Monday, March 22, 2010

Catskill Climbfest 200K: Vernal Equinox Edition

What better way to celebrate the vernal equinox than a ride with friends through the wild Catskill Mountians complete with raging waterfalls bursting with chilly snow melt and marshes filled with spring peepers? The Catskill Climbfest 200K permanent is not for the faint of heart nor the weak of quad. With over 11,000 feet of climbing, it's usually something to work up to a bit later in the season, but with all this planning and indoor training, I was just itching to get out onto the open roads. Sadly, a few of the regulars were not able to join our merry band. Between work, family obligations and storm clean-up, we were down to six riders, but six is a good number and the energy at the start was great.

I arrived at the parking lot to the heartwarming sight of bikes leaning against a convenience store wall in the pre-dawn light. Brian, Andrey, Gene, Stuart and Bob were in good spirits and eager to begin. After taking care of paperwork and getting our stamps at the first control, we were off. The six of us rode together on the gentle climb from Rosendale up through the woods to the vast Ashokan; source of much of New York City's water supply. Looking out across the majestic reservoir on this clear morning, we can see many of the high Catskill peaks we will be climbing later in the day. While the route skirts the heart of Woodstock, the mellow vibe permeates the surrounding area. We soon pass Stuart's house and he laments not requesting a full English breakfast cooked up by his wife as we make our way to the third control where we order coffee and muffins. On second thought, he reasons, that would likely not have gone over all that well.

The third control sits at the base of the first substantial climb of the day. It was wonderful to see that the new owners, a lovely south Asian couple, has made the radical move to open the bathroom to customers and remove the iconic port-o-john from the parking lot out front. Of course, this means I won't be able to read the latest racist creed written on the walls with fat black marker, but I guess I'll get over it.

After taking leaving the control, we settle into a 4-mile stretch at a solid 8-10% pitch which spreads the group out a bit, but we stop to take pictures at the historic (and swollen) Katerskill Falls along the way. We regroup by the falls and watch incredulously as a pair of dads with young kids passes by the "Warning: Hazardous Gorge Area, Sheer Cliffs, Swift Water, Slippery Footing" signs without looking or even slowing down. This seemed like something "mom" might not approve of, but - hey who's to judge?

We more or less ride together until mile 60 where we pull off at a small parking area to relieve ourselves and remove a few outer layers. By this time, the warm sun is high overhead and with the steady 3-8% grade ahead for the next 15 miles we realize that the extra layers are unnecessary. About 2 miles up the road, Andrey and Brian and I take the left and begin the long climb up Slide Mountain.

After the climb's last nasty pitch, the road more or less flattens out for a lovely 10 mile stretch through Frost Valley. Andrey and I hang together for the ride through the valley and arrive at the deli with rather substantial appetites around 3:30 in the afternoon. I am pleased to discover that the chicken salad is fresh and ready for me. The rest of the gang rolls in as we finish our sandwiches. Looking at the clock, I realize that if I am going to make it home by "dinnertime" as I told my wife I would, I need to bring the hammer down. I say goodbye to my friends and roll on out hoping to make it home before dinner hits the table. Along the way, I pass rolling fields and about a dozen raging waterfalls in the Peekamouse Valley. The ride down Peekamouse Mountain to the Ashokan Reservoir is sweet as always, but the loose gravel, strewn on the roads during countless winter snowstorms, makes the descent a bit more dicey than usual.

This sign makes me realize that I really should remind permanent riders who want to buy firearms that they need to call ahead for an appointment. The final descent to Rosendale is a joy and underscores how lovely it is to get out onto the open roads after a long winter. As I return to this lower altitude, a chorus of peepers announces the arrival of spring and a full season of outdoor rides ahead. Life is good.

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