Author Archives: John Schwartz

Fin

The Gunks 10,000 happened.

Photo: Larry Chapman

Photo: Larry Chapman

Let’s back up a bit. Last year my friend and teammate Larry thought up a ride that would do almost every climb along the Shawangunk Ridge, totaling over 10,000 feet of climbing.

In my memory, I was involved in the very first spark of the idea, maybe during an on-bike conversation with Larry. But I think that’s just how memory works. Ten years from now, when the Gunks 10,000 is bigger than Burning Man, there will be hundreds of cyclists who were part of the original conversation that birthed the Gunks 10,000, and thousands of cyclists who participated in the very first incarnation of the ride.

Photo: John Cullinan

Photo: John Cullinan

In fact, in 2013, only 6 cyclists were there for the first Gunks 10,000 (or “G10K” as those of us in the inner circle, friends of Larry (FOLs), call it). I wasn’t one of them, although I did go to Larry’s house for beer afterwards.

Larry's yard.  Photo: Andrew Williams

Larry’s yard. Photo: Andrew Williams

This year was different. Last Sunday was the second annual Gunks 10K, and 24 cyclists showed up. The day was perfect, the route was gorgeous, and the event went off perfectly. It had the distinct feel of something that could become a much bigger event in the future, if Larry decides he wants to go that direction.

Photo: Larry Chapman

Photo: Larry Chapman

The expectation at the start was that the ride would split into two groups: one racing, and one at Sunday-ride pace. On the first big climb of the day, a 2-mile 8% classic just a few minutes into the ride, it became clear that just about everybody had come to race. Despite my intention of keeping my own effort throttled down to a level I thought I could sustain for 6 or 7 hours, adrenaline got the better of me, and I put down a personal best on the climb. Pathetically, that personal best was demolished by over half the riders, with the fastest guys beating me by almost 2 minutes.

The day went on like that. The fastest 5 cyclists were all legitimate climbing specialists, including, as it turns out, two former Tour of the Catskills GC winners, and a former New York state masters road race champion. And this despite the fact that Bicycle Depot, my own team — the home team — had two of our best climbers cancel at the last minute, one with the flu, and one with a hamstring injury.

While the skinny guys duked it out at the front, the rest of us settled into our own grooves and enjoyed the beautiful day. Larry and I started our own little competition with one another, which would end with him beating me by 6 seconds out of 2 hours of timed climbing. By the time the 6 1/2 hour ride was over, Jonas from Brooklyn had opened a 22 second gap over his buddy Pablo, to claim a permanently engraved spot on the Gunky Chunk, the handmade conglomerate-and-steel trophy. Larry and I were 18 minutes back, right about midpack; the slowest finishing time of all was only 36 minutes back, which is really not much, considering the epicness of the event.

I predict Larry will be turning people away at the next G10K.

Photo: Larry Chapman

Mid-ride break at Lake Minnewaska.  Photo: Larry Chapman

Larry himself.  Photo: Andrew Williams

Larry himself. Photo: Andrew Williams

Gunks 10,000 route.

Gunks 10,000 route.

That was last Sunday. Yesterday I rode with a friend up to the groundbreaking for the Kingston Point rail trail. Ulster County has an ambitious plan to connect all of the various defunct rail lines into a network of multi-use rail trails, with a hub in Kingston. Some pieces of the puzzle are farther in the future than others, but there is real progress happening. This will be a Good Thing.

On the way home I had to stop to photograph this ridiculous Mount Doom sunset.

Sunset over the Rondout Creek.

Sunset over the Rondout Creek.

Continuing the trend this morning, the weekly Bicycle Depot team cyclocross ride was somewhere between “breathtaking” and “whoaaa.”

Sky Top.

Sky Top.

Copes Lookout.

Copes Lookout.

See you next time.

– John S

Shining Up my Saddle, Snake is Gonna Rattle — or — The Back is Back

[Note: don’t miss John F’s invitation to ride this coming Monday, September 15!]

John S here. Remember me? I used to post ride reports on this blog last winter. I’m back!

springtown

Sun getting low over the ridge, looking west from Springtown Road.

Where have I been, you ask? Mostly I’ve been training and racing. I haven’t wanted to post race reports here. To be honest, it’s mostly because I hardly ever have photos to go with the story, and nobody cares about anything on the internet unless it has pictures.

But, I can recap. My race season went as well as I could have hoped for. I upgraded to cat 3, which in the Northeast generally means you are good enough to race with the pros, but not good enough to beat them. The highlight of the season was winning at Crybaby Hill, which is one of the top crit races in the country. There’s a jumbotron and everything!  I also had a decent finish at the NY state masters road race championships, 8th place in the medals competition.  The winner was a 7-time national champion, one of those guys who’s just at a different level.

Now the road racing season is over, so I’ll be posting ride reports again. I will probably do a couple of cyclocross races just for fun, but at age 46 I don’t feel that I can maintain top racing fitness year round. Fall and winter are for taking it easy and preparing for the spring races.

The only event left on my calendar is the Gunks 10,000. My buddy Larry hosted the first version of this ride last year, and he’s doing it again. It’s a ride all around the Shawangunks, just over 100 miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing. It’s styled after a fondo: mostly a friendly group ride, but with 10 climbing segments defined on Strava. Larry crafted a really nice trophy out of a chunk of Shawangunk conglomerate, with a plasma-cut cyclist silhouette climbing up the side. The rider with the fastest combined time on all 10 climbs, which adds up to about 2 hours of climbing, gets his name added to the trophy, which lives at the Bicycle Depot in New Paltz. It’s like the Stanley Cup of the Gunks. The Gunky Chunk!

The Gunks 10,000 includes three climbs west of Ellenville that are not technically in the Gunks, though you can see the Gunks from there. Today I set out to ride those three climbs, along with Ferguson Road, a steep dirt climb to the top of the southern ridge. I didn’t plan to do the whole Gunks 10,000 route, but the ride did turn into a bit more than I anticipated…

I started from home and worked my way east, immediately crossing the very northern tip of the Gunks on Mountain Road in Rosendale. Then south toward the town of Accord, eventually ending up on Tow Path Road. This is a spectacular, long rolling winding road that follows the rocky Peterskill creek along the western rim of Clove Valley.

The rocky bed of the Peterskill Creek.  The creek is actually running down the long crevasses in the rock.

The rocky bed of the Peterskill Creek. The creek is actually running down the long crevasses in the rock.

Just for fun I rode hard up Lawrence Hill, a steep dead-end climb that has just been paved. There would normally be a nice view of the Catskills from the top, but we’re just past the lushest part of the growing season, and the trees are top-heavy with overripe leaves.

Then up Stony Kill road, another five star country lane, and across route 44/55, which separates the northern from the southern ridge, and also marks the boundary of what I think of as my home riding area. South of 44/55 means a long ride.

South of 44/55 also means entering the town of Wawarsing, which is a significantly different demographic from the towns along the northern ridge. It’s a noticeably poorer area, and road conditions are frequently atrocious. I like a bit of pavé as much as the next guy, but historically you can count yourself lucky if you can navigate Foordemoore and Berme Roads into Ellenville with all of your fillings in place. Foordemoore Road, though, has just been PAVED OMG WTF LOL. It’s a long, gradual descent, and I was laughing out loud rocketing down the creamy new blacktop. The elation ended at Berme Road, though; it’s been patched a bit, but still a tooth-rattler.

Berme Road leads past a couple of prisons, a major industry in this part of Ulster County, and into the down-at-the-heels town of Ellenville. I know a number of interesting people who live in Ellenville, and I’m sure it has its hidden treasures, but to an outsider it mostly looks like a bunch of boarded up storefronts punctuated by billboards pleading for support for a big casino project, stuffed into a very pretty area between the highest part of the Shawangunk ridge, and a steep highland that forms a pedestal for the southern Catskills.

Once through Ellenville, finally I had reached the three climbs I came for, all leading up the escarpment of the highland, across a narrow valley from the ridge. Wintish Road was the first climb, over a mile and very steep, with sections well over 15% grade. At the top was a rewarding view back toward the ridge. 

To the far right in the photo is Sam's Point, the highest point on the Shawangunk Ridge, and not coincidentally the top of the longest climb in the county. That climb, South Gully Road, is part of the Gunks 10,000 ride, but I didn't get to it today.

To the far right in the photo is Sam’s Point, the highest point on the Shawangunk Ridge, and not coincidentally the top of the longest climb in the county. That climb, South Gully Road, is part of the Gunks 10,000 ride, but I didn’t get to it today.

After doing another parallel climb back to the same viewpoint, I entered terra incognita; I’ve never ridden further south along this side of the ridge. (On the other side, I’ve ridden all the way down to New Jersey.)

The next 10 miles, miles 29-39 on my ride, were absolutely top-notch, brilliant single lane forested roads, descending and then following a rocky stream for a while and overall very enjoyable riding. I love riding new roads. 

Sandburg Creek outside of Ellenville.

Sandburg Creek outside of Ellenville.

Then came the Budd Road climb, a 2+ mile stairstepper that turns to dirt and gets steep enough that it’s hard to stand without breaking the rear wheel loose. I made a decent effort on this climb, and the previous two. Not race pace, but aiming for a threshold effort, just on the happy side of where you start to feel like the fuse is burning.

Budd Road finally topped out and was immediately followed by a straight, smooth, very fast 3 mile descent. I was doing about 40 mph for most of the way down, and thinking, thank god I didn’t bring carbon wheels today.

I went back up to the top of the ridge on Ferguson Road, a dirt and beat-up pavement climb of over a mile that was quite a bit steeper than I remember from the last time I did it. There’s over half a mile at 12% average grade. By this point I had over 5,000 feet of climbing in my legs, much of it at a moderate effort level, but I wasn’t feeling too bad.

I’ve had chronic lower back pain for over 10 years, and normally at this point in a ride my back becomes a significant throttle on what I can do. But a month ago, at the recommendation of a physical therapist, I set up a standing desk in my office, and the results have been magical.

I stopped at the top of Ferguson to stretch my hamstrings and back very briefly, maybe 30 seconds, and there was no real pain at all. I had planned to just head back at tempo along the base of the ridge, but I felt fine, so why not do a bit more climbing.

I headed up the ridge again on Cox Road, now coming from the east side. I was just riding tempo at this point, and the climb was over before I knew it. Looking now I see that it’s over a mile at 8% average grade, which is a totally legitimate climb, but there were a number of flat sections and to be honest I was so surprised at not feeling bad so far into the ride that it hardly registers as a climb in my memory.

Back down the ridge at high speed on Route 52, then about 15 miles of rolling riding along the base of the ridge.

gertrudes Nose

Looking northwest toward Gertrudes Nose, a prominent viewpoint on the ridge and a fine destination for a day hike.

I was feeling good enough that I figured I’d go over the ridge again, so I took South and North Mountain Roads up towards the Trapps. These are two of my favorite roads in the area, with a distinctive Gunks feel, rolling through oak and hemlock forest.

Past the Brauhaus and over the ridge again at the Trapps. I stopped at the newly rebuilt scenic lookout spot near the top to stretch for another minute.

The Near Trapps from the scenic overlook on 44/55.

The Near Trapps from the scenic overlook on 44/55.

Once over the top, I rolled down Clove Valley Road, a glorious 5-mile rolling descent through a gorgeous valley with constant views of the ridge rising above. We’ll do this road the other direction, as a climb, in the Gunks 10,000.

The Coxing Kill creek, off Clove Road.

The Coxing Kill creek, off Clove Road.

The Outback Slab, a relatively remote climbing destination on the back side of the Gunks.

The Outback Slab, a relatively remote climbing destination on the back side of the Gunks.

About halfway down Clove Valley I noticed that I had over 8,000 feet of climbing in. Twice more over the ridge would put me over 10,000. Why not? I was feeling fine, really amazingly good considering the efforts that were behind me. Nothing at all was sore, not my back, not my legs, no saddle or foot hot spots. Everything was so copacetic that it almost made me worry if something was wrong with my brain, or my nervous system.

So, two laps up Mohonk Road. To me this is the iconic Gunks climb: 2 miles starting at 4% grade, steadily increasing to 12%. According to Strava, I’ve climbed it 116 times in the past three years. For these two laps, I was taking it very easy, just spinning up the climb in 34×28, for my 77th and 83rd fastest ascents out of those 116. (The slowest of all was last fall, when I paced my son up the climb at the slowest speed physically possible without falling over.)

Looking toward the Catskills from Spring Farm, at the base of the Mohonk Road climb.

Looking toward the Catskills from Spring Farm, at the base of the Mohonk Road climb.

After the second ascent, I finished the last of my water. Only two bottles for six hours in the saddle, which is sort of ridiculous. It was overcast and cool for most of the day, just perfect riding weather. I stopped at the Mountain House golf pro shop at the summit, to defile it with my nasty sweaty self, and treated myself to a coke.

The flat homestretch down Springtown Road went by in a flash. I was only doing 16-17 mph, but still pedaling circles and feeling good. The shadows were starting to lengthen as the sun got lower over the ridge to my left… that’s the photo at the top of the post.

When I got to my driveway, my Garmin showed 9985 feet of elevation. Well, that wouldn’t do, so I passed by my house and rode about 100 yards back up Mountain Road to put a punctuation mark on the ride. The final total was 93.1 miles, 10,066 feet.

By the numbers, this was the hardest ride I’ve done all year. I’ve done longer rides faster, and rides with more climbing, but not this combination of distance and elevation. Yet somehow there was zero suffering, and even the next day my legs and back felt fine. It is amazing to me that a simple behavior change — standing instead of sitting at my desk all day — can have such a dramatic effect, not just on my back but on the whole system. If you’ve got back troubles, trying out a standing desk for a week or two could be a low cost experiment with a big payoff.

93.1 miles, 10066 feet of climbing.

93.1 miles, 10066 feet of climbing.

 

– John S

The Land of Ya Hozna!

And now, for today’s brief counterpunctual post.

Here is a heatmap of every road I’ve cycled in the past 2 years, centered roughly on John F’s new house.  The darker and redder the line, the awesomer the road.

Although, to be fair, some roads are well-ridden because they are merely conduits to awesomeness, rather than being inherently awesome qua awesome.

Capture

 

And here are a few photos from today’s lovely, meh-free ride.

10349744_423179361158190_2078994624_n 10413940_285697454941882_805708973_n 10354313_1451255298455599_311593993_n

Smiley

 

– John S, aka globecanvas

 

 

Spring in the Gunks

I apologize for the scarcity of blog posts recently. Somervillain has been pulling his weight, with an excellent ride report the other week, but John F has been busy relocating and I’ve been spending almost all of my bike time on race training.

This is a rest week, though, so I got out to wander along the Shawangunk Ridge trails on my cross bike, and enjoy what already feels like late springtime. This year, we seemed to grind gears directly from winter to summer.

spring_farm

Now that I’ve lured you in with a pretty picture, I’m going to talk about bike racing again. Just for a couple of paragraphs, I promise, then it’s back to pretty pictures of the Gunks.

My season couldn’t have started better: a win in my first race, top 10 in a crit the following weekend, then a top 10 at Battenkill. I took a couple of weeks off for work/family reasons, and then a family trip to Panama (we had a great time). Then it was back to training.

My next race was the Bear Mountain Classic, last weekend, where I failed miserably. Part of it was mechanical, part of it was mental, but most of it was simply physical. The race starts with a 10-minute climb, and I could only hold onto the two race leaders for 9 minutes before completely falling apart. I burned far too much gas too early, couldn’t recover, and ended up quitting the race.

The mechanical part was that I had misadjusted my brakes, causing them to rub slightly, but that is such an incredibly lame excuse that it’s disallowed in polite conversation. When you’re dying it always feels like your brakes are rubbing, anyway. The mental part is there were only two racers off the front when I quit, and quitting when 3rd place is on the table (and plenty of paying spots, and upgrade points) is a ridiculous thing to do. But I just felt terrible and didn’t want to race any more.

So it goes. I certainly do plenty of climbing (150,000 feet this year so far), but I’m not a climbing specialist. In fact I’m very far from a climbing specialist, which is obvious when I compare my race results against the length of the longest climb in the race. In all races featuring a climb of more than 10 minutes, my best result is 22nd place, with two DNFs (did not finish). In all races where the longest climb is less than 10 minutes, my worst result is 8th place, with five podiums. I’m not a big guy, but I’m 10 pounds too heavy (or 20 watts too weak) to compete in races that are decided by raw watts per kilogram. I might lose the 10 lbs (or gain the 20 watts) someday, but in the meantime I just need realistic expectations about races with long climbs. Which is too bad, since I live in the mountains.

But this isn’t a blog about racing in the mountains, right? It’s about riding. And ride I did, today.

lookout_vista

I rode my cross bike to Spring Farm.  (In the photo above you can see the red barn at Spring Farm, far below.).  But before I even made it onto the carriage roads, two coincidences occurred.  First, the volunteer at the gatehouse was somebody I work with on community/volunteer events, so we chatted about local politics for a while.  When I finally got rolling, I almost immediately ran into my son’s 4th grade class, on a field trip to the Algonquin longhouse, where they were grinding corn and throwing spears and such.  That’s small town living for you, can’t go for a ride in the woods without running into people you know!  Or your kids.

I finally got rolling on the carriage roads and worked my way up the ridge, in no kind of hurry, just enjoying the woods and the view.

lookout_trail

laurel_ledge

Hey, as long as I’m taking photos of my bike, here are my new brakes.  I replaced the Avid BB7 mechanical discs on my cross bike with Shimano CX-77s.  The BB7s weren’t broken, they were just clunky and annoying.  The old brakes were like an old Dodge Dart that doesn’t have the common courtesy to just die already.  The new brakes are like a Toyota Camry, functional and uninspiring.  Which is fine.  They’re brakes.

brakes

Anyway, I rolled along the ridge for about 2 hours, nice and easy, above and below crags near the Mountain House, through grassy fields on Glory Hill, and finally getting back on the pavement at Pine Road, then home on the Wallkill Valley rail trail.

maple_path

glory_hill_grass

pine_roadA lovely day for a bike ride.

strava

 

– John S, aka globecanvas

Battenkill

The Tour of the Battenkill is a spectacle. Easily the biggest 1-day race on the continent, the race brings 3000 racers to the tiny town of Cambridge, New York. For one weekend, bike racers significantly outnumber local humans, and even local cows.

gazette
Schenectady Daily Gazette

Battenkill is styled after the Spring Classics of Northern Europe, and the course is a real treat. The exact route changes every year, but it is always about 65 miles, with around 5000 feet of climbing. (The cat 2s do the course 1.25 times, and the pros and cat 1s do 1.5 for an even 100 miles.)

About 1/3 of the course, and most of the climbing, is on narrow dirt roads. The terrain is an effective stand-in for the various Classicbergs of Flanders, with many steep 5-minute power climbs on pitted dirt.  Although the route does change from year to year, there are a few signature features that are always in the race. Juniper Swamp (yes, really) is a very steep 2-minute dirt climb that almost always separates the field early. In the middle of the race, Meetinghouse Road is a ruler-straight series of corrugated steep dirt risers that are highly photogenic, but deeply painful. And finally, Stage Road is a make-or-break 6-minute dirt climb 5 miles from the finish.

Although there is a lot of climbing, it’s not a climber’s race. The hills aren’t long enough, and the other challenges of the course overwhelm the overall elevation change. The course rewards power, positioning, and bike handling.

Local phenom Alec Hoover on his way to a podium in the cat 3 race (Alec was a cat 5 last year):

bulmerD
John Bulmer

A note on the photographs in this post:  Battenkill is a highly photogenic race, and many talented photographers invest their time and effort to produce high-quality images of the event. I’ve used watermarked images in this post, but please follow the photographer’s link to see all of their fine work. 

This year’s course was the toughest I can remember, with a new section of brutal and relentless dirt climbs around mile 50. Even in perfect conditions, times on this course would have been 10-15 minutes slower than last year.

As in happened, conditions were far from perfect. The endless zombie winter that wouldn’t die left the ground frozen and drainage clogged well into the early spring. Ten days before the race, I rode the course with some friends, and some dirt sections were still covered with big patches of ice. One of our pre-ride group crashed on the ice, even.

During the ten days between the ice ride and the actual race, there was enough warmish weather to melt the ice. But the combination of continuing snowmelt, deep frost line, and heavy rains the day before the race meant that we knew we could expect sloppy conditions.

I was all kinds of nervous about the race. I’d been thinking about it, and training specifically for it, since last November. As the day approached, I fretted like Oskar Schindler about all the things I should have done but didn’t. More 8-minute intervals! More 3-hour threshold efforts!

I rode up to the race with my riding buddy Jim. Jim races for the Bicycle Depot, and he’s something of a local legend. He’s 50, a former Olympic rower, and had some vague stint in the armed forces that may or may not have been some sort of super-soldier experiment. What we know for sure is that Jim doesn’t feel pain the way normal people do.

As we drove up, we shared the usual nonsense pre-race plans: good places to try to attack, weighing the competition, that sort of thing. These plans never amount to anything, because as Mike Tyson said, everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth. My actual plan is usually just to conserve energy whenever possible and follow strong wheels. Jim’s pre-race plan is always to try to “race smarter”, but when the race actually starts, he usually goes off the front right away and time trials the entire race. Often enough, it works and he wins, partly because he’s a monster time trialist, and partly because, as mentioned earlier, he seems unable to feel pain. Knowing Jim and his habits, my secret plan for Battenkill was even simpler than my usual plan: I would glue myself to Jim’s wheel and hold on like grim death until my legs gave out.

We got to the race, hemmed and hawed about how much to wear in the cold drizzle, wisely chose to underdress, pinned on numbers (fancy fabric numbers this year), warmed up a tiny bit, and said hi to a bunch of racers we hadn’t seen since last fall. Spring races are always fun that way.

Race time. We lined up with 100 other guys in our cat 4B field, one of five cat 4 fields at this enormous race. Jim and I pointed out a couple of strong guys to each other, and I could see some other racers pointing out Jim to their friends. (Jim soloed off the front at Battenkill last year and won his field solo by nine minutes.) Shivery from cold and jittery from adrenaline, we waited for the countdown, clipped in, and followed our pace car through town for the neutral start. Jim worked his way right up to the front, as always, and I tagged along.

Once out of town, the moto ref shouted “racing!” and pulled away. Jim got in the drops and started chugging away at the front. I sat inches off his wheel and settled in, trying to keep things smooth and steady. The chit-chat stopped and the field lined out behind us. I could practically hear everybody thinking “already?!”

Through the iconic Eagleville covered bridge and onto the first dirt section. Surprise! Conditions were not just sloppy, they were full on cyclocross sticky rutted mud. Jim continued to hammer away at the front, and I stuck with him. Conditions didn’t allow for looking back, but given Jim’s relentless pace, and the mud, we were clearly shedding a lot of the field.

amorosa
Peter Amorosa

At mile 12, after a moderate paved climb, we hit Juniper Swamp, which was utter carnage. It looked like about half of the previous field was littered across the steep, muddy hill, trying to get back on their bikes, running up the hill, or just sitting on the side of the road sobbing. It was the bike race version of Antietam, or Gettysburg. Jim’s reptile-brain strategy of “pedal hard always” was suddenly brilliant, because it was critical to be at the front of the pack. About a dozen of us managed to ride the hill, while the remains of our field detonated against the exploded ordinance of the previous field.

Me in the black/orange; Jim in the Depot kit. Jim may or may not be aware that he is currently in the middle of a bike race.

koblenz
Barry Koblenz

Our lead group got over the hill and Jim finally relented to let us rotate through. After a few miles of pacelining, the moto ref told us we already had a minute and a half on the field. Many days were ruined at mile 12 of Battenkill this year.

We hit the next significant hill, Joe Bean Road, and Jim reasserted his need to set the pace. For the next 20 miles Jim hammered away Cancellara-style, as our lead group slowly attrited away. Eventually Jim got a bit of a gap off the front, which slowly and inexorably widened, second by second.

Around mile 45, with Jim about 10 seconds ahead and our chase group whittled down to 3 racers, we hit the new section of the course, which started with a very steep dirt wall of a climb. The front of the previous field (who had a 10-minute head start on us) was crawling up this hill like a group of ants. As we passed the previous field’s pace car, my two fellow chasers picked up the pace and I couldn’t respond. I watched them pull away, and descended into a dark, lonely place.

bulmerA6
John Bulmer

At this point I was 4th on the road, with 20 miles to go. I tried to settle into a strong TT pace and keep it smooth and steady, but riding alone at Battenkill, it’s hard to keep that deadly off-the-back defeatism out of your spirit. I’d realize I was slowing to sunday-ride pace, pick it back up, only to slowly lose focus and slow down again.

I had essentially cracked. Luckily, over the first 45 miles of the race, we had built up such a significant gap, and the field had shattered so completely, that I only lost three places over the last 20 miles. (Our field was so utterly fragmented that out of 100 racers, the largest group to cross the line at the same time was five guys, 15 minutes back.)

carney9
Meaghan Carney

I crossed the line in 7th place, with no other racers visible ahead or behind.

Jim was waiting at the line. The two chasers who dropped me had caught him, and he finished second.  This photo was taken just after the catch.  This amount of suffering, by the way, is what it takes to podium at Battenkill.

bulmerE
John Bulmer

This year’s Battenkill was not only the toughest Battenkill out of the three I’ve done, it was the toughest race I’ve done, full stop. Between the harder course and the muddy conditions, the race surpassed its reputation. It was, in a word, epic.

After Jim’s podium ceremony and chugging a quart of chocolate milk, we stood around in our sweaty kits for a while, trading shivering war stories with racers we knew. Eventually it started to snow, and we decided to get back to my van before our physical condition got medically dangerous.

Our trip home was an absolute comedy of errors. We got a half hour out of town, realized we’d forgotten our pit wheels, drove all the way back, picked up the wheels exactly where we’d dropped them off — apparently our wheel car never showed up for the race. Headed home again, planning to stop at the Falls Diner for a burger, realized we were going the wrong way, drove a half hour back to the diner, finally got our damn burgers (so good!), and eventually got home having accomplished the 2 hour return trip in something like 5 hours.

Another Battenkill in the books! A great race and a decent result.  Now the spring races are done. It’s time to take a couple of weeks off of training, relax and reset for the summer.

bulmerB1
John Bulmer

Here’s the race:

strava

PS. I couldn’t resist generating a little animated silliness using some of the many sequential images.  I’ve linked the images rather than embedding because they are incredibly distracting. Apologies to the very talented and prolific John Bulmer and Meaghan Carney.

Meetinghouse Road.
Stage Road.

– John S, aka globecanvas

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.

trackbike

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.

brinkerhoff
[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

Echolalia

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

selfie

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

8. Shawangunk Ridge

butterville

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

hairpin

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.

4455_

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

meenagha

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.

Capture

– John S, aka globecanvas