Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Down and Dirty

In our efforts to find quiet roads with few cars and pleasant scenery, we often look to Putnam County. This little block of country 30 miles from NYC has been developing slowly and still has many, long dirt roads. Taking a road bike on hard packed dirt is acceptable for short distances and when there is not much elevation. But, Putnam is full of ridges and valleys. We had led a few rides and gotten some complaints about the dirt and hills. So, we figured we would lead a ride that was mostly dirt and hills and see who was man enough to ride with us.

Some time ago, I had gotten a cute pink pannier on sale from Nashbar and I wanted to get a bike to go with it. I wanted a bike I could ride down to the market, to the river for a picnic, and most importantly, a bike I could use to do the D2R2 I was going to get a Windsor from Bikes Direct, but due to my impulsive tendencies, I wound up with a cross bike from my local bike shop. (I was just going in for some cleats, but this bike grabbed me and would not let go until I took her home.) Dirty Lil came just in time for the Down and Dirty Putnam ride last Sunday. Victor and I had been planning to do it on our tandem. Good thing we didn’t, because I think we would have killed ourselves.

If you have been reading my adventures, you will know that I relish challenge. You will remember that I have done many, very long, very difficult rides. I want to tell you that this ride is right up there vying for first place as the hardest ride I have ever done. So, you know what I’m talking about.

It was only 39 miles, but almost half was dirt. Now, riding on dirt, especially with fat tires is not a big deal. But, when that dirt climbs for miles up hills with 20% grades, it’s a big deal. Some folks call it a death ride. The NYCC folks call it that actually. Michael, Steve, Neile and Mordecai came up on the train from NY to share our adventure. Pat, Frank, Getz, Bob and Victor showed up from WCC. Debbie and I were the only women. The day was gloriously sunny with temperatures mild in the 50’s.
We started off from the train station in Cold Spring and trekked down to the foundry ruins for some sight seeing. The ride started off easy enough, but soon the dirt climbs began and we broke into two groups. Neile had a bad cycling accident several years ago and must ride a recumbent, so he is a bit slower on the climbs. Deb has been recovering from Lyme disease, so the two of them rode together in the back. Victor and Mordecai were pushing the pace, and I had some idea of what lay ahead, so I hung on the back and tried to conserve. The fun really began as we descended down the steep and windy Sunken Mine Road. We crossed the Appalachian trail, as we would do several more times that day. The dirt was loose and gravely, so the riding was highly technical. Pat was bombing down at an alarming speed. I was just trying to keep upright. We all managed to make it down and headed for our rest stop at Niese’s Maple Farm.

After some hot cider, coffee and donuts, we headed out for the second half. The first killer climb was just an appetizer, as it was paved. The steep decent caused Pat to overheat his rim and his tube popped at the bottom. I took the opportunity to head out while the others waited for him to fix it. I made a turn onto Long Hill Road and saw a wall of dirt leading up into the woods. I dropped into my lowest gear and hunkered down for the climb. The thing about climbing on dirt is that you can’t stand up. You have to hold your weight evenly over the bike. You have to use your core to keep you steady, while your upper body remains loose, to respond to bumps and turns. The climb went on for miles. There were several spots with over 20% grade, including one hairpin turn that featured ruts full of running water and mud. You can’t hesitate for a second under such conditions or you will go down. I really didn’t want the guys to find me lying in the ditch, so I just kept pushing.

I heard heavy breathing behind me as I reached the first summit. Victor blasted past. Then, at the top, I turned to see Mordecai right behind me. Thankfully, the road became paved for the decent and we bombed down to the bottom. Victor pointed the way and while he waited for the others to catch up, I continued on up the next ridge as it turned to dirt again. This climb was similar to the last, but even longer. An interesting thing happened as I neared the top. A part of my mind separated from my body and rose to a place just above, and slightly to the right. I could see myself, and the woods and the stones on the ground and the sunlight and the sky and everything all at the same time. I couldn’t feel the pain in my legs anymore, or the tightness in my lungs, but only a feeling of profound, peaceful joy.
The rest of the ride was pretty much all downhill. As Dirty Lil and I flew down from the ridge tops, I could feel the warm sun on my face and all I could do was smile. We did another little ride on some dirt through the woods back to Cold Spring. I let the others ride ahead, as I just wanted to savor the last bit of the ride. I pulled up next to the car and told Victor, “I want a burger and a beer, and not necessarily in that order!” Our friend Kas had seen us riding and pulled in to say hi. We were wondering about the progress of Neile and Deb, so Kas, Victor and I found an outdoor cafĂ© by the main road to have some chow and wait to see them ride by. Sure enough, before we had finished our beer they came riding up. We greeted them with shouts and smiles, but all Deb could say was, “I hate you, I hate you!” But we knew she really meant, “Thank you, it was a great ride, and I am looking forward to doing it next year.” That did come, but it took a few days to translate.

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