After not getting into the JMT lottery this year, I took some time to reevaluate my trip priorities for the year. A trip to GSMNP previously written about here was an early season highlight, followed by a summer full of bikecamping trips all over the Northeast.
This summer for the 3rd year in a row I hosted a bike race in a town called Accord nestled between New York’s Shawangunk Ridge and the Catskills Mountains. I invite all of my friends (and some of their friends) to convene upon a small farm for a weekend of camping, hard bike riding, cooking, imbibing and celebration (it’s somehow usually somebody’s birthday!). Camping is MANDATORY – I find this really encourages the spirit of camaraderie amongst the attendees, plus its fun to see what kind of camping gear people dig up for car camping versus ultralight hiking. Inevitably it’s a mix of the same single person tents people use for bikecamping or backpacking, plus a few tents obviously borrowed for the weekend of varying shapes and sizes
A quick preamble about my relationship to bike racing: I used to race my bike a lot. All spring and summer racing on the road in NYC, then through the fall allover the Northeast racing cyclocross with my Brooklyn based team. I love a lot of the aspects of bike racing, but grew to dislike the egos and inherent dangers involved in racing at a higher level - one season 7 or 8 friends all broke their collarbones in a matter of months. Around this time I took a step back from racing on the road and started getting more into longer bikecamping trips. First locally in areas surrounding NYC, and then eventually longer ventures up to a week or more in places like India and Japan. Packing lightweight camping gear for weeklong bike trips introduced me to ultralight gear and then led to my growing interesting in ultralight backpacking trips as well – luckily a lot of the equipment overlaps nicely!
My idea for a group camping trip that centered around a “bike race” came about quite organically – I started to see lots of my bike racing friends less and less during the summer as I would go off on long bikepacking trips instead of hopping in the car to drive to whatever road race or crit was happening nearby that weekend. I had been doing a lot of riding on beautiful remote (and steep!) roads in the Catskills and I wanted to share these experiences with everyone. I found a farm on Airbnb that would allow us to set up a bunch of tents, a route was created and the rest is history. I called it a bike race to encourage people to ride fast, take risks and test their physical limits – the difference was here was we were all friends, looking out for one another. Bike racing can feel alienating, dangerous and stupid – but nothing beats racing your friends up ridiculously steep mountain roads in upstate New York in heat of the summer.
I called the race TFTInvitational (TFTI standing for “Thanks for the Invite”), which speaks to the confluence of cycling and socializing. I wanted to make a weekend out of it, so I timed it around the 4th of July holiday when people would have time off. People drove up after work on Friday, camped that evening, and the “race” began at 9am sharp the next day. The route was around 65 miles and designed to be finished in under 4 hours at “race” pace, which is just the right amount of time to finish a ride without needing to resupply on food or water. Also different from a typical bike race was I invited some of my cycling friends who weren’t bike racers and encouraged them to come out and ride the route at their own pace – even if they finished hours after the first few riders, they knew to just meet us all at the nearby swimming hole afterwards. That evening involved a large shared group meal and many stories from the day around the campfire. The next day concluded the weekend with a “kasual” group ride to coffee in the next town over the ridge and some spirited riding back to the swimming hole in the afternoon before packing up and driving back to NYC.
Each edition of TFTI has been special for many different reasons: new attendees, new additions to the route, new experiences with unpredictable summer weather, etc. I’ve never charged an entry fee for the race other than the $15 an evening for camping that goes to the Airbnb farm host. This summer’s third edition was for sure the best yet, and already friends have been asking me about plans for the 2020 event. All are welcome and camping will still be mandatory, as will good vibes and positive attitudes.