Day 62: The worst day 

Day 62, 8/14, Hudson, NY to Harriman State Park, NY: 94 miles, 5,299 ft elevation gain, 11.3 mpg average speed.

Trip Totals: 4,013.2 miles (75.7 mile daily average), 147,700 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.

Today was the worst day of the whole trip, and I say that without reservation. The. Worst. Day. I had a full blown can’t-catch-your-breath panic attack on the side of the road, and started uncontrollably sobbing for almost 10 minutes during the day’s climax. I say this to warn you that this is not going to be a happy, positive post.

In fact, I’m going to say it again. We generally try to focus on the bright side when we’re writing our blog posts, but there really wasn’t a bright side today, and we decided that pretending there was would simply be dishonest.

Starting from the beginning, we woke up a little wet because we wanted to sleep without a rainfly last night to look at the stars, but apparently we’re in another heavy dew area. Not a big deal. It was actually kind of refreshing because it was already a bit warm.

After packing up, we rode a mile to McDonald’s because there wasn’t a toilet at our warm showers stay. Our host never showed up last night and it was a little weird to sleep in someone’s yard without their being home, but mostly it just meant we didn’t have access to a bathroom. We ordered breakfast and ate really quickly before heading out. We knew we had 93 more miles ahead of us and the most elevation gain since the Badlands.

A guy came out as we packed up our bikes to admire this other guy’s brand new bike with a motor attached to the rear wheel. He kept trying to get us to acknowledge how cool the bike was by saying things like, “isn’t this the coolest thing you’ve ever seen?,” but we weren’t commenting because I actually think it’s pretty ridiculous. If you want to ride a bike, ride a bike. If you want to ride a motorcycle, ride a motorcycle. But putting a heavy motor on a bicycle means you’re making it a clunky, heavy, difficult-to-ride bicycle and a slow motorcycle. Some compromises are not worth making.

We followed NY State Bike Route 9 down heavily trafficked, shoulderless roads through Hudson. The route through town took us up a hill to a stop sign, at which Ted didn’t clip out of his pedal quickly enough and fell over directly in front of a car. He wasn’t hurt, except for his pride, and luckily the driver he fell in front of was paying attention.

We continued on through town and quickly learned that the theme of the day would be super disrespectful drivers. While it was clear that while most drivers could see us, they assumed they could scoot past us at high speeds with less than a foot of space. Many drivers just couldn’t be bothered to even get to the far side of the lane and would ride the white line past us.

This whole trip, I’ve assumed that as long as it was clear that people could see us, which is generally pretty obvious in our rearview mirrors, we were probably safe. The people we needed to worry about were the distracted drivers who didn’t show any signs of recognizing our presence. Today was the first day that I thought someone could see us and still hit us, whether it was because they innocently misjudged the distance between us and their vehicle, or because they cared so little about a stranger’s life that hitting us would be a relatively small inconvenience in their day and that slowing down to pass safely was not worth the risk of losing 1.5 seconds during their commute. I know this sounds dramatic, but that’s how it felt.

At one point during this stressful morning of riding, a police car with its lights on passed us very slowly. A few seconds later we saw a group of cyclists coming up behind us. There were about seven cyclists on unloaded bikes who had biked from Oregon and were ending in NYC. There was a police car behind them as well. A police escort for seven cyclists doing exactly what we were doing? What?!?!

Only one of the guys responded to our greeting. We asked how they got a police escort and he told us they were riding for the American Legion something or other fund, and his tone suggested that he was very proud of this fact. I think it’s great that people do these cross-country rides for charities, but please save the self-righteousness for someone else. I happen to enjoy bike touring independent of any external goal or motivation, and as much as I would love for someone to carry my gear and to have a police escort on these crazy NY roads, what a tremendous waste of public resources! I wonder how much money they raised net of two police officers’ salaries for over a month, plus the fuel for two police cars? I don’t want to be so cynical, but they weren’t very friendly and I was already having a bad day, so that’s how it goes.

We pushed hard to keep up with them so we could benefit from the police escort, but were unsurprisingly unable to ride as fast as seven people on unloaded road bikes who had also just ridden across the country, and lost them after a few miles. To make matters worse, the police escort created a huge traffic jam that made our riding even more dangerous than it already was. I don’t know if it was the group’s unfriendliness or the police escort and its dangerous consequences, but those guys put us in an even worse mood.

We rode for 20 white-knuckle miles before our first stop in Red Hook. We were both miserable and just wanted a cup of coffee and a quick sit. We bought a cup at a commercial coffee roaster that did not have seating because it was primarily a retail store. We didn’t want to trek the additional mile into town to a real coffee shop, so we drank our coffee on the curb of a strip mall.

We reluctantly climbed back onto our bikes, still holding out hope that things might get better. They didn’t. The shoulders were either crumbling or nonexistent, and the traffic was horrendous. I can never get good pictures of the most terrifying situations because I’m too busy being terrified. Almost all of the pictures you see on this blog are taken from my bike while moving–I rarely stop to take pictures because momentum is important when you’re carrying weight–so there won’t be a ton of pictures today because all but about 10 miles were either scary or really steep.

We passed a lot of old buildings today, including New York’s oldest public school, Clermont Academy (white building below), and a lot of old houses. The towns are much older here; some were established in the 17th century!

We also started seeing a ton of roadside produce stands today, including a pick-your-own flower stand.

We turned onto a slightly better road for a bit, then turned back onto craziness. Ted asked me how I was doing and just before I gave a grumpy answer, a Rita’s Italian ice came into view. We had to wait for a few minutes for it to open, but there was a friendly casual cyclist also waiting who commiserated with us about how awful the drivers are around here. Misery loves company, as they say. My large Gelati and Ted’s large milkshake were delicious.

We continued on more terrible roads with terrible drivers, passing through some adorable Hudson River towns and beautiful views of the valley. We didn’t stop to hang out in these towns because we figured they are just a day trip away on the train (by the way, it was very very difficult not to take the Metro North back to the city, but we could not quit on the penultimate day of the trip) and 94 miles with lots of climbing is no joke.

When we reached Poughkeepsie, we entered the Dutchess Rail Trail, which was by far the nicest trail of the entire trip, and I’m not only saying that because any old trail would’ve been a stark contrast from the rest of the day (which it would have been). No. This was a genuinely wonderful trail. Wide, beautiful pavement without root cracks, beautiful shade trees, and flat terrain. Such a pleasant reprieve. We tried to force ourselves to ride more slowly to make it last longer, but that felt irresponsible given the mileage and 1,000 foot hill we had coming at the end of the day.

  

At the end of our time on the trail, a fellow cyclist told us that there was another paved bike trail that covered much of the distance into the city. The problem was that we had already paid for a campsite in a different direction for the night and if we took the bike trail in question there would be no lodging options other than paying $180 for a hotel. So as much as we were dreading getting back on the roads, we felt like we had no other option.

The roads felt even worse after we got that glimpse of how life could be, so we stopped after only a few miles to eat lunch at a service station. We then made our way to 9D, the most terrifying stretch of road since the four miles leading into Whitefish, MT. This was worse than that day, though, because traffic was constant, but not constant enough to slow anyone down.

We mentioned it in an earlier blog post, but it is unconscionable for the NY DOT to pass off this road and roads like it as “bike routes.” Encouraging people to ride their bikes on these roads is putting lives in danger. This may come off as over the top, but we’ve ridden over 4,000 miles across the continent, and this was far and away the most dangerous road we’ve ridden on.

9D is where I lost it. The shoulder was about eighteen inches wide, but NYDOT had repaved the road and all but about five inches of the shoulder, creating a little ledge on the shoulder. Since everyone was riding the white line, I was trying to stay on the far side of shoulder, but it was a tricky balancing act on a five-inch strip of pavement. I lost my balance a bit, my tire caught the ledge, and I nearly fell over into the traffic lane in front of a car. Luckily I was able to clip out of my pedal fast enough to rebalance before falling (PSA: keep your clip tension as loose as you can stand it!), but that was the closest I’ve come to dying on this trip, possibly ever. Then I started having a panic attack while riding, and tried to make my way to a driveway where I could pull off and calm down. I think what scared me the most was that it was my own mistake that put me in danger. I feel like a pretty competent cyclist, so to make such a dangerous mistake was frightening. That on top of the constant stress of the day caused a total meltdown.

I eventually caught my breath and stopped crying and we carried on, mostly because we had no other choice. Around this time we were passed by another bike tourist who was on a three-day trip into the city. He didn’t seem at all upset by the riding conditions, much to our amazement. We have met several people on this trip who are content to ride in the road, confident that no one will hit them. I can’t tell if I’m more envious of their composure, or scared on their behalf. Sure, you probably won’t get hit, but if you do, bye bye birdie. We’ve read multiple news stories of cyclists getting hit and killed on the very roads we’ve ridden this summer, and I have to believe that the people getting hit behave and have temperaments more like this guy than like us. Otherwise, I would have quit long ago!

In any case, we finally made it to the Bear Mountain bridge with a beautiful shoulder and such bad traffic that cars were going under 10mph. Such a relief!

We rounded a large traffic circle, and continued on more narrow roads, albeit with significantly less traffic than any of the 80-some miles we’d ridden today. We climbed and descended a few steep hills, and after about 5 miles, we came to the turnoff that went to our campsite. We knew this last hill was going to be a doozy. A little over two miles, and around 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Thankfully, the road had very little traffic.

On that huge climb we passed a mansion with a helipad. Shortly after the mansion, Ted, who was looking at his phone to see how much further we had left, accidentally ran into one of my back panniers. This happened at such a slow speed that he was unable to recover his balance, and he fell over for the second time of the day (and the second time of the trip). After all of the stress and fear of the day, he curled up on the ground, not wanting to move. But he eventually realized that laying in the fetal position on the side of the road next to his bike was not a viable long-term plan. So he got up, got back on his bike, and we continued on.

We were thrilled to get to our campground, the Beaver Pond Campground, which was completely booked (thank goodness for that reservation) and almost exclusively filled with New Yorkers who were camping for the weekend, making us feel very close to home. There was a vending machine there, which was excellent news because we were hot and tired. We bought all of the corn syrup-sweetened beverages we could with all of the quarters we’ve gathered over the last two months (which was, incidentally, three Minute Maid lemonades and a Powerade), then headed to our site. It was sort of exciting to camp so close to New York City. No one has space for an RV in the city, so for the first time of the trip, there were almost exclusively tent campers.

We had grand plans for our final camping dinner that were thwarted by the absence of a grocery store where we expected one (still missing those ACA maps!!), so we ate Poptarts for dinner, showered, and went to bed, hoping to forget that this day ever happened.

2 thoughts on “Day 62: The worst day 

  1. Wow! My stomach got a little queasy reading your description of traffic. But the bad will soon pale in comparison to the grand overall experience you have had. Congratulations Ted and Dani !
    Thanks for sharing.

    Like

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