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David Trimble, founder of the popular fixed-gear criterium series Red Hook Crit, shares the origin story of the race and his refuge from the stresses of it in the peaceful, leafy surrounds of the Catskills in upstate New York.
Video & photography: Brian Vernor
When I organized the first Red Hook Criterium in 2008, it was a different world and a different time. The Red Hook neighborhood back then was post-industrial but desolate, and not yet gentrified. I lived there simply because I had a cheap (but cold and rustic) room in my uncle’s woodshop overlooking the harbor.
The dark, empty, and foggy atmosphere of the neighborhood was made for adventures. My friends and I would spend nights exploring old ruins along the waterfront, taking breaks at a small drinking outpost called Sunny’s to warm up. I knew every street (and abandoned building) of the neighborhood like the back of my hand.
When I decided to organize the first RHC, I knew that I could occupy the streets without anyone’s permission. You could go hours without seeing a single car pass by (except those being burned near where Ikea is now).
Those early years of the Red Hook Crit had a special magic to them. Those who came were taking part in something that was so far away from normal life. Most had never even been to this part of New York City before and were even scared of it.
But in cities, things change dramatically and quickly. Neighborhoods gentrify (especially those along the waterfront), and people grow up while pushing for a ‘better’ life. Every year, I worked hard to make the race better, bigger, more professional, more controlled, all with the help of more money and bigger sponsors. And while the race was growing up, the neighborhood was as well.
Now both are vibrant, healthy, and a lot slicker. Modern townhouses, bistros, coffee shops, galleries and everything else that was missing before now lines the streets of Red Hook. The race now has infrastructure, sponsorship, and athletes equal to the world’s top professional races. Hundreds of thousands of dollars and a huge staff are involved and the pressure is high to make sure every stakeholder, athlete, and fan gets what they paid for.
As Red Hook Crit grew up, I started spending free weekends away from the city in upstate New York. While the Hudson Valley north of the city is highly populated with towns everywhere, there is a small area in the Catskill Mountains called Neversink which is in the NYC watershed. I found that Neversink offered a real feeling of wilderness, emptiness, and desolation not dissimilar to what I felt in the early years of living in Red Hook. My friends and I would go out on day-long rides and the emptiness made it feel like we owned the roads.
Naturally, I decided that these beautiful and empty roads should be occupied for a bike race and organized the first Neversink Road Race in 2011 with a small group of friends. The race existed for four years uninterrupted but unlike the RHC, I never pushed to grow it and held tightly to its grassroots feel. The race proved to be a beautiful success in all the ways that no professional would consider successful. I turned down all sponsor requests, lost money on every event, and even scored the race with a pen and paper. Most importantly though it retained that initial spark of creativity, exploration and fun that an organizer simply cannot experience with a major event.
I became increasingly interested in exploring the Neversink region in the same way I used to explore the waterfront of Red Hook. Despite hosting a bike race the region acted more as a refuge from the pressure of my professional life of organizing bike races. While the RHC continued to grow in Europe my free time became even more limited and I decided that even the grassroots race was too much like work, and stopped organizing the race after the 2014 edition.
In 2018, after years of breathless growth and a workaholic schedule, I found that my joy in organizing races was being slowly smothered by pressure and stress. Most of my work load and conversations were on such a different planet from where I started that I couldn’t remember why I was still doing it. I knew in the back of my head that there was a part of my career that had escaped all these pressures, and decided to revive the race as a form of therapy.
I hit the road and started exploring the roads around Neversink again. Like it was when the race was last run in 2014, and for all the years before that, Neversink was my refuge – an upstate escape from the everyday.