Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hudson River Valley 2010

This nostalgic look back over the years, born of necessity got me remembering my Iron Butt trip of October 2010, 35 hours continuous riding to New York's Binghamton a distance of 1500 miles followed by a ride across the Catskills and a night alongside the famed Hudson River. The next day I rode south to meet the equally famed Jack riepe in Pennsylvania. Great memories, and I think I included this essay in this collective look back because I miss taking a long trip or two on my motorbike.

Sliding Down The Hudson

To wake up in Kingston near the Hudson River had never been a particular ambition of mine but I had long been interested in seeing this part of the world. The Bonneville was covered in raindrops after a night that had promised violent thunderstorms had petered out into a light shower. It was cold again- I could see my breath as I walked across the parking lot at eight in the morning to eat a bacon and egg breakfast.The roads in this part of the world are rough, ice heaves, pot holes the size of a car wheel, asphalt badly laid in patch work quilts and manholes everywhere all lead to a bouncy kind of a ride. That and the gloom of gray skies and dilapidated brick buildings lead a southern rider used to morning sunshine to look for beauty elsewhere.Nature provides what human civilization frequently cannot. I was back out in the land of roads that snake up and down and sideways, and trees that change color violently alongside those roads.Finally I got to see the famous river. I have read about it's role in the revolutionary era, I have read books on travel by sail that have involved journeys up the river to the Erie Canal that connects the Hudson to the Great Lakes. I even used to listen to Daniel Pinkwater, NPR story teller talk about his life in Dutchess County, up the Hudson Valley. The river itself was subdued, dark and still and silent, like a shiny dark smear across the mountains and red leaves of the adjacent land mass.I have no doubt the sky promising more rain had an effect but the river seemed brooding and almost menacing as it pushed its way through the mountain defiles.It was quite spectacular. I know I was out of season but I was the only dork with a camera I saw all day on this remarkable road.To see a plan for a pizza parlor in a building as ornate as this leads me to wonder if the inhabitants have a strong grasp of the nature of the place in which they live. Perhaps living with history doesn't leave it's mark on the people who deal with it daily. I guess pizza has to be sold somewhere.Newburgh, New York is a very old burg and pretty tired too. It has declined horribly since George Washington camped here and nearly lost his army to a mutiny. I followed some stupid detour marked off Highway 9W and the detour ended abruptly in the middle of the city. I stood astride the Bonneville and wondered where I was. It didn't look promising and from where I was standing it looked like a giant crack house but perhaps I was exaggerating. The photo below shows Lower Broadway, the widest street in New York state and Newburgh went into the history books as one of the first cities to choose a city manager form of government and the first in the country to fluoridate it's water. Now it just looks like a shit hole of 30,000 lost souls. I kept riding back to the river while hoping for no flat tires to impede my way.Winding roads came back into view as Highway 9W (what the W stands for I couldn't say- not west, for we were heading south, but perhaps it was the western branch of Highway 9?) climbed to a scenic vista point.
Very scenic it was too, on my (west) side...
...and the east side of the river wasn't bad looking either.I was looking forward to the rest of the ride downriver toward West Point, but first I had a job to do.Behind the parapet was a place to pee, of that I was pretty certain and so it was I clambered over the wall in all my riding gear, looking for all the world like a knight what has lost his horse. I found a spot that has to rate as the most scenic outhouse in America that morning. I wondered about tipping over the edge but I reckoned my body armor wouldn't do much to stop me splattering on the rocks below so I kept myself inboard and finished my work of art by peeing copiously on my boot. Cumbersome riding gear makes all other aspects of daily living very difficult.Graffiti is everywhere in public places. Many of the granite stone decorations have been covered with inconspicuous gray paint to try to hide the worst of the offenders. This lost soul, an e-harmony reject according to a friend of mine, had used a finger to express his longing in wet cement, quite indelibly:Not a very discriminating aspirant I thought to myself, pausing to wonder what he might do with the rest of the woman.Lacking all appropriate decals and permits and post 9-11 forms of peaceable intent I rode on by content to know that I had been there.I had a brief phone conversation with Jack riepe, a man of limited social skills who was wetting his pants waiting to meet me in Pennsylvania not too many miles south. Knowing I lacked all forms of electronic gimcrackery he told me to take Highway 6 to Highway 33 to Highway 22 to Highway 209 to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Following his instructions I crested a rise away from the river and found myself staring at... I don't know quite what. New York State I guess.The roads were tremendous fun twisting and swooping across the countryside and I was enjoying the sense of freedom from responsibility only a motorcycle can give. Here I was, all alone with a tank of gas and no one to say boo to me, free to go and stop and start as I wished. Great roads they were too. Did I mention that?I reached the outer darkness of the edge of the Empire State, a place called Port Jervis, a place where the Upper Delaware River separates New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Port Jervis's claim to fame is this railroad turntable. It's called a port because of river and canal traffic in the area during the several hundred years of it's existence, though nowadays it's connected by rail to New York City.
Hunter S Thompson lived among it's ten thousand inhabitants as does Larry who joined me in admiring the turntable. We talked of weather and Florida where his son lives though he needs mountains and forests to keep him happy. Larry is a widower raising his youngest kids alone now that his wife has been dead from cancer these past two years. He was out walking his dogs and we talked politics, marvelling at the corruption of modern life and both of us lamenting President Obama's mediocrity after a promising start.He suggested a side road after I had finished my lunch- a banana- and whether or not I found the one he meant I did get to take an uphill climb to a park on a high knob of land, called Elks-Brox park named for a man called Brox and the club known as Elks.I scared a couple of kids in a souped up car driving the park noisily but after they left I was alone at the vista point above the woods.A view of the turntable from up on high:And Matamoras, Pennsylvania across the river.I stopped for gas in the town and asked the attendant if this was Pennsylvania as I had seen no signs when I crossed the bridge, and he said, yeah, I guess there is no welcome mat. So I said, I guess if they didn't bother to signpost it perhaps there's not much to see here? He laughed, I guess he was confident that his home state was famous enough without no stinkin' signs. riepe's directions ran me south through the Poconos National Park, a winding 45 mile per hour road.More excellent scenery.I felt pretty certain I wasn't in Florida right now.
At the south end of the park I came round a corner and saw a delightful Italian restaurant by the side of the road with outdoor tables, umbrellas and everything. Upon mature reflection I decided it was time to stop for some caffeine and quiet contemplation. I stopped up the road, pulled a U-turn and headed for a rest. As I pulled into the parking lot the camber drained down to the left away from the road so I went to make a turn to have the bike end up pointing out at the highway and as I turned at walking pace in the picture below, the bike rolled over the mud under the leaves and slipped on the greasy muck. In a flash I was on hands and knees, pinned to the ground under the bike with stabbing pains from my right ankle.Some very kind diners stepped out and stood over me. Can we help? they asked politely. Lift the back of the bike I muttered. They released my foot and I had the bike up and on the stand before my sprained ankle started to hurt properly. I had scratches on the windshield and a broken turn signal lense.And the main right foot peg snapped off in the graceful slow fall. I called riepe who was delighted to be able to get involved in offering the hapless visitor some help. He lives to serve others, even if he takes any opportunity to gloat. "It takes a Triumph rider to run over his own foot," he said later in the day, offering me his spare cane to hobble around as my ankle went through it's most painful, swollen phase. Meanwhile I ate a grilled cheese sandwich to settle my adrenaline with several cups of hot sweet coffee. riepe called back, "Hermy's Triumph has the parts. We can collect them tomorrow." Shit, now I had to be grateful to the old toad, I thought, as I switched out the passenger peg in place of the broken one and continued on my way, nearly falling a second time by putting the front wheel into a monstrous deep pot hole at an intersection.For some weeks riepe had mentioned meeting in the rest area off the Turnpike at Allentown. I had checked the location on google street view and had a pretty good idea where I was going. riepe took no chances: he turned up in stiffie's car. When I arrived he was busy talking to someone, making connections as usual, as he waved me off. I moped for a while wishing my wife was there to cheer me up as I hobbled on my ankle.
It was like meeting a long lost brother. We drank whiskey together that evening under Leslie's watchful eye as riepe eyed my ankle and cackled. "you ran over your own foot," he chortled. That was just the kind of sympathy noises I was looking for. This was going to be a nice stay. Of course riepe has his own noisy take on everything. http://jackriepe.blogspot.com/ It's all lies but read it anyway.