Events: Tour of the Catskills (and Why You Should Do It)
(2017) I have a nasty habit of firing off grandiose terms after particularly traumatizing race experiences. Several times I crossed the finish line of the Tour of the Battenkill insisting I was through with the challenge. Each year saw me return with more hope and inspiration than the previous editions. Smoketown Airport Crit had me shaking my head the whole way home because of ill-timed sprints too far from the finish only to see me counting down to next year’s race. Something burns away in the offseason to help riders consider events a second (or a third, fourth, fifth, take your pick) time.
Last year I grinded my teeth walking up the hellish Devil’s Kitchen climb next to my bike. Only two other events had bucked me off the bike: Monkey Knife Fight and Fools Classic. Those were gravel climbs and were easily dismissed as anomalies. Devil’s Kitchen was paved but relentless. It just kept going around corner and bend. Pros walked it. If I stayed on the whole way up, would I be outdoing professionals? Those thoughts were not present as I walked up the climb.
The decision to step off was not taken lightly. There were many cyclists walking. I was motivated by the fact I was using new shoes and, naturally, new cleats. Walking would ruin the pristine nature. I had to stay on the bike. I was also near the finish. The blasted climb rears its head in the final ten miles of a fairly downhill (not really, but close enough) course to that point. Theoretically I should have been fresh and prepared. And I was stubborn as hell to have showed up with a standard double and a standard cassette, bucking the recommendations to use compact everything. Furthermore, at the bottom-of-the-hill rest stop, the radio had stated the leaders had just finished. If I stayed on, I would have finished in a respectable time.
But no. I stepped off. And I had a long time to think about things. The 2.6-mile climb took me around an hour to complete. I held numerous quick conversations with passersby. I watched riders ride off over the hill after zigging and zagging the whole way. I asked myself, “Why not me?!” Far down in the hollow I could hear people enjoying themselves in a swimming hole. Yet there I was taking my bike for a walk up a horrific incline. Angrily I climbed on at the top and rode across the line five miles farther on. Immediately I texted my closest cycling buds to tell them this was loony tunes and that I would never come back, no matter how much I loved riding in the Catskills.
A couple of weeks ago my email inbox flashed a message from Great American Cycling informing me registration was open for the tenth annual Tour of the Catskills on August 5, departing again from Tannserville, NY. I deleted it. Then a follow up email, a sprinkling as it’s been termed, graced my inbox again a few weeks later. I read it with shifty eyes while recalling my 78-mile bike ride with its two-mile walk toward the end. It was around this time the Watkins Glen Circuit Race had announced its cancellation. Something out there wants me to revisit this torture chamber.
I’m seriously considering registering (I have since registered). Aside from that awful hill, I enjoyed myself immensely throughout the course. Consider this: at one point a guy I was riding with and myself were doubting we were on the correct course because so much time had elapsed since we had last seen a marker. That’s right, we were on a road for such a long time, we were concerned we had missed a turn. In suburban Bucks County, that sort of experience does not happen. While I mentioned the route was essentially downhill for the first 70-some miles, it did feature climbs. I know this because I thoroughly enjoyed the copious amounts of signs warning trucks of the gradient. I was also surprised to encounter a couple rest stops. Perhaps I had missed that portion of the participant email that advised rest stops would be featured. They came in handy as the humidity of the day had set in.
Then there was the serenity. I could not snap pictures in the first half of the ride because I was bent on staying with the group. We passed so many beautiful buildings that I lost count as to how many places I needed to return to photograph. In all honesty I returned to none of the places since I was in a foul mood after my walk. For a large portion of the final half, I rode alone. I rode alone down the hills as well as up. I passed numerous unexpected moments of house parties gathered on the front lawn to cheer on the event. I glanced everywhere but the road often to soak in the views of mountains covered with hardwoods and fir trees with a splash of Americana on the hillside in the form of a barn. This is a beautiful course in a beautiful region.
Perhaps the highest calling to return includes the town of Tannersville, NY. The ride starts and ends here. Last year I was so blitzed from the ride I sat at Last Chance Antiques & Café and couldn’t figure out what to order. The restaurant had Gouda, Ubu, coffee, and burgers- all things I love. Yet I couldn’t refocus myself to order anything other than several refills of Coca-Cola. Even the bartender asked me if I was ok.
This leads me into the reason I plan to return: At every turn, the Tour of the Catskills has the Catskill experience draped all over it. Maybe walking Devil’s Kitchen wasn’t the reason I was frustrated. Maybe I was saddened so much had happened in such a short time, that I actually thought driving up and back in the same day would suffice. Devil’s Kitchen will always be there, but knowing that I could be missing an incredible event that finishes at a perfect place is the reason I’m potentially finding my way back to the starting line on August 5th. Do yourself a favor and line up next to me. You won’t be let down.