Saturday, June 30, 2012

First Cycle Tour, Astoria to Clarence Fahnestock Park 6-26 through 6-28-2012 (138.13 miles round trip)

With the small break in the heat that NYC experienced earlier this week I was able to finally take a 3 day cycle touring trip North to Carmel New York and Clarence Fahnestock Park.

Tuesday morning I woke at 6 with a mind to leave by 6:30 so as to be well ahead of the rush hour traffic. I was excited and nervous so I did not have much of an appetite, but I managed to throw back a bowl of cheerios before heading out the door. The forecast called for temperatures in the low 60's and some headwind up to 10+ mph throughout and this time the forecast was accurate. I rode over the Triboro bridge and headed toward the small bridge from Randalls Island to 135th Street in the Bronx. From here it's a matter of joining St. Anne Ave, to Park Ave, and the Mosholu Parkway Greenway to reach Vancortlandt Park and the entrance to the South County Trail.

In the Bronx, the South County Trail is mostly hard packed dirt with small roots and old railroad ties jutting out occasionally. It's nothing my hybrid bike can't handle, and a nice change from the asphalt I find myself on most of the time. Once the South County Trail reaches Yonkers the path changes to pavement. In some areas there are small signs which indicate where the path becomes extra bumpy or uneven. These bumps are mostly doable at my cruising speed with my 700 x 28 tires, but I'm sure these signs are posted for the road bike riders who might approach at much greater speeds with skinnier tires.


Entering Vancortlandt Park.

Entering South County Trail.

South County Trail in Yonkers, my foot gets splashed.

South County Trail continued.

Entering Westchester I passed the familiar Woodlands Lake in Ardsley. I had rode on a long stretch of the South County and North County Trail with the 5BBC on a group ride back in May. At that time I was already trying to plan my first cycle touring trip and hoped that this guided tour of the trails would help me to feel more comfortable when I finally made my way North. All the while I was waiting for the moment when I would reach the Northern most point at which the guided tour took me before it had turned West, that would be when I knew I was riding in new territory. There is a distinct landmark at this particular point, a sign pointing West (towards the Old Croton Aqueduct Trails), and North (to the North County Trail), as well as a plaque next to the last remnant of visible track on the trail as most of it was hauled away as scrap. Now that I had cruised past this last familiar site I was now staring down another long stretch of trail through the rest of Westchester and further North into Putnam County. At this point the sites and sounds grew more and more rural, with long stretches where one doesn't see a house or any other human construct, occasionally surfacing back into civilization only to dip back into the sunlight mottled green and brown expanses. A rocky cliff here, a small waterfall there, and many benches located just off the path through out dedicated to peoples loved ones usually placed in an appropriately scenic location.

Passing Woodlands Lake in Ardsley.

I was overly concerned that somehow I might lose the trail North and kept expecting some unanticipated or poorly represented navigational hiccup to throw me for a loop. To the contrary, all of the crossings were well marked and in the only place at which I needed to use a neighborhood to reconnect to the trail that wasn't marked, I happened to cross paths with a cyclist who was a seasoned local rider, who guided me through a sketchy industrial section of Elmsford, using a parking lot and a couple of industrial park lanes.

Back on the trail at this point, you ride up on a scenic stretch where power lines follow the path to another less than pleasant part of the ride where you must ride along Route 100 to access the length of trail leading in the direction of Yorktown Heights. As I rode along the path approaching Route 100 I came upon 2 younger guys riding in the same direction and caught a draft behind them for a small stretch until they pulled away on a climb on Route 100. Most of this section is either in a highway shoulder or has a path inside a protected shoulder, thankfully this is not a terribly long part of the journey and I return to the relative safety of the county trail. At different times a chipmunk, squirrel, or bird would cross my path and I could here frogs croaking in some of the streams. After another couple of miles I came upon a bridge over the New Croton Reservoir. Here you stand right over the middle of this fairly large body of water surrounded by lush trees. I took some panoramic pictures here and soaked in the exceptional view before rolling along once more.

Power lines over field in Tarrytown.

Riding along the power lines in Tarrytown.

Following cyclists to route 100.

Bridge over New Croton Reservoir in Kitchawan.

Heading North, out of the city limits, is mostly a steady climb. Much of the climb is thankfully on the 3% grade that the railroads needed to accommodate their trains engines. At this time I was beginning to feel quite hungry and began eating the dried apricots I had stashed in my pocket for on the road food. Dried apricots are one of the highest potassium fruits and supply a fair amount of carbs and natural sugars. Eating these while slowly cruising North kept me from bonking and allowed me to make to my first real rest stop about 40 miles into the trip at Turcos Super Ranch in Yorktown Heights. As I approached the supermarket I noticed they had extensive bike parking outside which gave me hope that they might be sympathetic if I asked them to stash my unlocked bike inside the store while I shopped. Thankfully I encountered no resistance and the cashier said I could leave my bike near the managers booth. I bought Sports Drink, precooked bacon, 6 organic eggs, 6 rolls, and salted fresh mozzarella to supplement the cereal bars, energy bars, and oatmeal I had brought from home. The line at the Turcos deli was too long for me to wait on so I opted to buy a slice from the pizza place next door before I set back out on the road again.

It was at some point between Yorktown Heights and Mahopac that I heard the loud and unmistakeable sound of a spoke breaking. I stopped and did a brief check to discover that I had indeed sheared a spoke at the hub and was now riding with an unbalanced wheel which would rub the brake pad when riding under certain speeds. More than a little annoyed with this outcome I rode on until I came to Mahopac and the Crossroads Deli on Route 6. I refilled my water bladder, drank another Sports drink and had some friendly discussion with the owner. He suggested that I use Route 6 to connect to 301 for the rest of my ride to the park; only one turn to remember is usually a good way to go when you don't know the area, and I'll often defer to a locals knowledge of the roads in these situations. He told me I should enjoy the view but warned me of the hills to come. At this time I felt more and more pressed for time (check-in for a campsite closed at 4pm), and thanked the owner of the deli before riding off along the hilly, narrow shouldered, Northern Roads that would be the last 20 miles of my trip to the park.

Riding on Route 6 I made a wrong turn and asked a friendly mountain biker to point me back in the direction of 301, which he did. This cost me some precious time , but soon enough I was back on track and found the turn for Route 301. This is indeed a very scenic area with Lake Gleneida, the West Branch Reservoir, and the Boyd Corners Reservoir, all passing beside you or beneath you. I stopped in a couple of these locations for some panoramic photography, but once past the Boyd Corners Reservoir it was nothing but a straight shot to Fahnestock Park along the absolute worst hills of the ride. This always seems to be my luck on longer rides, a headwind the whole way, and some big climb at the end. It was true on the 5BBT, true for the Ride To Montauk, and now it's held true for my first cycle touring trip. Hill after grueling hill, each gust of wind a mortal insult to my shredded legs. Every hill climb at this point got slower and slower until I found myself spinning through flats just to conserve energy. After what seemed like a small eternity I came upon a sign for a Buddhist monastery, and following soon after that a sign indicating 1.5 miles to Fahnestock Park!

Bridge on 301 in Carmel over West Branch Reservoir.

301 riding along West Branch Reservoir.

Riding past Boyd Corners Reservoir.

Buddhist Monastery on 301.

Sign indicating 1.5 miles to Clarence Fahnestock Park.

Exhilarated by the prospect of completing my journey I stared down the last mile more determined than ever. I entered the camp grounds and found a small booth where park employees informed that to check-in I had to go to the park office which was an additional quarter mile down the road. Turning back to 301 I slowly made my way to the office where I could sign-in and fill my water bladder as the park does not have drinking water but only water for showers and hand washing. I asked the employees present if they had seen many cycle tourers come through and they said they had not (which I thought strange), and then thanked them and made my way to my campsite to build my tent and a fire to make my dinner as I was becoming more and more hungry again by the minute.

Pitching my Eureka! Solitaire tent was very easy, and the rest of my gear required little set-up if any. The inside of the tent was as advertised, not high enough to sit up in, and takes some getting used to entering and exiting, but once you become accustomed you realize how clever (and rugged) the design is for a 2 pound 1 person tent. After a quick shower I collected a tinder bundle of dry grass and leaves, some small twigs, and successively larger branches to stock up on wood for the night. I had some luck in this regard and had gathered some decent wood in good time. This is where all of the survival reality shows I watch started to come in handy. I had learned the baton method for breaking down logs and was eager to try it with the sweet Spiderco knife my younger brother had given me. This method requires a sturdy blade which you can hammer into the log with a thick stick on an angle. Then using the same method you chop into the log from the opposite direction adjacent to the first cut to break out a wedge. Doing this around the trunk of a fairly large branch, you can make what look like beaver bites all around the log, and then prop the log on a rock or any other sturdy leverage point to then break it by stepping on it. I was very happy to see how I could make nice size logs with this method, breaking down much larger branches then I could just using leverage, or my hands and knees.

My Tent and Bike

I created a nice tee-pee formation with my firewood and kindling, and soon had a warm fire blazing to heat my food, and ward off some bugs. It was right around this time that I could have sworn I heard a bear chase some dear past my campsite, but I cannot say for sure that was what I heard. I cooked up some bacon in my Sierra cup, and melted some fresh mozzarella over it which I scooped out with the rolls, and greedily devoured. I felt a great deal of satisfaction in reaching this park on my own power, and was looking forward to exploring the area the next day after a re-cooperative night.

At some point after dinner I realized that of all the things I could forget, I had forgotten my blanket! Now all I had to sleep with that night was a beach towel and my Lightload synthetic towel. This made for a rather uncomfortable night as the temperature dropped more than I expected and I awoke quite cold more than once. Catching but a couple of hours of sleep at a time, I awoke shortly after dawn and started a small cooking fire. I made some bacon and eggs on the small rolls and by the time I had finished eating the morning sun was warming my tent significantly. I took this as an opportunity to catch a little more sleep before I would go down to the beach for a swim, and look around their cafe/store. The trip down to the beach is all downhill from the campsite and it's a very enjoyable roll down to the lakeside. I left my bike and bag by a picnic table and set my towel and water bladder down before wading into the cool breezy confines of Canopus Lake. Looking down at the waters edge small fish can be seen nibbling at the edges of the lake. Taking my time to acclimate to the cool water I slowly slipped into the water and enjoyed a relaxing half hour swim.

First look at Fahnestock Beach.

Time for a well deserved swim.

Now was my first chance to patronize the only store within any reasonable distance by bike, and that was the lake side cafe/store whose hours only ran from 10 to 4. Inside I was greeted by the friendly employees who when asked said they see hundreds of cycle touring people including having recently met 2 guys who rode up from Brooklyn. I bought a burger combo which was pretty tasty, and a bunch of other food stuffs and beverages to further compliment some of the food I already had brought. After my blanket situation I searched their shelves for the closest thing they had which I could use which was a beach towel, and a Mylar emergency blanket. After some more pleasant conversation about the park and the people that use it I bid the guys at the cafe farewell and went to the park office where I hoped they would charge my cell phone for me while I rode the bike trails. I discovered the night before that I had brought the wrong cord to be able to charge my phone with my solar panel, my second real mistake of the trip. They were happy to accommodate me and I rode back to the site and showered and geared up for the ride along the trails behind the campsite. I had begun to worry that my more perishable food stuffs were not fairing well in the rising heat, so I took another survival reality show trick and filled a large plastic bag with the "unsafe water" from the sites tap and sealed my more perishable foods in a smaller bag which I submerged inside and left in the shade on the ground. This worked quite well and I was happy to find that my foods were cold to the touch when I took them out for use. I could have also tied a sealed bag to a stick and submerged it in the pond, but I did not want to take the chance that the park employees might not approve of it.

As I descended to the back of the site I came upon a fork in the trail and opted for the right side path. This path led to Pelton Pond, and very quickly it became apparent that these were likely not the trails they mentioned back at the office. The views of the pond were very pleasant so I walked my bike around a little ways before deciding to turn back to find the fork in the road and make the left instead. Back on more hybrid bike friendly paths, I rode along the trails rolling hills littered with large sharp rocks and stiff jutting roots which increasingly seemed to get larger and more densely packed along the path. At some point while dodging the dangerous debris I realized I had left my flat tube kit back at the campsite and decided to slow my roll before I hurt my bike or myself for that matter. Knowing full well I would be riding 70 miles the next day I turned around after only a mile or so into the woods and climbed my way back to the campsite.

Descending to the trails behind the campsites.

Arriving at Pelton Pond

Walking bike around Pelton Pond.

A sittin' rock and wooden bridge on Pelton Pond.

Babbling Brook feeds Pelton Pond.

Entering Mountain Bike Trails, some fast rock dodging rolling over small hills.

Mountain Bike Trails continued.

I rode up the hills to the office to collect my now fully charged phone and it was at this time that I asked for some duct tape to secure my broken spoke to the one adjacent to it, and then rode down to the cafe/store one last time. After convincing the chef that I eat hotdogs raw I bundled together some water, sports drink, and energy bars, and climbed all the way back up to the campsite. Collecting a nights firewood once again, I cooked a couple of hotdogs I purchased earlier, and took a short walk in the nearby woods between my campsite and the pond. Besides the park office, there are electrical outlets in the bathrooms. This meant I was able to use my phone plugged in for short intervals without draining my battery as I needed a full battery for the ride home the next day. I contacted my girlfriend and mother to let them know all was still well, took a few moments to check email and such, and shut my phone down for the night.

Returning to my site I fed my fire with larger and larger logs as the sun set. By full dark I was burning 3 and 4 inch thick logs in a healthy blaze with lots of dense pine which I hoped would leave plenty of coals that could save me some time building a fire when I want to eat at dawn before leaving. Staring at the fire reminded me of how this was probably what people stared at for millennia before we had T.V.'s. This night was warmer and I had ample cover. The Mylar emergency blanket was odd. It's probably the loudest bed cover one can buy and at some point condensation formed on the underside. Sleeping under one of these is similar to sleeping under a tinfoil blanket. I decided to supplement the Mylar blanket with the 2 beach towels I had, and was comfortable throughout the night.

Awaking just before sunrise I was anxious to eat, clean, pack, and hit the road. I made the last of my eggs and bacon on the last of the rolls I bought and when all was said and done I was tires to asphalt by 6:15am. Due to the lack of potable water on site, I was forced to backtrack to the park office to fill my water bladder for the first leg of the journey. Leaving the park office heading South, I sailed over the long succession of rolling hills and at this point in the journey averaged 18.5mph over 4.5 miles. Not bad for a 250+lb guy with a 20lb pack, and a nearly 30lb bike. Reaching the Boyd Corners reservoir I stopped to take some panoramic pictures before continuing to the heart of Carmel. Though it was fun to ride these hills, parts of this road are a little harrowing for me. I'm not used to riding on what is essentially a highway with little to no shoulder. I was looking forward to reaching the safety of the North County Trail as soon as I could pick it up. Passing lake Gleneida entering the heart of Carmel, the golden sunrise warmed the air and brightened the town as it unfolded below me.

Fast Cruising on large rolling hills South on 301, top speed 31 mph.

Boyd Corners Reservoir.

Bridge over West Branch Reservoir in Carmel.

Passing Lake Gleneida on 301.

Spying an entrance to the trail well North of the one in Mahopac where I had left it behind on my way up, I picked up the trail again now heading South and was now relieved to be out of harms way for the time being. For now it was a simple matter of following the trail to Mahopac where I could refill my water and buy a sports drink. I had forgone food at the deli which was not smart, and thought I might be ok with just stopping on a bench to eat an energy bar and some apricots but it still wasn't enough as I was feeling hungry again soon after that. It was at this time that I noticed a vending machine on the side of the building where I purchased a cola which I believe gave me some extra pep to push on through the last sections of the South County Trail and finally back into the Bronx.

Bridge over New Croton Reservoir.

South County Trail through Tarrytown heading South.

Finally returning to the beginning of the South County Trail in Van Cortlandt Park.

Back in the big city I knew it would not be long before I saw a street vendor and I was not disappointed. After eating a delicious "dirty water dog" I asked the vendor for a chip of ice which I slid under my helmet and then promptly evaporated on my skull. Heading back along a similar route as the one I used to ride North I started seeing shaved ice carts and promised myself this treat at the next one I came upon. Next thing I know I'm eating a glistening fruit punch shaved ice made with delicious sugary syrup, a New York Summer classic. Climbing the bridge at 135th Street to Randalls Island I finished my ice and marveled at how close I was to my goal. Once on Randalls Island I feel I am on my home turf again and make my way to the steep ramp up to the top of the Triboro Bridge. I would like to tell you that I pedaled up this part of my ride, but I can honestly say that I did not. I walked my bike to the crest of the bridge and coasted into my neighborhood for my triumphant return home.

*Edit: For clarification on the network of trails used for this trip I was offered a compact and far more accurate description by a helpful forum member, Steve B. - ...."the "official" South County Trail starts at the Westchester County/NYC border, where the Old Put RR line becomes a paved path. Then it's the SCT to Elmsford, then the North County Trail runs from Warehouse Lane in Elmsford, north to the Putnam County line at Tomahawk St. in Baldwin Place. Then it's the Putnam County Trailway to Brewster." - Thanks, Steve!

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