Events: Oktoberfest 2016
(2016) According to some experts in the preceeding generations, the night before Halloween was dubbed Mischief Night. Typically harmless pranks involved goofy maneuvers such as soaping up windows to scrawl obscenities or filling hub caps with gravel. Hearing these – in hindsight – relatively benign pranks it’s easy to come to the conclusion they were simply an inconvenience to the pranked. I’m sure giggles could be heard from the bus stop on Halloween morning as Mr Smith loudly rolled by, perhaps wondering what the new sound was emanating from his Ford Escort. A few rough moments, a couple laughs, and a little party afterwards certainly can sum up Mischief Night into Halloween proper.
This year one surprising scenario for the day before Halloween was perfect weather.
At 8:30am, I was rolling off the starting line with two riding buddies plus more than 175 other riders. We rolled out of Appalachian Brewing Company parking lot eager to meander around Montgomery County. I have mentioned my forays with Josh and Eric many times. We still imbibe in the cycling tradition of quietly witnessing friendly attrition by bike; that is, whom will be last man standing? At that early half hour, we rolled from the back of the pack. With police escort, we wound through Collegeville, PA, and immediately into sleepy hollows with dried creeks and crunchy leaves. We were followed by SAG support from Bikesport Bikes (and support boxer Carl) from nearby Trappe as well as the ever-ready Doylestown Bike Works.
This was my third go at Kermesse Sport’s Oktoberfest Ride. I mean it when I say this is one of my favorite rides each year. It’s new and old at the same time, tracing old Univest Gran Prix roads while witnessing tweaks to the course. It’s relaxing and taxing at the same time, with the famous Eichele climb for those up for the long course challenge. It’s winding through woods but also exposed, a trait evidenced by miles of out-in-the-open farm fields. It was still in the morning, yet windy in the afternoon. And all this as a season-ending celebration.
But back to the ride and picking its way through the peloton. Eric, Josh, and I made sure to make moves to the front. The rolling opening miles were good to pick up positions. Some riders were caught off guard by the slightly wavy opening profile. Other riders were saving their legs with the knowledge of the dreaded mile nineteen climb. We managed to get onto what we perceived as the lead group and settled in thereafter.
One of the most enjoyable parts of this year’s course was the high speed sweeping turns. In the opening miles there was one chicane in particular that felt like a crit race as the group flowed in unison. There would be at least four more of these bikes-on-rails feeling. A standard trait of Kermesse routes is the remarkable parcour located and incorporated.
Rather quickly we approached the first KOM out of the three registered for the long course. This was Salford Station into Old Church Road, a climb used in the old Univest Gran Prix course. I was dropped by my two compatriots but was entertained by a rider asking, “Is this Eichele?” I should’ve said yes and then waited for him at the bottom of Eichele. That would be a nice Mischief Day prank. And speaking of mischievous, the route was starting to dig in at mile thirteen. The old church at the top of the climb came into sight with a seasonal accompaniment of a full graveyard just beyond. We came out of the woods and into the open. It was a nice reprieve from climbing even if the beast lurked only five miles beyond.
Coming into Green Lane Park is a wonderful feeling. We pulled over for some bike maintenance just in time to witness a Mennonite women’s group ride. We saw people walking dogs and boaters out boating. People cherish this manmade that is remarkable in size. It’s also the lead up to the climb that many no doubt had to conquer as a personal goal. Our unexpected stop had placed a large amount of riders in front of us. Eichele was going to be clogged.
This would be my fifth time going up the nearly one lane road. After being humbled by Devil’s Kitchen at the Tour of the Catskills, I was curious how I would perceive it after walking up the equivalent of its big brother. I slowly approached the opening pitches. A couple behind me began exchanging comments. One was being advised the approach was too fast. There is a moment when the steepness reveals itself and the rider being advised shouted, “Oh my god!” To me it didn’t seem as looming, even with the dozen or so riders walking up the face. I knew the initial ramp is steep with one out-of-sight ramp, but that would be it. I actually managed to sit in certain places. My good ol’ gearing choice of 39x24 can still climb nasty faces. Again I was last among the three of us, but I added another ascent of Eichele to my riding profile. Happily I pedaled away from the top to carry on to Hill Road. Satisfyingly there were no more hills on Hill Road.
At mile forty, after circumnavigating the towns of East Greenville and Red Hill we began looking for the rest stop so coveted in Kermesse events. Were there Fig Newtowns? Yes. But most importantly, there were the pumpkin cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting. I hovered over the box wanting a second one, but knowing how rest stops cause me to come undone if I linger, I grabbed some Philly pretzels, a Hershey’s almond cluster concoction (which would save me later), and some water. I topped it all off with a cup of cola to give me a burst of energy. We rolled out with some of the same leaders as when we left the brewpub.
The mischief of our friendship began to see cracks. I was starting to come undone prior to the rest stop, and the cola didn’t keep me strapped together. I sat at the back of the double pace line hoping to melt back into the effort. The punchiness was back after the ever-peaceful roll down Swamp Creek Road. The final KOM revealed itself and I was shot out the back immediately. It was such a bad shedding that the Doylestown Bike Works support car rolled up and Dan Turner, mechanic at DBW, had a short conversation with me (it was a one-sided affair really) about the creakiness of my bike. He took off and I regretted not reaching out for the door handle to pull me up the hill, ala Nibali style. This is such a beautiful portion of the route that I mentioned at one point it’s in the top five of my favorite roads, regardless of its climbing.
We continued our southwest direction toward the finish line. My legs were now cramping. I’m sure all the coffee I drink is to blame, but really who wants to axe that from the diet? Josh then began to crack. Eric was doing nearly all the pace making. The end issue was obvious that Eric was the strongest today with Josh not far behind. I was the Sunday driver of the crew, looking around at the foliage acting like it was normal to be that far behind.
With the temperature creeping into the eighties, we began to access choppy roads. We had returned to civilization with its traffic and developments. We returned to bustling Collegeville, on Eric’s wheel. It all couldn’t have gone better.
We debriefed in the parking lot and made our way into the brewery to claim our finisher’s complimentary beer and food. These celebrations are what make the cycling community enjoyable. The bar was lined with finishers as were the tables. The line for the brats and kraut were steady. We all tightened up at the tables talking about how uncharacteristically warm it was for October 30th and just how beautiful the day was for an event like this. As we all broke off to go our separate ways, Josh and Eric pedaling home, and I loaded up the car, don’t blame me if I pulled my fingertip down the back window of my car just to make sure some of the riders I know didn’t prank me before the end of the season.