For 50 years, the Sullivan County Catskills have been my summer home. I accompanied my parents for one-week vacations to small hotels and relative’s homes, and I paid for college working in the …
For 50 years, the Sullivan County Catskills have been my summer home. I accompanied my parents for one-week vacations to small hotels and relative’s homes, and I paid for college working in the region’s iconic hotels. Thirty years ago, I bought a place of my own. I raised my kids here, made friends and absorbed the natural beauty and community that make these hills, lakes, rivers and valleys a special place. What keeps it fresh and exciting after all this time is the opportunity to bicycle the spider web of roads and byways that are an endless fount of new adventures. This year, I am grateful for its abundant bounty and generous citizenry like never before.
Bicycling is more to me than just a physical activity. I’m sure everyone has an exercise that makes them feel a freedom from the mundane, a lightness and agility that takes them beyond their day-to-day existence. When I ride I find that flow meshing with a beautiful machine: a perfect balance, untethered from the confines of gravity.
It’s the riding on country roads that brings me particular joy. For the summers that I worked in Catskill resorts, I would bring my bicycle and explore the county and town roads around the hotels. To a city kid, it was a profound shock to be free of urban noise and to suddenly be conscious of the hiss of my tires on the pavement. It was a pleasant surprise to discover the courtesy that drivers demonstrated and the admiration that I often got when I described my routes to curious locals because riding in this part of the world meant that you were often climbing. Unlike Brooklyn, this country is not flat; hills could be long, steep and unpredictable. The downhills were as challenging as the uphills particularly when the road got rutted or the smooth pavement turned to gravel.
This summer of coronavirus riding took on a new meaning and became an important part of my path to well-being. After hunkering down in Hoboken during the early days of COVID-19, I succumbed to the siren call of the Catskills and decamped from my city apartment to my Lake Huntington bungalow. It’s now late September and I’ve only been back twice for very short visits.
It became obvious to me and many others that bicycling was an activity that could be done safely and responsibly. Almost by definition, recreational bicyclists need to stay a safe distance apart. Sullivan County seemed to be taking precautions that my more populous neighborhood was treating cavalierly. I felt more comfortable here biking to a coffee shop and sitting in the outdoor spaces then I did back home. There was just more space to spread out in a small town than a congested urban sidewalk. It felt easier to breathe. Since June, I’ve been biking six days a week when weather permits.
As the days get shorter and the nights get colder here in western Sullivan County, I will have to return to the more crowded streets of Hoboken. Our summer cottage lacks insulation and our community turns off our water as the danger of frost increases. It is almost time to depart for the winter months, but I did not want to leave without saying thank you.
I am grateful to my neighbors and to the many that we share the road with. Back in May, I was reluctant to come; it seemed unfair to bring our city stresses and problems here. I worried that summer visitors would overwhelm scarce resources. I feared the introduction of new infection vectors when so little was understood about transmission. It became clear that I underestimated the resilience of Sullivan County. Residents and business here were more resolute and common sense compliance seemed universal. My spring of uneasiness and trepidation gave way to a summer of cautious joy.
I’ve been asked why at 65 years old I enjoy straining to pedal my bicycle over these challenging windy roads. There is reward in the accomplishment, there is satisfaction in the ability to scale a hill that I had to walk the last time I attempted it, there is a fascination with an unfamiliar road and wondering what is around the next turn or over the next crest.
I am looking forward to my final rides along both sides of the Delaware River, climbs in the hills above Jeffersonville and visits to the delightful coffee shops of Western Sullivan. Thank you for sharing your bounty.
Charles Rubin is a systems engineer, amateur baker and essayist living in Hoboken, New Jersey and Lake Huntington, New York.