Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Climbfest in the Catskills - Part 1

Longtime readers may have spotted a theme to our vacations at this stage. It seems that we find some place with lots of concentrated climbing and travel there to concentrate on climbing.  This spring, we decided to go to the Catskills in New York. I joked with a friend recently as I referred to this as a "Staycation", since we weren't flying anywhere. Despite this area being just a few hours away by car, we had not ever truly explored it. We've cycled through Woodstock, NY on the Westfield 600km and really enjoyed the scenery and the climbing. So it's long been on the list, and this year it bubbled up to the top.

We decided to rent a house for the week in Woodstock and since we were driving out, we'd bring both the tandem and a couple of single bikes. I have a brand new Honey All Roads, and I was eager to put it through its paces. But we also love riding the tandem, and since we could bring multiple bikes, we did.

We got a bit of a late start on Saturday morning, as we still needed to pack and load up the car. John had a very stressful work-week. Why do employers insist that you do all the work you would do while away, in the week before you go? I don't miss that kind of stress. I hate to see John dealing with it, but at least this week, he's left it all behind and is just enjoying some fine riding.

I contacted Hudson Valley Randonneur, George Swain, to see if he might be interested in getting together while we are in the area. We had met George a few years ago at the end of a fleche, and we've kept in touch through social media and blogs. It would be good to reconnect in person and spend some time riding together. We also have some mutual friends, not to mention mutual interests, so we'd have plenty to talk about on a long ride. I knew he had a few permanents in the area, and figured he'd be a good resource for the best roads to ride. We arranged to meet in Woodstock on Sunday to have coffee and go for a ride. We decided to ride the tandem and had a great reward of a long sustained descent for our efforts. George proved to be a most excellent tour guide, leading us on a fabulous route up past Kaaterskill Falls, followed up with a great view of the slopes of Mount Hunter and down through Devil's Tombstone to Phoenicia, for lunch at the awesome Mama's Boy Coffee Shop. He also offered lots of route advice for the rest of the week.

On Monday, we decided to check out a route we found on RidingTheCatskills blog that offered a bit of climbing and teased us with mention of gravel. The Honey All Roads really wants to be on dirt or gravel! Researching various possibilities, I found a route from Woodstock to get us over the reservoir where we could join up with the Peekamoose ride with gravel.

It took us a while to get to that first bit of gravel, but in the meantime, we found lots of climbing, descending, more climbing, more descending, some gorgeous waterfalls, possibly the worst convenience store ever, and finally some dirt.

A few days before the trip, the weather forecast was looking dire. So I mounted fenders on the Honey, and packed rain gear. I didn't really expect winter to return though. While we didn't get snow, it was darn chilly for the first few days, and I dressed in my winter gear. I did get the heavy jacket off for the big climbs, but was quite happy to have it, and my winter hat and some heavy gloves for the descents!

Still things looked a bit dodgy for Tuesday, so we planned a route that circled back through Woodstock to give us a bailout option. We'd passed an interesting looking Euro-style road with lots of hairpins on Monday and decided to go check it out. We found a few routes on various online mapping/tracking sites that took it in, so we figured it must be rideable. When we got to the base, we found lots of signs warning us away from the private road, but we decided to risk riding around a closed gate. If they are really serious about keeping cyclists out, they'd have a big fence, right? A gate like that is just to keep cars out! So if you are bothered by gates and private road signs, and you have come to this blog looking for routes, don't do this one.

It was a glorious twisty euro-style climb, and I finally found lots of dirt on the descent, so this made us both happy. Happy, but frozen by the time we got back to town. Hot chocolate and hot soup at Bread Alone helped thaw us.

Warmed and refueled, we headed out to climb Plattes Clove, better known as Devil's Kitchen. If the hot chocolate didn't warm us, this climb would. Astute readers may remember that my new Honey has low gears, with the lowest less than 1 to 1. I spec'd these gears for some of the nasty dirt climbs I have planned this summer. Well the Devil and her kitchen got first shot at my 34/36 combination. It was slow going for me, but I made it up - pedaling. We rolled up to a nice view of Hunter Mountain and then enjoyed the lovely swoopy descent back down past Kaaterskill Falls.

Luckily the rain we had feared we'd get passed us by. I hear our friends back in Boston weren't so lucky. 

Again when checking the forecast, Wednesday had initially looked dodgy. I had plotted out some nearby out and back climbs, but on Tuesday night, I saw that the chances of precipitation had all but disappeared for Wednesday, so I planned something a bit longer, but not so long that it wouldn't count as a recovery day!

Of course it started with a brutal climb right out the door up Meads Mountain Road. Various maps showed a road up to a lookout. It turns out the out and back part of the climb is a fireroad, with some big loose gravel and very steep pitches. I'd need more skill, legs and gears than I had to get up to the lookout, so we passed on that trail and continued on for more exploring of new roads. But not before I dropped my camera and busted the screen. I can still take pictures, I just can't see them and I can't access the menu. Good thing John's the primary photographer!

I'd used online mapping software and the gazatteer to put this route together. The next road on the map turned out to be dead-end, and I've learned my lesson. If the sign says dead-end, you don't need to descend a thousand feet to prove it right! OK, it wasn't a thousand feet, but it was enough that I was not so excited about climbing back out. Fortunately it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought.

We enjoyed some easy terrain as we made our way back to Phoenicia for another lunch at Mama's Boy. Then we got to digest briefly before resuming the climb-fest, finishing it off with a euro-style twisty climb called Seven Sisters.

Tomorrow we are headed west to Delaware county to find some proper dirt!


  1. I assume that the euro-style climb was Pitcairn Mountain Road. Just FYI: If you get caught on that road, you get arrested and charged with trespassing. Period. Glad you didn't go to jail!

  2. Well, we'll not admit to anything specific in writing then. But we did ride on a sublime road! Good thing the segment somehow failed to register for me on strava!