Riga, Sunset Rock, and the Berkshires

On June 24, 2022, a group of GrNY riders completed this epic ride to celebrate 2x Peter’s birthday (plus some extra miles to make it an even century). It was also a great sendoff before I head to Colorado for the rest of the summer. The upper ~65 miles come from Mark L’s excellent 2021 Riga route. I did an 80-mile version of this route last summer and knew that I needed to return!

Route Description:

Epic gravel ride that includes the climb up Mt Riga (~1250ft), the more challenging climb to Sunset Rock (~1050ft, but steeper), the flat (and beautiful) Housatonic River Road, and other premium stretches of gravel in the region. It includes the option to visit Bash Bish falls (just steps away from the route). Worth the drive!

I’ve pasted the RidewithGPS route below, which contains a detailed description and options for shorter 75- and 86-mile distances. The 75-mile route is probably the sweet spot as it includes both big climbs and the entire Berkshires part of the ride. The last 22 miles of the full route have some excellent dirt roads, too. We were originally going to start in Kent, CT, but moved the start location to Housatonic Meadows State Park Picnic Area to allow for some shorter “bailout” options (75 or 86 miles), in case anybody needed to get back earlier, or in case we ran out of steam. Thankfully we managed to keep the pedals turning for 100 miles and 9500 ft of climbing and had an awesome ride! We celebrated with some beer at the end.

ROUTE LINK:

SHORTER VERSIONS:

OUR ACTUAL RIDE:

Itinerary for our ride.

  • 19.5 mi: Optional water/gatorade stop at LaBonne’s Market in Salisbury
  • 34.5 mi: Required stop at Depot Deli for snacks/food/water. This will be needed after climbing Mt Riga and before climbing Sunset Rock (each 1250ft and 1050ft, respectively). Bathrooms available at Taconic State Park near the swimming area (across the street).
  • 49 mi: Lunch at the Marketplace Kitchen and Cafe in Sheffield (sandwiches, etc). They might not carry sports drinks, but we could backtrack 0.1 miles to the Mobile Station across the street if needed.
  • 65mi: Optional detour to Falls River Cafe.
  • 78mi: Required Stop at supermarket in Sharon, CT. Last reliable place to get food/drinks before end of ride.

Parking:

Housatonic Meadows Picnic Area has been a safe choice. They had decent porta-potties when we last visited (late June, 2022). There is no fee (just drive and park — no booth). Mark’s ride starts at Housatonic High School. I’m guessing that will work for weekends or summer, only.

Brewster to Wassaic Gravel Ride

For those who missed it, here’s a quick recap of this past Saturday’s GrNY ride.

TLDR version: I promised adventure on this GrNY ride and (unintentionally) ended up seriously over-delivering. Winter has not yet receded in Dutchess County. Overall we traversed…
– snow-free frozen dirt (good for riding)
– velcro-mud (energy sapping, but otherwise fine)
– soupy mud (rideable but messy)
– ice-covered forest trails (difficult even for walking),
– crusty frozen snow (upon which we did a substantial amount of snow biking).

My bike computer recorded 79 miles and 7000′ of climbing. That was one crazy ride, but a lot of fun. Thanks everyone who joined this not-yet-spring lunacy!

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MORE DETAIL: Going north of the city for a gravel ride was always going to be a risk this time of year — to the extent that I chose a 100% paved route as a backup plan. But despite the frozen crust of snow in the grass around our starting location, all of our riders decided to try the dirt route.

Things started off well in the chilly morning: Nicely frozen (and therefore solid) dirt roads for us to enjoy – all completely free of snow on the road portion. That said, the snow under the trees indicated that we would surely be hiking through the forest trail portion of our ride (at West Mountain Forest). And sure enough, even walking was a challenge on that section! It was a ~0.75 mile of “ice-hiking”.
Fortunately, we soon hit roads again on the other side.

After lunch at Cousins Bakery/Cafe/Deli/Pizzeria, we ventured further north and found our dirt roads getting softer with the warmth of the day. Totally rideable, but sometimes sticky (sapping ones energy) and occasionally pretty messy. We never hit truly awful peanut butter mud, so I’ll consider that a win on the mud front. But those closed-for-the-season dirt roads were an entirely different matter! Without car traffic, they were still covered in a crust of semi-frozen snow. I expected us to be walking, but after seeing Vasyl forge ahead on two wheels, the rest of us gave it a shot. Definitely challenging, but on the flat, we managed to roll (and skid) our way forward. We did this through several short sections of seasonal road and thought we had triumphed by the time we returned to the lower loop of our ride. But around mile 64 we hit an uphill surprise of more snow-covered roads. We weren’t going to be riding up that — we barely had traction on the flats! And it was getting late in the day, so limited daylight was a concern.

About half of our bunch took the most direct paved path back towards our start location (the shoulder of a busy Route 22). The other half (including yours truly) took a detour half-way down Route 22, then veered towards the paved Mayberry trail – and towards peaceful salvation. Or so we thought! We soon hit a stretch of unexpected icy-snow stretching into the distance on the bike trail. Wow, there was just no escaping the white stuff! Fortunately, after that longish stretch of snow-biking, the rest of the Mayberry trail was fine except for short bands of snow underneath underpasses. All riders made it back to the train or their cars and were only slightly the worse for wear. It was one crazy ride!

MAIN ROUTE (77.5 miles, ~7000’): https://ridewithgps.com/routes/36622714

Our actual ride: https://www.strava.com/activities/6779011361

Questions? post below or email: track.smart@gmail.com

Maybrook Trailway
Walking bikes on icy snow
Lifting bikes over a gate
The route

Macedonia Gravel Grinder* – Winter Edition

Yesterday, members of the GrNY group did this ride for the first time. I’ve had a couple of requests for the RidewithGPS route, hence this ride report. For those who don’t know, Strava events (and their routes) disappear from the group page once they are over.

MAIN ROUTE: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38187873
~80 miles and 8,000 ft climbing

SHORTER VERSION: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38188236
~65 miles and 6,000 ft climbing

Our actual ride: https://www.strava.com/activities/6395687673

From my Strava feed:
“It was an awesome day on the bike with some excellent company (most of whom woke up before 5am so we could get to the ride start before NYC traffic started!). There was much excellent dirt and plenty of climbing. Those of us who are more road/gravel oriented got several hundred extra feet of climbing by taking the paved way down Skiff Mountain. Those with better mountain bike skills chose the dare-devil, gravel descent (steep, winding, narrow, loose gravel, with potential uphill jeep/ATV traffic).
Thanks to Mark L for the spectacular route that he created in 2015 — and his advice for further improving it prior to our ride today!”

NOTES:
1) There were a couple of places with road work/closures, but on bikes, we were able to pass through.
2) Make sure you are well-stocked with food and water (e.g. in Kent) before starting the upper loop. You won’t find any places to refuel up there.
3) The route above takes the paved way down Skiff mountain (safer), but choose your own adventure (at your own risk).

* This route has no affiliation with the official Macedonia Gravel Grinder event, which will be happening for the first time this summer. I have no idea which roads that event will take, aside for obviously traveling through the lovely Macedonia Brook State Park.

Pawling Nature Preserve
Pawling Nature Preserve
Housatonic River
Housatonic River
Hill on dirt road
Up up up… There was plenty of climbing on the day (>8,000 ft according to most of our bike computers)

Dutchess and Litchfield Gravel Grinder (with Skiff Mountain climb)

On Sunday, August 29, GrNY riders (including two new members) lined up to tackle either a 50+ or 80+ mile gravel route that included the challenging climb up Skiff Mountain near Kent, CT.

Overall, it was an awesome day out. We had good weather for riding (highs in the 70s and no rain, despite the gray skies); the roads were in better condition than we expected given Hurricane Henri the week before; everyone managed to complete the route (either 50+ or 80+ miles), and we covered some beautiful rural roads through farms, forests, and nature preserves.

That said, the start of our ride didn’t go as planned! A running race led to the closure of the first part of our route. We managed to detour. About 9 miles from the start, we came to another closed road. The bridge was completely missing. Water pumps were running and there were no construction crews around, so we crossed the construction zone.

One of the ride highlights — or lowlights depending on how much time a rider spent riding vs walking — was the climb up Skiff Mountain via N Kent Road. This is a minimally maintained road that resembles a jeep trail more than the hard-packed dirt roads on the rest of the route. It is a significant climb (>1000’), it is very steep in places (up to 20%), and continues for a long way (2.5 miles at 9 to 10% average grade), but it is the loose surface that makes it particularly challenging.

A couple of us managed to ride the entire way (which definitely felt like an accomplishment). Others managed to ride most of the way, but had to walk the steepest or loosest sections (not enough traction). One or two riders probably spent more time walking. My only tips are to keep your weight back, try to pick good lines (i.e. look for the better-packed sections), spin smoothly, and otherwise try to keep your wheel straight (not turned) through the loose stuff. I was running 38mm slick tires, but I’m sure wider would have been better.

Splitting up: Soon after Skiff Mountain, around mile 26, we split into two groups. Some of us continued on the 80+ mile route, which travelled through picturesque dirt roads in Dutchess County, NY. Others stayed mostly within Litchfield, CT and passed through the beautiful Macedonia Brook State Park to complete 50+ miles on the day. The 50+ mile group confirmed that everybody made it and enjoyed the route. Our 80+ mile group put in a long, but enjoyable day on the bike, with our fuel tanks mostly drained by the end. Total distance was ~83 miles and between 7200’ and 7800’ of climbing depending on whose device and routing service you believe.

**ROUTES**
80+ mile route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37294061
50+ mile route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37294649
Our actual ride (83-miles): https://www.strava.com/activities/5874412401

NOTES:

  1. There was a bridge missing at mile nine.
  2. I updated the route to include our short “spurs” toward the few food/water stops that exist along the way.

Steve (track.smart@gmail.com)

Dutchess County farm country.
Dutchess County farm country.
Riders (minus the photographer, Brian)
Dirt roads. Sorry, but I don’t have any photos of the road up Skiff Mountain. I was working hard just to stay upright!
More farm country (Dutchess County)
Rolling hills of forest and farm.
Where’s the bridge?
Galloping Horses

Scouting: Mt Riga, Sunset Rock, and the Berkshires

My Saturday ride was *not* a GrNY group ride, but I thought I would share a scouting report for those who are interested in riding in this lovely region in the future. I don’t recommend taking my exact route (i.e. don’t do this: https://www.strava.com/activities/5681995427). But I have posted a revised version below.

The heart of my ride was Mark L’s 2021 Mt Riga route, which he has characterized in detail (https://www.cyclesnack.com/2021/07/annual-mt-riga-pilgrimage.html?m=1). Thank you Mark! In my infinite wisdom (i.e. foolishness) I decided that I wanted an extended version of Mark’s adventure. The version I rode ended up being 80 miles and ~7500′ of climbing.

Overall: It was an epic ride that included the ~1250′ climb up Mt Riga, the steeper ~1000′ climb up Sunset Rock, and the beautiful (flat) River Rd along the Housatonic River just north of West Cornwall. My version added a pleasant southern gravel loop in the Sharon, CT region, which could easily be extended by continuing in the southeast direction (see GravelMap.com if you are unfamiliar). I had originally mapped >90 miles before sanity kicked in and I cut it down to 80.

Interesting dirt/gravel sections (in order of appearance):

  • The Mt Riga climb (1250′) was not as tough as I had expected/feared. It was long, but the average grade was ~5% and the really steep sections were not too long.
  • Sunset Rock (1000′) was actually tougher with a much steeper average grade on the main climb.
  • Between the Lakes Rd (mostly flat) was a wonderful stretch of dirt between Washinee Lake and Twin Lakes. Great water views in both directions.
  • Wildcat Hollow Rd (mostly flat) was somewhat true to it’s name in that it was a minimally maintained, very rough section of dirt/gravel through the woods. A bit more technical than other roads mentioned thus far.
  • The section of River Rd (flat), just north of West Cornwall, was a lovely highlight. It was between a seemingly rarely-used train corridor and the impressive Housatonic River.
  • Mt Easter Rd and Clay Bed Road (skip it): I rode this 3.5 mile sand pit so you don’t have to! After climbing at 9% average grade for 1.1 miles in the afternoon sun (up Swaller Hill Rd) I entered Mt Easter “road”. It was definitely not a road. I would characterize it as an unimproved jeep and ATV trail with big washouts and deep sand in many places. I continued for the complete distance, slowly fishtailing in the sand, bunny hopping over gulleys, and nearly toppling over countless times. A fat bike and a strong rider could push through the sand of this road, but I don’t think gravel bike tires can hope to maintain traction in many sections.
  • The southern gravel loop included Butter Rd, Bowne Rd, and Tichnor Rd. These were very pleasant forested gravel roads over rolling terrain. They were mostly well-maintained.

Mark’s 2021 Riga Route (67 miles, ~5700′): https://ridewithgps.com/routes/36676051

Steve’s extended version (78 miles, ~7000′): https://ridewithgps.com/routes/36928079
– This improved version removes the 3.5 mile Mt Easter Rd section of sandy jeep/ATV trails. By consequence, it also removes the Swaller Hill Rd climb.

Parking: Nobody gave me trouble for parking at the Sharon Audubon Center on a quiet Saturday, but there were tons of signs saying ‘no parking’ during morning and afternoon camp pickup hours (presumable on weekdays?). Mark’s ride starts at Housatonic High School, but I’m guessing that parking is only allowed on weekends when school is not in session? Maybe someone who is local can chime in.

-Steve

Race Track Rd (gravel) with mist rising in the morning air.
Race Track Rd (gravel) with mist rising in the morning air.
Gravel bike on dirt road
Dark Hollow Rd (lovely wooded section). I made use of a handy stick to serve as a kickstand.
Mt Riga Rd.
Mt Riga Rd. Blurry b/c I was climbing. I didn’t put a foot down until I got to the highest point of elevation.
Mt Washington Rd
Mt Washington Rd (after climbing Mt. Riga)
Bash Bish Falls
Bash Bish Falls (it’s a short walk to a very impressive waterfall)
Depot Deli just outside of Taconic State Park
Depot Deli just outside of Taconic State Park (where Kathy and I have camped a couple of times). There is a swimming area with water fountains and bathrooms in the campground across the street.
View from North Mountain Rd
View from North Mountain Rd (paved section on the way to the Sunset Rock climb)
Sunset Rock trailhead
Sunset Rock trailhead (near the top). 0.6 miles to the overlook.
Bow Wow and Giberson Rd
Bow Wow and Giberson Rd – pleasant country dirt.
Roberto's Pizza in Sheffield, MA.
Roberto’s Pizza in Sheffield, MA. Surprisingly good for not being in NY.
View from Barnum St
View from Barnum St (dirt segment).
Between the Lakes Rd
Between the Lakes Rd (using a stick kickstand again).
Wildcat Hollow.
Wildcat Hollow. Rougher than a lot of the other sections of dirt on this ride, but definitely rideable without too much trouble.
River Rd along the Housatonic River.
River Rd along the Housatonic River. Railroad tracks on the left, impressive river on the right. Very cool.
Mt Easter Rd and Clay Bed Rd.
Mt Easter Rd and Clay Bed Rd. Not recommended. Deep sand and lots of large washouts throughout.
More deep sand on Mt Easter Rd.
More deep sand on Mt Easter Rd.

Brewster To Wassaic Gravel Ride

This event was on July 5, 2021: Overall, it was a challenging, but very rewarding ride to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend. The route included paved sections, gravel sections, a short section of forest trail (around mile 22), and several challenging climbs followed by memorable descents.

All riders started together in Brewster, tackled the wild Penny Lane forest trail, then continued to our lunch stop in Wingdale. We picked up an additional rider who took the same train to Brewster and was using our route as a jumping-off point for his bike trip to the Berkshires. Cousins Bakery/Pizzeria was closed for the holiday, so we had to make do with the deli/Dunkin Donuts/Mobile Station just down the road. Normally, Cousins provides some nice baked goods for bringing up the blood sugar! Around mile 28/29 our “extra” rider continued on his route, a second rider headed back towards Brewster to complete the 50 mile loop (and get home a bit earlier), while the rest of the group committed to the full 77 mile route.

RidewithGPS estimated the route at 6000’, but all of our devices registered well over 7000’ of total climbing on the day. Those climbs earned us some beautiful views and fun, roaring descents. Everybody survived the route, though some suffered a bit more than others on the climbs.

For future riders of this route: There are no stores of any kind from mile 26 to mile 69 (43 miles total), so we tried to fuel up during our pitstop in Wingdale. We used my portable water filter to top-off our water bottles around Macedonia Brook State Park, since it was a hot day. Come prepared with everything you need for that stretch of the ride!

MAIN ROUTE (77 miles, >7000’): https://ridewithgps.com/routes/36622714
SOUTHERN LOOP (50 miles, 5000’): https://ridewithgps.com/routes/32953734

[FYI: Strava removes all “events” from our feed once they have passed. I sometimes post “ride reports” so GrNY members can learn about past rides and hopefully try those routes themselves.]

-Steve