The First Ride of 2021

I try always to ride on New Year’s Day. I’ve ridden in some gnarly weather to accomplish that, but yesterday wasn’t bad.

The first cycling thing of the new year wasn’t riding though. At 8 AM on that crisp morning, I met Mark at Upper Paugussett. Shouldering my saw and gear, I followed him up the trail and in about half a mile to where a good-sized ash tree blocked the trail.

The goal was to clear the trail and turn the ash into a skinny, but first we had to drop it. That took a little thought and a fair amount of undercutting. When it was down, we had something like half a ton of wood to rotate 90 degrees into position on the uphill side of the trail. This idiot forgot his peavey, and neither of us thought to bring a come-along. Working with tree-branch levers and log fulcrums, we spent about 45 minutes maneuvering the log into place.

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It was big and in the way.

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It takes thought to cut up a downed tree. Undercutting is often the best approach.
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Amazing how much weight you can move with levers and determination.
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Wedging it solid with rocks ensured the log wouldn’t roll back.
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Ten more minutes with the saw flattened the top.
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Ready to ride. The entry is at the other end unless you’re really, spectacularly good. I’m not, but it’s a hoot to build features for others.

After the trail work, I went home for a couple of hours. A ride was still in the cards though. I met up with Ben and Korey along Schaghticoke Road by Bull’s Bridge at 2. Clouds had rolled in and the day had become cold; about 35F and damp. The ride to the foot of North Kent Road is about 7 miles, at least 5 of it on dirt. We didn’t dawdle getting on our mountain bikes, but it took a couple of miles of pedaling along the muddy road by the Housatonic to warm up. Here, there are places where the Appalachians rise up in sheer cliffs from the river, and the road occupies most of the 50 feet of flat between the two.

We stopped at the foot of North Kent to pee and strip some clothes. As it happened, I should have taken off more. A family of hikers came through, going south along where the AT tracks on River Road. It looked to be a husband and wife in their 40s, and an older woman I took to be the wife’s mother. All of them looked fit, but particularly the matriarch.

She asked us, “Which way are you going?”

We pointed up North Kent.

“Have you been up there?”

That was when I knew she was local.

“Oh yeah.”

She smiled, I think maybe because we weren’t headed onto the AT where bikes aren’t allowed, but maybe because she was another fan of Type 2 fun and liked that we were knowingly headed up the hardest road around.

“You should have had fenders today,” she said, waving us goodbye.

North Kent is only 2 miles long, but it gains 1000 feet of elevation. And it’s gravel. Loose, rounded, bank-run gravel. There are ruts and deep drainages. Its north side is a 50 foot tumble into a gulley. It’s not unrelentingly steep, but where it’s steep, it’s almost unbelievably so. Today, there was also ice. I’ve cleaned it once, 2 or 3 years ago. I thought I could do it today as well, but on the penultimate steep pitch the clothes I hadn’t take off came back to haunt me. I was overheated and near puking when I put a foot down. Off came my gloves and balaclava, and I opened every zipper I could to expose my chest to the cold. Feeling immediately better, I clipped back in and rode on, disappointed in my rookie mistake that had kept me from cleaning it a second time.

Korey and Ben both did clean it. At the top, we debated our route back. It was 3:15, and we had only an hour or so of decent light left. We decided to retrace our route with a sidebar at the Kent School trails.

Ben, young and able, ripped down North Kent. He got a 4th overall time on the Strava segment, and I’m sure he could have KOMed if he’d known the road better and if he’d known how close he was. I rolled it at a much more sedate pace.

I’d never descended North Kent before, although I’ve climbed it probably 20 times. Ass back off the saddle, I had to will my upper body to relax as the tires crunched through the gravel. There aren’t many descents here that are long enough to leave my quads burning from standing on the pedals, but this is one.

At the bottom, I said to Ben and Korey, “We rode UP that?”

Korey responded, “I know. What the fuck?”

From there it was a mudfest to Kent School, where we followed Korey onto the trails. We’d been worried it would be too muddy to ride there, but the trails had drained well. It was only a month ago the only other time I rode there. Chris and Korey had dropped me effortlessly on the mildly technical beginning section. Toward the end of that ride I’d begun to feel my mojo again, a phenomenon repeated in the intervening weeks. Yesterday I held my own, riding at the back but mostly keeping up. What had intimidated me a month ago just needed looking up and pedaling. I had this.

Back out on Schaghticoke Road, we spun back to our cars, glowing thighs covered in mud from the road. No one wanted to linger. Everyone had obligations. But we downed a beer and toasted the new year.

About swampyankeecyclist

I'm Andy Engel, just a middle-aged, middle-class guy from Roxbury, Connecticut. I've been married to my best friend since 1988, and we have two grown sons. I like riding bikes, and my biggest accomplishment is the 180K D2R2. I own 5 bikes but my go-to rides are a 2016 GT Grade gravel and commuter bike and a 2016 Specialized 650b hardtail mountain bike. Additionally, I have a 2000-something carbon-fiber Orbea road bike, a 1990-something Specialized Sirrus that's my old dirt and commuter bike and which now serves as a spare and a trainer bike, and a 1985 Ross Mount Hood MTB. All but the 650b have Brooks saddles. I work from home now, but used to commute 32 miles round trip to work by bike year round. I was a carpenter and still love building things, but regular paychecks, insurance, and vacation time lured me into journalism. I've written a couple of books on carpentry, and I've been an editor at Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, and Professional Deck Builder magazines. Currently, I manage construction events at the JLC Live and Remodeling Show trade shows. Additionally, my wife and I run Transylvania Guest House, an Airbnb. Find us on Instagram. Come stay with us and I'll show you some great cycling.
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