Status Dirt: Guest Blogger Bike Snob NYC Does GravelCorrespondence Friends Travel & Adventure Cycling Urban Cycling Stories
For the past two years I have curated a ride called the BSNYC Gran Fondon't, which basically involves riding lazily along a dirt path north of the city and then drinking beer:
What can I say, it's a shameless attempt on my part to cash in on this whole gravel-grinding craze, except for the fact that I don't charge any money for it.
Anyway, on this year's Gran Fondon't a participant and I were discussing #whatpressureyourunning and how au courant riding bicycles with drop bars on unpaved roads is and all the rest of it when he mentioned a fancy town in Westchester where living on such roads is a status symbol:
BEDFORD, N.Y—Among the well-heeled set in this New York City suburb, the hallmarks of success include an Ivy League degree, an opulent home—and a dirt-streaked car.
"It is like a reverse form of snobbery here," said Suzanne Galli, who moved to Bedford from the city in 1998. "The marks of dirt say, 'I live on a dirt road and I'm proud of it.'"
Nevertheless, I resolved to explore these artisanal lanes as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to collect bags of dirt and sell them to wealthy people in New York City so they can garnish their Range Rovers and Hunter boots with a dusting of rural authenticity.
So to that end I headed up to Katonah, a picturesque hamlet a little over an hour's rail journey from Grand Central:
Katonah is very much your typical American town, except for the fact that the median annual income is three times that of the typical American town:
This means the people buy all the same stuff as their rural counterparts in Dirty Kanza territory, with the crucial difference being that they pay someone else to use it for them while they go to work on Manhattan:
When I arrived, autumn was already in the air. Baskets were spilling over with decorative gourds:
The leaves were tinged with the first flashes of color:
And the shop windows were alive with Halloween-themed tableaux:
Meanwhile, life thrummed along as it does on the rarefied edge of suburbia. The train whisked commuters to Manhattan:
Expensively-accessorized locals flitted about town in their athletic gear:
And expensively-accessorized carpetbaggers flitted about town in their athletic gear:
Speaking of my athletic gear, while I was of course wearing my strade bianche-proven Brooks jersey, you'll no doubt be horrified to learn that I was not riding an official® gravel bicycle™:
Obviously without disc brakes and gravel-specific geometry (which can differ by typical road geometry by as much as one (1) entire degree) I would be taking a huge risk by attempting to operate my bicycle on an unpaved riding surface. Nevertheless, I was optimistic that my precision-engineered Brooks Cambium C13 would transmit and interpret the road feedback through my undercarriage and ultimately to my brain in such a manner as to inspire confidence and make up for the bike's other shortcomings:
Even more importantly, the fact is that with a pair of Paselas you can do pretty much anything:
That's just physics.
Thusly equipped, I left Katonah and rolled through the nearby hamlet of Bedford Hills:
I had not charted a course beforehand, having figured all I'd need to do was follow the dust-covered German luxury cars and the smell of money to gravel road bliss. This is precisely what I did, and before I knew it I was riding into the morning sun:
Its rays dancing on stone walls:
And mottling the forest floor:
As the residences increased in size and retreated from the curbside I knew I was getting closer. There were moats:
Garages larger than suburban houses:
And lawns larger than city parks:
A prestigious address and plenty of parking for visiting friends and relatives--all courtesy of the State of New York!
What's not to like?
In any case, it wasn't long before the dove arrived with an olive branch in the shape of this sign:
And while another sign warned me to GO BACK for some reason:
I instead rode directly into the dirt's sweet embrace:
This is not to say I didn't exercise due caution. After all, when engaging in mixed-terrain cycling there is no greater consideration than #whatpressureyourunning. And while some cyclists go in for $159 digital pressure gauges and the like I approach tire curation as more an art form, like pairing wine with cheese. First I lay my cheek flat against the ground and carefully analyze the road surface:
Then I examine its consistency by rubbing the dirt between my fingers:
But of course it's only after tasting it (this dirt happened to contain delightful flavor notes of horse manure and golden retriever urine) that I begin the process of adjusting my tire pressure accordingly:
And I shouldn't even have to mention that I inflate my tires orally, since it's the only way one can truly achieve the subtle pressure gradations necessary to achieve the perfect ride quality.
Come on, please don't tell me you're still using a pump. That's like doing needlepoint while wearing oven mitts.
However, I do make an exception for Brooks's new line of of exquisite leather mini pumps, which are true works of art:
Anyway, before long I came to a four-way intersection:
And while I wasn't sure which road to choose it seemed silly not to go with the one called "Succabone"
It did not disappoint:
Once you get this deep into Westchester dirt road country there's sort of a status symbol inversion whereby the people get more wealthy yet the houses get smaller and quainter:
Landscapers were setting up for an afternoon's steeplechasing:
And the roads were being smoothed even as I rode them:
The only thing more satisfying than seeing your tax dollars at work is seeing someone else's tax dollars at work, and I doff my cap to them because the riding was quite delectable:
Motor vehicle traffic was extremely light, and what little there was served mostly to enhance the beauty by sending dust up into the sunbeams:
I suppose it might have been a different story if the roads were extremely wet or extremely dry, but as the sort of person who inflates his tires orally I'd timed my ride perfectly between rainshowers for optimum ride quality and aesthetics.
I was also hoping I might encounter an equestrian so I could be unfailingly considerate towards them, but the only horses I saw were just standing around in paddocks:
So on I rode with miles and miles of dirt and gravel all to myself:
With plenty of curves and climbs to keep things interesting:
The road surface also varied. Sometimes it was hard and smooth, sometimes it was loose and gravel-strewn, and sometimes there were washboard sections that reminded me I had to urinate:
There were no cafés, retailers, or public facilities of any kind, and I was wary of running afoul of the local gentry by getting caught urinating on their private landholdings. So I sought shelter under a mighty oak:
Its boughs enveloped me, a gentle breeze rustled its leaves, and I could have sworn I heard the wind whisper, "Pee, pee:"
Though when I was just about to do so I noticed a sign:
And saw that I was about to urinate on the Bedford Oak:
I figured this would have been something of a faux pas, and so instead I stumbled along a bridle path in my road cleats and relieved myself there:
Then I continued on past the reservoir containing some of New York City's drinking water, which presumably I'd just contaminated:
And once again found myself on a paved road:
Where I stopped to admire the view from either side of it:
I was fairly certain the leaves were turning even as I rode, because there seemed to be more small bursts of color than there had been that morning:
It's going to be disgustingly beautiful up this way in a few weeks, so if you're a foliage nerd you'd better start planning your ride now.
A short while later I came to this fountain:
The inscription reads:
Spirits of Water, Earth and Sky, All gather here, Where once dwelt one who like this spring, Was sparkling sweet and clear.
Now dry, it looks like it once might have watered horses:
According to this book, here's what it looked like in 1910, when Dr. Pearce Bailey placed it there to memorialize his wife:
Then came the cars:
And now it just sits there unnoticed by drivers rushing to and from Connecticut on busy Route 35:
I'd returned to the 21st century, and for awhile I sat there contemplating erstwhile spirits:
Then I retreated to the dirt roads to prolong the illusion for just a little bit longer.