The Ridge and Valley of Onteora

Fara í víking… (exploring- north by northwest into the Allegheny and Appalachian Region)

While not the mighty alpen passes of Europe, theBlue Mountains’ do demand respect. From the madness of a steep descent that plunges towards the depths…to the agony of a climb that rises into the sky…

From the southwestern corner of NY, the Ridge-and-Valley, is where the long and winding roads give Rise: to the Struggle, to the Suffering and to the sheer Majestic Beauty of the ancient, Acadian Blue Mountains.

Me pointing to the Shawangunk Ridge in the distance...

Me pointing to the Shawangunk Ridge in the distance…

And so, as I was about to embark on the imminent ascent and the eventual gasping for the faintest of atmosphere…I inhaled a slow, deep, breath of the quiet country air…rolling past imperial orchards under striking, azure skies.


On a absolutely gorgeous, August Summer day, we rolled out from hamlet of Gardiner, situated in the Valley of Wallkill, to take on an arduous, but resplendent 70 miles with 6,000+/- feet of climbing. One of my riding mates Tyson Witte and I made the short trek up from North Jersey to the southeastern edge of the Catskills to journey and explore a day of ‘proper’ cycling.


Back in the Spring, Ride with GPS featured a  guest post blog entry by John Ferguson. His blog, Riding the Catskills caught my attention immediately. Browsing through his many entries of stunning, scenic photographs, epic climbs and rides had me inspired and
looking forward to heading up north for my own ‘epic’ tour…

After perusing the varied terrains and elevations of the many splendid rides, I decided on a version of a 66 miler with 6,200′ of elevation in and around the Shawangunk Ridge. John was kind enough to re-map the routes starting point and provide the info of where all the food/water stops were along the way. A big Thank You to Mr Ferguson and his awesome site, Riding the Catskills.

The Catskill Mountains, or Onteora (as were named by the American Indian Tribes who
settled in the area) are also known by the locals as, the Blue Mountains. The Catskill Mountains encompasse more than 6,000 square miles, with the highest peak of 4,204 feet at the legendary Slide Mountain. The Catskills are a dissected segment of the
Allegheny Plateau, part of the Appalachian Mountain system, lying mainly in Greene
and Ulster counties of NY State.

It’s 09:29 am
Our ride began with an easy six and half miles of flat to slightly rolling terrain and from there the pavement began to pitch ever-so steadily up. The first climb, (a Category 3)
began on Awosting that continued onto Upper Mountain Road. Basically, this is about a 4.5 mile rise, with approximately 800 feet of elevation gain, averaging 3.5% in gradient. Although not too difficult, nonetheless it was a steady, increasing ascent that peaks at a grade of a hefty 11%.


After a bumpy but fast descent down Upper Mtn/Oregon Trail, the next 5 miles were
basically rolling, allowing us to take in all of the splendid rural scenery.

All Systems- uh, not a go…
When you hear riders and racers alike, say it’s a ‘seat of your pants’ thing…it really is. After the descent as the road leveled out, I could feel the bumps just that more pronounced- in the seat of me bum and the handling seemed just a bit ‘mushy.’ Sure enough I look down over my left shoulder and the rear tire is soft…(scheisse…is the first word that comes to mind)

I call out to Tyson, “flat tire” -where’s the damn team car when you need it!? Neutral service? Bueller? Anyone? So off to the side of the road to begin the process of changing the tube. Tyson and I fiddle with the tire assembly for few minutes. I check the rim for glass or debris, nothing. I check the tire, nothing, or so I think. Tyson checks it and finds a piece of something, that what we think is a thorn. He clears it and I pump up the tire with the Co2 cartridge and we’re off once again…

Underway and thankfully it’s drama free, but mile 19.5 was looming and with it so was the Route 52-Clark-Vista Marie Climb. This was the big one. A category 2 ascent that twisted and turned its way up out of Walker Valley to the Summit between Bear Hill and Sams Point Reserves. You certainly can’t miss it on the profile chart below, as it sticks out like a ‘sore-thumb’ or in my case…like a sore-BUM! Rising to about 1,850′ with nearly 1,300′ of elevation gain, that stretches for nearly  3.5 miles at an average gradient of 6.7%, with a maximum kick over a whopping 20%! Yes, that’s right folks, a max grade of 20.1% on Vista Marie…

Both of us were feeling this climb, both of us struggling, but Tyson less so than I was, as he was a good 5 minutes ahead of me up the hill. Although he did say he was weaving and grinding his way up the last third as well! After reaching the summit, we caught our breath then began the 4-mile plunge back into the valley. On our initial way down, we stopped to snap a few pictures. In the photo below, we are looking down into the lush, green Valley of the Catskills from S. Gulley Rd.


After a few clicks of the camera phones…it was back to business- bombing the downhill, while just nipping at the heels of 48 mph… Given that road was completely unknown to us with a couple of blind corners, I’d say we tore it up! Now I know that to some, this may seem to be a bit risky or even dangerous. But both Tyson and I have extensive motorcycle riding/track experience, so it really didn’t seem to risky. I hung back a few feet and I can say that Tyson’s descending skills are excellent, which of course made for a safer run for both of us.

We leveled off at around mile 28, then had an easy, moderate tempo roll to about mile 36. From there it was a slight rise and then an undulating terrain for the next 9+ miles. Somewhere between 33 and 34 miles, we rode right past an eerily quiet prison. Turned out it was the Eastern NY Correctional Facility. Flanking both sides of the road, guarded with fiercely shiny and what was probably miles of foreboding, concertina wire…was quite the sight!


“The fading of the cries”
I could feel my legs tiring and I could sense my energy stores running a bit low. A check of the clock showed it was around 1:50 pm and we had reached mile 52. With one last tough climb to go, we decided on a quick rest and replenish stop. Luckily, we found an open bakery shop on 209 in Stone Ridge. We sat down on the patio and had a couple of apple turnovers, topped off with cold water and sports drinks. Then it was back in the saddle for the battle of the last ascent- and I do mean battle!

Mohonk Road is nothing to laugh at, even though it’s classified as a Cat 3 climb, it is
deceivingly hard. The road snakes up and around the Mohonk Preserve and at the
Summit sits the Mohonk Mountain House. The maximum grade is a massive 14%
with an average grade of 5.1%, that extends upward 860 feet over 2.95 miles.


I was barley able to keep the pedals turning after nearly a mile into the climb. I knew this was going to be a very ‘lengthy’ 3 miles…and at the steepest pitch, I had to stop and put a leg down. My heart was pounding and I was in the Red Zone for sure. I gave myself about a minute to try and get my heart rate back down somewhat, then continued to take on the Mohonk fight, albeit battered and weary, I stayed in the ‘ring’

So, what do I think of the Mohonk Climb? The Mohonk Climb is a mother f**king leg burner- especially when it comes at the end of a long, challenging ride!

Breathing heavily I clawed my way to the summit, where Tyson was waiting, taking a short but well-deserved break. He had made it to the top about 5+ minutes before I did, but he was clearly worn from the last uphill run as well. After another 3-4 minutes later and we set off for the remaining 15-16 miles.

The ride was winding down (whew!) and the remaining miles brought us back into the picturesque valley, with those amazing mountainous views off our right shoulders. The Schawangunk Ridge and the Blue Mountains are certainly a grand spectacle to witness.



Nearly back at Majestic Park, we stopped by the Wallkill River for a few more
photo-ops before our journey ended.

It's smiles all around for the boys...

It’s smiles all around for the boys…

We rolled back in at about 3:30 pm, having logged a solid 70.1 miles  of cycling with a bit more than 6,000 feet of elevation gain. Though there were only 3 significant climbs, it was without a doubt, my toughest challenge of the cycling year to date. I was out of gas…
with very little left to give from the legs, lungs and heart.

We bid farewell to Gardiner and the scenic Catskill Mountains, with a couple of Pizza Pies patio-side at Pasquales….delizioso gusto d’Italia… si’


Stonewell-on-Den Brook (Shongum Lake)

Since I’m a big proponent of truth…truth be told, August has mostly been a Shit Show… A few mechanical’s, 3 punctured tubes, 2 gouged tires and nearly being hit twice…really put a damper on things. And it had, until today. A bit of reprieve I suppose. In fact, when I compare last Summer to this Summer, hands down, 2012 was far more enjoyable.

I had such high expectations, after becoming a ‘climber’ in 2012, I was determined to set off and ascend to new heights as it were. I would climb even higher and further than last year, that was the plan. Only thing is, I ignored the all-too important base-miles early on. As I headed out in March and April, I was setting PR’s on most of my favorite climbs, thinking man, this great. I must be getting stronger, fitter. Completely forgoing mostly flat to rolling miles in those early days and now I am paying the price.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was the ‘damage’ I was doing to my body. As June and July went down, I went up, way, up…climbing more than I had ever done. Which on one hand was great, but, as a result I have progressively become slower, due to the constant and unrelenting ascents I have taken on. No recovery rides, no rest periods in June and July.


From June 1st to July 31st, I had ridden 1,245 miles and climbed 104,000 feet in a mere 36 rides. And, I started to notice that in the last week of July, my body was beginning to suffer. I had little power and stamina. So, for this month, I decided to take it easy, with August half over, I only have ridden 6 times for 236 miles and ascended 21,691 feet. But I’m still knackered. Cannot seem to recover.

At this stage, there is little point to stop or take any sotr of extened break. I usually only ride until October anyway, so I will continue to push onward- at this very slow pace and recoup for next year. Lesson learned.

As I had mentioned earlier, today’s ride was tops. The weather was brilliant, I had no close calls with the cowards in their cages, beautiful scenery and landmarks and there were plenty of food/water stops along the way.


Heading North West, the roads unfolded, gently curving left and right, right and left, as I laboured upwards. Clouds, still and layered in the remarkably blue sky, defined the horizon. As I pedaled steady, I passesd through the hills and plains of Morris, then it was up Schoolhouse Lane, (1.3 miles, rising 430′ at an average grade of 6.2%) then Mt Pleasant, and on to Raynor…to the private shores of Shongum.


From Shongum, I headed South, then East to Mount Freedom, back into Mendham. From there it was up Oak Knoll/North Gate for the last significant climb of the day. The last 15 or so miles passed by without much notice, as the brilliant day faded into the rural-suburban evening. 57 miles down and 4,900 feet up, it was a good day in the saddle indeed.


As I headed for home, it struck me that the cooler August temps, (not so welcome with me) are a stark reminder that Summer is surely winding down. As I bandied these thoughts and past rides to myself, I was hopeful they would be etched in my memory, come those those long, cold and dark Winter days…