Five Hundred Miles...

A Rogue Wanderer Traveling The River of Life.. Travel, Motorcycles, and Growing Old Against My Will

Sunday, August 06, 2006



Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men, etc, etc…this ride began as a mid-week brainstorm. I would leave first thing Saturday morning, hit the throughway, pick up 23A across through Hunter, cross over to the west side of the forest preserve, find a room, drop down south on Sunday and come back via Woodstock (a must stop in the Catskills) and the Rondout Valley. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Sleeping in Saturday was the first inkling that it wasn’t going to work. Getting a late start, I knew I was going to have to alter plans, so I took the chance to visit with a local stone carver Ted Ludwiczak before heading north.

Glitch two came on the throughway rest stop.

“23A is closed between Palenville and Tannersville” the guy at the info booth told me. “Washed out’, he says. Damn. This has always been one of my favorite roads, climbing past Katerskill Falls where rock-climbers hang out. Literally

That was confirmed with the flashing sign just south of the Kingston exit, which feeds into 28 and the Catskills from the south end. I take the exit, my plans changing by the minute.

Woodstock it was, via Saugerties, which like a lot of Catskill towns is showing the effects of a new generation of relocated city folk. I poke around briefly before heading west on 212, a nice, curving rolling two lane to Woodstock.

Woodstock the town has absolutely nothing to do with Woodstock the event other than the name, which they have been capitalizing ever since. . It is an upscale wannabe Greenwich Village/Haight Ashbury of the Catskills, with a constant flow of travelers, some of whom may have even been conceived on that muddy field in 1969. Most talk around the ice cream parlors, art galleries and tie dyed shirt shops is of real estate prices and values. . Not quite the Woodstock spirit, but it’s a fun place to visit as evidenced by the steady stream of bikers that come through all day long.

An hour is about all I could handle of ersatz hippiedom before I’m west on 212 for Phoenicia, a greatly overlooked little town that is more representative of a Catskills village that is slowly passing from the scene.

This is a twelve mile run with some “interesting” switchbacks, chicanes and dog legs that demand some attention. It is getting late in the afternoon, and the deer will be moving, but the darkening skies may keep them down. They’re smarter than us.

When I pull into Phoenicia, the sky is black. The clouds burst and I’m soaked in less than a minute, digging to get my cell phone wrapped up. The first thing that I notice is that the sole hotel in town is booked. I decide to sit it out.

Patience not being my strong suit, I pull out the rain gear when it slows to a drizzle. The closest hotel I know of is fifteen miles back to the throughway though.

Oh yeah, cell service here is sketchy at best here, and I couldn’t even confirm that there were any rooms available. Oh hell, I did three quarters of a North Carolina run in the rain, so getting wet and cold is nothing new..

This is where serendipity raised her head. Bucking a headwind and what was now a steady downpour, I was past the Black Bear Lodge before I even saw it. The VACANCY sign stopped me cold. Yes, they had rooms, yes they had a restaurant, yes, they had a bar, and yes, I could park my bike under the canopy at the rear. “That’s what it’s there for” the girl told me.

Turns out that “Bosslady” Kelly Nadler and her husband Scott are making a go of it; creating a friendly feel-right-home atmosphere, upholding the spirit of the country inn-keeper that is hard to find today. And she told me “yes, we are biker friendly. Tell ‘em that”

I head out Sunday morning back through Phoenicia and pick up 214 north, headed back to 23A and Hunter, and I’m reminded of the difference between Eastern and western riding. We don’t get those great scenics, those vast landscapes, those wide open spaces with mile after mile of straightaway and scant traffic. Here, if we’re lucky we can see a few hundred yards ahead, if that, while leaning through curves under a canopy of trees that almost brush your elbows, blind curves and hills curving dips and patches of shadow and light that don’t let the varilux lenses catch up. Someday, I’ll get a chance to ride those western plains and mountains, but for now, I’m having my fun here.

On 23A, I pass through Hunter quickly. A ski town, it is all but shut down, waiting for the snow bunnie season that I hope never comes. In Lexington, I am reminded of the Black Bear again and where the Catskills have been and are going.

Between 1865 and 1915, the Catskills became a Mecca for generations of Americans Thousands flocked here to escape stifling summer heat, and hundreds of Victorian style hotels were built to host them. The Lexington Inn was one of them. I found it in Lexington, long closed, awaiting renovation and reclamation, a reminder of what the Catskills once were.

But this is today, and I head out, going south on 41 back down to 28 and my favorite fourteen miles of road anywhere, and probably the most overlooked little run anywhere in the forest preserve.

I first found 47 when making a run in a hailstorm from Lexington to Monticello in a Chevy C-30 more years ago than I care to admit to; a shoulder-less, twisting ribbon of unmarked two lane blacktop fom Big Indian to Oliveria through Frost Valley, with the added attraction of patches of pea gravel that make two wheel riding especially interesting, it can be a biker’s dream or nightmare. I love it.

Coming out in Oliveria, I pick up 52 towards Ellenville and home. It too is a favorite road, as it cuts through farmland and rises up over the Rounout Valley, where the air currents bring out the hang gliders. I’m in luck. Pulling into a rest area, I stop to admire the dozen or so who have “slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced on laughter-silvered wings” They too, know the freedom that we as motorcyclists pursue.

Fly on friend, whoever you are.


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