Thursday, August 5, 2010

Final day...for real

After another night of successful stealth camping, we rose early to sneak out of the park. Thinking we’d have a leisurely day of spinning in front of us, we stopped to wait out the rain in Breakabeen , which included another breakfast of delicious egg sandwiches and some chats with the locals. I felt very much at home. Rural, small town folks seem to be the same no matter where you are.

At our friend’s suggestion, we took a detour in order to get some climbing in, and it turned out to be the most ambitious climb of the trip. At the bottom, a trucker leaned out his window to laugh at us and inform us that it only got steeper. Great. Turned out to be a 1200’ climb in a pretty short distance. I have to admit though, climbing is starting to grow on me. It can be a pretty zen experience. Just you and the hill, all you have to do is keep pedaling. So what if you have to stop and regroup for a second? It’s still going to be there when you start again. It’s satisfyingly simple. And we had an equally satisfying snack of chocolate pudding and Gatorade at the top.

Then came the toughest part of the trip. So much of biking is mental. When you’re in the city, you have to be alert at all times, aware of everything around you. When you’re biking long distances, you just have to keep going. When you’re climbing, part of what gets you through it is knowing there’s going to be a descent on the other side. We were all expecting a spectacular descent after this monster climb. And it just never came. We even kept climbing for a while. I guess we were on some sort of ridge (Rt 443 to Albany) but it was extremely demoralizing. And HOT. Again, the heat does not agree with me. This was when the heat was making my hands sweat so much that I couldn’t shift, so not only were my legs exhausted and unwilling to do much more climbing, my bike was forcing me to climb in an especially hard gear. I was ready to be done. We all were.

Somehow we just kept going, and we had to press on at a fairly brisk tempo b/c we were trying to catch an earlier bus back to the city. We made it to the bus with only a few minutes to spare and by relying on human directions—our handy technology had failed us, out of battery. I don’t remember the last time I have been so sweaty, dirty and greasy. My right calf was covered in about 7 different chain marks and my legs in general were so bruised that it almost looked as if I’d been abused all weekend.

The bus dumped us off in midtown and we were welcomed by hot, sweaty throngs of people. It was a bit of a culture shock to go from one extreme to the other so quickly. But that’s the beauty of a trip like this. It makes you appreciate the basic things. The simplicity of fueling your body after it has worked so efficiently is spectacularly satisfying. I can’t even begin to remember all the things I ate that night but they definitely included an entire bag of Kettle Chips, Antonio’s pizza (best pizza in Brooklyn, in my opinion), garlic knots, and a root beer float. And the shower! I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a shower so much. I felt, in a word, bliss.

Final day...or not

I suppose I should mention that I did not ride Maria on this trip. The idea of biking through the Catskills on a single speed is one only a crazy person would consider. I know a couple of them—there’s a mechanic at my shop who did Bear Mtn and biked from Minnesota to Nashville on a fixed gear. But he’s nuts. I wanted gears and panniers, so I borrowed a friend’s mountain bike, which worked out well. The only part I hated were the shifters. They were the kind that are built into the handlebars that you just twist to shift. Eventually, my hands got so sweaty that I couldn’t shift anymore b/c my hands were slipping on them in the heat. Not enjoyable.

After an apparently crazy thunderstorm, which I blissfully slept through (comme d’habitude) I woke very early (pas comme d’habitude) and got up to enjoy the stillness. If I could reset my body clock to become accustomed to rising early, I think I would do it gladly. I really enjoy the peace that time of day brings. It’s especially tangible in the country, where there’s little traffic or manmade noise. I forget what it’s like to be able to hear the leaves in the trees or the water run in a stream. It’s just simple and lovely and fills a void that the city carves in me.

After everyone else woke, we broke down camp and headed for Margaretville. We found it quickly enough, once we headed in the right direction. At The Flour Patch, where we had breakfast, we were informed by a kind older gentleman that the “sweet spot” for cell reception was just down the road a few minutes. Given that it was already midday on Sunday and we were a good 80 miles from Albany, we clearly weren’t going to make it and thus needed to communicate this to the outside world via our handy technology. Half of the group decided to head back to the city via bus and the other half, myself included, made the choice to continue on to Albany after a leisurely swimming break.

When we got back on our bikes, we took a detour to do a little climbing, which ended in trying to cross the mountain on a dirt logging road. After thinking about the descent we’d made the night before, the idea of trekking back up it if the logging road turned out to be a dead end was so unappetizing that we decided to backtrack and find a different way.

We backtracked halfway and then took a side road over a different ridge and were again rewarded with a spectacular descent , maybe the best one of the trip. The only one of us with a bike computer clocked 44.5 mph…the speed limit was 45 mph.

I like to think that I’m not superstitious, but some things are hard to ignore. Before we left Margaretville, one of our friends remarked that we’d made it through the whole trip thus far without any mechanical problems. Well, naturally, his chain then decided to start misbehaving that evening. It somehow got twisted so it didn’t run straight over the chainrings and was giving him trouble shifting and staying in gear. He somehow made it through the rest of the trip using a limited number of gears. So, I guess he was forced to emulate my crazy mechanic friend’s single speed adventures to some extent.

The rest of the evening's ride included some more breakthtaking scenery.

Day 2 of Catskills Trip

After Saturday morning’s torturous climb, we were rewarded with a spectacular descent, after which I learned that one has to be careful not to ride the brakes too much or else you risk heating up your rim to the point where the heat can pop the tube inside. I’ve never ridden anything long or steep enough to worry about this. I like the new challenge.

We cruised into Claryville and were rewarded with the most adorable and hospitable deli. Coffee and egg bagel sandwiches never tasted so good!

Saturday afternoon was one of the prettiest parts of the trip. We road along a quiet little country road through the Willowemoc area to Livingston Manor. The temperature was perfect, the birds were singing. It was truly idyllic.

After a quick refueling at Livingston Manor, we rode on to Alder Lake after a brief detour due to a wrong turn. It resulted in making some friends who gave us proper directions, which is all part of the experience so no harm done. After a swim and nap at the lake, we debated whether to camp there or continue on to Margaretville. We decided to forge ahead b/c we were out of water and running low on food. The only road over the mountain was literally a dirt path called Cross Mountain Rd. It was STEEP. There were a few spots that forced us to dismount again and walk our bikes.

It’s much harder to control a fully loaded bike on an uneven surface, which made the descent equally interesting. I loved it, though.

It was a gorgeous night, one of those dusky summer nights where the air is humming quietly with insects in the grass. Makes me think of James Agee's Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

We passed a few little farms with friendly folks mowing their grass and a couple stunning horses who watched our progress keenly. We dropped about 1,000 ft in an extremely quick amount of time. We were all very glad we had gone *down* that mountain instead of up.

So, we had been given directions by one of the friends we made at Alder Lake and somehow all of us remembered them wrong when we got to the bottom of the hill. Either we succumbed to mob mentality or he was wrong (or we just misunderstood him), but in any case, we ended up pedaling 45 minutes in the wrong direction and didn’t realize it until we saw a sign saying we were entering Ulster County. We stopped short and said to each other “aren’t we supposed to be *leaving* Ulster County?”. Pulled out the map, and sure enough, it was almost dark, we were out of water and there was no way we were going to reach Margaretville that night. So, we decided to head back to the trailhead that we had passed a few minutes before and try to camp. Someone had iodine tablets, so we filled up our water bottles and treated the water, although given that we were surrounded by the reservoirs that supply NYC’s drinking water, it was probably quite pristine to begin with. That said, giardia is not something to be trifled with, so in went the tablets.

When we got to the trailhead, we literally walked 30 seconds through the woods and came across one of the most perfect campsites ever. There were log stumps around a huge, proper fire circle, plenty of pine needle covered ground upon which to pitch our tents and even a little stream nearby. Serendipity. We even managed to make a truly delicious soup out of the leftovers from the night before, which included Israeli couscous, leeks, parsley, mushrooms, tomatoes and salt, all cooked in a big pot of boiling stream water. We impressed ourselves, even. Dessert was equally delicious and impressive. Fruit soup made out of some overripe, squashed from sitting in panniers for two days, peaches, cherries, fresh raspberries from along Rondout Reservoir, and various dried fruit, all cooked over the open fire. Amazing. We’re good.

Long overdue

This has been a whirlwind summer, especially the past month or so, but all for good reasons, thankfully. There have been trips and rides galore and I’m only now just getting around to writing them down. The most recent was what began as a 3-day, but turned into a 4-day bike camping trip in the Catskills with some friends. Luckily, I have the coolest job ever and they were totally fine with the extra day off that I needed in order to complete the trip to Albany.

We started on Friday morning, a bit later than we normally would have because we were taking Metro North to Poughkeepsie and they don’t allow bikes on the train during morning rush hour. We made friends with one of the conductors but not so much with the other one. It was through no fault of our own, he clearly had preexisting anti-bike sentiments.

After arriving in Poughkeepsie, we found our way to the pedestrian/cyclist bridge over the Hudson, which was a truly beautiful way to start the trip.

After we crossed the bridge, we headed to New Paltz, along a fairly uninteresting road, with the exception of the Brooklyn Brewery billboard, which we all noticed and commented on later, all of us being Brooklynites (or at least, Brooklyn transplants).

It was HOT, though. It must have been in the mid-90s with the sun beating straight down on us. I felt like I was going to faint and was struggling to even bring up the rear. The heat seriously disagrees with this Scandinavian girl.

Quick lunch in New Paltz (complete with another anti-cyclist, anti-New Yorker local) and hit the road again quickly thereafter. Friday afternoon was a bit of a blur, probably due to the scorching heat. I have little memory of much of it, except for my leg cramps, which was a new phenomenon for me, maybe also due to the heat. Laughing hard seemed to aggravate them, which in and of itself is pretty funny. I guess I have a whole-body laugh.

The store we intended on stopping at to buy dinner supplies was closed, as in boarded up closed, but luckily the liquor store was still going strong. We stopped in there to get a few bottles of wine and whiskey for the night and made friends with the Russian owner. She was a salty broad who claimed she was from Brighton Beach. Fitting. After some directions from a local, we found a grocery store and loaded our bikes up with food & water for dinner. I have never ridden a heavier bike and would soon be riding it up (read: walking it up) one of the steepest “hills” I’d ever met. To top it off, the sky had started looking ominous and we ended up in a downpour. Once I’d covered my sleeping bag with my raincoat, though, I found it entirely refreshing. I’d much rather bike in the rain than in sweltering heat. The rain eventually thinned out as we rode along the Rondout Reservoir, which supplies much of NYC’s drinking water.

I felt so energetic that I didn’t stop until I reached the end of the reservoir and then realized that not everyone was behind me. Turns out their delay was due to the discovery of wild raspberry bushes. There’s a yogic lesson in this, I can feel it. Rushing through life obscures the subtler pleasures. **Mental note to stop and eat the berries...literally.** Thankfully, they harvested a plentiful bounty for all to enjoy as dessert later on and throughout the trip.

After we regrouped, we started up Sugar Loaf Rd, which kicked my butt and continued to kick my butt in the morning, because we camped partway up that night. The Bike Hudson Valley website categorizes it as a “Very Steep Climb” and says this: Total climbing on Sugar Loaf around 1650 vertical feet in 4.5 miles (or 1700 vertical feet if finish with a sharp left turn onto Red Hill Rd, which we did), including 850 vertical feet around 11% grade (with several sections even steeper). Let’s just say it was *not* my favorite thing to wake up to the next morning.

The dinner that night was quite good, despite a few minor mishaps. Camping in the dark provides some challenges, which include proper setting up of the tent (at which I failed—though in my defense it was my first time using this tent) and identifying the correct ingredients while cooking (hilariously ended up with minty, soapy pasta, due to the misidentification of a bottle thought to be olive oil, which in fact turned out to be liquid, peppermint soap).