Only a few hours west of the frenetic streetscapes of New York City lonely passages twist through three sets of mountains - the Catskills, the Poconos, and the Kittatinny Ridge. We blew into Jersey's portion of the Big Apple's sprawl, hopped on two Ducatis, and fled the urban mess as fast as possible - which often approaches blinding speeds on these particular banshees, a 998 and an STS4.
Relieved, we reach Port Jervis in the early evening. On the banks of the quiet Upper Delaware River, it's but an hour's trainride from the City, and even less by motorcycle to any of the four outstanding tours of this shamrock where the size of the three mountain ranges fits one-day tours like racing gloves.
Each morning departing Port Jervis, we're treated to a topography of breathtaking scenery and our senses are soon flooded with the rushing waters of mountain trout streams, flashed with powerful displays of fall color, and grounded in caution by the vicious curves and tight turns along the way.
Leaf 1: Catskills East - Tripping to Woodstock
From Port Jervis, it's only five or six miles before we are gripping the sheer walls of the Delaware River Valley high above the water with only a stone guardrail to separate us from the drop. The trees have almost reached their peak, and as we descend to the riverbanks of the Delaware, they spread a canopy of color with shafts of light sparking through the rustling tunnel of leaves. Speeding inside the kaleidoscope, I jig the STS4 through the quick, short turns, watching the scattered leaves caught up in Christian's draft spin off the tires in swirling tendrils of air. Perhaps the first true day of fall after an Indian summer, the light is clear, and the breeze is crisp. We've begun our journey climbing into the massive rolling hills that serve as the entranceway to the Cat-skill Mountains.
Turning north from SR 97 onto SR 52, we gradually gain altitude. Traffic, that necessary evil, climbs with us. We haven't yet hit the true back roads, and while so close to New York City, it's to be expected and tolerated. The Ducatis drone harmoniously as we pass creeks, lakes, and reservoirs. Curling around the Neversink Reservoir, we note the water level has sunk far enough to expose the sandbars in the middle, and plants are sprouting well below the normal waterline. Most of the East Coast has felt the drought this summer of 2002, and the streams and rivers here are no exception, even with a name like Neversink.
The roads on the eastern side of Cat-skill State Park sweep around mountains with rounded tops and wide bases, as if they've been smushed from above. Regrettably, the speed limit is 45 mph, sometimes 55 mph, and we really push these limits to feel that sought-after pull of inertia through such wide curves. As Christian puts it, "this is a place where you always have one foot in the jailhouse." Some roads, however, are excluded from the rule, like SR 375 between Mt. Tremper and Woodstock. Bent like the summer of '69, it twists and turns beside forested streambeds, and finally peaks out with, I swear, the scent of patchouli as we turn toward the national flower-power landmark of the East.
At concerts where thousands of people get together, there are inevitably stragglers hanging around the parking lots well after the show, with some staying on as late as the next morning. But in Woodstock, 33 years after the storied gathering at Yasgur's Farm, quite a few folks still seem to wander about in the after-glow.
In the center of town, a small, triangular park features one inanimate monument - an eight-foot guitar. But among the animated monuments appearing on the odd patch of grass here and there are bound to be holdovers from the festival that defined a generation, hippies who stuck it out, with their unkempt hair still dangling, but now mostly from balding crowns. No longer "...glowing, flowing, silken, [or even] flaxen, waxen" but still seriously "down to there hair" in spots.
Across the street are upscale art galleries and cafés, and we lunch where the clientele is chic and young, liberal-leaning, activist, educated and wealthy. Any similar stop is ideal for this leaf of the Shamrock, and Woodstock's cultural dichotomy guarantees 'a good trip.'
With the storefronts' tie-dyed colors in our rear-view, we head south around the Ashokan Reservoir, one of many in which the water ends up in New York City, and once again the curves have caught our fancy. From SR 213 in Olivebridge to SR 32 down to New Paltz, long wide sweepers let us hold our leans for a few seconds at a time and feel the vertical pressure that literally keeps us on the road. If only we could keep ourselves on the right road.
Repeatedly between New Paltz and Port Jervis, we're looking for road signs, asking directions, and doing U-turns. Finally, we diagnose the problem. There are very few junction signs in this area. The route signs are only marked after a turn, and we have no chance to find the new road until we've passed it by. We struggle through the poorly marked roads all the way back to Port Jervis where I begin a series of nightly contributions of $ 5 to New York's education system by way of playing the Quick Draw betting game on every television at the bar.