Going Solo – Just The Bike & Me
October 27, 2017 § Leave a comment
Two years ago I started this write-up about a solo ride I did in the Harriman/Bear Mountain areas of NY state. It sat as a draft now for these two years, and I decided to finish it. Much of the story was still pretty fresh in my mind. As they say among cyclists, “The worst day on the bike is still better than the best day at work”, and so I took a Friday off work and had some me time.
There is a feature in Google Maps that allows you to see bike routes, which can simply be roads that are considered bicycle byways, or outright bike paths. It was using this feature while I was centered on Newburgh, NY when I noticed a green line (bike path) adjacent to the Newburgh/Beacon Interstate 84 bridge. I was floored. That means I could plan a ride up to Newburgh, cross the Hudson River, and ride south on the east side of the Hudson, instead of back tracking. So far I hadn’t been able to get my friends any further than Cornwall-On-Hudson. We start in Sloatsburg, ride through Harriman to Bear Mountain, climb the mountain, and then ride through West Point, and around Storm King Mountain into Cornwall-On-Hudson. There we find an eating establishment, dine, and then ride back. We don’t turn right around. We can exit out of town on the Southwest corner, and climb up and through Storm King (a familiar name in these parts) and onto Mountain Ave which takes us back to route 218.
An alternative way out of Cornwall-On-Hudson, Newburgh, is the next town North, so it isn’t like adding 50 miles to the trip, but I just couldn’t get the group to go no matter how hard I lobbied. Fear of the unknown? Fear it would be too far? Maybe it wasn’t fear based at all, and that simply what we had done already was a treat, and we didn’t need to overindulge.
On this particular weekend, my wife had planned a trip to Dublin with her sister and left me to my own whims, and at first I was considering a hike on the AT, where I would do a point to point, and use my bike as the shuttle. It’s Oktoberfest and Bear Mountain has a weekly festival, so this would be perfect. I would leave my bike at Bear Mountain Inn, and drive to the other end of the trailhead, and hike back. Partake in the festivities, and then ride my bike back to the truck. It sounded like a decent plan. Perhaps there were some issues that I hadn’t really thought through. When I ride, I don’t really like to have anything on my back, but then I have to carry my hiking clothes and boots, back on the bike, and that just didn’t sound great. At some point it hit me, that I could just plan the Newburgh bike trip, invite people to come along, knowing full well what the itinerary was, and then get this route into our collective consciousness. So that is what I did.
I had some interest; enough good riders to make a decent group for a hard loop, and all I needed now was for the weather to cooperate. Of course it seems selfish to want another nice day, after we have had nothing but nice days, which means, that it has not been raining, and we are in the midst of an early drought. Hard to believe after the Spring we had, but after June, it didn’t rain at all until September. Trace amounts here and there. So rain was in the forecast, and though I don’t like riding in the rain, what it looked like was the rain was going to ebb away in the morning, and the day would get steadily better. It was just a question of when would the rain stop.
We started to play the “What do you think?” game about the weather on Friday. The forecast at that point didn’t look much different than the past few days, rain at night into the early morning, and clearing all day. I punted and said “Let’s decide tomorrow night”. I was looking at the forecast for West Point, but then decided to plug Sloatsburg in and see if it was any different. Well it was. Not much, but enough that the way the storm was moving, Sloatsburg was in the clear, or at least down to no precipitation before West Point. Everyone else was still iffy except 1, so I decided that I was going for sure, and that if I stated that, and that I accept the risks of what I run into, then others can either jump on, or off, and well, they all jumped off :P.
My one itinerary change was time of departure. I decided to start the ride at 10 and hope that was enough. In the truck on the way up I got rained on many times, the latest right there in Mahwah (Pronounced Maaaaah Waaaaah), less than 5 miles from my start. I parked at the commuter lot in Sloatsburg behind the Hardware store. It’s a big lot, and a great place to jump off from and into Harriman. Some friends like to park at Reeves Meadows, but really that is for the hikers, and there is no reason for bikers to be parking there. I decided on my knickers, a long sleeved compression top and long sleeved jersey, and for good measure, my rain jacket that I bought years ago, and had yet to actually use. It was low 50’s and I really wasn’t sure where the day would take me. If it warmed up I would jam the rain jacket into one of the jersey pockets.
While Harriman Park was not empty, it was not crowded either. The weather kept many away early; Seven Lakes Drive was virtually empty of auto traffic, which btw, turned out to be pretty damn nice. And safe too. The road was still wet, and the shoulder, though wide, was off and on, layered in places with wet leaves, so it was nice to have the room to move out into the main lane often. Because of the wetness you could hear tire noise from a lot further off, but as I said, I had the road to myself. There were a few photographers about in the park, as the foliage was awesome! This was THE weekend to be in the park.
The boring specifics of the ride, I think I will spare the reader, and simply concentrate on a few specifics. It should not be overlooked that the carrot I tied to the end of my own stick, the light at the end of the tunnel, the reward that I planned for myself in all of this, was to suffer like a mother delivering a twelve pound breach without the aid of modern medicine, and then treat myself to some delicious fermented German beverages in the form of the Bear Mountain Oktoberfest celebration, which as I remember it, was always setup right there at the Bear Mountain Inn. Every mile I pedaled, I had an image of a cold lager waiting for me. Actually two cold lagers. I felt I could consume two pints of cold German lager and still climb back up to Tiroati Circle for the final miles back to the car. It was ambitious.
Overall, this was mainly a solitary adventure. I only really saw a handful of cyclists all day, and perhaps that isn’t surprising considering the weather that greeted the day. I did however meet three other cyclists near the end of the Bear Mountain Climb. As expected, the gate at the entrance to Perkin’s Drive was in fact shut, but shut to cars, is not the same as shut to bikes. With my bike over my head and around the gate, I adjusted my course, and soon I was on the final ascent to the top where so many of my friends have been so often before. It is a decent climb, and the road I had to myself. Most of this climb is actually a big ring climb, but there is one ramp early on that requires either an out of the saddle effort, or at least to come down to the little tiny ring that I don’t really like to use. “Hey Bird, why do you have that ring if you don’t use it?”. I don’t use it, because I don’t need it.
Soon there was a patch of roadway that was completely covered in wet leaves with a moderately “safe” lane through. Not so bad on the ascent, but certainly needed to be taken seriously on the descent. The rest of the climb was free and clear of debris, however the further I climbed the mistier the surrounding air became. The mountain was encased in a cloud, and way up in the distance I saw two more cyclists, spinning madly in a gear that was simply inching them forward little by little. I was grinding, so it wasn’t long before I was upon them, and had to make some quick moves to keep from riding right over them.
Upon arriving at the top I pulled over and sat down for some refreshment and sustenance. A little Facebag activity, and another selfie panorama. All the while I sat there, underneath the monument, a park service crew was emptying the bins. In the 30 minutes I was there, that crew didn’t move beyond the one bin they had emptied. Chatting about nothing they were, and amusing themselves by trying to smash bottles in their collection vehicle. It all seemed very childish, but I wasn’t really there to judge them, so I ignored them after a while.
I wandered over to the overlook where the two cyclists, had apparently grown into three. One of them got to the top faster than the other two. They were getting group shots with selfie sticks, and the aid of some AT hikers. As I approached I chatted them up. They had ridden up from Piermont, NY and would be heading back. They were all fairly new to cycling and were out testing their limits. I was telling them about my route and wondering whether to invite them along, but then one of them pointed to my rear cluster and excitedly announced “You are SO strong. You are SO Strong”, and I knew that these guys wouldn’t enjoy riding with me, and I probably would not enjoy riding with them. We said our goodbyes, and down the road I went.
The West side of the Hudson took me through West Point, which by the way was beautiful, around Storm King Mountain, where I picked up a fork in the road and descended to the Hudson River at Cornwall-on-Hudson. This portion of the ride was mildly scenic, as it was all flood plain, and probably off limits to builders. When I reached Newburgh, the river architecture was all industrial shell where some retail business had moved in, but there is still a long way to go.
It wasn’t long before I came to I84, approaching on Grand St. A simple bike path up, and the pedestrian/bicycle path across the bridge was before me. A mile at least, of steel plates, not meant for wet riding. By this point in the day, it was dry, and across I proceeded. Riding across I knew that my friend Meridith would never ever cross this bridge. She dislikes descending, and really anything that has a higher than normal crash potential. M has crashed a few times, so it is best to allow her her fears. They are real fears, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
On the East side the path dumps you directly onto 9D. Yes, another 9 road. I really don’t understand the NY state highway system, but it is what it is, and this was 9D. 9D, I would find later to be a GREAT road for getting from Albany where you combine it with 9G, and with both of those you can get from Albany to Bear Mountain with only Poughkeepsie as a large thorn along the way. Where I was this day was on the North side of Beacon, and my plan called for 9D to Cold Spring where I would snack (don’t forget Oktoberfest), and then complete 9D to the Bear Mountain Bridge, and finally Oktoberfest.
The road into Beacon was fine and mildly rolling, however there is a huge ravine/drainage that has to be navigated around, and this navigation takes you East and rises up the back side of Breakneck Ridge. It looks like you have to go to the top as you climb this steep section of 9D, but then it finally hangs a Southern Right turn, and soon you escape out of town, and find yourself on the downhill gaining speed all the way until it flattens out and the front side of Breakneck Ridge looms in front of you. There is no hill to go over here. Breakneck Ridge comes right down to the water, and both the Metro-North rail line, and 9D cut right into the ridge. That’s right a tunnel. If there was even a remote chance that Mer would ride over the I84 bridge, there was 0 chance she would go through that tunnel. There are no lights inside, and it is very hard to see. I was lucky that traffic was very light, but the safest way through this is as a large group and being well lit. On the other side I stopped to look across at West Point and Storm King Mountain. Each side of the Hudson here is a breath taking view of the other.
I limped into Cold Spring. I hadn’t stopped anywhere for food yet, and though I might have had something along the way, it was not sufficient, and I was energy starved in Cold Spring. I wandered around a bit and stood in a couple of lines, but then changed my mind. I eventually found a bakery and picked up a brownie and a chocolate Croissant. It was enough for now.
9D South out of Cold Spring seemed to go rather fast, but it was still another 7 miles of winding rolling roadway, without any view of the river, so progress was very limited. A nature break, and soon I was realizing that I was going to be very tired when I finally got back to the car, and that was still many miles and another 1000′ of elevation away. Just when I thought I was going to have to stop and check out my position, I came around a corner and there before me was The Bear Mountain bridge. On the East side, traffic off the bridge has to split either North or South, as the road basically runs into the cliff. From my direction I was on the bridge instantly and the thoughts of Oktoberfest were so strong now, that I was sure I could smell the brats cooking.
To my dismay, the Oktoberfest at Bear Mountain had grown so popular that this was the first year in which the entire event had been moved to the Anthony Wayne parking area off the Palisades Interstate Parkway. Whaaaaaat?!? Fortunately there is food court, and they do sell beer, so I grabbed a hot dog, and a beer and took a long and much needed break. Ahead of me I had to climb back up the lower sectional ramps of Seven Lakes Drive, bridge over to the upper sections, and continue on to Tiorati Circle. From there it would be reasonably downhill all the way back to Sloatsburg.
I hadn’t said much more about the weather, but it did in fact clear up, and about this time the temperature was climbing into the high 60’s with the sun out. This made gaining all that elevation back a mighty chore. I could only strip down so far, so I baked in my what I still had to wear, and sweated out a lot of water.
At Tiorati, I stopped for water, and then it was just a matter of finishing, which I did rather uneventfully. On a nice day you could run into many hundreds of cyclists on these roads. Today I ran into four. My friends missed a big day this day, however maybe it was better that I did it alone. It gave me a chance to simply enjoy the ride, and see what it had to offer, so the next time I can make a stronger case for getting the whole gang to come along.