Day Five: East Greenbush, NY (60.6 miles)
I left this morning to a pleasant surprise: the weather was not nearly as warm as it had been–and the humidity was greatly reduced. In fact, at certain points on the ride, under partly cloudy skies, headed downhill, it was even a little… chilly. I wasn’t complaining. After the heat of Monday and Tuesday, the humidity of Wednesday, and the bright sun of Thursday, I didn’t mind this at all. It was nice being able to make stops along the way for a snack or lunch without dripping with sweat.
My route was entirely along the Hudson River. (The map of the route can be seen at http://www.mapmyride.com/ride/united-states/ny/-kingston/140128054085782750) So, let me say something about the Hudson: I love this river. For years, before I owned a car, I used to take the train to Albany from Washington. The ride between D.C. and New York is okay, but the ride between New York and Albany is fantastic. It has been voted one of America’s most scenic train rides. And the reason the ride is so great is the Hudson River Valley. The ride today took me through a number of very nice Hudson River towns, Saugerties, Catskill, Hudson, and Castleton-on-Hudson, but the constant throughout was the Hudson River Valley.
What makes this valley so striking is not simply the broad expanses of the river, which are beautiful, but the presence of the mountains to either side. On the west side, the Catskill mountains stand like a sentinel guarding the valley as rolling hills mark the eastern reaches. In towns like Saugerties and Catskill, the mountains form an ever present sight on the horizon. Below are two shots of Saugerties and the country north of Saugerties.
I crossed the Hudson at Catskill taking the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. It’s a mile-long combined bridge crossing the river that I’d seen many times from the train. It has a nice sidewalk path along the south side, which, unfortunately, is closed to bicycles. I had hoped to ride across this path and take a picture of the river from the middle. Alas. Fortunately, the shoulder was generous and the crossing was easy.
Traveling up the east side of the river, I was continually treated to spectacular views of the Catskills on the western side and the relatively flat ride along Routes 9 and then 9J. Again, I know I am biased, but it was hard for me not to feel that the scenery on this leg of the trip was the most beautiful. I kept stopping to take pictures of the vista.
I was really enjoying the ride, but in spite of the lower temperatures and humidity, my strength was waning. This entire trip had been a long ride and my legs were pretty much complaining the second half of the ride. Fortunately, as the road stayed close to the river, it was relatively flat, with occasional uphills, but just as many downhills. The Amtrak trains passed by every once in a while and I would wave, remembering the many times I’d been a passenger aboard. Then suddenly, I noticed the bike was not responding properly and I realized the front tire was under inflated. As it had been filled up on Thursday morning at the bike shop in Matamoras, I knew that this was not simply a tire that had been ridden on for a while. This was a puncture.
Well, I was prepared. A few weeks ago, the bike tech at The Bike Shop in DC had given me pretty explicit directions as to how to patch a tube. I’d had moderate success in the past with the instant patches, but had now been shown how to use the better kind of patch. And so, I took the wheel off, removed the tire and tube, found both the puncture in the tube and the offending piece of metal in the tire itself, scuffed the tube up good with a piece of sandpaper, applied the vulcanizing fluid, applied the patch, put the tube and tire back on, reinflated the tire, and was done. It took a few minutes to do, but I was not in any great hurry. My legs were getting a nice rest and the weather was beautiful. And I happened to stop at the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve. Now, I’ve long known that the Hudson is an estuary—a river that flows in and out with the tide, like the Potomac—but never in my life had I ever encountered the word “estuarine”. I wouldn’t have imagined that estuary had an adjective of its own. The tire now repaired I pressed onward.
Now, when I was a kid, I used to go biking with my best friends George and Gene all the time. We’d bike to Albany a lot, once to Vermont, and once way out past Schenectady to visit our 8th Grade teacher, Mr. Peck. And from all those bike rides as a kid came this very important piece of information: there is no way to get into Rensselaer County from the river without going up a massive hill. And so, I knew that in spite of the gentle and relatively flat ride for the bulk of the day, a killer hill was awaiting me.
Oh, man were those hills brutal, mostly because they came in the last 5 miles of a 60 mile ride. But I was too close now. I had to muscle through it and eventually climbed up to the 500 foot height at the top of the hills. And finally, at quarter after 5 p.m. I rolled into my father’s driveway completing this 362 mile trek.
It was an amazing ride. What takes about 7 hours by car took me five days. And in that expanded time, I saw the countryside in a way not usually possible from a vehicle. I learned which state has the most courteous drivers with regard to cyclists. I saw urban landscapes, both wealthy and poor. I saw Amish farmsteads and rust belt cities, still reeling from the decline of the steel towns. There were scenic river byways and impressive mountainsides. Old colonial towns and expansive river crossings.
I learned a lot, too, but not just about Pennsylvania steel, the healing powers of bananas, the locations of Dutch reformed churches, or a region of New York with a long history of Indian attacks. What I learned was that this was something I was actually capable of. When I set out to do this, I wondered if it were something I was actually able to do. Most of my friends thought I was nuts (some still do). Others who had themselves done this kind of thing (that’s you, Amy Ellen and Laura) provided me with the hope that this was something feasible and within my reach.
And now as I sit here on my dad’s couch, writing this, I can barely believe that I have actually done it. Biked 362 miles in 5 days, traveled from below the Mason-Dixon Line to the upper Hudson River Valley. It still hasn’t really sunk in. Maybe when I re-read this blog or look at the pictures. Or more likely when I feel the ache in my muscles.
But it’s done and now begins a week of relaxation and visiting with family and friends. And a year to try to think of what I’ll try next year.