Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rip Van Winkle slept here

Our youngest son registered for a longboard race in Windham, NY and the weekend forecast was for sunny skies. Time for a motorcycle trip! We always choose to take the scenic route, skipping interstate highways and hoping to stumble upon something unexpected. We weren't disappointed.

We headed south down familiar 7A to Bennington, VT, then just over the New York border turned left onto Route 22 through small towns separated by wide expanses of farmland. It was a warm, sunny day with a clear blue sky that made for a gorgeous ride on the bike. When we crossed over the Mass Pike, I was really glad that we chose lightly traveled, 2-lane roads instead of the faster interstate. After about 1 hour on 22, we turned west onto Route 23. This was our first time on these roads, and we enjoyed the views of the Catskills in the distance.

Traffic increased as we neared the Rip Van Winkle bridge over the Hudson River. Built in 1933-35, the bridge is just over 5000 feet long and is the only river crossing for several miles. Every time we cross the Hudson, I think about Henry Hudson sailing into Hudson Bay in Canada in 1609. His trip was financed by the Dutch East India Company, and many of the towns and rivers reflect the Dutch heritage:  Amsterdam, Cauterskill, Watervliet.

Rip Van Winkle bridge on Route 23

view over the Hudson River to the Catskills
As soon as we crossed the bridge, references to Rip Van Winkle popped up on billboards and businesses. Washington Irving wrote the stor, set in the Catskills in the time around the Revolutionary War, in 1819. The Catskills became a popular vacation spot for New York City dwellers, and tourism remains strong today. The Catskills are a beautiful location for travel by motorcycle, with smooth paved roads that wind up and around the mountains and lots of options for food and lodging.

In just a few miles the divided highway narrowed back down to comfortable, winding two lanes. We crossed numerous creeks and streams, but were surprised by the red color of this one in the town of Jewett.

We used the GPS to find our hotel in Tannersville, a town of around 500 people that caters to Orthodox Jewish families in the summer and skiers in the winter. We stayed at the Villa Vosilla resort located within walking distance of several restaurants, shops, and bars in downtown Tannersville. You know you're in a small, rural town in the middle of the mountains when you see a mother deer and her frolicking fawn walking around the lawn on your way to dinner.

 Villa Vosilla

The resort owners were kind enough to let us check in at noon and leave much of our gear so we could ride the 12 miles to the Windham Mountain ski resort and the site of the longboard race.

A longboard is basically a longer skateboard, designed for fast travel. There were 170 amateur and professional skateboarders and street luge riders in the two-day competition, and Nate took first place in the amateur division.

Watch several of the skateboarders as they scream through the final turn heading into the finish. Nate shows off his winning form in this video; he's the first rider in the bright green leathers.

The race ended at 6:30pm, far later than we anticipated. We had a 3-hour ride home in front of us with the weatherman calling for rain starting around 9pm. Riding at twilight along the hilly, winding roads through the Catskills was a completely different experience from the sunny and bright drive the day before. The rain started just as darkness completely enveloped us, but instead of a steady downpour it would rain for 5 minutes, stop for 10-20 minutes, and then start raining again. We opted to keep going instead of stopping to put on rain gear and pulled into the driveway before the worst of the rain hit.

A trip on the bike close to home yet in an area new to us, two sun-filled days watching Nate longboard down a mountain, crossing the wide Hudson River on a famous bridge and stopping to admire a clay-red stream in a remote section of the Catskills, heading west at night with the dark Taconic Mountains guiding us home.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Is a motorcycle ride on your bucket list?

My friend Marie is an amazing woman. A few months ago we were talking about our bucket lists, and she mentioned that riding on a motorcycle is on her list. Today was the day, and here you can see Marie suiting up and getting ready for her first ride.

I wanted a picture before she put on the helmet so we could see the big smile!

I barely remember my first motorcycle ride, since I was about 6 years old when an uncle took all the kids at the family reunion for a short ride around the field. Fast forward to college, when Mike borrowed his friend Duncan's motorcycle a few times to take me for rides around Burlington. I remember sitting on the second story porch over the front door of the sorority house, hearing the motorcycle coming down South Willard Street, and the excitement of hopping on behind Mike and getting away from studying for an hour.

Marie's friends and neighbors were thrilled that she was on a motorcycle, and she had a lot of fun telling them about the experience. It's not often a 70-something woman has the gumption and spirit to get on the back of a motorcycle, but Marie has a zest for living that won't be stopped. Next on her bucket list:  a ride in a hot air balloon.

I'm not sure who had more fun today - Marie or Mike!

Friday, June 8, 2012

First time at Americade

Americade, an annual motorcycle extravaganza in neaby Lake George, NY, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Mike and I cleared our Friday afternoon schedule so we could ride over, weather forecast for severe storms be damned. The motorcycle weather gods were with us today as we only walked through a light sprinkle at the Expo even though menacing storm clouds were looming on the horizon.

The closer we came to Lake George, the more bikes we saw until bikes seemed to take over the road almost completely.

I love to go to expos at marathons, talking with the vendors and searching for the latest running gear. Today was Mike's day to wander among the vendors selling leather clothing and gear, helmets, gloves, sunglasses, custom artwork for your motorcycle, tires, jewelery, and anything else 'motorcycle' that you can imagine. He specifically wanted to find a waterproof bag to fit on top of our tailbag, giving us a bit more baggage space for our trip next month to Missouri for the BMW motorcycle rally. He settled on a bag from Twisted Throttle that we tied onto the tailbag with bungee cords. Perfect! The only downside is that I no longer can get on or off the bike by swinging my right leg up and over the tailbag - a tricky maneuver on the best of days and made more difficult after a couple of hours on the bike when my legs get a bit cramped. Now I have to hang onto Mike's shoulder and carefully slide my right leg through the space between Mike's back and the tailbag. As long as we're parked on a level surface, I can manage. When the bike is parked on a bit of a slope, Mike has to help haul me onto the bike. It may not be ladylike, but then I guess riding pillion on a motorcycle isn't really ladylike anyway!

We took the back roads home, deciding that Route 4 southeast in Ft. Ann looked like it might head back toward Vermont and home. We wound through hilly, rural Washington County for miles, surrounded by open pastures, farmers mowing hay, and fields full of corn just starting to sprout. The Adirondacks towered over the farmland to the west, and we periodically glimpsed the Vermont Green Mountains to our east. Names of the towns started to sound familiar:  West Hebron, Argyle, Belcher. As we swept around a tight curve we saw a sign for the Bedlam Corners store and thought about John Katz, a local author who lives in this area. We couldn't pinpoint our location on a map, or even tell you the way to get back home to Manchester. But we were familiar with the general area and knew that by continuing to head south and east we'd eventually stumble onto roads we knew. Sure enough, a few hilly, curvy miles from Bedlam Corners we saw a turn for Salem, a New York town not far from Manchester.

We stopped for an early dinner at Kevin and Mike's Place II , a combination local bar and fantastic family restaurant in the middle of North Bennington, VT. There was the usual Friday night line at the door for seating in the restaurant, so we sat at the bar. Wearing motorycle pants and carrying high-visibility yellow motorcycle jackets is a great way to start up conversation with people who start off as strangers and end up as someone we hope to meet again.

The weather gods stayed on our side on the way home. The roads and fields were filled with puddles from a recent hard rain, but the only wet that hit us came from the spray kicked up by a pick-up truck on the road in front of us. Mike solved that problem by passing the truck, and we rode home under clearing skies.

Today was my first experience with a motorcycle rally, and we're looking forward to the BMW rally in Missouri. First we need to plan our route to get there!