I started riding my bike in earnest when I moved farther from school, from New Paltz to the cozy little town of Rosendale. Anyone who’s spent any time in New Paltz knows that on a busy weekend the idea of trying to drive through the town ranks up there with eating garbage or a slow death, so after learning that the local buses had bike racks, commuting by bicycle became a compelling option. The deal was sealed when I inherited (appropriated) a vintage Italian road bike from my father that was just cool enough to warrant the effort. While this worked well for a while, I’d eventually miss the bus and had to ride the seven or eight miles down Springtown road between the towns. The first time was intimidating but exhilarating; much to my surprise, after the first couple of miles the Shawangunk ridge rose to the West and I realized “wow, this actually doesn’t suck.” It didn’t suck at all, and my bicycle and I have been looking for great rides ever since.
One of my favorites lately has been the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. Beginning in Wassaic, it stretches nominally all the way to Chatham in Columbia County, but the first section is a perfectly paved 10+ mile jaunt to Millerton that is plenty enough for me, thank you. The enterprising among you can even take Metro North straight to the trailhead, which begins right at the train station and would be impossible to miss. The ride from there to Millerton is superb; the trail is continually paved and is in great shape. It’s exceptionally flat too, and apart from a couple small hills at bridges and road crossings the typical grade is less than 1%. A great mix of sun and shade cements this trail’s reputation as an excellent one for a good ride.
Perhaps my favorite thing about it, however, is that Millerton might be the perfect spot to take a break before turning around and heading back. The surrounding area is gorgeous, with rolling hills and some beautiful real estate, and the town is darling with a multitude of shops and pleasant people. I’ve loved going to Millerton for years; it’s got a quieter sophistication than many of the more publicized towns in the Hudson Valley, which makes it feel quaint and less “discovered,” if that makes sense.
There are a couple great spots in particular to refuel. Irving Farms is perfect to stop in for a cup of iced coffee or a cold lemonade. If you’re hungry, 52 Main has a great selection of shareable small plates, as well as a multitude of beers, wines, local spirits and specialty cocktails which you’re going to work off anyway so why not? If you brought a backpack, you’re practically obligated to bring some tea home from Harney and Sons. Although hot tea seems outlandish after a long bike ride, the tasting room is one of a kind and warrants a visit in itself if you’ve ever enjoyed any tea at all, and nowhere will you meet a more knowledgeable staff.
A good ride on the Harlem Valley Rail Trail is one of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, and I’d recommend it to anybody. If you balked when I said it was 10 miles each way, don’t worry. First of all because I’d do the same thing if somebody asked me to take the trail all the way to Chatham (who am I, Vincenzo Nibali?), and second because there are close to half a dozen parking areas along the way, so you can tailor the length pretty acutely. Just get out there, you’ll be glad you did.