Fear and Loathing on Bear Mountain
We were somewhere around Sloatsberg on the edge of the desert when it began to take hold.
For the 2018 New York State Road Race Championships at the Bear Mountain Classic there are many possible approaches to the event. To Be Determined took on three of them:
Racing: the ‘Bear Mountain Classic’ race is presented by Century Road Club Association (CRCA), one of the oldest USA Cycling Clubs in the country. As a competition, the Bear Mountain Classic is one of the last road races within striking distance of New York City, offering enough climbing to match its name.
Race Directing: no bike race happens without the hard work of staff and volunteers. For the better part of a decade, TBD has been involved in CRCA’s races in some form or another. For the 2018 edition Ted was the head honcho for the Bear Mountain Classic.
Bikepacking: within a short days riding distance of New York City, the surrounds also offer some beautiful scenery for bike-camping in places not otherwise easily accessible by car.
Who are these people, these faces? Where do they come from? They look like caricatures of used car dealers from Dallas, and sweet Jesus, there were a hell of a lot of them at 4:30 on a Sunday morning, still humping the American dream, that vision of the big winner somehow emerging from the last minute pre-dawn chaos of a stale Vegas casino.
The Bear Mountain Spring Classic consists of an approximately 14 mile circuit with several climbs, the most punchy of which is the first - Tiorati Brook Road. Tiorati is not a particularly long or steep climb - roughly 2.3 miles for the main chunk at a 4% average gradient - but combined with the rollers spread throughout the rest of the loop it becomes a leg sapping day on the bike. Also of note, is that the first two miles of the course are straight downhill, literally, which makes for a lot attempts to scruff speed on wet carbon brake pads going into the first corner of the day.
TBD racers Cullen MacDonald, Colin Keaveney, Ted Teyber, and Erwin Kersten all lined up to put in their bid for the state championship title.
Bear Mountain is a race of attrition. It all seems to be going fine, until it isn’t.
The weather was wet and hovering around 50 degrees fahrenheit. A tough middle ground for kit choices, particularly in light of the up-and-down nature of the race. While shivering on the start line and down the first descent, by the end of the first lap gloves, vests, and arm covers were peeled off and tossed to teammates in the feed zone for safe keeping.
Cullen had marked a handful of racers he knew to be strong before the race with full intention of being in whatever break contained the right set of them. Strategizing to stay near the front until that break happened. However, with an evenly well matched field, whenever there was an acceleration, the front glued the field back to whatever rider attempted to ride away. The cumulative efforts of these subtle accelerations hid how taxed the legs were.
On the third lap, a small move at the beginning of the climb looked like it had the "right guys" in it, including Cullen. When they were finally caught -- about halfway up Tiorati -- the bunch accelerated again. Cullen needing a break couldn't hold this pace. "maybe I can work my way back up to the front on the rollers if i just take a little rest at the...oh. Oh no."
Ted and Erwin had a similar race plan, going for the long move, with Colin Keaveney conserving for the down hill sprint finish if that's what it came to. Ted went in an early move that looked promising but got caught after a lap on the long descent. Erwin solo’d for most of a late lap before getting reeled back in. The 2018 edition race had an extra 14-mile loop tacked on for good measure, making bottle support in the feed zone an important moment of the race. With only one teammate managing bottles, there was little room for error. Ted was the first one up the last climb and into the feed zone, where he managed to botch the first hand-off and drop a bottle, forcing Ted, Erwin and Colin to share what bottles and gels they had until the next feed lap. A mental distraction which turned out for the best with enough time to refocus on the last 2-laps when things came alive.
Due to an evenly matched strong field and brisk pace, most of the contenders all came over the final climb up Tiorati together.
A late solo move stuck the win for the NYS RR Championship jersey, with an extremely sketchy field sprint for second. Wow. What a ride. Skidding in, in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out.
With a few of us getting in the top 10 but no podiums, we were disappointed. But in talking it over while the ambulance cleaned up the remnants of the field sprint, we couldn’t help but feel like we had raced the races we set out to, and were fortunate to have our bodies and bikes in one piece to race another day. It was nothing to celebrate, but we had no regrets.
There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle - that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting - on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.
Bear Mountain is probably the most involved CRCA Open Race for the director. While races in New York City have their own challenges, getting equipment and volunteers an hour out of the City, coordinating 3 neutral support cars and 20+ moto officials on open State roads during a day packed with back-to-back-to-back fields is not easy. Top that off with the financial pressure imposed by the expenses of putting on such an event, with the frustrating pre-registration practices of bike racers in the 21st century, and you have the CRCA Bear Mountain Classic in a nutshell.
The squad’s Ted Teyber was half-way through his third season volunteering for the CRCA Open Race Director position, and for the third year in a row intended to race after an early morning of set-up and with an evening of break-down ahead. To be honest, the hardest part of race directing is probably in the week leading into the event itself, as the big issues need to be dealt with in advance, as by the time the event is upon you it is too late to make contingency plans. As the NYS Road Championship, 2018 also hosted representatives from the US Anti Doping Agency, who required additional planning and facilities to be able to complete their assignments.
Bear Mt. is also traditionally held on Mother’s Day weekend. Ted’s Dr. Mom was visiting NY from California, and offered to spend her special day directing volunteers, managing the feed zone, and covering essential race director duties during his M3 race. To accommodate, they opted for accomodations in the Bear Mt. Inn. Listed on the National and State Register of Historic Places, the Inn is sited on the iconic Seven Lakes Drive at the base of the quintessential, though not part of the race course, Bear Mountain climb known as Perkins Memorial Drive. Eating spinach souffle under a mounted moose head adjacent to a fireplace that could double as a walk in closet while the rest of the TBD squad bedded down to camp a few miles away in the rain.
Waking up before dawn to meet the park rangers at the venue to open the gate for the crew, shuttle vans, and early morning racers, there was little time to think or process. It is all about starting on time. An early morning delay can throw off the rest of the day. Luckily things were more or less on schedule, and from there the day ran smoothly with much assistance from USA Cycling’s professional and most competent officials.
While the day of racing went over well enough, at mother’s day dinner that night, Ted could not think, yet alone talk. The culmination of too many caffeine gels, too many early morning Central Park storage-shed trips the week prior, and not enough food, had left a shell of a person sitting at the table chewing some sort of meal served from a boutique hotel in Beacon across the river.
Burned out and long gone from the brutish realities of this foul year of Our Lord, . A lot of things had changed…
We find ourselves the morning after huddled under a shelter at the NYS Lake Welch Recreation Area, wearing sweatpants and eating bagels while drinking tepid coffee surrounded by grown men wearing leotards. Yesterday we had worn that costume, but after a night in the bush, living by what we could carry, we were bleary eyed and confused. Why are we here? Why are they here? It’s cold and wet, no conditions for outdoor activity. At most a walk to brunch; this is ridiculous.
Taking a step back, the team’s favorite overnight bike destination is located on the border of the State Park off of an access road to a cell tower at the top of a hill. While there is archaeological evidence of others similarly camping there, it is something special to be camping in the woods without another person in sight. The only similar experience that comes to mind is staying in hiker-biker sites separated from the larger and more populated State campsites in Big Sur while touring the west coast on Highway 1. While this was not a designated or exactly public or legal camp site, the feeling was the same.
Those on the TBD crit-squad, or who otherwise lacked an appetite for the leg sapping climbs at Bear Mt., rode up from New York City after a short Friday. Stopping at the nearest store 5+ miles away for hot dogs and refreshments, we managed to get a campfire going despite the precipitation and wet kindling. Despite everyone living in New York City, it’s all too rare to have the team sitting around off the bike just chatting. Work, wives, life, the L-train, there is no shortage of legitimate reasons why coffee mid-training ride and insight before and after races comprises the majority of the team’s face-to-face interactions. It’s important to remember, with adventures like these, that we are also friends, a collective of diverse and interesting young men who have decided to test their athletic abilities in the competitive sport of cycling.
Sleeping in a dry tent listening to rain fall around you is a special thing. We awoke the next morning savoring this sound track before breaking camp, descending the service road, heading to the race village to spectate and support our friends and teammates, and coffee.
The Bear Mountain race / bike-camp weekend is a picture of the NYC cycling community. USA Cycling races are in decline across the Country as Gran Fondos and gravel races rise in popularity. New York City arguably has the strongest race scene in the Country with races within riding distance more days of the week than not during high season. But there is more than racing. Racing is a great social scene that brings cyclists together, but racing often over shadows the subtler beauty of cycling, bike camping, nature, and quiet time with your thoughts. The 2018 Bear Mountain New York State Road Race spanned these two peaks, at least for TBD, for a well balanced weekend of bicycles and friends that at times can be hard to find.