Sleeping outside in 2023.

I spent a bit over 30 nights outside in 2023.

🚲 January 21-22: Ferncliff Forest

Riding to camp

A few of us rode to Ferncliff Forest from Pawling; M– drove and met us there. I was chased by an elderly gun enthusiast through the old Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center campus, more recently used by the cult front organization Olivet University until it was shut down by the state for its many criminal activities. Without further incident we made it to Rhinebeck for excellent Indian food, and then a few miles further to the forest.

Day 1, Day 2

🚲 February 18-19: Housatonic River Valley with Colin

The camping cyclist in the greater New York area learns to expect a stiff climb at the end of the day–valley campsites are few and far between. But there are a handful of them. The Stewart Hollow Brook AT shelter is right on the banks of the Housatonic River, and just a short ride from services in Kent, Connecticut. We had great weather, nice roads, and the company of a few local backpackers and their dogs at the shelter. For Colin, this would be his last time camping before the birth of his son.

Day 1, Day 2

🚲 April 8-9: Wild Pennsylvania trip with ADV

John in an old rail tunnel

Phil has a big bike van so he gets out to Pennsylvania more than most New York riders (you can’t really get there on the train), and he and Mimi put this route together based on some favorite roads and some hoped-for connections. One of the latter turned into a real ankle-breaker of a rocky hike-a-bike that spat us out in the backyard of some friendly locals, but it was a great route overall. We were in Amish country much of the time–we saw bike racks on the backs of buggies, and buggy parking at the bike shops.

Day 1, Day 2

🚲 May 6-7: Over the Shawangunk Ridge, twice

At Awosting Falls

Josh’s friend Brian was running the Rock the Ridge trail run, so we planned an overnighter that took us up on the Shawangunk ridge where we were able to meet him at one of the aid stations. We continued on through Minnewaska to Ellenville for the essential Aroma Thyme stop, then partway up the ridge again to camp along Old Route 52 (now a rocky, rutted woods road). We had high hopes for finding a nice campsite here, but the terrain was steep and it was hard to find anywhere flattish except right by the trail. Still, we had a nice night and met Brian again in New Paltz for breakfast the next morning.

Day 1, Day 2

🚗 May 20-21: Crystal Lake Wild Forest

Watching the rain on Crystal Lake

Like everyone else in the city, M– and I often indulge in the (entirely impracticable) fantasy of buying a weekend place in the country, and sometimes this fantasy proceeds to the point that we actually go to look at something for sale. This was one such occasion; a nineteenth-century one-room schoolhouse was listed at a pre-pandemic price, and we couldn’t resist. Neither could anybody else; when we arrived at the open house to find cars parked in a line along the narrow mountain road, we knew the place would go quickly, above asking and for all-cash.

Afterward we stopped at the Long Eddy Hotel & Saloon, where the bartender told me that I wasn’t dressed properly for camping. (She was right.) Then we went on to Crystal Lake Wild Forest.

I had camped there once before, in 2019 during my Catskills solo tour. This time we went a little further in and found a nicer site, sheltered by tall pines. It started to rain lightly, so we hung the tarp and sat watching the rain fall on the lake.

🚲 May 27-29: Memorial Day in Vermont

Runaway cows

We ended this trip in a pond drinking beers. Along the way we intercepted an escaped herd of cows running free along the shores of Lake Champlain and we stopped at farm stands and creamee places. I have never had a bad time in Vermont.

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

🚲 June 3-4: Alder Lake

These days when anyone visits us from away, we like (if we can talk them into it) to take them up to the Hudson Valley or the Catksills. M–’s niece S– visits us frequently, and this time we took her camping at the primitive sites at Alder Lake. The weather was beautiful (though still cool enough that I was the only one to go swimming), and while the lake was very busy, we eventually found a large and lovely lakefront site.

We drove up with my bike on top of the car. In the morning, after breakfast in Livingston Manor, I rode to Poughkeepsie.

Livingston Manor to Poughkeepsie

🚗 June 10-11: Mimi’s Birthday

Sunset ride

We drove up to Dirt Road Camp for Mimi’s birthday, and spent the day riding bikes through the rolling farm country of Delaware County (with a notable stop at Dairy Fest). That night around the fire, I stepped off a short ledge in the dark and landed hard enough to fracture the fifth metatarsal of my right foot. It turns out that getting into and out of a hammock with a broken foot is no fun. I would spend a couple weeks in a boot, only getting back on the bike at the end of June.

Mimi’s Birthday Ride

🚲 August 14-25: Eastern Divide “Lupine”

Leaving camp one morning

This was my big trip for 2023 and my longest, hardest ride to date. I rode from Houlton, Maine, at the New Brunswick border, to Poultney, Vermont, at the New York border. I had planned the trip for July, but pushed it back a month to let my foot heal.

This ride was too much to capture here. I was profoundly underbiked much of the time. It rained hard for five or six of the eleven days of my trip, and nothing was ever dry. On the hardest day I dragged my bike along endless miles of mountain bike trails that alternated between steep and flooded–wanting to bail to the road but unable to because it was raining too hard to operate the touchscreens of my phone or Garmin–in hopes of finding a hotel room to dry out, only to find upon reaching town that each of its several hotels was fully booked. I rode briefly with a couple riding the entire Eastern Divide Route (Maine to Florida). I missed a turn one day and did twenty extra miles. I stayed in Montpelier in the eerie aftermath of the flooding, every single shop closed for block after block. I ended my ride in Poultney, Vermont, where Michael let me stay at his place for a night and where I met a sea captain in the pub. In the morning I caught the train home from nearby Castleton; before I embarked, two touring cyclists on Rivendells disembarked. For them, the train was very convenient; they lived in an apartment in the Amtrak station.

Day 1, Houlton to Baxter State Park
Day 2, Baxter to Millinocket
Day 3, Millinocket to Dam Pond
Day 4, Dam Pond to Troutdale Road
Day 5, Troutdale Road to Stratton
Day 6, Stratton to Upper Richardson Lake
Day 7, Upper Richardson Lake to Gorham
Day 8, Gorham to Franconia
Day 9, Franconia to Montpelier
Day 10, Montpelier to Blueberry Hill
Day 11, Blueberry Hill to Poultney

🚲 September 3-4: Stewart Hollow Brook again

There were supposed to be several of us on this trip, but everyone bailed except Leo and me. We arrived just in time to sit in the river drinking beer, moving to stay in the sun as it set because the water was too cold in the shade.

Day 1, Day 2

🚲 September 16-17: Annie’s birthday ride

Campsite cupcake

It was Annie’s birthday and, like me, she believes that every trip should involve swimming. We were pushing the limits of the lake-swimming season at this point, but it was still just warm enough to enjoy it–the trick is to get in the water right away, while you’re still hot and sweaty from the ride, before you cool off and come to your senses. None of us had been to this site before; the trail to camp was unexpectedly rugged, but the pond was lovely (though troublingly full of dead snails) and we had a clear view of the sunset.

Day 1, Day 2

🚲 October 1-6: Minnesota section of the Northwoods Route

Split Rock Lighthouse (view from our campsite)

In a time of layoffs, is it worse to take a bunch of time off and maybe put yourself at the top of the list, or to keep your nose to the grindstone and then feel like a chump when you’re laid off anyway? I don’t know, but when John told me that this was the only week he could do a trip this year, I didn’t hesitate despite my two-week solo trip barely a month earlier. Mimi ended up joining at the last minute.

It was a great trip and a great route. This is what I’d wanted the Eastern Divide to be: beautiful scenery, flowy gravel roads, spectacular campsites. (Turns out they aren’t kidding about the 10,000 lakes. We grew so spoiled that if we didn’t like the look of one lakefront campsite, we just kept rolling; there was always another lake a couple miles down the road.)

We had perfect weather until the last night, when it grew cold and rainy, and which we were expecting to spend camping in a clearing in a forest with no amenities; instead we found a beautiful lean-to (with not one but two vault toilets!) stocked with a massive quantity of dry firewood.

Day 1, Grand Portage to Chester Lake Day 2, Chester Lake to Grand Marais Day 3, Grand Marais to Fourmile Lake Day 4, Fourmile Lake to Split Rock Day 5, Split Rock to Ferguson Demonstration Forest Day 6, Ferguson Demonstration Forest to Duluth

🥾 October 21-22: Harriman with Daniel, Sean, and Esmi

Only now as I write this am I realizing that this was my only backpacking trip in 2023. That’s a shame; I like bikes, but I think I’d like to do a little more hiking in 2024. This was a quick one, just up to the West Mountain shelter from the Tomkins Cove trailhead, but we had great weather and views, and it was good to see this crew for the first time since Sean and Esmi’s wedding. It was also a bittersweet trip, since Daniel was about to leave New York a few weeks later.

🚲 October 28-29: Spooky Ride with Mimi and Herschel

Cyborg oracle at the Haunted Mill

Mimi planned this trip and she set down one rule: costumes mandatory. In the end there were only three of us, and I would characterize my costume (a pumpkin) as abstract-leaning-toward-perfunctory, but it was good enough for a passing driver to tell her child “Look! a pumpkin and a pizza!” as she passed. (Herschel was the pizza.) We visited a u-pick apple orchard with corn maze (nightmarish, a mob scene), the famous Dover Stone Church (which is not a church but a cave) and the Wassaic Project’s Haunted Mill (amazing). Then we bushwacked around some nearby DEC land for an hour trying to find a decent campsite (with eventual success). In the morning we woke up to the sound of shotguns; camping on DEC land in the fall is always a little risky, and hunters get started pretty early. We packed up quick and headed the few miles to Dover Plains for breakfast and the train.

Brewster-Wassaic

🚲 November 11-12: Taconic State Park

I’ve probably wild-camped a half-dozen times up on the Taconic Ridge near here, but I’d never stayed at the official campground at the foot of the ridge on the New York side until this trip. It was colder than expected, and our group got a bit spread out over the course of the day, but it was a beautiful ride and for the first time I descended Sunset Rock Road at sunset. I can be a bit of a snob about pay campgrounds, but this was a nice one, a hammocker’s paradise of perfectly-spaced tall pines.

We rode into Copake for dinner, and were met by one rider’s local friends. It turned out that one of those friends is restoring the old Copake depot–which process I’d been following on Instagram for years (I once dragged M– out to the depot to peer in the windows and scope it out when we were nearby).

Day 1, Day 2

🚗 November 22-24: Thanksgiving in New England

Lake Willoughby, Vermont

M– was in Albany for work immediately before Thanksgiving, so I tagged along, and we drove up into Vermont and then New Hampshire over the holiday. I’m not a fan of long days spent in the car, but if you’ve got to drive, Vermont is a pretty nice place for it. I bought a blaze-orange wool jacket at Johnson Woolen Mills and Christmas-y beers at Hill Farmstead; we got stuck in a ditch trying to drive up an uplowed trailhead access road; camped at a random spot in the woods after we got towed out, then at the beautiful US Forest Service Fourth Iron campground in New Hampshire the following night; took the cog railway halfway up Mt Washington (sadly it does not go to the top in the winter); stayed a night in Montpelier which was finally starting to reopen after the summer flooding; and fought our way back home through endless hours of post-holiday traffic. This would end up being the last trip in our trusty 2005 Outback, and it was a pretty good note to go out on.

🚲 December 31-January 1: NYE at Roosa Gap

Under the fire tower

New Year’s Eve is best spent outdoors, I firmly believe. M– and I have spent the holiday camping on a number of occasions, but this year there was a like-minded group from NYC-ADV and a few different groups were going to meet up at the Roosa Gap fire tower.

It was a cold day and windy going through Minnewaska. After descending from the Sam’s Point trailhead, we had to climb back up to Roosa Gap, and we were both pretty toasted when we finally reached the parking lot.

There was a larger ADV group for whom this would be the second night of a two-nighter, and we had been entertaining the idea that we’d arrive in camp and this other group would already have a roaring fire going. But it turned out that they had instead encountered some misadventure, and when we arrived only M– was there in her Zipcar. She ended up shuttling many of the ADV group up to camp, but we had our fire in the end, and champagne toasts, and some nice New Year’s views.

March 2, 2024