THE TRAILS OF HITHER WOODS
by Chris Pfund
Anyone interested in off-road biking has to come to Montauk's Hither Woods area. Located at the western edge of the village, and running to the beginning of the Napeague Stretch, Hither Woods is 3,000 acres of diverse ecosystems - woods, grass lands, walking dunes, valleys, ridges and bluffs. Over the years I've crisscrossed the many trails there are in this area a hundred times, and I can honestly say that they are the most challenging and diverse on the East End. My passion for riding eventually blossomed into a full time business, as owner of the Montauk Bike Shop. Although now most of my day is taken with helping you experience the fun I've found, I still manage to crank it up every chance I get.
Our trails are a priceless natural resource, offering hikers, bikers, horseback riders and hunters year round access to unspoiled nature. Funded by millions of dollars in state and local acquisition fees they are your best opportunity to experience this area as the first English settlers found it - wild, beautiful and serene. Even if you feet have never strayed from the pavement you owe it to yourself to explore the well charted backwoods of Montauk. Haven't brought your bike, don't have one - we'll be happy to get you started, with one of our quality off-road or on-road rental bikes. We are located on the north side of Main Street, next to Johns Pancake House - a great spot for a quick carbo load, if ever there was one! Open every day in season, we have a full line of bikes for sale or rent, from the best mountain bikes available to bikes built for two.
SPRING CONDITIONING - BODY AND BIKE
Ah, yes, another Winter has passed, and with it all those calorie rich holidays we hold so dear - Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, the big Superbowl parties, Final Four blow outs, and generally lying around the house. Now it's time to shake off those off-season doldrums and get ready for those warmer weather activities - hiking, biking, jogging, and swimming. You remember swimming, it's that thing you do after you put on that bathing suit you could still fit into at the end of last summer! In other words gang, it's time to see what work needs to be done to get the body and bike in shape for an active, healthy season.
As for the body, you're in luck. The human body can renew it's fitness level in a relatively short period of time, if you follow a sensible and moderate exercise routine. Allow at least six weeks for your muscles to completely adapt to any specific exercise - including stretching. After your first two weeks, when you feel yourself becoming stronger, fitter and more energetic, be sure to maintain your level of exercise for the next four weeks to avoid serious injury. That said, it's imperative you consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.
OK - you've seen the doctor and he's cleared you to begin. If you're a walker, runner or cyclist your approach should be the same. Start with an easy routine for twenty minutes, at a level you can still hold a conversation with ease. Three times a week is fine, for at least the first two weeks. After the initial adaption, you can begin to increase the time by ten percent per week. This works best if you add your ten percent all in one day. Let's assume you've been exercising twenty minutes three times per week, for a total of sixty minutes per week. Add six minutes to your Monday's workout to total twenty six minutes, while remaining at twenty minutes per workout the rest of the week. It's good to have one long work out per week. After six weeks, if you're up to it, increased intensity can be introduced with less risk of injury. This is, of course, a basic schedule. If you're interested in more details stop in, and I can guide you to the appropriate source books or personal trainer, to assist you further.
Getting the bike ready is a simpler proposition - if you break it you replace it without a doctor or insurance. Here are the items you must inspect before cranking it up - tires, brake pads, and chains. Check your tires for proper inflation - that will be noted on the side wall of the tire - and dry rot. That appears as hairline cracks in the side wall, and will allow road debris to penetrate the inner layer of the tire, resulting in flats.
Brake pads - these boys are some of the most ignored parts of the bike. Just because they appear to have plenty of meat, don't assume they're good for another year! Check to see they still have a flat braking surface, if they don't they'll "hook" under the rim causing the brakes to stick on one side. Then check the surface of the pad for what is called glazing. That appears as a smooth, slippery surface to the pad, which as you can imagine, is not the proper recipe for good braking.
Chains are the one item that can be over, as well as under maintained. It's just as bad to over oil your chain, as it is to let it dry and rust. Over oiling actually causes more harm, by attracting dirt and grit to the chain, which increases wear. To properly oil, use a "dry" lube, and lightly oil only the rollers of the chain. The outer plates need nothing, in fact rust on this surface is meaningless. After you oil, rotate the pedals for a minute, while holding a rag on the chain to remove all excess oil. Now, that's a mean, clean machine!
Of course no chain lasts forever, and chain stretch is the cancer that destroys the best of chains. This wear can be even more expensive, if the chain isn't replaced at an early stage. If you wait until your chain snaps, you'll find that the gears have worn to match your stretched chain. Then they'll skip every time you apply pressure to the pedals with a new chain. The only way to correct that is to replace the cassette and flywheel - another forty to eighty bucks! The best way to check for stretch, is to bring your bike to a reputable bike shop.
Speaking of bike shops, always remember Montauk Bike Shop is this area's full service shop. If you just want to ride, and not fuss with maintenance stop on down - and we'll be happy to do it all for you. We offer check overs, tune ups, and we'll even clean and polish your old Schwinn!
One of the most popular trails of Hither Woods is the "Talkhouse Trail", named after the famous 19th century Montauk Indian, Stephen Talkhouse. A mythical figure in his time, he was known for his unrivaled ability to walk great distances. Legend has it that he could walk from Montauk to New York in one day!! True or not, he did live in Hither Woods during the 1860's, and he was a prolific walker. His trail runs from the east side of Napeague to the mid south side of the park. It's hoped that the town of East Hampton will soon grant its permission to complete the trail to the north, along the Sound to Fort Pond Bay, a distance of nearly 6 miles.
There are many other colorful names for places and trails in Hither Woods, each with its own peculiar history. "Splitrock Road", is a particularly lush trail starting just a tenth of a mile east of the power lines following a north east route for just under a mile. It's named for a huge boulder, no doubt carried to this area by the last Ice Age, that lies to the side of the trail and is split evenly down it's massive middle. The "Fire Road", a path paralleling the Montauk Highway, was cut in the mid-1940's to allow fire trucks to fight one of the frequent major blazes in the woods. "Powerlines" speaks for itself - the trail that runs beneath the LILCO high tension wires. One small note of caution for that trail - unless you're really in shape for a treacherous, twisting, gut busting ride, stick to another path. "Powerlines" is a challenge.
My favorite story has to do with "Indian Jumps Trail", based on an old Montauk legend. Once upon a time, there were two Indian braves, both in love with the same beautiful young squaw. One eventually proposed to her, and she accepted. The other brave was so distraught he shot the betrothed brave with a single arrow on the eve of his wedding! In his death throes he made three great leaps, and each left a large impression in the earth. As you travel this area you'll notice three depressions along the edge of the trail, thus the name "Indian Jumps".
Of all the trails in Hither Woods, the most difficult is the "Serpent's Back", or, as we local riders call it - the "Ho Chi Min Trail". This trail inspired this unusual dual moniker for the way it was created. When it was opened a few years ago, brush cutting blades were used to clear the path. The small trees and saplings that clogged the trail were cut a foot off the ground, leaving behind a back bone of stunted stumps. The result reminded the more poetic of us of a dragon's spine. Others visualized a less romantic image - the sharpened bamboo spikes, used as booby traps during the Vietnam War. Although the trail has long since been cleared of its lethal spikes, it's legend and name live on.
The Serpent's Back is definitely not for the faint of heart, or legs. It's a tough roller coaster ride that will punish the unprepared, but bring out the best in those riders physically able to challenge it. It's only a little over a mile in length, but you'd better eat your Wheaties, or Powerbars, if you plan to take it on! Access to this torture chamber is easiest at the parking lot at the overlook west of town, on the new Montauk Highway. Enter the trails on the northern mid section of the parking lot and follow it to the bird house. You should see the Serpent's Back to the left. If you've made it to the LILCO power lines, you've gone twenty feet too far. Back track, drop in and try to keep your lungs in your shirt and a smile on your face.
After you've experienced the Serpent's Back, your bike may well need some tender loving care, before it's next tour. Well, you gotta bring it on down to your uncle Chris at the friendly, Montauk Bike Shop. We'll put the old girl up on the rack, and give her the works. If you care to shoot the breeze, well swap a few war stories. Just stop on down, munch a Powerbar or two, and we'll bend an ear.
TRADITIONAL ON-ROAD TRIPS
Many of the requests I get, are for traditional bike paths, either on road or off road. Well, in the sense of paved on-road paths, similar to those in more urban communities, Montauk simply doesn't have any. We simply don't need the kinds of paths found in more densely populated areas. However, if you want to ride our county roads, there are any number that would quality as on-road routes, and a few considerations to bear in mind as you choose your route.
The most popular on-road ride is from the village east to the Point. It's a healthy 5.2 miles each way, with wide shoulders, and a few, far sized hills thrown in to stretch your cardiovascular system a bit. You'll ride past Deep Hollow Ranch, the oldest cattle ranch in America, then the scenic overlook east of the ranch atop the hill, past the now closed Air Force base, and finally arrive at the Lighthouse. Before heading back you should tour the old grey lady, and climb it's winding stairs for an unrivaled view of Block Island Sound and the surrounding Atlantic.
The two roads that travel the opposite shores of Lake Montauk, East Lake Drive, and West Lake, are always interesting rides. Each are three miles in length, and both are perfect for adults and kids alike. East Lake is the more rural of the two, with limited shoulders. a more rolling topography, and fewer homes and businesses. It terminates at Gin Beach, a great place for a dip, or a little surfcasting. Why Gin Beach? Seems back in Prohibition days, smugglers were prone to dump cases of booze overboard in the nearby waters.
West Lake Drive is the easiest route around, with hardly a hill, smooth wide shoulders, and long straightaway. It does get a mite congested as you approach the Harbor area, with it's collection of marinas, hotels and restaurants. If you go straight through the intersection next to Kenny's Tipperary Inn, you'll loop along the Sound, bypass the busiest part of the Harbor, and end your route at Gosman's Restaurant's parking lot, and the inlet. There you can watch the boats go in and out, while downing a plate of steamers, at Gosman's outdoor clam bar.
One route I don't recommend, is the downtown area. Except for passing through on your way east or west, its an area to be avoided at most times of the year. Too many cars, people, babies in strollers, and double parked trucks. If you do have to use Main Street, take your time, keep your head on a swivel, and be prepared to brake at a moment's notice. You may share the road with cars and pedestrians, but you sure don't want to run into one!
HOW TO FIND YOUR WAY
There are two good maps available to guide you. One is available at the Town Annex, located next to the Chamber of Commerce, on Main Street across from the flagpole. Although some of the most recent trails are missing it still gives you a good overview of the area. The second, and prefered way to find your way around is to just drop by the Bike Shop. We have a great map to give you if you rent one of our state of the art mountain bikes, or you can simply buy it. Either way you'll have an up-to date catalogue of the area, listing all current trails. It features complete descriptions of each trails, recommended routes for individual's varying abilities,and the periods to complete each trail.
Much of the credit for creating and maintaining our off-road trail system goes to the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society. Always appreciative of financial and/or moral support, you can contact them at PO 2144, Amagansett, NY 11930, or call 631-324-1127. You can become a member, and receive their highly informative news letter, for the reasonable fee of $ 15.00 per year. Of course, if you'd like to stop by the old Montauk Bike Shop, and shoot the breeze with a geezer who knows his way around these woods as well as anyone, just come on. I've got the best trails map around, a healthy supply of Powerbars to munch on, and an unlimited number of war stories to swap!
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