The Catskills Clamber
Six riders from four states converged on Woodstock, NY for fun in the Catskills on Friday. The forecast looked bleak earlier in the week, but an ideal day for a hill fest materialized. Due to late start and two riders needing to get back home at a reasonable hour, our planned route was truncated to 92 miles. We kept the good stuff though, like six major climbs.
Riding were me and Dave from NH, Karl from ME, Charlie from NY, Brett and Jon from MA. We rolled out of Woodstock at 10:20am, right into Mead Mountain. None of us have ridden this climb before. This is the wall you see immediately north of town. Zero warmup, 12% grade to the top. My legs were still hurtin' from the 85 minute race-pace trail ride I did on Wednesday. Charlie (11th overall on Mt Washington this year) totally bolted on this one. I was hoping to go more of a steady state pace on this ride, but Brett didn't help the cause by trying to stay with Charlie on this first climb. We gained 1200ft in the first two miles of the ride and quickly had the group back together.
From left to right are Mead, Peekamoose, Glade, Sugar Loaf, Yeagerville, Peekamoose.
The route continued down the back side of Mead Mountain, picked up Rt 212, and was mostly rolling downhill for many miles. No cars really, except for a few on Rt 212. A few miles of Rt 28 and 28A brought us to Peekamoose Rd, the second major climb of the ride. This climb starts out very gradual but presents double-digit grades for the last mile or so. Charlie rode clean out of sight from the rest of us on this one. The Peekamoose descent towards Grahamsville is sweet. Lakes, streams, cliffs, waterfalls, and nearly all downhill for over 10 miles.
Once we bottomed out, the real spanker on this ride was next, Glade Hill. This climb punished me badly the last time we rode out here in 2006. Glade hill averages something around 15%, there are sustained sections over 20%, including a lengthy stint at 25% two-thirds of the way up. I had low gears, but apparently not low enough. My bike nearly stopped between each pedal stroke. Amazingly, Charlie rode away from us with 39x28 gearing. I used 38x32 gearing, a huge difference, but I wish I went lower.
Heading up Glade Hill. Looks steep in photo, but it's really "steeper than it looks."
Two years ago we did Glade hill as an out and back. The descent isn't all that much fun. It is too steep, requiring you to waste all those precious killojoules by heating up your rims. This time, we descended Moore Hill Rd into Grahamsville. Still steep, but you could really let your speed run out in places. Some nice views here and there too.
In Grahamsville, we stopped at the deli, 40 miles into the ride, and our only food stop. I ate a ton, just like in 2007. I'd rather risk being uncomfortable on the next climb than bonking before the end of the ride. Much of our climbing pace thus far has been near race pace. They had these brick sized fudge brownies chocked full o' nuts. 600 calories at least, I'd say. Had one. Half a turkey sandwich too. And a coffee, as they say a little caffeine promotes fat burn.
While there, another rider comes in the store, somebody we've not met before. After a bit, he asked me if I'm Doug. It was Steve from Brooklyn, and he knew of me through his friend Mendel, whom I've had some email dialog with on Catskills riding. Since he was focusing on the Grahamsville cluster of climbs, he decided to join us for the next two climbs before we started working our way back to Woodstock. The world is full of hillclimb nuts. Love it.
With full stomachs, a few miles brings us to the Sugar Loaf Hill climb, the biggest net gain climb of the ride. It gets steep too, near the top, but not as steep as the earlier ones. Charlie does his thing again once the going got steep, and Steve initially stayed with him. I felt like I was really sucking today, but I wasn't the only one suffering. Eventually, Charlie snaps the bungee cord to Steve and continues solo. The last mile or so of this climb is around 10% grade, gaining 1800ft from the bottom. On the descent, I had to stop at the spring part way done. Cycling tradition in these parts says you have to top off your water bottles here. I hear locals even fill jugs for household drinking water from this spring. It was good water. The Sugar Loaf descent is one of the nicest in the Grahamsville cluster, as very little braking is needed. You could easily top 50mph in places if you knew the road well.
A little flat cruising around the Rondout Reservoir quickly took us to the fifth major climb of the ride, Yeagerville Rd. This gem of a climb gains about 1200ft spread over several miles, so nothing too strenuous. This was good, as my calves were starting to feel a little tweaky. As a group, we got quite spread out on this one, requiring the most regrouping time at the top. Recent chip seal was put down on this climb and descent. It makes hairpin descents dicy, as you don't know if the stuff is bonded or loose. I'd hate to go down on this stuff. It is crushed rock, sharp as heck. Even a short slide would turn flesh into hamburger.
Buttermilk Falls on Peekamoose Rd. Drop is at least 100ft I'd say, which is hard to judge from photo. It sits about 100m off the road.
The Yeagerville climb dumps back out on Peekamoose. Steve split off at this point, while we climbed Peekamoose again, but from the south. This was the last significant climb of the ride. Never steep, almost a non-climb, and drafting made a difference most of the time. I stopped to take photos of Buttermilk Falls and had to hustle to regain the group. Brett hates waiting, even more so if he's waiting for me. Amazingly, the group reached the top before I caught them, and they stopped.
The skies were clouding over and getting dark at this point. We even felt a couple drops here and there on our way back to Woodstock. It never rained though. We had trouble keeping the group together on some of the rollers along Wittenberg Rd. Everybody was spent, some a lot more so than others. My GPS logged 92.0 miles, 8690ft of climbing, in 5hrs, 20min riding time. Despite this ride being much shorter than our 130+ mile ride here two years ago, the three of us that did both rides felt the shorter ride was much harder. Seems the intensity on the climbs was much higher. We also felt this ride wasn't long enough to be categorized as "dubious training value." We needed another climb and hour of riding to get there, to dip into death march territory. Everybody thought this was a just-right proportioned ride. The group rode very well together.
The traffic was minimal on nearly every climb we did. Zero cars passed us on Glade Hill. Maybe two cars passed us on the Yeagerville and Mead Mtn climbs. Just a handful of cars on Peekamoose and Sugar Loaf. Our route minimized time on major routes. Still though, it seems New Yorkers are even less tolerant of bikers than Bostonians. We had one jerk deliberately buzz us with 2" to spare on Rt 212 coming back into Woodstock. And yes, we were riding single file on edge of road.
That probably does it for epic training rides this year. Of the dubious training value ride serious, only the Jay Peak Double Metric was missed this year. Last year the Catskills ride was missed. It was good come back.