One fine July day, while better cyclists were battling for a yellow jersey in France, we drove up to Montauk on the far tip of Long Island for a day of trail and mountain biking in Hither Hills state park. It was a gorgeous day, and despite getting caught in crawling parade of Hamptons traffic on our way up and the sundry tailgating, over-aggressive at 10mph assholes those towns seem to attract, there was nothing that could dim our spirits on such a beautifully hot, sunny July day.
Our trek began at the overflow parking area along Old Montauk Highway, the state park’s primary parking lot already being full to capacity with beachgoers. Setting out west along the Old Montauk Highway, we soon came to its intersection with the more heavily traveled Montauk Highway, aka Highway 27. It’s a short ride west along the road until you reach the turn-off for Old Tar Road, a rough little jeep road that might have been paved at one time but is now a patchwork of crumbled asphalt, sand, gravel, loose rock, and mud. We continued up along the road, where I can advise that, if the entire road is covered by a puddle, you try to find away around rather than attempting to simply barrel through.
The road follows the Long Island Railroad tracks for a spell, then cross the tracks and meets up with the Fresh Pond Landing Road, which we followed to the Waterfence Overlook, affording one a nice spot for a break with a wonderful view of the water and the rough rock beach below. From there, it was a short way down a spur that meets up with the single-track Stephen Talkhouse Path. The path skirts along the coast, with beautiful views of Long Island Sound as the track meanders in and out of the woods.
There’s one stretch of the path that hits a sand depression, which if you’ve ever tried to bike through sand, should clue you in to a short slog before the trail turns rideable again. We eventually hooked up with the double-track Old North Road to the single track Coastal Trail, finally turning back inland when the Coastal Trail meets up with Redmond’s Path, back across the railroad tracks, to the old Power Line Road.
Although wide, the old Power Line Road (you know you are in the right place because the road is lined with the sawed off stumps of old wooden utility poles), it’s in a pretty serious state of disrepair, with long stretches of loose rock, some steep climbs, tricky gullies formed by run-off, as well as stretches of sand and mud that guarantee you’re going to get dirty. We followed the Power Line Road all the way back down to the Montauk Highway, then cut down a local road to the Old Montauk Highway, which deposited us just a few hundred yard’s away from the parking lot where we began the ride.
Gotta say, Hither Hills in an exceptionally fun place to go biking. The combination of old roads and single-track paths means that anyone from a novice to an expert can find something challenging, and you can stitch together enough variety to make sure it never gets old. What we rode was just a small sampling of the trails that criss-cross the woods. You could stay out there all day and go back several times still and not repeat yourself. The only drawback is that there is no signage. Single-track is blazed, but the maps they give out don’t tell you which colors correspond with which maps. The old roads aren’t marked at all. You really need to pay attention to your map or bring a GPS unit with you know where you are going — although to be honest, Long Island at this point is only a mile or two wide, so you can never get that lost.
Still, it pays to do some research ahead of time and know about where the turn-offs for the trails are, lest you pedal right by them without noticing. That said, the sheer number of options available to cyclists and hikers means that even on a day where the park is seeing heavy use, you may not see anyone else (we didn’t), so come prepared. Bring water, your map or GPS, a first aid kit, and anything else you may need in case there’s an emergency. Cell phone coverage was OK.
Our ride was just over nine miles, and it took a couple off single track novices about three hours to complete. Not exactly fast going, but that included ample time for sight seeing and photo taking, not to mention one wipe-out (going uphill, thankfully), one idiot riding his bike into a knee-deep puddle, and that same idiot taking a few minutes to compose himself after hitting a patch of sand that stopped him like a glue trap and caused, let’s say, a certain part of the anatomy to be thrust forward and against the bike bar.
We were pretty dirty by the end. Parking in the state park lot costs you $8, but it also means you have easy access to restrooms, shower, and the Atlantic coast beach to cool down and rinse off. Afterward, we headed into Montauk proper and grabbed some fried chicken and fries at a place called The Munch Box.