Events: Fools Classic 2019
All photos are courtesy of Immersion Photography. Be sure to check out Jason Wood’s work; he is a fellow cyclist in the Bucks County cycling community and produces incredible work.
It was early in the event and I was standing next to Dave Cifelli and Kristen Todd on the side of a gravel road. Dave was changing out a punctured tube commenting on how the beginning to his Fools Classic 100 was not going smoothly. Nearby were dozens of deceased slugs. I couldn’t figure out why that was the case. Rider after rider crunched by on the gravel smiling or asking if we needed help. The day was new and the possibilities of the Kermesse Sport event were limitless. Before our 7am departure, Brian of Kermesse reminded us, “You signed up for this!”
One of the oldest spring classic rides in the country, Kermesse Sport’s Fools Classic has had quite an adventure of existence. This year was no exception as the date was pushed back to Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. There was also a challenging carrot thrown out there for a one hundred-mile route, of which I was registered. Offer an imperial century and some serious riders come out to play. I rolled out with Tom Repkoe who had unfinished business with gravel spring rides. As I waited with David and his punctured tube, Selene Yeager rolled by. I saw Dr. Rob, a Leadville regular smiling atop his Moots. There were also a handful of Kermesse regulars accepting the hundred-mile challenge.
An event normally plagued by awful weather conditions finally had one of the most beautiful days of the year. The sun shone brightly, spotlighting fields of wildflowers and fallow farmland. The more remote gravel sectors felt like green tunnels, surrounded by branches kept in check by the odd oversized vehicle that used it once a year. Certain gravel sectors bore white stones and I couldn’t rule out that Brian the event director pulled some strings for a Strade Bianche feel. That, or we never saw Sunday Road when it was dry. As the day progressed, the temperature climbed but the heat was tempered by cloud cover. Things kept falling into place.
There are whisperings that the Hell of Hunterdon is a great course, but the Fools Classic is the true challenge. The course – 73-mile or 100-mile – demands respect. A mediocre day on the Fools course will turn into a bad day quickly. I overestimated my abilities and broke the rule of respecting the course. Selene Yeager said of the 100-mile course, “…it was equally beautiful and brutal with gorgeous farm roads, ripping gravel, and bar chewing climbs. But even with 9,000 feet of climbing, it’s not just a beat down.” I was already imagining how nice it would be to have a one-hundred-mile day before getting to the start. As Kristen Todd recalled, “…the novelty helped make the ride interesting and fresh.” Meanwhile I was humbled quickly for a ride eager to cull my confidence. This is no green circle experience.
One bit of shameful respect on my part was rolling to the line on a brand-new bike. I got to burn in the bike’s disc brakes quickly on the Fools route. While the bike handled well up gravel ascents, Berger Road’s loose steep climb bounced me off the bike again. It has kicked me off as many times as Devil’s Kitchen, albeit for different reasons. I approached Berger assuming I would zip right up it. I was not riding the Fools course like a veteran who should know better.
And then the moment came when the 100-mile course split from the 72-mile course. I was feeling awful, fresh from my walk up Berger. My legs had developed cramps. I had not taken on nutrition on account of the technical course giving little chance for a rider to have a quick bite. In some cases I was concentrating so hard on the elements I forget to eat. The few easy portions were used to regain focus in anticipation of more elements. I pulled myself together just long enough to conclude the hundred-mile option would obliterate my body. My bike felt let down as a favorite thoroughbred would with a subpar jockey.
The affirmation that the Hell of Hunterdon was a well-manicured parcours compared to challenging twists, turns, and demanding segments of Fools Classic. I see why allegiant fans love this route: it is a bike handler’s dream course. The segments on the Fools Classic route are the real deal. Often I tapped into old mountain bike mentality of ‘letting the bike pick the line’ on certain segments. I enjoyed the technically demanding descents and challenging climbs that had me think outside the box of paved road riding. Bucks County pave is harder than Hunterdon County’s. Dave Cifelli affirmed this point by stating, “I think anyone coming from the outside the area to do this ride will be blown away by the fantastic scenery that the course winds through.”
Of course a Bucks County gravel ride would be incomplete without a visit or two to the unique canal path. The walkway, which borders the Delaware River, is mostly maintained gravel. There are times when the path is but a couple feet wide with enough of a pathway for a tire contact patch. Tall grass lined the northern reaches of the canal gravel. These would offer a reprieve from the loose descents, but it hinted that the gravel ascents were coming approaching. Selene Yeager would comment further about the course, “The ride has pitch perfect flow and rewards every effort with sweet, swooping recovery roads.”
These were the miles done in relative silence. A group casually caught me a couple times on account of missing some turns on the canal, but for the most part the road in front of and behind me was clear. What was impressive upon reflection was the scant amount of vehicles that passed me by. For a populated area, Kermesse found solitude for quite a stretch. I hummed down paved roads with my self-doubt as well as crunched down gravel routes. It was such a beautiful day to see multiple vistas of waving grass fields and rolling hills.
To occupy my thoughts I revisited two perplexing experiences on the day. The second oddity occurred on the descent of Sunday Road, a tiny ribbon of downhill gravel I would say hasn’t seen a car in decades. But on the side of the road a man was tidying up his driveway entrance, a place probably few ever see. The first curious experience was a sign, perhaps on Sheephole Road, that hung from a tree. It looked to have been done in permanent marker on a wooden slab. It read ‘Log Cabin For Sale.’ For the remainder of the event I wondered how successful the hidden sign had been, how serious the seller was, and whether the log cabin expected to be moved after purchase, among other things. The point is, Bucks County has some hidden gems of comedy if you look at it right.
I rolled into the finish at Point Pleasant Fire Company to find Brian Ignatin. He asked how I found the experience. I candidly responded I cut the course. He said, “I know. I saw you back there.” He must have been riding sweep for a bit and came upon my lonely self – too fast to have been in the century group and too slow to have been jettisoned out of the standard course. He didn’t need to convince me much to tell me to go back and try the new miles at some point. That’s the advantage of living along the route.
I wound my way into the dancehall of the fire company and proceeded to inhale gummi bears and adult food at a ridiculous rate. I downed two Kolschs brewed by the host brewery, Mad Princes out of Buckingham, PA. I put cheese-stuffed shells on my plate, barbecue chicken on my roll, grabbed American cheese for god-knows-what reason. I took a slice of apple pie and wondered if it looked strange I was suddenly supplied with two forks. Not only did I eat everything off the plate, but also I grabbed more gummi bears and grabbed some brownies. It was obvious I had left myself malnourished for the day. I was glad to have finished the route, but I was happier to have remembered to remove my helmet whilst eating.
On some ambitious day I intend to finish the miles I chickened out of riding. Perhaps I’ll even come back to ride the whole course. When a route this beautiful is just outside the door, why not? Each year participants question their ability to ride the Fools Classic, but one question always goes unanswered: why don’t more people ride this course? Perhaps those quiet miles were just what I needed toward the end. That being said, I don’t think I will keep this secret all to myself. Let’s do this again next year.