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.


  1. Every randonneur within a few hours drive should make the effort to do this magnificent ride at least once. GPS data notwithstanding, the the top 1/2 mile of Slide mountain feels like 18%. However, once you reach the top the Frost Valley descent is pure cycling utopia!

  2. Thanks for the kind words about the route, Don. I know it's one of your favorites. Mine too! Glad you were able to spend a beautiful summer day enjoying it last weekend.

  3. 6am is still too early and quite dusky. It's a good thing that parking lot is well-lit.