By Jon Langston, photos by Matt Kopec and Jon Langston (and Mike Krager, and Joe Knezevic. And some lady in the parking lot. Oh, and that guy on the street … )
(This article originally appeared in RoadBike October 2010. This version contains previously unpublished photos and information.)
Apologies to Hannibal from the A-Team, but I love it when a plan comes together.
It was spawned innocently enough, from a casual conversation with Yamaha’s Kevin Foley about a common love for alternative country music (or, as I like to call it, “y’all-ternative”). From there, the plan hatched itself: first came the announcement of Mountain Jam, a three-day music and arts festival in the nearby Catskill Mountains; then, the realization that the concert was scheduled for the weekend before Americade; finally, it occurred to us that a ride from the Catskills to the Adirondacks could easily incorporate a visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
The All-Star Jam was born.
First, a team was assembled. Kevin and I were on the roster, as was American Iron Magazine’s Managing Editor Joe Knezevic. Art Director Matt Kopec to sign on, former Circulation Manager Mike Krager was drafted, and even erstwhile Staff Writer Sam Whitehead joined up.
Now, bikes. With Star’s demo fleet on its way to Americade, Kevin and I figured it shouldn’t be too difficult to draft a couple of ringers right off the truck, right? Strike one. Logistics beyond our control intervened, and sadly, Foley had to be put on the DL for this road trip. But always the consummate pro, Kevin enlisted Libby’s Motoworld in nearby New Haven to make certain that the show would go on.
A 2010 Star Raider S, decked out with a Cobra Swept exhaust, Genuine Star passenger backrest/luggage rack, and a set of slim bags from Hardstreet was graciously loaned to the venture, as was a ‘10 Stratoliner. Matt and I selflessly took one for the team and volunteered to ride these brand-new bikes ourselves, in order to ensure their safety. Yessirree, leading by example — that’s what captains do. Joe rode a brand-new Victory Cross Roads dressed in black, Mike his own Triumph Daytona 675, and Sam his Harley-Davidson Dyna with its R&R Cycles hop-up kit.
Next, we needed tickets to the concert. Produced by Woodstock, New York’s local radio station, WDST, Mountain Jam 2010 was the event’s sixth annual installment. The festival takes place at a Catskill ski resort called Hunter Mountain, about three hours north of New York City. A call was put out, and thanks to the stewardship of WDST’s ultra-cool Richard Fusco and Amber Bauer, it wasn’t long before both RoadBike and American Iron Magazine were participating sponsors of Mountain Jam.
The plan was coming together; the only thing left to do was ride. And rock.
Friday morning. The fantastic crew at Libby’s was more than just a little jealous as Matt and I picked up our Stars. After loading up and strapping down, we snapped a group photo, then set out. Mountain Jam was scheduled to begin at noon, but we first had to hook up with the rest of the team. We left New Haven via Route 34, rendezvoused with Mike, caught Interstate 84, and blasted across the Hudson River into New York via the Newburgh Bridge.
We exited almost immediately at Route 32, and proceeded north, leaving the suburban sprawl of Newburgh for farm stands, green pastures, the occasional tractor crossing, and the view of skydivers falling. NY 32 dead-ended about 40 minutes later at Main Street in New Paltz.
Murphy’s, a bar and grill tucked among the galleries and boutiques on Main Street (Route 299), features curbside parking and picnic benches out front that provide a fine vantage point of the bikes — and they whip up some mean Buffalo wings. Sam and Joe were already at the rendezvous point. Sam’s chaperoned many an expedition up into the Catskills from here, so we selected him to take bat leadoff. After lunch, the rest of us followed Sam west on 299, which drops its Main Street moniker as soon as it crosses the Wallkill River, and began to negotiate the hills.
From the east, the approach into the Catskill Mountains is dramatic compared to the gradual slope of its western side; only a few minutes after leaving the meandering plains of the Hudson Valley we turned right on Route 55/US 44 and climbed the switchbacks up Shawangunk Ridge, known to local rock climbers as “The ‘Gunks.” A series of switchbacks had us at 1,100’ and in the middle of the pines of Minnewaska State Park within minutes. Shortly, 55/44 leveled off and came to a T at Route 209.
We took 55/209 South for a few miles before making a right and heading east on 55. Soon, 55A spurred to the right, hugging Rondout Reservoir’s northern shore on a desolate two-lane that really allowed us to stretch out the bikes. We screamed in a line as the golden setting sun gleamed off the water, its reflection shimmering through the thin line of trees that separate the lake from the road. In crisp formation the five of us crossed a quaint, two-lane dam/bridge, then rejoined 55 for a mile or two before turning right onto County Road 19. Just before Claryville, we cut left on County Road 47 and began a steep ascent. The temperature dropped markedly.
The Catskills are home to more than thirty peaks that rise above 3,500’. The highest, Slide Mountain, has an elevation of nearly 4,200 feet, and we were riding in its shadow as we traversed Catskill Park – technically, a state forest preserve. 47 featured tasty switchbacks, killer curves, and white-knuckle twisties, ultimately dead-ending at Route 28 at a place called Big Indian. There are more direct paths into the heart of the Catskills, but few are more challenging or fun to ride than County Road 47.
Two main east-west corridors, Route 28 bisects the Catskills. Myriad mountain roads and county highways web the entire region and make for some excellent riding. From where we were at Big Indian, Hunter lie to our north, so we made a right on 28, braved the semi trucks and RVs for about eight miles, then made a left on Route 214 toward Phoenicia. Short though it is, the ten or so miles of 214 that connect Phoenicia to the town of Hunter is a fine motorcycling road with little traffic — except for today, when it quickly became apparent that we weren’t the only latecomers to Mountain Jam trying to sneak into Hunter via the back way.
After much negotiation of both traffic and red tape, we finally received the keys to our condo around 5 pm (Kevin Foley was quietly having an MVP-caliber tour). Finally, we were able to take our riding boots off and put our rocking shoes on.
With the stage set up near the ski lodge at the bottom of the hill, the audience at Mountain Jam watches the music from the slope, ensuring that no one has a bad view. Unfortunately, we ended up missing not only Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ set (sorry, Mike), but also most of the exuberant hillbilly/punk/pop sounds of North Carolina’s Avett Brothers, a performance I was particularly looking forward to, as their latest album is one of my favorites of 2010.
Alas, RoadBike is a motorcycle magazine and not a music rag, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out some of the highlights of Mountain Jam: sometime Allman Brother and full-time Woodstock resident Warren Haynes headlined the annual festival’s musical lineup with his own band, Gov’t Mule, which played three-hour sets both Friday and Saturday nights. Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks provided soulful and blistering rock and blues, the bluegrass/Dixieland stomp of the Yonder Mountain String Band had us hoppin’ and boppin’. The reggae stylings of Michael Franti and Spearhead, as well as those of Toots and the Maytals, had the crowd swayin’ to the reggae riddim, while fan favorites Drive-By Truckers ripped through a crowd-pleasing set of new-school Southern rock in the blazing sun. Les Claypool’s 1 a.m. set was designed to trip, as was Dark Star Orchestra’s on Sunday (judging by the crowd, both were successful.) On Sunday the rains came, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of the estimated 15,000 in the audience. Hasidic dancehall reggae sensation Matisyahu was an odd choice, but his performance was a heckuva lot of fun. The plaintive, pretty country music of Alison Krauss and Union Station was perfectly suited for the idyllic mountain setting, and the folk songs of Son Volt’s Jay Farrar and the inimitable Steve Earle had everyone singing along. Then came the grand finale.
Mountain Jam reached a joyous conclusion with an all-star celebration of the 70th birthday of Levon Helm, the legendary drummer of the Band and another Woodstock resident, who led a transcendent four-hour jam session that featured guests such as Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, Ray LaMontagne, Earle and his wife Alison Moorer, Haynes, and too many more to mention.
I’ve attended more than a few of these massive multi-day music fests, and with its pristine setting, unparalleled sightlines, and relaxed vibe, low-key (and biker-friendly) Mountain Jam is by far my favorite. We had a marvelous time working with the crew from WDST, and Haynes is reputedly a Harley enthusiast — so keep your eyes peeled to these pages and those of American Iron Magazine; considering its close scheduling with Americade, you never know what kind of tie-in events Mountain Jam VII may bring.
Heart Of The Order
It was an amazing, exhausting weekend of rock and roll. But Cooperstown beckoned — and when the Hall of Fame calls, you’d better accept the charges. The rest of the guys bid farewell, so it was up to Matt and I to represent the entire team — RoadBike, Star, and Libby’s — at the Baseball Hall of Fame. We were determined to make them proud. New York 28 west would take us all the way to Cooperstown, so with nothing to do but stay on course, we attacked the ride like a couple of bush leaguers eager to make it to the Big Show.
It wasn’t long before we were making the descent into the western slope of the mountain range. We crossed into Delaware County about the same time the pine trees disappeared and farm country resurfaced. I felt a long way from the peace-and-love vibe of the Woodstock area, with its souvenir shops and designer boutiques. Folks on this side of the hill wear overalls, not tie-dyed shirts, and have little in common with the urban expats and weekend warriors that populate the eastern side of the Catskills.
In Oneonta, we crossed Interstate 88 and continued north on 28. We blazed by something that, on any other occasion, we certainly could have appreciated to a far greater extent: the Brewery Ommegang, one of the oldest and most successful microbreweries in the Northeast, if not the US. Despite the obvious appeal of a tour and tasting, we had a destination in mind — and besides, just one of Ommegang’s excellent Belgian-style ales, particularly its knee-wobbling, 8.5 percent eponymous abbey ale, would have been enough to force us to hang up the keys for the evening.
Cooperstown sits about 70 miles west of Albany, on the southern shore of Otsego Lake, the headwater of the Susquehanna River. It’s a quaint community; colorful Victorian homes line the main route into town (Route 28, now known as Chestnut Street) and within a mile or so you arrive at Main Street. With its two-story brick buildings and white facades, downtown Cooperstown could pass for Mayberry. The village was the boyhood home of the 19th century American writer James Fenimore Cooper, author of the classic Last of the Mohicans. But despite this highbrow pedigree, Cooperstown is best known as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Legend has it Abner Doubleday invented baseball on a cow pasture within the village in 1839. Several other attractions scattered around town include the Farmers’ Museum, the Fenimore Art Museum, the New York State Historical Association, and the renowned Glimmerglass Opera. There’s also a beautiful lakeside golf course at the immense Otesaga Resort just north of town that looked promising, but pricey.
Thanks to a kindly tip from the Chamber of Commerce, we made our home for the night at the Baseball Town Motel on Main Street, above one of the ubiquitous baseball souvenir shops. The Baseballtown Motel isn’t a five-star joint by any means, but it was clean, and the proprietor, Janet, seemed genuinely glad to have us. The best part was the motel’s location, literally two doors down from the Hall of Fame and within walking distance of all the restaurants and bars in town. It also featured lighted parking in the rear, where our bikes seemed secure; Janet kindly gave us permission to wheel them into a nook under the stairs, but we didn’t feel that was necessary. At $99 a night, Matt and I later agreed that the Baseball Town Motel was an ideal choice for a couple of motorcyclists who just needed a hot shower and a place to crash.
The next morning, we strolled over to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. It was cloudy, but we didn’t give it a second thought. We made our way through the museum slowly, mouths agape, basking in more than 150 years of hardball history. Over here is Lou Gehrig’s locker; over there is the famous Honus Wagner baseball card. On this wall you’ll find a tribute to Babe Ruth; on that one, a detailed history of the impact of women or Latinos on the game. There’s a ball from every no-hitter thrown since 1940, and relics like Henry Aaron’s bat, Mickey Mantle’s mitt, and Ty Cobb’s cap are on display everywhere you turn — but interestingly, there’s barely a mention of either Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. The first floor Hall of Fame Gallery, where the bronze plaques are hung, was the highlight. Fun fact: of the thousands of players who have been talented (or lucky) enough to play Major League Baseball, less than one percent have their plaque hanging in the Hall of Fame.
A shrine to America’s pastime, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is an austere place, not unlike a fine art museum. People move about delicately, respectfully, and the reverent mood is only broken by the occasional shriek of a scampering rug rat. The entire experience was informative and interesting for a guy who’s been a lifelong fan of baseball, but frankly, I found the Hall of Fame too somber. It’s no wonder that the kids I saw looked bored, because interaction is limited and fun is definitely not encouraged. For my tastes, it’s too much like church, and not enough like a ballgame. Still, Cooperstown is a place every true baseball fan must visit.
It had only taken us about two-and-a-half hours to see the entire Hall of Fame, and we would have liked to have stayed longer (or get a hand stamp and come back later), but our colleagues were expecting us at Americade, so we decided to hit the road. By my calculations, the ride to Lake George was about 3 1/2 hours. We rolled out of Cooperstown shortly after noon headed north out of town via Route 80, just as a thick drizzle began. In my road atlas, a dotted green line traced this 30-mile stretch of Route 80, indicating a scenic route until it reach I-90 at Fort Plain — always a good sign. But it was hard to appreciate the vista, even as we rode alongside Otsego Lake. No one was out enjoying on the water on this gloomy day. With one eye on the road and the other on the sky, we pulled over and donned our rain suits. The ride began wet, and got wetter as the day went along.
On any other day, NY 80 has got to measure up as one of the all-time great motorcycling roads in this region. Windy, twisty, with quarter-mile straight-aways through farmland and tight cuts through a lush, mile-long valley with a river on one side and a rock wall on the other, through charming little Amish communities like Van Hornesville and Springfield Center, this stretch of road was indeed gorgeous. Stoplights were few and far between, and signs warned us to watch out for horse-drawn carriages. We were forced by the weather to take it easy on our borrowed Stars, though, wishing we could truly put them to the test. By the time we reached Fort Plain, it was raining steadily.
We crossed the Mohawk River at Palatine Bridge. Heading east on Route 5, we paralleled I-90 for a few miles before banging a left at Fonda onto Route 30A. This road took us up through Johnstown and hooked up with Route 30 at Great Sacandaga Lake, and the road turned northeasterly and ran alongside the water. By the time it turned due north and away from the lake, rain was pouring down. We were halfway to Lake George, and entering Adirondack State Park. It was slow going; visibility was terrible, the traction, dicey, and water was beginning to seep up my sleeves.
Adirondack Park is, in a word, huge. It is the largest state park in the contiguous United States, and the largest National Historic Landmark. The park covers some 6.1 million acres, a land area about the size of Vermont. Put another way, it’s bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks — combined. We climbed on a narrow, winding two-laner for about 25 miles, and by the time we hit 8 East, had reached an elevation of nearly 2000 feet. We were soaked. Luckily, Route 8 led us straight to our destination, a hotel in Chestertown called The Inn at Loon Lake. We sucked it up and powered through.
I wish I could write more about this stretch of riding, wax poetic about how the mountains were beautiful, the air fresh and piney, and the roads sublime. But I can’t, as I was solely focused on surviving. They say the last mile is the longest, but it took us nearly two hours to ride the final thirty miles through sheets of rain. We arrived just before dark. Our colleagues were waiting for us, with cold beer and warm towels. The hot tub in the living room was most welcome.
In the end, despite a head cold that I still can’t shake, our All-Star Jam was a rocking success. Thanks to the folks at Star, WDST, and Libby’s, we saw some great music, rode some fabulous bikes through amazing terrain, and had a blast. I felt like a rookie who got called up, thrust into a pressure situation, and delivered, leading his team to victory. I felt, yes, like an all-star.<RB>
All Star Sources
Libby’s Motoworld, 203/772-1112, www.LibbysMotoworld.com
Murphy’s Restaurant & Pub, www.Facebook.com/MurphysNP
Brewery Ommegang, 800/544-1809, www.Ommegang.com
Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, www.CooperstownChamber.org
Baseball Town Motel, 607/547-2161, www.BaseballMotel.com
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, 888/HALL-OF-FAME, www.BaseballHall.org