Sunday, August 17, 2008

News from the North, pt. 4: What have I gotten myself into?

There are a few common signs that your ride has gone on longer than planned: you run out of food or water, you use all of your spare tubes and have to start patching, cramps infect your legs, your over-pumped hands loose the ability to hold the bar, or -- and most dangerously -- your nips get chafed. This last is no joking matter, however laughable it may be: once those tender bits of flesh start to feel like Andre the Giant is having at them with 50-grit sandpaper, your fun on two wheels is over. On what I think was some sort of initiation ride devised by the guys in Albany, we experienced all of the above.

It started out innocently enough: Brian, my tour guide from the SMBA trails, suggested a longer ride for this past Saturday, one that linked up the two nearby trail systems of Grafton Lakes and Pittstown State Parks. Both parks are located just east of Albany, over the Hudson River in a rural area nestled among some decent hills. One park (Grafton) is located several hundred feet uphill the other, and the plan was for us to ride the Grafton trail system, bomb down hill the Pittstown, work our way through those trails, and then enjoy a leisurely -- if uphill -- ride up a fireroad and back to the cars for some frosty beverages.

The best laid plans...

Brian had a map complete with a highlighted route and trail notes that spoke of both authority and knowledge on the subject. Dan and Gary -- the other two in our quartet -- were a little leery of all that was sketched out, but a quick check of the (did I mention impressive?) map and we were on our way.

I was once again thrilled by the trails: with more elevation change than the SMBA trails, but with more interesting features than those I found at Thatcher State Park, both the Grafton and the Pittstown trails were a blast. The terrain was great, as we rolled though a series of thickly-wooded hills, around several small glacial ponds, and up and down rocky, undulating hills. The loamy trails went from moist, to wet, to soaked, to the point were we were essentially riding in a stream, but this seems to be the norm in the area, as without the clay that makes the Triangle trails so susceptible to damage, this singletrack bounces back much more quickly.

Another factor in the trails' resiliency has to be the fact that there are simply fewer riders in the area. While a typical Saturday at Beaverdam could see a packed parking lot and more lycra-clad nignogs than a Poison reunion concert, we didn't see another rider the whole day. There were a couple of fresh fat-tired tracks on the trails, but other than a couple of hikers we had the trails to ourselves. Not bad, especially considering that we were only 30 minutes or so outside of Albany.

But remember Brian's map, and our best laid plans? Yeah, about that...

We were hoping for a three- to four-hour ride (the ubiquitous 'three hour tour'): something long enough to loosen the muscles, but short enough to allow for some riding on Sunday. The problems began to arise as we hit the trail from Grafton down to Pittstown. This was supposed to be a fire road, but daaayuuum: as far as I could tell it was just a place where the giants (that ruled the land before people arrived) had collected rocks and placed them into a long uphill trench for some humanity-torturing purpose I can only begin to fathom. I mean, I guess you could drive on it -- thus giving it 'road' status -- but the idea of heading up that in anything less than a Hummer is hard to imagine.

That said, it was a blast to ride: high-speed, rock-strewn (from the pesky giants), drop of something around 1000 ft in just a couple of miles. The Ferrous went from hill-climbing diva to descent-eating monster, with the big wheels and the Reba just eating things up. (Or so I'm saying: with no witnesses I can cloak my downhill ineptitude in the fiction of my unobserved skill.) This was easily the fastest, most technical descent I'd been on, and by the end -- and after several close calls where I saw my life flash before my eyes... or at least my teeth -- I was in love with the road, rock-collecting giants or not.

This is when I got my first sign that our day might have taken a turn for the worse: as I approached the end of road, I came upon Brian spread out on the trail, deep ruts around him, a dazed look on his face, and his bike pointing the wrong way back up the trail. Whenever the locals on their long-travel bikes (and their all-important map!) go down, you know you're in trouble. Even worse, when you ask anyone if they're OK, and they look at you in a bit of confusion, and then answer 'I don't know,' things could get hairy.

Luckily, while Brian was pretty beat up (his back made him look like he'd developed a sudden S&M fetish and made quite the night of it), both he and his bike were in one piece and he insisted on continuing. It took him a few minutes to get his bearings back, but by the time he'd correctly identified a 1982 Dodge Omni in the distance (without reference to the crappy-american-cars-of-the-80s field guide) we knew he was going to be OK.

The next few miles were a bit of a comedy of errors: first Brian and Dan were attacked by bees (causing me to get "Bee[t]s. Bears. Battlestar Gallactica" in my head), then Brian got one flat, then another, then there were chainsuck issues, and before we knew it the watch on Gary's arm said 5:3o: we'd been out for four hours, and we were miles away from the cars, not to mention a thousand feet lower than where we needed to be. Moreover, I'd eaten all my food (actually, for some reason I did this before we were two hours into the ride), we were all bleeding a little bit, and we wanted to get home, pronto.

This is the point were questionable judgement came into play. While the original plan was for us to go up the trail that we'd come down (and where Brian had wrecked), popular consensus held that most of that was unrideable in the other direction, and that we'd be pushing most of the way up. There was a plan floated for us to try a much longer gravel road ride up the hill, but this was nixed with the following logic: "ya know, if we're going to be pushing anyway, we might as well take the shortest, most direct route, thus minimizing our pushing." It doesn't take a genius to see that this would also mean that we'd be headed back the steepest route, one even steeper than we'd come down. (Like I said, it made sense at the time.)

However, if route one was made by rock-hoarding giants, then route two was created by an evil sorcerer, who bewitched the rocks to march into one long line heading directly up the mountain in an unbroken stream of boulders, then sent an actual stream cascading down it. As some sort of silly joke, someone then labeled this as a 'trail' on the map, and the hilarity ensued.

By hilarity, of course, I mean nipple-chafing hell. I'm not the worst climber in the world, but I was probably on my bike for a total of 200 yards on our two-and-a-half mile hike up to the cars. Luckily, my feet -- clad in always-comfortable, carbon-soled shoes -- didn't hurt, as I was much more focused on the nipular region. At some point things just got funny, such that I began imagining how I'd think back on the occasion, rather than what I thought about the moment in the moment, some sort of weird present-thinking-into-the-future-to-imagine-the-present-as-past that made things more bearable.

Eventually we summited (and yes, I do think that word is appropriate), and it only took us a few minutes to get down to the cars. I bypassed the cars for a quick dip in the lake, bike-n-all, in an attempt to get some of the mud off me and to pretty-up the Ferrous. At this point the crew looked pretty shell-shocked, and three hours had stretched into five-and-a-half, and we'd traveled something like 43 or 48 or 75 or 900 miles on and off the bikes: I mean, we'd basically ridden to the moon and back, all uphill.

I'd be certain that this was some sort of Yankee initiation ritual, a make-the-southern-boy-pay stunt, if the others hadn't looked in a similar state to me. And to be honest it was a great ride: long, hard miles on great trails, with only relatively minor mechanicals and one serious fall. Moreover, the beer tasted all the better at the end of the day, and as sore as I am today I'm glad that I got out for as long as I did yesterday, and even more pleased that such lengthy trails are so close to Albany, and that I had such great guides for the area. It's not enough to make me quit missing the Triangle, but it is enough to make me very happy with Albany.

A few pics of the day:

And a quick video of Brian working his way up one of many short climbs:

I hope NC is treating everyone well and that the Fool's Gold fools come back from the battle unscathed.

Edit, 8/19: As it turns out, the spill that Brian took on our screaming downhill did end up doing some permanent damage, specifically an "avulsion fracture of the humerus." I don't know what that is, but it doesn't sound good. Here's hoping he heals quickly!


Anonymous said...

Nice reading, I envy the epic-ness.

DukePirate said...

Thanks! Yes, it's exciting that there is such a rugged network of trails within a short drive of my front door. Next time -- and there will be a next time, I'm convinced -- I'll be a little better prepared.

Brian said...

What? Mentioning the Omni without so much a word of the ten gallon cowboy hat?!? :)

DukePirate said...

How could I? Yes, this moment was pretty priceless:

We're sitting on the side of the road taking a food break and letting Brian check to make sure he still has all his marbles after his fall. Suddenly he says, "OK, I think I'm alright, and I'll tell you how: that's a 1982 Dodge Omni coming our way." Understand we're pretty far back on an unimproved gravel road, and the car is still a hundred yards off. I'm not bad at IDing the lower side of the American car spectrum myself, but I need another minute or two to catch up. The four of us then proceeded to swap Omni stories (yes, there were multiple), eventually deciding that Brian was OK, as evidenced by his grasp of the Chrysler corporation's finer products.

It was only then, well after the happy driver passed, that we took the time to mention that our smiling friend was cruising down the rutted road sporting a full ten gallons of Texas-sized hat, the kind of headwear that would have been much happier riding along in a F-350 turbodiesel. Undaunted, Mr. Omni rolled it on, off to rustled some cattle, poke some doggies, or whatnot.


Brian said...

Now that's what I'm talking about!!
F'ing hilarious!

I've gots to get me one of those....

DukePirate said...

"Sometimes, late at night, when the wind blows just right, you can still hear the Omni cowboy, alone on the range, whistling his lonesome song..."

co2cycle said...

Rock-hoarding giants? Sounds like upstate NY is more Dungeons and Dragons/less Battlestar Galactica. Actually, if you check Andre the Giant's outfit, the uni-strap unitard is specifically designed to prevent nipple chaffage. said...

i like dodge omnis.....they make great rally cars. wow.....epic indeed. that is crazy. andre the giant sure was mean to put all of those boulders in place.

glad you have found a crew to ride with.......however there is a big big furry hole missing in our crew......

ewwwww. that sounded really gross.

felonious said...

Oh, northeast riding at its finest. Mud! Roots! Rocks! Hills! Beautiful. Enjoy it all, Pirate.

jean said...

The ride sounds really great and of fun. Hope could do something simliar one day. Would you kindly refer your tour guide to We would like to have professional tour guides for travelers around the world.

Thanks and best wishes.

Brian said...

If your guest travelers enjoy broken bones, bee stings, flat tires, head scratching climbs, mechanical problems, old maps with questionable high-light markings, and being served beer micro brewed deep in the Vemont Northwoods.....then I'm your man.
My salary requirement is $100,000 annually (U.S.D.), and I'll need better insurance than what I currently have. Oh, and a Smart car. And some crackers.
I can start in 8 weeks.

DukePirate said...

Jean, I'll serve as Brian's recommendation and witness: the kid knows his stuff and his guidance was worth every penny I paid him. Sweartagawd.