Category: cycling

Road Rash, Abandoned Barns, and Nocturnal Visitations

There are two fundamental tenets I keep in mind while on my bike:

  1. Any ride worth riding will include a non-trivial amount of suckiness
  2. Plan carefully, but also be prepared to change plans on the spot

Last weekend’s out and back ride to the Delaware Water Gap was a perfect meditation on these tenets. The ride laid before us intense trials and tribulations both mental and physical, and some seriously amazing bike riding.


Friday morning I commuted to work on my AWOL with gear and supplies for the weekend. After work I met up with new riding buddy Matt, on the west side.  We proceeded to the evening’s destination: Beaver Pond in Harriman State Park.

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Just a quick little jaunt to get out of the city, and into the woods. The ride up went smoothly. Just as we started climbing the summit in the final two miles, I hear  grinding gears behind me and Matt tells me (while trying not to fall off his bike) that he has a mechanical. When shifting to the end of his cassette for the climb, his chain jumped the spoke side and had become firmly lodged between the cassette and the spokes. We must have spent at least five minutes tugging at the chain with all our strength, trying to dislodge it, to no avail. We just couldn’t get enough leverage on it, and I thought to myself… “if only we had some kind of tool that would interlock with the chain and allow us to get a better grip”… and then I laughed out loud as I realized the chainring was just that tool. We were able to easily dislodge the chain by getting the wheel into position, holding it in place, and then mashing down the pedal as hard as we could. Problem solved. We suffer through the climb, arrive at Beaver Pond, and set up camp.


Matt brought a rad lightweight hammock and rain fly setup. I had my usual Tarptent. After establishing camp we feast on the dinner we brought with us: baked sweet potato, turkey sandwich, and some beers (carb loading, naturally). Beaver Pond was pretty packed. I think it may be the last time I stay at there, as it tends to be full of glampers and their cars, loud music, and other accoutrement. It’ll be back country or stealth camping next time for sure, or maybe one of the leantos around the lake. 

Day 1
Start: midtown Manhattan
End: Beaver Pond
Distance: 41.7 miles
Elevation gain: 3,272 ftscreenshot-2016-09-24-21-03-58
GPX file

The next morning while Matt was getting some water I snapped some photos of his ride: a totally gorgeous and very photogenic All City Space Horse. Up front: a Surly rack carrying two Ortlieb frontrollers, and a basket for an old old camera bag held down by a bungee mesh. 32mm Panaracer Gravel King tires, and gearing that will make your skin crawl: 52-42 up front, 28-11 in the back. Not remotely built for climbing, but Matt was able to hang.

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With a chill in the air, we set out on our way through Harriman State Park for our date with destiny. 


Destiny it seems had plans we were not made privy to. Only two miles into the ride, blissfully carving through the rolling and curving descents, doing a comfortable 25 Mph, I go over a bump and suddenly see my right pannier become partially detached and swing away from my front wheel. Time slows down as I see my pannier swing back towards my wheel. I think about how I haven’t crashed in two years. I think about how much it hurts to be hurled against pavement at full speed. I think:  “well this is going to suck, but here we go”.

The pannier swings back and takes out my front wheel. A tumbling mess of bike and body goes down the hill. I skid across the pavement. I come to a stop and the rush of adrenaline makes me feel like I am going to throw up. Everything hurts. I try and lift myself up and find I can’t stand up. All I can do is crawl to the side of the road, out harm’s way. As I hear Matt approach, I yell “I’m OK! I’m OK!”.

Matt wisely collects my bike and gets everything out of the road. I feel a sharp pinch and realize that in my adrenaline and shock fueled haze, I crawled right into the one and only briar by the side of the road. Great. After a minute or two, enough shock and adrenaline has drained from my body that I am able to stand up very carefully and slowly. I feel like a newborn deer trying to walk for the first time.

Although I lost a fair amount of skin on my knee, elsewhere I have very little road rash. My lower back however is screaming. I take off my helmet and find a crack. A rider we passed a mile back comes along and helps out with the bike. He points out that my right brake lever is way off kilter, and holds the bike steady as I pull up the hood, loosen, and straighten it out. Matt then points out the derailleur. The hanger is bent to all hell. The derailleur is nearly stuck in the spokes, and if I were to shift to an easier gear, it certainly will be. While Matt holds the bike steady, I manage to bend the hanger back enough that I regain use of the smallest five gears of the cassette. So, the bike is rideable, but limited to in the five hardest gears.

No crash is going to deter me from our planned adventure, however, we have nearly 7,000 feet of climbing ahead of us, most of which will be impossible with my newly limited gear range. Thus we set course for a bike shop in Oakland, NJ, only an hour off course. Hopefully they will be able to replace my trashed hanger. Onward.

Nothing lifts the spirits quite like a mountain bike trail.

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Unfortunately most of the riding to Oakland was on busy roads.

At least the view was pretty. An hour later we hit Oakland, and make our way to Pedal Sports bike shop. Can’t say enough nice things about this shop – they immediately worked on the bike and had it ready in less than fifteen minutes.

We take lunch at Oakland Pizzeria – reeeeeeeeally good pizza.

We get back on the road, meeting back up with our route, which eventually took us up Bearfort Mountain ridge. This climb was a good measure of how much fitness I had gained over this season. I had done the climb earlier in the season, and today it felt just about the same as it did then – despite the fact that I was riding a heavier bike, hauling 32 lbs of dead weight.

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Utopia deli is at the very top of the climb – good place to re-up on liquids and snacks. We proceeded to take a meandering path through some little lake-side communities, and Wawayanda State Park.

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At first, Wawayanda State Park narrowed down to single lane paved road through the woods – no cars.

This eventually gave way to a raaaaad trail: Laurel Pond Trail, and Cherry Lane rd. What began as a simple dirt road, quickly turned into full-on MTB trail – technical steep climbs and descents with lots of baby heads, loose gravel, ruts in the trail, etc.

I was having too much fun ripping the trail to get a photo of the parts that were the most challenging. I was very glad to be running my 29ers. Even with 32s, Matt had to walk a few sections.

Happy and exhausted – nothing like some technical trails to make 2 miles seem as hard as 20 on the road. The very end of the trail spilled out into a residential area.

We proceeded on, making our way to High Point State Park. A descent down Breakneck Rd absolutely lives up to its name: about 1 mile of steady -12%. The turns are gradual – no switchbacks – you could easily do 50-60 Mph. Considering my crash earlier in the morning, I opted for a cautious and pokey 30 mph. We continued on our way, with about 15 miles until our next milestone: High Point State Park. On the way, sprinkle in a few more climbs, and conversation with some goats…

Eventually were greeted with this view:

A perfect scan of all of the hills we had left to climb. High Point State Park was great respite, offering 4 miles of car-free single lane paved road through the woods, the latter half of which was downhill.

We made our way to Montague, which was the last “town” before entering the Delaware Water Gap. On the way we saw a herd of at least 20 deer running across a field – something I’ve never seen, despite having grown up in the country. That was pretty special.

Needing to re-up on food supplies, and seeing that Montague had no stores, so we trekked across the Delaware River to Milford, PA (first time crossing the Pennsylvania border by bike!) and high-tailed it to a luxurious Key Foods.

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We backtracked to Montague, entered the Delaware Water Gap, and found a suitable spot to set up camp.

Home sweet home! Not long after setting up camp we were greeted by a stranger named Jim. It just so happens that we set up camp at the exact spot that he comes to almost nightly to have a cigarette and watch the stars. We chatted with Jim for a bit, and he gave us some tips (i.e. there are definitely bears in the area), and then just as quickly as he appeared he disappeared. We both cleaned up a bit, changed into civilian clothes, and feasted on our key foods bounty, while discussing the day’s adventures.

Blood, sweat, and dirt. It was a tough but awesome day of riding. I slept great with one big exception. That night for maybe the 4th or 5th time in my life I experienced sleep paralysis. If you aren’t familiar with the condition, it is essentially the experience of waking up, finding one’s self completely paralyzed, and is usually associated with some kind of frightening hallucination – usually involving a visit from some kind of demon or creature.

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I woke up to the sound of someone opening my tent, and found that I was completely paralyzed. The person, or thing/creature came in the tent and sat on my chest. As is the usual experience, I couldn’t scream or move.

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Eventually I was able to slowly force my arm up and try to push them off. That snapped me out of it, and I realized that it was just a sleep paralysis hallucination. What a day.

Day 2
Start: Beaver Pond
End: Somewhere in the Delaware Water Gap
Distance: 98.2 mi
Elevation gain: 6,192 ft
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GPX file

In the morning I donned some clean kit, and we prepared a breakfast of coffee and oats.

I was ready for the day with a wide variety of snacks.

Onward! We began the day by riding 25 miles through the Delaware Water Gap. If you have never explored this area, man, you are missing out. For 25 miles we saw maybe two cars, and were treated to a mixture of road, gravel, and dirt. Scattered throughout the DWG are all kinds of abandoned barns and houses. Later in the day we met a park ranger who explained that in the mid 60’s there was a plan to build a dam and flood the entire area in order to create a lake. It was deemed a national park, and homes in the flood zone were taken through eminent domain. Some particularly historic structures were relocated, many of them to Millbrook Village, a small area at the intersection of Old Mine Rd and Millbrook – Flatbrook rd, founded in 1832.

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It just so happened that we stumbled upon this little village on “Millbrook Day” – a festival where once a year locals dress in period clothing, and do things rad things like churning butter. Unfortunately we had so many miles to cover that we couldn’t afford to dilly dally with the butter churning.

Getting out of the river valley was serious work. There were two difficult climbs we would have to tackle just to leave the Delaware Water Gap. If the first climb was brutal, the second climb was purely sadistic.

 

If you look carefully you’ll see that Matt is pushing his bike up the hill. At this point I had also dismounted and was pushing my bike — even with my 38/42 gearing – the climb was simply too long and consistently steep for me to haul all that weight up the hill. We’re talking 1 mile of steady 12% gradient.


As usual though, our suffering was rewarded with gorgeous views of the bucolic New Jersey countryside. Miles later we stopped at a horse farm for a leisurely (read: not on the bike, sitting down at a table) lunch of sandwiches we had made the night before.

Cool tip: horses don’t like bikes. It was a good thing we had stocked up on water the night before, as the first refuel opportunity we found wasn’t until after lunch, 40 miles into the ride. Between the two brutal climbs at the start, and the constant up and down of the rollers, Matt wasn’t feeling too good and was starting to wonder if he would need to bail out once we got to parts of Jersey serviced by New Jersey Transit.

We stocked up on liquids, and soldiered on.

I have had great luck with simply allowing RWGPS to sort out the finer points of my planned routes — for example here it gave us a little shortcut down two miles of single track in the woods. Yes! It wasn’t too long though before we encountered a total fail on the route. We had just left Lake Hopatcong, and were 55 miles in. We start up a climb, and when we get to the top were greeted with a closed road, a huge gate, and a sign that read Picatinny Aresenal. The route had tried to send us into a military base. We consulted the map and found that the only way around it would be 20 miles of what was essentially highway riding.

Luckily though, the shoulder was enormous, and we reaped the benefits of riding on what is of course a more carefully engineered road – one that craves through a far amount of the topography so as to be more efficient for cars. On the highway we were able to maintain a 22mph average. The view wasn’t too bad either.

As we were leaving Glen Rock, we cut through a park and took the Saddle River Pathway for a few miles. We met some super tame deer who we had to ask to move.

Night began to fall as we left this bike path and entered Hackensack. We made our way to Ft Lee where we weaseled through the traffic trying to get to the bridge, and finally, finally, saw the light at the end of the tunnel as our shimmering city greeted us on our way across the George Washington Bridge. Holy hell did it feel good to see New York.

We hammered it home to Brooklyn where we said our fond farewells.

Day 3
Start: Delaware Water Gap
End: Brooklyn
Distance: 124.6 mi
Elevation gain: 5,719 ft
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GPX file

Until next time… may your wheels stay rubber side down, and your slumber be free of paralysis or hallucinations.

Adventure!

I tend to get a lot of questions about my weekend bike adventures. Cyclists and non-cyclists alike ask about my routes, what I eat on the ride, what I pack, how long the ride takes, if I bike in the rain, etc. I’m going to start doing a better job of documenting all of this, starting with this post about a little trip I took up to the Catskills.

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First: the bike. I’ve been riding a Specialized Tarmac for two years for both recreational and competitive road riding. This summer though I’ve become increasingly obsessed with adventure cycling and bikepacking. I love long endurance rides, I really really love the fun and challenge of riding less traveled dirt and gravel roads, and I’ve been wanting to get out camping more — so bikepacking really is the perfect combination. While there is a trend in ultra-endurance racing to fit out race bikes with frame and saddle bags, I wanted something that I knew I could thoroughly abuse, without worrying about carbon, or without being afraid to lock it up or leave it unattended at my campsite. I found myself desiring something real… something steel.

Specialized’s AWOL fit the bill perfectly, and I had been drooling over the Comp pretty much all summer, so recently I went for it and had my favorite local bike shop build one up for me. This thing is the ultimate zombie-apocalypse ready tank; stable as hell when loaded up with full camping gear, even when bombing a descent at 50 mph, when ripping up a trail over rocks, tree roots, and rail ties, or when dropping the hammer on the road. Simply put – it’s a f***ing sick bike. It likes to go fast, and it likes to go everywhere.

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I set the bike up for covert adventure deployments with a Tubus low rider front rack, as that’s where the AWOL likes its weight. So far I’ve been using classic Ortlieb back rollers (but on front), but am kinda considering going with a rackless setup. I also threw three King Cage titanium bottle cages on, as well as a randonneur bag up front. That’s really all the cargo space I need – even once I start doing trips longer than five days – I firmly believe in packing light and packing smart.

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I was invited recently to spend a few days in the Catskill Mountains with a bunch of far out futurists, tech nerds, and generally awesome people. When I learned I would be camping for three days in the mountains, 150+ miles from home, naturally I decided to leverage this as an opportunity for a bike adventure. I got my rig all packed up on a Tuesday night. Here’s what I brought:

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Two spare tubes, one spare tire, five cO2 cartridges, small frame pump, multitool, Garmin, small lightweight bike lock, four tubes of electrolytes, four shot blok sleeves, four energy gels, titanium french press, coffee, lightweight mug, flask full of Kings County bourbon (I may pack light, but I’m not a monster), small backpacking stove and gas, headlamp, small bike lights, auxilary battery for charging USB devices, 100% waterproof phone case with extra battery life, tent, sleeping bag, two shirts, one pair of shorts, extra pair of cycling kit, first aid kit, camp shoes, two USB wall chargers. That’s it! It all adds up to roughly 35 Lbs.

Wednesday morning I commuted in to work on the AWOL with all my gear, and at the end of the day I just hopped on the bike, escaped the city, and embarked on the short first leg of the trip. Destination: a campsite in Harriman State Park, roughly 45 miles from the office.

The name of the game was to try and get to camp before sundown, but I just missed the mark, and rode the final 6 miles in the dark. Turn on the headlamp.
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To polish off the ride, it ended with a nice little 1.7 mile category 3 climb. This was a good warm-up for the suffering that awaited me in the Catskill Mountains the next day.

I set up camp, scarfed down my dinner (I grabbed a burger and fries at The Market on the way out – not the smartest nutrition for the night before a 100 mile ride, should have planned smarter on this point) texted the fam, took a couple swigs from my flask and was off to bed. The tent in case you are wondering is a Tarptent Moment DW.


Made coffee in the morning and then it was off to the mountains.

Starting a ride in the wilderness, rather than fighting through city traffic is pretty magical. This was the view that I started with.

It was about 8 miles through Harriman, and then cutting across route 87, over to Sterling Forrest State Park, at which point I passed this derelict building.

Up through Blooming Grove, up through Walden (where I stopped for lunch and had some KILLER pizza), and on to Wallkill. Just on the outskirts of Wallkill, 40 miles in, the route sent me to continue onto this portion of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, which much to my delight was a pretty rough around the edges trail of dirt, gravel, and tennis ball size stones.

The AWOL ate this all up and wanted more. The only issue with this trail is the brush gets pretty overgrown in sections and I had to stop three times to remove and branches from my drivetrain. More than once on the road I’ve had a surprise stick in the derailleur, causing it to rip from the hanger, but not today. Lucky. This definitely left me ruminating on the virtues of a belt drive paired with an internal hub.

Sadly, this portion of the trail only lasted about a mile. The trailhead on the other end was pretty ridiculous – it narrows to singletrack, and you’re sent down an extremely steep embankment, and into a ditch. Upon exiting the trail I started to see signs along the lines of “State Correctional Facility Land – No Stopping”. Well then. The route directed me  down a road that was clearly marked *DO NOT ENTER*, which had it not been a prison, I would have considered disregarding. Being the law abiding cyclist I am, I rerouted up to State Highway 208, which I would have wound up on eventually anyway. I noticed Garmin’s battery was below 50% at this point so I decided to try out the backup battery. It worked like a charm, and made me really glad I had recently added the rando bag to my setup.

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Moments later, the sky opened up, and I was soaked by what would be the first of at least five thunderstorms that day. It was then 20 miles of flat terrain to hammer through to Rosendale, where I would meet up again with the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail – this section even more epic than the last.

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By now it was steadily pouring rain, and I had a grin on my face as I ripped down the dirt and gravel trail found on the other end of the footbridge. I found myself surrounded by tall trees, splashing through mud puddles, with a steep embankment on the left, and Joppenbergh Mountain on my right. At one point I felt a blast of freezing cold air, and looking to the right realized that it was coming from a huge cave in the side of the mountain – cold air and fog was billowing out of it. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture – the waterproof case for my phone allows for it to be used in the rain, but once there is a bit of water on the screen, the phone struggles to register swipes, rendering it difficult to unlock and activate the camera. In any case, pedal on. Don’t want to wait around for the bears.

4 miles later, in Marbletown, after being sent down a gravel private drive, I found my way to Fording Place Rd. The irony of this name was not lost on me as I found myself riding through a 6 inch deep 30ft long puddle that was the entire width of this dirt road. That puddle however was just the warm-up. After turning a corner on the trail I found myself facing the Esopus Creek. So what do you do when you’re faced with fording a 1.5 ft deep creek? You thank yourself for having 100% waterproof paniers, and keep on trucking.

My panniers were about 2/3 submerged but I’m happy to say they held their own and kept my gear totally dry. On the other side of the stream, there is a big corn farm with a nice flat gravel road. On through Lomontville, and Pacama, and before you know it, I found myself at the Ashokan Reservoir – rolling hills  surrounded by seriously beautiful forrest, and occasionally a cute little cabin, or decrepit barn.

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The Forrest eventually gives way to this view from a small bridge.


Shortly thereafter, the road leads to the Ashokan Reservoir itself. Not a bad view here either.


From here it was essentially one grueling 20 mile false flat all the way to the tiny little town of Fleishmans, which was the last civilization I would see until reaching my destination. What came after that 20 mile slog through the false flat, you ask?

Pure. Mountain. Death.

Over the course of the final 10 miles, there were four back to back brutal climbs, as I entered the real mountains. I love climbing, and I enjoy the suffering, but man, when you are hauling 32 lbs of gear – it’s a whole new level of pain. By my calculations, that last 10 miles had around 2,800 feet of climbing. 100% suffering. Here’s the upshot though – one of the climbs had a perfectly straight, incredibly steep descent, with a clear line of sight. I hit it full gas, and broke my own speed PR – 49.45 MPH.

All of this climbing was rewarded by the sudden arrival at my destination – where I was greeted not only by the smiling faces of friends, but the most incredible mountaintop modernist home I’ve ever set foot in.

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And so ensued a weekend of discussions, presentations, debates, and fireside chats on the future of technology and it’s role in society. The weather up in the mountains was incredible – giant thunderstorms would come and go with a moment’s notice.

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… and when Sunday came, I was back on the road. I took the same route most of the way back, but eventually cut over east of the Hudson River so that I could take the train from Beacon. I would have preferred to have ridden the whole way and split it again over the course of two days, but I had to get back to the office on Monday. Here are some photos from the much sunnier (and hotter) return trip.

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Until next time – get out there and ride!