|10-09-2010, 03:09 PM||#1|
Joined: Sep 2010
Location: South of the Great North Woods
Color In Catskills 2010, one man's report
Color in Catskills
October 02, 2010 turned out to be quite an interesting day.
It all started at five o'clock in the morning....
The cell phone vibrates under my pillow. Semi confused, I reach for it and shut it off. It's dark outside -- the night at this early morning hour retains its strong grip on the countryside. Pitch dark, unwelcoming.
Without turning the lights on, I slide off the bed and make my way to the kitchen. Bennett, my trusted companion for the past 9 years jumps off the sofa and runs to greet me, his tail wagging. I do my best to keep his excitement at bay, so as not to awake the rest of my family. Still in my sleeping pants, I step outside.
The chilly air slaps me in the face, brushing off whatever was left of my dreams. I step off the deck, Bennett already ahead of me, and light a cigarette. The first puffs send the nicotine racing through my veins. Awaken, and a little light-headed, I watch the dog pee. Then we head back inside.
Last night I prepared all my riding gear, a small sandwich, a bottle of water, and a Redbull downstairs. I grab my keys, cell phone, and a map, walk the dog back to his sofa, and quietly go down the stairs.
Within minutes, I am fully dressed and ready to leave. Outside, in front of the garage, the bike awaits me, its seat covered with a plastic bag. For the past two days, it's been raining non-stop, but today should be a nice day. I take the plastic off, wipe the seat down, and put my food, keys, camera, and cell phone in the saddlebags, before pushing the bike to the end of my driveway. There I hit the starter button.
The engine comes to life and the lights slice through the darkness. I mount up, shut my helmet shield, and kick in the first gear. Catskills, here I come.
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Encased by the impenetrable night, the road seems more twisty than usual. My senses heightened, eyes affixed on the white line, which separates me from the trees and ditches, I keep alert to avoid any wildlife trying to cross the road. This time of year, the turkeys and deer like to stand in the shadows and appear in front of you without warning. Route 119 winds over hilltops to Route 10 and, from there, into Massachusetts.
By the time I reach Greenfield, the weak morning sun does its best to destroy any remnants of the night. Still, the air is cold and fog lingers over grassy fields and meadows along the route. I pull over at a gas station, fill up, and push my bike to the side. While I’m enjoying a second cigarette, a middle-aged man in a gray BMW parks next to me. He goes inside the station, coming back with a steaming cup of coffee in his hand. Hmm…that sure looks good; but I have not the time to waste. If all goes well, I have three more hours on the road before I reach my destination.
As I’m finishing my smoke, he gets a cardboard box out of the car and starts going around the trashcans around the station. At first, it looks like he is looking where to throw it away, but he does not – instead, he starts rummaging through the trash and picking up empty soda cans, which he puts in his box. Strange, very strange. Here is a man who is obviously a well-to-do individual, and he spends his time going through the trash to gain a few cents for empty cans. The world never ceases to surprise me.
I put on my helmet, start the engine, and head out Route 2 towards the Mohawk Trail.
The sun is higher up now, but it’s still too weak to provide any warmth. Except a few morning commuters and two police cruisers coming in the opposite direction, the road is empty. I’m in Mass, so I have to watch my speed. Cruising a few miles above the posted speed, I make good time getting out of the residential areas and soon hit the Berkshires. Riding alongside the Cold River, the temperature drops down so much, that I no longer feel my fingers, this despite the fact that my heated grips are blasting at full capacity. Still, the road is beautiful, void of any traffic, and surrounded by colorful trees on both sides. I glide forward, one with the machine, one with the road – a man on a guest. Hitting a curve after curve, I let my instincts guide me, leaning left and right to change direction. This is what riding is all about – the perfect solitude, the perfect balance – the primeval connection to one’s surroundings that lives somewhere deeps inside us and comes out only much too seldom.
Just before North Adams, I come way too fast into a changing-radius curve and end up crossing the yellow line. Phew…I better slow down. Up ahead, at a rest stop, I notice a man standing next to his motorcycle. I pull over and take my helmet off.
“Where are you heading?” I ask.
“Where are you heading?” he responds with the same questions.
“I guess you could call it that.” He pauses. “Me too.” He grins.
“Henry,” I say and extend my hand to him.
“Single Bound.” He grabs my hand – a nice, sturdy grip.
“Do you mind if I smoke?”
He shakes his head. “I’m a puffer, too.”
We light up and I crack the can of Redbull. “Breakfast.”
“I just finished my second coffee.” He grins. “Now I’m looking for a place to dump it.” He walks behind some bushes to relieve himself.
We chat a few minutes, checking out each other’s bikes, and discussing possible routes. I finish my drink and mount up. We are off.
A quick pass through North Adams, then up over the hills and across to New York. Going down towards Rte 22 we hit the twisties, chasing tandem style down the mountainside. Aside from a group of confused turkeys, the road is empty, and we push hard forward. My goal is to get to Hunter Mountain by ten o’clock, so I can sign up for the ride to the top.
Merging on Rte 22 we continue pushing south. The sun is finally up, painting the countryside in orange hues. The leafs look amazing, the meadows glitter with dew. To the left, the Berkshires stand proud above the farm fields.
When we come to Rte 23 we have to stop for gas. Two bikers from NY notice that I have a NH plate, and ask me for some tips. They are off to NH for the weekend, White Mountains region. We chat a bit, which gives me time to finally eat my sandwich and hit the restroom.
After this much needed short break, we get back on and head on Rte 23 towards Catskills. From there, we take 23A to Hunter, not knowing what to expect. There were some reports the night before about the roads being washed out. We drive cautiously, hugging the curves as the road twists and winds up and down along creeks and ravines. Some cracked pavement here, a stream running across the road there – it keeps the travel interesting…it keeps me in check. The twisties are just calling for higher speed, for pushing the limit just a tad more; but I keep my cool and stay safe instead.
We reach Hunter Mountain around 10:30 am; too late to sign up for the first ride. The parking lot in front of the lodge is reserved for bikes, so we pull in, only to find out that hundreds of other bikers are already there.
I get off, stretch, and light a much-needed cigarette. Single Bound joins me on a short stroll along the parking lot and past the vendors’ tents. There is not much presence here, but that is probably due to the bad weather we had for the past few days. Still a few tents with merchandise are set up, offering some aftermarket accessories and riding gear. Further up, on a gravel lot, sits Max’s trailer. Max BMW is the company responsible for this fun weekend – they are offering demo rides, and guided rides to the top – kudos to their team for arranging this.
Both Single Bound and I sign up for the next available ride to the top, which is at one o’clock. After filling the entry forms and signing some legal jargon waivers, we are told to come back at one o’clock.
With not much else to be seen or do until then, we head for lunch. Behind the skiing lodge is a small area with benches and tables, with food vendors in between. In the back, a band plays Bavarian music of questionable quality. I buy a knockwurst with sauerkraut and a coke, then sit down to enjoy the first and only warm meal of the day, while Single Bound stuffs himself with potato salad and sausage.
We kill time by strolling around the parking lot and checking out bikes. There are people from all over the place: most of the North East states, but also New Jersey, and Ontario, Canada. I come across some interesting set-ups, check out few homemade modifications, and chat with fellow riders.
With one o’clock approaching, we get the bikes ready and ride over to Max’s tent. When we are all lined up, there are eleven riders at all going up at the same time. The guide, a grinning dude with fresh stitches on the side of his mouth, explains the rules and off we go.
This, being my second time riding on dirt in over 17 years, makes me a bit nervous. I don’t have exactly what you would call “dirt tires” and the bike is still fairly new to me – three weeks and 1,500 miles. But seeing that one rider is going up on his street Ducatti, with street tires and all, makes me feel foolish for doubting myself. We set off in one long line.
The ride to top is smooth, except when I hit the rubber anti-erosion strips that lay across the path every few yards. These make my front tire jump in all directions, but fail to bring me down. About three quarters of the way up we have to stop – some solo rider coming down lost his control and now stands by his bike, clutching the brakes to prevent it from falling down. Someone in our group slides off the path and ends up lying down sideways on the grass. Nevertheless, no one got hurt and, after a few guys help the stranded rider, we continue to the top.
The view up here is spectacular. By now, the clouds have burnt out and I can see for miles.
A few pictures, and we head back down.
The ride down is a completely different animal from the ride up. I’m going in first gear, feathering my rear brake, afraid of using my front brake. The big gravel makes for one steep slide should I lose control of the bike. The smell of burning pads enters my helmet – someone up front rides his brakes really hard. Nevertheless, we all make it down without an accident.
Time to hit the bathroom, refresh with a coffee, and head home. Pressed for time, I decline to participate in a three o’clock dirt ride, and scan the map for the fastest routes back east. Single Bound offers to ride with me, even though he needs to ride in a slightly different direction. I gladly accept – most of the time, I’m a solitary rider, and so this will make the travel back home more enjoyable. We decide on Rte 9W up towards Albany, and then hit 9 West across Vermont back to NH.
We reach Albany in about 30 minutes. Once there, however, the road signs leave much to be desired. 9W suddenly ends up in the middle of the city and it takes us over half an hour to escape the maze, only to end up near where we entered. This is my first time in Albany, and probably the last one. Maybe it is because the day, thus far, was spent riding picturesque countryside roads, maybe I wasn’t prepared for a city towards the end of the day – whatever it is, Albany strikes me as dirty, unwelcoming, shady. The whole purpose of taking 9W was to avoid highways and still make for a decent time, but now, after losing so much time in Albany, we have no choice but to hit the highway and head towards Troy, NY. Fortunately, it doesn’t take us long to get there.
In Troy, we stop for gas and a drink, smoke a cigarette, and look the map over as to what the best, fastest route home would be. Single Bound is heading to Massachusetts, whereas I need to get back to New Hampshire. We decide on VT 9 West, with Single Bound taking off about halfway to go south to Mass. Refreshed and stretched, we leave Troy, NY behind without any regrets.
The ride up to Bennigton, VT is uneventful and the scenery comes across as just more of what I saw earlier – farms, fields, and hills. Once we pass Bennigton, however, the road opens up, hugs the hills a little closer, and flows across the land. There are hardly any houses messing up the countryside, and at times, the views are just breathtaking. The sun in our backs warms me up without blocking visibility and the road is so smooth…just begging to be ridden. I open the throttle and set course. Single Bound follows a few yards behind me.
I feel like I’m flying, once again one with the machine, working the asphalt in unison. My mind is absolutely clear and the ride is so effortless – a serene moment in a man’s life.
However, nothing good lasts forever. Eventually we come to a construction zone and have to stop in line of one too many vehicles. I cut across as many as I can, with Single Bound, unwillingly, following in my tracks. Once we get past the construction, however, he takes me over and speeds away, his back painted by the sunset. I do my best to keep up, to keep sight of him before he turns off my route, so I can say good-bye. Yet, no matter what I do, he remains ahead of me. At one point, he passes a utility truck and disappears. In vain, I look for an opening to do the same, but the truck does not give way, the oncoming traffic thickens, and I’m stuck moving ever so slowly until I reach Brattleboro.
To my surprise, whom do I see at the first gas station but Single Bound. I pull over.
“Don’t say a fucking thing,” he utters as I take my helmet off.
I just grin and push my bike to the side, waiting for him to finish filling his tank. Still, when he pulls next to me, I give him shit, nonetheless.
“What happened,” I ask afterwards, “I thought you would be taking 8 south?”
“I just love this road,” he says, “it’s such a cool ride. I’ll take I-91 home.”
We chat for a few minutes while we smoke. Then, after a handshake, we part our separate ways.
By the time I make it home, the dusk settles. I pull into the garage, take my riding gear off, and go upstairs to my better half. I’ve been gone for 14 hours, rode almost 400 miles, and yet she understands. What more can a man ask for?
At night, as I tell her about my trip and my chance encounter, she says, “So, basically it’s like a one-night stand.”
I never thought of it that way, but so be it. A one night stand, only on a higher ground. A chance meeting, a short-lived connection with no strings attached. Two individuals, who will probably never see each other again, sharing the route and the experience which comes out of a quest for something out of the ordinary, united for one instant in space and time by passion for the open road. Nothing less and nothing more. After all, life is much simpler than what we make it to be.
|10-09-2010, 04:51 PM||#2|
Joined: Jan 2006
Location: Edison, NJ
Nice write up! I rode up too, coming from Jersey with the wife.
Not much to tell as we rode up through the NY thruway(87) and basically drank beer and stayed overnight in Tannersville which is the town next to Hunter. We got there later in the afternoon and just listened to bands, drank, ate, and rode the ski lift.
I did see riders going up the mountain from the ski lift. Really was terrific to hear the bikes as we rode on the lift. I thought there would be more vendors, especially since there seemed to be a great biker turn out.
|10-10-2010, 06:47 PM||#4|
Joined: Sep 2010
Location: South of the Great North Woods
Thanks for the kind words. I'm looking forward to next year...maybe staying overnight with some of this and hitting some local trails.
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