Wednesday, December 30, 2009

December R12 Ride - PBP - with a twist!

Welcome to December in the wonderful eastern US. This has been one of the coldest months I can remember. Every weekend has just been insufferably cold, wet, or both. As the end of the month neared I was extremely nervous about getting this ride in. My friends Paul and Jon managed to get their December R12 requirement fulfilled on the second Saturday of the month. Originally, we had hoped to all ride together on the Sunday of that weekend. But, the forecast called for freezing rain, snow, or both. I encouraged them to take advantage of the dry day on Saturday, even though I was obligated to work. Unfortunately, I would not be able to join them. I was glad they decided to go on Saturday as freezing rain did fall on that Sunday morning. The conditions would not have lent themselves to a long ride, or any road ride for that matter. I targeted the following Sunday for my ride. Paul put me together with another rider who was scheduled on the same day so we would both have company. A major snow storm hit the night before dashing that opportunity. I waited somewhat anxiously as the days went by for my opportunity to present itself. Finally with just a few days left in the month I noticed a stunning forecast for Sunday December 27th. The temperature range was predicted to be 32F - 48F with some sun. That sounded like a winner to me. I decided to use the PBP route again as my friend Paul, the route owner, suggested the openness of the course should have allowed any residual snow to melt. As the day neared my friend Al agreed to join me. He has yet to finish a 200k, although he has started a couple of them with me.

Now for the twist in the plot. I decided to give the ride a try on my Salsa Caseroll upright in lieu of Mellow Yellow. I've been doing some commuting, and other rides, on my DF bikes for a couple of months, but I still considered Mellow Yellow my brevet bike. None the less I've had this overpowering urge to try a long ride on the Salsa. I was quite nervous about my ability to ride this bike 129 miles given that my longest distance on it year to date is 40 miles. Even the night before as I lay in bed waiting to fall asleep I considered changing my mind and taking the recumbent. Once morning arrived I stayed true to my plan and loaded the Salsa in the car and headed for the start. No turning back now.

While waiting at the starting control, the Dunkin Donuts in Princeton Junction, another rider rode in. It was not Al. I recognized Christine from our local rando rides. She was also doing the permanent to keep her R12 going. Al arrived a few minutes later. We agreed to ride as a group. We had coffee then the three of us pushed off towards the first control in Belmar. The sun was just starting to come up as we set out on the quiet streets heading southeast. There was a light to medium tail wind. The temperature, in the thirty's, was quite tolerable. We made steady progress for the first 15 miles, then I rolled through some broken glass causing a flat on the rear. With Chris and Al's help the offending glass shard was removed. The hole in the tire was large enough that we decided to use a boot. We inserted a new tube, re-pressured with a quick fill, then struggled but succeeded in getting the rear wheel back on. Off we go again smoothly sailing along through the New Jersey countryside. After another fifteen miles I felt the rear tire getting soft. I stopped to pump it up a bit hoping the leak was a slow one and we could make the control in Belmar before addressing the issue further. Unfortunately, that plan went out the window when after about a mile I felt the rim against the pavement. Flat tire change number #2! We could find nothing puncturing the tire, but there was a slice in the tube. I assumed it was a faulty seam and replaced it with my last spare tube. Back underway we soon pass through Wall Township and approach the outskirts of Belmar. In the final mile to the control I notice the rear tire feeling wonky. Sure enough it is almost completely flat. Again! I make it into the control, the Dunkin Donuts on Ocean Ave, and pump the tire using a mini-pump. I can hear air leaking out rather rapidly. I am telling Christine that basically I think I'm screwed unless I can find a nearby bike shop that is open. A couple of guys standing outside the DD overhear the conversation and inform me of a bike shop 1/2 mile away that is open right now. Chris calls the shop to confirm they will help me. They agree to help and she tells them I am on my way. We agree to try and meet up at the next control in New Egypt. After pumping as much air into the tire as I can I set off for DJ's Cycles. Once there they immediately put my bike on the stand. Given that I can't spare the time of any more flat tires I ask them to please just replace the tube and tire with brand new. The whole job takes about a half hour. While I'm waiting I adjust some layers of clothes, as the temperature has really come up to almost 50F. I eat a peanut butter sandwich which I had in my pack and procure some water from the market next door. After paying the bill I head out to resume the ride from the Belmar control.

Passing the Dunkin Donuts I continue south on Ocean Blvd. After a couple of miles the route turns to the west. I immediately feel a strong head wind after making the turn. Basically, I am mostly into the wind for the next thirty-five miles. There are a couple of minor climbs on this section which I thoroughly enjoyed because they provided some wind block. Otherwise it was a relentless grind all the way to the control. About half-way through I had to have a gel and energy bar to keep turning the pedals. Most of the time my forward progress was between 12 and 14 miles per hour. Only occasionally did I see the computer register a speed of 15 or above. I felt a profound sense of relief when I reached Main Street in New Egypt. I was even more elated when I spied Al and Christine at the Wawa control. They said they hadn't been there very long, so I grabbed coffee and a snack before heading out with them for the next stretch to Pemberton.

The wind would continue on this section but fortunately it was only a fifteen mile run to the control. We pass through the Fort Dix/Maguire Military installation and into the town of Browns Mills. We are rolling smoothly. My new rear tire appears to have ended my mechanical difficulties. We pass through New Lisbon and Pemberton Heights at which point we turn to the north. The control, another Wawa is quickly reached after the turn. We are now at mile 95. The total route distance at 129. A quick coffee is all I need. We are soon off to continue our northerly trek towards the next stop in Cranbury.

The wind is far more tolerable in this direction. In addition, there are a few small hillocks to break up the terrain a bit. I enjoy small hills or rolling terrain in the latter part of a longish flat ride. It feels good to work the legs a bit differently. I seem to gain energy and strength at a point when I should be tiring. I am also amazed that I've done this well on the upright bike. Frankly, I was in doubt that I would make it asking my wife to please be available in case I needed to be picked up off the route. I may wind up hurting for the next couple of days. But, at mile ninety I am feeling like King Kong. Also, I am impressed with my riding companions. Christine is a very confident and steady rider. She maintains a constant pace and appears to be in a comfortable zone all the time. As for Al, I am delighted he has made it this far. Long rides are not typically his cup of tea. He appears determined to finish this time. I have little doubt that he will. If he is doing any suffering he is keeping it to himself as I've not heard a single complaint. Darkness creeps up on us as we approach the small town of Chesterfield. Traffic is light, the weather is cooler, but quite tolerable, and we continue to make good time. We cross over I-195 just past Allentown. Then the NJ Turnpike just prior to Hightstown. Our next control is just six miles to the north. We cross US-130 and arrive at the pizza shop in Cranbury, which is the penultimate control. We decide to treat ourselves to a sit down meal. We enjoy slices of pizza and hot soup. The mood is jubilant as we all know the finish is but 7 short miles away and there is little that could prevent us from making it.

We step out of the Pizza shop into the chilly night air. It is starting to feel much colder. But, with just seven miles to the finish I'm not concerned. I've ridden in far colder this year. This short section is quite familiar to me as I've ridden through here literally hundreds of times. I don't bother turning my cue sheet as I could probably navigate these roads blindfolded. The cold is a bit more penetrating but given the short period of time I have to endure it I'm sure I can manage. Once I start smelling the barn I have trouble maintaining an easy pace. I always pour it on to finish quickly ending the ride on a high note. In the last few miles I kept distancing myself from my companions. I then back off, soft pedal for a bit, to let them catch up. We regrouped for the last time just a hundred yards from the Dunkin Donuts control. Pulling up in front at the same time. I'm feeling very pleased to have completed this ride overcoming the mechanical issues in the early miles and riding a bike I wasn't sure I could go the distance on. Christine was also happy to have gotten in the December R12 ride leaving only two remaining months for her. As for Al, although he was quite stoic about it he had to be thrilled to have completed his first 200k.

I definitely was sore and tired for a few days after the permanent. The muscle set used for upright riding is different from the recumbent. My quads and calves were very tender requiring a few days rest. I'm somewhat confused as to what to do going forward. The Adamo saddle has helped me make a come back to DF bikes, but I'm not sure it's a permanent solution I will try to continue commuting on the Salsa and the Trek Mountain Bike. The latter is now equipped with studded winter tires. Also, if I'm up to it I will try to complete January's R12 on the upright. Paul has a new permanent route approved. I've ridden some of the sections with him while testing the cue sheet for accuracy. The route features a nice mixture of terrain and scenery. I am very much looking forward to riding it.

Nine down - three to go. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 2, 2009

November R12 - Eight Down, Four to go!

The beach at Belmar, NJ

The month of November arrives on a Sunday this year, coinciding with day light saving time. Combine those two factors with a reasonable weather forecast and all forces seemed to be aligned to get the required monthly 200k in the books on the first day of the month. After numerous discussions with my friend Paul, and an equal amount of visits to the online weather sites we settled on the Princeton-Belmar-Princeton 200k. Since I have written two prior reports on this ride (Jul. '09, Sep. '09) I will not go into much detail this time.

The morning of the ride arrived with an extra hour added to the clock. The additional sleep was appreciated, as was the daylight which arrived at about 6:30am, one-half hour prior to our 7am scheduled start. The only problem was that it was most definitely raining. The forecast called for rain to end by 5am. While loading the car at 6am it was still raining steady. Fortunately, it was not a downpour. Additionally, the temperature was about 50F, which didn't feel too bad for the moment. However, I do remember a with rain and low fifties temps a few years back where I was absolutely soaked through and hypothermic. That is an experience I don't want to go through again. I make some changes to my choice of wardrobe to accommodate the possibility of spending at least some of the ride in the rain. I reason that wool base layers, wool jersey, wool socks, wool skull cap, full tights, full fingered gloves, and my Showers Pass rain jacket should keep me warm enough. The ability of wool clothing to keep one warm, even when wet, is a well known fact among randonneurs.

With all the last minute scrambling to prepare for different weather than expected we started out one-half hour later than our planned start time. It rains steadily, but never too heavy, for the first two hours. Then rains intermittently for the remaining miles to Belmar. The clothing worked well. I vacillated between comfortable and a tad too warm for the first one-third of the ride.

It was not raining upon leaving the beach at Belmar, so I strapped the rain jacket to my pack. The skies still spritz on us a few more times, but never heavy or long enough for me to put the jacket back on. The temperature stayed in the low to mid fifties for all of the day. I remained comfortable with my two wool top layers, tights, and full fingered gloves.

We wound our way smoothly along the route with variable winds, albeit light as well. I felt strong and was able to take a number of hearty turns at the front. Paul also took some good pulls mostly through the pine barrens area around the Fort Dix/Maguire military installation.

The skies remained overcast for almost the entire day. The only real appearance of the sun was about one-half hour before sunset at 4:30pm. By this time we were not far from Hightstown, which we had predicted to be the point we would have to switch to night riding gear. We stop a few miles before the town to use a port-o-john and take the opportunity to go into night mode. The sun sets just after we pass Hightstown en-route to the final control at Cranberry. An ATM stop takes care of our documentation and we are on to the finish. We arrive at 5:55pm for a total time of 10:55. If we were to adjust for the late start it would be 10:25.

Over a cup of coffee at the Dunkin Donuts we agree that although it didn't turn out to be the sunny 60F day predicted it worked out just fine. We were both happy we did the ride. The rest of the month is pressure free. My rides can be for the sheer pleasure of riding, or purposeful in commuting to work. No brevet cards or store receipts required, until December rolls around. Sooner or later, I expect this R12 quest will get tougher. I hope to be ready for that.

Four to go! Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Princeton - Belmar Princeton -200k Permanent. - October R12

Paul, owner of the permanent route prepares at the start in Princeton Junction
Paul sipping coffee, and Jon in background at Belmar.
Paul, displaying Oregon Randonneurs Jersey and Jon at Pemberton Wawa

The very Friday after my annual century ride I get an e-mail invitation from Paul and Jon to join them on the Princeton-Belmar-Princeton 200k Permanent. A second consecutive Sunday away from family was not an ideal situation, but the weather forecast looked favorable and I needed the ride to keep the R12 streak alive. The same route was used to secure my July R12 requirement, and was reported in detail here. Therefore, I will keep this report somewhat brief covering the highlights rather than the blow by blow account.
On Sunday morning at 6:45am I am sipping coffee in the Princeton Junction Dunkin Donuts waiting for my two friends to arrive. It is dark and a very nippy 40 degrees outside. They arrive a few minutes prior to the 7am start. Unfortunately, a large group of young cheerleaders proceeded their arrival. It takes quite awhile to get through the long line and get brevet cards documented. We start out about ten minutes past the planned starting time, but no matter the course is flat. We should not have any time pressure on us throughout the day. We set out into the crisp morning air as daylight is just beginning to break. Paul is fresh off the Last Chance 1200k so Jon and I get him to give us a run down on the ride. We listen intently to his story as we pedal smoothly towards the first control at Belmar on the Jersey Shore. The captivating tale of Paul's adventure in Colorado keeps us occupied until the outskirts of Wall Township, just prior to the control. We arrive at another very busy Dunkin Donuts on Ocean Blvd. The day is warming up quite nicely. We all remove some layers for the next leg to New Egypt.
As we ride alongside the ocean heading to the south I come across a guy riding a Bacchetta recumbent. We talk for a minute about the bikes. It's always a novelty to see another 'bent rider in New Jersey. I wish him well as our route takes us away from the ocean front. There are a few hilly spots on this section. Nothing really to speak about, but I realize that I am feeling kind of beat up. Since the century last weekend I've commuted to work all but one day, and rode a somewhat hilly 60 miles on Thursday. I'm struggling a little to match the pace of my companions. The small bumps feel larger than they actually are. None the less we manage the 35 miles to the New Egypt Wawa in relatively good time. A small bag of pretzels, oatmeal cookies and coffee recharges me a bit.
Soon enough we are off to the next stop, just 15 miles to Pemberton. Our heading is south right through the Fort Dix/MacGuire military complex. Usually I'm fairly strong on this type of terrain. It is routine for me to take a few strong pulls, but I'm just barely hanging on. I'm glad for the company of friends, but I feel bad that I'm not contributing more. To add to my misery some of the miles on this section are into an increasing north/west wind. None the less we arrive at the big super Wawa in Pemperton for a quick break. All I need here is a bathroom and a small coffee which I quickly procure while getting my brevet card validated by the clerk. When I return outside to the bike a customer approaches me, he's looking at Mellow Yellow, and he says, in a rather demanding tone: "Tell me the advantages of riding this type of bicycle." Now, I'm not really in the mood, nor do I have the time to go into a long dissertation on the merits of recumbent riding. So I simply say: "See the big comfy seat on this bike? Now, look at the tiny little seats on those bikes." I point to my friends uprights. "Which would you rather sit on all day?" To my surprise he points to the upright bikes, obviously looking to start some kind of debate. "Suit yourself." I say, as I proceed to totally ignore the guy until he walks away.
Back on the road we are headed pretty much to the north to the penultimate control in Cranburry. I'm still feeling pretty tired struggling with the wind, which comes in and out of play. When we wander a bit toward the west we feel it more than due north. If we jog a bit to the east it gets easier. Paul and Jon continue to ride strong, although Paul admits to feeling somewhat tired. We pass through Allentown and Hightstown before arriving in the quaint village of Cranburry.
We decide to use an ATM to document our passage rather than stop at the designated Pizza shop to save time. Paul, who happens to be the route owner knows exactly where one is, just one block off the route. ATM receipts in hand we turn right into the west by north west wind for the final 7 miles. The mental boost of knowing we are close to the end takes the edge off the difficulty factor. We grind our way through without complaint. We pull into the DD at the finish in 10hr 14min. Not surprisingly, somewhat slower than my prior time on this route. My disappointment is tempered by the fact that my 7th R12 qualifying ride is now in the books, and, despite feeling a little rough I did enjoy the day on the roads in the company of good friends. I make a mental note to take a couple of rest days soon. Hopefully, that will bring the snap back to the legs.
The five remaining R12 rides should no doubt be the hardest with the weather rapidly turning colder and the hours of daylight shrinking. Stay tuned!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pumkin Patch Pedal Century - A Fall Classic

Costumed volunteers put out the goodies. The pumkin pie is a big hit on this ride.

Taking a short break from my R12 quest I decided to enter the annual Pumpkin Patch Pedal for the fourth consecutive year. This mostly flat 100 mile tour of central and southern New Jersey is my one annual century of the season. Generally, I don't bother signing up for anything other than brevets. If I feel like a 100 mile ride I usually just ride one from home, either on my own, or with a friend or two. This event stands as the sole exception to the rule. The scenic route and the spirit of the SIBC club hosting the ride seems to draw me back each year. The first year I rode it on my Felt carbon fiber bike. Year two I was on the Specialized aluminum frame fixed-gear and last year I used my Salsa steel framed fixie. I remember the fixed-gear bikes drawing a lot of comments from the other riders, I am imagining the recumbent being quite the spectacle as I've never noticed another one there. That prediction would prove true. As I am pulling into Thompson Park in Jamesburg I notice people eyeballing Mellow Yellow while still on the roof rack of the car. While I'm setting up several others come by to ogle the bike and ask questions. I really dislike the attention I get riding an out of the ordinary bike, but, the comments are all friendly and supportive so I take it all in stride.

The morning is on the cool side, but warming quickly. I start out with a long sleeve base layer under my jersey as well as knee warmers on my legs. It is a bit foggy and misty as I head out on the course at 8:00am. I'm not intending to use the cue sheet as the bike club marks the course with painted pumpkin arrows on the road surface. The roads are quiet through Monroe Township as I am pedaling smoothly at 19mph. I am passing a few riders along the way exchanging pleasantries. The mist is a bit annoying, fogging up my glasses, but mostly I am enjoying the ride. The route follows Perrinville Road for quite a few miles making the navigation easy. I settle in to a nice rhythm. I am planning on riding past the first rest stop at the twenty-five mile mark, hoping to make my first stop at the the fifty. True to plan as the first rest stop appears, in the small town of New Egypt, I pass right by. The road is congested with bike traffic and I need to weave through some groups of riders who are just leaving the stop. A few miles past things thin out, but I am passed by a paceline of five riders. They move ahead a bit then change leaders. The new leader is not as strong so they slow below my pace and I quickly catch back up. I decide to sit on the rear and see what happens. I recognize the jersey on one of the riders as being from a local central jersey club. I know a few people in the club so I start a conversation based on mutual acquaintances. The guy's name is Neil and he happens to know one of my the people I mention. We turn onto Route 539 which cuts through the heart of the New Jersey Pine Barrens region. Up ahead we notice a large crowd of cyclists, perhaps 30 to 40 standing in the road. They are blocking the entire right lane. As we squeeze by the crowd on the left there is a cyclist laying in the road being given CPR by another cyclist. The scenario did not look good. Not wishing to add to the melee of gawkers already gathered at the scene we decide to continue. An ambulance and police car pass us from the opposite direction. Shortly after the emergency scene the lead rider peels off the front heading to the rear of the line. He decides to cut in front of me to keep the same order. This is repeated by the other riders on the next few exchanges. I was hoping to be able to contribute to the progress of the pace line by taking a turn at the front. The fact that they wanted to maintain their order of riders made me feel unwelcome. Their weakest rider was at the front again so I take my opportunity to leave them behind. I work hard to put some distance between me and the group knowing that their stronger riders will pull them some. After a few miles I see them in my mirror again. They have gained back some ground. I push the pace up another notch. I am rolling between 19 and 23mph depending on the grade to the road. The 50 mile rest stop is now 6 miles away and I'm determined to hold the pace until there. I pass a number of solo riders and a few small groups, the recumbent almost always drawing a comment. The most common being; "Wow! Now that looks comfortable". I have a few sarcastic responses depending on my mood such as: "Oh yeah! I have trouble staying awake", or "Hey! Do you know where I might be able to stop for a six-pack?" I successfully resist the temptation, simply smiling and wishing my fellow cyclists a nice ride. I enter the town of Browns Mills where the rest stop is located just up ahead. I make it in, park the bike, use the rest room, and am removing leg warmers and my long sleeve under liner before I spot the group come in. It doesn't count for anything but I accept it as a small victory. I hang around the rest stop for awhile watching the bike club group depart. Soon after I head out this time at a more relaxed pace.

The next rest stop is at the 80 mile mark. I plan on keeping a comfortable steady pace until there. I pass by the main entrance to Fort Dix after which the route begins to head to the north for the return to Jamesburg. The final rest stop is at Clayton Park near Allentown, New Jersey. The winds have picked up a bit, unfortunately, not in my favor. But, for the most part, I have no complaints. The temperature, in the low seventies with sunny skies, is most enjoyable. A little head wind into the mix does little to dampen my spirits. The route takes a turn to the east for five miles or so going through the heart of New Jersey horse farm country. The scenery is grand and the easterly direction provides a break from the wind. Soon the turn back to the north puts me back in the wind, but dead on course to Allentown, and the final rest stop before the finish. It arrives without incident. The bike club is there, seemingly having recently arrived. I have a brief, but friendly conversation with Niel before heading over to the food table to intake some calories. The apple and pumpkin pie look real good, but I resist the temptation and stick with what works for me. I feel like salty foods so I eat a handful of pretzels and make myself some peanut butter topped Ritz crakers. A refill of water bottles and I'm off for the final 20 miles.

I work this last section rather hard. Despite being mostly into the wind I hold a good pace. I'm passing groups of club riders with matching jerseys that have little left in the tank. For many club riders a century is their longest ride of the year. A real challenge to their endurance. From the prospective of the randonneur it is practically a day off. There are a few hills on this last section, although nothing of any consequence. I'm enjoying the upgrades. The variance in terrain makes these last miles more interesting. With about ten miles to go I pass a young lady riding a carbon fiber Trek. She looked to be struggling up a small upgrade as I sped by. Half a mile later I notice her on my back wheel. She asks if I mind her riding with me. She explains she is pretty cooked, but trying to break her previous time for a century. I agree to help and proceed to gradually increase the pace keeping her on my wheel. She hangs in just fine on the flats, but fades a little on the upgrades. I delicately try to set a pace that is just close to her breaking point. She stays on to the end and beats her old record by two minutes. She is ecstatic at the achievement. I congratulate her and peel off to my car. My overall finish time is 6hrs 40min with 5hrs 58min of riding time. The two approximately twenty minute rest stops account for the additional 22min. The headwind slowed me some, but no complaints. It was a great day to be on a bike.

Focus to switch back to the R-12. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bear Mountain 200k - A New York State of mind!

The view from the top of Bear Mountain
Todd enjoys a late breakfast at the deli in Stony Point

This ride always has me singing the “I Love New York ” theme. The challenge of the route and the great scenery gives this 200k just the right mix of everything. This being my fourth time taking the start at the foot of the GW Bridge on the New York City side. My friend Todd, also a loyal customer of this New York offering, rode with me in the car from Somerset County . We parked on Hudson Terrace in Fort Lee , which is the New Jersey side of the bridge, then rode our bikes to the start. The George Washington Bus Station serves as the start/finish point. It is just a couple of blocks from the entrance to the bridge bike path. Leroy Varga (RBA) and Laurent Chambard (Ride Organizer) handle the check-in details smoothly. At 7am sharp Laurent sends the group of 34 riders on our way.

New York City to Stony Point :38 miles

We head for the south side bike path of the GW to work our way across the massive span into New Jersey, Navigating the tight turns on the bridge network is no easy task on the recumbent. I’d gotten a preview of this on my way in struggling to get Mellow Yellow around the tight turns at the block houses and the ramp down to the city streets. Imagining it being much worse in a large pack of riders I decided to hang back and let the bulk of the group go ahead of me. Todd not knowing what I was doing got across way in front of me. I found him waiting on Hudson Terrace for me to arrive. Now at the very back of the pack we start off casually through the quiet streets of Bergen County . This section is perhaps the easiest of the ride with only minor gradients and short steep hills. It gives one the opportunity to warm up, settle in, and establish a rhythm before the heavy climbing begins. We follow county route 505 to Tenafly, then 501 up to Piermont , New York . We pass under the Tappan Zee Bridge , all the while enjoying pleasant views of the Hudson River to our right. We go through Haverstraw after which we pick up the popular Route 9W. We work a little harder on the rolling terrain as we pass the Indian Point Nuclear facility, which is emitting gentle puffs of steam from its cooling towers. Soon we arrive at the first control in Stony Point , which is a quaint Italian Deli. Laurent and Leroy are there to greet everyone and handle paperwork. The day has warmed up pleasantly. We get coffee and muffins and sit outside to enjoy the break.We make quick work of the stop leaving a few riders behind as we set out.

Stony Point to Monroe : 17 miles

We leave the control and continue north on 9W. Just a few miles beyond the control we hit the first substantial climb of the day. A sizeable bump with switchback turns. I manage it in the middle chain ring grinding my way up. High speed traffic zooms by on my left making my slowness more obvious. Normally, the descent on the other side is a real screamer, but today it is somewhat hampered by an increasing head wind. I work the down hill by pedaling hard to try and catch up to Todd who put some distance on me during the climb. It takes a long time before I see him ahead. We re-group at the turn off to Bear Mountain State Park which begins a five mile climb fest to the top of Perkins Drive . Todd again starts gapping me on the first part of the climb.I come across John and have a short conversation with him about recumbent riding, the sixties, Vietnam , etc. I’ve seen John on all of the New York rides I’ve done. I’m climbing a bit faster than him, for the moment, so soon our conversation ends and I continue the grind up. The turn off for Perkins Drive arrives beginning the 2 mile final segment to the top. It seems to take forever this time. Each switchback I come to feels like it should be the last one, only to be followed by another. The disappointment each time is becoming unbearable. I start to imagine I have arrived in some type of cycling hell where this will go on for all eternity. The thought gives me the creeps, but when I snap back to reality I realize this will end. I just can’t tell when. I suppose it would have been smart to check my odometer when starting the climb. Then I would have a pretty good gauge on how much distance to go before the top. I am relieved when the end finally shows itself. The tower at the top of the drive looms into view with just a couple hundred feet to go. There is an information control at the tower itself so I dismount and walk Mellow Yellow up the gravelly path to seek the information needed. Todd is waiting there for me and provides me with the answer to save me the trouble. We decide to walk over to the scenic overlook which is just the other side of the road. The view is quite breathtaking. We can actually see the skyline of New York City way off in the distance. It is hard to believe that we started off there just a few hours earlier. I can’t resist getting the digital camera out, Todd and I take each others photo with the view in the background. The descent down Perkins goes a lot quicker than the ride up. The fun is moderately hampered by rough pavement here and there, but it is still enjoyable. After the descent we continue traversing the park. The climbing keeps up as we head up to the Tiorati Circle and the turn off on Arden Valley Road . Arden Valley is a series of ups and downs including one nasty little uphill that catches me off guard. I thought I could climb it without engaging the small triple chain ring, but halfway up I realized it was too steep. With no way to shift down while on the hill I am forced to dismount and walk up a bit until the grade lessens, then start again. Meanwhile, Todd is putting quite a gap on me.I try to make up some ground on the downhill sections, but the road surface is poor battering me and the bike if I descend to quickly. I find Todd waiting at the end of the road where we turn onto Route 17. We pass by the train station in the small town of Harriman , we then continue on to the control in Monroe . The control is manned by Janice who signs us in and offers us water to refill our bottles. After which we head into the cafĂ© for a lunch break. The place is busy with riders from our group, as well as some local folks. We place our order and are quickly served. We waste no time getting back on the road for the next section.

Monroe to Congers: 36 miles

Upon leaving the control it is less than two miles before we encounter the first lump on this section. Pine Tree Road shoots up rather abruptly from Route 17. This hill has been a tough one for me every time as I am always tight from the time off the bike at the control when it is encountered. As has happened in the past my leg muscles threaten to cramp as I am climbing. I ease off a bit so as not to aggravate things further. After successfully cresting the top there is another short reprieve and then climbing resumes on East Mombasha Road . There is a good bit of up and down in the miles that follow as we cut through Harriman State Park . Shortly thereafter we enjoy a fast descent on Route 98 which features some of the smoothest pavement of the day. I find the descent somewhat rejuvenating and don’t seem to mind the remaining hills to the control. We arrive at the Dunkin Donuts in Congers, New York with organizer Laurent waiting for us in the parking area. Brevet cards updated we head in for a coffee and bagel. A few other riders are milling about the place and words of encouragement are exchanged. This is the last control before the finish so our day is close to done. Food and beverages consumed we head out to undertake the final 25 miles back to the city.

Congers to NYC: 25 miles

On this final leg we get a chance to warm up a bit. We re-connect with Route 94 for a few miles and then turn off to go through the quaint town of Nyack . They are having a street bazaar today so traversing Main Street is a bit of an adventure. The road is blocked to car traffic but they let us pass by the barricades on our bikes. Dodging the throngs of people milling about the many vendor stalls is the challenge. Fortunately we soon turn off and within a few blocks we pick up Piermont Avenue for another run along the Hudson River. After several miles of fairly pleasant riding, the only negative being the head wind, we turn again to climb our way up to Route 94 for the final time. This ten mile section of the highway features some substantial climbing early on. The most notable is the last section of pavement in New York State . The climb culminates with a large sign welcoming all to New Jersey. The terrain becomes less severe, although a few good size rollers still remain. In the past this section has always been a fast dash to the GW Bridge. Today is somewhat of a struggle as the wind is not in our favor. I mention to Todd that we haven’t caught a break with the wind all day. No matter what our direction of travel we faced head winds throughout. I mentally prepare myself to grind out the remaining miles. While undertaking one the larger rolling hills a cyclist with full racing kit passes me while going up.He also passes Todd who is just a bit up ahead of me. After I crest the top I’m motivated to work hard on the down side to try and pass him back. I catch up to Todd. He jumps on my rear wheel and together we start reeling in the rider. We use our momentum to fly over a smaller roller and scream down the other side. The racer seems surprised to see Mellow Yellow go by with a very classic looking LeMond in tow. Despite the wind we are managing to range between 20-25mph. I am loving this section. We keep the pace up until the turn onto Sage Road which wends us around to Englewood Cliffs and Hudson Terrace. Any suffering over the course of the day is erased from my mind. I am feeling great as we turn onto the bike path traversing the huge span to the end. Leroy is waiting for us at the bus station to sign us in. Job done! We quickly head out to ride across the river one final time.

This ride delivers on all its promises. There is plenty of challenge and a lot that is pleasant. Our finish time of 11:32 is a bit slower than the 10:20 I posted back in 2007, but that was a different time, and done on a 17lb carbon fiber upright. Mellow Yellow hits the scale at a solid 30lbs without an ounce of gear. Call me silly but I’m really beginning to love it. The completion of this ride puts me half way to the R12 with the toughest months of the year ahead. What will October bring?

Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Jersey Transit 200k Permanent

Top to bottom: Todd, Al, and Yours truly at the Raritan Quick Check Market!

Despite the fact that I am the owner of this permanent, which received RUSA approval in November of 2009, I've never ridden the entire route, prior to now. I did finish the ride successfully in 2007 when it was on the calendar as a 200k brevet. Also, I rode every section separately before applying for permanent status, but I never went all the way around. The severity of the course has kept me from undertaking it while adapting to the recumbent Now that I've logged five-thousand miles on the bent, I figure I am ready. With my wife out of town for the weekend, and no other conflicts for Sunday, the timing seemed right. I contacted my friend Todd to see if he would be interested in joining me. He quickly agreed. Later in the week another friend, Al, called to see if I wanted to ride Sunday. I invited him to join as well. Al rode most of this brevet with me in 2007, but, suffered a crash 15 miles from the finish, which resulted in a concussion and a DNF. He wasn't sure he was up to the distance this time, but with some trepidation agreed to take the start.

Raritan to Summit

29 Miles

The three of us meet at the official ride start, the Quick Check in Raritan, a few minutes before the agreed 7am start time. We get brevet cards verified and set out in a light rain. The temperature is a comfortable 67 degrees. We head to the north through the small town of Raritan and cross US 202. We are on Country Club Road for seven miles to Bedminster where we answer an informational control question. We then follow Washington Valley Road to the east for the remaining miles to the control. The terrain is moderate for most of the way as we are on the lower ridge of the Watchung Mountain. However, just a few miles prior to the control we encounter Sky Top Drive. Which is a gradual but long climb, to the top of the Watchung Mountain Range. With fresh legs the three mile climb feels fine and we arrive at the East Side Deli in good spirits. Fresh bread pudding is consumed while brevet cards are validated. We are quickly on our way.

Summit to Budd Lake

33 Miles

Just out of the control the route turns to the west, and, into the wind. The wind is fairly negligible at this point, but, rather suddenly the rain picks a up a few notches. As we approach the overpass to I-78 I hear a bike tire blow out. Al's rear tire flatted as a result of the bump going on to the bridge. Al rides Zipp deep dish carbon rims and it is a bear to get the tire off. With the three of us working on it we finally manage to get a new tube in it leaving only the task of inflating the tire. Al realizes he forgot his quick fill tool and only has a cartridge. As a back up he has a mini pump, but, that doesn't seem to work at all. Todd offers his CO2 tool, using Al's cartridge they attempt to inflate. It doesn't work. It appears Todd's device is broken as well. I get my C02 tool out of the pack and successfully inflate the tire. We finally resume riding having spent about one-half hour with the repair.

Following Glenside Avenue through the Watchung Reservation we soon make the turn to the north and undertake a short but steep climb. We ride through the town of New Providence and another short steeper climb brings us into Chatham Township. After only making about seven miles from the control I hear Todd's tire let go while we are stopped at a traffic light. We get off the road and break down the rear tire. The rim tape on the wheel was compromised, one of the spokes poked through the tube. Fortunately, Todd has a tire boot kit which we use to cover the spoke hole. We put everything back together. I get out my CO2 tool and attempt to inflate the tire with no success. The gas will not flow into the tire. I open the tool and all the gas releases into the air. The cartridge was properly punctured, but something is blocking the flow. I try another cartridge with the same result. The tire will not inflate. We are now screwed! Between the three of us we have no way to inflate a tire. Unless we can think of a quick solution our ride is now in serious jeopardy. Todd tells us to leave him and he'll work it out on his own. I decide I would rather blow off the ride than leave a friend forty miles from home with a broken bike. Having some familiarity with the area I conclude there has to be a bike shop somewhere nearby. Al and I set out in search of a shop to buy a C02 tool or a pump. In less than a mile we come upon the Chatham Township Police Station. I suggest we stop in to ask directions to a bike shop. The officer manning the desk directs me to a shop only two miles away. The bad news is they don't open until 12pm. It is now 10:45am. We decide to ride over there in the hope that someone is there early who can help us. We arrive before 11am to a nice bike shop that is locked up tight. The sign on the door confirms the 12pm opening time. I decide to call Todd on his cell to let him know we will wait for the shop to open. He answers and tells me that a passing cyclist, with a pump, helped him out. He is waiting for us at the next cue sheet turn. We ride back to meet him. Upon meeting up with Todd, Al announces today is not his day, he wants to pack it in. He chooses to ride the thirty-seven miles directly back to his car.

Todd and I continue on towards the next control. The remaining 26 miles consist of continuous rolling terrain. Some of the rollers are fairly long requiring a good deal of energy. My initial plan was to take it easy during this stretch, to conserve for the big climbs which would come later. That idea is now out the window as we are facing a control closing time. We've lost at least 90 minutes with the two flats. There may be just enough time to make it if we keep a steady pace, make no stops, and suffer no more mechanicals. We continue our pattern of up and down past the historic park at Jockey Hollow, through Mendham, Mount Freedom, Ironia and Flanders. The rain has stopped and for now the temperature is in a comfortable range, although it is a little humid. Finally, we arrive at the control in Budd Lake which is a Dunkin Donutsl. The closing time is 1:44 we are in at 1:20. We should work this stop like a fire drill, but we are tired, so we spare an extra ten minutes for coffee and a bagel. After which we top off fluids and head out for the next segment.

Budd Lake to Washington

23 Miles

We retrace out of the control facing some more rollers for the first few miles. Then things get somewhat easier. We have gained some elevation on the last stretch so we find ourselves at the top of Schooley's Mountain without a big climb. It stays moderate for awhile, we do our best to make back some time. We arrive at the informational control in Changewater memorizing the answer to the question to save time, we will fill in the cards at the next stop. A few miles past the info control on a flat section of Changewater Road we encounter a black bear. At first sighting I thought it was an enormous dog on the loose. I was actually relieved to see it was a young bear and it seemed only interested in crossing the road. After soft pedaling a bit to give the animal some space we resume our pace. A few small climbs present themselves before the control. They are no problem for us as we've had some recovery on this stretch. We arrive at the control 36 minutes before the closing time of 4:08. We spend twenty minutes refueling before mounting up again.

Washington to Spruce Run

11 Miles

This section is the one that has me the most concerned. It features two of the toughest climbs on the route, both are fairly long. With only 11 miles to cover it is easy to fall behind in time. Especially given that we are working with little to no margin. We have just over an hour to make it to the Spruce Run Control. The first climb, Buttermilk Ridge Road, comes up after only a mile. It is not terribly steep, but it is quite long. Todd puts some distance on me as I grind my way up in a pretty small gear. We re-group at the top of the climb continuing on through Asbury. We pass the familiar Asbury Deli which other New Jersey rides use as a control point. Soon after we arrive at the toughest climb on the course, Ludlow Station Road. I'd decided in advance that I would walk this one. Almost all the riders who have done the route on uprights before me have walked it. I dismount and start the trudge up while watching Todd attempt the climb. He makes it up part way before deciding to walk. Pushing the heavy, cumbersome bent up the hill is no easy chore. I am breathing hard, as well as sweating. Rather suddenly it dawns on me how hot it has become. The walking seems to take forever. Finally, I notice Todd just up ahead getting back on the bike. When I reach that point I notice the grade lessen. I stop walking and remount. I am grateful to start riding again. There is only one climb left before the control. Considerably less significant than the other two, but anything feels hard at this point. Todd is riding up the hill just ahead of me when I notice him sort of freeze up, then clip out having cramped up. As I pass by him I start to feel some twinges in my legs, the beginnings of cramping, but I make it to the top before it happens. Todd walks up and resumes riding. That being the last hill before the control we cover the final two miles easily making it in with 20 minutes to spare. We quickly document our arrival. I'm more confident about our chance of success now that we've made it here. As long as nothing goes wrong we should make it all the way. We spend 20 minutes recovering and refueling.

Spruce Run to Bedminster

25 Miles

We Leave the control just after the closing time retracing our route back to Van Syckle Road passing by the Spruce Run Recreation area. It is after 5pm and quite hot. This section is gentle for the first couple of miles, then becomes quite challenging for the next seven miles. I enjoy the view of the man made lake as we glide by assisted by a slight tail wind. The tranquility ends as we turn onto busy route 31 and negotiate a left accross heavy traffic to a very steep climb up Creegar Road. At the top we turn to the right to descend into the small town of High Bridge. Once through the small downtown area we quickly approach another of the major climbs on the route, Wilson Ave. Typically, I struggle with this fairly steep climb which seemingly goes on forever. This time would be no different as Todd quickly puts a gap on me while I am shifting into the granny gear. I spin my way up to the steep section, so far so good. As the road pitches up I concentrate on keeping Mellow Yellow running straight. Things appear to be going well when without warning the bike veers hard to the right. With no time to react the front wheel impacts the guard rail and I fall to the ground with the bike on top of me. My forearm is smarting pretty good as it banged into the guard rail on the way down. I hear a car coming in my lane up the hill. I am in the road, and I can't get up quickly enough to be out of his way. Without slowing the car veers around me and continues up the hill. I'm a bit surprised that no one rolled down a window to check if I was okay, but, no matter. I untangle myself from the bike and get up. A quick once over on the bike shows no damage of any consequnce. I walk up the hill a bit to a slightly less steep section before mounting up and continuing. Just as I reach the summit of the hill a rain shower dumps cool refreshing water on me. It actually feels quite good. While descending the other side of the mountain on the wet roads I encounter a car speeding up the hill in the middle of the road. He gives up no ground as I pass by forcing me to bounce over some rough pavement at about 35mph. Fortunately, Mellow Yellow is quite stable on descents, riding over the bumps with little deviation in direction. After a few more up's and downs we hit the next climb on Cokesbury Road. This is the last substantial hill on the course. Thereafter is largely gentle terrain the rest of the way to the control. Knowing this doesn't make the hill any easier, nor does the continuing rain which now feels more annoying than refreshing. At the top we make a right on Bissel Road which features a nice descent all the way to the river. We follow the river downstream for about two miles, then follow county roads. We come upon a bridge under construction on Burnt Mills Road. The bridge is being re-built and has been closed for sometime. The detour we have used in the past consists of two miles of dirt roads. With the rain the dirt doesn't seem too appealing. We find a way to get through the fence and notice there is a fresh surface on the bridge which two weeks prior consisted of just beams. We have to walk our bikes weaving through a plethora of construction equipment to traverse the span, but it is certainly preferable to the dirt road detour. after securing the fence on the other side we ride the last two miles to the control which is the Burger King. The control closes at 7:56, we arrive at 7:32. We buy apple pie, which is quickly consumed. We set up with night gear as sunset will occur at 8:05. We are back on the road headed to the finish in less than 10 minutes.

Bedminster to Raritan

7 Miles

This mild rolling section is a straight shot to the finish. The winds are still favorable coming from the southwest. I can smell the barn. It feels good to push a bit here. Other than the three traffic lights at the highways we cross, there is little to slow us down. The rain has stopped, I am actually enjoying the run to the end. We roll into the Quick Check at 8:05pm, 13 hours and 5 minutes from when we left. We quickly document our arrival with the store personell. We are both pretty amped that we got through this ride despite the adversity we faced. We were tight up against the closing times at every control, with exception of the first one. The flat tires, the weather, and the hills, all combined to give the ride an epic feel. Which, at least for me, increased the enjoyment. I imagined we would have finished around the 12 hour mark without the unexpected delays, but it wouldn't have meant as much. I'm five months into my R12, I hope to keep it going.

Stay Tuned!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Princeton - Belmar Princeton -200k Permanent aka PBP

Photo Above: Jon an American Hero from the Bronx at The American Hero Deli
Photo Below: Me and Mellow Yellow at The American Hero Deli, Allentown, NJ

I've been intending to ride this permanent since its approval. I just never seemed to find the open weekend to get it in. My friend Jon called and suggested we ride it together on Sunday, July 26th. I needed a brevet, or permanent, for July if I want to achieve the R12, so the timing of Jon's call could not have been better. I was definitely in.

We decided to start the ride at 6:30am meeting at the Dunkin Donuts in Princeton Junction, where the ride begins. The train station is only a quarter mile away and has twenty-four hour parking available for a fee of $4.00. After some initial confusion I finish the automated parking procedure and unload the recumbent from the van to ride over to the start. Jon was suffering some parking confusion as well. It would turn out that after getting receipts in order to verify the start we would get underway at 6:50am, twenty minutes past our scheduled start time. The weather prediction was for a hot, humid day with the potential for strong thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening. Jon and I agreed to keep the ride brisk and the stops short in the hopes of finishing ahead of the bad weather.

Princeton Junction to Belmar

45 Miles

The first leg, which heads to the southeast to the Jersey shore is almost entirely flat. We start out at a moderate pace and enjoy conversing about other rando exploits. Although Princeton Junction is a busy area there is almost no traffic at this hour. After a nice leisurly warm up we pick up the pace a bit. Soon we are on very quiet rural country roads looking at fields of corn and soy beans. The day is warming up quickly, but there is a light wind at our backs allowing us to exert minimal energy. The miles tick off quickly, but we do miss a couple of turns gaining about four bonus miles on this leg. Despite the navigational errors, soon we are in the slightly more congested area of Wall Township heading due east to the ocean. The traffic is lighter than I would have expected for a summer day at the shore. We negotiate our way through the traffic lights and busy cross streets arriving at Ocean Blvd and the control at Dunkin Donuts. The place is very busy. I grab a Gatorade from the cooler and wait on a long line, that fortunately moves quite quickly. Back outside I down the Gatorade and a peanut butter sandwich that was in m y pack. Jon makes quick work of the stop as well and we are back on the road headed west to New Egypt.

Belmar to New Egypt

35 Miles

After a short ride up Ocean Blvd we turn away from the ocean and dead on into the wind. Which is not devastating, but has picked up a bit. This segment heads west to Allaire State Park and then southwest to New Egypt. The approach to Allaire has one of the few hills on the route. The sun is fairly intense at this point heating us up to the point that the headwind feels refreshing. The climb up to Allaire comes up quickly with legs still fresh we are quickly to the top headed towards I-295 at Oak Glen. This turns up briefly to the north and away from the head wind for a brief time. Right after 295 we turn back the the southeast, into the wind, and pass through Jackson. The traffic remains remarkably light, the rural scenery is pleasant, and despite the ever increasing temperature I am enjoying the ride immensely. We arrive at the New Egypt Wawa in time for lunch. I eat my second Peanut Butter sandwich along with some fresh cherries purchased at the store. We take less than a half hour for the lunch stop. Pleased with the effieciency of the stop we head out for the next leg to Pemberton.

New Egypt to Pemberton

15 Miles

This rather short section goes directly south through the middle of the Fort Dix military facility and McGuire AFB. Just north of the New Jersey Pine Barrens we turn east skirting the lower portion of the military installation. The wind which continues to come from the south is gaining strength making this rather short stretch the most difficult. Given the lack of building structures, or anything else to provide wind block even traveling to the east is difficult with the strong side wind. The town of Pemberton is a welcome sight as that begins our turn to the north putting the wind direction in our favor. The Wawa comes up shortly after the turn. We refill water bottles, get brevet cards verified and get our way within 15 minutes. Another efficient stop.

Pemberton to Cranbury

28 Miles

This section heads almost totally to the north. We pass through the small towns of Gerogetown, Chesterfield, and Crosswicks. Upon reaching Allentown Jon announces he is almost out of water. We begin looking for a convenience store, or deli, but see nothing in the town itself. Just beyond the town as we approach the overpass of I-195, which we will cross for the third time, we spot the American Hero Deli. Jon refills water bottles and I down a Gatorade. I'm noticing how hot it has become, my guess is about 90 degrees and humid. The predicted thunderstorms have yet to show themselves, but the conditions are certainly ripe for such things. After a quick photo opportunity in front of the American Hero sign we continue our northerly trek towards Hightstown. I'm feeling quite energetic from the infusion of Gatorade. The pedals on Mellow Yellow are spinning quite easily at 18mph, which I interpret to mean that it's time for a strong pull. I push into the pedals and pass by Jon, he's been on the front since the deli. He looks over and says; “feeling it are you?” At the front I ramp it up to about 24mph, which actually feels quite good for the moment. Jon is right on my wheel. I keep the pace for the next several miles until the town of Hightstown is reached and we must slow for traffic. We are riding through the town looking for our turn on Old Cranbury Road which will take us into the quaint little town of Cranbury. We ride for a mile or so and I am sure we must have passed it. I tell Jon we should turn around and go back. We do so and again come up empty. Turning back to the original direction we ride a little further past our turn around point and – Voila – there it is. I feel like an idiot for convincing Jon that we needed to go back. We have now accumulated 7 bonus miles. Fortunatley the rest of the way to the finish is on roads I'm familiar with so our navigation troubles are hopefully over, Our final control before the finish is the Cranbury Pizza. It is a mere seven miles from the end. We both grab a water, get our cards stamped, and get on the road. So far we have stayed ahead of the impending thunderstorms, it would be good to keep it that way. The remaining miles to the finish go by smoothly. We get our brevet cards signed at the Dunkin Donuts. Our finish time was 10 hours on the nose. I'm pleased with that given we started late and made some navigation errors. The actual route mileage is 129, my computer showed 136 miles. I enjoyed every one of the seven bonus miles. We make it to our respective vehicles and leave prior to any rainfall. However, strong storms would hit the area some time later, some areas received large hail stones. I felt very fortunate to make it home, dry as a bone, with a good day on the bike under my belt. Unfortunately, Jon had to pull off the road to wait out heavy downpours on his way back to the Bronx. He did eventually make it home safely.

Thanks to my firend Paul for developing this fine permanent. Paul was away on another ride in Boston and could not join us. However, upon his return he rode the route as a solo night ride and finished in 9hrs 30minutes. Hopefully, the opportunity will come again to repeat this ride, maybe even at night.

In the meantime I'm planning on attempting my 200k hilly permanent this coming Sunday. It's never been done on a recumbent. StayTuned!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

NJ Cranbury 600k - Night Start!

Miles =378
Total Time = 35hr 55min
Night Time Riding = 12hrs
Total Elevation Gain= 5,500 ft
Calories Consumed = 10,000
Sleep = 3hrs
Saddle Sores = Zero!!!

Mellow Yellow- I think I love you!

This is my second year as a finisher of the NJ 600k. The difference this time is I participated in the volunteer ride which started the weekend before the event. Also, I would be riding a recumbent this year instead of my Felt F2C upright. We had a total field of five riders. The two organizers, Walt and Bob, along with volunteers Jon, Paul, and yours truly. For scheduling reasons we started the ride on Saturday at 10:00pm instead of the Friday night start the main field of riders will have. .

The route covers a large part of the state with the southernmost point being Stone Harbor on the Jersey Shore. From there the state is traversed east to west to the Delaware Bay. Back inland more rural roads are enjoyed en route to Daretown, then east to Hammonton. The Pine Barrens are crossed for the second time as the roads lead riders to the penultimate control in Vincentown. The final leg features the most hilly part of the route as some rolling terrain and small hills are encountered until the finish at Cranbury. Unlike most long brevets this course is definitely light on the climbing with a total elevation gain below 6,000 feet. What it lacks in climbing it makes up for in scenery and diversity. Of course, there is always the potential for head winds especially in some of the more open farm land regions.

With my rear pack bulging from all the gear I might need for the next 36 hours we set out from the quaint little town of Cranbury for the 54 mile section to Whiting. The temperature is in the low sixties and somewhat humid. The roads are pleasant with light traffic, our initial pace is moderate. We have all ridden together on prior occasions, we enjoy chatting for the first 20 miles or so before picking up the pace a bit. This route is especially good for groups of riders to stay together. The abundant flat terrain favors pacelining. As a group of five we take the opportunity to share the work whenever reasonable to do so. The first opportunity presents itself and we roll at a nice clip into the first control which is the Wawa in Whiting. I opt for a decaf coffee (saving the caffeine effect for when I really need it). I also can't resist a corn muffin which is quickly consumed.

In short order we are back on the road headed for Egg Harbor City. This leg is 43 miles, many of which are though the desolate Pine Barrens. We really make good time here taking turns on the front. Our pace is mostly over 20 mph, at times a bit higher. The absence of traffic allows us to use the center of the lane. A classic example of night riding at it's best. It does not take long before we emerge from the wooded area of the barrens and navigate the remaining few miles to the control, another Wawa. This time I decide I need the caffeine boost. We have covered 98 miles so far. Sunrise happens just as we are preparing to leave.

The next leg is 45 miles to Stone Harbor on the Jersey Shore. We skirt around Atlantic City through Pleasantville and hit the shore at Ocean City. We pass through shore towns which are getting active as the morning gets later. There is much stop and go with traffic lights and busy intersections. I struggle with this as I'm riding with four upright bikes. Their ability to get up to speed quickly after a stop is far better than mine. On each occasion I have to use a lot of energy to catch back up to them. With so much stopping it was taking a toll. I was very glad to get to the Wawa for our third stop of the ride. We sit outside on a brick wall and enjoy an early lunch. We spend a bit of time here recovering before setting out to traverse our way across to the East Point Lighthouse, which is an information control.

The 96th Street Bridge quickly gets us away from the congested beach area streets and headed west towards the Delaware Bay. It is a little more than 32 miles to the information control. This section goes smoothly and before long we find ourselves on a very quiet road carved between high marsh grasses. This road goes on for several miles before we see a lighthouse off to our right. Other than the lighthouse there is nothing else to look at but the marsh grass. Nothing is particularly unpleasant about it other than it is sort of like riding a stationary bike or running on a treadmill. Finally, the road comes to an abrupt end at a gravel parking lot. There are some fishermen with lines in the water off the pier at the end of the lot, and, an abandoned house to the left, otherwise more nothing. We handle the information question and reverse course to follow the same road out. It seems to take a long time to get back to more normal scenery. A mentally difficult section, fortunately it was not terribly long. The remaining 11 miles to the Mauricetown Wawa go by quickly and we find ourselves at the largest and busiest Wawa I have ever seen. The place is huge and just buzzing with activity. There are dozens of motorcycles parked and others coming and going. The noise level is amazingly high. We get food and fluids and make a quick departure headed for Fairton and the control at Eagle Manor.

This section represents 28 miles of mostly quiet country lanes and some county routes with light traffic. We ride easily but make reasonably good time. I am feeling a little sleepy during this stretch, I chew some gum to stay alert which seems to help. Soon enough we arrive at the entrance to the Eagle Manor estate. Given that today is not the official ride date the chain is drawn across and we must walk our bikes around the brick pillars to access the road. It is about one-half mile before the large estate home comes into view. However, our destination is the smaller home next to it. Upon arrival Walt invites us into the kitchen. We are offered a variety of foods, what seems to appeal to me the most is peanut butter and jelly on a whole grain English muffin. It really hits the spot. This stop is an official sleep stop with showers and beds to sleep in. However, we have decided to push on and forego sleep until Hammonton, approximately 60 miles further.

There is one control to get through before Hammonton is reached. It is 32 miles to the Daretown Wawa. The winds have picked up a bit and are definitely not in our favor. Our goal is to make the sleep stop by night fall. Currently, it is late afternoon four-ish and sunset is about 9pm. To facilitate this we take turns at the front. The going is slow, about 14 miles per hour in most places. Given that our direction of travel is pretty much to the north for the next 60 miles I mentally prepare to be grinding like this until the motel is reached. The Daretown Wawa appears, we opt for a quick stop refilling fluids, validating brevet cards, and pushing on.

Feeling good about the briefness of our last stop we continue the grind with 28 miles to go. The same strategy helps us with the constant 10+ mph headwind. While not a back breaker I am finidng this section rather unpleasant and am looking forward to the appearance of the Wawa control, and the Ramada Inn which will be reached soon after. During mentally tough sections I tend to get quiet and go internal. This helps me tolerate, and, since I am not talking I'm not complaining to anyone, bringing them down. My riding companions must use the same approach as they aren't talking much either. Night falls as we come to more congested city type steets indicating we are entering Hammonton. Shortly thereafter the Wawa appears. The strategy here is to buy food for tonight and tomorrow morning and pedal over to the motel to eat in the rooms. With the handles of a plastic grocery bag pulled over my head we head out to route 30 and the Ramada Inn about 2 miles away.

We check into two rooms with Paul, Jon and I sharing one of them. I immediately sit at the table to eat my veggie sub from the Wawa. It is quickly devoured along with a serving of cole slaw. When the shower is available I clean up and change into the sleep clothes I brought with me. My head hits the pillow at 10:30pm. Our agreed wake up time is 1:30am for a 2am departure. I am asleep instantly, this being my first shut eye in in about 38 hours. At precisely 1:30am I am awakened by Jon who says, “lets go for a bike ride.” I chuckle at the absurdity of it all and dutifully go about preparing for our 2am departure.

Outside the motel the weather seems quite pleasant. Arm warmers and leg warmers are all that is needed. We have a total of 100 miles to the finish. Our next control, Vincetown, is 48 miles to the north. The route to get there is through the heart of the Pine Barrens. It will be our second crossing of the wooded expanse, again it will be undertaken in darkness. Our intitial pace is moderate as we leave the small city of Hammonton. I'm feeling pretty good having gotten three hours of solid sleep. Once we hit Rt 563 Walter takes the front and gradually picks up the pace. We fall into line slipping through the night time stillness. Walt stays on the front for the next 11 miles and keeps the pace brisk. When he finally pulls off Bob takes a turn picking up the pace just a notch more and maintains for at least another 11 miles. When he finally pulls off I find myself at the front realizing right away that I will not be able to duplicate either Walt or Bob's effort. I back things down to a docile 17mph which feels hard to me at this point. I hold on to the front, wavering between 15-17mph, until the turn off for Sooy Place which is at the northern section of the barrens leading us to Chatsworth. Soon we are at the control, another Wawa. We all enjoy breakfast as daylight breaks. With only one section left, I can't help but think about the finish. It takes some time for the five of us to get ready to roll, but we are not really pressured for time as we have until 2pm to cover the remaining 53 miles. Certainly, we will not need all of that.

After almost 325 miles of very flat terrain the final leg of the course can be described as rolling to moderately hilly. Even though it slows us up a bit it feels good to me at this point. My riding companions must feel similar as they are charging up the small hills out of the saddle in big gears. My recumbent can't quite sprint up hills but it is quite fast on the downhill sections. I use the downhills to gain as much speed as I can for the run up the next hill. I am able to stay with the group on all except a couple of the steepest climbs which I fall back a bit on only to catch up on the downhill. The variety of terrain helps the final miles pass by quickly. Soon we make the turn on the Main Street of Cranbury headed for the heart of the quaint little town. The public parking area comes up quickly, we turn in at 9:55am for a total time of 35hrs 55 min. My friends congratulate me on accomplishing the series on the recumbent. I'm happy with the accomplishment and decide to celebrate with a nice breakfast at Teddy's Restaurant across the street.

In reflection the ride couldn't have gone much better. Miraculously we avoided wet weather, enjoying moderate temperatures under mostly cloudy skies. Our group of five were very evenly matched on this type of terrain. It was a very stress free experience and one I will remember for a long time. Now that the series is done I will focus my efforts on improving my climbing ability on the bent. There is this 200k permanent route with 8,500 feet of elevation gain that has my interest. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

New Jersey 400k Volunteer Ride - Smokin' in the Pine Barrens

With the hilly New Jersey 200k and the hillier 300k now behind me I continue my quest for the Super Randonneur Series. The upside here is the two remaining and longest rides are basically flat routes that utilize the southern parts of the state. These rides are considerably more recumbent friendly than the prior two.

I had agreed to help my friend Paul who is organizing the NJ 400k by volunteering on the day of the ride. Therefore I am eligible to participate in the volunteer ride, which is simply the identical ride undertaken the weekend prior to the calendar date by those who will be helping out with the ride. Only three of us take the start at the Days Inn in Hightstown. In addition to myself; Paul and Jon are on the ride, who coincidentally are my usual riding buddies. At 4am we depart the hotel parking lot heading south to Batso, in the heart of the Pine Barrens. We negotiate the small downtown area of Hightstown and head south on CR 539. It is foggy and misty with the humidity level quite high. We all need to stow our glasses as they fog up so badly they are useless. Daylight comes about slowly with the overcast skies, by the time we reach Pemberton, near Fort Dix, we are out of darkness, but under cloudy skies. We stop at the Wawa to refill water bottles. Back on the road we head south going through Chatsworth. We pass by Cranberry bogs which is a major crop in the area. The first official control stop is a campground in Batso, this volunteer manned stop will have no one there today. We will have to fend for ourselves for food and liquids, which could prove challenging in the Pine Barrens. We stop in to the campground, located on the edge of the Wharton State Forest, to look around. The approach is soft sand which causes me to immediately fall over. My machine is wobbly at low speed, add an unstable surface and it is downright unmanageable. I walk the bike the rest of the way in, and upon leaving walk back out to the road . We follow the route for another seven miles to the point where we cross US 30 in Ellwood. There is a deli on the corner where we top up fluids again for the 50 mile stretch to Salem.

The sun has now managed to burn it's way through the misty day warming the humid air. Although the Pine Barrens are behind us the area is still sparsely populated. The majority of people live in the northern half of New Jersey leaving the southern portion of the state mostly to farm lands. We pass by miles of blueberry farms with rows and rows of bushes which soon will be bearing ripe fruit. The roads are pleasant with light traffic. We maintain a moderate but steady pace enjoying the day and the scenery. We are faced with an increasing wind from the south which is quite strong when we pass by some of the more open farmlands. Most often on this stretch the wind is hitting us from the side, unpleasant but not daunting. The approach to Salem is an interesting one as Paul described it you go from the country to a quarter mile section of suburbs and then enter the city which consists of about three blocks. Our stop at the Bravo Pizza is a welcome one. The pizza there is actually quite good. After wolfing down a slice Jon and I decide to split another slice. It wound up being just the right amount combined with the bottle of Powerade I consumed with it. Paul gives the owner the heads up that about twenty very hungry cyclists will be appearing there in one week. Since the place was almost empty while we were there I think the business will be appreciated.

We head back out and are quickly back to the farmlands. The winds are bothersome but we are still managing, My spirits are high having just eaten and knowing that we are at the half way mark. Our next stop is the deserted camp ground at Batso again. Our challenge is to find a substitute place to get calories and fluids. We will not be passing by the Ellwood Deli on our way back, so we are hoping something else is around. The day has warmed considerably feeling quite summer like with the high humidity level. Thunderstorms were predicted for late afternoon, given the conditions it seems highly probably that could prove accurate. After a little more than forty miles we reach US 30 again. This time we are at a different point and at first look there is nothing around. We pick a direction (left) and venture in a bit to see what we can find. Within a half mile we find an outdoor farm market that has flowers, fruit and a soda machine. The soda machine has bottled water, of which we buy several, and the only ripe fruit appears to be the apples which we also buy several of. For good measure I eat a Clif Bar along with my apple and down a bottle of water. After the brief break we head for the camp ground which is about seven miles away. We reach the place and stop in, just to make it official. Back on the road headed for the Pine Barrens we come across a deli/liquor store that is open. We stop to get a receipt for proof of passage since there are no volunteers available to sign brevet cards. Paul handles the transaction, while Jon and I are waiting outside. I eat a half a peanut butter sandwich that I've carried in my pack all day and shoot in a Hammer Gel. We had only gone about ten miles since the apple and energy bar, but I still felt hungry. Once underway I feel ready for our second Pine Barens crossing en route to the next stop in Vincentown.

Our direction of travel was such that we were now enjoying a light tail wind. After a couple of miles I started to feel quite energetic. I took the front and picked up the pace a bit with my two companions latching on behind. I'm holding the pace at about 18-19mph but it is feeling way too easy. I juice it up over 20 and still feel there is more left. Paul and Jon are right with me. I go for all of it seeing my computer hit the 23-25mph mark. I entered a zone where I felt I could ride this way forever. I continued the pull for a number of miles, I'm not sure how many, or for how long it went on. I was internal, feeling nothing other than my steady breathing, enjoying the power that somehow found its way to my legs. At some point a request came from behind to please back down a bit. A sensible request as the pace I was setting was somewhat inappropriate with about eighty miles of the route still left to cover. I back down to a more reasonable 18mph which feels quite easy. Soon we are back in the Pine Barrens conversing and enjoying the remaining miles to the control. We predict we can make it in just as night is falling. The last ten miles to Vincentown were difficult for me. Perhaps I should not have pushed so hard earlier, it felt good then, but quite bad now. I've never been happier to lay eyes on a convenience market than I was seeing that Wawa just the other side of US 206. I'm feeling wrecked, as well as hungry and sleepy. I get myself a veggie sub, coleslaw and a bag of baked chips. Perhaps most important is the coffee to go with it. I normally don't use caffeine, only resorting to it on long bike rides. Generally the effect is quite dramatic given I have not built up a tolerance. We all sit outside eating and chatting. It is fully dark now and the air has a slight chill in it with the breeze, but by no means cold. I eat most of my food and consume all of the coffee after which I begin preparing for the final stretch back to Hightstown in the darkness. I change to a long sleeve jersey and full reflective gear. The three of us are ready to depart at the same time. We continue our northern direction with about 40 miles left to cover.

I'm feeling better after the nice break at the Wawa. The coffee has helped my alertness and I have a reasonable amount of energy to pedal the bike. This section of the route has been modified a bit. This is the first test ride of the newly selected roads. We come across some cue sheet discrepancies that take some time to resolve. The most critical being a highway crossing that didn't allow us to travel in the direction specified on the cue sheet. We needed to find a work around. Paul was able to do this with his GPS but it all took some time. One other point of confusion had the three of us split up. Jon and I mistakenly took the wrong choice at a fork in the road while Paul was behind, out of sight, making notes on the cue sheet. We were soft pedaling waiting for him to catch up. When he never came went back to the fork and found him waiting there for us. More time was lost on that minor misadventure. The rest of the new section goes very smoothly. We see lighting off in the distance, but hear no thunder and encounter no rain. Soon we are in Allentown and make the turn onto CR 539 for the final stretch to Hightstown. Other than a couple of overpasses and minor grades this is basically a flat run to the finish. I'm feeling better and pick up the pace a bit Jon and Paul stay right with me. We maintain a nice steady 18 to 20mph for the eight mile stretch into downtown Hightstown. Since no one will be at the finish at the Days Inn we stop at an ATM machine for a time stamped receipt documenting our passage. Receipt in hand the turn on Rt 33 is made, once past the Turnpike entrance the hotel is in sight. We pull in at 12:48 for an overall time of 20:48. The last time I rode this route was in 2006 on a wet day and posted an 18:38. I was riding an upright bike and rode with a group of four, my present companions were in the group. Checking each cue for accuracy adds to the time and trying to document our passage outside of regular controls took time as well. Most importantly we finished well within the legal limit. I enjoyed the ride and the companionship as much as the ride in 2006. In fact, this ride was considerably drier than that one. We were very lucky with the weather. It was raining and cold by the time I pulled the van into my driveway at home.

In retrospect this is a great 400. The lack of hills takes nothing away from this ride as it is likely one will push themselves on the flats. Groups of four, five, or more riders pacelining through the Pine Barrens are a common sight. Although there are very few bumps on the ride that can be called hills, there are plenty of inclines that depending on your riding style will take a toll. I tend to not gear down for inclines I just push harder in the gear I'm in. I felt more beat up from this ride than I did from the very hilly 300k. Hopefully, that is good preparation for the upcoming 600k.

Stay tuned.