Monday, October 10, 2016

The Catskill Climbfest 205K: Fall Foliage Edition 2016

At this time of year, as summer turns to fall and the foliage begins to reach it's peak, I'm drawn to the Catskill Mountains to experience this magical transition up close and unencumbered by suburban distractions. This year, I was lucky to be joined by friends Jon L. and Mordecai S. With temperatures in the low 50s at the start, we bundled up with full-fingered glove liners and leg warmers, vests and woolen arm warmers. Dressing for a shoulder-season ride such as this isn't easy with hills to warm us as we climb and cool us as we descend and altitude variation to influence the ambient temperatures throughout the day. No one wants to cart around unnecessary weight on a climb-y ride like this either so extra gear and luggage is to be kept at a minimum.

As we clipped in at the start shortly after sunrise, the roads were slick from an overnight rain, but the forecast was for dry, grey skies throughout the day. Fortunately, the freshly fallen leaves that covered many of the side roads we traversed in these early hours were fairly dry and not slippery as leaves can become later in the fall when they've been lying around and decaying on roads for some time. The climbing on the Catskill Climbfest route begins early on with a gentle climb from Rosendale up to the Ashokan Reservoir near Woodstock through quiet back roads, which gets the heart pumping and the body warmed up without anything too terribly taxing. Upon reaching the reservoir, the road levels out and the trees open up to reveal a dramatic view that includes both this beautiful source of the NYC water supply and the majestic Catskill Mountains beyond.

Knowing that within the next hour we would be climbing that ridge off in the distance made us savor the level riding while we could. The climb from Palenville to Tannersville is dramatic and gratifying. Unlike the Slide Mountain climb further up the road, the climb along 23A is steady and never too acute. The traffic can be a bit much with leaf peepers and hikers driving and walking to trailheads that line the road such as the entrance to the famed Kaaterskill Falls. Tractor trailers occasionally carry deliveries up to Hunter Mountain at the top of the hill as well, but luckily none of this caused any drama this time around.

After the climb to Tannersville, riders are rewarded with a long and sloping descent to the village of Phoenicia along the Stony Clove Creek, which caused such dramatic damage (some still visible and ominous) following Hurricane Irene several years ago. Upon reaching Phoenicia, we were disappointed to discover that the Mama's Boy restaurant has closed up shop leaving fewer options in town for a quick bite to eat. We decided to hold off on our main meal of the day until reaching the control at mile 90, but grabbed muffins and snacks to fill our pockets and water to fill our bottles for the climb ahead as we knew this would be the last outpost for provisions until we reached Grahamsville 35 miles up the road.

The Grahamsville Deli, not exactly a foodie haven, was out of chicken salad when we arrived, which was the only real disappointment of the ride for me. As a vegetarian, Mordecai was even less thrilled with our food stop than Jon and me, but we were able to amass the necessary calories and liquids to make it to the finish 35 miles down the road. The next stretch of the route includes the wooded and remote Peekamoose Road deep in the Catskills, surrounded by high peaks. The cascading waterfalls along this stretch road were mere trickles but still evident to the discerning eye.

After a dramatic descent along Peekamoose, the final stretch of road trends downhill to the finish from the reservoir with only a few rollers along the way. We were aided this time around with a stiff tailwind that made us feel strong and victorious at the end of a long and enjoyable adventure. We finished the ride in 10 hours and 41 minutes, which seemed like a pretty respectable time for a late-season 200K with 10,000 feet of climbing. It was especially gratifying to align this annual ritual with weather, foliage and friends.

Up next: November R-12 - Back on the train.

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