Saturday, August 18, 2012

Climbing through the Devil's Kitchen: Platte Clove

As I wrote in my last post, I decided to forgo D2R2 today to spend the weekend with my kids since my wife is out of town. One of the big events on deck was a birthday party my son was invited to in Woodstock, so I seized the opportunity (while he and his friends were stalking each other with Airsoft guns) to ride a quick 45-mile loop through the heart of the Catskills. In honor of my friends riding in D2R2, I decided to take in the diabolical "Devil's Kitchen" climb through Platte Clove to feel a little burn. It's been a few years since I've ridden Platte Clove and I was also interested to see if I was still able to make it to the top without walking [I am].

For those of you not familiar with the Catskills, Platte Clove is one of the most remote and hard to access sections for hiking, but there's a seasonal road cut into the side of the cliff that drops off over a thousand feet without much in the way of guardrail protection. The photo (above) that I snapped with my phone on the way up does not do the clove justice. The Devil's Kitchen climb was featured in the 1990 Tour de Trump stage race and a number of the pros reportedly had to walk several sections. The road itself climbs 1200 ft in just 1.4 miles and hits grades of up to 17%, so there's not much in the way of rest as your heart and lungs scream for mercy. 

Much of the road is mercifully shaded by trees, yet dynamic views are possible all throughout the climb. At the top, the road levels out a bit and more expansive views of the Catskill high peaks are available on a clear day like today. There is also a large Bruderhof community nestled into the side of the mountain and I greeted a plainly dressed family out for a stroll as I crested the top of the hill. The Bruderhof is a fascinating Christian utopian sect that fled Nazi persecution during the Second World War. Not only do they live in community, but they also share all wealth and do not believe in personal possessions. No custom road bikes in that garage.

After a short spin through a lovely high valley, I passed the Hunter Mountain ski area and enjoyed the ten mile descent into Phoenicia along Route 214. Once in Phoenicia, I checked the time and hammered all the way back to Woodstock, fearful that I might end up being "that dad" who picks his kid up 30 minutes after the party ends. Luckily, with a gentle wind at my back, I covered the distance in very good time and was even able to change into my street clothes before heading in for a slice of ice cream cake. Here's a link to the route. If you're ever in Woodstock with a bicycle and a few hours on your hands, you could do much worse than this.

Friday, August 17, 2012

When DNS = Definitely Needed by Someone.

As an endurance athlete, it's important to look for subtle signs that your body may not be ready for a big event. The same is true for the subtle signs that your family may need you more than you need to ride your bike. I realized as this weekend approached, that signs of the latter were growing more apparent.

After registering for D2R2 back in the spring, my wife was invited by a dear friend to spend the weekend in preparation for an upcoming wedding. Sure, I could pull in some favors to set up a network of convoluted plans involving sleep-overs in all corners of the Hudson Valley, but was this really the best solution?

So rather than hammering over the dirt roads of western Massachusetts, I'll be spending the weekend with my kids. We'll fill our time with laughs, chores, a friend's birthday party, driving lessons, a movie or two and maybe even some ice cream. My son and I will even get a training ride in to prepare him for the NYC Century's 55-mile loop that we'll ride in a few weeks. 

As my kids get older I realize two things: 1) they need me more than they let on and 2) time passes very, very quickly.

Sometimes DNS means "definitely needed by someone."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Catskill Climbefest 200K - Torrential Downpour Edition

Everyone was happy and skies were blue at the end of the day.

At 6:46am, I rolled into the Stewart's parking lot to find five other riders making last minute preparations for a day of riding in New York's lovely Catskill Mountains. It was a group assembled through happenstance and social networking. The field was geographically eclectic. Local randonneur Brian drove down from Woodstock to the start, while NJ Rando stalwarts Jon and Robin drove up from NYC and Bob up from eastern New Jersey, but it was Susan from Portland, OR who earned "the rider from farthest away" award as she clipped in on a trip back east to visit family.

Earlier in the week, the weather forecast called for the possibility of severe thunderstorms, so plans for Saturday were somewhat tentative until Friday when things began to look a bit less dire. We agreed to assemble before 7:00am so we could enjoy a full day without concern for lighting come evening. It was not a day in which anyone was looking for a personal best time, so we happily enjoyed the scenery and leisurely stops at controles along the way.

At the Ashokan Reservoir.

The weather at the start was grey and mild with high humidity and dry pavement. We enjoyed the long gradual climb to the Ashokan Reserviour where we found the Catskill high peaks disappointingly shrouded in clouds. This is normally a great spot for a preview of the serious climbing that lies ahead, but undeterred, we pedaled on. Our small field split at the base of the first climb with Susan and Brian hanging behind for a quick rest and the other four of us waiting until the top to pause. The climb is fairly long and affords some delicious views of several precipitous drops and the base of the Katterskill Falls. The clouds cooperated and dropped a fine mist of light rain onto us as we climbed, and mercifully the rain was not heavy enough to warrant putting on a jacket.

After the first serious climb up route 23A, riders are treated to a lovely long descent into the town of Phoenicia where several shops offer up treats that range from pizza to bar-b-que to baked goods. The bad weather that held off through our controle stop soon deteriorated with a downpour of Biblical proportions that lasted over 60 minutes. The four of us passed the first 30-40 minutes of this storm under a tree until we spied Brian and Susan bravely hammering away through the deluge. This got our attention and we were soon off in hot pursuit.

Avant le deluge.

The six of us were reunited as we turned off Route 28 at the town of Big Indian and began the long, gradual climb up Slide Mountain which boasts the highest peak in the Catskills at 4,190 feet. While the  road that climbs to its trailhead is not the highest road around at 2,400 ft, it does include a nasty stretch of severe grade that really gets your attention. Committed riders are rewarded with a lovely rolling stretch of road though the remarkable Frost Valley afterwards, though.

After enjoying Frost Valley, we descended into the town of Grahamsville, a village that appears somewhat forgotten by time, were we enjoyed a wonderful lunch at a deli that serves as the penultimate controle along this permanent route. The staff at the Grahamsville Deli is always welcoming and seemingly happy to see us. Each of us ordered a lunch of some type and after filling bottles, we were off for the final leg of the journey. The gorgeous ride through the high valley near Peekamoose Mountain is mostly shaded so the afternoon sun did not feel too oppressive. The decent down Peekamoose is remarkable and enjoyable with a brief 10%-12% drop mixed in with a long gradual 5%-6% stretch. In fact, one of the great pleasures of this permanent route is that after about mile 105, it's almost all pretty much downhill with a few small rollers to keep you awake.

We rolled into the Stewart's parking lot happy and refreshed despite the nasty storm that punctuated the day. Bob's iPhone even dried out enough by Sunday morning to send me a few photos of the ride.

Enjoying the post-ride glow.

Next up: D2R2 next Saturday in Deerfield, MA.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tour de PDS: Stage 2 (154 Miles on the West Side)

Like the American West, the west side of the Hudson River Valley, home to New Paltz and Woodstock, is rugged and funky. When I was first contemplating our move from NYC in 2002, a friend who lives in the area told me that while there was plentiful farmland on both sides of the river, on the east they tend to raise horses while on the west they grow apples. While this is not universally true, it's not a bad way to understand the difference. 

The signature difference between the east and the west for the cyclist, though, is the hills. In general, the west side is more rugged and less suburban in it's development and the Shawangunk Ridge and Catskill Mountains play a significant role. Stage 2 took me into these mountains and while the route was 25 miles shorter than Stage 1, the hills provided balance. After a rest day on Tuesday, I rolled out of my driveway in West Park to begin Stage 2 at 6:30 Wednesday morning. The weather again was perfect.

Tour de PDS: Stage 2.
Hudson Valley Rail Trail in Highland. 
A little patriotic fervor in New Windsor.
A mechanical pink ape sells car washes in Newburgh.
Blooming Grove marks the southernmost reach of PDS.
The corn is coming up on this western farm.
Historic homes abound.
Gardiner, NY - 1 mile.
Technology Director David Held joined me for a spell.
The Modena Rural Cemetery.
Iced coffee and black and white cookies hit the spot.
The Shawangunk Ridge from New Paltz.
On top of Mohonk Mountain. 
The Catskill Mountains lie ahead. 
One of the many quaint shops in High Falls.
Stone Ridge, NY 12484
The Catskill Mountains rise out of the Ashokan Reservoir.
A few PDS students smiling before spraying me with a hose! 
Phoenecia - home to several of our northernmost families.
One of the many monasteries on the west side of the Hudson.
The Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge connects east and west.
A familiar site to older PDS students springs to life each fall.
Stage 2: 154 miles. The Tour de PDS is complete.
At 331 miles, the Tour de PDS is complete! What a thrill to see all of the towns and villages that send students to our fine school. Will this become an annual tradition? Who knows.