Finding My Way Home: Bikepacking from New York City to Rochester

After months of being stuck in his small Brooklyn apartment, Daniel decided he’d combine adventure and his desire to see his family by bikepacking from NYC to Rochester. Read about his trip planning and packing strategy in Finding My Way Home Tour (Part 1) and his return trip to Brooklyn (Part 3).

Day 1

Brooklyn to Harriman State Park

57.8 mi – 2,475 feet elevation (map)

Traffic was heavy in Manhattan as we slowly wove our way North the first day. From the Bronx, my friend Miggy and I decided to take the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail (OCA), a dirt trail from Van Cortlandt Park, through the City of Yonkers to the Croton Dam in Cortlandt, NY. Fun fact: in the 1880s, The Croton Aqueduct was used to bring in fresh water to New York City and even today, you can still see the old infrastructure of the aqueduct.

Two bikes loaded with gear lean against building

The OCA is an all dirt trail with rocks and roots and it’s very bumpy. If you don’t have at least 32mm or larger tires, I recommend sticking to the South County Trailway as it’s completely paved. We crossed the Hudson River by riding the new bike path over the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. From there we grabbed lunch in Nyack, NY before heading to Haverstraw to pick up supplies for the night.

We decided to camp in Harriman State Park where we could choose from cabins, lean-tos and primitive sites. I knew I was not going to be able to get a shower in until Day 4, so I reserved a site at the Beaver Pond Campgrounds because they have full showers and bathrooms.

We set up our tents and were greeted by the local wildlife. As I was cooking my vegan taco bowl, a family of raccoons tried to steal my dinner right off the table – we definitely took extra precautions hanging our bear bag that night!

Day 2

Harriman State Park to the Catskills

92.1 mi – 3,400 ft Elevation (Map)

Day 2 started slow and rainy. Even though we needed to cover 92 miles before sunset, we didn’t leave Harriman until 10am. We started off riding the winding roads of Harriman State Park and then did a series of rail trails that were nice and flat (Orange Heritage Trail, Shawangunk Walden and Wallkill Rail Trail). Rail trails are old routes along train lines. They almost always stay flat so they can avoid hills and mountains, which make them key to covering ground on a bike. Plus, there are no cars!

By 4:00pm, I’d only reached Kingston (the end of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail) and still had 29 miles to riide until we got to camp, mostly along NY Route 28. On paper, NY 28 could seem intimidating since it’s 4 lanes and cars are driving by at 55+mph. Luckily, this is a designated bike trail so the shoulder is super wide. Another rail trail awaited me after this section, bringing me around Ashokan Reservoir, which was breathtaking!

By now it was 7:00 pm and the sun was setting. Even with bike lights, I couldn’t see 10 feet in front of me. Soon, the fog rolled in from the reservoir. My visibility dramatically decreased – I was basically riding blind. I grabbed my headlamp and my solar lantern to help me see better on the trail. It kinda worked. It was so quiet on this trail at night I could hear critters running around me. A bat even flew right in front of my head lamp.

I kept riding through Boiceville and then to Phoenicia, famous for it’s vegan friendly Phoenicia Diner. I recommend this place for any meal. Unfortunately it was closed for the night when I arrived.

A trucker slowed down to ask what I was doing and was amazed by my journey. He even offered me a ride into town. I declined his offer, I wanted to finish this long day on my bike.

By 11:00PM, I made it to the Allaben Campground. Miggy was two hours behind me because of mechanical issues. He arrived after midnight. We both went straight to bed because we knew tomorrow would, somehow, be harder than today.

Day 3

Phoenicia to Fort Plain

92.1 mi – 5,025 ft Elevation (Map)

Today was hell. We rode 90 miles again, but this time with 2,000 more feet of climbing. On top of that, we only got 4 hours of sleep and it was cold and raining. We rode up and over the mountains in the downpour and increasing, mud, which slowed us down.

Halfway through the day, as I was riding up yet another hill my bike chain snapped. Luckily, I had my chain relink tool and I fixed it within 30 minutes. From there, I had the most exhilarating part of my ride as I left the Catskills, dropping 1,000 feet in 2 miles. My top speed was 45 mph on a fully loaded bike – I was even passing cars!

Unfortunately, I got lost in the town of Cobeskill, which, along with the slower speeds because of the mud, meant I’d be arriving at camp in the dark again. I was so tired and exhausted. I finally made it to my first lock campsite along the Erie Canal Trail in Fort Plain. Miggy and I agreed, this was the best site so far complete with drinking water, BBQ grills, and bathrooms (though, no showers.)

Day 4

Fort Plain to Green Lakes

94 mi – 1,250 ft Elevation (Map)

Day 4 would be another long day, though with fewer hills than the previous day. We started off on some fun gravel trails along the Mohawk River. At mile 11 we connected a dirt trail to the I-90 rest stop where we grabbed a quick breakfast.

The rest of the day was on the Erie Canal Trail, which was a mix of terrain, some gravel, some pavement and some old (and bumpy) rail trail. The canal trail is under construction in some areas so we had to ride on the road. Miggy tried to bribe the trail worker to let us ride the no section. He said no, but did say the area should be open by the spring. My favorite part of the ride today was around Rome, NY; the trail was smooth and the views were fantastic!

As the sun starts to set, I realized I’d be arriving at camp in the dark for the 3rd night in a row. At mile 80, I reach the town of Canastota to grab dinner at the grocery store, I got creative and grabbed some fresh corn. Miggy was ahead of me, so when I arrived Miggy was already starting the fire. We finished today with corn cooked over the open the flame and cracked into our Sierra Nevada Pale Ales.

Day 5

Green Lakes to Rochester

92 mi – 1,325 ft Elevation (Map)

I was almost home! All that was in between me and seeing my family was 92 miles, Syracuse, and a few wild geese. Most of today’s ride would be on the Empire State Trail, which is still under construction. New York State’s plan is to have a protected bike lane along the Erie Boulevard and should be done by 2021.

I continue to head west on the trail. Parts of the trail turns into single track but it was still rideable on my bike. Today was a mix of large cities like Syracuse and old canal towns like Weedsport, Port Byron, Clyde, Lyons, and Newark. I got a call from Miggy. He decided not to continue on to Rochester due to a large  protest. He stayed overnight in a hotel in Syracuse and took Amtrak back to New York City.  Fun fact: Amtrak allows bikes on some trains for a fee.

At mile 42 in Port Byron, the trail connected me with the main roads which weaved through farm land. As the sun started to go down, I realized I was almost home and I started riding faster and faster. I had only 20 miles left and it was all on gravel. I reached the county I grew up in. I was only 5 miles away! The sky had gotten dark but I keep pushing. I never had this much energy in the last 5 days. I felt like I could bike another 100 miles. Then all of a sudden… I had arrived! People were outside enjoying ice cream and dinner. I got off my bike, covered in sweat and dead bugs and yelled out “I DID IT!” Everyone around me got quiet. It was an awkward moment. One guy in a face mask came up to me and said “Who the hell are you?” I said, “I’m just a cyclist biking home. It only took 5 days.”

Can you tell I had a bit of a head wind on the last day?

<< PREVIOUS POST: DANIEL’S PACKING PLAN & GEAR

NEXT UP: DANIEL’S RETURN TRIP TO BROOKLYN >>

Daniel Arena
Daniel Arena
Hometown: Rochester, NY Currently: Brooklyn, NY Daniel Arena is a freelance video editor, filmmaker and photographer. He's worked on major shows like Wild ‘N Out, MTV VMAs and VICE on HBO. When he's not in the edit room, he's usually out of the city and exploring the woods by bike.

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