while cycling through the seemingly endless beauty.

Once again, I met up with Newman at his shop. I ride a lot with Newman in the winter, partly because our schedules both permit regular weekday rides, but mostly because he just loves to ride. We’ll be doing almost an identical route tomorrow on the weekly Bicycle Depot Saturday morning group cyclocross ride, but honestly, it
never gets old.

Depending on where you are coming from and where you want to park, this loop can be joined from any of the Mohonk Preserve entry points. We came in through the old Mountain House gatehouse (mile 1.5), which will soon be an official entry point, but we rode past four other official entries: the Visitor Center (mile 8), West Trapps (mile 8.5), Spring Farm (mile 19), and Pine Road (mile 26).

A bit of prep work first: day passes for the Preserve are $17 for climbers and cyclists ($12 for boring hikers).  An annual cycling pass is $70. Trails are generally very well marked, but the free paper map given out at the various entries is useless. If you plan to spend any time in the backwoods here, the NY/NJ Trail Conference topo maps are a must. You can get the maps at the Preserve Visitor Center, or Rock & Snow in New Paltz.

For today’s ride, we tried to hit all of the best, most scenic, most fun carriage roads in the preserve. Although there is plenty of singletrack gnar to be found around here, for the purposes of this blog and this route we stuck exclusively to carriage roads (except for one short connection).

Just like we did on our previous ride, we entered the Preserve on Gatehouse Road.

01aaa32a1cb592d48b8b7ad5396832a2383eb65fea

Over the old stone bridge across Butterville Road (where landscape painters tend to congregate), up Lenape Lane to the Catskill Aqueduct.

The Catskill Aqueduct supplies about 40% of New York City’s famously high quality drinking water (no, “high quality” is not sarcasm), starting at the Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County. Even in the preserve, the right-of-way over the buried aqueduct is New York City property, so you’re not allowed to hike or ride along it. But you can cross over it. It’s wild to be in the middle of the woods with 400 million gallons a day flowing beneath your tires, headed for sinks and bathtubs in the big city.

At the aqueduct, we cut left onto Duck Pond Trail, the only singletrack on the route. This is maybe 100 yards of rocky trail, climbing up to Duck Pond. In the background, just visible on the left edge of the distant cliff, you can see Skytop, the stone observation tower above Mohonk Lake. More about the tower later.

duck pond

All trails lead uphill from Duck Pond. We headed clockwise around the pond, up Glory Hill, a steep grassy climb.

glory hill

At the top of the hill, we bore left onto Oakwood Drive. This winds along the side of the ridge to Rhododendron Bridge. Across the bridge, we took the sharp left onto Undercliff Road, which leads right along the base of the Trapps, a 2 mile long, 300 foot tall crag that is one of the premier rock climbing destinations in North America. On a summer day, the air is filled with “On belay!  Rope!  Aargh!” and other calls of climbers in their natural habitat.  There were only a few climbers out today.

undercliff

At the top of the trail, we hooked right onto Overcliff Road, which offers expansive views of Clove Valley and the Catskills.  Although I am discovering that expansive views are about the hardest thing to capture in a simple photo.

overcliff

Overcliff looped us back to Rhododendron Bridge, where we once again took a sharp left, onto Laurel Ledge Road. This is one of my personal favorites, a steady 2-mile climb that winds up the ridge between giant boulders.

laurel ledge

The climb tops out at Copes Lookout and Humpty Dumpty Road, which winds along the edge of the cliff and provides a unique edge-on perspective to the ridge.

humpty dumpty

We then crossed over the top of the ridge on Long Woodland Drive, another favorite trail. Although it’s less than a mile from the Mountain House, this is one of the more remote places in the Preserve. We were circling the south end of Mohonk Lake, describing an arc around Skytop tower.

tower

Skytop is a stone observation tower, atop on the highest point on this part of the ridge. Weather observations have been made here continuously and systematically since the late 1800s, forming one of the most reliable weather data series in North America, an invaluable resource for climate scientists.

We then cut down to Home Farm Circle, the site of an old homestead that predates the Mountain House.

home farm

Finally, some descending: we ripped down Forest Drive, then connected over to North Lookout Road. Yet another expansive view of the Catskills.

lookout

We then hooked past Rock Rift, a wild out-of-the-way crevice full of trees, and down to Cedar Drive, one of the longest and best-maintained carriage roads in the preserve. This wound along the ridge to a small bridge over the main road.

bridge

Cedar Drive continues past the Spring Farm entry point, circling back around to climb the ridge again for about a mile.

cedar drive

The climb tops out at a 5-way intersection that is known unofficially as — wait for it — “the 5-way.” Left here leads to Bonticou Crag, one of the most interesting destinations in the Preserve. This photo shows only a small section of the crag, high above.

bonticou

If you are vertically inclined at all, the ascent trail up Bonticou is one of the most fun ways you can spend an afternoon. The difficulty level of this rock scramble is perfectly balanced right on the edge between “surprisingly challenging” and “doable without falling to your death.” I’ve seen 6 year old kids (including my own) scamper up like mountain goats, and I’ve seen grown men panic and back down the climb. It’s a 30-45 minute hike to this point from the Spring Farm entry. The whole experience is a top notch day trip.

We then headed up Guyot Hill. This climb is one of the least-traveled roads in the Preserve, and in fact we almost blew past the turn because it was so deeply covered in leaves. This half-mile climb brought us to the highest elevation of our ride, although the views are limited because it’s woodsy all the way. From here it would be all downhill for the next 6 miles.

guyot

The back side of Guyot Hill dropped us onto the Mountain House golf course, which is always a bit surreal, but of course it’s not in use in winter. We circled the golf course and crossed over the small wooden bridge to the Mountain House gatehouse, then shot down Lenape Lane, Oakwood Drive, and back down to Duck Pond. This section of the Preserve is rarely traveled.

hairpin

duck pond trail 2

tower 2

Back onto the short singletrack connector, which we followed out to the Pine Road entry. Pine Road descends past horse farms, heading back toward New Paltz.  Spot the horsey!

pine road

As we turned off Pine Road, we ran into Jim, a local legend who often rides with us. He was just heading up into the Preserve to start his ride. I said we were doing a Mohonk Greatest Hits ride, and of course he immediately asked if we did Godzilla or the Duck Pond Road climb. Well no, we didn’t do Godzilla (a very sharp climb straight up the ridge), and we descended the Duck Pond Road climb. So this route is hardly exhaustive.

There are very few carriage roads in the whole Mohonk Preserve/Mountain House/Minnewaska network that wouldn’t be on somebody’s list of highlights. Depending on your predisposition, you might like to follow the route below, or you might just want to bike into the preserve and see where the spirit takes you.

Capture

Raw GPX file here.

— John S, aka globecanvas

The Awosting Reserve

Hi, Globecanvas here.  How about a five star ride that has everything? Scenic history, a huge gravel climb, woodsy grottos, sky lakes, clifftop vistas, waterfalls, winding carriage roads, horse farms, and seldom traveled country roads.

I started today’s ride from the Bicycle Depot in New Paltz, because I was riding with Newman, and his cyclocross bike was there. Newman owns the shop, which I recommend highly for all of your bicycle needs, or for any beta you may need on local roads. There isn’t a road within 100 miles that Newman hasn’t ridden.

The first few miles out of town, heading toward the ridge, are highly exposed and the wind was whipping across the razed farm fields. Once we pushed through that section, we couldn’t resist riding through the old Mohonk gatehouse.

gatehouse

The Mohonk Mountain House is the last surviving mountain house resort from the glory days of the Catskills, a century ago. (Other jewels of the era, like the Overlook Mountain House in Woodstock or the Catskill Mountain House in Palenville, still exist as tourist curiosities — but they are either hollowed-out ruins or completely burned to the ground.) A hundred years ago, New York City society swells would ride their horse-drawn carriages through the gatehouse and up to the resort, three miles distant. The gatehouse and surrounding land are now owned by the Mohonk Preserve, which is in the process of converting the old gatehouse to a preserve entry point.

The gatehouse, and the old gatehouse road, can’t be beat for scenic beauty. My photos of the gatehouse road today were blurry, but here’s a shot Newman took last week, on a sunnier day.

lenape fixed

From there, we rode down 299 to the Mountain Deli, the de facto meetup location for rock climbers before and after assaulting the Trapps.  We also passed the Mountain Brauhaus, home of the best post-ride food and drink in the universe.  Then we left the world of cars and wound our way along the base of the Near Trapps and Millbrook.

aumick

There are plenty of climbs in the Gunks and Catskills, but only a handful are inarguably in the top tier of difficulty — climbs like Platte Clove/Devil’s Kitchen, Sugarloaf, Meads Mountain. The Awosting Reserve climb, although much less well-known than the others, is firmly in the top tier. By the numbers, the climb is 2.1 miles at 9.5% average, which is followed by another mile at 6.5%. The climb is also 100% gravel and dirt.

The Awosting Reserve trail head isn’t marked on Google Maps. It’s off Aumick Road, below the Millbrook section of the Shawangunk ridge. Here’s a wide view of the climb (in blue).  It climbs the ridge just southwest of the Millbrook crag (the sharp southeast-facing cliff on the terrain map).  Looking at the crag from a distance, there is no pass or seam there.  The climb just goes right up the ridge.

Capture

The trail head.

trail head

The first mile and a half of the climb is a well maintained carriage road, with big looping switchbacks. The grade is sustained but not brutal. There are a couple of false trails to the left and right through this section.

At 1.5 miles from the trail head, the trail gets prettier, but things get ugly. The trail splits; take the sharp, steep right turn. The next half mile is sharp stairsteps, well over 20% grade, that will challenge your ability to keep the wheels down and gripping. This is still a carriage road, not singletrack, but thanks to the extreme grade it’s much rougher than the earlier part of the climb. Newman easily outpaced me on this section, quickly disappearing up the hill.

climb

I struggled up behind.

climb 2

After 2.1 miles of sustained climbing, the trail mercifully turns downhill, but only briefly.  Watch out for more false trails on both sides here — just keep going straight.  At the bottom of the downhill section, a singletrack trail heads off to the right. A small wooden sign a short way down the trail marks it as Spruce Glen footpath. The singletrack is short and mostly rideable. After a stream crossing, the trail widens into a gorgeous grotto of hemlocks and cliffs.

grotto

We couldn’t stop taking photos here. It’s the sort of viewscape where you expect Mr. Tumnus to come prancing along.

grotto photo1

grotto photo2

Another few hundred yards, and suddenly you’re at Lake Awosting, one of the Shawangunk sky lakes. Because the lake basin is formed by conglomerate bedrock, not dirt, it is very clear, but too acidic to support fish.

awosting

awosting 2

Going right along the edge of the lake, the trail passes the lovely Awosting “beach”, an expanse of flat bedrock that angles into the lake. Take the next right hand turn to head up toward Castle Point.

After about another mile of climbing, the trail summits at Castle Point.  This is a world-class vista, and my humble snapshots can’t do it any sort of justice. Here is looking south, toward Hamilton Point.

castle pt 1

North, toward the Catskills.

castle pt 2

This is the high point of the ride in elevation. This is also where we realized we had a problem.

When we left New Paltz, temperatures were in the high 30s, and up to this point we had been climbing almost constantly, over 3000 feet in 18 miles. We were plenty warm, until we stopped to admire the view. Here at elevation, temperatures were in the 20s, and the wind was howling. There were patches of ice along the trail, and our bottles were frozen. We got cold fast, and we knew we had a good hour of descending ahead of us.  We struggled into all of our previously shedded layers.

castle pt 3

We rolled along the Castle Point carriage road, following the very edge of the cliff, toward Lake Minnewaska. This is a beautiful trail, but unforgiving of numb hands. We knew the trail well enough to descend at a good clip, but we had several discussions about how washing out on certain turns would leave you about a thousand feet below where you started.

By the time we got to Lake Minnewaska, we had to stop to try to get some feeling back in our hands.

minnewaska

From Lake Minnewaska, we followed the very fun switchbacky access road down to the park gatehouse, where we hopped onto the Awosting Falls carriage road, stopping at the falls to once again try to get some blood moving through our frozen hands.

falls

That would be the end of the photography, because it became impossible to operate my camera with what felt like frozen steaks attached to the ends of my arms.

From the falls, the trail continues to descend gradually. To keep from shivering, we had to ride hard enough to generate some body heat, but that also generated more headwind. I wouldn’t call it hammering, but we were moving along at a solid head-down tempo pace, after hours of climbing and then shivering. I had to shift by sight, because I couldn’t feel the levers.

At the Trapps (no rock climbers today), we continued onto the Mohonk Preserve carriage roads. (The thought of descending at high speed on the paved road was deeply unappealing.) These carriage roads are some of the most beautiful cycling in the world, but you’ll just have to take my word for it today, because I didn’t have enough sensation in my fingers to unzip my vest, much less operate the camera.

As we rode down Glory Hill and past Duck Pond, we finally gave back enough elevation that we started to warm up a bit, joke around and swap stories about previous adventures getting stuck out in the cold. We exited the preserve at Pine Road, said hi to the horses, and rolled the last 3 miles into New Paltz.

I can’t recommend this route highly enough.  If ever a ride was worth the trip, this one is.  It has a little bit of everything unique that the area has to offer. The climb is very challenging, and the rewards are great.  But, you know, layer up.

CaptureFor those who are not Stravafied, the raw GPX file is here.

— John S, aka globecanvas

A History of Industry

Gangblog! Globecanvas here. I’m a local cyclist, local as in the Shawangunks and Catskills. John has graciously offered me the keys to the shop while he works on his geographical conundrum. Why “globecanvas”? Because in the early 1990s, the first time I ever had to make up an internet username, I happened to be sitting next to my Globe Canvas bike messenger bag. If that means anything to you, it means street cred. Which is now country cred, I guess. Anyway…

I’ll be putting in a lot of miles this winter, and I’ll do my best to record some epic journeys and show off some of the nooks and crannies of the Gunks and Catskills. But after a busy riding and racing season, I took a month off, and today was my first ride back, as well as my first try at contributing to Riding the Catskills, so I thought I’d start out small. Like, really small.

A couple of months ago, about 7 miles of new rail trail between Rosendale and Kingston opened to the public. This is an especially charismatic corridor, not your typical suburban multi-use path.

Until the new section opened, the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, a popular recreation and commuting path through the towns of Gardiner and New Paltz, ended at the Rosendale trestle, an 1870 span high across the Rondout Creek, shown here in a 1910 image displayed at the Rosendale Library.

Rosendale_trestle_postcard

Thanks to some epic fundraising and volunteer labor efforts, the trestle is now decked, safe, and open to the public all the way across, for the first time ever. From the south side, the trestle leads into a canopy of oaks, sycamores, and tulip trees, then launches out into space toward Joppenbergh Mountain, on the far side of the creek.

joppenbergh

[begin digression]

Joppenbergh is an imposing jumble of limestone, quite different from the famous Gunks conglomerate that forms the popular climbing crags immediately to the south. In the late 19th century, the mountain was the center of a booming cement mining industry. The mountain, and much of the town, was deeply mined with enormous, crisscrossing shafts.

Rosendale_Wallkill_Valley_Railroad_Bridge_1888

In 1899, the dangerously undermined mountain literally collapsed on itself, leaving an unstable pile of talus that continued to degenerate for another 10 years, before settling into a sort of equilibrium. Today, trails lead to the top of the mountain from Willow Kiln park behind Rosendale’s Main Street, and the views from the summit are remarkable. I climbed up with my kids last weekend.

jberg kids 1

jberg kids 2

[end digression]

Continuing north beyond the trestle, remnants of the century-dead cement industry are visible along the trail. Brick kilns where limestone was fired into cement are visible through the woods, mostly reclaimed by the forest.

kilns

The trail passes through the Williams Lake area, formerly the site of a blue-collar family resort, now vacant. A fancy Canyon Ranch style eco-spa is planned on the site, so it may not look like this much longer. Luckily, the rail trail is a permanent easement.

williams lake

lakes

The trail passes right next to several abandoned “room and pillar” mines, some of which are huge.

mine 1

mine 3

[begin digression]

These mines are home to massive colonies of bats. In the olden days, bats would hibernate in small groups all over the place, under the bark of big trees, in small caves, and so on. Habitat fragmentation has put an end to that old-fashioned practice. Now essentially all of the bats in a given area hibernate in just a few places, and abandoned mines are perfect for them. Unfortunately, these bat megaslums are also perfect for breeding disease, which places the bats at risk. In the past five years, a fungus that may have been introduced by humans, right here in the Hudson Valley, has wiped out an estimated 6 million bats, with a mortality rate of 95% in some species. So even though they look awesome, please don’t explore the caves. Unless you want mosquitos to take over the world.

[end digression]

After a few miles and a few road crossings, the trail gradually becomes less and less interesting, and ends with a whimper on the outskirts of the city of Kingston.

end

However, the county government has ambitious plans to extend and connect this trail to the Catskill Railroad right-of-way along the north side of the Ashokan reservoir, and from there right through the heart of the Catskills, all the way up to the Belleayre ski area. Bike to ski, cool.

So that’s it, a humble 13-mile out and back on the rail trail, just off the northern end of the Shawangunks, in the shadow of the Catskills. Here’s the route, such as it is:

Capture

See you next time.

— John S, aka globecanvas