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We turn right onto Route 213 and settle into the quiet rollers and tree lined lanes we’ve come to think of as home. Four miles later, on a slight rise with clear visibility, Piers is pulling – he’s been pulling almost all day – when he routinely cautions us to a small hole in the road. Bars locks, bodies shift and lean awkwardly, and Sam goes down. Pierre, unable to avoid him, t-bones Sam and forward flips over the whole scene. Pierre is OK but Sam is shaken, scrapped and bleeding and stays seated and dazed for several minutes. After cleaning-up and walking around, Sam decides to finish the ride in the van with Craig and Dan Sharp.
The rest of us continue down the tree-flanked road, encountering several easy climbs and a few sections of rollers as we skirt Ashokan Reservoir. A few miles later and we emerge from the woods into hilly farm country. Chickens and dogs follow our progress with a mixture of mild curiosity and light disinterest. The end is near but it takes a section of gravel, Sundale Road, to raise everyone’s flagging sprits and energy levels. Piers, Jeremy and Pierre dive into the uneven dirt surface with obvious relish and some quality handling skills. Their enthusiasm acts as a carrot and I begin gaining on them until Pete rushes by, faster and floatier than I thought possible. He’s effortless and I’m no longer inclined to fake it.
On Queens Highway we pass the world’s largest garden gnome. Not long after I call Kansas’s attention to the large, toaster-shaped hillside between where we are and New Paltz. The one with no obvious way around it. The approach is typical of the foothills in this area, pretty, wooded and teaming with freshwater streams.
The climb back up over the Gunks begins with single largest most elegant switchback ever engineered. The green, healthy and grassy field between the bottom and top section of road is the size of several city parks and far more alluring. Kansas and I slowly, so slowly, make our way through the apex and up onto the meat of the climb. Visibility, because of several sharp turns and unfathomably steep pitches, is depressingly limited. The road just climbs aggressively up and up in spite of your feelings about it. I see Kansas, several hundred yards in front of me, shaking his head like a child confronted with some great injustice. Eventually he dismounts and begins to walk, head hung low. I pass him, barely, and we climb together, me on my bike, him on his feet, for what feels like days. Finally I round a corner steep like a ski slope and see the top. Above the road, fifteen feet, is a foot bridge and on it Dan, Sam, Piers and Pierre are stamping and shouting and encouraging me to crest. Which I do, just.