Category Archives: catskills

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.

The Dead of Winter

At last, the frigid vortex cold snap ended. Let’s go outside!

porch

Hmm, not that way. Maybe the front yard?

yard

The snow was deep enough out there to swallow my kid. Those little stalks in the foreground are 4-foot coneflowers.

This just hasn’t been the best February for cycling. It has been just spectacular for cross-country skiing, though.

For years, I was an XC ski scoffer. The Walkill Valley Rail Trail is literally 50 feet from our house, and my wife hits the trail on her skis whenever there’s enough snow. I always thought of XC skiing as jogging in the snow, more or less, and it simply didn’t appeal. She bought me some old off-rental skis one christmas, which I dutifully used now and then. A few years back I was trudging down the rail trail on my crappy skis when I ran into some friends, an older couple who lives nearby. They were all blissed out on their skis and asked me why I was so grumpy-looking. I said something like “my wife makes me do this, I’d rather be cycling.” They laughed, said “follow us!”, and blasted off the trail into the woods. Soon enough we were on the MTB loop I’ve ridden a thousand times, a swoopy, flowy, up-and-down classic of a trail… on skis! Somehow it had never occurred to me that cross-country means, you know, across the countryside, not just back and forth on the rail trail. Ever since that day I’ve been an avid XC skier. I got a pair of metal-edge skis and some stiffer 3-pin boots, and hit the MTB loop whenever there’s enough snow to bury the rocks.

Most winter there’s only enough snow for a short period of time, but this month it’s absolutely dumped down snow, and up until a few days ago, the temperatures had been consistently below freezing, making for deep and generally ideal conditions.

cliff

Some hardcore friends do a twice-weekly night MTB ride that morphs into a night backcounty ski in the wintertime. The actual route doesn’t change, though, so what is a 90-minute MTB hammerfest in July becomes a 3-hour XC ski epic in February. The loop is no joke, with over 1000 feet of elevation gain in 8 miles, including one truly scary descent (or truly intimidating climb, depending on which direction you are going), which is locally known as “The Widowmaker,” displaying an impressive lack of creativity. With the frequency of snowfall we’ve had, we’re breaking trail on every outing.

Breaking trail through the woods on skis with 120+ feet of climbing per mile is a tremendous amount of work. It’s amazing how much heat the human body can generate. It’s also impossible to underdress — you can be overheated in a t-shirt at 12F. (Just don’t twist an ankle, break a binding, or stop for any reason, or you’ll die!) For the past few weeks, that’s been the schedule: ski, ski, ski, a long bike ride when it’s not actually snowing for 24 hours in a row, then ski some more. This is how we survive the Northeast winters. That, and leaving snarky comments on Strava for our so-called friends in California.

Speaking of surviving the winter, here’s a key survival tool:

boots

Shimano, Sidi, Lake, Northwave, Specialized, and probably others make quality winter cycling boots. They are all expensive, but what price would you place on warm (or at least not frozen), dry toes?


Sadly, a week ago I managed to sprain my knee. My stepdad, in Dutchess County, has an epic sled run that he’s been curating for years. It goes around rusty old farm equipment, over stone walls, through the woods, over streams, through brambles. He made a wooden sign for the top of the run with eight black diamonds and the title “The Babykiller.”  The whole thing makes my mom mutter darkly and shake her head, Marge Simpson-style.  My kids absolutely love it.

I made the tactical error of doing the sled run on a crowded 4-foot toboggan with my sister and my ten year old. We jumped the tracks in the woods, and I tried to turn us by planting a foot. My foot stopped, but nothing else did, and I felt a horrible popping sensation that I thought had to be the ACL. In that moment a welter of thoughts raced through my head. Would my life be different now? Would I need surgery? Did I just DNS Battenkill? Could I invent a way to go back 10 seconds in time?

But I think I got lucky. I don’t think there was any ligament damage. It was very stiff and sore for a few days, but felt stable (as in, the knee didn’t feel like it wanted to fall apart and go sideways). Rest, ice, compression, elevation, and then a few days of very high cadence, zero resistance on the trainer, just spinning as fast as possible without pogoing off the saddle. The high cadence spinning really seemed to help the knee feel looser and more normal. Yesterday, 6 days after the accident, I went for an actual bike ride (on the single speed, no less), and although it felt weird for the first hour or so, by the middle of the ride I was actually forgetting about the injury for minutes at a time. I haven’t tried anything resembling an actual effort yet, but I’m optimistic that no real damage was done. Time will tell.


One thing I’m not clear on:  is that polar vortex thing responsible for these ridiculous sunsets?

sunset

– John S, aka globecanvas

Announcement: Registration for the Rensselaerville Cycling Festival is Open!

Yes, I’m still here and still riding. I have a large backlog of rides to post, in the meantime, want to hear about my new coffee table?

Just kidding.

My friend Tyler Wren has put together a cycling festival/Gran Fondo in Rensselaerville, a small town in upstate New York in the middle of some of the most spectacular cycling country on the east coast.

static.squarespace.com

The ride will be held September 28, 2014. You can register for 84, 55, 25, or 8 mile rides. There’s a barbeque, farmers market, a beer shed, live music, kids’ events and activities, and of course you’re only 10 minutes away from hiking trails in the surrounding Huyck Preserve.

Now, Gran Fondos aren’t my thing–too short and too many people for me–but this one looks amazing. The field is limited to 400 riders, so it should be possible to get some space over 84 miles. It is fully supported, with marshalls, signage, and sag wagons. Plus the route is spectacular, and who can say no to beer and barbeque?

You’ll also get a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the founder of ridingthecatskills.com. Yes, I’m going to break my rule regarding no organized rides for this one. Please note that I will not be signing autographs.

You can read more and register here. Hope to see you there!

John

medicalwriter.net

Pass Hunting, Summit Seeking: using USGS to track peaks in the Catskills

Pass Hunting. To me, the term is sporting, and also evokes a romanticized notion of exploration by bike. The idea is that it’s a non-competitive, self-supported cycling sport, much in the spirit of randonneuring, but it differs from randonneuring in that it’s not about speed or progressive long-distance endurance. It’s about working, on your own schedule and at your own speed, toward climbing a specified number of mountain passes while adhering to a set of rules. Achieving the goal may be unceremonious, much like completing a brevet series, but it earns you entry into a brotherhood of like-minded cyclists who identify with and share the enjoyment of cycling over steep mountain peaks. And depending on the club, you may also be bestowed a badge of honor with which to proudly display your achievement (usually a patch or pin to attach to your handlebar bag or saddle bag).

Or, forget the brotherhood and maybe you just like the satisfaction of collecting mountain passes just as you would stamps, like a hobby. One can choose to take on the sport in quiet solitude, or take a more social team-based approach by riding together in organized missions. For me, both aspects are appealing in their own ways.

Pass hunting originated in France, where it’s still popular. It’s big in Japan. Few locations in the US have mountains as steep as in France and Japan, which may explain the sport’s greater popularity in those countries.  But there are some pass hunting-style clubs here in the US, and there’s no reason one couldn’t work right here, in the Catskills. Our peaks aren’t as tall, but readers of this blog know that the Catskills have some of the most challenging hill climbing in the eastern US, and pass hunting is really about enjoying the experience of climbing mountains.

One caveat to pass hunting in the Catskills is that there are actually very few USGS-defined passes (only two in Delaware County, and I’ve unwittingly ridden both).  In France, the game rules explicitly disallow claiming designated land features other than passes, such as summits (which, as designated by the USGS, are abundant in the Catskills). So calling it Pass Hunting may be a technical stretch of the rules. If one wanted to adhere to rules. Another caveat is elevation: in France the rules hold that some passes must be above a certain height which is unachievable in the Catskills. Perhaps we should call it Summit Seeking. If we want to align the sport with geologically correct terms.

I played around with the USGS website and found it very easy to generate table lists of geological features (along with their latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates) within a defined region, filterable by any number of criteria, such as elevation.  For fun, I ran a query to identify the top 100 highest summits in Delaware County (given the dearth of passes). I limited the search to Delaware County because that’s where I’m most likely to ride whenever I’m out that way from Boston. The table is easily copied and pasted into Excel, from where the data can be formatted for import into Google maps. This means you can nearly instantly create your own Carte des cols de Google. Google does a great job with the way it allows users to annotate, sort and style the imported data, so you can label and color pins by any categories present in your imported data table (for example, you can label by elevation, and color by town, or by whether you’ve ridden it or not). You can import as many data tables as you like, for different types of data, and toggle any combination of them. One table could be summits, another could be USGS-designated waterfalls, if you were so inclined to do a bicycle tour of area waterfalls. Clicking on a map pin gets you a popup with all the information for that pin from the data table (for example, the historical name of the feature, like “Devil’s Backbone”).

I assembled a “Summit Seeking” map marking the 100 highest USGS summits in Delaware County, labeled by elevation and colored to denote which ones I’ve completed. A similar map can just as easily be made for all of the Catskills, or anywhere else:

Capture

If anyone is interested in learning how to create their own Google maps using USGS features as starting points for your own summit seeking adventures, let me know. At the very least, one can use this tool to help create and track your own personal riding goals based on geological features, wherever you live and ride. But who knows… if there’s enough interest, we could get a bona-fide club started. Rules could be crafted to make it reasonable for people to achieve goals even if they don’t ride in the same region– for example, the goal requirement for a soloist could be something like completing any 20 peaks out of 100 in one year.  Teams could divide and conquer: any 40 peaks with at least 50 miles between the farthest two. Or at least 3 peaks in every township. That sort of thing. And how cool would it be to pin this to your saddlebag upon completion:

Capture

–Somervillain

 

Basha Kill Single Speed Century

The relentless very cold weather has been strangling any chance of a long ride for the past couple of weeks. (According to the always entertaining Hudson Valley Weather blog, we are currently experiencing the longest sustained below-freezing period in many years, perhaps ever.) But yesterday the forecast was for a balmy 30F! Sure, the wind chill was about 5F, but it’s all relative.

My specific goal was to do 100 miles on the single speed. I originally planned to do the Frost Valley loop through the Catskills, but the forecast there was for a couple inches of snow. Instead I plotted a route following the Shawangunk Ridge south into Sullivan and Orange counties, an area I haven’t ridden in much.

A note on dressing for weather: always dress for the wind chill and the expected level of effort. The harder you plan to work, the more you need to underdress, to the point where a hard-working ride requires you to be downright cold when you’re starting out. Yesterday, with a wind chill of 5F and a leisurely pace, was one notch above “wear everything.” Insulated bib tights, a thin wool baselayer, soft shell jacket, balaclava, glove liners and lobster gloves, wool socks, winter cycling boots, and chemical toe warmers (which are magically wonderful). As it turned out, I was slightly overdressed, but not to the point of sweating through the clothes, which is an experience really worth avoiding in the cold.

The first 30 miles were an easy, familiar cruise along the base of the Gunks. As I rode south, the road conditions improved; my road is still covered in packed snow, but it looked like less snow had fallen in Sullivan County. Unfortunately, I was riding into a full headwind, so it was slow going.

Around mile 30, the road turned upwards to cross the ridge. I picked the least challenging route up and over, but there were still a few sections of 8%-type grades, which are challenging on a single speed, especially because steep grades tend to be both iciest and most heavily sanded. Nothing too crazy, though, and soon enough I was at the top of the ridge at High View.

60 years ago, this area was home to dozens of Borscht Belt resorts, ranging from small family operations to relatively grand hotels like the Shawanga Lodge. Now, they are all decrepit ruins, sad reminders of a heyday that has long since faded away. There has been some recent investment in the area, partly fueled by (and fueling) the 2013 New York proposition permitting some casino gambling, and partly hoping to cater to the wealthy eco-spa set. We’ll see what will come of these plans.

In any case, a fast descent off the other side of the ridge led into Wurtsboro, a biker town as in Harley (not as in Surly). It’s marginally scenic in seasons other than the dead of winter, but honestly somewhat grim in January. This was the outer boundary of my previous cycling experience, and I was delighted to find that as soon as I turned off of Main Street, the route became spectacular. I followed a small road along the shoulders of the ridge, slowly picking up altitude as a wide tract of wilderness opened up beneath me. It started to snow, just enough to be scenic, not enough to be a bummer.

farm field

The road (marked on Google Maps as Haven or South Road, but road signs in situ said Indian Orchard) became increasingly scenic as it became clear this was some sort of preserve. I stopped at a lovely frozen stream, which rose almost vertically yet somehow was not a frozen waterfall.

falls

Finally, I passed a sign identifying this area as the Basha Kill wetlands, much to my surprise. I’ve canoed at the Basha Kill several times in the summer, but it was completely unrecognizable in winter (also, I was on the other side of the wetland from the main approach). It would have made a fine ride destination if I’d thought of it. As it happened, it was just a happy coincidence. I’ll be returning to ride this area again, for sure.

At the end of the road, I climbed back up to the top of the ridge, now in Orange County, to the town of Otisville. I was struck by how much more upscale this area seemed than the other side of the ridge — not that it was fancy, more that it wasn’t visibly depressed. Then I noticed a sign for a Metro-North station. It’s only one stop from the end of the line, but a conduit for commuters and NYC salaries makes a big difference to a town’s median income.

The next 30 miles or so were a spectacular, gradual descent through rolling farmland, with a steady tailwind. Really, there’s nothing like a gradual descent and a strong tailwind for a fantastic bike ride. The farms were pretty and well-kept, this is quite a nice area to ride. The only downside yesterday was that in many places, a sort of crosswind tunnel effect would blow a significant amount of snow across the road, which had to be forded while bracing against the sudden crosswind.

Back in Ulster County, I passed the Shawangunk Grasslands wildlife refuge, a former army airfield that is now a 600 acre preserve. This seemingly unremarkable giant meadow is actually an important wintering and migration habitat for the entire roster of endangered and threatened grassland birds. If you’re into birds, it’s a great destination, especially in spring when birds are nesting.

The skies finally started to clear as I re-entered the super-familiar radius of about 30 miles from home. As the skies cleared, the wind and temperature both dropped, but that was fine. Cold and sunny is better than slightly less cold, cloudy and gusty.

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Some leisurely calculation revealed that if I headed more or less directly home, I’d end up with about 95 miles. Sure, it’s arbitrary and contrived, but I jinked a few miles east to ride home past the Black Creek swamp and ensure three digits of mileage.

swamp

Once home, I proceeded to eat everything in the house, and was treated to a spectacular sunset out the back window. This is an undoctored photograph, honest.

sunset

This was a great ride. 100 miles in January is hard on the equipment, though. I doubt this chain has many more January centuries in it.  The freewheel is starting to go as well, probably full of sand.

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The route:

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— John S, aka globecanvas

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 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:

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Raw GPX here.

— John S, aka globecanvas

Dark, Wet, and Muddy

I wrote this a few days ago, but quickly took it down when I realized that I had rudely top-posted Globecanvas’ most recent post. Apologies to all of you who received a new post e-mail, only to stop by and see nothing new!

The ideal ride.

Yes, I’ve finally gotten back on the horse after a few months of house hunting and then an inconveniently timed neck injury. I went for a 20-mile ride yesterday; on today’s ride, I decided to see how many dirt roads I could hit within 30 miles of my house, and I found out that, if you plan carefully, you can do a ride that is approximately one-third dirt in that distance. Route here.

I mean, mud, not dirt.

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Red mud. My poor shoes.

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It was drizzling at the beginning of the ride, and it started to pour about halfway through, so I didn’t get too many pictures. Here are a few.

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I’m sure the few people in cars who passed me felt sorry for me. What they don’t know is that I do this by choice. Nothing feels as good as a wet, muddy, freezing, foggy ride in the dark!

John

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