There are two fundamental tenets I keep in mind while on my bike:
- Any ride worth riding will include a non-trivial amount of suckiness
- Plan carefully, but also be prepared to change plans on the spot
Last weekend’s out and back ride to the Delaware Water Gap was a perfect meditation on these tenets. The ride laid before us intense trials and tribulations both mental and physical, and some seriously amazing bike riding.
Friday morning I commuted to work on my AWOL with gear and supplies for the weekend. After work I met up with new riding buddy Matt, on the west side. We proceeded to the evening’s destination: Beaver Pond in Harriman State Park.
Just a quick little jaunt to get out of the city, and into the woods. The ride up went smoothly. Just as we started climbing the summit in the final two miles, I hear grinding gears behind me and Matt tells me (while trying not to fall off his bike) that he has a mechanical. When shifting to the end of his cassette for the climb, his chain jumped the spoke side and had become firmly lodged between the cassette and the spokes. We must have spent at least five minutes tugging at the chain with all our strength, trying to dislodge it, to no avail. We just couldn’t get enough leverage on it, and I thought to myself… “if only we had some kind of tool that would interlock with the chain and allow us to get a better grip”… and then I laughed out loud as I realized the chainring was just that tool. We were able to easily dislodge the chain by getting the wheel into position, holding it in place, and then mashing down the pedal as hard as we could. Problem solved. We suffer through the climb, arrive at Beaver Pond, and set up camp.
Matt brought a rad lightweight hammock and rain fly setup. I had my usual Tarptent. After establishing camp we feast on the dinner we brought with us: baked sweet potato, turkey sandwich, and some beers (carb loading, naturally). Beaver Pond was pretty packed. I think it may be the last time I stay at there, as it tends to be full of glampers and their cars, loud music, and other accoutrement. It’ll be back country or stealth camping next time for sure, or maybe one of the leantos around the lake.
Start: midtown Manhattan
End: Beaver Pond
Distance: 41.7 miles
Elevation gain: 3,272 ft
The next morning while Matt was getting some water I snapped some photos of his ride: a totally gorgeous and very photogenic All City Space Horse. Up front: a Surly rack carrying two Ortlieb frontrollers, and a basket for an old old camera bag held down by a bungee mesh. 32mm Panaracer Gravel King tires, and gearing that will make your skin crawl: 52-42 up front, 28-11 in the back. Not remotely built for climbing, but Matt was able to hang.
With a chill in the air, we set out on our way through Harriman State Park for our date with destiny.
Destiny it seems had plans we were not made privy to. Only two miles into the ride, blissfully carving through the rolling and curving descents, doing a comfortable 25 Mph, I go over a bump and suddenly see my right pannier become partially detached and swing away from my front wheel. Time slows down as I see my pannier swing back towards my wheel. I think about how I haven’t crashed in two years. I think about how much it hurts to be hurled against pavement at full speed. I think: “well this is going to suck, but here we go”.
The pannier swings back and takes out my front wheel. A tumbling mess of bike and body goes down the hill. I skid across the pavement. I come to a stop and the rush of adrenaline makes me feel like I am going to throw up. Everything hurts. I try and lift myself up and find I can’t stand up. All I can do is crawl to the side of the road, out harm’s way. As I hear Matt approach, I yell “I’m OK! I’m OK!”.
Matt wisely collects my bike and gets everything out of the road. I feel a sharp pinch and realize that in my adrenaline and shock fueled haze, I crawled right into the one and only briar by the side of the road. Great. After a minute or two, enough shock and adrenaline has drained from my body that I am able to stand up very carefully and slowly. I feel like a newborn deer trying to walk for the first time.
Although I lost a fair amount of skin on my knee, elsewhere I have very little road rash. My lower back however is screaming. I take off my helmet and find a crack. A rider we passed a mile back comes along and helps out with the bike. He points out that my right brake lever is way off kilter, and holds the bike steady as I pull up the hood, loosen, and straighten it out. Matt then points out the derailleur. The hanger is bent to all hell. The derailleur is nearly stuck in the spokes, and if I were to shift to an easier gear, it certainly will be. While Matt holds the bike steady, I manage to bend the hanger back enough that I regain use of the smallest five gears of the cassette. So, the bike is rideable, but limited to in the five hardest gears.
No crash is going to deter me from our planned adventure, however, we have nearly 7,000 feet of climbing ahead of us, most of which will be impossible with my newly limited gear range. Thus we set course for a bike shop in Oakland, NJ, only an hour off course. Hopefully they will be able to replace my trashed hanger. Onward.
Nothing lifts the spirits quite like a mountain bike trail.
Unfortunately most of the riding to Oakland was on busy roads.
At least the view was pretty. An hour later we hit Oakland, and make our way to Pedal Sports bike shop. Can’t say enough nice things about this shop - they immediately worked on the bike and had it ready in less than fifteen minutes.
We take lunch at Oakland Pizzeria - reeeeeeeeally good pizza.
We get back on the road, meeting back up with our route, which eventually took us up Bearfort Mountain ridge. This climb was a good measure of how much fitness I had gained over this season. I had done the climb earlier in the season, and today it felt just about the same as it did then – despite the fact that I was riding a heavier bike, hauling 32 lbs of dead weight.
Utopia deli is at the very top of the climb – good place to re-up on liquids and snacks. We proceeded to take a meandering path through some little lake-side communities, and Wawayanda State Park.
At first, Wawayanda State Park narrowed down to single lane paved road through the woods – no cars.
This eventually gave way to a raaaaad trail: Laurel Pond Trail, and Cherry Lane rd. What began as a simple dirt road, quickly turned into full-on MTB trail – technical steep climbs and descents with lots of baby heads, loose gravel, ruts in the trail, etc.
I was having too much fun ripping the trail to get a photo of the parts that were the most challenging. I was very glad to be running my 29ers. Even with 32s, Matt had to walk a few sections.
Happy and exhausted – nothing like some technical trails to make 2 miles seem as hard as 20 on the road. The very end of the trail spilled out into a residential area.
We proceeded on, making our way to High Point State Park. A descent down Breakneck Rd absolutely lives up to its name: about 1 mile of steady -12%. The turns are gradual – no switchbacks – you could easily do 50-60 Mph. Considering my crash earlier in the morning, I opted for a cautious and pokey 30 mph. We continued on our way, with about 15 miles until our next milestone: High Point State Park. On the way, sprinkle in a few more climbs, and conversation with some goats…
Eventually were greeted with this view:
A perfect scan of all of the hills we had left to climb. High Point State Park was great respite, offering 4 miles of car-free single lane paved road through the woods, the latter half of which was downhill.
We made our way to Montague, which was the last “town” before entering the Delaware Water Gap. On the way we saw a herd of at least 20 deer running across a field – something I’ve never seen, despite having grown up in the country. That was pretty special.
Needing to re-up on food supplies, and seeing that Montague had no stores, so we trekked across the Delaware River to Milford, PA (first time crossing the Pennsylvania border by bike!) and high-tailed it to a luxurious Key Foods.
We backtracked to Montague, entered the Delaware Water Gap, and found a suitable spot to set up camp.
Home sweet home! Not long after setting up camp we were greeted by a stranger named Jim. It just so happens that we set up camp at the exact spot that he comes to almost nightly to have a cigarette and watch the stars. We chatted with Jim for a bit, and he gave us some tips (i.e. there are definitely bears in the area), and then just as quickly as he appeared he disappeared. We both cleaned up a bit, changed into civilian clothes, and feasted on our key foods bounty, while discussing the day’s adventures.
Blood, sweat, and dirt. It was a tough but awesome day of riding. I slept great with one big exception. That night for maybe the 4th or 5th time in my life I experienced sleep paralysis. If you aren’t familiar with the condition, it is essentially the experience of waking up, finding one’s self completely paralyzed, and is usually associated with some kind of frightening hallucination – usually involving a visit from some kind of demon or creature.
I woke up to the sound of someone opening my tent, and found that I was completely paralyzed. The person, or thing/creature came in the tent and sat on my chest. As is the usual experience, I couldn’t scream or move.
Eventually I was able to slowly force my arm up and try to push them off. That snapped me out of it, and I realized that it was just a sleep paralysis hallucination. What a day.
Start: Beaver Pond
End: Somewhere in the Delaware Water Gap
Distance: 98.2 mi
Elevation gain: 6,192 ft
In the morning I donned some clean kit, and we prepared a breakfast of coffee and oats.
I was ready for the day with a wide variety of snacks.
Onward! We began the day by riding 25 miles through the Delaware Water Gap. If you have never explored this area, man, you are missing out. For 25 miles we saw maybe two cars, and were treated to a mixture of road, gravel, and dirt. Scattered throughout the DWG are all kinds of abandoned barns and houses. Later in the day we met a park ranger who explained that in the mid 60’s there was a plan to build a dam and flood the entire area in order to create a lake. It was deemed a national park, and homes in the flood zone were taken through eminent domain. Some particularly historic structures were relocated, many of them to Millbrook Village, a small area at the intersection of Old Mine Rd and Millbrook - Flatbrook rd, founded in 1832.
It just so happened that we stumbled upon this little village on “Millbrook Day” – a festival where once a year locals dress in period clothing, and do things rad things like churning butter. Unfortunately we had so many miles to cover that we couldn’t afford to dilly dally with the butter churning.
Getting out of the river valley was serious work. There were two difficult climbs we would have to tackle just to leave the Delaware Water Gap. If the first climb was brutal, the second climb was purely sadistic.
If you look carefully you’ll see that Matt is pushing his bike up the hill. At this point I had also dismounted and was pushing my bike — even with my 38/42 gearing – the climb was simply too long and consistently steep for me to haul all that weight up the hill. We’re talking 1 mile of steady 12% gradient.
As usual though, our suffering was rewarded with gorgeous views of the bucolic New Jersey countryside. Miles later we stopped at a horse farm for a leisurely (read: not on the bike, sitting down at a table) lunch of sandwiches we had made the night before.
Cool tip: horses don’t like bikes. It was a good thing we had stocked up on water the night before, as the first refuel opportunity we found wasn’t until after lunch, 40 miles into the ride. Between the two brutal climbs at the start, and the constant up and down of the rollers, Matt wasn’t feeling too good and was starting to wonder if he would need to bail out once we got to parts of Jersey serviced by New Jersey Transit.
We stocked up on liquids, and soldiered on.
I have had great luck with simply allowing RWGPS to sort out the finer points of my planned routes — for example here it gave us a little shortcut down two miles of single track in the woods. Yes! It wasn’t too long though before we encountered a total fail on the route. We had just left Lake Hopatcong, and were 55 miles in. We start up a climb, and when we get to the top were greeted with a closed road, a huge gate, and a sign that read Picatinny Aresenal. The route had tried to send us into a military base. We consulted the map and found that the only way around it would be 20 miles of what was essentially highway riding.
Luckily though, the shoulder was enormous, and we reaped the benefits of riding on what is of course a more carefully engineered road – one that craves through a far amount of the topography so as to be more efficient for cars. On the highway we were able to maintain a 22mph average. The view wasn’t too bad either.
As we were leaving Glen Rock, we cut through a park and took the Saddle River Pathway for a few miles. We met some super tame deer who we had to ask to move.
Night began to fall as we left this bike path and entered Hackensack. We made our way to Ft Lee where we weaseled through the traffic trying to get to the bridge, and finally, finally, saw the light at the end of the tunnel as our shimmering city greeted us on our way across the George Washington Bridge. Holy hell did it feel good to see New York.
We hammered it home to Brooklyn where we said our fond farewells.
Start: Delaware Water Gap
Distance: 124.6 mi
Elevation gain: 5,719 ft
Until next time… may your wheels stay rubber side down, and your slumber be free of paralysis or hallucinations.