Category Archives: rides

The Land of Meh

Today marks my 6-week anniversary at the new house. Compared with Olivebridge, pretty much everything is better. We’re much closer to town but still in an extremely rural setting (in fact, cattle graze just behind our house). We have real internet, and not that crappy satellite internet that only worked 75% of the time, and then slowly. Our cell phones work. So everything is great.

Sadly, the riding just isn’t as good out here as it was up in the Catskills. Don’t get me wrong, this is grade-A cycling country, and I think the vast majority of cyclists would probably prefer it to the Catskills. But I miss the mountains, extreme isolation, and adventure of riding in the high Catskills. Then again, it’s nice to know that I won’t necessarily die undiscovered of extended exposure if I end up in a ditch some day.

The Catskills are still easily accessible, it’s just a minimum of a 60-mile round trip to get up there–not really feasible for a weekday ride.

So…I’ll stop complaining. Really I am blessed.

Here’s a short and fun route for you. You can start out of New Paltz or Gardiner.

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My camera is pretty much dead, but I did manage to get a few non-blurry photos of the route (Amazon says my new camera will be here by June 5). The route mostly passes through farm country, and there’s a convenient stop around mile 20 in Walden, which has a range of options for food. This route is easy as can be: Only about 1300 feet of climbing over 31 miles. Take a moment at mile 9.5 to go down the dirt road on the left to the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Reserve. It’s beautiful.

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This picture is from a previous ride. This is the Aumick Road entrance to the Shawangunk Reserve, a park that John S has written eloquently about. If you’re interested in riding up there, I’ve mapped a route to the entrance for you here.

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Aumick Rd Entrance

That’s all for now. New routes should be coming fast and furious in short order. Also coming soon: The return of Rene!

Rene

John F

medicalwriter.net

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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— 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…

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

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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.

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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.

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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

medicalwriter.net

A Columbus Day Ramble in Autumnal Delaware County

First I’d like to express thanks to John for making me a contributing author on Riding the Catskills. Since I’m only up in the Catskills occasionally between spring and fall, I won’t be contributing regularly… but my aim is to eventually document all the best dirt road mountain passes that Delaware County–my childhood and now seasonal stomping ground in the northwestern Catskills–has to offer, with routes of 35-75 miles with heavy doses of bucolic dirt roads, steep climbs, fast descents and an obsessional avoidance of highways and traffic, designed to bring wide smiles to anyone who rides them. I may also occasionally post planned, partially vetted routes of up to 100 miles, stitching together segments I’ve already ridden with new ones, that may be too long for me to tackle in the near term but may be appealing to more ardent long distance cyclists. Below is a post about my Columbus Day Catskills ride in which I continued to find some absolutely stunning dirt roads.

–Anton, aka somervillain

Columbus Day weekend is a big tourist weekend in the Catskills, with travelers descending from afar to enjoy the fall foliage. Being a holiday weekend, I, too, often make the trip out here from Boston. Typically, the colors in the Northwestern Catskills are at peak vibrancy this weekend–several weeks ahead of eastern Massachusetts–and holiday or not, it’s a great excuse to come out this way just to be a leaf peeper. To the disappointment of many who made the trip here for the rich colorful palette that marks this weekend (I met one couple here from Colorado; Aspens get boring after awhile, they told me), the week prior saw an intense windstorm that stripped many of the leaves that weren’t quite ready to let go. Alas. But not all the leaves had fallen, there was still some fall color left.

I was here for an extended weekend with my family, but I just had to get a ride in, however short it had to be to maintain family commitments. The loop I settled on was 36 miles, relatively short compared to John’s routes. But with 3800 feet of elevation gain (3000 ft in the first 20 miles alone), there were enough climbs and descents to keep it interesting, another exercise in pass hunting.

The route started and ended in Delhi (pronounced “Dell-Hi”), the county seat and nice little historic town, about nine miles from my home in Bloomville.

Delhil Village Hall

From Delhi, the counterclockwise route immediately took me over a steep hill, Belle Hill. Normally I don’t like to start off with a hard climb, not having the chance to warm up first.  Doing the loop in reverse would have avoided it, but I really wanted to do the loop this way, because it includes a five mile descent I had been eagerly waiting to do. As with so many hills around here, the peaks are punctuated, so by the time your rear wheel reaches the top, your front wheel is practically heading down the other side. As I reached the top of Belle Hill, not quite warmed up, the pavement turned to dirt, and I enjoyed the first of many lovely descents.

Dick Mason Rd, Delhi

At the bottom, I followed the valley out of Delhi to Meredith along Peaks Brook Rd, a quiet paved road with a slight but steady uphill grade. After a couple of miles, it turns to dirt, and after a few more miles of gentle climbing, another three miles of descending on dirt.

Peaks Brook Rd, Delhi

Peaks Brook Rd, Meredith

At this point, I mistakenly turned onto Warren Rd, thinking it was a continuation of Peaks Brook Rd. This led me north toward Treadwell, a cute hamlet that John passed through on his Delaware 85 route he posted about this past summer (his masterpiece!).

Warren Rd

Cow warning, heading into Treadwell

Oddly, despite growing up here, I hadn’t ever passed through Treadwell. I was glad I had made the wrong turn, giving me the excuse to finally see it– it boasts an adorable general store that has been continuously run since 1841. I highly recommend working Treadwell into any local routes– there aren’t many places in the area with food and facilities, and here you can get sandwiches, fresh baked goods and roofing nails. The atmosphere is infinitely more charming and welcoming than any gas station/convenience store you might find, and it’s a fun step back in time. I returned to Treadwell with my family the next day, my kids bought penny candy!

Barlow’s General Store, Treadwell

From Treadwell, I headed back south on County Highway 16 towards Hamden– as John did. But shortly outside Treadwell, I detoured off onto Douglas Hall Rd, which wound around some farms as it climbed steadily.

Cows, Douglas Hall Rd

A surprise awaited me when I reached the four-way junction on top. I had originally planned to turn onto Snake Hill Rd (which I would have been on had I not detoured into Treadwell), but when I saw the single-lane dirt road straight ahead, with the sign: Seasonal Limited Use Highway. No maintenance Dec 1 – April 1, I had to change course once again… whenever you see that sign in this area, it’s a promise of a worthwhile investigation.

Ridge Rd, Hamden

Unlike most back roads in the area that seem to go up or down, Ridge Rd, as its name implies, follows the top of a ridge for five miles. It’s mostly tree lined, passing through woods, every so often affording a spectacular vista from atop the ridge. Let me be blunt: this road qualifies as a must ride; just let the photos speak for themselves:

At one point I had to stop and consult a map; the road split, and signs were conspicuously absent. I felt a sense of déjà vu: the fork felt eerily similar to the one in the final scene in the Jim Jarmusch film Down by Law. Who knew the Catskills could look so much like rural Louisiana? See for yourself:

Ridge road ended, and pavement resumed. From here, Launt Hollow Rd whisked me down a continuous five mile descent (the one I had been eyeing) to State Rt 10 in the village of Hamden. (The next route I have planned in this area includes a continuous 10 mile descent from Hamden to the Pepacton reservoir).

Five mile descent to Hamden on Launt Hollow Rd

Rt 10 is a busy highway, but at least in the village the speed limit is tamed down. And just after the turn onto Rt 10 is one of my favorite eateries– Lucky Dog Farm Store. Another charming cafe and locavore farm store, they serve up artisanal sandwiches and lunches. Worth a stop, but their hours are more limited than Barlow’s in Treadwell (Lucky Dog was closed when I was there).

Lucky Dog Farm Store, Hamden

I designed the route to take in the Launt Hollow descent and Lucky Dog while avoiding Rt 10 at all costs. I stayed on Rt 10 for only a half a mile before I turned right to cross the Delaware River, West Branch, over a covered wooden bridge. This took me to Back River road, a gently rolling, quiet paved road that follows Rt 10 but on the opposite side of the river. It heads all the way back to Delhi, which John also passed through on his Delaware 85 route, although John followed Rt 10 from Hamden to Delhi.

Hamden Covered Bridge

Back River Rd, Hamden

Back River Rd, Hamden

There are plenty of facilities in Delhi. I won’t mention the several repugnant fast food chains. Sure, they’re welcome in an emergency, but on most days there are better options, and my pick would be Good Cheap Food, another locavore market. Plus there are several indie cafes and bookshops along Main St, so designing a route to include Delhi is a smart bet.

Main St (Rt 10), Delhi

County Clerk’s Office, Delhi

Given that this route and John’s route intersect at Treadwell and again at Delhi, it’s possible to merge the best portions of each and come up with an another dirt road stunner of just about any desired length.

Labor Day Slide

I attempted this ride solo on the day after I returned from Holland–Labor Day. Unfortunately, I got about 10-15 miles into the ride and the skies opened up with the worst thunderstorm I’ve ever seen. Now, I don’t mind riding in the rain, even in a relatively heavy downpour. But this storm was a whole different order of magnitude from anything I’ve ever seen before. And keep in mind that I grew up in the Midwest, where severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are relatively common. In any case, after taking shelter for a bit, I rode back home, figuring that riding in the high Catskills in the middle of this weather was far from advisable. So it wasn’t until yesterday that I got around to a longer ride, although I did manage 70 fast miles during the week on various rides.

My friend Luis joined me for the ride. He’s 10 years older than me, but still manages to destroy me handily on climbs, even when I’m feeling 100%. Here’s the route, and the GPS is here.

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Slide Mountain is not particularly challenging compared with some of the rides we have done recently; however, I was suffering from a cold (or allergies) and I was definitely not on my game. I suspect it’s allergies, because the second I got off the plane from Holland I started sneezing.

A few pictures from the lead-in to the big climb. If you look at the ride profile on Ride With GPS, you’ll see that it looks like a pretty miserable 36 miles to get to the top of the climb. Really, it’s not so bad. Keep in mind the scale. Yes, you’re going gently uphil for all 36 miles, but for the most part, it’s barely detectable. (I just started riding with Luis…I don’t think that by riding with me he has implicitly signed a release to be the star of my photographs!)

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The climb up Slide is a bit of a grind, but Luis and I agreed that, despite the fact that it is a bigger climb, it is generally easier than Peekamoose. Your opinion may differ. The important thing is to pace yourself, because it is a long, slow climb. When you reach the lake, you’ve finished the climb. Here’s the proof of completion.

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Frost Valley Rd might be one of the nicest roads in the Catskills to ride. First, there is virtually no traffic whatsoever. We probably saw 10 cars total, in both directions, during our time on this road. Second, once you get to the top it’s an easy 20+ mph almost all the way home. Third, it has to be one of the most beautiful roads around. The road runs through a high mountain valley, and you can see for miles. Here’s the famous Frost Valley YMCA, a huge mansion set in the middle of nowhere.

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And a few more photos from Frost Valley Road. Keep in mind that the whole thing slopes slightly downward, so with even a little effort you can haul ass through this segment (while enjoying the view, of course). The road can be a little rough in spots, so be careful.

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And my favorite part of the ride, again on Frost Valley Rd. The road becomes really rough around here. It looks like they might be in the middle of paving it; the last time I was through here the gravel portion was a few miles, now it’s only about 750 feet.

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And that was all for this week for long rides. Looking forward to a couple more centuries later this week (one on Wednesday and one on Sunday), so there will be more new routes coming soon!

John

medicalwriter.net