Monthly Archives: March 2014

Warning: Bicycle Race Content

There are many ways to use a bicycle.

This blog is mostly about exploration, and illuminating the many pleasures of cycling in and around the Catskills. As such, I imagine that many readers place a high value on the ways a bicycle is a vehicle for exploration and self-sufficiency. It’s not about getting from point to point as quickly as possible; it’s about the path in between. Randonneurs don’t care about who gets there fastest, but they respect those who experience the best journey.

On the other hand… at a recent local event, I struck up a conversation with a guy wearing a shirt silkscreened with a stylized track bike.


He turned out to be a lifestyle advocate for cycling as functional transportation. He didn’t own a car (David Byrne style). For him, bicycles are literally about getting from point to point — not about the speed, or the journey, but the simple fact of moving people and goods with no dependency on energy infrastructure. (I guess they didn’t have a shirt with a stylized cargo bike at the store.) While I certainly support his cause, he was a somewhat overzealous advocate. He was scornful of both recreational cyclists and racers, because he felt that they create a public perception of cycling as a leisure-class or athletic-niche activity.

All of which is to say, bicycles mean many things to many people. It’s human nature to self-select according to our interests, and it’s easy to caricature those whose interests don’t mesh with our own. Sheldon Brown, socks and SPD sandals, leather saddles. Lumberjack beards, skinny pants and brakeless fixed gear bikes. Garish lycra, shaved legs, and uncomfortable carbon frames.

Essentially, this is a big pre-apologia for posting a bike race report on Riding the Catskills. Racers are a small subset of bicycle enthusiasts, and a particularly easy subset to make fun of. Bicycle racing is contrived, narrow, and highly specialized. And it attracts people with obsessive tendencies. Most people have no idea how hard you have to work to be a mediocre bike racer!

But I do it anyway. Racing offers a completely different set of rewards from the other ways to use a bicycle. Like jumping out of an airplane, racing is a heightened experience. Success requires maintaining absolute focus on the moment, while another part of your brain constructs situational and tactical awareness, all while your body is trying to concentrate all of its energy into physical output. In my view, the measure of a successful race is not winning, it’s maintaining that heightened state for as long as possible.

The desire to achieve that state creates a strong compulsion. My buddy Jim rode his stationary indoor trainer so long this winter that his sweat literally ruined his aluminum handlebars. If you’ve ever ridden a trainer for even 20 minutes, you may have some inkling of how unnatural this is.

shweddy_bars[photo: Bicycle Depot]

For me, the compulsion manifests in winter riding that seems almost masochistic to outsiders. I’ve reported here on hundred-mile rides on a heavy singlespeed, icy roads and sand-covered descents. I haven’t reported on interval training and hill repeats, which are far more boring and can’t be prettied up and passed off as an appealing way to experience the Catskills.

The spring race season in upstate New York started last weekend, with the first race of the 3-week Trooper Brinkerhoff series in Coxsackie, in Greene County. The Trooper series (formerly known as the Johnny Cake Lane series) is a fast, rolling, very windy road race.

The weekend after the Trooper series is Battenkill, one of the biggest races in the country. This is a brutalizing route through gorgeous, hilly dairyland in New York’s Taconic Valley, not far from Bennington, Vermont. Battenkill is modeled on the cobbled Spring Classic races of Belgium, and features long sections of pitted dirt roads and sharp climbs. It’s a spectacle, too: thousands of racers invade the tiny town of Cambridge, New York, literally doubling the population for the weekend.

battenkill[photo: Schenectady Daily Gazette]

The local spring races conclude with the Hunter Mountain Spring Classic, a relatively new, hilly road race right in the middle of the Catskills.

I’ll be doing all of these races over the next two months, sprained knee willing. I probably won’t report on all of them, because I don’t want to bore everyone to death with race report navel-gazing. But I will report if anything interesting happens.

Like last weekend, when I won the Trooper race.  Smiley

Shortest race report ever: a field of 65 category 4/5 racers. A few breakaways tried to get away but fizzled in the wind. A pack of about 40 racers at the front was psyching itself up for a bunch sprint. At the 1k sign I took off from about 10 racers deep and never looked back. The surprise kilo attack worked, I got a gap, railed the final corner, and won the race by about a bike length over the chasing pack. That’s me, on the left, looking happy.

[photo: J. Harvey]

My goal for the spring races is to get the last few points for my cat 3 upgrade, then race open masters fields exclusively. Masters fields are very skilled and fast, so I will never again get another podium or upgrade point, but the quality of racing is high, and after all, it’s all about the journey, not the result.

– John S, aka globecanvas

Your Quarterly Pet Picture

I haven’t posted a pet picture in six months. Everyone is alive and well!

I have concerns

Cycling content: Nothing new to report; I’ve been out for a few 20-30 mile rides as weather and travel permits. But I do have a cycling story….

When I’m out riding, whenever I see Margot in the car, I wave, stick my tongue out and generally make a fool out of myself. Five or six times, the car has passed me and I’ve realized that it’s dark gray, not dark brown, and thus is driven by someone I don’t know. Margot was at the gym in town a month ago, and she saw James Bond (Daniel Craig) there; apparently he has a house a mile or two from ours. They left the gym at the same time, and she realized that he drives…a dark gray car that is otherwise identical to our car. So, Daniel Craig, if you read this, the fool on a bike who has been waving and sticking his tongue out at you is me!

I’ll get around to some real posts shortly…moving in just a few weeks.



Here we are in the very grimmest part of winter. The Catskills are covered in a foot of old, gray snow, the kind of snow that says “it’s been cold for so long that even this month-old snow hasn’t melted” and also says “mother nature doesn’t even care enough about you to give you some nice fresh snow.”

There was a lovely period, a couple of weeks ago, where it was above freezing for maybe 2.5 hours, and we all frolicked gaily in our underwear. Then it went back down to 0F and the top inch of melted snow re-froze into a deadly, slick resin that encases our entire world. My back yard is incredibly treacherous. I need to put on crampons to take the compost out. Eventually March might go out like a lamb, but so far there has not even been the tiniest hint of spring.

Having grown bored with endless games of mumblety-peg and Russian roulette, I thought I might try to liven things up by recreating Ben’s excellent guest post from last week.  Of course, he did his ride in September, and I did my ride today, so everything looks a little different.

Our rides started out similarly, except that he has groovy bar-end shifters and my bike is encrusted with road snot. Plus I have my Zoidbergs on. With liner gloves underneath and a chemical foot warmer in there too.

1. Cuesheet


Ben rode from Poughkeepsie and I rode from home, but our routes converged at Butterville Road:

8. Shawangunk Ridge


From there, we both wended our way up to the Gunks.

This hairpin turn at the Trapps only has about a half ton of sand on it today. That’s because it’s a U.S. Highway and its maintenance is a matter of national security.

9. 180 turn


Incidentally, a friend of mine thought this hairpin turn would be an excellent place to set up his food truck in the summertime. Everyone who rock climbs at the Gunks has to meander up this road, and they all need egg and cheese sandwiches both before and after conquering the crag. After going through the excruciating process of getting permission from the town of Gardiner, he finally parked his truck there one fine summer day and started his prep work. The state troopers showed up within 15 minutes and told him to move it or get arrested for endangerment. The moral is, always sell donuts at your food truck.

Ben and I parted virtual, asynchronous ways shortly after the first part of this climb. He went down Clove Road and forged some excellent backcountry connections to Tow Path Road. I didn’t do that, partly because it would be backtracking toward my house, and partly because backcountry is totally out of the question right now (see: earth covered in frozen resin, above). Instead I continued climbing, up to Minnewaska and over the top. It got colder. Descending sucked. I clamped my glove over my face to keep my nose from falling off.

The reward, though, was this bonus photo, looking north toward the Catskills from the descent.  That’s Overlook Mountain on the far right.


Yes, I have zip-tied plastic fenders to my cross bike. It also has John F’s weird (uh, but awesome! thanks John F) combination disc/rim brake wheels, and I just realized I left the 2-lb steel trainer skewer in the rear too, just for a little extra challenge. I originally intended to do this ride on the single speed, for full chest-thumping points, but I sprained my damn knee in a sledding mishap a couple of weeks ago, and probably my shin would fall off on South Gully Road.

Cold, cold, cold. Ben went over toward the Southern Catskills and did Lundy Road — totally out of the question right now, as is his refreshing dip in a waterfall, which would currently result in death from falling/concussion and bleeding to death long before hypothermia. Instead I went down Foordemoore Road, meeting up with Port Ben Road and re-joining virtual, asynchronous Ben after a few miles.

Foordemoore Road is sketchy even in the summertime, and it was really special today. Giant potholes full of ice, piles of sand, massive chunks of road surface that have become disincorporated from the road itself, etc. Luckily, I was too cold to care. I never before realized what a long, gradual descent Foordemoore Road is. By the time I got to the prison in Napanoch, I was dying to start climbing again.

Ben took a photo of the prison, but I didn’t stop, because there were a bunch of C.O.’s milling around and I didn’t feel like getting interrogated or shot. Maybe there was a prison break. Mercifully, the road turns up at the prison, because all I wanted to do was get some HR BPM’s going.

The long climb to Sam’s Point really starts here, though you can also start from the middle of Ellenville, or from Route 52. According to some web site somewhere, this is the longest climb on a paved road in the Hudson Valley, or in the Catskills, or some other set of qualifiers. That may be true by the numbers, though there are other climbs that take longer to get up and are much tougher (like Sugarloaf), but South Gully is definitely a classic climb, and one of my favorites. It starts and ends steep, and has a number of steep parts in the middle, but it’s varied and interesting, and never relentlessly brutal the way most Catskills superclimbs are.

Plus, climbing South Gully in the wintertime is like going to the beach!

22. Mt Meenagha Road


I did some quick back of the envelope estimates, and calculated that there are about 800 billion tons of sand on the climb. Most places, there was a sort of line to follow, where some terrified driver had locked ’em up going down the hill and dredged a canal through the sand with his smoking tires, so I followed that. Of course, that meant climbing in the descending lane, but I didn’t see any cars, because you’d have to be insane to drive this road in these conditions.

I lost traction many times on the climb, but luckily managed to stay clipped in the whole way. The interesting thing about this knee injury is that it doesn’t hurt so much when cycling, in fact riding seems to help it feel less stiff, but the twisting motion required to unclip the pedals is horrible and must be avoided at all costs. (I’m actually still clipped into the left pedal now, writing at my computer, and shortly I’ll be sleeping with the bike still attached to my foot.)

29 minutes after taking the previous photo, I hit the ride’s maximum elevation on Sam’s Point Road. I hooked a right and rolled down to the lovely stone church in Cragsmoor. This is one of the only places in the region where you can do a big climb, then look down on what you just climbed. For your photographic pleasure, I braved the frozen resin in my cycling boots. If I had slipped, I would have ended up back in Ellenville.

stone church

Interestingly, the descent off of Sam’s Point didn’t feel nearly as unbearably cold as the earlier descent off of Minnewaska. Either I was becoming permanently insensate, or it was warmer on the east side of the ridge than the west. Regardless of the reason, I’ll take it. A few miles of descending, some lovely rolling terrain on Oregon Trail and Indian Springs Road, then a 20-mile more-or-less straight shot home.

Thanks, Ben, for your fine guest post last week, and for providing me a reason to saddle up today. Otherwise it would have just been mumblety-peg again.


– John S, aka globecanvas