A magical place where motorcycling on a twisting network of roads mingles with a spirit that touches your soul
Story and photos by Liz Jansen
From the Hudson River, the dense forests covering the ancient Adirondack and Catskill Mountains appear as pristine wilderness. Get up close on the land and you’ll discover a network of spidery mountain roads, weaving together historic villages, farmland, forests and rivers, without encroaching on the valley’s best attribute – a spirit that touches your soul. It’s perfect motorcycle country.
Long a strategic gateway to the Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson River Valley has served at various times as a primary transportation route, a host for industrialization and the base for military posts, including West Point. In spite of all that civilization has demanded of it, the valley has retained its incredible natural beauty and unique energy.
First discovered by Europeans in the early 1600s, the Hudson River’s close proximity to New York City quickly garnered it military, cultural and economic importance. In the mid-1800s, summer estates for families such as the Morgans, Vanderbilts and Roosevelts began appearing. The fresh air and evergreens drew artists, outdoor enthusiasts and city folk seeking to escape or recover from dangerous diseases. Long a favourite motorcycle destination, the hills are also home to a plethora of mainstream and alternative venues, from music festivals to Tibetan Buddhist and other retreat centres, popular with those seeking spiritual renewal.
Two weeks of energy medicine studies at the renowned Omega Institute, tucked in the hills around Rhinebeck, New York, drew me to the area. Although time constraints meant I had to arrive via the express route, even it was scenic, carrying me across the Adirondacks and Catskills. The courses were great, but after five days, I was eager to make the most of the weekend and lose myself and my Tiger in those hills.
It didn’t take long. Within 10 minutes of departing, I managed to get myself turned around, ending up somewhere other than where I thought I was headed. And that was with a GPS. Meandering mountain roads bounded by forests, streams, old stone fences and homesteads are captivating, and the riding is wonderful no matter where the roads take you. Mind you, I wasn’t as lost as Henry Hudson, who, in 1609, sailed almost 250 km upstream looking for a shortcut to China before realizing the route wouldn’t get him to his destination.
With minor exceptions on short sections of very back roads, road surfaces are smooth, nicely graded and well maintained. However, expect that they can get narrow, with shoulders a rarity.
I was there in mid-October during Canadian Thanksgiving. Mornings were a little chilly, but the radiant sunshine; brilliant blue, cloudless sky; and dazzling autumn colours were irresistible.
My westerly direction for the first day took me across the Catskills to the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. Given the Hudson is a very wide river and bridges aren’t always where you want them, you need to plan crossings accordingly. Omega Institute is on the east side of the Hudson and the most convenient bridge was north of me at Kingston. There’s a toll on this 2.4 km span, but only for eastbound traffic.
The Mecca of Music and Arts
Long stretches of open, gently curving roads connecting small towns typified my ride south on Route 209 and then west on Route 17. Completely immersed in the magic of the day, I let my bike lead. Shortly after bearing south onto Route 17B, I arrived at the town of Bethel, and more importantly, nearby Bethel Woods, site of the original Woodstock festival in 1969. Now a world-class performing arts centre, the concert-goers of yesteryear could not have imagined the cultural complex that has grown out of Max Yasgur’s farm, attracting top names across a diverse spectrum of genres. The museum honours the Woodstock festival and the cultural revolution of the ’60s, showcasing memorabilia like iconic peace signs, a psychedelically painted bus and a similarly clad VW Beetle.
Upon reaching the Delaware River, I headed south on State Road 97, also known as the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway. As it carves through wooded countryside along the Delaware River, here also the New York–Pennsylvania state line, it’s easy to see why it’s in the running for USA Today’s Top 10 Scenic Drives in the USA. Even on a beautiful autumn Saturday, traffic was sparse and motorcycles well represented.
There are no shoulders and lots of curves, so use caution. Occasional pullouts allow you to stop for photos or to just spend a quiet moment. I pulled into one to get off the bike for a few minutes before making a U-turn to visit Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct, also known as the Roebling Bridge, the oldest existing wire cable suspension bridge in the United States.
The Road to Recovery
Still recovering confidence after a significant crash a year earlier, I faltered and ended up in the ditch on the other side of the road, attributing my momentary target fixation on a lapse in focus. The pavement was narrow, but there was no reason other than nerves not to make the turn. To my credit, the bike and I stayed upright, but as we were perpendicular to an incline, I couldn’t get off without tipping over. Riders John and Debbie joined others who stopped to help, and before long, it was like Old Home Week. John rode my bike back up the embankment and across the road to where I’d started the ill-fated turn. After pulling the greenery out…