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The Catskills Solo Solstice
Road Runner Magazine: Motorcycle Touring & Travel
August 2008

August 1, 2008

The Catskills Solo Solstice

Text and photography by John M. Flores

PHOTO CAPTION:

New York exiles Joe Massa and Greg Henderson have brought their own urban style and touches of whimsy to the Catskills. Their goal: to decorate the rooms in ways that might be too “out there” for a home, but exceedingly fun for an overnight stay. The newly complete wing is special, with each of the rooms reflecting a television-show theme from the ‘60s and ‘70s. There are rooms that seem to be caves, bathrooms that stuff you inside a genie’s bottle, and others that make you feel a little like Danny Partridge.

FEATURE TEXT:

Angry clouds unleash a summer storm worthy of the evening news, toppling power lines and causing flash floods. I’m on an Aprilia Tuono (Italian for thunder, ironically), Protected by a gas station canopy in Masonville, NY. I’m not alone though, as other riders sought shelter here in the only dry place for miles. I set off when the storm subsides, and two bolts of lightning strike in the direction I’m heading. It’s going to one of those trips…

The day started much differently – hazy, hot, and cloudless in Port Jervis. Its two days before the summer solstice so there’s plenty of time to wander and explore the Leatherstocking and Catskills regions of New York while the sun takes a long, lazy ride across a blue sky. In winter I dream of days like this.

From Port Jervis, NY97 follows the Delaware River upstream to the Hawk’s Nest, loved by motorcyclists for its enviable views and serpentine road. Further up river in Minisink, the Delaware Aqueduct Bridge crosses over to Lackawaxen, PA. Designed by John A. Roebling, it’s the oldest existing wire suspension bridge in the country and foreshadows his masterpiece, the Brooklyn Bridge, by 20 years. I admire Roebling’s handiwork, then cross back and head toward lunch at Bubba’s in White Lake on NY55. It’s a lightly traveled road with great pavement, nice sweepers, and a good lunch spot along the way.

NY 55 leads on to Liberty, where I jump onto NY 17 west and hurtle through the landscape in a series of perfect straights and large radius sweepers. It’s mildly enjoyable but the high-speed efficiency is suffocating my soul and spurring a search fro more engaging asphalt. The search ends on Old Route 17 (County Route 179). Echoing the twists and turns of the East Branch of the Delaware River, it’s slower, a bit bumpier, but much more interesting.

Next up is Cannonsville Reservoir, the westernmost reservoir in the New York City water system. The towns of Downsville and Walton are quickly dispatched, leading to NY 10 shadowing the West Branch of the Delaware as it feeds the Reservoir. Roads here flow along valley floors clean and free of traffic. Clouds begin to fill the western sky, and within ten minutes I’m waiting out the storm at the Masonville gas station, glad that I brought my rain gear.

The clam after the storm is cool and dry. The pavement is damp, but with the sun out again my field of view expands, taking in the scenic landscape of New York’s Central Leatherstocking region. Named for the leggings worn by pioneers, the area is dotted with farms and small towns. NY 8 and NY 23 lead to Norwich, and NY 12 takes me to Sherburne. It’s relaxed, easy riding, and a perfect way to end a long day of wandering. From Sherburne, NY 80 and then NY 13 carry me to Cazenovia and tonight’s accommodations, Stone Cottage.

Day 2: Cazenovia to Roxbury

Day two dawns cool and calm with soft cumulus clouds stretching to the horizon and the threat of rain a distant memory. Cazenovia, a tidy town with a well-preserved historic district and pretty tree-lined streets, encourages dawdling, and the innkeepers and other motorcyclists suggest I take a trip to the 167-foot cascade of Chittenango Falls, just a short detour north on NY 13, a sweet little twister road.

Lunchtime arrives near Cooperstown, a mere 50 miles as the crow flies – but my ride nearly doubles the distance on idiosyncratic NY 80. While flying fowl and more urgent travelers follow the straighter roads north of me, I am virtually alone rolling through the quiet farming communities of New Woodstock, Columbus, and New Berlin, bending and turning as the undulations dictate. In Georgetown, I stumble upon the Spirit House, a very odd residence built in the 1800s to resemble a wedding cake.

NY 80 leads to Cooperstown and rekindles boyhood memories. It’s been 20-plus years since I visited as a youngster obsessed with the national pastime. And though I have since trading waffle bats for winding roads, the town looks much the same, retaining its Norman Rockwell charm. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is still there too, of course, celebrating the feats of my childhood heroes, and I spend the afternoon reminiscing before resuming my wandering.

NY 28 south points back toward the humpbacked hills and picturesque reservoirs of the Catskills. Home to interesting locals and quite a few exiles from New York City, small towns with faraway names like Andes and Delhi are tucked away amid the nooks and crannies. At Margaretville, NY 30 north rolls quickly through a majestic valley made more dramatic by the fading light. Softly rounded peaks extend as far as the eye can see. The road leads to Roxbury, the birthplace of naturalist John Burroughs, and one of the towns where shades of urbanity have colored the fabric of mountain life. Behind their traditional facades the buildings house a contemporary dine art gallery, a boutique store of children’s apparel, and just off the main street, tonight’s groovy accommodations. An old motel transformed and re-opened by a pair of urban exiles, The Roxbury beckons behind a pair of chartreuse-lime doors. The “Shagadelic” suite is mine (and mine alone) for the night, and I fall asleep watching the plasma TV.

The Longest Day

Day three, June 21st, the summer solstice, starts crisp and clean. And while loitering in the lobby, I get some road recommendations and then head off for more explorations on the quiet mountain roads outside of town. These are the kid of roads that the paint crews disregard, where you won’t see another vehicle for 10 minutes, and where you’re apt to stumble upon stunning vistas with regularity. They are also the kind of roads that unexpectedly run out, turning to chip seal or gravel. Nonetheless, it would have been great to get lost on them; but as I crest a hill and spy a foreboding wall of clouds gathering in the western sky, I head back to NY 30 and continue north.

NY 30 intersects with NY 23 near the Schoharie Reservoir. Turning east, away from the clouds, I’m in Ashland daydreaming about lunch when I pass The Partridge Family bus parked across the street. This doesn’t happen every day, so I turn around to investigate. Lunch can wait. The bus, a replica, belongs to Jack, a stunt coordinator and another urban exile. He said the bus was partial payment for a promotional gig he did a while back, and it isn’t the only vehicle he owns with a story. As a light shower passes, Jake gives me a tour of his small collection of MGs, vintage Ducati, Norton, and Triumph motorcycles, and a pair of interesting Hondas. A CB750 is set up so that a camera person can sit facing rearward while shooting, and a CB1000 is attached to a custom rig configured as a camera platform – recently used to film Lance Armstrong in the 2006 New York City Marathon. The showers clears and I ride off for lunch in the ski town of Windham, which is somnolent in summer, but stirring when the snow flies.

East of Windham, NY 23 climbs radically to a striking vista. Hundreds of feet below, a broad plain of farms and woodland greenery stretches to the horizon. The Mohawk and Hudson Valleys and part of the Great Appalachian Valley, 700 miles of lowlands from Canada to Alabama, meet here. The broad road descends into the valley and I turn right on County Road 31 south (Hearts Content Road), a quieter two-lane. A right onto NY 32 south followed in short order by a right onto NY 23A west points me back toward the Catskills. The road winds up a tight gorge, passing Kaaterskill Falls, a 260-foot, two-tiered cascade. It’s crowded though and hard to gain access to the falls. This is the main route to Hunter, the largest ski resort in the Catskills and thus one of the most developed communities around. After two days with the roads to myself, it’s a little disappointing. However, as in many other places, a turnoff quickly separates me from the commuting masses.

That turnoff, NY 214, connects Hunter and Phoenicia through a sharp gap, Stony Clove Notch, that separates Hunter Mountain (4,040 ft.) from Plateau Mountain (3,800 ft.). The road feels tight and the sky closed in between these two gentle giants. As gray clouds fill the sliver of sky, I pause to put the rain gear back on and find my timing is perfect. One mile further, a torrential rain slams down and slows my approach to Phoenicia. The storm, coming from the west, scraps the pans to head that way. I hit NY 28 and hightail it east, gapping the storm.

Crossing the Ashokan Reservoir, a look back upon the clouds that soaked me in Stony Clove Notch treats me to an unforgettable view: a steel-gray cauldron drops sheets of rain upon a suddenly small landscape, churning the normally placid surface of the reservoir frenziedly. I stand in awe, snapping photos until fierce winds threaten to knock the bike over, and leave before being overtaken by the storm again, beating a GPS-led retreat to the evening’s lodging.
The GPS saves me from another drenching and leads me down a series of intimate local roads lined with small farms. And along these routes, another encounter with local creativity calls for a time-out. Before me in an open field stand dozens of giant tree roots, twisted tendrils of wood reaching for the sky. Some resemble bleached bone, others look like petrified flames.

The “curator” of this collection exits his house and ambles over to explain. His strange assemblage is the result of a 30-year avocation spent gathering roots from fallen California redwoods and hauling them here in a pickup truck. Taking photographs is okay, but he asks me not to publish his location. I give him my word and feel fortunate to have stumbled upon another hidden treasure of the Catskills.

Minnewaska Lodge, on Route 44, is due east of Minnewaska State Park and perched just below the Shawangunk Ridge, a rocky cliff face (some 300 feet tall in places) marking the dramatic western edge of the Hudson River Valley. It’s a popular rock-climbing destination too. I had hoped to watch the sun set on the longest day of the year from the lodge balcony, but instead, with evening clouds obscuring the view, I left early for dinner in New Paltz.

Yanni’s, a modest Greek restaurant, is festooned with white Christmas lights strung from the ceiling. A one-man band fills the space with rhythms and folk songs, and happy people crowd the tables as waiters zig and zag from the kitchen with sizzling plates of food. Tomorrow there will be more miles to Port Jervis, but those are a workman’s miles, along busier, less scenic roads than those just traveled. On the other hand, enjoying this festive restaurant filled with food, wine and friendly faces is the way to end this trip. A most fitting place, I think, for celebrating the advent of the longest day of the year.



The Roxbury
2258 County Highway 41
Roxbury, NY 12474
(607) 326-7200
www.theRoxburyMotel.com