(Edited to correct a factual error) What we call Haviland Hollow is really the Michael Ciaiola Conservation Area, named after a long time president of the Putnam County Land Trust. We don’t though. We call it after the road it’s on. That could be because mountain biking here predates the naming of the place or because none of my crew knows how to pronounce Ciaiola. Both are true, but the truth is uncertain. Additionally, the orange trail here is officially the George C. Cain trail. He was known as a great trail steward and advocate. A member of the NYFD, George Cain died in the line of duty on 9/11.
Korey and Chris have ridden here for years. I rode with them here once, last October. It’s hard. Probably the hardest place I’ve ridden. It’s old-school northeastern riding. It’s not a place to ride often. It’s a place to return to test yourself. We don’t know the trails well. Last year, we found some flatter, flowier (I’m using the term very loosely) trails at the top of the mountain. But right now, we’re at the bottom of the mountain. Today it’s Korey and Ben and me, and today we won’t find those trails. We needed Chris.
The start is innocent enough. Through a gate and along an old road, loose and rooty, and with a stream crossing not a hundred yards in. Just beyond that we turn left onto singletrack. Immediately there’s a short climb that takes strength and skill I lacked a year ago but am delighted to find today. That’s followed by a roller coaster whose sight-lines are masked by undergrowth. The undergrowth ends and we’re riding through an empty group campsite, followed by another short, technical climb and then another empty campsite, followed by yet another short, technical climb that leads to an old stage road.
The stage road climbs alongside a stream whose bed is hardly rockier than the eroded track we’re riding. We pick our lines and still we need to pop and boost our bikes over ledges, still we bash our pedals on bottom-bracket high rocks. It’s badly drained. We muddy our wheels in the wallows and clean them in tributary stream crossings. We suck in humid air and drive our pedals around. The stage road goes on for long enough that I wonder what was here two centuries ago that made the road worth building.
Eventually we leave the stage road and follow a singletrack through the woods. The trees are bigger here and they mostly shade out the undergrowth. A big oak that came down in the May 15 storm blocks a stream crossing and adds a Fitzcarraldo level of challenge. The trail markers seem random. We aren’t sure if the orange markers are for the orange trail or if they’re red trail markers that have faded. The red trail intersects itself in places. Unless it’s the orange trail intersecting the red trail. We’re lost, but it doesn’t matter. Roots weave a mat along the trail. Big ones cross the climbs, holding the dirt and jerking our wheels around. There’s enough hike-a-bike to satisfy our most masochistic tendencies. But we get a couple of fast and dodgy descents, and more than a few satisfying climbs, before topping out at an overlook where we surprise a couple enjoying the view.
“You rode bikes? Up that?”
Yeah, we rode up that. The bikes weren’t always assets.
We leave the couple, then find a radio tower all a-post with dire warnings. We follow its service road down until we turn onto a trail that Ben identified on the map and which Korey and I recognize from last year. The map shows a trail off this trail that we want to take, but almost immediately there’s a sign forbidding bikes. Right – We made the same mistake a year ago. Reversing to the first trail, we ride down one of the best descents of the day. We stop beyond a stream crossing and choose between beer or more riding.
The ice packs in the cooler won’t last forever. Beer wins.
Ben and Korey go first so they don’t see my next act. Mounting my bike, I catch the crotch of my shorts on the seat. Unable to get my weight back, I’m instantly unicycling downhill on my front wheel, my back wheel wagging like a happy Labrador’s tail. When the front wheel inevitably jams on a rock I vault over the bars with uncharacteristic grace to land on my feet.
Hilarity over, I remount and roll down the baby-head strewn trail until reaching a rock face that drops 8 ft. or so at about 45 degrees. I would ride it except for the boulder field runout. Ben and Korey have already walked around it and I follow suit.
Crossing a sketchy bridge whose ends land on the remains of an old dam across the stream we followed in, we’re soon careening down the stage road. It’s much, much shorter going downhill.
Sweaty, muddy, scratched, and bug-bit, dry clothes and wet beer are welcome.
Already I’m replaying the ride in my head, realizing how much better I rode than I did a year ago. And already I’m thinking I want to come back while what we rode today is fresh. I think I know where we needed to turn to find the trails we rode a year ago.