The morning dawned cold and foggy. Quickly thumbing through a map, I found the roads that would take me to meet the Catskill Wheelmen. I had predicted that setting out about 8am would get me to my destination at roughly 9am, the predetermined time of roll-out. Winding through the back roads of Sullivan County in my rusty yet trusty old Buick with my other trusty steed in the back seat, the fog hindered my speed and I worried that my arrival would be too late and I would miss seeing the "Wheelmen" in their indigenous habitat. With the gas pedal deeper to the floor I ground out the mileage and rolled into Rock Hill at 8:20am. Arriving roughly a half hour early, I would have time to nap...
About 15 minutes later, a darkly colored SUV pulled up. Its driver parked and began assembling a bicycle and gear for a road ride. I strolled over and introduced myself. His name was Michael, we had corresponded via email, he had set up this ride and invited me to come along. As we spoke, the quiet buzz of bicycle freewheels approached. Another cyclist pulled up and then a car pulled in with a mid-eighties Giant roadie on the back. The Catskill Wheelmen were beginning to assemble around us. Today's group was to be a small one because they had a big ride planned for the following day. We would do approximately 30 easy miles with rolling hills and one "Pretty good" climb.
The group pulled together and we spoke of the route as we waited for one last cyclist to arrive. Michael went over the route with me, even though I didn't know the roads we would be on. This was a completely different section of Sullivan County then the one I grew up in. Robert mentioned that the first couple of miles are all down hill into Wurtsboro...
I sensed that the group was concerned for my ability to climb hills, knowing that I came from Long (Flat) Island. A 'Wheelman' named Bob made sure to remind me that "Up here we have hills..." Their concern was duly merited because although I was acquainted with hills, I hadn't ridden these kinds of hills since last year.
As the last cyclist arrived on a rigid framed, gray primer covered Trek Mountain bike we pulled out. The last one in lead us out, the mechanical buzz of 6 bikes could be heard as we spun over the first ridge. I sat at the rear as we started off.
Within a mile the pack spun off while I sat in the back with Bob. It was quiet, the roads were scenic. We spun over a few small rollers when we came to the downhill that Robert had spoken off. I could feel gravity pulling me faster. I didn't want to pass by Bob and leave a cyclist by himself but I was also waiting for him to just pick up and take off leaving me stranded out in the middle of the woods. So, I gave in to the call for speed. After only a few short strokes in a long gear, I was spinning easily up to 42mph. This downhill stretched on for what seemed like forever. My speed held steady at a 40 mph clip for several minutes, I pedaled a few strokes when ever my speed dropped below that pace. I could no longer see Bob behind me and I had passed Michael (who I suspect was waiting up for us) but I was close on the heels of the front of the pack. We sank in to the town of Wurstboro and hooked left onto Route 209 North.
I spun up behind them and surfed into their draft. Gregg, led on his trek mountain bike with Robert pedaling an even pedal stroke behind him on his Leader mixed carbon/aluminum roadie. Another rider drafted just behind them on his Trek 5200 full carbon roadie. I fell in to the back of the pack, as we casually spun through mountainous countryside. Coasting at 19-20mph, we were well within our limits. After a few miles we made a quick turn off onto Nissenbaum road. At the corner of Mountaindale Road we waited briefly for Michael and Bob to catch the group.
I mentioned to one of 'The Wheelmen' that it was odd that we had dropped so much altitude on the first few miles yet we hadn't done too much climbing yet. He said, "Don't worry, we'll pay for it soon..."
Bob and Michael pulled in just then and we rolled out. The climbing was mild as we forged toward Fallsburg. The roadway was completely clear of traffic and totally scenic, most of the time we all rode side by side along streams and past waterfalls. As we crossed through one town, Michael mentioned that it was a ghost town. In an eerie way it was. No shops were open, there was no movement. I was glad to be through that town, whatever it's name was...
There was one lingering thought as we made one more turn, we had not paid for this casual ride. Bob mentioned that 'The Hill' was coming as I cruised past him. I asked if 'The Hill' was the type that if you sit up too straight you fall off it. He acknowledged that this was the case.
We traversed maybe another 2 miles when I began to feel a gentle increase in the grade. I happened to be flanking Robert just meters before the real climbing began that is when he confided that he had suffered on this hill in the Spring.
Suddenly the grade climbed steeply. I found myself standing on the pedals in my lowest gear with a 39t mated with a 27t. My cadence had dropped to the mid 40's, all that was left to do was to grind the hill. The first section was terribly steep. Then there was a brief respite as the slope smoothed down from terrible to awful for about 20 yards. Then it was back to terrible for the remainder of what would be a mile long hill. Grinding the incline, I passed the rider on the Trek 5200 as he resigned to stop and catch his breath. Showing no mercy on my calves and knees, I would give them no rest until the climb was over. My aching legs and I peaked over the summit and burst over that last rise.
Michael, Eric and Robert were no where in sight. I powered back up to speed, I had seen then shortly before I crested so they couldn't be too far ahead. The road was rough, littered with bumps, potholes and cracked pavement. Up to 35mph in pursuit mode, I finally came to a "T" in the road. One way was up a nice little hill, the other way was straight down one. I couldn't see the front of the group or the back of the group. I waited for the gentlemen at the back of the group to catch up so I could follow them to the finish line. When they didn't show up right away, I started to pedal back thinking I had missed a turn off. Shortly after, I met them and we spun off toward home for the last mile and a half to the Rock Hill Post Office.