Rides We Like: Upstate New York – Chapter Three: The Catskills’ Devil’s Kitchen
(2017) We are the example of perseverance.
From the start, the Sunday ride had everything going against it. We had struggled through an 85-mile ride the day before. We would be in the car for more than three hours headed south. It was forecasted to be in the nineties. All those facts plus the added quotes after waking up, “I don’t have another eighty miles in me today” put the Tour of the Catskills route in a bit of back shelf territory. One of my secrets to planning weekends like this is to put the itinerary out there and then step away. The evolutions should be organic.
I really wanted to lead the six other riders around the beautiful Tour of the Catskills course that departs from Last Chance Antiques and Cheese Cafe in Tannersville, NY. I wanted to continue the ‘firsts’ for a lot of the guys on the trip. I wanted to share the experiences of state road 23A toward Prattsville or the blissfully serene Durham Road. I also wanted them to experience Devil’s Kitchen. I wanted to be able to say, “Yeah. I know someone who made it to the top of Devil’s Kitchen without walking.” But I had to unhitch my devotion from the plan for safety reasons.
We bid Lake Placid farewell and ticked away the Adirondack Northway exits with ease. We had beaten the leaf peepers out of town. Of course upon our departure the temperatures were rather comfortable and inviting. It was suggested to put in a few miles and then head home. But Devil’s Kitchen.
A long line at a coffee shop put us even later into Tannersville where we talked before unloading. The guys wanted to see this butcher of a climb. While we unloaded, Eric and Glenn plotted ideas for a route. For anyone living near Hunter, NY, or is familiar with the area, we actually considered going down 23A toward Kaaterskill Falls. I’m sure anyone reading this will have muttered, “Please say you didn’t.” For safety reasons we did not, though it would have been quite similar to descending Whiteface the day prior. What we came up with wasn’t much better.
Because of the Tour of the Catskills route having a long exposure to the afternoon sun along a major road, we decided to alter our 80-mile sojourn to have the easiest access to Devil’s Kitchen, a climb just outside of Tannersville proper. In the interest of time, we all agreed descending the 2.6-mile, ten percent average Platte Clove Road before turning around and coming back up it would be the best bet. We reached West Saugerties Road where we regrouped and agreed to take the route into Woodstock, NY. While waiting for a few minutes I continued to touch my rims after braking hard down Platte Clove Road and they remained hot for quite some time. I wonder what would have happened if one of us had tubulars.
We wound around and passed through the peace-love-hope town of Woodstock; it was bursting with activity. There were musicians on the sidewalk accompanied by one or two listeners. Some of them were even dancing. The vibrant clapboard buildings hugged the earth. No building looked to raise more than three storeys. Since we had come away from Devil’s Kitchen the road had been mostly downhill. Leaving Woodstock the route continued the descent as we scooted along a busy road. I can’t speak for the others but I was taking stock of how my legs were responding less than a day after drubbing them around the Adirondacks. I had major reservations I was going to make it up Devil’s Kitchen. Though it was why I was there, too, to defeat it once and for all.
We turned back to West Saugerties, the road that leads straight to the doorstep of Devil’s Kitchen. The group rolled on while I approached at my selected pace. I was dropped and ok with it. If I tried to go at the pace of the others, guys who love to climb, I would have decreased my summiting chances precipitously each mile I stayed with them. I told myself that I was rested, a difference from the last time I approached this mountain pass. Beyond that, I was approaching the climb at roughly the same time as I did during the Tour of the Catskills. I was approaching the first steep welcome mat when the sun was its fiercest.
I remembered the quote from a fellow rider from the Tour of the Catskills who said there were distinct ramps with distinct breaks. I tried to count them for the next time I would have a go at it. But why would I have to go again? I was going to make it up this time. I put aside the first obvious steep part while going as slow as I could. I regained sight of some of my guys. I continued the slow and steady trend through the first eased incline. The second ramp was steep too so I went to work on it, also putting it aside. Then the ramps got a bit confusing. There were three in succession but hardly notable in length. Was that the third ramp? Should I combine them or count them separately?
Sweating heavily, I tried to slip my cap off from under my helmet by tugging at it. I had already unzipped my jersey but only as far as I could get it. The bottom portion remained connected. Another set of ramps and another round of arguing. Are those one ramp or not?! Some guys had stopped now, but I had to pay no attention to them. It looked comfortable to stop. It had been uncomfortable for the last two years knowing this hill had my number. Look way up the hill instead.
More ramps and the familiar sound of hikers playing in the swimming hole way down in the hollow broke the silent climb. Cars came and went. I always wanted to know what they thought of seeing cyclists attempting this climb. More ramps appeared. Longer. Steeper.
Finally the portion of the climb I had prepared for revealed itself in a hazy summer-like heat. After what I counted as the eleventh climb was my nemesis: the brutal right hand turn. It was the demarcation point of the farthest I had made in my previous two attempts. At this point I had decided making it even so much as a wheel’s length beyond that turn would be a win. I was coming to grips that I may not make it to the top. Beyond that right turn is a left turn up two more long and steep ramps. I switched tack and moved to the outside at the risk of putting me in the path of a descending vehicle unseen behind the cliffside.
It happened all at once. The power went out and I got extremely dizzy. I stepped off the bike right into the perfectly shaped rock seat on the outside of the right-hander. I didn’t even care to take in the view. Others were walking up by this time. It was incredibly frustrating to have been kicked off the bike again on this climb. A couple of us walked up the next two steep inclines and then clipped in to pedal up the remaining shallow pitches. These were manageable even with no power left after three days of riding a total of around 140 miles. At the top, like Whiteface, I asked who got there first. It was relayed Chris did and that Eric and Mike came shortly thereafter. Of the seven of us, three had made it to the top without stepping off of the bike. This climb cares not at all for egos.
I insisted on the customary post-ride meal at Last Chance Antiques and Cheese Café to prep us for the ride home. We toasted to a great weekend. Glenn began cramping and popped out of his seat to stretch it out. We were starting to feel the miles creeping into the legs. Despite only having a projected three hours to go before home, the traffic elongated that drive to four-and-a-half hours. Perhaps Devil’s Kitchen threw that in as a parting present.
We are a perseverant bunch. With the climb freshly finished and stuck in insane traffic on the New York Thruway, we began to talk ourselves into coming back to Devil’s Kitchen for another attempt. Usually this is something that takes me months to do, but in our car we whooped ourselves up stating this ascent was a learning experience. Perseverance would be the reason we would return to that awful climb. Some suggested coming in the fall when the temperatures are more manageable. We were already scheming.
That’s the weird reason this weekend was a success. The rides were hard and exhausting. Yet it is the very reason the weekend was so enjoyable. Perseverant indeed.