Events: Oktoberfest 2017
(2017) For the past few years I have ridden a majority of my rides alone. Whether it has been a quick ride or a major event, most times I have found myself plodding solo. When it comes to events, I have found myself riding slower than the fast riders and faster than the slower riders. I either poured myself into the effort to catch the fast guys who, in turn, would dust me on the next climb, or I would slow down and feel unsatisfied. Riding with friends has always been something of an enigma.
The night before Kermesse Sport’s Oktoberfest Ride held in Collegeville, PA, I received a text from a ridekick, Josh, asking if I was still doing the metric century distance. Earlier in the month he had claimed he was going to do the short distance and fire off to a family function. Plans changed and we found ourselves shooting the breeze in the parking lot minutes before the start of the fall classic that departed from Appalachian Brewing Company’s parking lot. I had a companion for the next 100 kilometers through beautiful Montgomery County country and I was excited.
With a riding companion, I also got the sense the event pulled more cyclists. As I stood in line for the bathroom I overheard two people talking about how this was their first Oktoberfest Ride. They had just come off successful Bicycling Magazine Fall Classic and Covered Bridges Ride. I wanted to poke my head into their conversation about how I wrote up each of those rides. Then the rider behind me asked my thoughts on the Hell of Hunterdon, taking into consideration I was sporting the stylish cap from this year’s event. I told him to put it on his list for next year and to prioritize it. There was an excitement amongst those gearing up to ride. The perfect weather certainly helped.
I have previously covered those famous miles regarding the Oktobefest’s mimicking of the old Univest Gran Prix route that propelled Tom Boonen to fame all those years ago. Many participants gave respect to the climbs on the route, particularly Eichele Road, a hill that would certainly see some walkers throughout the day. Many riders gambled on staying warm in the early miles only to regret that decision when the day heated up. That’s fall cycling. I’ve covered all that before. What really stood out this year was the camaraderie of those who swirled in and out of the trees, in front of then behind certain groups, and who all came together for Fig Newtons and the most scrumptious cupcakes at any rest stop in any event. (She remembered me again this year!)
I’ve often read that cycling can be off-putting based on the elitist mentality that surrounds the competitive portion of the sport. While I’ve experienced that scantly, I can see where people get that idea. Yet rides like Oktoberfest Ride have displayed a melding together of diverse cyclists. There were competitive riders who shelved the racing spirit on account of the road season being over. There were cyclists who had completed other fall classics and were inspired to slay this course. Some were targeting the short course’s two challenging KOMs as a peak cycling experience. Nevertheless there were groups of cyclists for all abilities. Each time I was in a group, Josh was there to set the pace or to pull me up to the next group.
I’ve waxed odes to our regular hero Mike, but Josh has never gotten full recognition. This year I stared at his rear cassette for more miles than I care to admit. The finishing average speed and time were all his doing. My typical attack on the first half of the course with reckless abandonment – fully convinced I would attack the second half when I remembered there was one – crept up in the form of leg cramps once again. One of these days I’ll taper from coffee before a Kermesse Sport event to give myself a fighting chance. Josh attacked the first KOM and pulled along a rider who went around him with a few meters to go to the summit. He was not happy. He waited for my pudge self as I plodded up the hill, saying hi to a barking white lab and admiring the leaves. He then laid a blistering pull for the next few miles.
I remember when that was me on the front plowing through the wind with pride knowing the riders behind me were only doing seventy-percent effort. Now I was the guy in the back seventy percent of the time. I couldn’t even pull through to take some of the workload. I’d like to think Josh’s effort was inspiring enough to propel me through the winter to be fast for one last race season. Perhaps I could save face and be the guy on the front for next year’s Oktoberfest Ride.
We wound around beautiful countryside Montgomery woodlands. The leaves were still yellowish, considering the ride was a week earlier this year. Despite technical corners and descents I still managed to sneak in views and admire where the bike has taken me either alone or with friends. I relished the conversation with Josh when I needed to take my mind elsewhere from the failing legs and singeing sun. This was the perfect place to be to close out the road season.
We got to the only rest stop in record time. Perhaps that was I driving the pace. I knew what was there: I knew there were pumpkin cupcakes with maple frosting. I didn’t care what else was there (except Fig Newtons), I was going to score that cupcake. Imagine my surprise when I rolled up and saw not just pumpkin cupcakes but chocolate stout cupcakes beside them. I took one of each, not caring about gluttony at a Kermesse event. Those who missed out could have pretzels. I bit into both and experienced a mental gunshot louder than the clay pigeon range we had just passed. I got back on the bike with fire in my belly, or better yet, that incredible morsel of chocolate chunk in the middle of the stout cupcakes. Even Paul providing neutral support from Doylestown Bikeworks remember what he was wearing when he experienced the stout cupcake.
The second half of the course is where I leaned on Josh the most. I could tell he wanted to ride off at a faster clip. I knew I was the weakest link. He was the Neil Peart to the rest of Rush. There were moments where I hung on for dear life when he dropped the hammer claiming, “That’s such an awesome part to fly through.” If I could have found the words through shortened breath, I would have agreed.
That word camaraderie returned when all the cyclists came back to Appalachian Brewing Company in Collegeville. Josh and I shared stories after having the German-inspired fare as the post-ride meal Kermesse – and Appalachian Brewing Company for Oktoberfest – is known for. I watched as people bounced from table to table and back again passing stories. It’s this type of gathering that eliminates who is capable of what on the road. Beginners and experts talked openly. Strava information was shared, naturally. Many of us gladly turned in our beer ticket to fill our finisher mug with a complimentary beer from the taps. There is no better way to finish a road season.
I headed home with the satisfaction of having completed my fourth Kermesse event this year (Sourland Semi-Classic, Hell of Hunterdon, Fools Classic). Though I considered it completed, I felt I should add an asterisk to the event admitting that Josh pulled me around the course like the wheelsucker I was. It’s not a race, the Oktoberfest ride, but maybe next year I can be the guy who tears around the course with several riders attached to his back wheel. That would be the way to usher in the off-season with panache. Regardless of the outcome, above all I hope the experience is shared with some of my closest friends.