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Dirt Roads of Putnam County

By: Tom Weir

ďDamn man, you rode up here from Garrison?Ē The young guys loading mountain bikes into their pickup bed look at me like I have a screw loose, which I might. Weíre in a small dirt pull-off at the base of a Class 4 road, and Iím riding what is technically a road bike. 


I nod and laugh. Iíve been climbing steadily for the past few hours and have pulled over to assess my options. The road has been getting rougher every mile. A sign tells me that the way ahead is closed in the winter months. But a cursory glance into the woods reveals a hard packed dirt that looks pretty pleasant so I ignore the tiny voice that tells me this might not be a good idea.


The mountain bikers pull away and wave as they go, leaving me alone in the chill October air. I shiver and look around. Nothing is moving save for a few leaves floating down from the canopy. I take a sip of water and clip back in.


Cycling in New York City is not very fun, no matter what anyone tells you. This is why Iím here today in the town of Putnam Valley, eating my last peanut M&Mís and contemplating  this unmaintained road. The October morning drew me out of Brooklyn on a pre-dawn mission with the sole intention of going on a ride with the highest dirt to paved ratio I could find. 

I feel that to truly experience cycling in its most beautiful form you need to ride outside of your comfort zone. 


As I round the first bend, the road surface turns from hardpack to gravel, then from gravel to sand. My back wheel spins out when I stand to climb. The road snakes forward, narrowing until it reaches a width that a car would be hard pressed to pass. I slide around a bit but I persevere, remembering my why I came up here. Find dirt, find gravel, have some fun. After a mile of this there is another sudden change as the road starts to level out again. Up ahead sunlight gleams on water.


The lake sits undisturbed, itís surface flat and luminous. I stop and sit in wonder for a few moments, my breath rising in a fog before me. Out here in the middle of the woods I feel lifetimes away from the clamor of city life, yet Iím only 60 miles from home. The feeling is one of regeneration, the clean air recharges my body and mind and Iím reminded of the things I love. Namely, riding road bikes bikes on unmaintained dirt roads in the woods.


I know that this peaceful section of road will come to an end. I know that up ahead the way will get rough again and Iíll creep forward down steep gravel hills, squeezing the brakes and avoiding the abrupt drop off the side of the road. Thereís a certain mindset needed for this kind of riding: put fear and caution behind you, take some chances, do something that might be stupid. You might get an awful flat in the middle of the woods and spend 15 minutes trying to change your tube as your hands slowly go numb, but youíll probably have fun while youíre doing it.


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Dirt Roads of Putnam County

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