Autumn is upon us. Usually this is the time of year when riders start winding down and retreating to their pain caves in the garage. But for me, this is time for the biggest ride I’ve done since July.
I got the route from Joe Cruz, a dude that has been on some pretty rad adventures in many countries. He started his “invitational” NYC Dirt Audax last year, and even though I wouldn’t have been invited to the party I didn’t find out about it till 3 days after their ride. After creeping on his Ride With GPS page, I loaded the route into my GPS and said “Seems awesome, I’ll ride this on Saturday”, which, as it seems, is how a lot of my adventures happen.
My alarm goes off at 2, dreary eyed I make the impulse decision to sleep in another hour and a half. Only time will tell if this was a bad decision, but right now it seems like the only option.
My alarm goes off again, my sleep app tells me its 40°. I reluctantly get up and I make myself coffee and breakfast, then I remember the route and I’m suddenly wide awake. Maybe the espresso just kicked in, who knows. I check the weather and see that not only is it already 5° cooler than the predicted low, but the graph shows it going down another 5° by the time I’ll start riding. yay.
I decide to take the train down to the ferry instead of potentially losing a lot of body heat and fuel in the gas tank. I have 138 miles to do today, conservation is the name of the game.
I wait for the train for 15 minutes as people slowly amble into the station. My steaming breath passes through beams of light cast from streetlamps on the other side of the trees. An old couple out for a jaunt into the city, a group of people still with halloween regalia half dangling off their cold, drunken bodies.
The train comes and to my surprise theres quite a few people on it. I board and literally every passenger has construction boots on and stained workpants. I guess thats the only people other than my dumb ass that would be traveling at this hour on a Saturday morning.
Off the train and only a mile and a half to the ferry, but fuck its cold. I wish I had another layer on my arms. Doubts start running through my head, “Why the fuck am I out here?” I ask myself – oh yeah, the ride.
I get to the ferry and apologetically wake up the homeland security officer and his sniffin pup, thankfully he didnt want my food. I take out the camera and before I could click the first shutter a ferry worker comes and tells me I cant take any pictures. Actually, pal, I can, but I’ll put it back in my bag so you go away. Maybe its the beard.
This ferry is literally the oldest one I’ve ever been on, I’ve never even seen it before. There is no bike rack just a row without seats where they expect you to lay your bike down. Next to the row of seats I’m sitting in has sliding doors that lead out to nowhere, bailout doors? Everyones always afraid of drowning on these old boats, looks like I got a good seat for the action.
The ferry pulls into the dock and I load up the route on my garmin, “here we go” I tell myself, and excitement starts to build. Up the greenway in the dark, Fuck its cold. Excitement wanes as fast as it came, more regrets. “Why the fuck am I out here?” I can see a slight glimpse of sunrise to the East and I have my motivation. “Just get over the bridge for the sunrise.”
Finally im off the greenway and onto riverside drive as the sun is making an appearance. Up the ramp to the bridge, this is my least favorite part about crossing the GWB, and every NYC cyclist knows it well. As I cross the bridge I look back about halfway and get very excited, the sun is up in all its glory.
Dropping into river road, and so much #foligebro. This is such a good road this time of year. I would stop to notice all the subtle nuances but by this time I have to piss so bad I’m struggling not to leak all over my bibs. My only logic preventing full release at this point is “I don’t wanna look like some tri bro”. But then I get under the bridge and the view forced me to stop even if I made a mess of myself.
5 Miles later: Behold, a portapotty! sweet relief! Turns out I never actually hit start on my garmin after loading the course from Joe, smooth. Now that thats settled I indulge in a tortilla and keep it flowing (the ride, not the pee).
Just before Alpine I come across another 650b rider and we talk bikes till it gets too steep for conversation. Lovely custom bike that I didn’t get the name of the maker, matching frame pump on the seatstay, should’ve taken a photo. I stop at the ranger station to take off my merino baselayer and refill a bottle, warming up now from the climbs.
Now onto the always boring 9w, but only for a couple blocks as I turn up Closter dock rd. A blistering descent has me quickly spin out of gears and I go full tuck. I hit 42.5mph here as I overshot my turn. Pause to check the map and everything fogs up, humidity must be 30% higher down here. Down a scenic road dotted with absurdly huge houses to the Alpine woods. A MTB rider is checking his suspension at the trailhead next to his car, every inch of his skin is covered but I can see his eyes look at me and him say in his head “What the fuck is this guy doing here on a road bike?”
Commence dirt. Climbing up Ruckman, the foliage here has gone full nuclear and its so beautiful its downright pornographic. I have a hard time keeping my eyes on the extremely rocky and steep climb. Too many things at once, time for some hike a bike.
I guess that guy on the MTB knew something I didnt.
At the top of the climb I again have a crazy urge to piss (#2). What is it with this day? I’m not even drinking a lot. This seems like a good place to pee anyway, a break in the tree cover lets in some warming sun as I water the plants. I flee the scene of the crime and exit up some filthy rich bastards driveway/street and make my way back to 9w just long enough to get up to speed.
I pull off to the side of the road for some more hike a bike and go over the pedestrian bridge that leads to the State Line Lookout. Over the bridge I can’t figure out the right trail, one way has a no bikes symbol, that never stopped me, but it’s downhill and very rocky, “no fuckin way.” The other way my GPS yells at me, guess were going down door number 3: out onto the grass on the highway. Turns out that was the right way and I’m soon on familiar ground. Breaktime on the ledge as I check in with the world, a few tortillas, sporkfuls of cookie butter, handfuls of berries and I crack open the candy corn.
Bombing run down old Rt 9w, I love this road, I wish it went on for miles and miles. I love the tree cover and the generally crappy but not-nearly-moonscape quality of the road. I exit the tunnel of joy and proceed to the guard house on the road to the observatory. As I’m about to pass a man comes out and claps at me like he’s trying to get the attention of a dog. Must be the beard.
“They do construction”
Guess I need to find a detour. I was always curious as to what is down there, another day then. Back on 9w and I get to bomb down the state line, lots of bikes out here today and none of them seem want to go fast. I had to feather my brake the whole way down to avoid gaining ground on the guy on a BMC in front of me. He felt the need to keep looking back at me. Yeah, I’m still here.
At the bottom of the hill I pass the slowpoke and turn into Tallman, I ride by a woman running barefoot. People have been looking at me strange ever since I took my long sleeves off, I could imagine what they’d think of this woman, hard as nails. Through the park with more foliage porn, with small patches of trail visible underfoot. Exit out onto Piermont, should I go to Bunburys? A nice hot double espresso would warm me right up, but I don’t have any cash, moving on.
Up the road overlooking Sparkill Creek. Intense jealousy of the owners of these homes that are nailed into the cliffside, one day maybe. Suddenly my GPS is yelling at me, “off course”. What the shit are you talking about? you told me to go right, theres only one right. I zoom into the map and somehow I passed a right, so I climbed that hill for nothing, awesome. Back down the hill and oh hello gravel.
Somehow I never knew that the Old Erie Path existed, but I can tell you that any time I’m traveling this way in the future I’m taking it. Awesome hillside views out onto the Hudson, passing through behind peoples yards that all seem to have awesome hiking trails that lead to the path. More jealousy. One day maybe. A 3-pack of roadies fly past a woman with her young daughter and dog and myself. As I pass the woman she has a look of “wtf was that?” on her face, I smile and shake my head, were not all trying to crush Strava KOMs. Outside of some space cadets locked into their own dimension with their headphones that cant hear me screaming “EXCUSE ME” it was an awesome path. 9/10, would ride again.
Ejected into Nyack without having to enter a highway offramp, sweet! Should I stop at Runcible or Voodoo Donut? Nah, gravel is addicting and time in coffee shops is time away from gravel roads. Must keep going. Following the 9w bike route a little farther and I come to the Nyack Beach Park entrance, pull in and I see Road Closed. Damnit, not again. I was about to go under the gate when I see a couple of dudes coming out of the park on matching orange BMC’s. To my delight the first of the two is an Aussie.
“Whats goin on down there?”
“Like, for real closed?”
“Aye, theres a guy down there, made us turn back.”
“Aw man, no fun!”
As they were rolling away I was sitting there trying to figure out where to go now, since a huge chunk of this ride depended on going down to the path along the beach, then his friend says to him:
“What about that way?”
“Nah, its a dead end.”
Then they were gone. I decide to scope out that way, as it seemed to be a nice little climb and maybe a view or some kind of shortcut. 3/4 of the way up I pass a barrier, “BEACH TRAIL THIS WAY” in hardly legible sharpie written on half of a manilla folder. “Seems legit.” I tell myself, and keep climbing. At the top it was indeed a dead end, a parking lot with a view of some of the iron rich Palisades Sill that glaciers slowly carved its way through all the way down the Hudson eons ago.
I roll back down the ramp and investigate this manilla folder detour, look down and I see switchbacks and nothing too crazy. “Doin it.” 4 or 5 switchbacks later, practicing my stoppie turns along the way and I’m out onto the path, everything opens up onto an incredible gravel path a few feet above the water. The path slithers and snakes along under the Sill for 2.5 miles and everyone is out fishing with enormous fishing poles. Despite my adolescent self being obsessed with fishing, I never had any luck catching fish out of the ocean. Maybe these people know something I didn’t. Either way no time for that now, I had to make an emergency piss AGAIN. This is getting old, please give me cover or a boulder to hide behind. The next mile and a half take ten years, finally the path climbs off of the water into the treeline. Yes! I can pee!
I ascend into the treeline and theres a couple trails that branch off, I pick one and take the 3rd piss of the day, only 5 hours in. Maybe theres something wrong with me? Back to the trail and I head down the upper section of the bikeway. Cool ruins of structures somehow glued to the side of sheer cliffs, in various states of ruin. What the hell were these things, and when were they built? moreover, how were they built to stick to the cliffs like that?
4 Miles of foliage porn, rollercoaster hills and sheer cliff views. I see these structures and can’t help but think to myself that they’d make a cool place to camp.
Near the end of the path I spot a sign that marks the spot where Benedict Arnold plotted the surrender of the Americans some 236 years ago. Asshole. One thing about NYC is that there is a lot of history scattered around the immediate area, though none of it is very old, it mostly has to do with the formulation of the USA, which may or not be interesting to some people.
Descending down out of the trail and thrust into the middle of a rock quarrying operation. Instantly I’m surrounded on all sides by machinery, click-clacking and thumping and humming away as it fills the atmosphere with a dustcloud so thick I can taste. I put my bandana over my mouth and nose and roll through this harsh reality that is no longer the wilderness but a sprawling industrial site.
I pedal harder to escape this dust cloud and I’m soon on a busy main street that smells of delicious Mexican food and all the stores have bilingual signs. Thats a lot better than the dust, but I could do without the whole “cars and people” thing. After a right turn I’m out of the city and I enter suburbia like I crossed an imaginary border. Unkempt lawns covered with rusted bits and bobs of forgotten car parts and bicycles, mounds of stuff covered with tarps littered with holes worn through from years of weather.
Soon I’m through the less than interesting suburbia and I can start to see familiar signs and stores that I frequent when I climb Bear Mountain. “Should I do the climb?” I ask myself. “Maybe”, and I pause for a candy corn pitstop so I have some fuel for the half hour climb.
I get near the entrance to the hiking trails and for half a mile in every direction the sides of the highway are littered with cars, and just then my GPS makes a decision for me and tells me to turn right. Guess I wont be climbing Bear. Down a short road that seems like its part of a park rather than a residential area, the road suddenly turns into a dead end and funnels you into an overgrown path into the brush.
Sandy gravel singletrack lined with random golfball sized rocks, it ascends briefly and descends just as briefly. Ups and downs and fallen power lines “I wonder if anyone knows about these?” I can hear the Metro North train screeching away underneath me, I can see flashes of light bouncing off of trees as small bolts of lightning arc off of the third rail. Suddenly I’m stopped in my tracks by some glacial deposits of granite covered in moss and lichen, I nerd out on Geology so I must investigate.
At the top I can see a view of my next destination that I’ve been looking forward to, Bear Mountain Bridge. I’ve never been over the bridge on bike foot or car and it looks like a miniature Verrazano bridge, so I’m interested on how you get over.
Leaving my little mounds of stone the trail shortly after spits me back out onto 9w, right at the turn off to Seven Lakes Dr. Hmm, I can still hit the mountain, but what time is it? Half an hour climbing and another 15 mins descending if theres no cars on the road. It’s 1pm, if I go up the mountain itl be 2ish when I come down and I still have another 90 miles to ride of almost entirely unknown territory on the East side of the Hudson river. That’s too much math, I’m not doing it. Nor am I doing the climb up bear. “Next time”
I get to the circle before Bear Mountain bridge and my GPS tells me to go around it. It looks like a highway, but ok GPS, only because Joe rode it and he lived to blog about it. For half a minute I’m on the no-shoulder road and I can already see the entrance to the bridge. “Shit, theres a toll? I hope I don’t have to pay to cross on a bike, I didn’t bring any cash.” And just as that thought left my mind I see a path on the left and I go for it. No guards yelling at me or alarms going off so I must be going the right way.
No more than 100ft later I see some people walking the bridge and realize how narrow this path is, and look over the other side. It’s as wide as the one on the GWB, you went on the wrong side idiot. The people were all nice enough to let me squeeze by and I thank them all graciously. When I get to the other side I realize my legs are getting hot so I take off my tights. Oh that is nice.
2 Miles up 9D (how many friggin letters does Route 9 have?) and I turn up Manitou rd, or is this someones driveway? Whatever it is my GPS isn’t yelling at me so I must be going the right way. Quickly it turns to gravel, quickly the grade % field on my garmin gets higher and higher tempting double digits. Right turn onto S Mountain Pass rd, and the incline seems to double, and my legs start to yell at me. “why the fuck am I out here?”
5%, “Ok this isn’t too bad”
9.9%, “Come on!
7%, “Oh god yes
6% “I love how this is easy right now”
8% “You suck”
A mile later and the steep, washboard, rutted road points downhill and gravity starts to work in my favor. I see a turn coming and I start to squeeze some brake, just around the blind turn the road turns washboard, say goodbye to stopping power. My rear wheel is bouncing all over the place and I’m barely scrubbing off any speed, I move my ass back and hover over my rear wheel to put some weight on it. The washboard stops for a split second and I grab a fistful of brake lever, just enough to slow me down and keep me from careening off the road into the woods.
Yikes, hope I can just bomb the rest of this road. Suddenly, as if my mind could afford to divert any its attention from this terrifying descent, I start to smell horse crap. “Oh god, I hope they’re not coming up this road, I’ll scare the shit out of them.” Another blind turn on boneshaking gravel road and I see a sign for a horse riding stable, some young girls on their horses see me flying down the hill and they both look at me with this “Haha, he’s screwed.” face. Thanks for the support! One final turn and its so rutted no amount of ass-over-rear wheel weight shifting can help me, thankfully just then the road straightens out and I can see where I’m going and I surrender to gravity. Nothing like screaming down a gravel road at 30mph!
I drop down into the town of Peekskill and roll past the Peekskill brewery, it grabbed my attention only because about a dozen bikes were leaned up against the front windows. I hadn’t seen another cyclist since I came over the bridge, I guess they’re all here getting day drunk. I roll by the Peekskill train station;
“I could totally bail here and sleep on the train.”
“Fuck that, I’m barely halfway done, and All these roads are new to me.”
After the internal arguments subside I find myself ascending a cool switchback up from town. Its my first switchback on a road, and it wasn’t really more than a ramp, but I thought it was cool. Whatever.
The next 10 miles were pretty boring but with nice views of the Croton Reservoir. Suddenly my GPS says to turn left on Mt Airy rd. “Oh like the lodge, thats nice.” No it isnt. For what seemed like an eternity (or less than 1/4 mile, whatever) I was climbing in double digit grades, after 13% I couldn’t look down at my GPS anymore and had to downshift and stand, so much for keeping it in Z2 for the whole ride. “Why the fuck am I out here?”
At the “summit” I pull off the road and eat some food, since I definitely just blew thru the last hours worth of food on that dumb road I should probably top off the tank. The instant I sit down a small terrier in a yard across the road starts barking and doesn’t stop, despite its owner coming out to yell at it multiple times. Everything about this road is annoying. As I’m annihilating fistfuls of dried berries and candy corn a cop car pulls around the corner and stops short in front of me to roll down his window.
“Hello there, have you been out riding long?”
“Have you seen anybody out walking around in the area?”
“No sir, I came up from down the hill and I haven’t seen anyone walking around for miles”
“OK, thank you”
The most well spoken officer I have ever encountered. I had seen multiple cop cars in the past half hour, hearing their engines scream from their drivers heavy on the gas, I guess they’re looking for someone. Something tells me I need to get the fuck out of this place, all the more reason to get away from this stupid hill.
Finally the road points downhill and I’m off Mt Airy rd, but I once again missed a turn while bombing down a hill at 32mph. Thankfully I realized what I had done before I could get too far off track and rejoined the route. A few more boring miles and I come upon the North County Trailway. Alas, familiarity! Such a morale boost I get from just being somewhere I know after all that. I cross over the Croton Reservoir on a bridge that sounds like a crackling campfire as you roll over it.
Despite this surge of morale I realize I wont have enough time for the rest of the dirt, and that I’ll take the trailway back down to the city and “bail out”, even though I still have 50 miles to cover, while racing against the sunset to get back there.
I guess sleeping in was a bad idea after all.
Some of the dirt I’m skipping includes the Croton Aqueduct trail that I previously didn’t have a great ride on. My ride on said trail had been preceded by a brake lever eating brake cable housing as we exited Van Cortlandt park, rendering my front (and only) brake useless. The rest of the ride I relied on only using my legs to slow down on my Sturmey Archer S3X hub. Which SA will tell you; don’t, or you’ll break it. As we exited the trail guess what? I broke it, only one gear, the high one. Then as we were flying down a hill the chain pops off so I’m left to “ted shred” my rear wheel, only that my wheel is covered in a fender so I have to smash down on it and burn a hole thru my fender making a hole about the size of a half dollar which plagued my OCD for another year till I took them off.
But I digress.
Knowing I was pressed for time I was left with the delicate task of hauling as much ass as possible without bonking before I got there, I’m gonna need some caffeine. 5 miles down the path and I start to get paranoid, “Did we turn onto the road here or come from another trail? I cant remember.” Add to the fact that clouds start rolling in and it starts to get darker. “Shit. I’m supposed to have 3 more hours! don’t do this so me sun!” I decide to take the trail which led me to the same place I suddenly remembered anyway, Millwood Market.
Thank god I thought, for the past 2 hours I’ve been fighting the growing urge to poop. “I really hope they have a bathroom.” I park the bike outside the door and take off my bag, if they steal my bike I’ll still have my expensive crap and my wallet. “Maybe I can call Justin and his parents can rescue me,” I assure myself. After I took care of business and was left with such relief (and shaved some grams to up my watt:kg ratio) I put back on my long sleeve shirt as the mercury was starting to drop back down.
Need coffee. Need warmth. Need energy. “Want a stronger coffee? Try this first!” one of the pitchers calls out to me. Well then, it looks like were going with this one. I pour a cup to the top and dump half the jar of sugar in it, and sip it as I walk over to refill my water bottles, nice and hot. Outside I chug down the coffee and half of one of the water bottles, finish off my cookie butter and candy corn, plus some more fistfuls of berries. The sun is coming back out, thank god.
The thing about the North Country Trailway is, when you’re heading South, it often looks like you’re going downhill, but you’re not. I don’t know what kind of sorcery they used to create this effect but when you just want to get home and you’re getting tired, its very demoralizing. Thankfully the trail was beautiful as ever like just about every other road and trail I had pedaled down today.
15 miles later and I’m hit with the piss bug again, and this trail does not afford many opportunities to disappear off the side of the road. Most of it is alongside the Sawmill Parkway or behind houses. Must find solitude. Must piss. There was an intersection on this damn trail somewhere that had a portapotty, where the hell was that thing? Finally I couldn’t take it and I saw a spot where enough trees were congregated for me to pull off and water the plants. Now all I need is some downhill and all will be right in the world.
Less than a mile later I come to the intersection with the portapotty. Son of a bitch. The next 5 miles I hauled extra ass out of frustration, then some downhill, my savior. Into the drops and upshift, lets cover some miles. Kickin up leaves at a steady 20+ mph till the trail goes uphill. Just as im slowing down I pass some kids smokin pot on the same spot Justin and I passed some kids doing the exact same thing last time. Must be the local spot, don’t mind me kids, I have a light but im not the 5-0.
By now I’m starting to lose steam, I pause to inhale a caffeinated GU and check my map. “Where the hell is Van Cortlandt! it’s getting too dark!” I get frustrated with the map taking too long to load so I decide to just press on instead of wasting more daylight. Less than a mile later I enter the park. “Awesome, plenty of light left.” The dirt invigorates my soul and I have some fun jumping off roots and bunnyhopping old railroad ties. I pass a guy shadowboxing with the air.
“Alllllrighty then.” – Ace Ventura, Pet Detective
Quickly I’m through the park and nothing on the bike was broken, the curse has been lifted. Now I’m faced with a new predicament, which way is home? This is like an 18 way intersection and I forget which road to take to get back to the greenway. After getting frustrated with trying to get my garmin to route me to the ferry I take out my phone and just use that instead, loads a hell of a lot faster anyway.
The sun is dropping fast into the drink and I’m under the 1 train in Marble Hill, what a shitshow. People with kids everywhere not paying attention darting in every direction, cars blasting their horns at everything, the train overhead at 300db. Such a culture shock from the rest of my day. “What the fuck am I doing here?”
Through Inwood to a “new” section of the Hudson River Greenway, at least its new to me. Full darkness, and I have to piss again! It’s pitch black and theres a little trail that heads to the water, I go in and water the plants again. Back on the path and I get to a circle. No, its not a circle its a dead end! Goddamnit! 2 miles of nothing for nothing. I guess thats why its new to me, I have no reason to go down dead ends. Up a “new” ramp to familiar ground; the Fort Washington Greenway, except that there are ZERO streetlamps, and I’m going towards the traffic on the Henry Hudson Parkway, so I can barely see shit thru the headlight glare. “What the fuck am I doing here?” I try to pedal harder to get out of it as quickly as I can but my legs dont have the gas. I drop down under the GWB and I finally have streetlamps, comfort zone.
The next ten miles took ten years, my feet started to get bad hotspots above the cleat and for the first time since the 14% Mt Airy rd I felt every pedal stroke. And there were a lot of them. “I need new shoes.” 6 months later I get to the ferry and I walk inside-nope. That door is tied shut with a plastic bag for whatever reason and I almost walked into it.
Inside I just stand there in the warmth for a couple minutes and eyeball some pizza. I walk over and order 2 slices. Oh, and a corn muffin too. After getting checked out by the 4 legged sniffer on the Manhattan side I sit down and revel in the relief of completion. I look at my garmin and it says 114 miles on top of the unknown distance I forgot to track at the beginning, nice. I inhale my food before the pizza could start to get cold and eat whatever else I have in my bag that’s edible.
Back on “the rock” and some guy recognizes me, I hear from behind me “Michael, is that you? With the beard!” “Who the fuck is this, i dont have the energy for this shit” I tell myself, I ignore it since I’m just too tired for conversation at this point. He sped up his walk and comes up next to me and asks me some shit about riding in the city and all the cars, the standard array of questions anyone that rides in NYC gets asked and has their predetermined answers to. I didn’t ask him where he knew me from, I didn’t have the energy to care. Theres still a mile to ride to the train station and 40 mins of riding the train before I’m actually home.
An hour later the train comes to my stop, a slew of costumed idiots that have no doubt “pre-gamed” on their way to the bar which has an annual Halloween costume party pour out of the car. I walk to the back stairs to avoid all of them. I just want to stop. I just want silence. I just want to shower and lay down. Make it stop. Another mile to my house and I’m finally done, I walk immediately to the shower and cleanse the dirt and gravel dust and thistles and thorns and dead bugs and sweat off of me and just stand in the boiling hot water for a good ten minutes.
The day replays in my mind, I didn’t bonk. There were awesome views, peak foliage, and incredible new trails. There were soul crushing climbs, unrideable hike a bikes, cold, wrong turns, darkness. Suddenly a grin washes over my face.
Type 2 fun : That which can be hell during, but after you’ve had a chance to recall the adventure as a whole you realize it was actually awesome.
An adventure is the sum of all its parts, both highs and lows, however extreme they may be. No adventure is complete without both.
Trader Joes Corn & Wheat Tortillas
Trader Joes Golden Berry Blend
1/4 of a jar of Biscoff Cookie Butter
Box of candy corn from my last order from Retrogression (they’re great peoples and they always put in some prizes like a big kids cereal box when I make them find me weird bike parts from all over the earth)
3x Caffeinated Gu Gels
1x Untapped Maple Syrup
2x Mustard packets for cramps (didnt need them)
2x Slices of pizza
1 Cup of coffee