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.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The NYC 200K: Coming Home Again

The NYC 200K was the very first brevet I ever rode back in 2007. At that time, it was scheduled in early April, but since then it has become a fixture on the NJ Randonneurs' fall calendar. I've ridden this route six times over the years and this past weekend was one of my favorites. With a year filled with slower than average times and weaker than average performance on the bike, I was eager to redeem myself with a strong showing to end the formal brevet season on a high note. While work and family commitments have made it exceedingly difficult for me to ride as often as I would have liked this summer, the beautiful weather and my overall enthusiasm for this ride combined to thrust me forward along the route at a good pace.

The ride starts and ends in NYC just a few blocks north of the George Washington Bridge, which riders cross in both directions at the beginning and end of the day. On the New Jersey side of the bridge, the route heads north through some fancy suburban towns along the western banks of the Hudson River towards Bear Mountain where riders begin to climb in earnest as they make their way west through the hills of Harriman State Park.

After leaving the first control in Stony Point, around mile 50, riders soon enter the shaded, hilly and recently-paved roads that are used to criss-cross Harriman State Park in both directions for much of the afternoon before heading back down toward our final destination. Cyclists aren't the only ones taking advantage of the fine fall weather on a day like this and it was not uncommon to hear the sound of motorcycles or sports cars approaching from the distance. Despite their somewhat macho enthusiasm, everyone seemed to be on their best behavior, eager to share rather than to compete for available space on these gorgeous roads. Due to a newly-enacted traffic rule, the organizers were unable to include the famed Perkins Hill climb in the route, which chopped off a five-mile out-and-back up a rather tall hill.

I was moving along pretty swiftly through the third control, which is located at a bagel shop in the village of Monroe. Arriving at the control as a solo rider, I missed the fact that there was a tent set up by a few volunteers around the corner and so waited for 10 minutes on-line for a bagel and a signature on my brevet card. After leaving the control, time slipped further through my fingers as I missed the first turn and continued on about 3 miles more than was necessary and came upon a crash involving one of our fellow brevet riders. Apparently, one of our own had careened into a car that had recently been T-boned by a pickup truck right on the main street through town. Luckily everything seemed OK, but I somehow managed to blow through about 20 extra minutes hanging around not being particularly helpful. After consulting my iPhone, I retraced the route and was on my way.

The NYC 200K is not an exact out-and-back route, but the second half does follow many of the same roads riders traverse in the early part of the day. My pace over the back nine was not quite as brisk as it was in the morning, but I was pleased to be able to keep the pedals spinning at a fairly good clip, which got me back to the start in under 10 hours. While not my fastest time on this course, it was nice to end the season feeling strong and quick rather than weak and sluggish. With any luck, this is a good omen for 2017 when I hope to again have time to train myself into better shape than I did in 2016.

Up Next: The Coffeeneuring Season Begins on October 7!