Sunday, October 19, 2008

Catskills 220km Climb Fest

Last week during the Great River Ride I had the pleasure of meeting two local people, well, local to my parents house in CT, named Don and Paula, and during the week afterwards I was invited to ride the Catskills Climb Fest permanent Randonneur hosted by a New Paltz, NY local named George with them. It turns out I'd ridden with George a few times earlier this year so it was good to see him again. On Friday night I hopped on the Metro North train and travelled up to Poughkeepsie where Don picked me up, and drove me back to a campsite very near the start of the event.

At 6am Saturday the alarm clock goes off. It was very hard to drag my body out of the o-so-warm down sleeping bag, and to start donning the bike clothes I would wear for the next 7 or so hours. The temperature was supposed to reach the mid 50s but that wasn't until afternoon, and we would be nearly finished by then. So, high 30s to 40s are what I had to deal with. Beautiful sunny skies and no noticeable wind greeted us near 8am, and it remained that way for most the ride.

Six of us started at 7am. I was the only one on a fixed gear bike. Everyone else had the 'who's who' of the elite custom bicycle world. Moots, Independent Fabrications (2 of them!), a Serotta, a Coppi, and to round it out my Jamis Sputnik! My entire bike cost less than any one of those frames besides maybe the Coppi!

The planned route was roughly 128 miles with around 11,000ft of climbing. It ended up being 137 miles due to a missed turn (which of course was mostly up and down a long hill.) 46-16 was the gearing of choice. It proved to be OK, for the most part, although I had to switch to 2nd gear for a short period of time on two occasions on the 2nd big climb of the other words - start pushing with my feet on the ground!

The route turned out to be simply beautiful. Amazing views of nature were around us the entire ride. Lots of deer were present in the morning - such graceful creatures. The magnificent trees ran the full spectrum of available fall colors. High falling waterfalls, tranquil ponds, reservoirs, rivers, streams - we saw it all! And Mountains! Yes, we climbed around, and over a few of those. There were two really big climbs for Northeast standards, and a third that was very long but not too steep. If we weren't climbing mountains we were attacking rollers on a regular basis.

I ended up riding with Don and Paula most the ride although I played rabbit a few times and went off ahead on my own. Rides like this remind me why most people ride geared bikes. I would've been significantly faster had I been able to shift on occasion. Especially the climbs. It's tough grinding it out for 5 miles up steep grades. It wastes A LOT of energy leg pressing over and over instead of spinning out at a higher cadence! Wah, wah. Well, I survived, and didn't feel tired after we finished. My butt was a bit tired from spinning all day on a hard piece of plastic. Today I'm ready to do it all over again!

I have the cue sheet for this ride so email me if you want it. It's one of the best rides I've done in New England. The start is in Rosendale, NY.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Great River Ride

Yesterday, Sunday the 12th, I went up to Westfield, MA for the annual Great River Ride. It's considered one of the best organized centuries the USA has to offer, and claims to be the hardest event century in New England. It always takes place in the fall, and hopefully around the peak foliage of the trees. I've lived in the Northeast for awhile now, and tend to take fall colors for granted, but if you happen to live in an area the leaves don't change to vibrant yellows, oranges and reds you should definitely consider making the trek to Westfield, MA in October.

The ride was a bit longer than a century at 112 miles, and it had a lot of climbing. Over 7,000ft is what I heard someone say. The climbing started about 5 miles in to the ride, and was relentless until about 100 miles in to the ride! My kind of cycling! The route was mostly on isolated, country roads. I was very rarely passed by cars. Don, the organizer, also marked all the turns so the cue sheet did not once have to be pulled from the pocket. I wish all rides were like this!

The weather was perfect. It was a bit chilly for the first hour but quickly warmed up and was the ideal cycling temperature the remainder of the day. Just cool enough so I barely broke a sweat. The skies were clear and blue and there was no wind.

I rolled in to the parking lot around 6.30 am, and there were already quite a few people loitering about awaiting the start at 7am. I was told over 300 people showed up. I should note there were two other rides as well if you didn't feel up for over 100 miles. I think the other routes were ~65 or ~80 miles. From the hobbling, groaning cyclists I witnessed after they finished, I can only assume the shorter routes had lots of climbing as well:)

I brought the fancy fixed gear along for this ride with a gearing of 46-16. I was the only person riding a single speed and fixed gear. This surprised me as I figured at least one other silly person would join me for some fixie fun! Alas, I was forced to ride with a bunch of freewheeling gear heads.

I started off slowly with my buddy Zack, but the climbing started early on and it was chilly so I dropped the pedal to the metal and hammered it out for the remainder of the ride. I felt pretty strong, and was averaging in the low 20s for the majority of the ride. Around 50 miles in to the ride, I caught up with the lead group, passed them, but then had a long downhill and one of them cheerfully called for me to lock on to her rear - uhm, draft - and tag along wit them. What she didn't know was that I couldn't coast, but I stupidly spun out to nearly 200rpm's and hit 40mph for a few seconds before slowing down to a sane cadence for the remainder of the descent. After that, we drafted off each other at a pretty high pace for the remainder of the ride.

So the final stats were 112 miles in 5 hours and 26 minutes. Lots and lots of climbing, beautiful scenery in every direction, that lovely fall smell in the air, and good company to make a great ride.

A few of the people I was riding with are from near where my parents live so I hope to hook up with them for the occasional weekend ride. It'll be nice to have some company - and they ride around the same speed as me! - on those long, hilly CT rides.

So is it the hardest organized century in the NE? Well, there are very few of those, so perhaps it's an accurate claim. Is it the hardest century I've done? No, it's easy to toss together a 100 mile ride around my parents house that has many more steep, painful climbs, and, personally, I think, better, more scenic roads.

Highly recommended.