(Aaron's Version) Two Mechanic turned tour guides met at the foot of the Manhattan bridge. They set off in the morning mist to collect their flock at Grand Central Station in the heart of Manhattan. Seven would depart. They would return five days later, not greater in numbers, but stronger in spirit. This is their story.
The Harlem Line of the Metro North Railroad winds out of the city through the rolling hills of Westchester County. The nooks and gullies of this verdant country are not foreign to the adventurers that call 718 Cyclery home. They know the North and South County Trailways well. But on the 25th of April, 2018, seven voyagers did not stop to ride the familiar, but sped forth to Wassaic.
The riding was immediately spectacular. We were greeted with a rail trail at the entrance to the station parking lot and off we went. The day was short and included an encounter with a local gentleman. He had a leather and steel flap on his boot where he rested the muzzle of his rifle while shooting. After a stop for lunch and groceries at a very friendly supermarket we embarked on the final pitch to camp. The day's riding ended with a grueling climb. All riders broke a sweat and felt the burn. We focused on the challenge at hand and perhaps lost sight of the stresses of city life for a moment. Camp was made near a Connecticut State Forest lean to. We enjoyed a meal prepared over the fire and retired for the night.
Sharing tea and leftover sausages, the group broke camp leisurely. The second day of riding began by descending the hill which we had ridden up the night before. The weather remained fair with sun and clouds but no rain. We carried a considerable amount of waste from the prior nights camp for most of the day, swapping duties once. The rail trails through western Connecticut were beautiful and made for great riding. When we reached our destination, Copake Falls, we were surprised to find that our cabin was not only located near a grocery store with everything a group of bike campers could need, but also equipped with six beds, a luxury bathroom, and cable television. The presence of such extravagance made some campers understandably uncomfortable so the television was unplugged at once. The group instead enjoyed the fire pit and made use of the cabin oven. Brussel sprouts, sausage, and potatoes were devoured at the dining table.
Struggling to escape the clutches of luxurious living, we remained in the cabin throughout the morning until the rain began to fall. We suited up in our rain gear and headed out. Our intention was to cross the Hudson just south of a town by the same name, purchase supplies in the town of Catskill, and camp near there in a primitive site. Not everything would go as planned on our third day of riding.
"Diner... DINER!", a rider's cry pierced the wet morning air. Seven souls, having taken a wrong turn, descended on the town of Hudson searching for food. The allure of the diner was not so strong for everyone and we agreed to regroup in an hour. From Hudson we rode south and crossed the mighty river. For an unknown reason, an official vehicle was slowing traffic to bicycle speed on the bridge. This allowed for a very pleasant crossing. In Catskill we stopped for supplies. We made an incorrect determination and set our sights on a distant campground, increasing the days mileage. The rest of the day was spent ascending a steep and winding road in the rain. The ride tested our abilities and was a challenge for all. We crested the hill near dark. We were rewarded with an empty campground. We slept in a spacious and covered picnic area near a mountain lake. We hung our wet clothing to dry and cooked our sausages over a fire built from wood we had been given by a local woman.
Like the second day, the fourth day began by speeding down the hill we had climbed the day before. The road was wide and had been freshly paved. It was a true pleasure to enjoy the same curves that had caused us such anguish, the wind in our faces and without a care. The first stop was at a small café. The Bluegrass cover of "Where is My Mind" by The Pixies reminded us of our dusty home in Brooklyn and we enjoyed pastries and numerous helpings of quiche. Soon we were off. On the rail trails between Woodstock and Newpaltz we would enjoy the beauty of spring. But we would also face the unpredictable nature of riding on unpaved surfaces, and cycling's inherent risk.
A rider went down on an abrupt dip at the end of a wooden bridge. He was traveling at a significant speed and hit the ground hard. After assessing the situation and administering first aid, we were able to repair the rider's bicycle. We rested on the side of the trail and discussed the nature of the incident. The rider was not seriously injured and we continued. Camp was made in the rain after another climb. We had ridden over the crest of the Shawangunk Mountains. Luckily, camp was a short walk from a German restaurant where the group feasted. We recalled the adventure of the day, and the importance of safety while cycling. During the night the rain fell heavily on our tents. Most remained dry.
The final ride was brief but scenic. Cruising out of the Shawangunks and downhill through Newpaltz to the Hudson is a perfect day. Our last act as a group was a triumphant ride across the footbridge to Poughkeepsie. In town we took trains back to the city, back to the ordinary.
Looking back, weeks later, I miss the pleasant breeze off the Hudson, the mist hanging in the rain by Kaaterskill Falls, and the green hills of western Connecticut. Sure as the condor flies, this land will be toured again.
(Alfred's Version) We met in the morning, and took the train to Wassaic. It was a peaceful ride through Westchester. Wassaic Station was very quiet. The railtrail picks up right at the station—it’s the same old line, paved over. Just down the trail from the station there are sheep on a hillside, with a little pond below them. It was a greyish day, and wet but not raining, so the hills and trees and everything else looked particularly green. We stopped at a supermarket to get things for supper and then pushed on to camp. On the way we met a man who wore a round patch of leather over the toe of one boot, to rest the end of the barrel of his skeet-shooting gun on during competitions. There was big hill at the end of the day, longer, if not steeper, we all thought, than what we call “The North Pole,” which is the part of the road before the fork, that goes up Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks. The part of Connecticut we rode through is very beautiful—full of little old farmhouses, covered bridges, narrow winding rivers, and rolling country roads. We cooked a good dinner near a “big rock,” my notes read, and went to sleep, two of us in the campsite’s lean-to.
The next morning when we woke up those of us who slept in the lean-to were nice and dry. Everyone else was a little damp. We cooked a big breakfast and the sun came out a bit, and by the time we flew down the great big hill we rode up to camp on the evening before, we were all dry. I carried the two shopping bags full of our trash from the campsite for four or five miles of low, rolling hills, then handed off one to Bill and one to Aaron. After another few miles, we found a baseball diamond with a trashcan and recycling at the top of a hill next to a grand old boarding school with a big iron gate and lots of outbuildings. Right after this I got a flat. Right after that, Tim fixed his rack with a piece of wire by a cemetery while we all lay around in the sunshine eating snacks and some local people mowed the grass by the road. We rolled along into Millertown and went to the market there. The rest of the day was rolling hills, valleys, shaggy cows, patchy clouds, and fertile farmland. At one point we stopped for a snack and hot coffee at a broken picnic table by a gas station. At the end of the day, we rode up a long hill and then along a beautiful valley to a luxury cabin near Bash Bish Falls. We cooked dinner partly inside, in the cabin’s kitchen, and then went to sleep on our rubber mattresses—Tim slept on the couch.
The next day we had a delicious breakfast and made our way down to the Hudson River. We stopped in the town of Hudson for lunch once we got there, and then went to the grocery store across the river in Catskill. It was misty or raining all day, and it was early evening when we got to the foot of the small mountain we planned to camp on top of. We got to the campground just at dusk, in a cold rain. After the long, chilly, and wet ride to the top, it was good to find a picnic shelter where we could sleep on dry ground. We made camp there and cooked dinner on the picnic shelter’s grill. The moon was amazing: almost full and so bright it drowned out the stars around it. In the morning the sun came out and we dried our things. Down the powerline trail we could see a whole carpet of clouds from the top of the mountain, and when we rode down it was into those clouds. The day brightened, though, and by the time Bill fell off his bike it was quite sunny and clear. We were on a rail trail, and after a little turn there was a sudden and very steep decline of maybe fifteen feet horizontally and twelve vertically, followed by a little bridge. Bill made it down the hill fine, but after the bridge there’s a dip between the bridge and trail, and he washed out his wheel there. He went over the handlebars at a very steep trajectory, and hit his head pretty hard. His front rack was destroyed so we all split his stuff among us and carefully made our way on to camp. That night it rained all night, and it was fairly cold, so we all went to a restaurant nearby to recoup and enjoy the warmth and dryness. We ate a huge meal of German mountain food and then all crawled into our tents and fell asleep.
The next morning, we took a while to get moving, and had no breakfast in camp, but rode downhill through farms and little towns back to the river, stopping in New Paltz for coffee before going on to Poughkeepsie. We just barely got to the train on time after a slow ride across the old rail bridge across the river, the Walkway Over The Hudson. There was room only for five people with bikes and gear on the Grand Central train, so two of us stayed to wait for the next one. We ate the last of our food on a little pier in the river and had a peaceful ride home.