Here's a guest post from John Ferguson, a long-time Ride With GPS user, avid long-distance cyclist, and recent transplant from New York City to the Catskill Mountains.
Where can you get isolation, killer climbs, beautiful scenery, and polite drivers, all within a few hours of New York city? The answer, of course, is the Catskill Mountains, easily accessible by a short 1.5-hour train ride from Grand Central Station.
On September 17, 2012, I finally left New York City behind and moved to Olivebridge, New York, nestled neatly between the Catskills and the Shawangunk ridge. I had been riding up here for years, taking the train from Grand Central and then leaving from Poughkeepsie. I always had this notion that someday I’d live here. Well, now I’m here in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, and this is the view from my window.
Living in the city had its benefits and drawbacks. The benefit, of course, was that I always had someone to ride with. The drawbacks? I lived all the way downtown, so a trip out of the city involved 10 miles on the west side bike path, followed by the squeeze over the George Washington Bridge, and then miles of suburbia before getting to the good stuff. 9W, as always, was crowded with cyclists, and for good reason—it is the only decent way out of the city.
I’ve had a chance to ride most everywhere in the Tristate area and beyond, and—take it from me—the Catskills/Shawangunk area contains some of the best riding to be found in three states, and perhaps anywhere in the US. All of it accessible by train from New York City. I mean, where else within reasonable reach of the city are you going to get roads like this:
Or scenery like this:
And did I mention we’ve got miles and miles of gravel?
We’ve also got some of the steepest, longest climbs in 5 states. Legend has it that one, called Platte Clove Road, caused pros to get off their bikes and walk. I’m talking about extended 22% grades, and there are many more like it. The rewards for surviving these climbs are tremendous:
In terms of traffic, let me put it this way: I went for a 75-mile ride last weekend, and except for a brief 1-mile section on a busier road, I saw maybe 10 cars all day.
The only thing missing? My fellow cyclists.
In the roughly 7 months I’ve lived here, I’ve had only a few sightings of other cyclists. Part of that, perhaps, is because I ride throughout the winter, whereas most people have more sense and pack it in when the weather gets cold. Still, cyclists are few and far between. Being unfamiliar with the area, I used Ride With GPS to plot dozens of 50- to 100-mile routes, which I subsequently explored thoroughly. And since I created all those routes, I thought it would be a great thing to share.
That’s when I decided to start a blog. It’s called Riding the Catskills, and it can be found here. Its purpose is to provide guidance on the best rides in the Catskills and Shawangunk ridge region, including where to start, where to refill your water bottles and eat, and what to avoid, and it includes Ride With GPS routes to take some of the guesswork out of riding in a new area (although I’d encourage you to explore). I also talk about my bikes, post product reviews, and an occasional pet picture, although I try to limit the latter to the worst part of the winter when I’m stuck inside.
If you visit my blog, I’d recommend starting by clicking on the tag “Worth the Trip.” I’ve written up the eight biggest climbs in the Catskills here, again, complete with Ride With GPS routes. In addition, I’ve posted a spring route roundup here with multiple routes that range from easy, relatively flat 50-milers that can be completed even by inexperienced cyclists to 100-mile+ rides that will challenge even the most experienced. Of course, there’s much more beyond these few posts, including detailed ride reports and reviews. If you want to skip the reading and go right to the routes, my Ride With GPS routes are here. Using a Garmin—or at the very least a detailed cue sheet—is absolutely critical out here, as many of the best roads are unmarked.
If you’re a New York area rider, you owe it to yourself to skip 9W one weekend (or every weekend) and come out to Ulster county for a ride that will make the Bear Mountain run seem…well…kind of sad (trust me, I did it approximately one million times). It’s easy to get here by train, and when you look at it rationally, how many junk miles and how much time do you put in just getting out of suburbia? Take that time, grab your Garmin, ride to Grand Central, and get on a train!
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