Hardy cyclists assail 101-mile Blue Hill Cabin Challenge

KOM Jason Sarubi, QOM Lindsey Bauer and True Grit. (Photos by Lauren Thomas)

Maybe I speak for myself, but there have been a few occasions in my life when I have found the ability to get into a full sprint with my pants down a total asset. Don’t judge me.
– Glenn Lapolt, Blue Hill Cabin Challenge race director

I can promise you this, my friends: When you’re halfway up the Blue Monster and the Thin Mints and samosa are oozing out of places that should not ooze, your world will start to crumble. It is at that time that you will be smashed in the face with the stark reality that you have not trained enough, you have not earned your right to be on the mountain. So do yourself a favor…. get on your bike. It’s time to put the hay in the barn.
– Glenn Lapolt’s note to riders a month out from the Cabin Challenge

Eleven years ago, Glenn Lapolt was looking for a long training ride to help get him prepared for the infamous Ironman Triathlon: a two-mile swim, a 125-mile bike followed by a 26.2-mile run. To this end, he hopped on his set of wheels and rode from New Paltz to his small bare-bones cabin in the Catskills to enjoy fly fishing with his childhood buddies; but he rode it the long way, the hard way, up and over hills that included five to six miles of climbing at a spell with little to no relief.

Jazzed by this newly plotted 60-mile ride to the top of Sugarloaf, Lapolt roused up a few friends – six, to be exact – to do the ride with him that next weekend, Memorial Day, luring them in with promises of food, some fishing and a taste of that fresh mountain air. Eleven years later, that burly group of seven has morphed into 77 local cyclists, friends and family who hit the pavement every year in their spandex and toe-clips and climb Blue Hill Mountain.

“I was boxing way out of my weight class that first year,” said Gardiner resident and Cabin Challenge veteran Steve Catania as he enjoyed a plate full of food, post-ride, at the Lapolts’ home in New Paltz, catered by the Bistro this past Sunday. “We were coming back from our kids’ swim meet and Glenn asked if I wanted to join him and some buddies on a ride to his cabin in the Catskills. I didn’t know the Catskills, so I asked if it was like riding up to Mohonk, and he said, ‘Yeah, kind of like that, but a little harder,’ so I said, ‘Sure, I’m in. ‘”

Catania said that he was regretting those words when he and Lapolt and five other guys were climbing up to Peekamoose Road towards Sugarloaf. “It was a long, painful climb, and I don’t care how in shape you are – you’re going to suffer,” he said. “I was not in shape, so my suffering was exacerbated.”

Jim Demis and Nancy Heiz post rave.

As Catania recalled that first Cabin Challenge, once he got to what he thought was the “top” or the summit, “there was another climb to get to Glenn’s cabin.” Once there, Catania noted in great detail that there was “no electricity, no car to take us back, no food.” But Lapolt told them not to worry because he’d fire up the grill. “Only he had no lighter fluid, and we’re in the middle of nowhere on Memorial Day.”

Either Catania is a glutton for punishment, or there’s something magical and cultish about this Cabin Challenge, as he has come back to ride it every year with the exception of one, due to the CC falling on the date of his younger son’s birthday one year .

Jim Demis was pulled into the CC vortex by Lapolt that first year and is the sole rider to have competed in every Cabin Challenge since its inception. “It was really a group of fathers from the kids’ swim team that started the group,” said Demis. “We rode from Lowe’s parking lot those first few years, and we’d have to arrange for someone to pick us up, because we’d end at the Cabin.”

Both Demis and Catania remember one particular year – they believe it was the third year of the Challenge – when “we started in the pouring rain at the Lowe’s parking lot. We were wet, it was freezing and as we started climbing up towards Sugarloaf, we were in the middle of a snowstorm. This was on Memorial Day.”

According to Demis, “Four miles from Glenn’s cabin, one of the guys we were riding with got a flat, so we all stopped and helped him change his tire. Our hands were frozen; I couldn’t feel my feet. That was memorable!” He said that nothing ever tasted as good as the lentil soup that one of their friends, Alice Fogarty, brought to the cabin to help nourish the riders. “It was the best soup I’d ever eaten!”

“That’s the year that Doug missed the turnoff to the cabin,” noted Catania. In fact, Doug Thompson, longtime owner of the Main Street Bistro and a triathlete himself, had agreed to join this pain-train of a ride, but said that he’d have to start later than the rest of the crew because he had catered jobs for his restaurant to get set up first. “We were all inside and waiting for Doug, but he never showed up,” said Demis.

Apparently, as Cabin Challenge lore would have it, Thompson, biking in a full-on blizzard, did not see the turnoff to Glenn’s cabin and continued riding well past Claryville. With no cell reception or place to stop and call someone, he had to find his way back and was suffering from hypothermia before he arrived back to New Paltz. “Yeah, Doug did the double Cabin Challenge that year,” said Catania.

Jim Demis, Steve Cataniaand and Glenn Lapolt.

A few years back, one of Lapolt’s childhood buddies, Rob Lucchesi, who was then the New Paltz Police lieutenant and is now the chief, was somewhere along the Blue Hill climb when he was called back to the NPPD stationhouse due to a local homicide. Lapolt still finds this story questionable and believes it “could have been staged” to save Lucchesi the pain that afflicts the Blue Hill climb. Apparently, there was a “homicide,” Lapolt has been known to say, using finger quotation marks and rolling his eyes.

Trash-talking, camaraderie and cabin lore are all part of what makes the CC such a special event. “It’s this great group of people, and Glenn’s banter and lead-up to the event, that make it so unique,” ​​said Demis. “Glenn starts in on his tall tales that date back to the 1970s, and you know 90 percent of it’s not true – but then there’s that ten percent that could be.” Some of these tales include that of a Catskill yeti that was spotted by cronies of Lapolt’s and could possibly be responsible for some cyclist abductions. There are a lot of Mafia references and what happens if you “vouch” for someone who is new to the race and that person does not pack the CC gear.

Lapolt’s e-mails throughout the year leading up to the Challenge contain warnings of stark-raving-mad hillbillies who could attack cyclists at any time with empty beer cans, or aid-station workers who might or might not give riders an energy gel, but will “make fun of your Lycra shorts,” said Lapolt. The aid station is almost like a floating flea market or nomadic library, with all kinds of Cabin Challenge artifacts including a framed Elvis concert poster, a walking stick, a scrapbook of friends from the early cabin days who went on the lam from the law but were eventually appended. “We have all of the press clipping and photographs in a bound book,” said Bill Tschumi, another childhood friend of Lapolt’s who has faithfully manned the aid stations each year, along with Lapolt’s cousin, Kevin Mumford, otherwise known as Chucko.

“I’ve known Glenn for 44 years,” said Tschumi. “When I first moved here and was out in the neighborhood riding my bike, he brought me in. He’s my brother, and if he asks me to do something, I’ll do it if I can.” Tschumi is the first to admit that “I’m never going to do one of those rides. It’s a great goal to have, don’t get me wrong; but I’m happy at the aid station.”

Tschumi pointed out that some of what makes the Cabin Challenge unique is “its varying levels of seriousness. There are some riders that are struggling to do the 30-mile ride and others that barely stop to refill their water bottle who are doing the 100-mile ride. Glenn has opened it up to include different-level rides, so that it doesn’t exclude people and can still be a real community event. Maybe you’re not ready for the Full Monty, but you want to ride, and now you’re not limited by such a big amount of mileage.”

“There’s no ego here, no attitude,” noted Demis as he flashed around the tables of people in brightly colored Blue Hill Cabin Challenge jerseys. “And some of these people are nationally ranked cyclists and others are amateurs, but you’d never know. Because that’s not what it’s about. Each year I make new friends to add onto the friends I’ve made the year before. It’s great.”

Nancy Heiz, a multiple CC participant, concurred with Demis. “I love the camaraderie; I love the Lapolts,” said Heiz. “The spirit is all about celebrating athletic achievement. They ring the bell of each person who comes in. How cool is that? It’s about being part of a healthy community that likes to bike, and many of these people do triathlons or swim or run as well. This is an opportunity to get a good workout, be competitive if you want, but also to challenge yourself.”

Aid station volunteers Bill Tschumi and Kevin Mumford.

Although Lapolt sold his cabin several years ago, he sees the cabin as more of a metaphor. “It was a structure that housed us all after a tough ride,” he said. “There was an eviction from our fly-fishing cabin back in the 1980s and some river-dwelling that went on. But those stories aside, the ‘Cabin’ is really about friendship.”

Bill Pape, the 75-year-old True Grit recipient.

The spirit of friendship is alive and well at the Cabin Challenge, which over time has expanded and softened some but not all of its rough edges. It now offers four rides: a 30-mile loop, a 52-mile jaunt, the Cabin Originale, which is 75 miles, and then the Full Monty, which is a beautiful and brutal 101-mile spin up and down steep roads in the Catskills. It begins and ends in New Paltz at the Lapolts’ abode, and even has goodie bags for participants.

There are Queen of the Mountain and King of the Mountain awards given out each year for those two riders, one male, one female, who post the fastest combined times of going up Sugarloaf and the backside of Mohonk. This year the winners were their neighbor and friend Jason Sarubbi, an accomplished cyclist, and Lindsey Bauer, who Mel noted “was a hot mess this morning. She forgot her helmet and mine was too big for her, so she had to go back to her house and get her own. Steve [Catania] graciously waited for her so that she did not have to ride alone, and her endurance and climbing ability are off the charts!”

The big award is the CC Grit Award, which has the person’s name etched onto a plaque (as does the KOM and QOM) that hangs in P&G’s Bar and Restaurant. Mel was careful to note that it was “chained to the wall, so don’t get any ideas about taking one of these home with you one night and adding your name to it!” The Cabin Grit award is given to the individual who the ride director feels embraced the spirit of the Cabin that day and demonstrated an all-around solid, prodigious effort. The Cabin Grit Award is given to the rider who best embodies the spirit of the Cabin: badassery, perseverance, camaraderie and true grit. That award went to Bill Pape from Rosendale, who Lapolt noted is 71 years old and “rode the entire Full Monty, 101 miles with over 8,000 feet of climbing.”

The judge received a standing ovation. Afterwards, Lapolt thanked his wife, who is the bulwark of the behind-the-scenes operation (and is also a cyclist, Ironwoman and all-around badass athlete). He noted that the rich, often inspirational, certainly comical and always-questionable history of the Blue Hill Cabin Challenge is now being documented in a podcast.

If you want to learn more about the BHCC, the podcast, the event’s history, past winners or “motivational” videos and recordings from Winston Churchill and Henry Vgo to www.cabinchallenge.com, For the podcast, go to https://open.spotify.com/episode/0nhYoiIHAdPJskzZGDQPJd?si=xT2wMDZaSlmBnlkPWw8GTw,