Day 3. 224 Miles. What Imma Do About My Legs?

It’s a start at the end kinda feel today. 94 miles. 2,700 feet in elevation gain. Fully loaded 100 pounds of bike and gear. I know there’s nerds out there who get all riled up about riding their carbon fiber four ounce bikes 100 miles on mostly flat terrain. Yeah bro! Century! Like that arbitrary number, one hundred miles, means anything. Imperialists. All this weight and all these hills likely make my 94 miles the equivalent 500 for them and they’d be at home watching race cars on TV. Regardless. Comparisons are futile. Except the one comparing my entire body before and after all these miles, all this weight, all this climbing, all this everything. It’s actually over now and I’m sitting in Abany. Before. After. Struggling to type words into a phone. My fingers are probably swollen and too fat, the same fate Homer Simpson once suffered. Inside a roof and four walls, I’m about to break the fourth wall. About to pass the fuck out. I don’t know if I can even walk. Nope I can’t. I’m like a saddle sore Moses. I think there’s food on the way. So I just sit. A hungry Buddha. Maybe I can make it. Maybe not. A tattooed Muhammad. I cant go forward, i cant go backward. I can’t write as much as I’d like. Writer’s-blocked Joseph Smith. Lots of riding. Not so much writing. Hey at least I am most certainly not dead yet. Zombie Jesus. Maybe Spirit of Rick James is my religion. I must be exhausted to be saying this. Theres two commandments. 1) god is love 2) nobody pays taxes. Makes sense. And cents. Fuck though. What imma do about my legs, Eddie Murphy? Praise be. Let’s get to the getting of how i got here in the first place.

Oh my oh my oh my. Headache galore this morning. I am dehydrated. Like a motherfucker. Mother fucking Nature is drying me out like the dried fruits I’ve been snacking on. Its really my fault. I ate enough, but I guess I didn’t keep up with the watering. I shake the cobwebs amidst morning drizzle on the Big Agnes, who doesn’t pay me. We’ve got water and a picnic table and some time and so I fire up the jetboil for an exquisite campground coffee. I consider this a clutch maneuver. It ironically will cure my dehydration right? Ha. Not likely. Not irony either, yet the facts remains that a coffee addict, am I. Young padawan. Bones called me “Cafe” back in the academy for a reason. Some timespace later and we’re back on the trail. Destination Albany. Kara comes up on some trail magic and her home girl Mary is hooking up the indoor living. Showers. And laundry. Oh shit. Fancy huh? It’s a long haul but we think we can make it, incorrectly pegging it at about 80 miles. Ooommpf. We definitely peg ourselves with that one, right in the saddle-sore pooper.

Right now right now, just three or four miles in. Settling in. Trails are closed and we do our best to ignore the detour and simply adventure through it. Despite his staunch veganism, Damon is a pig in shit, he lives for long days and adventurous and difficult situations. I suppose i do too in some ways and also love eating bacon and ham. With coffee. There’s some light precipitation from the skies and some heavy precipitation from my bladder — I’m giving back all the water I chugged, literally peeing off the side of the bike. I see toilets everywhere. I pound an entire 750 ml at once to help remedy. A drop in temp and the light mist means it’s finally cooled off a bit, with ample cloud cover. That helps. I kinda like the mist too. I like my early morning mist like I like my women, super fine and perfectly cooling. Not too bad so far.

Ah shit. I had to open my dumb mouth and say something, didnt I?! We roll into Kingston. Lord have mercy, the skies open up. What the blood clot! More rain and more rain. If you see something say something has made everyone a snitch and so I’m saying something. I see buckets come down. Soaking situation. Rain runners. We pull out of it and hit a diner, checking the radar. Classic little spot with exactly 5,000 menu items. Booths. Eggs. Yum. We all drink even more coffee and dehydration levels are going up. Up. Up.

Yes there’s another side with just as many menu items on it.

We sneak out after an hour and the first five minutes are great. Then yeah, more rain. I’m pretty wet now. The trail runs out but the rain intensifies. Back on the road with this downpour? No me gu —-fuckin car almost a clips me! What the fuck asshole. He’s in a hurry to get to the next red light i guess. This sucks. No sir I don’t like. Crossing the Hudson out of Kingston is one of the most precarious bike tour feats I think I have pulled off to day. It’s especially fun when construction signs next to orange cones in the bike lane squeeze me out into traffic on a bridge in the pouring rain. I skirt out, grab the cone and drop it behind the sign, making more room for Kara and Damon somewhere behind me. I’m another second I’m taking the lane because of the signs this construction predicted. Comes constrict both lanes to minimal skinny. Did I mention it’s Monday lunchtime traffic? 80 mph traffics now moves at 8 mph behind me, in the middle of the lane. Fuck it and fuck you. Rain dumps on me from above as i make my way over the waters of the Hudson below. Never mind the debris everywhere and the hydroplaning water running alongside it all. This one was not for the faint of heart.

After crossing the Hudson for the second time this ride, we’re now in non rail grade territory. Which in normal English means hills. And these hills are really hills. These hills have hills and those hills have hills. Up down up down. This ain’t a code to Contra. The earth apparently is not flat, tell a friend or a frenemy or an enemy. I’m a momentum junkie and this shit ain’t no game. I take the downhills in my third ring and shift all the way down to one and then back up and then up and so on and so on. On and on. Yay! At first.

After 20 more miles in now sun filled skies I’m feeling it. Rubber legged. I hit 41mph and Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America” is on the playlist on my way back up when the combination of enduring the pain and ignoring the pain does me in and I black the fuck out. “Watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical, liberal, oh fanatical, criminal.” Like my mind takes over and is no longer concerned with joyful musings or intellectual awakening or deep thoughts of any sort. Not even more the basic thinking’s. Only the critical parts of my brain are turned on. No recollection of another 40 miles. Straight autopilot, basically. I can’t feel. Numb. That’s pretty much all I know. Golden hour glimpses of chasing the sun. Flashbacks of riding in the darkness along the Hudson. All muddled with pain. Pain in my ass. In my knees. My elbows. Knees. I definitely can’t feel that headache anymore.

“I know it sounds absurd, please tell me who I am”.

It’s fuzzy as I drag my ass over the Hudson for the third time. We’ve made it into Albany, my iPhone cameras makes it seems like there’s more daylight than there really is. Thanks a lot for causing me to misrepresent myself, ghost of Steve Jobs.

My body is shuts down altogether and my mind is simply takes over. Lizard brain. Prefrontal cortex, I think. Maybe the amygdala. I don’t know. I couldn’t remember if I did know. The last mile shows itself to me crystal clear. Night has fallen as we navigate the Capital city, eager for shelter and showers. We arrive and unload, smelling like death. Mary is super cool and an amazing hostess. She’s got hilarious phrasing and manners of speech. Telling a story about a coworker at her job, one in particular stands out: “I pissed in that bitches Cheerios one too many times”. Mary is definitely Buffalo as fuck, and if you don’t understand the references you better ask someone. We partake in intense hygienic activity before feasting and chatting and I soon pass out ass out on the couch.

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Day 2. 131 Miles. Hudson Hot Hammocks.

OK, I’ll be the first to admit it. The signage has gotten better, notably through New Paltz. And the online map is marginally better than the aforementioned paper brochure. I feel like I can still help though, cause marginally doesn’t mean much. Who ya gonna call?NYS DOT? Environmental Conservation? Empire Trail department? Whoever. Give me a job getting this right for you. For us. Excelsior! Ok ok I’ll treat us like the crack head we are and give us the first one for free. A freebie to get us hooked… Water!! We need it. We want! We have to have it!! There hasn’t been a public fountain or source of water since The Bronx. 100 miles ago from right now. Right now I’m in Poughkeepsie marveling at the water fountains. Ice cold. I fill my bottle and immediately dump it on my head and neck and entire torso. We need more water on this trail. I’ve gone across west Texas with more frequent H2O sources. Hydration is key in any state, especially the state of dehydration. Don’t let one bend your risk too much. Holy hell it’s hotter than hell in July. I guzzle an entire liter of water, not spilling a single drop. I’m scanning for shade, my brain is melting at the moment. Marvelously. Before I break down, let’s make sure we got the whole story… I gotta ask everyone to please be kind and rewind…

To when it’s still dark out and I realize I’m alive. It’s not as existential as it sounds. Or is it? What does it all mean? It means I really don’t sleep more than an hour. Ass crack of dawn and I’m out of my tent. My ass crack probably stinks. All before the sun comes up. A little remote sleeping will do all this. Some call it ghost camping. Stealth camping. I stand by my story, Sampson Simpson: this shit is remote sleeping.

We pack up without coffee. Without pooping. Without water. 7 miles up the rail trail, I realize the road we were looking to take to the deli for breakfast is an overpass, not a trailhead. After just one night out there we are desperate for water, toilets and coffee. So desperate that we’re creating our own trail head by climbing up out a 45° incline constructed out of loose 2-10” rocks — with our fully loaded bikes. The adventure begins. Dragging 100lbs is not something I love. We get up to the overpass and head into the nearby town, eager for some sort of something. What do we get? Holy hills! We are no longer graded. Two leg breaking miles later and we are at Sauro’s Deli, not far from the border to Connecticut. Hey papi, tres cafes por favor. Puerto Ricans are the new Italians who were the new Jews. At least in the deli circuit. Not In Hollywood nor human rights. Hmmm.

Basically, deli life is the life for me. The coffee is dank. The breakfast is good. Kara would call it a sammich. Spurio would call it an egg and cheesy. Out front, a car from 1925 is waiting for a photoshoot. I get one shot before the owners come out. Two ladies in the front, the guy in the back. Out for a cruise. It is Sunday. And this ain’t Saudi. Not yet, I guess. The 4 miles of hills to get back to a proper trailhead is torture. Brutal. Ridonkulous. I appreciate this rail trail.

For real fur real this rail trail is a vibe. It’s wonderful here. This is all brand new I suspect. I know the state dumped tons of dollars into connecting some of it and such. This long stretch off 100 miles or so is smooth and silk, the wooden rails and bridges all look like they haven’t even seen a winter yet. During a quiet solo moment, I’m alerted from behind by a spandexes out brown man. “Great trial isn’t it”. Now this is the way you slide into conversation with me. I appreciate your style sir. “Yeah it really is”” I reply. Next up he asks where I’m from. That’s like the Ruth Bader Ginsburg of lead in questions for me. I’ll take the opportunity to talk WNY any day. This guy ain’t no Lester. He’s got the technique down and I have a hunch he might have some intel to impart. We chat at length and Spandex Brown goes in depth with me about the trail, he contends what makes it beat is it’s limited access points — creating long uninterrupted stretches. I agree that is a dope feature, we learned it by climbing out earlier this morning. The trail is only a year old, which means basically no one beside train conductors and workers even had this view until recently. Other related intel includes some sort of race happening that we should keep our eyes open on. Plus a nice park to hammock in Poughkeepsie. And the aforementioned taqueria. He pronounces taqueria so well that what I thought was an Arab brown might now be a Mexican brown. I cant call it. Let’s call him curiously ethic. The future of the earth. We traded names and I can’t tell if he says Ali or Harry or Addy. Oh well, you’ll forever be Spandex Brown in my eyes. I thank him for the info and wish him well as he cruises off on his carbon fiber something something.

We’ve hit the point where kara and Damon and I talk together about what i call “taking all the luxuries”. Maybe it’s just me talking. The lucxuries comes to me. To us. We must abide, dude. Some of those luxuries can be distilled further into what I call “clutch maneuvers”. Kinda like a rug that really pulls the room together, yet not really. Basically. Shit you better get once in a while on a ride just to keep yourself sane and happy. Examples of these maneuvers are lean backs and ice cubes. It’s kinda like being in Asia in that weird way. Could be a tree to sit against and rest. Or a plastic patio chair. And, of course, Ice cubes. O’Shea Jacksons. Both of them. On the rocks barkeep.

Poughkeepsie provides space for hammocks, and the suggested taqueria for guac and tacos and mid afternoon mezcal cocktails. At the bar. I’m the AC. Damon is ready to get lit. It’s cool. literally. We have one cocktail and push out like the adults on bicycles we are, despite the Sunday situation. We have eons of time in terms of sunset and more trail ahead. I kick it into third ring steez and zoom across the Hudson on airmobile free bridge and up toward New Paltz, getting some solo time. I love people bridges. I think about st Charles bridge in Prague. Or the purple people jam in Cincinnati. Those two cities makes great bookends in my view. For a bit, I text hands free, reaching out to my fellow student at the NYS Fire Academy from 11 years back, Bones. Aaron Bonetseel aka Bones is a firefighter in Kingston and it’s looking like he’s gonna swing down 15 miles to meet me and catch up. I haven’t seen him since we climbing off the side of buildings more than a decade ago and this makes me happy. I pedal harder, cruising at 17 mph.

Damon catches up a few miles later, exclaiming, “the mezcal got me feeling some kinda way bruh”. Indeed my friend. We’re now in Paltz, where — like i said way back when — the signage is muah. We navigate easily. There’s even a campground 10 miles north. We make it to the campground. Strange that this is the “official” campground on the Empire Trail Map. The first one at that. That is an official fully, man. Campground host has a nice selection of stickers, one in particular: “I’m extremely far-right”. I smell fermented fascism. I do what I can and I enjoy a life changing shower. Bones and his daughter stop by. It’s such a blessing to catch up with him. He’s healthy and still working in Kingston. We reminisce on the Academy. I got him hooked on chocolate covered espresso beans; it’s how we stayed awake for 3 months with little sleep. I really forgot about that. I definitely miss some of those times. We talk fire department nuances and politics. We talk larger politics. Seems like the best thing for America right now would be for both Donald Trump and Joe Biden to croak of old age on the exact same day — soon. We could have joint funerals. Yay!! Everyone laughs. I’m being funny. I’m being serious. Serio. National unity is so far away yet so close. Bones bounces and I pop up the penthouse. Eager to finally get some zeees.

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Day 1. 70 Miles. Brochure, For Sure.

It’s almost 90° F and we’ve welcomed the shade of a tree to eat snacks, drink some water, and do some planning. It’s called tree-shade planning. And hydration and refueling. It uses the pronoun it and it is rest. It’s not much of a glam stop. No picnic table. No bathrooms. No water fountains. We’re literally under a tree in the shade, for my friends at home. We is Kara and Damon and I. Loki went ahead at the last stop. Hold up. Wait a minute. You’re asking yourself who the fuck is Loki?! Put a mischievous pin in that because i promise we will get there via space travel in just a sec. For now – right now – right now right now – it is hot as balls and ovaries and everything in between and we are out of water so our next stop is just 8 miles ahead in… Yorktown heights. York Town New York. It’s sounds wealthy. Probably isn’t. Typical New York bullshit. Bill shit. Whatever. This statewide trail got some funding a few years back; I’m grateful for the smooth surface; I’m dissapointed in the signing and mapping. Wayfinding as the kids say. We’re all babies man. New York State — who does pays me — should pay people like Kara and Damon and i to make this system better. Or even pay specifically Kara and Damon and I. Pad my pension or something. I dunno. Pay anyone other than whoever it is that obviously doesn’t really get it. Like obv. Maybe they don’t ride a bike at all. Or they do but they’re just some middle aged man in Lycra. Shoutout to all the actual mammals out there. Humanism. Anywho, MAMIL – you know some guy with a credit card and his wife in a support car not far behind, having a Cabernet every 10 miles waiting on his dumb ass to craft some sort of document that surely doesn’t even remotely qualify as map. Empirical fail. Don’t call me Shirley. It’s a brochure for sure. Don’t get me started on the confusing and inconsistent signage. Notably when one needs it most… like let’s say, through the Bronx and on Broadway and under the elevated subway. Elevated Subway sounds like a great punk rock band name. No help in navigating my bicycle through the Bronx though. I guess even that was miles ago, kilometers behind me… so we might as well go back… way back… back in time…

…space. Let’s jump in the phone booth with George Carlin, head to around 9am this morning — when Damon rolls in early to our NoMad pad and I’m mid second poop. “NoMad”; north of Madison? Everywhere in New York is a neighborhood now. Everything is a choice. Everything is everything. More of those rum infused coffee beans in a cold brew is the cats pajamas yo. I shower up and pack up and we hit a robust-ass two story Whole Foods for supplies. Everything is robust in Manhattan, especially the rent. The rent is too damn high, as they say. And by they I mean that old black guy with the gloves that didn’t become mayor.

We are Trail bound on a busy Saturday morning – it has its moments. Empire State Trail. Er empire trail. Whatevs. It’s late morning to be exact. It feels good. Getting hottern hell already though. 15 miles in and we take our first little break somewhere past Harlem. I’m snacking on a beef bar when from behind I hear “late start huh?”. Um. Yeah, what I suspect is a curious citizen as usual. The yooszzz. “How far you going?”, “nice rig” is how they typically get to talking, then it goes on and on and on. This time it doesn’t get there, but in an instant, my mind goes there, painting the whole landscape like Bob Ross with a third eye. Before my body can turn around my minds creates the entire conversation with this typical dude about it. I’m so sure of it. Then I turn my dumb ass around. My homeskillet Anthony O’Leary aka Loki da Trixta. Worldwide OG, Brooklyn native, brand new Mexican dad, and my old university at buffalo hip hop student association comrade. As if putting myself back into Washington Square late 90s yesterday wasn’t enough, here’s my old friend I’ve done that exact thing with back then standing in front of me. 25 years alive and strong and I can’t do nothing but give the motherfucker a big old hug. Kara met him when we were all at Afropunk in BK circa 2015. Damon met him the last time I saw him living down in Mexico City circa 2018. Trail magic is upon us in a serious way as we become a four human riding unit. We catch up in union and harmony, our bodies and our minds connecting somewhere in the junction between exercise and conversation. Natural high amidst calculated operation. It’s especially sweet for me to see my old college friend. We’ve stayed connected in so many different way and here’s yet another. Loki (rappers hate when you use their government, as do tattoo artists and poets and graffiti writers, etc — basically a good majority of my friends), is pedaling 70 miles to Beacon to see his brother John, plus another old artistic juggernaut of an old pal named Sam Sellers aka Rabbi Darkside is playing a show. He offers for us to camp at his brothers house. The universe is a unique place and I’m so ecstaticly appreciative to be all up in it.

We push on amongst intermittent cover, which is nice and needed. This rail trail has been solid since Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. It’s wonderful to get out of the city in this fashion. The lack of motorized vehicles makes so much more possible. Conversation. Quiet refraction. Focused motivation. Somber consideration. None of that happens with car and trucks and trailer whizzing by me at 30-90 mile per hours. I’m in the middle of one those possible things when I hear a loud clicking in the front an decide to pull off. Little brake and axel adjustment and it’s better. Definitely ridable, not quiet. Suddenly and without and warning, we’re accosted by the guy I thought Loki was about to be. Earlier. Back then. Right now though here is that guy. He was coming the opposite way at and now he stops to talk to us. Kara baits him on and then clams up. This guy is asking us those things. He looks like a Lester so we’re calling this 60-70 year old upstate white guy Lester. Lester is kinda creepy. Not too much. Just enough. I dunno. He legit tries to hand me a card to a nearby e-bike store. I’m not even riding an e-bike much less need a fucking business card. Who has business cards? Is Lester gonna pull out the Yellow Pages next?! I tell him I’m not taking any more weight on for this ride and that I can certainly remember the name of the bike shop if I need it. Lester isn’t just being a curiously friendly guy — that would be cool and the gang. He’s doing the little presumptuous commentary that leads me to avoid these kinda folks on the trail. My crash pad is apparently a sleeping bag. No we don’t have any electric at all. Lester getting on my goddamned nerves; I don’t have anything nice to say. In the wise words of no one, if you don’t have anything ice to say, just roll out — so I just roll out, and everyone falls in line behind me, and we’re moving again. A mile or two up and the click is back and louder. Damnit. I stop and wave the group behind me on and lean the steed up against a trailside bench. Tighten the quick release real quick and look over my shoulder… Lester! Pulling up behind me. Ew. Go away boomer. Why are you trying to talk to me again?! I zoom off, kicking it into my third ring and make tracks. That touring ring is beefier than any e-bike and I don’t see Lester again. Whew.

With Lester out of our lives, other things appear on the radar. Hunger and gravity remain and we stop for a bite at the Elmsford deli. I’m not particularly hungry yet I do get my thermos filled with m some bomb ass coffee. Not rum infused but definitely Puerto Ricans making it. They’re representing because the Cubans couldn’t be here folks. We hang in the shade of the building for twenty or so and come to the conclusion that we won’t be able to take Loki up on the offer. He’s gotta cut off the rail trail about 20 miles up and we’re staying on it as it winds away and meanders in its graded and non motorized glory. He’s gonna push it to get there and Kara and Damon and I are gonna cruise along and find a flat piece of public earth to set up tents when the sun sets. Loki bids us adieu and pushes on. Bumping into him and being blessed with that time together was so fortuitous and yet almost destined to happen. High frequency trail vibe used to take a week, I’m hitting it in just 35 miles today.

My mind settles in as the miles pour on. This long stretch of rail trail really does ease my navigational subscriptions. Rolling along and our cover is thinning out; we’re now along a highway. An hour of that and we’re all caught up in time — back at that tree shade planning sesh. How’s that feel Yorktown Heights. Their grocery store is a Mecca. It made the Whole Foods feel like a two dollar whore. If that still exists. $5 is the new $1. Anyway. The deli is more than robust and get a full on refuel and rest in their AC cafe seating. Back by the restrooms too. Purrfect is what the cool cats say. Operation remote sleep in the next 20 miles is already bubbling in my mind.

We push out of the grocery store around 630pm. About two hours of daylight. Destination unknown. This brochure of a “map” doesn’t offer anything. Not a trace of camping space. A couple towns later and the sun is setting. Now it’s set. Dusk. It’s definitely gonna be dark in 15 minutes. We pull off on a trailhead and figure any spot is as good as the next. Flat earth it is. No water. No bathrooms. No picnic tables. Nada. Well. Good enough for us. I pop up the penthouse. Drink some water. Snack. The bugs are killing me. Damon has some “deep woods OFF”. I go in on it and it is a thing. A thing that doesn’t pay me. A thing full of chemicals so harmful and the bugs go running. Damon admits it’s not go for you. “I’d rather die a couple days earlier than get all bit up by mosquitoes.” On that note, it’s crashing time. Not like collision-crash, like exhaustion crash. Stars occupy my ocular overhead. Ok I’m out.

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