May 25 Gravel Ride Notes

Skip to first unread message

John Dennis

Jun 4, 2023, 8:13:26 AM6/4/23
to Finger Lakes Cycling Club, Gravel Rides - Finger Lakes Cycling Club

Hey Everyone, 


Our first gravel ride of the season in Danby went well, at least as viewed from the rear.  Thanks to Rob Joyce and Bryan Brown for posting and leading the ride.


May 25, 2023 Danby Medium1 Gravel ride: Route: Michigan Hollow Rd > Smiley Hill Rd > Hill Rd > Signor Hill Rd > Michigan Hollow > Bald Hill Rd, 14.1mi, +/- 1,337 ft: 


At the Park-And-Ride lot where we had started, I had heard a Black-throated Blue Warbler and a Blue Jay. Rob gave a good briefing. Bryan offered to lead the fast group.  Rob said he would lead a middle group and I offered to sweep. Several riders said this was their first gravel ride and I apologize if my indications of such below are riddled with errors.


Ewan Robinson

Brendan Mangino (first ride?)

Keith Mike (first ride?)

Tim Merrick

Nat Hughes (first ride)

Emme Wong (first ride)

Greg Rothman

Fred Letson

Jules Davic

Ace Repka (first ride)

Paul Vidovich

Andy Krainer

Katie Moring

John Dennis

Eadweard Howland-Bolton (first ride?)

Rob Joyce

Bryan Boynton

Rena Scroggins

Rich Wayman


Although Bryan has named this ride “Danby Medium1”, this route is about as challenging as our gravel rides get.


We set off southeast on Danby Road and after a short distance turned right onto Michigan Hollow Road. After getting to the top of a long climb, Michigan Hollow continued due south past the Cayuga Beagle Club on the left and to our right lay Jennings Pond (out of sight) and then the beginnings of the Michigan Creek headwaters. These headwaters start as a placid wetlands about a kilometer long, before shaping up into the beginnings of Michigan Creek. This creek then flows to Spencer Lake, through the Town of Spencer and then east where it merges with Wilseyville Creek on the west side of 96B.  In other words, the top of that first long hill on Michigan Hollow Road is at the juncture of the Saint Lawrence and Chesapeake watersheds. 


The Abbott Loop of the Finger Lakes Trail crossed Michigan Hollow Road just before our left turn onto Smiley Hill.


Rob stood at the entrance to Smiley Hill Road to ensure that everyone made the turn. This “road” is a tad less than half a mile long. Large stones placed at both ends prevent four-wheel vehicle access. The rocky cubes aside, it’s definitely a “sticky wicket”, the sort of “trail in the woods” where a mountain bike could be put to good use. There’s nothing wrong with walking the last 100 yards, where one rider—new to gravel rides--did fall over.


The rear guard then regrouped at the top of Smiley Hill Road and we headed right on the Hill Road which might be more aptly called “Rolling Hills Road.” Although Ride with GPS shows the entire road as paved, the pavement changed to dirt after about a quarter of a mile when we passed the last house on the road. The next 1.85 miles is entirely straight—evidently laid out by a surveyor in 1890s who was oblivious to how straightline roads perpendicular to the topography might contribute to soil erosion and the creation of "bald hills".  

In any case, this section of road seems to wonderfully align along the north-south axis. Toward the end of this section, I heard an Ovenbird, a Scarlet Tanager, and an Eastern Wood-pewee.


The next 1.2 miles of this dirt road—often just a series of dried up mud puddles—jogged slightly to the SSW, and had a few curves before descending steeply to a Y intersection with Signor Hill Road.  Here we recollected and then headed northwest on a lovely forested section of Signor Hill Road. After a steep downhill, we crossed Michigan Creek and turned left onto Michigan Hollow Road.  Shortly after I had incorrectly told Emme that the difficult part was behind us, we turned left onto Bald Hill Road, another forlorn dirt trek in the Danby State Forest that gets little motorized traffic.  


Bald Hill Road runs due north through broadleaf forest and a few sections of planted pines. Starting in the 1890s the Bald Hill area had been a farming community that was later abandoned, perhaps due to a combination of soil erosion and the Depression.  The wildlife seem happy to have it back.  A Pileated Woodpecker called loudly at 756pm and I heard my first Veery of the year. With the assistance of Merlin, I also heard a Gray Catbird, a Red-eyed Vireo, an American Robin and an American Redstart.  


When I caught up with the rear group, they had stopped to chat with Ace who was resting on his back on the battered roadway having somehow become dismounted from his bike. I think it was during this stop that I showed the Christmas Fern to the group; the shape of each leaflet looks like a stocking hung up on the mantle on the night before Christmas. 

Once Ace was ready to resume, we passed the one cemetery along the route—everyone on their backs there as well and all hidden from view by leafy spring growth--and we then proceeded to a more navigable section of Bald Hill Road that took us past Jennings Pond and back to route 96B aka Danby Road and to the parking area just as lights were becoming advisable.   


Plants got a short-shrift on this ride: two foreign invasives were in bloom along the unforested sections of roadway: Garlic Mustard and Dames Rocket; the latter is native to a region stretching from Spain to Turkey. 

I think there was along a remote section of Bald Hill Road some red Trillium in bloom, but perhaps I am confusing it with the Red Trillium that was in bloom along that other Bald Hill Road that leads to Shindagin Hollow?   


Ride safe everyone,



Cell: 1-607-227-5172


Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages