Friday, June 14, 2013

Catskill 600k - Fixed Gear!

Photo by Nigel
 The hotel clock on the end table reads 3:55am as I hear the distinct beep of my cell phone indicating a text message awaits.  I'm expecting to start a 600k bike ride at 5am from this very hotel, but, who could be texting me now?  I fumble my way in the darkened room to the phone, where it is plugged into its charger.  The message reads: "Are you coming to the start?"  It is from Katie, the ride organizer.  I text back: "Yes.  At 5am right?"  Her reply is quick and succinct: "No! 4".  Damn!  I messed up the start time!  I'm in disbelief at my stupidity.  The next half hour becomes a fire drill for me as I ready my gear in hurried fashion.  Once downstairs I go through the check-in procedure with Katie and receive my brevet card.  Patrick takes my photo, as was done with the group of starters who made it on time.  I then take to the roads, which are still wet from early morning showers.  The time is 4:45am.

My Specialized Langster feels smooth beneath me on the flat roads leading out of the northern New Jersey town of Rochelle Park.  The drive train hums quietly as I maintain a snappy cadence.  The air feels both chilly and humid at the same time.  I'm comfortable with arm warmers and knee warmers.  The jacket remains in my pack.  This is my third time on this particular 600k.  Although the route has varied some over the years the basic nature of it, mondo hilly, has remained throughout its history.  It's not an annual event, this being only the fourth running since 2006.  I was a DNF that first year.  A 90 degree day combined with poor pacing on my part had me calling for a ride home after only 130 miles.  Five years passed before I tried it again, fairing far better with a successful finish on that attempt.   Today I risk another DNF by riding a fixie.  Three friends, who had ridden the exact route one week prior, on the pre-ride check, had politely advised me against attempting it fixed.  These guys are highly experienced and I respect them immensely.  Despite it all I still wanted the added challenge.  The thought that I might not be able to make it felt exciting.  I probably wouldn't feel that bad if I had to pack it in.  After all, it is a crazy thing to do.  Yet, on the other hand if I succeeded?  Well, that would be immensely satisfying.  It seemed like there was no way to lose.  I advised my wife, who kindly drove many hours to retrieve me back in 2006, of the possibility I would need such assistance again.  After which I committed myself to the plan.
photo by Chris N.
As the darkness slowly yields to daylight on this overcast morning I am crossing into the state of New York, where I will remain for most of the adventure.  The terrain of the early miles is quite gentle.  I find myself making good time.  I'm hoping I can catch up to some of the riders by the first control at mile sixty-one.  In the meantime, I'm passing by reservoirs and lakes with little to no traffic around. I reach route 9W which also has low traffic due to the early hour.  I'm riding next to the Hudson River passing the Stony Point nuclear power plant.  After a hefty climb and descent the river is crossed at the Bear Mountain Bridge.  I enjoy the spectacular view in every direction.   Route 9D follows the river on the east side up to the town of Fishkill.  My direction is north and will continue to be for many miles.  I soon find myself at Hopewell Junction which is the control.  There are numerous riders there, some appearing to have just recently arrived.

61 miles from the start.
Rail Trail photo by Chris N.
After refreshing my bottles and removing knee and arm warmers, I depart the control with Christine and Janice. We enjoy more mild terrain some of which is on rail trails and the Walkway over the Hudson.  This pedestrian and bicycle specific bridge is the longest of it's type in the country.  Soon after crossing the Hudson for the second time the terrain turns more hilly.  The rhythm of the fixie calls for aggressive climbing.  My riding companions fall back.  I find myself riding solo again.  I begin to pass by other riders, all of whom I know by name.  I see my friend Nigel ducking into a small general store to re-fill water bottles.  I opt to push on to the next control before stopping.  The hilly terrain leads to the massive Ashoken Reservoir which is then crossed over on a bridge.  So far the climbing is not terribly difficult and the scenery is outstanding.  My spirits are high as my confidence soars.  A few miles later I am at the Bread Alone bakery in Boiseville, along with many other riders.  Apparently, I've caught up to the main group.
Boiceville Control with Jon the other fixie rider photo Chris N.

111 miles from the start.

I follow the practiced steps of quick controlling.  Check-in, bathroom, get a food item to eat on the bike, fill water bottles, flip cue-sheet, load the next leg into the Garmin and depart.  Because of the crowd at this control it takes about ten minutes to accomplish all of the above.  At C-Store controls it usually takes about five.  About a mile up the road a rider pulls alongside.  It is Jon from the PA Randonneurs.  He is also riding a fixed-gear and is preparing for LEL which is in just a few weeks.  We fall into sync together chatting for a bit before taking turns pulling into a mild headwind.  After about twelve miles we begin to climb a mild grade for six miles.  The climb causes neither of us much stress.  The remaining miles to the next control are lightly rolling and pleasant.  We arrive at the country store in Grand Gorge in fine shape.  There are three riders there when we arrive, all of whom I recognize.  Jon is quite friendly with the two PA riders in the control, Tim and Bill.

147 miles from the start. 
photo by Chris N.
 We all manage to make short order of it and depart as a group of four.  The terrain features some rolling hills, but nothing daunting up ahead for awhile.  We move along well as the three PA riders chat excitedly about all things rando.  I pedal along quietly conserving energy for the miles ahead.  The sleep stop control is still ninety miles further.  The twenty-eight miles to the next control pass uneventfully.  We arrive at the Express Mart in Dehli still in full daylight.  One rider, David, is in the control.

175 miles since the start.
photo by Chris N.
David departs ahead of us, but only by a few minutes.  The next control is a mere 12 miles featuring more mild terrain.  One could start to think that this ride has a bad rap for being more challenging than it really is.  But, I know better.  My information from the pre-riders is solid.  This ride will get tougher before this day is out, and, even tougher the next day.  After completing a short uneventful segment our group arrives in Andes to be greeted by Bob a fellow Randonneur doing duty as the control volunteer.  Bob lives in the region.  He previews the next thirty miles for us describing a 3.5 mile climb we will be dealing with up ahead.   Darkness will be upon us soon so we spend the time to ready our night gear.  The temperature has dropped a bit requiring an extra layer.  Once again David has left the control ahead of us.  We prepare to leave soon after.
Photo by Chris N.

187 miles since the start.

We ride out of the control trending downhill to the Pepacton Reservoir.  We parrellell the large body of water for many miles.  Once again it is not very challenging terrain.  The PA riders start to think this is an easy ride compared to what they face in their home region.  I know better.  The hammer will fall at some point, and I want to stay mentally prepared for it, or things will become miserable.  As soon as we turn away from the water the road pitches up for the big climb.  Darkness is upon us as we head up the six percent gradient.  As is typical of night climbs the top of the climb cannot be seen.  There are a couple of false peaks where the grade lessens briefly leading the rider to believe he is done, only to pitch up again at an even steeper angle.  I'm suffering a bit from a case of hot foot and I begin falling back.  I work hard to ignore the pain catching back up to Bill who has separated from Jon and Tim.  Bill mentions that the grade feels steeper than advertised.  My foot flares with so much pain I can only mutter something unintelligible.  Finally, I clip out to walk off the pain for a hundred feet or so.  After some improvement I get back on the bike and finish the climb.   At the top the three riders are waiting for me.  We continue together on the long descent ahead.  The two geared bikes fly down ahead.  Jon and I must keep up our leg speed with the speed of our bikes.  The descent continues for six miles tapering off some near the bottom.  As we reach flat ground we arrive at the Roscoe control. Bill and Tim are already there waiting.  We are greeted by the volunteer, Mordecai, who is also the designer of the route, and, one of the pre-riders.  He is happy to see me and tells me I am doing very well so far.

219 miles from the start. 

The air has become a bit chilly at this point.  I pull out a light jacket from my pack to wear on the 17 mile leg to the sleep stop in Liberty.  Our group departs the control together.  David who was there ahead of us remains at the control.  He was under dressed and was looking for a solution to keep warm.  As we get going I notice I'm feeling a little sluggish.  The big climb and subsequent descent has apparently taken a toll on me.  My three riding companions seem no worse for the wear as they are amping up the pace to make the sleep stop quickly.  Back at the control they were discussing a minimal sleep plan of one-hour.  That strategy does not align with mine.  I simply want to survive.  I will leave enough time cushion to allow for any problems that may arise, the rest will be spent eating, showering and sleeping.   After a few flat miles we encounter some rollers.  The PA riders take them on aggressively.  I do not make the effort to match their pace.  I'll finish this day riding conservatively. I enjoy riding with others, but am not dependent on it.  I am quite comfortable riding solo anywhere.  I let the gap open watching their taillights blinking up in the distance.  Now alone I embrace the solitude of the night.  The elevation profile trends upward for most of the miles of this section.  There is a final descent into the town, but all prior to that is gentle gradient upward.  The longest is three miles at about 3% gradient.  I work my way up alternating standing and seated to mix up the muscle use.  I hear an odd sound behind.  Sort of a flapping noise.  I look back to see David catching up to me.  I ask what is making that noise.  He explains that he is wearing a garbage bag on his torso to keep warm.  He slowly passes by.  I could increase my effort a bit to stay with him, but opt not to.  There are only a few miles left to the hotel.  I'm happiest to ride them on my own.  Dropping down into the town, making the quick few turns required to navigate to the Day's Inn all happen quick enough.  The automatic doors at the front of the hotel whoosh open as I approach inviting me to ride into the lobby.  It is just past 11pm.

236 miles from the start.

A large conference room is reserved for our use.  Katie, Todd and Leslie have set up the room with a large buffet table filled with hot and cold foods.  There are tables in the middle of the room for dining and the perimeter is used for our bikes.  Each rider has a bag of personal items which has been transported by the volunteers from the start.  I enjoy a hearty meal.  The first time I'm sitting down and eating all day.  Jon, Bill, Tim and David are all there partaking in the food.  Todd assigns me a room for sleeping which will be shared with Jon.  By the time I get my bag and work my way to the room Jon is asleep in one of the two beds.  I quietly shower and brush my teeth.  I find my way to the unused bed.  It is about mid-night.  My plan is to depart on my bike at 4am.  I should net about three hours of sleep, which is quite adequate.  Jon is planning on riding out at 2am.  Not surprisingly I don't fall right asleep.  It takes awhile before the exhaustion overcomes the hyperactive feeling one has from so many hours of activity.  I probably wind up getting an hour and a half of actual sleep.  That should be enough to see me through.

I'm up at 3:15.  After dressing in fresh cycling kit I head for the conference room where breakfast is waiting.  All the volunteers are there, if they've slept it must have been very brief as the food table is entirely changed from just a few hours ago.   Christine and Janice come in for breakfast.  I enjoy a bowl of oatmeal while chatting with everyone.  The two ladies depart on their bikes with me just a few minutes behind.  Despite the early hour it is a pleasant 55 degrees.  I'm looking forward to the sunrise, which will take place at about 5:30am. After only two miles I spot Christine and Janice.  They have overshot a turn by a few hundred feet.  I spot the headlights as they are back tracking to it.  I ride alongside for a bit while we discuss the nuances of the Garmin 800, the cycling navigation unit we both use.  An occasional glitch is common with these units.  They are best utilized in combination with a cue-sheet.  Mostly, I find the device extremely useful and have not had a serious navigation error with it.  On conclusion of our discussion I move on ahead trying to gain back some of the time cushion I had at the end of yesterday.  The roads on this 39 mile section have horrible pavement.  The elevation profile is trending downhill which normally would allow one to move quickly.  In this case the roads are so rough and gravelly that I spend most of my time braking and weaving around pot holes.  The effort involved is as tiring as riding up hills.  I am happy to arrive at the control at Stone Ridge where my friend Jon is the volunteer.  He was one of the pre-riders of the route.  I'm given the run down on the terrain ahead to the next two controls.  Jon describes roads with relentless rollers and climbs for the next 77 miles.  I feel the need to keep moving.
Photo by Chris N.

276 miles from the start.

Back on the roads for this next 47 mile segment the pavement has improved.  As promised the rolling hills begin.  Only to be followed by a 2.5 mile climb up Mount Minnewaska.  I manage the climb in good form.  The five hours spent off the bike at the hotel have been of benefit.  After the descent the rollers return, but they are mostly the gentle variety.  The kind that allow one to maintain somewhat of a rhythm.  They take a toll on the energy level, but are preferable to steeper terrain.  As I work my way up one of the larger ones a couple on carbon race bikes in racing kit pass by at a really good pace.  I assume they are local riders out for a short morning sprint.  Typically, I rise to the challenge when coming across other riders, but on this day I decide to hold steady as I still have a long way to go.  Some steep kickers appear as I get nearer to the control at Monroe.  To my surprise I come across the fast riding couple again as I'm headed up one of the grades.  They are moving much slower.  I pass by the woman and start to overtake the guy.  When he spots me he starts furiously spinning his legs to prevent me going by.  I drop in behind him in the opening left by the woman.  We've come in to the town and ride through an intersection and into a shopping center which has our control.  A bagel store.  They are headed there also.  I spot the volunteer who is David E, a friend and fellow NJ rando rider.  It turns out that the couple is on the 600k also.  After checking in I opt for a bagel sandwich to give me energy for the next leg.  As I prepare to depart Christine arrives alone.  Janice fell off the pace a bit and had suggested she go on ahead.
Speedy Rando riders Kate and Victor photo by Chris N.

323 miles from the start.

Back out on the route I recall an e-mail from my friend Jon received soon after his pre-ride.  He described the current section as "not easy".  I know Jon for a long time and when he uses that phrase it is a red flag.  What it really means is that it will eviscerate you.   Initially out of the control there are the same type of rolling hills that were experienced on the way in.  I'm managing good spirits as I approach Greenwood Lake from the New York side.  The other half of the lake resides in New Jersey which is reached after a couple of rolling miles.  Rather suddenly the road takes a wild pitch up.  This turns into a climb which stair steps up for some distance.  Soon follows a steep descent, a right turn and an immediate climb back up, also quite long.  After many miles of heavy rollers this climb on Awosting Road is starting to hurt.  I reach a county road as things level out. After less than a mile I'm directed to turn on Marshall Hill Road, which of course goes up more.  After which comes Ridge Road which is also a climb, long and stair stepped.  Then comes Otterhole which is a climb followed by a long descent. It was like a furious round in a boxing ring where the only thing that can save you is the bell.  For me the bell is the control in Bloomingdale.  I pull into the tiny convenience store dazed from the last 16 miles.

353 miles from the start.

Despite being exhausted I don't take any rest.  I re-fill my water, intake a gel and ride out for the final 21 miles.  This section was described as flat.  I'm hoping that is the case, but a nagging suspicion tells me it's not likely to be so.  Indeed it begins as flat with only very minor, almost unnoticeable gradient.  At about six miles into the segment a climb is encountered.  Not a killer climb, but one that required increased, out of the saddle, effort.  This is followed by a couple miles of smaller rolling hills, then a long downhill trend.  Going down hurts almost as much as going up at this point.  The final few miles are indeed flat and welcomed.  I arrive at the finish and am greeted by Katie and Steve. I am glad to see them and truly grateful to be done.  While I didn't gain much time over the course of the day I didn't lose any either.  My finish time is 36:45, not that it mattered as I would have been happy with anything less than 40 hours.

374 miles from the start.     


I find challenging long rides to be fun.  This one certainly was for me.  The added difficulty factor of the fixed-gear was just the motivation I needed.  It's easy to become bored with long rides. I was told by a very experienced rider that using a fixed drive train on this route would be very risky.  That was exactly what I was looking for.  An uncertain outcome.  Maybe I won't make it, but I'll have fun trying.  Motivation can be found in many ways.  Setting out to ride a PR for a distance is one. Handicapping oneself by using less than the ideal bike for the job is another. This time I chose option two.  We'll figure out the next one when we get there.  In the meantime...............Boo-ya!


1 comment:

  1. Joe, congrats on an impressive ride! I enjoyed the report as well. It looks like a fixed gear 1200K is in the making?