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’


Maillot à Pois Rouge

Update 7/31:
Well, it’s finally over. The KOM TdF Challenge (6/29-7/31) has ended and after the four weeks, I have finished in 17th place out of 125 competitors world-wide. I completed 23 rides (‘stages’) with 796.3 miles and 69,390.5 feet of ascent.

Cannot say I am disappointed, dropping out of the top 15. But my original goal was to
finish in the top 25, so from that perspective, not too bad. And it was also a marked
improvement from my 44th place in the Maglia Azzurra Challenge for the Giro.

Update 7/21:

After three weeks, I am 14th of 116 competitors.
16 (‘stages’) rides and 513 miles down with 49,793.1 feet of climbs.


Update 7/14:
After two weeks, I am now sitting in 13th place of 108 competitors.
16 (‘stages’) rides and 410 miles down with 33,179.11 feet of climbs.
Two more weeks to go in the KOM challenge and one more week for Le Tour!

I don’t know about most cyclists or bike riders, but I need inspiration from time to time. So, when the Le Tour time comes around, there are usually various riding Challenges
issued by a number of cycling sites to pick and choose from.

Last year, I was in the Ride with GPS 1/4 TdF Challenge and that was fun. I was able to complete the 1/4 distance and then some. It kept me motivated all of July which carried over into August. Sadly, this year, RwGPS didn’t put on the challenge.

But I did find one that is more to my liking, in the form of BikeRadar’s, KOM
Le Tour de BikeRadar K.O.M. Challenge. What I really appreciate about this challenge is that isn’t based on just miles or speed, but rather strictly on climbing. Which suits this old and slow guy perfectly!

After just over one week and 8 rides, I’m holding up in 10th place of 88 competitors, with 6,974.4 meters of ascent. Prior to the start I was hoping for a top 25 and that is what I’m aiming for. Prizes are random and though it’s no big deal, it provides me the motivation and a good kick in the ass to go out and keep climbing!

It’s not too late to join in, as long as you upload all of your rides from June 29th to July 31st, you’re golden! So sign up and start ascending…


Vive Le Tour!!!!!

Hommage de l’étape 18 et le Col du Calais

In paying tribute to Stage 18 of Le Tour de France, I give you…today’s ride. 60 miles, climbing 5,700 feet, ascending Mont Harmonie Twice and featuring the Catagory 3 climb of the Col du Calais.

Following the quiet, semi-rural roads of Bernardsville, Mendham and Randolph on an
absolute beautiful day. 90 degrees and 59% humidity as Sol’s bright orange and yellow rays illuminated the Summer sky…


I rolled out, solo as usual, to the first low uncatagorized rise of the day, Meeker Rd. Which would then lead me to Mont Harmonie, the first catagorized climb and the first of two
ascents up the famous (and only) switchback in the Hills of Bernardsville.

My next challenge would be a portion of Hardscrabble, Woodland and then on to Jockey Hollow hill. The sun was shining and I was feeling pretty good so far, but I knew that Calais was looming…the first half-mile is very steep, kicking up to a tough 12+% in the beginning, with an average gradient of 7.1%!

20130720_124604 kom
Jersey worthy? Not a chance…but hey, it does look cool…


After slogging up Calais, I had a brief respite of about 7+ miles, with a bit downhill and some rollers…until the next climbs of the day. But before I tackled them it was time for the second food and water stop. Cesar’s Deli in Peapack-Gladstone offered up cold drinks, some bananas and an well deserved ice cream sandwich!

Hydrated and fueled, I threw a leg over the top tube and clipped in my shoes to take on Campbell, Clark and the second ascent of Mont Harmonie…Re-energized, I headed off with enthusiasm.

Alone on the road, my thoughts turn to the Tour and today’s awesome Stage 20.
The protagonists battling it out on the slopes of the Alps, as hundreds of thousands of crazed fans cheer on the riders. A stark contrast to my serenely quiet journey through rural suburbia.

After the 2-mile climb of Campbell-Clark, I descended Douglass Ave at a blistering 2:07, my fastest time to date and I slotted into a tie for 3rd place. The second time down
Douglass, I was much slower, taking some pictures and searching for those wild road-side Raspberries!

One last small hill on Route 202, then the last climb up Liberty Corner and onward home…great day in the saddle, nice long ride with a lot of climbs. I was tired and
starting to get hungry, it was perfect timing.

Allez, Allez, Allez!!! Fantastique!!! Oui!!!

Rivière Noire

54.6 miles/87.87 km – 5,100’/1400m

Today’s ride was my 40th of the year so far. So, “Stage 40” took me around the outskirts of the Black River Park and Environmental Center in Chester. The Black River cuts a swath and meanders through Somerset and Morris counties of NJ. 12 miles long, it twists and turns and flows down along the bucolic towns of Pottersville and Chester.

black river a

Along today’s route, I passed through the quiet, scenic and hilly roads of Far Hills, Peapack-Gladstone, Pottersville, Chester, Califon and Bernardsville. Beginning in Somerset, rolling through Morris and touching the edges of Hunterdon county.

The ride featured one of the biggest climbs of the day, Black River Rd or Rivière Noire as I like to call it- in honor of the Le Tour…it extends for 3.5 miles, ascending 830′ up with a mean rise of approx., 5.75%. A fairly arduous climb, one of those up and down unrelenting hills…that can just take it out of your legs on a 98 degree day!

7-5 ele_profile

As Phil and Paul would say, the roads of Black River are ‘heavy roads’ bumpy, broken and rough pavement for most of the 3.5 mile ascent. Between the brutal heat, oppressive humidity and the craggy roads, I was in damage control mode all the way up…

The highlight of the day wasn’t the long and distant beautiful views of the Allamuchy the Kittatinny Mountains, but rather a stop at the Chester Wendy’s- for an cold Vanilla Frosty! After my creamy smooth frozen treat, I was recharged for the remainder of the ride.



I still had the local switchback of Mt Harmony and a few smaller climbs ahead of me before the promise of a cold shower and recovery meal back were waiting at home. By days end at 5pm, I was thoroughly done. Hot, tired and hungry! As I hung the bike back up, I took a brief moment to reflect on the miles and the route taken, the roads more or less traveled you might say. Blue skies, bright sun and feeling of being alive…

Moving Mountains…

Start Date: June 1, 2013/12:59 pm
Ride Time:  4 hours, 4 mins (total time 5:06)
Temperature: 90°
Prototype: 47 years, 8.44 month old rider
Distance/Ascent: 55 miles – 4600′

-It was the 3rd day in succession of riding this week, with plus 90° temps-
each of the 3 days. Thankfully, it hadn’t really bothered my riding so far…

Today, the Antagonists of hills lay ahead. I rolled out, making my way up the
slight, steady grade of Meeker then down to Harmony Falls and then
onward to the climb of St John on the Mountain.


Hardscrabble, bumpy and broken throws her all at me, 3 miles,
long, 675′ up at about a 4.6% avg grade. I keep the pedals turning,
fighting for every second. Off along the edges of the road, lay
the remnants of the 7th Brigade, as Revolutionary rocks form
the hardscape, while the streams run their course.

The top of Talmage- with the heights of Randolph in the distance

The miles are rolling by and the scenery has me smiling today.
I approach the 3.5 mile Cold Hill-Woodland Climb that takes me
past Potts Reservoir– The rays of sun dance and glean off the still water.
She rises up 547 feet, with a slight reprieve and dip in the middle.

I’m struggling to keep a steady pace. Shoulders rocking, labored
breathing, The sun is pounding my head like a 10lb hammer sledge.
The cars of passers by, look into my suffering eyes…I’d ask them-
tell me what do you see- someone real? yea this is for real, as real
as it gets… At the summit of Mt Freedom, I stop for a respite, water
and food to fuel the second half of the journey.

I roll down South Road- peeling off onto Ironia. This is the big, fast
descent of the day. I was thinking to just coast and roll down her wicked
esses- but just then, the ‘racer’ got the better of me…

Carbon wrapped in Flesh and Bone, plunging down steep Ironia-
Riding into sweeping Fury…
( I scorched the downhill- 1:37 and shattered the record of 1:49-
Now I covet the #1 spot…but for how long?)

The road bends right-left-right-left, with a decreasing radius in the
2nd right-hander. Here is where I nearly met my fate… I made a rare mistake of
turning in just a second or two early, I was in way too hot…and had to just feather the rear brake. The tire locked for a brief moment, my eyes-wide with fear…I immediately
released the lever and the rear tire hooked back up.

I stomp the pedals and the gears once more gathering  precious speed down
Snake Hill- as my heart rate slowly comes back down. Oh, I got lucky today, no doubt.
straining the limits of machine and man…laughing out loud with fear
and hope I had a desperate plan…”

Three more climbs were still in front of me before I made it back
home, Campbell, Clark and the finish up old familiar Liberty Corner.
The 90° heat was beginning to takes it toll…as I could feel my face radiating,
the sweat pouring off my arms and legs. Thankfully, there was
a little shade on the Clark and Liberty Corner climbs for a bit of cover.

I am taking on a steady flow of water and now at mile 50 I was empty.
So one last water stop at Dunham Park, just 4 miles from home…
It’s 5:37 pm now and the sun shine is unrelenting, but Sol is a welcome friend, always.

My hands, back and neck are all aching, as I head for the solace and
comfort of the house door. I’m thinking about the big post-ride meal,
as I look to bright, blue sky with thanks and remember the sights
and sounds on this first day of June…

Cogito – Ergo – Zoom…