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Ride Report: Westchester Trifecta 2017

30 June 2017 No Comment

Words by Joseph Tutt
Photos by Daniel & Cee

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The summer solstice brings the longest day of the year and an unquenchable desire to squeeze in every pedal stroke possible. #ChasingThatSummerSun. For NYCMTB, that means the Westchester Trifecta. It’s a nearly 100 mile mountain bike ride where we hit three of our favorite NYC area trails (Blue Mountain, Graham Hills, and Sprain Ridge) and link them together with as much dirt and trail as we can find. If we’re lucky, we make it back to Manhattan while there is daylight. It’s unadulterated fun in a perverse kind of way–14 hours of heat, humidity, and perseverance. What follows is a log of the day’s events.

Getting there

6:00AM – Roll out. It’s raining. Hard. Before the real ride begins, I ride to Grand Central to catch the first train out to Poughkeepsie. Not normally a part of the trip to document, but the rain is heavy and constant. The storm is some band of moisture spit from Tropical Storm Cindy arriving just in time to sully the start of festivities.

6:30: As I ride through the streets of Manhattan in a driving rain, I am soaked and chilly, despite it being June. These are so-called garbage miles if there ever were any. Before arriving at Grand Central, I buy an egg sandwich and the largest coffee possible in anticipation of the long, cold train ride.

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6:43: The other brave riders assemble at Grand Central. There are only 5 bold enough to attempt this year’s ride– Daniel, Cee, Sean, Matt and myself. Between competition from a healthy schedule of racing and the lousy weather, the turnout is respectable. Last year, over 15 were brave enough to attempt the trek. We board. Normally, Saturday morning trains in the summer are packed with hikers, antique seekers, and other urbanites desperate to flee the city and enjoy the tranquil Hudson Valley. Today we practically have the train to ourselves. Each bike gets its own seat. The train rolls out. The AC is blasting. We all shiver. I gulp my coffee.

7:30: The driving rain continues on the other side of the train’s window. I can barely even see the Hudson. Rivers of water run off the roof and across the window as the train heads north. Banter on the train is light. We’re all still cold, but excited for the journey ahead.

7:55: Miraculously, the rain has stopped. Dark clouds loom overhead and large blobs of mist float through the peaks and valleys near Peekskill. We all check our phones and play amateur meteorologist to see if our luck with the rain gods will hold or if it’s only a temporary respite before resuming punishment. Sean, who has never done the Trifecta before and is attempting the ride on a fat bike, asks where the hardest climb of the day will be. Everyone demurs. If you look at the course profile, the single largest climb is immediate as you climb up Old Albany Post Road from the train station. The first 6 miles are all up, climbing 1100 feet at an average grade of 3.5%. However, there are stretches of 10% and up to 20%. It’s not exactly the Tourmalet and you have fresh legs and boundless optimism. We settle on Long Hill Road as likely being hardest (a 2 mile climb with short stretches over 15% that happens right in the middle of the day). We don’t elaborate on the hundreds of small sharp pitches of trail and road that will methodically grind your legs to a searing, cramping halt at some indeterminate point later in the day.

8:05: We disembark from the train to a muggy platform. The rain gods have shown mercy. We gather for a photo on the platform before throwing a leg over the saddle and turning over the cranks towards the adventure ahead.

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The Ride

Mile 1: We leave the town of Cold Spring. 1 down, 99 to go. The chill of the train’s AC has left. The caffeine of the coffee has kicked in. The joy of spinning pedals takes hold.

Mile 2: We make a right turn onto Indian Brook Road. We leave the pavement and enjoy dirt for the first time of the day. The road, though it could probably use a new name, is a delightful stretch of rolling gravel, picturesque farm houses and babbling brooks.

Mile 3: We cross underneath the bridge that carries route 9 overhead. The bridge is held up by enormous red trusses that are anchored to huge slabs of concrete jutting out of the steep rocky cliffs. It soars impressively above. The road turns noticeably upward for the first time here. Conversation in the group slows as everyone makes their way from one easier gear to the next, eventually settling and spinning up the road.

Mile 4: We make a right onto Albany post road, which turns upward sharply. The road is narrow and we have to find purchase in the loose, gravely gutter as a car passes us going down. The sun comes out and the heat and humidity is immediately felt. I rethink my choice of Long Hill road.

Mile 5: The uphill slog continues. A quaint farmhouse on the right looks straight from Amityville Horror. We pedal onward.

Mile 6: We reach the top of Old Albany Post Road. We wait for everyone to regroup. I open a roll of dried figs and snack in earnest knowing no amount of food today will be enough and a vigilant offensive will have to be waged against the bonk. After we regroup, we point our wheels down the road and joyfully descend much of the elevation we just grudgingly climbed up.

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Mile 7: The roller coaster down continues unabated. To the right, we whizz by a 17th century postal marker declaring 56 miles to New York. If only we were so lucky.

Mile 8: I misjudge a sharp turn in the road. A lot of brake and an awkwardly wide turn keep me on and the slope of the road quickly returns me to speed.

Mile 9: A brief respite in the mad dash down allows time to stuff another handful of figs into my mouth. I savor their slowly changing flavor as they re-hydrate and work methodically to bite off the smallest portion around the stem possible before discarding it. It’s the advanced version of walking-and-chewing-gum.

Mile 10: We leave the quaint Old Albany Post Road for the pavement The road quickly turns up as we must pay a bit back to the hill gods for the last three miles of unadulterated joy.

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Mile 11: We run into an unplanned detour. Normally a rolling descent into the town of Peekskill has now turned into a short climb up a small residential street. At one point, unsure of our direction, we stop to consult our phones, but a nice man, confused by the spandexed mountain bikers stopped in front of his home, offers direction and points us on our way.

Mile 12: We have returned to a road I recognize and continue on towards Peekskill.

Mile 13: We climb up past an on-ramp to the Bear Mountain Parkway, staring down exiting drivers and sprinting through the gap in traffic.

Mile 14: We reach the town of Peekskill, rolling past families out to pick up Saturday morning groceries and coffee. Some stare as a small peleton of mountain bikes roll through.

Mile 15: We reach our first true test of the day–Blue Mountain. Blue is one my favorite places to ride. It’s nearly 1,600 acres and over 20 miles of trail offer an endless amount of challenges and fun. Today, we’ll cover 14 miles of trail and 1,500 feet of climbing. It will also be the most technically challenging riding of the day. Andrew, the owner of NYC Velo joins us for our lap in Blue bringing our group to six.

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Mile 16: We enter the singletrack on Dickey Brook Trail. The rocks and roots are still slippery from all the rain and the trails are a bit greasy, but we see no mud or standing water. The climb up Dickey Brook is deceivingly tricky. The rocks are all loose and the grade is just steep enough where making the wrong line choice compounds itself quickly. My choice to go to the far right and ride a rock outcropping is a bad one, as I am quickly ricocheted all the way left and zapped of any momentum necessary to correct. A foot down quickly turns into a small hike.

Mile 17: Dickey Brook turns into Ned’s Left Lung. I don’t know who Ned is, but I’m sympathetic to his lung, as this trail is a steep fire road covered in loose boulders. I again choose my line poorly and am bounced off the trail and into the woods. I hear a loud crash behind me as Matt also choose poorly and loses traction on the wet rocks. He is unharmed. The climb continues, trading surer footing for even steeper climbing. Ned’s Left Lung turns into Stinger, steeper yet and no traction is to be found on the wet rocks and roots. A short hike is again required. I am also miserably hot and totally drenched thanks to the humidity.

Mile 18: Stinger offers sections of rolling, flowing trail; steep and punchy ups and downs; playgrounds of rock outcroppings; and no rest what so ever. My legs still feel fresh, so I spare little and give it a full effort.

Mile 19: We turn on to Monster, an appropriately named trail. Monster is 3 miles long and the most technically challenging trail on the course. The first mile is nearly all uphill in steep, punchy, rocky sections. The entrance to Monster requires you to ride over another deceptively tricky rock outcropping similar to Dickey Brook. All six of us charge it head on and choose different lines. None are successful. Shortly after we find another rock outcropping that’s too tempting for three of us to pass up. Cee conquers it easily. I charge twice and can’t get my weight positioned correctly while crossing a gap in the rocks and have to put a foot down both times. Andrew conquers it but burps his rear tire rolling off the back side.

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Mile 20: Between the humidity and perhaps overzealous riding on Stinger and Monster, I am starting to feel the burning sensation in my legs that I know means I need to slow down and eat more if I’m going to survive. The onslaught of Monster continues, a tree root on a steep, rocky section takes down Cee and Andrew has to stop to put some air back in his tire after the burp. We all continue on, spirits still high.

Mile 21: We approach the end of Monster. Sean mistakes the end of Monster for the end of our time in Blue. We assure him much trail is still ahead.

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Mile 22: We turn onto Dr. Jekyll. I am now feeling the toll from both Monster and the heat. I am starting to dream of our first food stop. Jekyll is mostly winding and flowy, but has enough punch and grade to stealthily drain your energy. I am still pushing the pedals with enthusiasm but have reached the point where each time the trail turns up I grumble and I can’t maintain pace with some of the faster riders in the group.

Mile 23: Between Jekyll’s quiet campaign against me and unrelenting humidity my mood is deteriorating. I am fixated on our first food stop, which is near. While going over a rock outcropping I’ve cleared dozens of times, I lose my nerve and bail for no good reason. Annoyed, I assuage myself–there is lots of trail left, so there is no need to worry about not clearing everything–and continue on.

Mile 24: Jekyll’s campaign against me continues. It winds and winds and I feel like I’ve passed this same tree 4 times now. I keep failing to find traction and having to dab over features and rocks that are rarely troublesome when dry or ridden with confidence.

Mile 25: Our first food stop of the day arrives. A red bull, fresh water, four granola bars, and a surprise Gatorade flavor lift my spirits dramatically. Kiwi Pineapple is way better than Lemon-Lime. Our group loses two members, as Matt and Andrew leave to tend to familial and professional responsibilities, respectively. We are all jealous of Matt who buys a tall boy for the train ride back to the city. We all jokingly contemplate doing the same, though each of us is sincere with temptation. Blue Mountain beckons and we comply.

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Mile 26: The spring that was back in my stroke quickly dissipates as the heaviness of food in my stomach and the not-meaningfully-remedied tiredness in my legs makes the climb up Middle Stinger a real slog. It’s grassy switchbacks up a treeless pipeline add a searing heat to boot. Daniel rides ahead to try and get photos of everyone crossing a rocky stream, but none of us are able to clear the bank on the other side. I think the photos will still look cool though. #Priorities.

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Mile 27: We finish the climb up Middle Stinger and head over for the final, but easiest, section of trail in Blue. However, no luck is to be had and Daniel crashes hard on the fire road climb right after Middle Stinger. Unable to unclip on a steep pitch, he falls directly into a jutting rock and lands hard on his left shoulder and ribs. The cleat on his shoe is broken. He assures us he didn’t break a rib and that he can continue. After a few futile attempts to fix the cleat, and a chance to catch his breath, we press on.

Mile 28: The sound of gunfire fills the air as we approach the Blue Mountain shooting range. Though harmless, it’s unpleasant nonetheless. Despite only having 1 functional pedal, Daniel continues to set a high pace off the front of the group.

Mile 29: We have completed our time in Blue Mountain. The hardest single track of the day is behind us, and we now turn our focus to covering some miles. We enter the Briarcliff-Peekskill trailway and the pace edges upward.

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Mile 30: Though less challenging than blue, the Trailway is not easy. What I assumed would be speedy fire road is in fact punchy and rocky in places and offers no rest. I snack on a granola bar and gulp water from my Camelbak.

Mile 31: We pull off the trailway and onto Colbough Pond road. The pond–boggy, shady, and fern-filled–sits off to our right. After a short incline, the road points downward and a long descent finally offers a chance to rest and recover.

Mile 32: The road continues to point downward as we approach the Croton Dam. I enjoy the coasting, occasional shade, and try to keep eating and drinking.

Mile 33: We ride across the Croton Dam. The water gushes over the top from the night’s heavy rains. A white mist rises from cascading torrent below. A serene, glassy lake sits behind it. It is #picturesqueasfuck.

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Mile 34: Everyone and their dog is out today enjoying the Croton Aqueduct trail. The dog traffic is at times difficult to navigate, as suburban dogs are generally poorly behaved and unable to contain themselves around cyclists.

Mile 35: The dog traffic has abated. Anticipation of lunch and the trails at Graham hills, as well as the gentle downward slope of the Aqueduct have pushed the pace up.

Mile 36: The Croton Aqueduct cuts underneath a large General Electric campus and an Interstate highway. The detour around is actually the trail’s most challenging part. A fun descent with loose rocks and sharp turns along the GE’s fence line is quickly followed by a 2 block long but painfully steep road climb and and then an even steeper climb on the trail. I barely make it a fourth of the way up the latter part before losing momentum and hoping off. Sean barrels up the trail behind and charges the climb. We all stare in disbelief and cheer wildly as none of us have ever seen this cleared. No one else dares try.

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Mile 37: We pass the sign for the Ossining town line. Lunch is near. Conversation continues to focus on the Sean’s slaying of the Aqueduct. The prowess and capabilities of his fat bike starts to reach mythic levels.

Mile 38: For lunch, I buy a turkey sandwich, watermelon , and a red bull. I don’t like turkey sandwiches, but in the middle of rides, I am too hungry and impatient to read a menu or think about what to order. I can’t help myself and devour the watermelon first. Subsequently I hate turkey sandwich even more. I contemplate buying more watermelon but my stomach is now brimming. Sean brought sunscreen, allowing me to avoid the additional pain of severe sunburns this evening. He also offers up chain lube, which I decline.

Mile 39: Traffic in Ossining is awful. The four of us wait with a woman trying to cross the road to get back onto the Aqueduct trail. Motorists on one side of the street keep sort of playing Good Samaritan– they slow down, but quickly abandon and speed up once they realize the motorists on the other side of the street aren’t cooperating. We eventually cross, but it’s neither pretty or safe. We all scurry back to the tranquility and quiet of the trail.

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Mile 40: We reach the previously balleyhooed Long Hill Road. My stomach is full from lunch and the full power of the midday sun is bearing down upon us. The first quarter of a mile is the worst and the pitch hits 22% at one point. This is harder than Old Albany Post Road.

Mile 41: The grade has relaxed, but the hot, sticky pavement still knaws at my thighs as we slowly conquer more of Long Hill Road. The gods of sensible bike proportions now punish Sean for the hubris of his fat tires.

Mile 42: We re-group at Turtle Road, which is the top of the climb and quickly descend to the other side. I again misjudge a sharp turn and have to will myself to stay inside the yellow line with lots of braking and a really weird line.

Mile 43: We hop onto the South County Trailway, a paved rail trail, that will get us nearly to Graham Hills, our second destination for the day. We pass an unfortunate roadie who is walking his bike back to a parking lot up the road, either unable or incapable of fixing his flat. We should offer help, but ride on, justifying our abdication of courtesy by our race against the sun and the fact that none of us have compatible tubes. Also, we’ve all been that guy before and are pretty sure he will survive.

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Mile 44: We enter Graham Hills State Park where we are greeted by Roger, a local legend of sorts whose high spirits and generosity is the most welcome interruption on the ride. Still smarting from Long Hill Road, Sean doesn’t take Roger’s generosity kindly. He argues with Roger about his preferred flavor of free Nuun sports drink and herbal supplements that Roger offered. After topping off water bottles and jabbering on long enough to give our legs a chance at a fresh wind, we head up the trail for two laps up and down Graham.

Mile 45: Excited to be off the road and back in the woods, we put on a pretty good pace and reach the top of Graham after snaking our way up the blue, white and yellow blazed switchbacks. All of the trails in Graham converge on one spot at the top of a hill. Outside of a couple of trails that snake around the bottom, every trail is either headed up to this point or down away from it. It makes for a very fun place to ride. With one out of two climbs up out of the way and my legs not yet searing, I’m cautiously optimistic about the remainder of the ride. Sean however warns the group that he has hit a wall and is starting to feel pretty miserable. We head down Motorcycle, which has a good mix brake burning descents mixed in with flowy switchbacks.

Mile 46: After clearing the gnarliest parts of Motorcycle, we head onto the boundary trail for some fun before heading back to the top a final time. The pace remains fast, as we are still heading mostly downhill and the windy trails beckon us to push harder.

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Mile 47: We continue to cruise around the bottom of Graham. The pace and spirits remain mostly high. We opt for the safer, faster, less fun lines instead of playing on the optional log and rock features.

Mile 48: We reach the bottom of Tumbleweed, a long and switchback filled trek that will take us all the way back to the top. This will be the longest and largest remaining climb of the day. Tumbleweed, though long, isn’t too daunting. Outside of a few steep pitches in the beginning, it flows as well as a climb up a hill can. It will still take a toll though, and reaching the top will be a significant milestone on the day.

Mile 49: We are reach the halfway point of Tumbleweed. Both the steepest and fastest parts are behind us now and we all must settle in to grind out the last mile of climbing. I have a weird tingling sensation in my lower back, and my right foot has developed a searing case of hotfoot. The heat and humidity continue to punish. My chain squeaks maddeningly–its lubrication suffocated at some point since lunch by the day’s endless spinning and the Aqueduct and Graham’s dust. Why didn’t I take the chain lube? I contemplate replacing my chain that night out of spite, it’s chirp infuriating me as the slog up continues.

Mile 50: Huzzah! We’ve reached the top of Graham. After regrouping and catching our breath at the top, we head down the yellow blazed switchbacks for the parking lot.

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Mile 51: I am now really feeling the toll of the ride in my legs. Though two out of three of the toughest trail sections have been conquered, a lot of time in the saddle remains and I will have to carefully pace myself to survive the rest of the day.

Mile 52: Back on the road, we cross the Taconic State Parkway and turn onto Old Sleepy Hollow Road. The pace has slowed noticeably, but the road quickly points downward enough for us to all tuck and coast to maximize both speed and rest.

Mile 53: The gentle descent continues and we pass a large farm on the right.

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Mile 54: We pass Pocantico lake. There is a short section of dirt road and trail that runs along the lake and by the dam that we skip. I feel remiss for skipping it. A large, abandoned building sits behind the dam and is rather imposing and awesome, but it’s out of the way and ground needs to be covered quickly if we are going to make it back to the city before dark.

Mile 55: The road has turned from mostly down to pleasantly rolling. I have finally exhausted my roll of figs and have switched to a bag of dates I had stashed in my pocket. After 30 some figs and a few granola bars, the dates are pretty tasty. I still have many granola bars left, but don’t have much appetite for them.

Mile 56: We return to the Aqueduct trail by cutting through a high school parking lot and following a fence around behind it. The scene is reminiscent of when I was a child and would ride my bike around the school yard in the summer with friends. Its as if all schools have an empty-for-summer smell that seeps out and turn a large and empty building that was once familiar into something oddly foreign and imposing. That, or I’m starting to get a little delirious.

Mile 57: We stop for water and snacks for the final time. As we keep churning through the miles, the end of the ride now seems simultaneously close and yet impossibly far. Daniel craves an iced coffee but the 7/11 is out. He settles for an ice cream Twix bar instead. I drink my third red bull and top off my water bottles with actual lemon-lime Gatorade. It’s disappointing. I look for Kiwi Pineapple don’t find it. We are all exhausted and sort of splayed out on the narrow sidewalk. Disheveled, covered in dirt, and clearly exhausted, we invite an assortment of polite nods, gawks, and annoyance from passersby. An older gentleman sees our bikes and gleefully chats with us about riding, quizzing us about the route we are on and regaling us with his own war stories on the saddle. We all try to be friendly but, ragged and sore, we are unable to match his enthusiasm. We aren’t rude, but it’s difficult to maintain a conversation outside of cursory quips and affirmations.

Mile 58: We have to get through Tarrytown and across the entrance to the Tappan Zee Bridge. There is no convenient or enjoyable way to do this, so we ride as quickly as possible and eventually just give up and use the sidewalk for a long stretch.

Mile 59: We re-enter the Aqueduct and cross through the Lyndhurst estate south of Tarrytown. The metal skeleton roof of a large Victorian glass palace peeks over a hill to the right as we ride through the estate’s large, manicured lawn.

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Mile 60: We are quickly upon and past the town of Irvington. Only a few of these rivertowns between us and Sprain Ridge. Most of my aches and pains have subsided to manageable levels. The high heat of the day has broken and it is now positively pleasant while riding along the shady trail. To boot, the Aqueduct points gently downhill. Add the buzz of my recent caffeine infusion and I’ve achieved that late ride high where I swear I’m invincible and that I could ride forever. I know this feeling won’t last and that I should pace myself, but my legs don’t listen and I smash down the trail.

Mile 61: The miles continue to fall as we pass through the campus of a small college. Even though many miles remain, the ride now feels much closer to being complete than to the start. Outside of our lap in Sprain, most of the day left will consist of easy, downhill road miles that should fly by.

Mile 62: The elation of caffeine and dopamine continues and we roll through the town of Dobb’s Ferry. However, this section of the Aqueduct trail crosses a road every few dozen yards it seems and we are constantly slowing, yelling “clear,” and re-accelerating.

Mile 63: We reach the town of Hastings-On-Hudson, which is where we turn off of the Aqueduct Trail and climb up to Sprain Ridge for the final single-track of the day. My Garmin battery warns me that it’s low. This pisses me off. It will suck to finish a day this hard and not have a full recording of it.

Mile 64: We turn onto Ravensdale Road/Jackson Avenue and have a short road climb up to Sprain Ridge. My Garmin dies.

Mile 65: We have caused a bit of a traffic jam on Jackson Avenue. Jackson Avenue provides freeway access to both the Saw Mill Parkway and I-87 and is a very busy road. It also has no shoulder and is all uphill, providing little room to pass and no way to ride a decent pace. After a lot of honking and dangerously close passes by impatient motorists, we give up and just ride the sidewalk.

Mile 66: We turn into Sprain Ridge Park, which is the final major hurdle of the day. My caffeine buzz has yet to wear off and I hit the trails with enthusiasm. Sprain offers an ideal challenge to end the day. It doesn’t have any significantly long climbs, but has lots of highly technical and punchy terrain. Also, most of its twisty, flowy, rock-outrcrop filled trails offer a choose-your-own difficulty option of lines.

Mile 67: We ride through the North Brother’s trail quickly and head for the Slick Rock trail. Cee rides a bunch of lines that I have partially seen before but never knew. I take note for the next time I ride here. At this point in the ride, I’m not really in the mood to walk back to re-ride stuff and I figure it’s best to ride what I know. However, the elation of being on the last leg of the journey and the fun features at Sprain still push me to ride hard. I can’t believe how good I still feel. We come to a rock feature that I’ve yet to figure out. Cee and I converse about possible lines but neither really attempts. We are still cautious enough to not risk crashing too hard at this point in the day.

Mile 68: We take the Frank and Beans trail, which I have actually never ridden. It’s fast and fun. A downed tree requires some bushwhacking. We continue riding hard and pushing the pace. We are through most of the more difficult sections of trail and head for the southern end of the park to tackle the rocky switchbacks down by the pond and the climb up to the REI.

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Mile 69: The chickens have come home to roost. My mood swings dramatically and I am now completely cracked. After powering over a particularly rocky switchback, and heading for the climb up to REI, a searing leg cramp strikes and I am in a world of hurt. I’m on my last sip of Gatorade, but still have water in my Camelbak. I eat a few granola bars and my last dates, hoping they have some modicum of sodium that will help relieve this cramp. I try pedaling, but my leg totally locks up. I get off and stand by the side of the trail waiting for it to pass. I should be fine if my legs will cooperate enough to be able to turn the pedals over. I think we only have fire road and some easy, twisty trails ahead of us before getting back on the road and heading back to the city. I take a long and painful hike up to the top of the hill. I remount and gingerly pedal. My stomach feels totally empty and I stare ahead with dead eyes.

Mile 70: Things continue to spiral downward. I’ve recovered enough from the cramping to still pedal, but I am just barely crawling along. While riding a flowy section of trail I’ve ridden a hundred times, my hand slips off my handlebars and I wipe out. I mostly slid out as opposed to crashing. Nothing feels broken. My right brake and shift levers are knocked out of place. The wheels still spin and don’t wobble. I see no noticeable damage to the frame. It still shits. I remount and continue on. I fiddle with my right shifter and brake to get a feel for their new position. I’m too tired to bother re-positioning them.

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Mile 71: The worst part of the cramp has passed. I can still push the pedals, but have to hike any steep pitch of trail and am really crawling on anything that isn’t downhill. We’re past all of the trails that I consider technically difficult and just have some windy, mostly flat trail left to cover on the way towards the exit of the park. I’m pretty sure I will survive and finish the ride, but I am miserable right now.

Mile 72: We’ve reach the parking lot. We regroup and I take the chance to re-position my levers and reinspect my bike. Daniel has a bag of potato chips from lunch and Cee has a Clif bar, which I wolf down. They are delicious. Now that we have completed Sprain. We head back out onto the road. The food and the completion of Sprain lift my spirits. The road is almost literally all downhill from here and I know I will finish. The ride down Jackson Avenue is less fraught than the the one up, but we opt again for the sidewalk.

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Mile 73: We debate between taking the South County Trailway or the Croton Aqueduct back to the city. The argument for the Aqueduct is that it’s the original route and it’s dirt. The argument for the South County is that it’s right here, it’s faster, and the section of the Aqueduct we would be skipping is the worst part. Everyone is exhausted and forgo the aqueduct for the faster South County.

Mile 74: With bonk recovery continuing, the slope of the South County keeps teasing the pace upward.

Mile 75: Cee, who seems to still have the most energy and strongest legs, pushes the pace faster still and goes up the road from the group.

Mile 76: Daniel and Sean, wanting to catch up to Cee organize a pace line and tell me to jump on their wheel. Not wanting to be a party-pooper, I oblige, but very much want to just soft pedal it into the city.

Mile 77: We catch Cee near the trailway’s crossing of Mile Square Road. I ride the trailway often and know that between Tuckahoe Road and Mile Square, there is a continuous grade of between 1% and 2%. At Mile Square, that turns into a 3% decline that continues straight to the New York City Line and the entrance to Van Cortlandt Park. I’m elated as I know we will be back in the city soon.

Mile 78: The decline continues and I enjoy the effortless speed it affords us.

Mile 79: We pass the Yonkers Motel on the right and enter into Tibbet’s Brook Park. We are rapidly approaching the Bronx. We begin discussing locations for a post ride beer.

Mile 80: The cheerful coast is briefly interrupted by a group spread out across the trailway who don’t notice my incessant bell ringing until we are upon them.

Mile 81: Hello New York City! We enter into Van Cortlandt Park. The South County Trailway becomes a dirt rail trail through the park. Old railroad ties sit half burried to the left of the trail, covered in vegetation. Heavy rains and poor drainage leave intermittent, large puddles of mud we splash through.

Mile 82: Everyone is jubilant that we are back in the City and that the ride is almost complete. Sean is more jubilant than the rest and tries to splash everyone with mud as we go through a large puddle. While hopping through the dark muddy water, he wipes out completely, and is covered in mud. Everyone falls off of their bikes laughing. Sean has a large laceration underneath his right knee, but we all continue to laugh. I offer the first aide kit in my bag, but he assures me its not serious.

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Mile 83: We leave the park pull onto Broadway before seeking a quieter side street.

Mile 84: Though not on the island yet, we are now in Manhattan as we ride through Marble Hill. The pace has slowed again, as we all remember how tired we actually are. Discussions about beer turn more serious and we all pine hard for it. We had debated a few different restaurants that have patio seating. With Sean’s recent mud bath, we figure no one will actually seat us and that it would be too rude to inflict our presence on any other patrons. We decide to head to a bodega and chill in Fort Tryon Park to celebrate the finish of the ride over beers.

Mile 85: We continue our way south, riding briefly on Broadway before heading over to the bike lane on Seaman Ave.

Mile 86: Traffic on Seaman is chaotic. Inwood Hill Park is packed with people also enjoying the first nights of summer, but without mountain bikes. We pick our way through heavy traffic and race towards beer.

 

The Celebration

Mile 87: We find a bodega and stop for beer. The first bodega doesn’t sell beer, so we try another. We all buy our beers of choice and head for the park. They are delicious. Unbelievably so. We toast, ask a passerby for help with a photo and banter. The sun has set and its gradually going from dusk to fully dark. The fireflies are out. A homeless man sleeps on the bench next to ours. The A train rumbles beneath our feet. Music from birthday parties in the park carry through the air. It’s a magnificent summer night in the city.

Mile 88: After our celebratory beers we remount and continue south. From here we start parting ways. I peel off and head for my apartment while the others continue south and east towards Queens. All in all, I ended up riding 94 miles, climbed over 7,000 feet, and enjoyed 14 ½ hours of sheer bliss. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the start of Summer.

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