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Escape to the Catskills with RnineT

Posted By John M. Flores, Thursday, January 22, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, January 28, 2015


"Let's go!" exclaims nineT.
"I can't."
"Come on!"
"Gotta work."
"I know."

I never thought that I'd say this, but the New York City skyline looks great...in my mirror. The Gotham of my childhood dreams, the city that never lets me sleep is at once invigorating and exhausting. It doesn't help that work is crazy intense. "Work hard. Play hard," they say. It's a common refrain among my friends. Some unwind in the late nightclubs and bars of the city, others with meditation or a spa day. Me, I ride.





After a delayed start, we take the standard escape route through New Jersey and are soon in the wilds of Sussex County among rolling hills, winding roads, and pristine reservoirs. We are still so close to New York yet already so far away. Greenwood Lake's shore is crowded with cottages but it's nothing like the Apple.

Soon we're in Harriman State Park, a popular destination for day-trippers. Many head up to Bear Mountain for the scenic view, but we head east.

"Hey, watch it!" nineT exclaims.
"You OK?"
"Yeah, sorry. I'm just distracted."
"That's not a good thing to be while you're riding."
"Yeah, you're right."
"What's going on with you?"
"Of course."
"Actually, it's good news...I'm in line for a promotion."
[flatly] "Thanks."
"You don't sound so happy."
"I...I...I am."
"....Yes. The promotion includes an office, more money, and more responsibility, but..."
"But what?"
"...but less time to ride."
Do you even like what you do?
"There's your answer right there."

We ride past West Point to the scenic overlook at Storm King where we watch the mighty Hudson River wind its way down to the city. Somewhere downriver is the source of my existential crisis. We head upriver, farther and farther away.

After lunch outdoors in Cornwall-On-Hudson at the Hudson Street Cafe, we wind our way up to Poughkeepsie to the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.

Over a mile long and over 200 feet above the Hudson River, the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge was built in 1888 to carry trains. But times change, and other bridges and the interstates were built, and manufacturing began to leave the region, reducing the need for the bridge. Eventually, the bridge was abandoned. Then something funny happened–where others saw scrap metal, some locals saw beauty and a connection to the region's industrial past. They saved the bridge and turned it into the pedestrian walkway that it is today.

"The view up here is spectacular. "
"Yeah isn't it? I feel like I'm flying," says nineT.
"It's a long way down though."
"There's a metaphor in there somewhere, Icarus."
"How'd I end up with such a philosophical motorcycle?"

We head to New Paltz and points beyond. Somewhere west of town we stumble upon a little-known gem. Years ago, a man cleared a small field in the woods and began collecting the massive root systems of giant redwood trees. He'd have them transported from California to this field where they are displayed like abstract organic wood sculpture. They are at once beautiful and exotic.

"Look at these roots! These trees must have been huge!"
"Have you seen the Redwoods?" asks nineT.
"What are you waiting for? They won't be around forever."
"Actually, they've been around for thousands of years..."
"...more to the point, you won't be around forever..."

We continue west, up over the ridge to a panoramic view of the Catskills, rolling hills stretching to the horizon and dotted with quirky towns, picturesque reservoirs, and quiet backroads zigging and zagging through a blanket of thick woods. We dive in headfirst and dance, hand working clutch, throttle and front brake, feet working shifter and rear brake in a fluid, mechanical choreography.
The thick woods give way to a broad expanse of water resting beneath a big sky. The Ashokan Reservoir is one of the largest reservoirs in the New York City water supply system, the water eventually making its way into the taps and fountains and bagels and pizzas of my adopted home. It seems like I can't escape the Big Apple.

With temperatures dropping as quickly as the sun, we make our way north and end up in the small town of Roxbury and our evening oasis, The Roxbury Motel, where each room is designed with a unique theme. The Shagadelic Room is inspired by Austin Powers, Tony's Dancefloor has a working disco ball over the bed, the Genie's Bottle makes you feel like you’re in a bottle, and more. It's like an adult funhouse motel. We celebrate a great day's riding with a martini and a fine dinner before retiring for the night.

"You asleep yet?" asks nineT.
"What's keeping you up?"
"My friends. They just don't get it."
"This. Riding a motorcycle. Seeing the world."
"I wouldn't exactly call Roxbury, NY, the world."
"Yeah, but you know. I think I got the bug. My friends, on the other hand, they're going to do just what's expected of them; they're going to party in New York in their 20s, climb the career ladder, then get married in their 30s, have a kid or two, and then move out to the 'safety' of the suburbs and live the same life that they tried to escape."
"And what's wrong with that?"
"Nothing, I guess...for them. But the closer I get to that path the more I think that it's not for me."
"And the more you feel like an alien in the big metropolis."
"So what are you going to do?"
"Right now I'm going to try to sleep."


We ride into a new morning, bracing against the overnight chill still hiding in valleys and basking on stretches already kissed by the sun. We stop at Bread & Breakfast and have coffee in an old caboose.

"Crazy to think that this was once an old caboose."
"This trip's been filled with stories of reinvention and renewal," notes nineT.
"It has?"
"Yup. They've been staring you right in the face...the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, the Redwood roots, and The Roxbury last night. Those two guys left behind their jobs in New York City, found an old building in a quiet Catskills town, and have followed their own drummer to create a unique motel and something uniquely theirs. Sound familiar?"
"But I'm too young to be reinvented, to young to be renewed!"
"That's what you think. You're no spring chicken anymore."

Refilled, we make a beeline for Pepacton Reservoir. NY30 shadows the reservoir like a contour line on a topographic map, sketching long, sweeping arcs into the earth. The road crosses a long, flat bridge over to the other side of the Reservoir about halfway down. We stop to admire the view.

"What are you doing?" asks nineT.
"I'm holding out my arms and looking towards the heaven for divine inspiration."
"You look like an idiot."
"It's not cinematic?"
"Not in the least."

We run the final length of NY30, following the southern shore of Pepacton. The road climbs, dips, and soars in a series of fast, third gear bends cut through the thick trees. We push the pace to the edge of what is safe and socially responsible, nineT roaring with delight at every corner exit, howling with glee at every redline. We barely see the reservoir but we know it's there. At this pace, nothing but our velocity and trajectory matter–not the city, not the job, not the stress, not the past, not the future. All that exists is the next apex and I feel alive. I feel free.

We stop for gas south of Downsville and afterwards take the pace down considerably as we explore the New York side of the Upper Delaware River along one-lane bridges and gravel, chip-sealed, and frost-heaved roads. I'm lost in my thoughts again as nineT patiently putters along.

We detour to the Roebling Bridge, crossing the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. It's a bridge today but was originally an aqueduct carrying coal barges from Pennsylvania across the river and destined for the Hudson River Valley. Twenty years after designing this bridge, John A. Roebling went on to design the Brooklyn Bridge.

We make our way down NY97 to the famous Hawk's Nest, known as much these days for the way that the road clings precariously to the side of a mountain as it is for the fact that hawks nest here. It's a funky stretch of pavement that flicks left and right in rapid succession along the edge of the precipice. Speed is restricted, and that's just as well; it's a long way down to the Delaware River if you make a mistake.

"You would think that if you've seen one scenic overlook you've seen them all. But I never tire of these views."
"Me neither."
"What is it about them?"
"I don't know. Maybe they remind us how wondrous the world is?"
"Maybe they give us perspective?”
 "Where next?" asks nineT.
"We'll make our way down 97 to Port Jervis, and then hit some of the sweet county roads in New Jersey before heading back to the city."
"That's not what I meant."
"Where next for you? You going to take the job?"
"I don't know. I've got some more thinking to do."

We cross back into New Jersey and savor the final miles of Sussex County along county roads that follow the contours of the land. We eventually join 80 for the final, boring, stressful  stretch. The interstates plunge headlong over/across/up whatever is in front of them but there's something missing in all of that startling efficiency. Something's disconnected. Something's not right. But they are symbols of our modern times and most stick to their straight and soulless paths.

The New York City skyline grows in my visor...



Tags:  Escape  Flores  New York  rninet 

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