Backyard Paradise

Yesterday my older son volunteered at the New York Air Show, which took place at an airport about an hour and a half north of the city. It was an all-day commitment for him, which left me with two options: stand around a field eating corn dogs for eight hours, or take a bike with me and go for a ride while he was doing his thing. Ultimately I opted for the latter.

There’s some very good riding up that way, including lots of gravel at Mohonk and Minnewaska State Park preserves–which I’d never ridden, though it’s possible I passed through when I did a so-called “Rapha Gentlemen’s Race” up there in 2009, I can’t remember. Regardless, I rarely have an excuse to travel 90 miles from home just to ride a bicycle, so now that I finally did I figured I’d bring a state-of-the-art gravel bike with me and make the most of it:

As you can see, I’ve rid the Eye of the Tiger bike of some of its recently-acquired commuting accoutrements. However, I did leave the fenders on there, since it’s been pretty wet recently. This turned out to be a good decision, for while things were mostly dry I was able to ride though the occasional mud puddle without sullying the fancy Pearl Izumi gravel biking suit they sent me not too long ago:

The ensemble was also a good choice, since not only does it kinda-sorta match with the bike, but I also remained fairly comfortable despite the high humidity. My high-tech cycling footwear also allowed me to take the occasional foot bath, which was particularly helpful in that regard:

As I mentioned, I hadn’t really ridden in either of these preserves before, so I stole a route off Ride with GPS and used that. Had I been wearing any socks the landscape would have knocked them off immediately, because after just a few miles I was looking at this:

It’s a testament to the beauty of this view that I was able to overcome my own vertigo and walk out onto that thing:

It costs $20 to access the Mohonk Preserve, and I hoped very much that this goes towards regular gazebo structural inspections–though I suspect the vultures were hoping exactly the opposite:

This was the second time in as many days I’d found myself in a vertiginous vantage point, as the day before I’d been sitting in the very last row of the grandstand at Yankee Stadium:

Obviously you’d rather sit closer (and you could have, they were practically giving tickets away for this game, but we were there with a school group and that’s where our seats were), but at the same time the game takes on another dimension when it’s framed not only with the entirety of the stadium but also by the cityscape surrounding it.

So as I sat there in the rustic Seussian gazebo thingy, not only did I realize my weekend was basically one big New York State tourism commercial, but I also kept thinking about how one vista was entirely manmade and beautiful as a feat of human endeavor, whereas the other was beautiful precisely because humans have mostly kept their hands off of it:

A place for everything and everything in its place, or something.

I’d only just started my ride, and I wasn’t sure how much more beauty I could handle, yet bravely I pressed on:

Past the waterfalls:

And the glacial lakes:

The carriage roads were mostly smooth and well-groomed, with the occasional rocky or rooty sections to keep things interesting. This trail around Lake Awosting in Minnewaska State Park was the the narrowest I encountered, at least on my route:

And the one that would cause the most consternation to anyone on narrow tires:

I’ve ridden in some pretty amazing places, and I daresay this little chunk of New York State is right up there with any of them:

I was right in my own backyard (well, maybe 90 miles away isn’t quite your own backyard, more like a neighbor’s yard), though it still felt exotic, and I had that same elated “I can’t believe I’m riding here!” feeling I’ve gotten in much more rarefied corners of the world like the Swiss Alps or Tuscany:

Though I will admit I did feel the lack of any Erik Zabels and/or shopping carts rather acutely:

The Eye of the Tiger Bike as configured was also absolutely perfect for this outing, and I wouldn’t have changed a single thing:

Well, maybe a kickstand would have come in handy, but that’s a minor detail:

There was the small matter of my nutbag, though:

Scared you, didn’t I?

No, the reason I mention my nutbag is that I’m still trying to figure out the whole point of bib shorts with pockets on the side. As far as I can tell, apart from the graphic design, the only thing that makes the clothes I was wearing “gravel specific” is the fact that the shorts have pockets. But why? Determined to find a use for them, at one point I stuffed my nutbag in there:

It wasn’t uncomfortable, but I couldn’t get past the fact that my thighs looked like the full cheeks of a chipmunk:

So I put them back in my saddlebag. I guess if you can’t afford to stop before eating (like in a race or something) you’d be happy for the side pockets, and I guess it’s probably easier to use those than it is to use jersey pockets, especially when you’re on rough terrain. Also, in my racing days I used to stick gel packets in the leg band of my shorts for the same reason. So, like so many other things in cycling, I guess they do make perfect sense, but are simply not relevant to slow, aging people like me who would rather stop and eat than look even sillier than they already do.

Speaking of chipmunks, bears are much bigger than they are:

When I first caught sight of that bear ambling along the carriage road I stopped and it turned around and stared at me for awhile. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there until it eventually sauntered off again. Then I waited until I could no longer see it anymore, at which point I continued on my way, ringing my bike bell stupidly like a Lycra-clad leper.

Here’s dramatic video in which, if you either zoom in or squint, you can kinda see the bear:

As you can see I’m lucky to be alive. Ironically there were probably any number of insects and arachnids (not to mention all the flora I seem to be allergic to these days) lurking unseen in the immediate vicinity that posed a much greater danger to my person than a lethargic bear in a state park looking for a quiet place to take a dump, but still, when you see a bear, it’s hard not to think, “Uh-oh, is that a fucking bear?”

But yes, the ride was absolutely fantastic, and I also realized something about technology:

Some people say the biggest advance in bikes has been integrated shifting, or disc brakes, or dropper posts, or carbon fiber. Mostly I could take it or leave it. As far as I’m concerned, by far the biggest advance is the bike computer, which will now allow even an idiot like me to upload a route and follow it through a completely unfamiliar area. Whether you do that on a 34-year-old relic or the latest S-Wanks wonder bike, that’s pretty amazing. Speaking of which, I noticed this as I was taking the picture:

I considered taking it and trying to find its rightful owner via this blog, but I figured it was better to leave it in situ. So if you lost a Garmin, uh…there it is.

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