Write the Road: Rte 301 Leads to Buddha

A band of Catskills pavement steers you, perhaps inevitably, toward enlightenment.

Lawrence Ulrich

Slicing below treetops whose leaves flash the bright banners of fall, State Route 301 offers New Yorkers a 19-mile respite from traffic, noise and pigeon droppings the size of Pollack paintings.

Arcing like the sun along this Putnam County road, flashing $9,900 worth of optional pearlescent yellow paint, the Mercedes-AMG GT S gets a 503-horsepower jump on the autumn colors—and every other car on the road, which was officially renamed the Hudson River Turnpike in 2012.

Head east from Cold Spring on the Hudson River’s banks, past the Appalachian Trail crossing in Clarence Fahnestock State Park (patience required here, as my girlfriend and I are reminded by a Kent Police cruiser lurking in the weeds) and the fun begins: another 12 miles worth of snake-charming curves that take the measure of any automobile.

Lawrence Ulrich

Measure the GT S for a superhero cape, because the Benz passes Route 301’s test with literal flying colors. Brutal yet elegant, sensationally fast, the Mercedes uses its 4-liter biturbo V-8, high-purity hydraulic steering and seemingly limitless front-end grip to pummel every corner before we roll more meditatively into Chuang Yen Monastery.

The monks’ hypnotic chants pulse from Chuang Yen’s soaring temple as we clamber out of the low-slung coupe and climb the steps. A 37-foot tall, Lotus-legged Buddha statue—the largest and thus portliest indoor version in the U.S.—casts its benevolent gaze down. Considering the Benz’s style, supernova paint and $171,900 as-tested price, we look like a screaming affront to Buddha’s teaching about the rejection of material things. But later, when we burble past Seven Jewels Lake and a robed monk and his friend signal us to roll down the windows, we receive not a withering reproach but the ultimate car-buff compliment: “Can we borrow your car, just for a few hours?” the friend inquires.

Would it put me on the Dharma Path, I ask?

“It would be very meritorious,” the monk replies, grinning. Such are the mystical powers of the AMG GT S.

Lawrence Ulrich

Karma on the upswing, we follow Route 301 as it teases along the West Branch Reservoir. Some 8 billion gallons of dammed water settle there before being pumped south, blended in a Catskills cocktail and pipelined to thirsty Gotham. We cruise across the Carver Bridge, a dike-like bulwark that spans the reservoir, and attack the final twisting, tar-patched miles to Route 301’s finish line at the county courthouse in Carmel.

We cool our heels, and the Benz’ carbon-ceramic brakes, at Scoops and More, an old-school ice cream stand where the high school students behind the window gush over our German bombshell. The AMG GT S fairly perspires in the sun, and we decide it’s time for our own workout on the Appalachian Trail, taking in just a sliver of its 2,168-mile length.

It’s all part of the beauty of this two-lane gem: Whatever your means of propulsion, Route 301 leaves you enlightened.

Lawrence Ulrich