Hail Yes! I rode Columbia

 One of my hand-drawn maps used when my phone's GPS was useless.

One of my hand-drawn maps used when my phone's GPS was useless.

Near the northeastern corner of Columbia County in the Hudson Valley of New York is County Highway 30. It hugs Queechy Lake, which is nestled gently against the Berkshire Mountains. Columbia County Highway 30 is only 1.4 miles long and flat, not remarkable by cycling standards. But in my case, it was the end of my two-year cycling quest. 

During 2015-16, I rode solo on Columbia County's highways. Every inch of every one. I estimate that I biked more than 1,000 miles, including 200-plus miles of county highways plus state and local roads to get to them.

It started on half-mile long Columbia County Route 12 that goes by Abby Rockefeller's, Churchtown Dairy, and ended a year later on County Route 30.

I am not sure why I decided to do this. Maybe because I helped build some of these roads in college as a summer laborer (my role consisted solely of throwing shovels-full of hot asphalt where someone told me). After I started riding, I admit it became something of a white whale ("You don't understand. I need to go riding today because I still need County Route 25!") 

I developed a plan on a county map and then crossed off highways as I "collected" them. I took photos of every five-sided blue and yellow county road sign. I stopped at about every convenience store in the county for Builder Bars, Gatorade, and biology breaks. I drew paper maps for areas where my GPS failed.

Most importantly, I enjoyed some of the best bicycling in the world right here at home. Columbia County sits on the Hudson River in southeastern New York about 100 miles north of Manhattan. Its western border is the river with the Catskill Mountains in view beyond. Its eastern border is Massachusetts and the Berkshire Mountains. The county is as sparsely populated with people -- about 60,000 in 648 square miles -- as it is overflowing with dairies, orchards, wineries and a wide assortment of other farms. 

The county highways are extremely well maintained (more on that later), relatively lightly traveled, and diverse in their grades. All-in-all, the roads could be described as "rolling" with a few tough climbs closer to the Berkshires.

There is a great website that suggests routes in the county; that is not my mission. I am chronicling my rides on county rides and rating them by their beauty, grade, and road condition.

I will rate each road on a scale of 1 to 5 for pavement quality using “COws,” a corruption of “cows” and “ows.” Same for scenery using “Churches,” in honor of landscape artist Frederic Church, and road grade in Ventouxs” for the great Mt. Ventoux of Tour de France fame. I will try to group roads by theme or geography.

 Alpha: 12 with Dairy Dome under construction. 

Alpha: 12 with Dairy Dome under construction. 

Columbia County Route 12

County Route 12 in Livingston is a half-mile of agricultural glory. It was the first highway I collected because it is less than a mile from our home. As mentioned, Route 12 features the Churchtown Dairy, or the “Dairy Dome” in Sheffer lingo. It also has an underground brick and stone cheese cave (I want one). Route 12 is a “connector” road, bringing you to County Route 27, which itself is a gateway to many beautiful rides.

COws: 1 cow (being resurfaced in 2018).

Churches: 4

Ventouxs: 0

 At Christmas, people gather at the Dairy Dome to sing carols to the cows. 

At Christmas, people gather at the Dairy Dome to sing carols to the cows. 

 Omega: 30 on Queechy.

Omega: 30 on Queechy.

Columbia County Route 30

County Route 30 in Canaan, was last on my list because, honestly, I forgot it in my planning. It connects state routes 295 and 22 and has some nice views of the Taconic range.

COws: 3

Churches: 3

Ventouxs: 0

Going Writing

 My George Hincapie Gran Fondo jersey. RIP, 2016-2017.

My George Hincapie Gran Fondo jersey. RIP, 2016-2017.

My 2017 road cycling season ended prematurely on Sept. 24 when a narrow but deep washout that slashes diagonally across Macedonia Road in Chatham caused me to dismount my bike in a way I had not previously practiced.

I was going downhill, traveling somewhere around 20 miles an hour. I was 40 miles into the 54-mile “gravel grinder" on dirt roads. My sunglasses were covered in dust.  Like Trump voters, I never saw the danger ahead.

The washed out channel turned my front wheel to the right, and stopped the bike. I went over the handlebars and landed on the gravel road on my left side.  Like anyone who has fallen off a bike, I wanted to get back on quickly to avoid more embarrassment.

I started to crawl toward my bike – “how’s my beautiful baby!?” -- which was in the middle of the road, rear tire still spinning. That is when I looked down and noticed that, at its main knuckle, my right middle finger was oddly pointing right at a 45-degree angle. I remember saying  to myself, “how the hell did that happen?”

Then I felt a sharp pain in my left shoulder.  Okay, heck with the bike. I crawled to the side of the road. I was alone. On a lightly traveled country dirt road. I waited a few minutes. No one came. I started yelling “help” in a weak, pained voice.

Within 10 minutes, a few fellow cyclists came upon me. One found a mailbox and pulled out a piece of mail to find the street address. He called 911 and soon the Chatham Rescue Squad was loading me into a meat wagon.


 My left shoulder on day of crash.

My left shoulder on day of crash.

On the way to the hospital, the EMT and I had the following exchange:

EMT: “Do you want a painkiller before we get to the hospital?”

Me: “I don’t know. What’s done normally?”

EMT:  “Have you looked at your finger?”

Me: “Good point. Let’s go with the painkiller.”

At the hospital, the nurses used scissors to cut off my expensive Hincapie jersey, shorts and gloves, causing about $400 in damage to the patient. What is left of the jersey hangs forlornly from the wall of my barn.

Now, 10 weeks later, I have a four-inch surgery scar on my left shoulder and a human cadaver’s ligaments attaching my collarbone to my shoulder. My bruised/broken ribs are healed, the road rash has disappeared, and my middle finger, with its gnarled knuckle, is an effective communications tool when I am angry.

Cyclists will want to know if my bike is okay. It is, and stares at me ruefully, like a dog begging to play catch. I had to cancel a week of cycling in Arizona in November. I am unable to work out. I am fat. I watch replays of this year’s Tour de France and eat peanut butter by the jar.

With my arm in a sling for the next two months but with nine working fingers, I decided I would go writing instead of riding. What about? Riding, of course. Specifically, my adventures the last two years riding every inch of every county highway in Columbia County.


Why did I do that? I am not sure but it felt like I was “collecting” roads, many of which I had worked on during college summers on county road crews. Or maybe it was a way of reacquainting myself with the county after 30 years away. Or maybe it is just one of those stupid things men do in middle age.

I mapped every ride before I departed, stuck notes in my pocket to make sure I didn’t miss a turn, still got lost, got chased by a dog named Nate, ridiculed by motorcyclists,  and nearly run down by a guy in a black Toyota pickup who must have been bullied by someone on a bike in his childhood.

I saw some of the most beautiful scenery along some of the best riding roads anywhere (except bumpy County Route 18, which my butt tells me it hates). I will write about these adventures on a new blog, “Writing About Riding,” and reserve my blog, “Spokesman,” for posts about communications and growing up in Hudson.

I hope you like my biking blog. And if you don’t, well, I’ve got this finger…