Events: Kermesse Sports’ Oktoberfest Ride
(2015) I consider my riding year in the seasonal span of a maple tree: tap the trees between February and March, collect sap then make syrup February through April, admire the fiery glow of their fall hibernation in October, and lie dormant (if dormant means riding in the cold) through winter. There is something majestic about a maple tree.
In the early season I rummaged the woods of the Sourland in New Jersey and Monkey Knife Fight in Lehigh and Berks County. The trees were bare and ripe for the tapping. I prepared for my 2015 race season by rolling through Hunterdon County with the Hell of Hunterdon in New Jersey. Moving north I suffered over the dirt roads of Washington County for the Tour of the Battenkill complete with tap lines winding through the trees just off the road. Sap collection was center stage at this point of the season.
The maples bore witness to these rides with an endurance event of its own. Drip by drip the sap drained from the tree, much like efforts in climb after climb on any given ride. The mid-summer break matched the maple tree’s de rigueur. Maples shaded swath-like acreage with its green canopy, preparing for the glow of fall. The more leaves, the better the show.
So when we lined up in Collegeville for the start of the Oktoberfest ride, it was perfectly timed with the maple trees' – and other hardwood's – circadian rhythm of the woods. The softened gray skies amplified the day-glow of yellow-green and orange-red leaves. The awaiting woods felt at peace as the trees publicly geared up for their own off-season slumber.
More than 160 riders passed between the pale blue-checkered Bavarian flags to start the second edition of Oktoberfest. The roads were freshly dampened by overnight and early-morning precipitation, a most likely a deterrent for a few registrants. A new option of a 44-mile course brought out hybrid bike riders and those uninterested in tangling with the almighty Eichele Road climb reserved for the metric century. Rain or other reasons prevented around thirty registrants from partaking in the capped ride.
We were escorted out of Collegeville by the local police who gave us controlled passage onto River Road where we settled into a rhythm for the ride proper. Here is where groups organized themselves. Riders sorted themselves out, got to know potential riding mates, and became comfortable with the conditions.
This was a bike handler’s course for the day. Numerous portions of the Oktoberfest route contained damp sweeping downhill turns with short sight lines. The course demanded respect and focus from the get-go and acute awareness of front brake pressure. The yellow and white lines were certainly best avoided. Some riders were getting squirrely in the opening miles.
Speaking of the opening miles, our group went out with a cannon approach. Pinning the focus on the lead motorcycle, the front group pedaled as if they were the final stretch of the course. The group had been pared down and a couple riders had gone off the front. Finally several us decided it would be wise to back off and ride together instead of slay each other over sixty miles. It would be more enjoyable to converse and ride.
Comments amongst the group were made about sudden realization and recognition of riding the Univest Grand Prix route of old. There’s something about the short sightlines to recall previous passes through these roads. Those feelings were juxtaposed by the sudden expansiveness of Montgomery County when a large red barn would then come into view and create more memories of a bygone route. The northbound section continuously tapped the Perkiomen Creek until it gave up the struggle and turned it over to Green Lane Park.
Here the ride slowed. We all knew what was in store. The first of three KOMs was really nothing remarkable compared to the sleeping giant just west of Green Lane Park. While in the audience of maple, ash, and oak trees I decided fuel was necessary in the form of Untapped Slopeside Syrup. This was to allow ample opportunity to climb a difficult road. Savagely the heavy portion of the climb stays hidden until the last possible moment leading to a false sense of secure passage.
To describe the effort necessary for Eichele is difficult. It is a one-kilometer, one-lane road with fresh bright white lines demarcating the boundaries of the pavement. It is eerily quiet aside from the sound of intense wheezing one will do. It continues to get steeper. Then a half switchback to the right kicks up the steepness even more (is this possible?) and the visibility of a left-hand half switchback. This is where it can all come to an end. It had been a struggle up to this point; It had been an all-standing affair. The roads had been damp all morning and the wet leaves piped thoughts of a spinning back tire. Sitting down for a brief reprieve would lead to as many wheelies as pedal strokes as well as the increased threat of losing momentum. The bobbing of the head and rolling shoulders would be forgiven. It became a mental battle more than a physical bout. It would be so easy just to grab the brake and unclip. It would not be easy to walk up the wet incline in cycling shoes though. No one would see a dismount right? Our entire group made it up with faster climbers circling back to spin down the legs. They carefully remained above the finish ledge. My legs felt wobbly. Three times attempted. Three times slain. According to some Strava maps Eichele maxes out at 27.7%.
Once we were over the top we navigated around the town of East Greenville without much in the way of sustained climbs. With the debriefing amongst colleagues of Eichele, the attention turned to the rest stop to refuel. It was here my ode to the maple continued and I downed another syrup shot. No gel has ever gone down so smoothly. I snatched two Philly pretzel nubs and felt a bit better. The coffee looked good but I feared I would get comfortable. We were just over halfway to go.
We continued to spin down Upper Ridge Road, a nice slight downhill that resurged a chill for stopping. The sun came out. We continued to remark about how it looked like we were moments away from riding into a lingering storm, though we never actually would. This led us to Swamp Creek Road, which is arguably one of the most beautiful roads at this time of year. Unami Creek gurgled peacefully to the left with leaves ablaze and glacial debris to the right. Old cabins with caved-in roofs still hold out hope of restoration. Why wouldn’t they with a view like this? It was where our group regained riders though that wouldn’t last long with the approach of the third KOM. For me the leaves were too incredible to ignore and climb hard, at least that's what I told myself.
We then rolled out of the wooded sections of the route and entered some of the old homesteads. Encroaching development was not far off which means neither was traffic. Stops, turns, and alerts of “Car back!” were becoming more frequent. It was the realization that the finish line wasn’t too far off when suddenly we were back on River Road. The Collegeville traffic was right in front of us. We had finished. It had all been so great to ride these roads again.
In a moment of reflection it was refreshing to see the gamut of cycling abilities starting – and certainly finishing – the Oktoberfest ride. There were serious roadies with aero gear, but more inspiring were the hobbyist riders, some donning sweatpants and sweatshirts, tackling the shorter route. It’s always remarkable to see the cycling community come together for events like this. There was even a female rider in the traditional dirndl dress, tapping into the Germanic spirit.
I stowed my bike and rummaged through the SWAG bag provided by Kermesse. These bags display the continued attention to detail provided by the event organizers. For just a few moments riders feel as though they are peeking into a Euro grab bag. The face towelettes provided great relief by removing the built-up road grit.
Sitting on the back bumper of the car I was proud of my effort. The last fifteen miles saw me plowing through heavy cramping. It had been quite some time since I rode that hard. I struggled to stand on many efforts. I focused on the Appalachian Brewing Company’s finish food and ignored the locking pain. The group that rode together walked in together to sign off on receiving a ceramic stein waiting to be filled twice with the libations of Appalachian Brewing Company. We could choose any of the beers on tap.
Not long after we sat down with the brats, mustard, and au gratin, did patrons with numbers pinned to jersey backs swell to a remarkable command of the great room. Fatigue made its presence known shortly after quickly finishing the Bavarian dishes. The fast ride and the cooler temperatures were catching up to me. But it’s those moments that make riding satisfying and rewarding. For me it meant a great day out.
Around two o’clock, with a reported four riders still yet to finish, I made my way to the car to head home. In my haste to enter the brewery I left the car a mess. I stuffed my helmet and jersey into my bag. Before that though, one last Untapped maple shot fell out to remind me that while the Oktoberfest was over, much like the maple tree, the riding season was planning on hanging in there for a little while longer.