Taste the Catskills 2019

a bikepacking adventure

April 19, 2019 – Coming this summer is a three day gravel ride through the Catskills. Slightly modified from what Ralph rode last year. No date yet, but thinking June. – Curt

The beginning of epic adventures is so small – casual words in passing or an idea that pops in your head … or in this case, posting a call for comrades on a social media site for bike rides. I’ve ridden several rides and events with Curt and Ralph so I know their style of riding, which made it easy to say YES to the invite.

Taste the Catskills is a 320-mile self-supported bikepacking route with over 22,000′ of climbing developed by local randonneur Ralph Pruitt. Ralph is known for seeking out every hill and every inch of dirt he can find. Deeming a route a “Ralph Ride” can only mean it’s stupid hard but incredibly fun and rewarding. It should be noted that Ralph previewed the route last year in one shot.

Logistics

Lodging. We stayed at Blue Hill Lodge & Cafe in Clarysville and Hammo’s Pub & Lodge in Hensonville. Having a room booked in advance gave us a pre-determined end point each day as well as a cool shower and comfortable bed.

Packing. With the daily distance, heat, and humidity – packing light and fast was paramount. If it wasn’t necessary for three days on the road, it didn’t come. Everything fit in my seatpost bag, half-frame bag, and handlebar bag. Also, “fast” is all relative as we were out for 10-13 hours each day.

For a full list of what was brought and what was purchased along the way, check the end of the blog post.

Training. I’m not a fan of formal training plans in the same way I am not a fan of riding on a trainer. My general plan is to figure out what I’m getting myself into and build up to something that’s a reasonable facsimile. 2019 has been a year of challenging rides, with most including around 100’/mi of climbing.

The climbing didn’t feel like an issue so much as I haven’t ridden a century in something like 4 or 5 years. Looking at the daily breakdown of the route (we were riding this over 3 days), there were lots of beastly hills in the back half of each day – pacing would be key to make it through each day.

Pics Because It Happened

Nerdy Details & Random Thoughts

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3

Day 1 – The Hardest Day.

It was super hot & muggy and not very shaded. Once we climbed out of Pawling, we cruised on the rail trail for 30 miles – so most of the climbing was concentrated into the back 55 miles. Once we left New Paltz, opportunities for refueling and refilling water from commercial outlets dropped dramatically. After climbing Mohonk and Peekamoose, we were pretty shredded. A 15-mile downhill awaited us, which was such a relief. But we were rapidly running out of water and we still had a crazy climb to get to our rest stop for the night. Only 1 of the three camp stores we tried was open. The final 5-mile climb was obscene in places and I’m not ashamed to say I hopped off my bike and pushed it in places.

We arrived at the Blue Hill Cafe to find the restaurant portion closed. All three of us were tired and hungry; the thought of choking down another ClifBar as dinner was nauseating. Fortunately, the owner was closing out her register and set us up with fresh homemade chicken salad sandwiches, pickles, chips, and beverages. The cafe wasn’t going to open before we needed to leave in the morning so we were able to grab delicious coffeecake to go.

We are absolutely exhausted here.

Day 2 – The Longest Day.

Coming off day 1 and seeing a forecast of even higher temps (near 90* F) and humidity paired with an additional 18 miles until our next overnight accommodations, we opted to leave earlier. Curt had to repair his front shifting cable so we ended up leaving only an hour earlier than Day 1. The morning chill was most welcome as we zoomed out of town and found our first good hill within a few miles. Today was Dirt Day and we knew there would be some formidable climbs in the latter half of the day. Dirt always takes a bit more energy than pavement but is generally mercifully shaded, which provides much needed respite from the sun.

Brunch was 45 miles into the day at a diner in Downsville where we gobbled up eggs and toast and homefries while draining glasses of lemonade as fast as the waitress could bring them. When asked where we were headed, we replied Windham … to which another patron exclaimed “That’s far!” About 75 miles far. Two women on motorcycles stopped me to ask about my bike setup … turns out one of them is planning a ride from Portland, OR to Denver, CO in September. She asked if I would be interested in that journey. I wish I could have said yes.

45 miles to breakfast

Leaving Downsville I noticed my rear tire had gone flat … not from the chunky dirt descent to NY30, but from a staple on the road in town. The guys had my tire changed before I could protest and say I could do it myself. Back on the road, we started the 10-mile climb to De Lancy that was happily mostly shaded. The same could not be said for the road between Delhi and Hobart, which was paved and radiant in the sun. It was so hot the tar was snapping under our tires. We ducked onto the rail trail but it was very slow going and overgrown. In the interest of time, we popped back out on the road into Stanford.

Maybe the best part of touring is ice cream stops. We were hot and sweaty and in need of inner cooling. A massive twist cone was just the ticket to keep moving. We’re at mile 82 with 36 hilly miles to go. By mile 101, we’re all cooked again and just want to get to our next overnight room but we have four more “bumps” to conquer before being rewarded with a 5-mile downhill into Windham. From Windham, it’s only another 3 miles to our room. We finally get cleaned up and head next door to Vesuvio Restaurant in Hensonville. We ate like royalty and after a long day, it felt good to put real food in the belly.

Why yes, I did pack a dress in case we had free time in the evenings.

Knowing our final day would be lower miles and lower climbing, we opted to see what time we woke up to determine when we would leave in the morning.

Day 3 – The Easy Day

We woke around 6:30am and headed down the street to Nana Gail’s for breakfast, filling our bellies once again with eggs and bread and bacon for the guys. The day was overcast with a 50% chance of thunderstorms so we made sure our rain gear was easily accessible should we find ourselves in a downpour. A short climb out of the Windham area gave way to an epic 15-mile descent back to the Hudson River. We crossed on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and made our way to Copake, where we would stop for lunch at Dad’s Diner. Our energy is high because we’re on our way home.

This is also the only day I beat the guys up any hills. It should be noted they both have McGuyver’d their gravel bikes to have a 40t or 42t granny gear on their cassette – so they were mostly spinning up the hills like it was Sunday. My granny gear is 34t on my cassette so Grind is my middle name.

If I ever find the funds to start building up a custom gravel bike, you can be sure mountain bike gearing with deep low gears will be top on my list.

After lunch the clouds had given way to brilliant sunshine so we made our way to the rail trail for some shaded goodness. The connection between the two segments from Copake to Millerton is still under construction so we headed onto the pavement. We stopped for cold snacks and water in Millerton before heading back to the cool and shady rail trail to Wassaic.

Sometime after Wassaic, we decided to skip the remaining bonkers hills in favor of an “easier” route to the end. It ended up being only 600′ less of climbing (over 20 miles) but the hills were more rolling than challenging. We’re tired, our bodies are protesting, and frankly this is the second or third day in a kit so it’s getting a bit … funky … around here.

Rolling up to our start location, we decided to get cleaned up and have one final meal together at the local pizza place to celebrate our incredible journey.

Packing & Gear

2015 Salsa Colossal Ti with SPD pedals and the following upgrades:

Revelate Designs Tangle frame bag

Revelate Designs Pika seatpost bag

BiKase Nav handlebar bag

  • Front and rear lights
  • Spare battery
  • Charge cables for phone and Garmin
  • Garmin w/course loaded
  • Fully charged cell phone
  • RoadID
  • Cash, ID, and Health Insurance card in a mini wallet
  • Sunglasses
  • Nuun electrolyte replacement tablets (1 tube)
  • ClifBloks x5
  • ClifBars x5
  • 2 20-oz water bottles
  • 2 17-oz Platypus bottles
  • Lightweight flip flops
  • Soft cup bra
  • Underwear x2
  • Travel dress
  • Shirt & shorts to sleep in
  • Mountain biking shoes w/SPD cleats
  • Helmet
  • Buff
  • Cycling Gloves
  • Rain jacket
  • Sun sleeves
  • Wind vest
  • Second kit (jersey, bra, socks, Pactimo bibs)
  • Tools & spare tube
  • Toiletries (travel shampoo, conditioner, face wash, toothpaste, q-tips, toothbrush, deodorant)
  • Sunscreen (zinc oxide lotion for face, small spray bottle for body, zinc oxide lip balm)
  • medications in a multi-day travel container

Tips for Adventuring by Bike

  • Start Small. My first bikepacking adventure was 15 miles to a campground for the weekend with a few friends. It was a game-changer.
  • Ride What You Got. I love my bike but it doesn’t take tires wider than 30mm. I ride the only gravel tire I’ve found sub-32mm. Sure, I can’t bomb down chunky descents and I have to pick my lines carefully, but I’ve become a skilled technical rider in the meantime.
  • Learn to Pace Yourself. There is nothing worse than bonking even a few miles from your final destination. Don’t dig yourself into a hole – be sure to eat and hydrate regularly. Take a look at the course so you have an idea of where the hardest parts are and don’t go for KOMs. You need energy for more than just today.
  • Learn to Eat & Drink On The Ride. “I can’t eat on rides.” You wouldn’t drive your car around on Empty, so why try to bike that way? It’s not a race – Don’t dig a hole you can’t climb out of. The way to do this is to eat something every 90min or so and sip your hydration beverage every few miles. Eat real food like trail mix, salted nuts, potato chips, pretzels … convenience stores are generally well-stocked with these foods. Some even have sandwich counters, which can save the day.
  • Be Clear & Copious. If your pee isn’t clear and copious, you aren’t hydrating enough. This isn’t always possible to achieve but it should be on your mind as an easy way to monitor your hydration levels.
  • Have Fun! The whole point of a bike adventure is to get away from it all and explore new places. Remind yourself that all you have to do today is ride your bike. And then go ride your bike.

Thank You to Ralph for creating an amazing route that showcased the hidden gems of the Catskills, to Curt for wanting to ride the route over 3 days, and to Yorktown Cycles for keeping my Salsa in top condition and for the excellent upgrade recommendations. The Nox wheels were clutch in keeping my energy transfer to the bike and not on rotational resistance. And to all my bike friends who have come out to ride bonkers events and routes with me in preparation for this adventure.

See you out there!

Bear Burritos Bikepacking 2016 Recap

Or, we need more Girls Camping Weekends in this world.

My friend Karen and I decided back in January to try out bikepacking – backpacking but with a bike instead of hiking. Having never done this before, we both got very excited about a plan to ride to three different state parks/forests in western Massachusetts, camping every night in a different park and biking all day.

The only weekend we had available was Memorial Day weekend and the state parks require a two-night stay so we altered our plans and decided to reserve an established campsite for two nights with all our gear attached to ourselves or our bikes for the weekend. We researched bikepacking, read a bajillion articles, and scoured the internet for tips and tricks. We texted and chatted and set up Google Spreadsheets to track our planning: routes, gear, food, apparel. We called businesses and town clerks to find a safe place to park our cars for the weekend in town. We did two dry runs – one driving and checking out the Forest and one to mostly load up and ride the full route to iron out any kinks and establish speed expectations.

And then – the weekend arrived. Dude, we are totally doing this!

We had the most amazing time!

Friday we met up in Lenox, Massachusetts, loaded up our bikes and daypacks, and departed on a hot and humid day for Beartown State Forest. We didn’t have far (about 15 miles) to go but the bulk of our elevation was in a 4-mile section up a mountain.

 

20160527_153724
we’re really doing this! 

20160527_160450
everything we need for a camping weekend

20160527_163336
next 4 miles … UP!

We made a No Guilt pact: no need to hang back for each other but definitely wait for each other at opportune moments. Spending 4+ miles on a 4% average grade is tough on an unloaded bike, much less with loaded bikes. No one was setting QOMs today but everyone was winning!

20160527_165528
finally in the Forest!

20160527_171750
past beaver ponds in a rare flat section

20160527_173655
These cute guys were EVERYWHERE on our final overgrown road descent into camp

20160527_174741
overgrown roads. we like those. 

We made it to camp and got to work setting everything up.

20160528_101119
hammock camping!

20160527_192826
took a dip in the pond to cool off; have to dry your bibs somehow

20160527_193033
Benedict Pond

20160527_201718
we ate like queens: chicken sausage with rice & beans

20160528_082728
good morning from my hammock! 

The next day Karen’s friend G joined us. She drove in and brought a cooler full of food and two mountain bikes! After a quick breakfast (coffee and instant oatmeal), we drove over to Kennedy Park to hit the trails together. Fun Fact: G was on a 29er, Karen on a 27.5, and I rode G’s old 26er GT. Survey says, 27.5 and 29ers are best for steamrolling pretty much everything in your path.

20160528_133325
mountain biking badasses (featuring great trail manners)

After a great ride in the woods, we adjourned to the Great Barrington CoOp for lunch and continued conversation. We were a bunch of Chatty Cathys.

20160528_173724
these guys kept Karen up at night

After G set up her tent, we hit the trails for a short hike around the pond.

20160528_175352

20160528_181012

20160528_181131

20160528_183810

Yes, it’s just that beautiful!

Set up another amazing fire (seriously, we had mad fire making skills this trip!) and once again, ate ourselves silly and went to bed too late.

20160528_200918
sun-dried tomato chicken sausage, couscous/quinoa/coconut milk/kale, and cheddar cheese

20160529_092658
hell yeah we had breakfast tacos this morning! eggs, cheese, avocado, rice & beans

Thanks to the cooler G brought, we had eggs for breakfast! Karen had bought her personal coffee blend and a french press so we stuffed ourselves for the day ahead. Super hot and humid again, we started pre-gaming with electrolyte beverages.

20160529_112103
packed up and headed home (so not ready!!)

Today was a slightly longer and mostly flat to downhill route back to our cars.

20160529_113932
Which way do we go??

20160529_113937
right … this way!

20160529_114812
the street dumps you here 

As we pedaled into Great Barrington, it started to rain which felt amazing. We kept pedaling along the Houstatonic River, through tiny towns and past quaint New England homes.

20160529_115800
pedaling along, enjoying the day

20160529_124841
Obligatory Rustic Barn Photo

The rain started and stopped a few times, each time feeling so refreshing from the  humidity. The final 5 miles of the trip back were uphill and we were racing a thunderstorm. We didn’t beat it and ended up getting soaked with less than a mile to go – but it was so delicious!

It’s hard to believe the weekend is over – it went by so fast! Being able to completely unplug and just flow with the vibe of the day was so revitalizing. We also learned so much from this experience and hope to do this again soon.

All in all, A+ Gold Star Will Do Again.

See you on the road!

 

 

For those interested:

My Gear

Salsa Colossal Ti, 53cm

Vittoria Cross XN Pro, 31mm

Revelate Designs Tangle framebag (small), Pika seatbag (small)

Osprey Daylite Plus 20litre Daypack (w/Hydrapak 1.5litre reservoir and Blaster bite valve)

Purist 20oz water bottle, Philly Bike Tours branded

ENO DoubleNest hammock, ProFly, Ember underquilt, and gear sling

GSI Outdoor Pinnacle Soloist cookset

Titanium spork

MSR PocketRocket (w/fuel)

 

My Clothing

on-bike:

2 pairs of bike shorts, jerseys, and socks

Sidi cycling shoes w/SPD cleats

Hoo Ha Ride Glide, individual packets

 

not on the bike:

1 pair of shorts (KUHL Splash 11″ shorts)

3 T shirts (various bike-related brands) <–walking billboard

3 pairs of Patagonia Active Hipster Briefs

Moving Comfort Uplift Crossback Sports Bra (seriously, the best ever. So comfy)

Flip flops for around the campsite (LL Bean)

Hiking boots (Columbia)

2 pair SmartWool socks

midweight SmartWool baselayers (for sleeping)

medications

bug spray, sunscreen, lip balm, basic toiletries

 

My Food (Schlepped)

We had way too much food. Karen brought most of the good stuff (2 packages of chicken sausage, rice and beans, Larabars) and G brought a cooler with beer/wine, juices, eggs, milk, the couscous/quinoa deliciousness, and coconut-date-truffle balls. We never got to the trail mix.

I brought the avocado, tortillas, small bottle of hot sauce, and a block of cheddar cheese. Some Kind bars and a packet of ramen noodles. Instant oatmeal packets. Stevia packets for my coffee.

 

If we were to do this again, possibly without the benefit of a cooler, we would definitely have more single-serve dehydrated food/meals and energy bars. There just isn’t a lot of space for bulky items like fresh fruits and veggies. But … having someone meet you with a cooler (or stashing one at the campsite in advance if you aren’t backcountry camping) opens up a world of great eating. Another option is to just eat in the little towns along the way or bike into town for more food. Lunch at the CoOp was smart and had air conditioning – so we could get out of the heat for a bit.

 

 

Adventure by Bike

In January, after over 5500 miles, I decided to sell my beloved Felt ZW5 and get a new bike. It wasn’t because I disliked the bike – I still loved it more than anything. As I entered into my fourth year of riding bikes with my friends, I realized I wanted to simplify as much as I could. Find the Swiss Army Knife of a bike that would allow me to keep up on group rides but also handle non-paved adventures that I tended to take my old bike on. Something that would still feel as good at mile 80 as it did at mile 5. Something that wasn’t carbon fiber – I wanted something sturdy and real.

So I started looking at steel touring bikes and found it’s somewhat difficult to find them in my size and ready to test ride. I tested a Trek 520, which was stable and light but lacked the “let’s go have fun today” zip I was looking for. I tested a Salsa Vaya, which also was stable but not quite FUN. I wanted to test the All City Space Horse but the nearest shop that stocked All City bikes was 90min away.

I get it … niche market and all.

I talked to the guys at the local chain bike shop and after lots of conversation they gave me an excellent recommendation (Raleigh Tamland 2) – in my pricepoint, steel, wide range cassette, accepted wider tires – but no way to test ride the bike. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put down a huge deposit on a bike that I wasn’t sure I wanted.

I also talked to the guys over at the local independent shop and looked at a lot of “adventure bikes” with them, including the new series from Niner. We talked extensively about the types of bike I was trying to find. I really liked the Salsa Vaya but it wasn’t zippy. I need a bike with spunk.

Enter the Salsa Colossal Ti. Everything I wanted – real metal frame, wider range cassette, disc brakes, Ultegra components, takes a tire wide enough for gravel to not feel super sketch. Definitely more than I budgeted – but I rationalized it with how amazing this bike was going to be in my mind because I couldn’t test ride it. The shop owner said he test rode one and it was Next Level riding. My bicycle friends all said the same – if you can swing the Ti, DO IT. You won’t regret it.

So I took their word for it and put down my entire bike budget as a deposit.

20160311_110406
meet Sia

I’m here to tell you this bike is the real deal.

When the Salsa marketing materials said “Works with you, not against you, when you are 45 miles from home” – they meant it. I had no idea my previous bikes – all of them – were actively conspiring against me – but they were. How many times have I felt like the bike was not moving forward and my legs screaming in a lactic acid bath?

Put a little more push into the pedals and the bike says YES PLEASE. The energy transfer is amazing. If you have gas in the tank, the bike is totally on board to keep going. Having a 30 (and 32 tooth) sprocket in the back has revolutionized my hill climbing – I was finally able to get up the local 100′-in-2/10-miles hill without walking. This bike eats up road noise like it’s candy – a silky smooth ride no matter what the conditions. The Ultegra groupset is crisp and quiet in its shifting. And the bike is so light – about as light as my carbon fiber bike was – but feels stable and sturdy. Indestructible.

If you have the means, I highly recommend titanium.

ItIsSoChoice

So my friend Karen and I are planning a bikepacking trip at the end of May and we did a mostly-loaded ride of the route into camp and then back to our cars. Even fully loaded the bike felt stable, nimble, and still climbed and descended with ease – even on a 3 mile 5% average climb up a mountain or a 16% grade down a loose, rocky abandoned road we navigated. All with minimal rider fatigue.

I swapped the stock Schwalbe One tires for Vittoria Cross XN Pro for this trip and had zero issues when we ducked off the pavement and onto grassy, mossy, overgrown rocky paths. Except for the rocks – let’s just say mountain biking in the 80s pre-suspension suuuuucked.

I also swapped the stock WTB Silverado Race saddle for a white Terry Butterfly Ti. Some of us need a wider saddle to keep downtown happy.

Side note: when riding around with camping gear loaded on the bike, it looks like you are on an epic adventure. Even if it’s just a dry run to shake out the kinks. It just FEELS cool to glide down the road, loaded up, enjoying sunshine, fresh air, and friendship.

20160416_144632
one of the abandoned roads led us here

Take-aways here:

  1. Show some love to your local independent bike shop (what’s up Yorktown Cycles!)
  2. Be honest about what you want from a bike and take the time to learn what you want
  3. Adventuring by bike – especially with friends – is where the magic happens

See you on the road!