Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Catskill Climbfest: Festive 500 Edition

The Catskills Climbfest is one of my all-time favorite 200K routes. The roads are remarkably quiet, the views spectacular and the terrain quite varied with plenty of climbing (about 9,000 ft) accompanied by well-placed valleys and control points. As a result, the route provides a super workout without feeling like the Bataan Death March. A drawback is the unpredictable mountain weather in winter, so I typically consider this a three-season route. The weather has been so mild this week, though, that yesterday's ride made a perfect addition to my Festive 500 plans.

My friend Robin and I clipped in at dawn and began the climb from Rosendale to the Ashokan Reservoir with temperatures already in the upper-30s. The route either crosses or skirts preserve lands throughout the day so the scenery is generally pleasing no matter where you look. The first major climb is found on 23A between Palenville and Haines Falls and takes riders right into Catskill Park and passes the historic Katterskill Falls and the Hunter Mountain ski resort before hitting a magnificent decent into Phoenicia where hot baked goods and strong coffee await.

After refueling at Mama's Boy, we hit the trail again and climb slowly along Route 28 to the town of Big Indian where the second big climb of the day awaits. Robin and I have ridden this route enough to know the importance of removing layers before climbing Slide Mountain-Oliveria Road to Frost Valley. I nearly run out of pockets as I strip off my merino arm warmers, glove liners, and neck gaiter, but I will not be sorry as my engine switches into climbing mode.

Upon reaching the top, we enter a glorious valley filled with alpine fields, farmhouses, stands of pines and fast moving rivers. It seems like another world in the Catskills High Peaks and the slight descent through Frost Valley to Grahamsville makes us feel like super heroes after a climb that sapped so much of our reserves. Luckily, the next control is not far off and we both hear chicken salad sandwiches beckoning.

After a late lunch at the Grahamsville Deli, we clip in again and ride through the magical dense forest lands along Peekamoose Mountain Road. We reach the top of the long descent back into civilization just as the sun is setting and so turn on our lights and enjoy the smooth ride down to see the Ashokan Reservoir one last time before making the final approach into Rosendale. Luckily, the temperatures stay moderate since the loss of elevation returns warmth that the setting sun removed at the higher altitudes. Our last treat of the day is riding along a very quiet Route 213 with stars and the moon prominent in the sky. The warm evening air reminds us of what spring holds in store.

Next up: still a few more Ks to go in the Festive 500!

Monday, December 15, 2014

2015 Begins! The Festive 500 Season Opener

While I still need to sit down to design a detailed training plan for 2015, I do know that it will begin with volume. I also know that 2015 starts for me on December 24 with Rapha's annual Festive 500 Challenge. This will be my fourth time completing the challenge and each year I've found it to be a remarkably exciting way to kickstart the season ahead. In 2011, I was even a finalist in the competition for the Trek Madone 6.9. I completed the challenge in 2012 and 2013 as well, but my wrap-up posts were apparently a bit less comprehensive. You can see my individual Festive 500 posts by searching with the keyword Festive 500 in the search bar to the right.

Admittedly, riding 500 kilometers in one week is not a huge deal for the experienced randonneur. What makes this challenge so special, though, are two things. First, it comes at a particularly dark and cold time of the year. The weather around the winter solstice in the Northeast can be pretty grim, yet marshaling the discipline to complete this challenge despite the elements (while thinking of the warmer and brighter times ahead) is downright uplifting. 

The second reason the Festive 500 is so amazing is because of just how, well, festive it is. Over the past several years there have been tens of thousands of participants from around the globe joined together with a single purpose: to ride at least 500K in nine days. Sure there are the young guns in the southern hemisphere whose goal is to climb the leaderboard with thousands of kilometers, but most folks seem to be just scraping by in hopes of finishing. I've made friends I keep to this day through the Festive 500. How cool is that?

The Festive 500 rules really encourage community as all participants must upload their GPS tracks to Strava in order for them to be applied to their challenge total. While on Strava, it's easy to follow other riders and read posts about their accomplishments and setbacks along the way. Lots of folks also post updates to Twitter and Facebook so it really feels like a global event unfolding in real time across thousands upon thousands of miles. While I may look down my nose at participants in the southern hemisphere, it's nice to read about what they're up to if only as a foil to my own suffering.

So join me, whatever 2015 holds in store for you. Log onto Strava today to register. It's free. With 9 days until the start, there are already 34,012 other riders in the mix. All mileage logged between December 24 and 31 counts. And, if you finish, you earn a patch. Sounds almost like randonneuring, right?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

PBP: The Film

In this early planning stage, I've spent a some time watching assorted video clips and documentaries of past events to build enthusiasm (as if I need more enthusiasm), learn a bit more about how to prepare and soak in the ambiance. It was in this frame of mind that I found myself sitting by a warm fire on a cold December night watching the official PBP 2011 video below.

If you've not yet watched this short film, it is well worth your time. The countryside looks even more luscious and the villages more beautiful than I imagined and the enthusiasm of the French people and the hearty spirit of the participating riders just leaps off the screen. I know that somewhere deep into a cold, wet night of riding in late August, I'll wonder why I let myself be duped by such pleasant fiction and curse the day I set off on this adventure. In the meantime, though, in the comfort of my warm living room, PBP looks like just about the best possible goal a person could set for him or herself.

Up next: I clip in tomorrow morning to ride the Walkway Over the Hudson 100K permanent populaire.