Last fall, I thought it'd be fun to ride from my brother's place in Brooklyn to my parents house in Connecticut. It was around 80 miles and I did it and I was relatively pleased with myself for accomplishing this feat. I'd like to do it again some time. Or maybe go in reverse. I don't know. In the course of my visiting my hometown with a bike, I took some time to ride around some of the roads and hills in the north side of town and thought they'd make a fun place for a more extended ride. So that's what this was- a chance to come back to town and get in some hilly riding on some dirt roads in the midst of the changing leaves of a Connecticut fall.
I have a system for getting my bike here and it's pretty cheap. Not as cheap as riding it the whole way from DC, but still not so bad. I take a Vamoose bus ($40/roundtrip, bike travels at no additional cost) from Rosslyn to Penn Station, then ride from Penn Station to Grand Central. I bought a roundtrip off-peak ticket for Metro North (and for $5 a lifetime bicycle pass, which is now a treasured possession) for $33 ($28 for the tickets) and I got off at Brewster station. I changed into my bike clothes there (which I was wearing underneath my normal people clothes), swapped out my Vans for the bike shoes I had in my Carradice, and then rode the 25 miles from Brewster to my parents house. I did parts of this ride last year, but took a slightly modified route this time to avoid some of the hillier parts. I used the Pocket Earth app offline map for navigation (following a route that I had downloaded previously) and stuck to mostly backroads where I could and made it in about an hour and a half.
I rode the Mr. Pink with Clement MSO tires. Steel frame plus fast, but traction-y, tires is sort of the super best ideal combo for this, though it did feel a little sluggish on the paved parts. Though, admittedly, that might have just been me. Anyway, I love my Mr. Pink so, so, so, so much and this trip really confirmed that it was an amazing choice for a new bike. If I was to get another bike, I might want it to be an All City.
The plan for my big ride was to follow someone's previously mapped metric century (downloaded from RideWithGPS and displayed on Pocket Earth). What I wanted in a route was a good of hills (because hills are fun?) and more unpaved surfaces than not. This route provided both and fairly early on. I won't bore you with the exact details of the roads I took, but there was a lot of up and down and a lot of dirt and dust and gravel and very, very few cars. It gets pretty quiet back in the woods around these parts and there are lots of 'scenic roads,' which means they are dirt and they aren't plowed in winter. There are some horse farms and more than a few decrepit barns (which is not to say that they're unused) and then there are big houses that were either built in the 18th, 19th or 20th century by people who thought that living in the middle of nowhere would be better than living somewhere closer to stuff. I rode through just one or two town centers (town center consisting of a Main Street that might or might not be bisected by two other streets named Church and perhaps Maple) and through a state park named Macedonia. I never had to walk up any hills, but I more than once thought about it. I wore gloves and this saved my wrists from jarring effects of hours on gravel. The bike excelled in the varied terrain and I'm quite confident that it saved my life on an extremely perilous descent over which I found out later wasn't actually a road. The problem with relying on routes downloaded from the internet is that you don't really know if the guy who made it was crazy. Moreover, when roads are maintained for winter and when you're in the countryside where no one really lives anyway, there's no real guarantee that a surface that seemed passable two years ago in spring would be tolerable now.
I went down North Kent Road fast. At first it was fun, but when I realized my momentum was such that my brakes could only hope to slow me by half but not fully, I wondered if I should panic. The problem with the road wasn't so much the grade- it was a 10-13% decline, which is manageable generally- but that the road wasn't a road and whatever it was, it was covered in leaves so I couldn't see what I was about to ride over. In many cases, what I rode over were rocks and what weren't rocks were holes where rocks used to be. It was a craggy, uneven surface on a hill where I couldn't stop and couldn't see what was beneath my tires and had I given myself over to any thought other than 'stay loose and get out of the way of anything you can't get over,' I think the panic would have surely resulted in my crashing and that would have had more than a break-even chance of resulting in potentially serious injury. I only skidded hard on leaves once or twice, but stayed up. I missed a few of the bigger rocks by an inch and as far as the potholes went, the bike managed to see me through them. I'm not the most confident descender in the best of cases and I didn't really have much of a choice here, and while it might generally sound fun to careen down the side of a hill in only the scantest control of your bike and body, I can assure you in this case that it wasn't. It was the scariest thing I've ever done on a bike and I'm grateful that I made it through in one piece.
Over the course of the ride, I lost a water bottle. It ejected somewhere. I bought it last week, for the purposes of this ride, but now it belongs to the woods. The very kind people at WTF Kits are sending me a replacement gratis because they are good people. The water bottle is labeled Whiskey and I have a feeling that someone is going to be pretty pissed at this when he finds it roadside and discovered the liquid therein has been considerably mislabeled.
I ate beef jerky and gatorade for lunch. I snacked on some gross glucose snack things I got from a tent that REI set up along the Anacostia. I also enjoyed a muffin and iced coffee before the last 15 miles back into town.
I'm not sure I enjoy riding longish distances by myself. The solitude doesn't really overcome me, but I do get bored and having other people around is a nice distraction from dull pain in your legs or listening to your own breathing. I think if I were to do this again, and I want to, I'd like to go with someone else. It's nice country and the roads really are good if you're into dirt and gravel and hills and deciduous trees doing their thing. Plus, I'm sure my parents would let you sleep on the couch. I haven't asked them, but they're pretty nice so it's probably cool.
Route here: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/17145625. Sorry no Strava. For once, I actually really regret not using it because I think I went at least 50mph once and I'm sorry I didn't capture that.
|Bike, fence, hills, trees|
|bike at rest. not pictured: me at rest. I made a wrong turn, climbed a hill I didn't need to climb and then stopped because I was knackered. That's when I realized I made a wrong turn.|
|I regret not taking a picture of the horse farm here, which has a statue of a horse covered in gleaming stainless steel plates.|
|Sample dirt road through woods|
|More dirt road, more woods|
|Did I mention the roads weren't paved?|
|This is pretty emblematic of the whole area. If you ever want to ride up here, I'm game. It'll be fun.|