Bright shafts of sunlight filtered into Charlie’s guest room at 6 am on Tuesday morning, beaming hard on the wood floor. A pleasant way to wake up before a day of trail riding. On the 7th of April, it was 38 degrees on his porch, no hurry, we finally got rolling by 8. Our first stop after a short coast down Warren street was Moto, a crossover art studio/ motorcycle/ coffee shop with one table out front.
The coffee was strong and hot, a burnt caramel-crusted sweet roll provided 2 or 3 twists of sugar-laden starch for each of us as we sat quietly on cold metal chairs at the curb. Once again my guide on the Empire State Trail, long-time New Yorker Charles Whittingham described our first stop just down the road and around the corner, an old fishing village called Furgary, in shambles for now with re-imagined plans for the future.
Riding out of Hudson was easy, the trail is well marked from Furgary to the Hudson trailhead. Then up a gradual hill through a local neighborhood and past a car wash where we left the street and returned to car free cruising on an EST paved trail way. We were the only people on the trail for several miles then the trail ended and we were back on the roadway, weekday morning traffic was minimal. We passed several long stretches of river, a few breathtaking waterfalls, and an old factory that has been converted into what appears to be an artist studio. Life north of Hudson seems rather laid back and touched by creative thought. Many of the homes are newly renovated and meticulously detailed with manicured landscapes, farm animals, and thoughtfully placed outbuildings. Riverfront homes like these always catch my eye.
After a few hours of following EST signs on and off-road, we came to the edge of a small town called Valatie, Charlie checked his Strava mileage app and noted that we’d covered 16 miles. It was the perfect spot for him to return to Hudson as he was our shuttle, planning to pick me up “as far north as I wanted to go”. After watching him peddle south I looked up the trail and noticed a bike shop, next to the paved bike path with its front door facing a river. An “open” flag at the building’s corner fluttered in the wind, so I stopped and entered the unassuming shop.
Bike Shop, Velo Domestique looks like little more than an auto inspection station from the outside, once through the door perception shifts. The sign may say bike shop but this is a port in the storm for hardcore bicycle enthusiasts in need of a high-performance bike, new equipment, a specialized gear shift, or perhaps just some direction and advice. I was pleased to meet the friendly owner Ron Gainer who took a minute to say hello, breaking away from what looked like a bike building studio in the back of the shop. Friendly people, making an effort to service a growing interest in bicycle riding in Columbia county, I was impressed. A few hundred yards up the trail there’s a small garden with signs informing visitors that New York City is just 131 miles down the trail, a welcome note to guys like me who’ve made the journey.
Beyond Valatie, the trail continues off-road, paved, impressively protected by guardrails wherever a drop-off or river edge might present hazards for a rider. Several marshland areas came into view and by noon, the rest of the world seemed to be slowly joining me as I passed dog walkers, bikers, and the occasional crew cutting down trailside trees.
As I rode up on a lakeside village called Hamilton Point, blue water and idyllic waters edge cottages caught my attention. The Go-Pro on my helmet had run out of battery power so I pulled out my phone to record the view. Suddenly, after crossing an approach entering a stretch of homes along the trail I found myself stopped short, flying through the air. When I hit the ground with my gloved hand first I realized my focus should have been on the raised divider in the middle of the trail instead of my phone, poor judgment. Lucky to have a helmet on, after my head bounced off the pavement I slowly came to my feet and surveyed what little I’d damaged. Disaster diverted, a quick tour of the area exposed a perfect piece of chalk pavement art that I otherwise might have missed “Wacky Track”, boy did they get it right.
After a long pause, inspecting my limbs and gear, all seemed to function properly (my elbow took a hit that I wasn’t aware of until later in the day). Back on the trail, I committed to getting to Nassau at the very least. The trail runs through a long stretch of the lightly populated area including small farms and homes bordering the electric lines that justify common use land, a brilliant application of access allowing the general public to move quietly for miles north and south. The electric trail is more obvious through this area than I’d seen elsewhere and having found the railway trails in Westchester and Putnam counties extremely hospitable, this land-use also appeals. The trail rises and falls gradually, signs mark private property respectfully and there is very little question of what’s safe and what to avoid.
Arriving in Nassau was a joy, if I wasn’t looking for lunch I could have remained on the trail and coasted straight through without turning onto town streets. My curiosity prevailed, a quick right turn at the True Value Hardware store brought me quickly to the main intersection of town where a tribute to local war heroes hangs from every street light. Banners with photos of men and women, announcing their branch of service and campaigns they served in. After riding through the streets passing the fire department and town library I found Zia’s, a pizza place fashioned out of the former town mortuary, the man serving through the parking lot window was friendly and gracious, I enjoyed a slice and an iced tea and returned to the trail 1 block to the west.
Feeling refreshed and balanced, I continued north to East Greenbush. On the outskirts of town, 2 young men on skateboards joined me for about a mile. The trail transitions from designated EST pavement to the local road for about ½ a mile and I enjoyed the sights and sounds of local suburban life. Following the boys brought me back to my teenage years when my friends and I cruised town after school. It was a perfect ending to a wacky day.
But it wasn’t over yet, as I waited for Charlie at the Sunoco station just off the trail on the edge of town, 2 young men rode gravel bikes into the lot full of excitement and confidence. They saw my bike and asked if I knew where the Empire State Trail was. I pointed it out just beyond the hedge behind the gas station. They introduced themselves, Charlie and I chatted with Connor and Garrison for several minutes. They were riding the trail south from Saratoga Springs to Manhattan in 3 days. Oh to be free and young in America.