Tag Archives: Cycling photography

New Route: Delaware 85

Do you like climbing? Do you like gravel? Do you have no sense of self-preservation? If you answered yes to all 3 questions, you’ll enjoy this route. Deliberately designed to be the toughest sub-century in the Catskills, it is 85 miles, has about 9000 feet of climbing, and covers at least 30-40 miles of some of the most isolated gravel roads you can find out here. It is, at least thus far, my masterpiece. If you can an excuse to get up to Delaware County, do it now and ride this route. It’s not just worth the trip, it’s worth a pilgrimage.

That said, I’m *really* tired, so this story won’t do justice to the route. In a few days, however, I’ll try to come back and add what will, doubtlessly, be highly amusing anecdotes and antics of grown men on bicycles. Just enjoy the photos for now; in fact, I’d suggest that you click on them to see them full size. My camera, which I’ve been riding with for 3 years now, is dying in a most appealing way–some of the images are quite beautiful.

Also, please keep in mind that I very well may be misplacing the pictures. I don’t keep a diary of where I’m taking shots while I’m riding; in fact, my photos usually involve me trying to ride one- or no-handed over potholes, while randomly clicking because it’s too bright to see the LCD on the back. So take these pictures as a general overview of the route rather than specific views you’ll see at certain points.

I was inspired to create the route by Anton’s magnificent posts on his rides in Delaware County, which can be found here and here. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to go up to his place and ride.

This is the actual route.

Map

We had planned on doing it in the reverse direction from what is shown here, but, because the start and end points were the same, there was no indication on our Garmins whether we should go in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction, and I had failed to look at a map closely before leaving. So, we ended up doing the entire route backwards. In retrospect, this might have been a good decision, because the descent in town at the end of the ride, as we did it, would be absolutely murderous to start out with.

Here’s the elevation profile.

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If you have time to inspect the route further on Ride With GPS, you’ll see that all of those climbs have significant 12% to 18% sections. Many of them on dirt. Each of the 9 major climbs on this route could be a highlight for any ride—like the Peekamoose or Slide Mountain climbs. I just decided it would be a good idea to have 9 highlights.

It starts in Margaretville, which I’ll probably misspell in half a dozen ways throughout this post. There is a convenient parking lot right across from the grocery store where you can leave your car all day at no charge (at least we did without issues).

You head out of town on the appropriately named Cemetery Road—a 700-foot climb, but nothing terrible or unmanageable. After a few moments on Route 30, you’ll take a left on West Hubbel Hill Rd. I tried to include every road with the name “Hill” or “Mountain” in them on this route, but I did manage to miss a few. This is the first major climb of the route. It’s about 1100 feet, with significant sections of up to 16%. At least it’s paved!

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The view from the top of Hubbel Hill Road is great, but there are better views to be had in just a few miles.

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Continuing on, Roxbury Mountain Road offers the first gravel segment of the route. As you’ll see, the gravel here ranges from pale pink to a quite bright red. I did some 30-mph fishtailing on this road, which reminded me to be cautious.

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You’ll continue into South Kortright. Unfortunately, South Kortright has no amenties, eg, no place to buy stuff. This turned into a major problem, as the first place we hit to buy liquids and food was just past mile 40–under normal conditions, not a big problem, but keep in mind that by mile 40 we already had 4500 feet of climbing under out belts. So word of warning: bring lots of water or do this route in cooler weather. A few more images of the paved portion of this segment:

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After a moment on a “major” road–Doonan’s Corners Rd, we turned off onto Turnpike Road. More gravel!

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Which ended on a nice big descent. Note that there is significant washboard at the end of this descent. I was riding 650B at 45 psi and I almost lost a filling.

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I believe this is Houghtailing Hollow Rd, around mile 39. When a road says it’s seasonal, you know something good (or very, very bad) is coming up. As it turns out, it was beautiful but nothing painful. However, the climb leading up to this road is a brute, I believe 18%+ on gravel. I’m never sure on those types of climbs whether it is better to keep the weight on the rear wheel, risking a wheelie but maintaining traction, or to slide a little more forward. It can be a delicate balance.

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And another massive climb. You know you’ve reached the top of something when you see the radio tower (it might be a cellular tower, who knows?). My camera lens is getting messed up enough after 3 years of riding with it that my photos are starting to look pre-instagrammed. I’ve tried cleaning the lens with a lens pen, but it’s not helping.

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Around mile 48, you’ll ride into the tiny town of Treadwell. It’s a lovely little town, made even more lovely by an *open* general store with that sells Gatoraide and all of the other essentials. Note that they are only open until 3 pm on Sundays; I believe they are open until 6 every other day. Make sure you arrive before closing, otherwise you have a long haul to Delhi to refuel. Delhi has at least a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut that are open reasonable hours, there may be more appetizing options in the village with less predictable hours.

The toughest part of this ride is the 3 “bumps”, beginning at about mile 65, when you’re already exhausted. The first is terrible, the second–on New Kingston Rd–is truly brutal. The third, Margaretville Mountain Rd, isn’t terrible, but at this point, if you’ve put any effort at all into the ride, you’re probably hurting! Some images from the last 20 miles:

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Now…time for bed. This ride really exhausted me…in part, that’s my own fault because–at least for the first 70 miles–I did a lot of sprinting up to the top of hills ahead of my companion so I’d have time to take pictures! This route represents my finest achievement to date on Ride With GPS. If you can make any excuse to get out to Margaretville, try this, you won’t regret it. Unless, of course, you’re opposed to fun.

And a few more photos. Even though the placement of the photos above is vague at best, I really have no idea where I took these. But I like them, so here they are:

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And let’s not forget the covered bridge in Delhi…

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John

medicalwriter.net

Tale of Three Hamlets: An Adventure in Delaware County, New York

Today, we have another amazing guest post from Anton (aka Somervillain). As before, I’m going to leave this at the top of the page for 4 or 5 days, but rest assured, I have lots to report (albeit less eloquently!)

I grew up spending summers in Bloomville, in Delaware County, NY. Although I never lived here full-time and now only spend a couple of weeks here each year, it nevertheless occupies a special place in my heart: I’ve known it since infancy, it has left an indelible mark on my development. Summer entertainment revolved around goings-on in the nearby villages: the county fair, the town barbecue, local farm auctions.

I recently rode a hilly 45-mile route that connects three neighboring villages to retrace childhood memories; each holds fond memories for me. But more relevant to this post, cycling between these villages is a fun adventure in pass hunting– the sport of riding over mountain passes towards a goal of having completed a defined number of passes within a region. Popular in France (rules of the game), it’s gaining popularity here in the US. It’s sort of the cycling equivalent of hiking clubs, where the goal is to have hiked over a defined group of mountain peaks. So instead of following major roads between the villages that skirt around and thereby avoid the mountains, I opt to ride up and over the mountains along the most remote, least traveled mountain passes and carriage roads I can find, choosing dirt over pavement wherever possible.

The route starts, like my previously described route, at the trail head of the Catskill Scenic Trail in Bloomville, a convenient location because of the parking and the proximity to the village center where one can find food and beverage. But unlike the previous route I described which takes in some of the trail and dirt roads north of it, this route doesn’t include any of the trail. Instead, I head the few hundred feet on NYS Rt 10 into the village. Bloomville was once a bustling town with a thriving economy, fueled by the regional dairy economy, the railroad that ran through the village, and the mill powered by Wright’s Brook, which also runs through the village. Bloomville had several imposing hotels.

The passenger railroad station is long gone. A second railway depot used for transporting food and grain was shuttered decades ago, the structure still stands today. The mill had closed long before the railroad. The town steadily declined and what remains now is not much more than a crossroads with crumbling buildings with fading facades, skeletal reminders of its industrious past. But Bloomville, and the Catskills, may be experiencing a form of economic revival, but more on that later.

From Bloomville I head past the cemetery and across the river to County Highway 18 (Back River Rd), the gently rolling road dotted with roadside farm stands that follows the West Branch of the Delaware River. I turn onto Bramley Mountain Rd, a steep dirt road that takes me up Bramley Mountain into Bovina. At the top, the road becomes paved, views dominated by hilltop pastureland. I turn left onto Miller Ave and follow a long and delightful dirt road descent all the way into Bovina Center.

Like most of Delaware County, Bovina was predominantly (and is still, to a limited extent) a dairy farming town, with its village center spread along County Highway 6. The white one-room building on the left in the picture below is the Bovina museum, which was closed when I passed by; I had wanted to stop in and learn more about the town’s history. At the other end of the village is Russell’s Store, a general store and eatery that dates back to 1823, with its current name dating back to 1919. It appears as though little has changed since then except the contents of its shelves. On Saturdays they host a Farmer’s Market.

Speaking of Saturdays, that was the big night out for my family. My mother was an obsessional antiques collector, and Saturday’s were when the weekly auction took place in Bovina Center. Held in a former creamery building on Creamery Rd just off of Main St (the orange brick building at the end of the road in the photo below), it was the biggest shindig in town. For many years the creamery was the main clearinghouse for the local auctioneer, every square inch of wall space was taken up by things that never sold– tacky flea market art, crushed velvet portraiture in baroque plastic frames, that sort of stuff. It bordered on surreal, an epicenter of kitsch. In the anteroom in front, you could buy hot dogs and chips along with your $1 entry ticket. Auction goers sat in old wooden school chairs, resting their hotdog boats on the built-in writing tablets. The auctioneer, as if deity, had his own raised pulpit, from which he would deliver his own sermon, the auctioneer’s shtick. Sadly, years ago the business relocated to another village, and the funky vibe got lost in the move. At least it’s good to know the business is being carried on by the next generation.

I head out of the village in the opposite direction of the next town on my route to take in one of my favorite dead-end dirt roads, Reinertsen Hill Rd. I know I’ll have to double back and head through Bovina Center again but I can’t resist the views. It twists up a steep hill testing the traction limits of my 650B Hetres. I come upon a field where a tractor is bailing freshly cut hay. Past it, an abandoned barn. The road narrows, tree crowns converge and provide a welcome canopy. A clearing emerges, and the road dead-ends at a farmhouse. Cows graze in a field.

Turning around and heading back down the hill, a new vista unfolds with every turn. I could devote an entire post to this short dead-end road, but I’ll stop here.

Back at the bottom of the hill, I continue away from Bovina Center on County Highway 6 toward another favorite dirt loop, Coulter Brook Rd. Highway 6 has gentle rollers with more of the usual views– farms and barns, in various states of decay. I pass one barn that has collapsed to rubble, a sad but common site around here (our family barn suffered the same fate, after decades of “deferred maintenance”).

I turn onto Coulter Brook Rd, which loops back to Bovina Center. On my way back through the village, I stop at Russell’s store and refill my water bottles. For anyone riding this route, Russell’s may be a good food stop, and there’s also the swankier bakery/cafe on the other end of the village. More opportunities for food and drink lay ahead in the next village on the route.

It’s July 6th, and American flags vye with barns for iconic dominance.

Outside the village center, I turn onto Russell Hill Rd. This dirt road winds its way up a steep road that will take me to the next hamlet, Andes. As I crest Russell Hill Rd, cows pasture on the hilltop. I enjoy a long, steady descent down the other side. At first I believe I’m heading down the hill to what must be Andes, but I soon discover I have many short but steep climbs to tackle before I make the final descent into Andes. I noted in my previous post that the sound of water was pervasive. This week it was less so, as we hadn’t gotten any significant rain for the better part of a week. But as rain gave way to sunshine, wildflowers flourished, decorating the sides of the road like confetti.

I’m supposed to fork left at Doig Hollow Rd, but I miss the turn, there are no markings. But I’m also going at a good clip, intoxicated by the breeze and by the unique sound of the voluminous Hetres swiftly rolling over packed dirt (imagine the sound that briefly lingers after a basketball bounces, but imagine it lingering indefinitely). I blow past the fork, which in retrospect should have been impossible to miss. This costs me precious hill climbing reserve: I descend a good 1/4 mile before realizing my mistake. As I ride I have no idea how much elevation gain this route has, I hadn’t mapped it online first (no internet access at my summer house). I was old-schooling it with a paper map from 1974. I do know, this far into the route, that it’s hilly! (I later learn when mapping it online that the 45 mile route has 5500 ft of elevation gain– see route link at the end).

Doig Hollow Rd is a gem. Lined with sagging, mossy stone walls, tall ferns and century old trees, the shade is more than welcome– it’s needed. It’s high noon and I’ll later learn that it’s 87 degrees. I take a break, have a bite, a drink. I’m a fan of front rack-mounted randonneur style bags, and mine holds enough food and supplies for a day in the saddle. But I’m nearly out of water and I’m still not certain how much more elevation I’ll have to deal with before I descend into Andes.

Doig Hollow Rd went on like this for a while, then after a few milder climbs over two miles, it seems like the world is unfolding in front of me: a panorama presents that literally forces me to stop and take a deep breath. In the photo below, you can see the village of Andes in the distance. All down hill from here. The dirt changes to pavement, I hit 43 mph. I think, technically, I am speeding.

The road terminates at NYS Rt 28, the major corridor through Delaware County. Fortunately, I join Rt 28 just as it enters the village and slows to 30 mph. Rt 28, which runs right through the village of Andes, is its main street. New Yorkers heading into the Northern and Western Catskills pass through Andes, and in the past 20 years it has become a tourist’s haven. What were once feed stores or small engine repair shops are now antique shops or art galleries. We once bought a used lawn mower in Andes for $20. Today I can buy an early American pine farm table for $1200. I stop at Woody’s Country Kitchen for ice cream. I remember it from decades ago when it had a different name (Patty’s Pantry), and I discover that although the name had changed, the interior decor hadn’t.

Next door is a boutique shop, the proprietors of which my family has known for years. I stop in to say Hi, in what has become an annual ritual. Inside, I meet a fellow who seeks me out as the owner of the bike resting against a post outside. He notes my Gilles Berthoud saddle– both he and the saddle are French. He’s a cyclist, grew up not far from the Alex Singer shop in a suburb of Paris, and happens to own an Alex Singer… and a Rene Herse. And he lives, as the crow flies, less than two miles from my house in Bloomville. Amazing.

To complete the loop from Andes back to Bloomville avoiding the traffic of Rt 28, I head west out of Andes on County Highway 2, also known as Cabin Hill Rd, with the intention of hooking up with two separate passes, delivering me back to Back River Rd near Bloomville. Highway 2 is a paved, rolling road with a 55 mph limit, but traffic is very light, the scenery bucolic. One initial hard climb out of the village, and familiar views open up: fields, barns and distant hills, a horse farm on my left.

I turn onto the first of what I think will be two carriage roads on my return to Bloomville: Bigger Hollow Rd. Narrow, double track in places, it reminds me of Doig Hollow Rd. The road follows Bigger Brook, and at one point I lose track of the stream as it transitions into marshland. Upon closer inspection, I see that the change in the stream’s character is the results of a beaver dam. (Years ago, we had a massive beaver dam on our property, and it permanently altered the path of the brook.)

The only building I encounter is a caving barn. The pitch steepens and I enter a hairpin turn. I can continue straight ahead as my map indicates, but there are signs that say Private Way. Instead of continuing with my original plan, I follow the hairpin (a 15% climb on loose gravel), barely maintaining traction. The road straightens out and I enjoy a brief respite from climbing. This is my second mistake: I think I’m still on Bigger Hollow Road heading north toward Bloomville, but the hairpin turns into Calhoun Hill Rd, which banks east back towards Andes! I had hoped Bigger Hollow Rd would take me to Rt 28 just a few hundred feet from the next mountain pass, but instead Calhoun Hill Rd dumps me onto Rt 28 about four miles south of where I thought I’d join it. It turns out the direct route that would take me north, avoiding Rt 28, is in fact a private way, but my map does not make the distinction.

Oh well, I’ll just take Rt 28 north to Lee Hollow Rd, the last mountain pass of the route. Rt 28 is actually quite scenic, but it’s littered with billboards, has lots of truck traffic, and the shoulders are narrow. I don’t recommend cycling on it for extended stretches, not when there are so many better alternatives. The red barn in the photo below, taken from the shoulder of Rt 28, is part of a farm in its fourth generation of operation. The previous generation’s owner, in addition to being a farmer, was also a real estate broker, and it was he who sold my parents their property. He and his wife thereafter remained close family friends, we used to see them at the weekly Bovina auction.

I follow Rt 28 to Lee Hollow Rd, which I believe to be the final pass before Bloomville. This one’s paved, the climb up it is hard, and the westerly sun is searing my back. It occurs to me that pavement radiates more absorbed heat than dirt, and I feel it. As I reach the top, I see in the distance that, in fact, there’s still another hard climb awaiting me. That’s got to be the last one, I think– I’m getting tired at this point. I reach it, and look forward to another short carriage road which, according to my map, runs fairly flat along the top of Bramley Mountain, and connects to Glen Burnie Rd, following another mountain pass that will take me back down Bramley Mountain to Back River Rd.

I make the turn onto Huff Rd, the connector at the top of the mountain. Another gem. Shady, narrow, tall ferns, a joy. But why am I going downhill in the opposite direction?! This shouldn’t be. Well, the thrill of the descent overwhelms me and I bomb down it anyway. It T-intersects Glen Burnie Rd as expected, but now I have to climb up a short stretch of Glen Burnie before starting the descent to Back River Rd. Glen Burnie is in rough shape. Originally dirt, at some point it got paved, but now it’s crumbling, pothole ridden, the underlying red dirt layer blistering through the broken pavement like flesh wounds. I’m exhausted by this point, and lack the confidence to bomb down it. I have to brake hard the entire way down, and my fingers are aching and weak. Glen Burnie reaches its steepest—over 16% grade—just as it T-intersects Back River Rd. The KoolStop brake pads are squealing as the bike lumbers to a stop. The front rim is hot to the touch.

The climbing is over. Finally back on Back River Rd, I regain my bearings and leisurely head back into Bloomville. The Delaware on one side; fertile, rolling farmland on the other. The gentle rollers help me cool off, a good way to wind down the ride. This final stretch provides a sort of catharsis for me.

Back in Bloomville, the rustic cafe/inn that opened last year at the crossroads of the village, where I hope to get a cold drink, has closed for the day. It’s in a tall old house, vacant for decades, possibly a generation, its windows like tired eyes overlooking the heart of the village. The new owners are giving it the rejuvenation it deserves. The cafe espouses a collaborative business model, sourcing its seasonal menu locally and hosting periodic food-related workshops and a weekly farmer’s market. While not an entirely unique model–it’s sprouting elsewhere in the Catskills as well–I’m happy to see the new movement taking root in my village, I hope it helps reinvigorate the local farming community. And its proximity to the Catskill Scenic Trail makes it a perfect stop before or after the ride.

And once again a thoroughly dirty bike. She’ll get a proper wash back in Boston next week.

Full route here, with dirt sections drawn in red.

–Somervillain

My Dumbass Adventure

I’ve hypothesized for a while that I could get from my area, just south of the Catskills, over to Yeagerville Rd—and from there, to Peekamoose Rd, by taking a little road called Trails End (no apostrophe, thanks).

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On maps, Trails End Rd terminates unceremoniously a few miles from the terminus of Yeagerville Rd. Yet I knew that there was a gravel path that headed over the mountains that was unmarked on maps. I just didn’t know where it ended.

Today, I decided to find out. I won’t bore you with the 10-mile trip to and from, so let’s start at the base of Trails End Rd. I knew that I had a good-sized climb ahead of me, about 1000 feet in just a few miles. Mostly on gravel.

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As expected, the road ends and gravel begins…

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There’s nothing like 12% to 15% climbs on loose gravel. I had to get off my bike for a moment and walk about 100 feet, pursued by clouds of hungry mosquitos.

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About a mile in, you have two choices: There’s a path that is apparently for hikers…

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Which really doesn’t work well on a bike, even one with fat 650B tires. Too many large rocks. I suppose someone with really good cyclocross skills could navigate it, but that’s definitely not me.

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However, if you turn around, as I eventually did, there’s a snowmobile trail leading up, up, up.

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Which leads to some nice, but very loose, gravel roads.

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It was pretty clear as I reached the apex of the ride that I was actually going over a mountain. As I entered a brief clearing, I couldn’t see any peaks around me–an unusual occurrence. Thus, I made it to the very top of something, but I know not what.

Unfortunately, I did not make it to the end of the path today. A storm was closing in, and there was thunder and lightning off in the distance. I figured it wouldn’t be a good idea to be caught on top of a mountain in the middle of thunderstorm. So I very cautiously picked my way back down the road and returned home. Indeed, within about a mile of my place, the skies opened up!

In retrospect, this was fun, albeit extremely strenuous, but kind of dumb. I went out on a road that is not marked on any map, in an area that has no cell phone service, and climbed over a mountain on loose gravel with inclement weather threatening. I also decided to do it on the fly, so I didn’t inform anyone where I was going to be.

Some day, hopefully this year, I’ll find out what lies on the other end of this path. Preferably with a companion next time!

John

medicalwriter.net

New Route: For all Delicacies of Shabbos

Sorry for my brief absence. In part, it’s because I’ve been riding a lot, I’ve also had even more work than usual. Trying to fit in three or four 30- or 40-mile rides each week, plus a much longer ride on the weekend is difficult at best. Plus I wanted to give Anton’s guest post (just below) pride of place for an extended period because it’s really an amazing report. I have lots to report, including numerous rides, a review of TRP’s new Spyre SLC mechanical disc brakes, a review of Search and State’s amazing jersey, and a quick note about an great bike shop called Cinder Track Bicycles. So let’s get started with my most recent ride, and we’ll work backwards from there over the week.

Doug and I decided on a different sort of ride this week. Our rides are almost always composed of long, brutal climbs up mountains followed by extended high-speed descents. Moreover, we almost always head north of Woodstock or to the northwest of my place in Olivebridge, New York. Into the Catskills proper. This time, we decided we’d explore the undiscovered country to the west and southwest. This area is completely different from our usual rides—even though we ended up with about 6000 feet of climbing, it was almost all rollers. In theory good for my knee, since it got frequent breaks. The route is here.

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We started at my place. After a quick climb off some gravel near my home, we descended to Rogue Harbor Road, my favorite in the area. This road, which I’ve mentioned many times before, is potholed dirt and a lot of fun. With anything more than a little rain, it floods out and you end up riding through what is essentially a stream.

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From there, we took Cutter “Road” over to Highway 55. Deliberate use of sarcastic quotes, because Cutter Road is rough enough that we had to get off our bikes for a moment to walk over some particular rough patches. And I was on 650B! Even with the walking, it was worth it, because it cuts about 5 miles of ugly highway out of the route.

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We continued southwest into the undiscovered country. I’ve passed through some of this on my way back from Peekamoose or Slide Mountain rides, but this was my first time so far south. Again, no mountains, just endless miles of rolling back country. It mostly looked like this:

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And this…

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And this…

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As you can see, pretty country. No views though. I also didn’t realize that rollers could be so exhausting. I also might have been tired just because it was over 90 degrees out.

Along the way, we stopped at a convenience store located in Jellystone Park. I ran into Booboo and had to have a picture taken.

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Next, we continued to Woodridge, where we had our first major delay of the day. It was July 4th, and Woodridge was absolutely packed with Orthodox Jewish folks, mostly visiting from Brooklyn. All the restaurants were full. We (tried) to eat here, but it took about an hour to get our food and eat.

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Then disaster struck, repeatedly. Doug’s tires were relatively old, and he ended up getting three flats. The first was okay, because we were going up a mild incline and we weren’t going that fast. The second was terrifying. Doug was behind me on a 30 mph descent and I heard a very loud bang and hiss. I thought he’d crash for sure, but he managed to come to a controlled stop. The third came at drink stop in Mountain Dale. We went in to get drinks (2 waters and a Coke for me), and when we went back out, Doug’s tire was flat again. I contemplated calling Margot, but, amazingly, the proprietor of the grocery store told us that there was a bike shop only a block away…and it was open! After waiting for a long time because the shop was busy, Doug bought a new front tire and three tubes, and we were good to go.

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We turned north to hit Park Hill Road, and then turned again on Van Keuren Road. Our Garmins told us that it was a through road, so even though we quite clearly saw the dead end sign, we decided to turn and check it out. We thought that maybe there was a path that would lead us to our intended destination. As it turns out…no dice. There was a path, but it was submerged and extremely muddy. I may have been able to manage it on my bike, but Doug was riding 23s.

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From there, we continued north, back to my neighborhood. The views got much better….

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We returned home to a full-on July 4th barbeque in progress. Perhaps surprisingly, because all I had to eat over 70 miles was 5 cheese sticks, I wasn’t that hungry. Sometimes that happens to me when I exercise. Still, I managed a couple cheeseburgers and a hot dog.

So, is this worth the trip? I’m going to categorize it as such, because it’s a fairly easy ride compared with our usual rides. But it doesn’t offer the scenic vistas, brutal climbs, and long fast descents of many of my other routes. Nevertheless, it was a nice change of pace.

John

medicalwriter.net

Guest Post: Dirt Roads of Delaware County

Today we have a guest post from Anton, also known as Somervillain. Anton lives in Boston, but has a summer home in Delaware County, New York. After reading this post, it’s clear that I’m going to have to step up my game, both in terms of quality of writing and photography!

The Catskills have a plethora of unpaved rural roads and mountain passes with breathtaking vistas, valley farmland set against rocky hills. This is the backdrop that attracts New Yorkers, many of which own second homes in the area.  But decades of a withering local dairy economy create a poignant juxtaposition: tidy seasonal second homes interspersed among victims of rural decay, crumbling dairy farms either face inevitable decline or reinvent themselves in a fledgling agro-tourism economy.

For cyclists, there are endless opportunities for off-the-beaten-path exploration. A day on the bike and you can count the vehicles that pass you on two hands. Paved secondary roads lead to red clay dirt carriage roads shaded by overarching tree canopies. (The characteristic fine, silty red dirt gets its color from the Marcelus Shale, upon which much of the Catskills sits).

The Catskill Scenic Trail is a 19-mile hardpack gravel rail-to-trail easement that runs between Grand Gorge and Bloomville in Delaware County, on part of what used to be the Ulster and Delaware Railroad that ran between Kingston and Oneonta. It offers stunning scenery as it bisects farmland along the mostly flat shoulders of the West Branch of the Delaware River. In part due to it’s relative flatness, and in part because of its promotion by local tourism groups, it attracts recreational cyclists, skiers, joggers and equestrians.  While personally I find the flatness of the trail unsatisfying for anything beyond a few miles, it serves as an excellent launching point for cycling excursions into the surrounding hills, and it’s fun to mix portions of the trail into extended dirt road loops.

Although I live full-time in Boston, I have a vacation home in Bloomville and enjoy stitching together dirt road loops in the area whenever I’m up there, usually during vacations in the summer or on extended weekends. I just kicked off a two-week vacation by riding an easy 36 mile route which begins and ends at the Catskill Scenic Trail head in Bloomville. The ride started off with lots of unpaved roads, and over 2200 feet of climbing in the first 16 miles.  After that were seven miles of descent, and finally gentle rollers, mostly paved.

At the head of the trail is a discreet unpaved parking area.  I’ve never seen more than one or two cars parked there, a pleasant contrast to my usual experiences anywhere around Boston. It’s located just off Rt 10, a few hundred feet from the main crossroads of Bloomville. As I head out on the trail, I’m immediately received by a shady tunnel of overarching tree crowns. Soon this leafy greenway gives way to a clearing, and the realization that I’m riding–completely legally–through someone’s farm. Along the trail, tractor paths regularly intersect. Sod-covered bridges maintain continuity of the trail across meandering brooks.

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The trail follows Rt 10 with limited access points. About a mile into the trail, a tractor path provides a private cut-through back to Rt. 10. Across Rt. 10 from the tractor path is Kiff Brook Rd, a dirt road with a steady 4% grade over three miles, with a few short, steep climbs. Crumbling farms and hill-top residences dot the periphery. After the long, gradual climb, Kiff Brook Rd descends rapidly to its terminus at the bottom of a dramatic 16% descent on loose gravel. From there, a short segment of flat paved county highway connects to Roberts Rd, the second climb of the route. Here the road is chip-seal on top of the original red clay dirt, but I remember a time when it was still unpaved. Farms and bucolic pastureland line the road as it climbs steadily. As I near the top I look behind me and see a tractor cresting the previous hill behind me; it never catches up despite that I’m only averaging about 10 mph on this segment.

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From Roberts Rd the route takes me back to dirt, descending Turnpike Rd into West Kortright as I pass by freshly hayed fields, hayrolls awaiting collection.  Not a village per se, West Kortright denotes an area of the township around a confluence of roads at the bottom of a hill, oriented around what used to be an old clapboard church. Renovated and repurposed, it’s now a performing arts center.

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Continuing on Turnpike Rd past West Kortright, I’m brought to the final and steepest climb of the route, a short loop up Davis Rd, a gorgeous wood fence-lined dirt road dominated by a vary large dairy farm. On one side, cows take shelter from the sun under a cluster of shade trees in an otherwise vast pasture.  On the other side, hilltops occupy the distant horizon. This road challenges the traction limits of my 650B Hetres, with a 20% peak grade on large, loose gravel. No chance of pedaling out of the saddle without loosing traction, and I don’t even think about stopping for photos, figuring I won’t regain traction. When I arrive at the top, the views are breathtaking; good time for a break.

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After Davis Rd the route loops back around, following some more dirt and ending up on Monroe Rd, the last dirt road of the route (with the exception of some more trail at the end of the route). Checkerboard fields fill the view, divided by grids of tree-lined roads like a patchwork quilt on a lumpy bed. A continuous two mile descent follows. I hadn’t ridden this particular road before and I experience a near panic moment when I realize it comes to an abrupt stop just as the descent reaches its steepest, at 15% grade. It T-intersects Elk Creek road, where I am greeted by grazing sheep against the backdrop of a steep forested hill. My house is just over the other side of that hill, a mile away as the crow flies, but the shortest rideable route to it is another eight miles. I don’t go this route, instead opting to take an even longer way back.

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From here the second half of the route switches gears (literally and figuratively) and takes on an entirely different character, becoming less physically demanding. Elk Creek Rd winds along a valley nestled between two steep hills, with gentle rollers and an overall slightly negative grade, a relief from the hard climbing that marked much of the first half of the ride. It brings me Rt 10, a state highway with a 55mph limit. Rt 10 is a major north-south conduit through Delaware County that follows the West Branch of the Delaware river, so there is usually a steady flow of traffic. Fortunately I’m only on it for less than a mile (I count four cars but no trucks), when I cross over to the other side of the river on Fitch’s Bridge, one of a few covered wood bridges in the county.

Speaking of the river, I was informed that the region had gotten hammered with rain over the prior weeks, with reports of flooding. Two years ago a few of the towns in the eastern and southern ends of the Catskills were devastated by Hurricane Irene. Although the rain hasn’t been nearly as severe this season, I was concerned that some of the dirt road surfaces would be washed out, washboarded, or badly potholed by all the rainfall. I was pleasantly surprised to find the dirt well graded, properly drained and smooth– unusual in these parts, even without extended rain. But an unexpected bonus from all the recent rain was the burbling sound of running water, and it was literally everywhere. It could be heard but not seen: despite being 85 degrees and sunny, I heard water draining from the mountains, funneling into hidden streams and drain ditches everywhere I rode. It was the perfect soundscape to accompany the landscape.

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Crossing over Fitch’s Bridge to what is colloquially referred to as Back River Rd, this gently rolling road hugs the river back to Bloomville. Both Rt 10 and Back River Rd follow the river on opposite sides, but what Rt 10 is to traffic, Back River Rd is to farming: known as the West Branch Farm Trail, there is a higher density of roadside farm stands along this stretch than anywhere else in the county. There’s a farm stand on Back River Rd with raw milk gouda that I decided I wanted but it’s a few miles past Bloomville, so I continue past Bloomville on Back River Rd. After I slip the $6 in crumpled one dollar bills from my jersey pocket into the Folgers can and take my wedge from the fridge that appeared to be at least half a century old, I continue another mile or so and catch another tractor path shortcut to the Catskill trail and follow it for the remaining five miles back to Bloomville.

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Back in Bloomville with a thoroughly dusty drivetrain, I stop in at the small cafe at the crossroads of Bloomville for an espresso and a bite to eat. I reflect back on the mental accounting I did of the number of vehicles that passed me along the route. Alas, the two hand rule was broken: 14 vehicles in total had passed me, but then four of those were on one mile of Rt 10. I don’t count the tractor that never caught up to me.

Full route, with unpaved segments drawn in red, can be found here.

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–Somervillain

New Route: The Great Northern Catskills

About 90% of the time, whether I’m riding alone or with a group, we’re following a route that I designed on Ride With GPS. Since the first time I used it, about three years ago, I’ve become well-versed in designing low-traffic, scenic routes that make everyone happy (at least until the 10,000th foot of climbing). So it was refreshing to follow a route designed by someone else, in this case, Doug. I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be a great route. Here’s the route, with full GPS, of course.

Great Northern Catskills

GNC elevation

We started from Doug’s place in Woodstock. You could also start this route from Stone Ridge, Kingston, or any of the surrounding towns. We headed east out of town, and then north on Glasco Turnpike and West Saugerties Road, crossing the dreaded Platte Clove Road on our way to Palenville. As you can see, everything has gone blindingly green.

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At Palenville, we headed back west on Route 23A and into Catskill Park.

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23A will take you past Kaaterskill Falls (which actually isn’t visible from the road, at least from what I could see). This picture is of Kaaterskill Clove. I should have taken a picture a little earlier, but Doug assured me that there was a good view from this bridge. Well, this is what I got.

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About here, my GPS died. Permanently. I think the rain on last week’s ride might have been a little too much for it to handle. This will be the third Garmin I’ve been through in five years. Is it too much to ask that a device intended for outdoor use be waterproof? Garmins are just awful…not only the construction, but also the user interface is something straight out of 2002. If there were any choice in the matter I’d use a different device. I have a Garmin 810 coming in the mail.

The ride up to Palenville is nice—it’s full of rolling hills and you can keep up a high speed. But when you turn onto 23A, things get interesting. There is a massive, extended climb up from about 500 feet to 2570 feet, full of twists, turns, scenic views, and waterfalls. You’re basically doing the same climb as Platte Clove, just a few miles north and much more extended. As a side note, this is a genuine Cat 1 climb–one of the few on the east coast. There are lots of climbs that are much, much harder, but this one combines steepness and length in a way that makes it a Cat 1 climb.

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The morning of the ride, I agonized over what to wear. I didn’t want to dress for rain and cold temperatures, and I almost left the house in nothing more than a jersey, one light underlayer, arm warmers, and shorts. At the last minute, I turned around and put on tights, a winter jersey, and my Castelli Radiation jacket, albeit without the snap-in space blanket liner. When we left Doug’s place in the morning, I was sure that I was going to fry. As it turned out, it was a very good choice, because by the time we got to the top of 23A, it started raining with wind gusts of 20-30 mph and the temperature dropped to the low 40s. On one descent, I actually had to slow down because my hands were going numb.

We continued north in the freezing rain and wind in the high Catskills, passing through a number of tiny towns—Jewett, Ashland, and Red Falls, before rejoining 23A to head south.

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But first, we took a detour up to a diner in Prattsville—a town on a river that was more-or-less completely destroyed during Hurricane Irene. I didn’t take pictures, but the town is still a mess, particularly west of the road next to the river. We arrived too early for the annual farm machinery show, I regret to say.

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From there, we headed back south on 23A, crossing the river at Lexington to continue on Route 42. Route 42 passes through some beautiful country. Unfortunately, this section of the ride—which was supposed to be easy—was plagued by 20-30 mph headwinds. We barely touched 15 mph, even on downhill segments. Between the climbs and the death march into the wind, I messed up my knee. The wind acted as a blow drier, though, so eventually I dried out.

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After the ride, I looked at my saddle, and I realized that my Brooks Swallow was undergoing its annual irrevocable collapse, which lowered my position by almost a centimeter. Hence the knee pain. Garmin and Brooks should get together to make a leather-covered GPS unit that breaks down after a year of use. If I had any choice in the matter I’d use anything but a Brooks Swallow, but that’s the only saddle that works for me.

A few more pictures of this segment.

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Once we hit 28, Doug and I parted ways. He headed back to Woodstock, and I rode home to Olivebridge. At this point, my knee was really hurting, so I was going slow.

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I took a break only about 8 miles from home, at my favorite spot on the Ashokan Reservoir. Two teenage girls complimented me on my bike, but in retrospect I think they were being sarcastic, because it (and me) was covered with a thick coating of muck and mud.

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The last leg was tough, and I actually walked my bike up a little hill near my place because I didn’t want to further stress my knee. When a car passed, I bent over like I was fixing something. So embarrassing.

Although it isn’t really feasible from Poughkeepsie, this route is definitely worth the trip if you can make it out to Woodstock for an overnight. You get a couple great climbs, absolutely gorgeous scenery, and long downhill segments (hopefully you won’t have to battle a headwind). Nice work, Doug!

I’m taking a few days off the bike so my knee can fully recover, and then this week I’m going to do daily 15 or 20 mile rides.I am particularly annoyed because I had planned on doing a 400k in New Jersey this weekend (in fact, I would be finishing it up right about now).

Although the knee pain is probably attributable to the saddle collapse, it also—in part—might be a case of spring knee. I’ve really overdone it the past few weeks, riding well in excess of 200 miles a week. Not a big deal in the flatlands, but when 250 miles means 20,000 feet of climbing or more, it isn’t easy on your body! I’m also strongly considering lowering my gearing considerably—although climbing these hills in 34-27 isn’t a problem aerobically, it is clearly causing undue wear and tear on my joints. Maybe I’ll ask Rob English to put a mountain bike derailleur on the 650B he’s building for me…34-36 would likely cause a lot less stress.

Oh, and some news. I bought a Leica R6.2, so I’m taking photos with gen-u-ine film now. Now I can annoy my riding companions even more with extended stops so I can manually adjust my shutter speed and aperture before snapping a photo!

Leica 6.2Film photos coming to a blog near you soon.

John

medicalwriter.net

New Route: Ferguson Road (Up and Over the Shawangunk Ridge)

I’ve been trying to arrange a ride with my friend Doug for a while. He is president of the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association, so—like me—he likes to put in more than a few miles.

A few weeks ago Doug proposed setting aside Wednesdays for rides, and as a fellow member of the self-employed crüe, I agreed. I work almost every day, so it makes no difference to me if we ride on Wednesdays or Saturdays (with the exception of days with scheduled client meetings, travel, or teleconferences, of course).

So, it was with some trepidation that I agreed to a ride. The trepidation was not because of the distance, which wasn’t too long, or because of the climbing, which was significant, but nothing remarkable. It was because of my history with Doug on rides. Let’s summarize:

On my first ride with Doug, he crashed on ice. Luckily Doug is much more durable than me, and he got up and we continued on.

My second ride with Doug (and John S) was marked by freezing rain, deep fog, and a 30 mph headwind. And I bonked.

On my third ride with Doug, I crashed on my hand.

I’m happy to report that nothing bad happened on this ride, so the curse is broken. We rode approximately 77 miles in rain that went from just a sprinkle to torrential and back again all day. At no time did it stop completely. It was awesome, and the route was gorgeous.

Here’s the route, and the GPS is here. We went off course a few times, sometimes deliberately and not so deliberately, adding and subtracting miles.

Ferguson

We began with a high-speed descent from my place into Rosendale. We decided to take the bike path down to the real climbing. Now, I know “bike path” has bad connotations, especially if you live in NYC, but the path here is beautiful dirt. Here’s where we started in Rosendale, right next to the railroad trestle.

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Did I mention it was raining?

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I stopped and actually got off my bike to take a picture of this grumpy turtle who was crossing the path as we passed. Edit: My neighbor, Nancy, tells me this is an eastern box turtle. They can live up to 100 years. I wonder how old this guy (or gal) is?

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Um, did I mention it was raining? We basically rode through a stream.

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As you can see, the bike path passes through some glorious countryside. It’s really more of a cow path in sections, and it’s a good test for anyone on a road bike with 25 mm tires. To me, this is just as good as a gravel road.

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You’ll pass over a few trestle bridges on the way down to Gardiner.

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Now, I’m not afraid to get a little dirty, but fenders may have been a good idea on this ride. On the other hand, it’s possible that fenders would have just gotten jammed up with mud. It was pretty thick in places. At the point this picture was taken, I was as wet as I would have been had I jumped in the river below. My rain pants were soaked through and sagging like a diaper. Fun!

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We got off the bike path just south of New Paltz, and continued on glorious country roads back over to the Shawangunk ridge.

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We stopped briefly for lunch at the Hoot Owl…

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Where we played darts while waiting for our food. We were worried that they wouldn’t want to seat us inside since we were literally covered head-to-toe in mud (and, in my case, probably a bit o’ horse apple that I failed to avoid) but the bartender said he was unworried, because lots of farmers stop by for a mid-day beer in similar condition.

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There was an enormous Clydesdale across the street. I’ve never seen one in person. They are enormous–the horse in the foreground, in fact, is a regular-sized horse.

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After lunch, we continued up and over the ridge.

I had planned this route on the advice of John S, a local and decidedly faster rider than either Doug or I. He told me there was an amazing gravel climb on Ferguson Road. What he didn’t tell me is that you have to be going in a counterclockwise direction to hit the climb. We went the opposite way. It’s my fault that I didn’t investigate further—it’s something I easily could have discerned from inspecting the route more closely.

We climbed Pickle Road, which was steep but nothing to brag about, to Firetower Road. If you see any road named “Firetower” you know that you’re close to the top, and we were.

And here, my friends, is Ferguson Road. No relation.

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You say you like gravel? Do you like descending 14% to 18% grades in a torrential downpour? If you do, this ride would have been for you. These pictures (which were taken before the road became outright loose gravel) don’t make the road look all that impressive, but trust me, it’s steep, it’s beautiful, and it’s definitely a challenge at speed in the rain.

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…all things considered, I would have much rather gone up it than down!

From there, we continued home via Ellenville, where I forced Doug to stop at McDonalds. I had a giant coke and two apple pies, thereby obliterating any health benefit I got from my ride. My first time at McDonalds since, oh, 2009 or so, and I don’t regret it. Not even a little.

This ride would be a great to do out of Poughkeepsie, picking up the track from New Paltz. Very low traffic, beautiful roads, some dirt, and absolutely glorious scenery. To me (and to Doug) the rain and mud made it even better. I’ve done a lot of rides of reasonable length out here, but this one was exceptional. Thanks Doug!

The end result of our travails:

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Took me a while to clean out those eeBrakes. Good thing they work better than just about any other brake out there, because there’s a lot of crannies to clean up.

Finally, a plug for the UMCA: If you’re interested in riding anything in the century plus range, you should join. It’s cheap and you get a great magazine, access to events and competitions, and other good stuff. I’ve been a member for a while (although, come to think of it, I may need to renew!)

John

medicalwriter.net