On Saturday at 4am I and two other volunteers, Paul Shapiro and Jon Levitt, left Princeton Forrestal Village to undertake the Princeton 300k route. Known as the volunteer ride, or pre-ride, the purpose is two-fold. Firstly, a final check of the entire route and cue sheet. Secondly, the riders, who will be volunteering on the day of the scheduled event, receive official RUSA/ACP credit for the ride.
Rain was predicted for much of the day, but up until the starting time none had fallen. Similar to the start of the P-200 the first drops of rain started falling just as we were prepared to leave. Rain jackets were quickly donned and the three of us began the first section to Whitehouse Station. After a few minutes the light rain became somewhat heavier and then finally an absolute downpour. It was difficult to see as we rode along CR 601 in Hillsborough Township. It was beginning to look as if this would be a very long and trying day. The first 30 miles to the Whitehouse control begins on flat roads heading north up Canal Road, then west through Hillsborough, South Branch and Neshanic. Some rolling terrain is encountered on Fairview and Summer Roads just after the quaint little town of Neshanic. Route 202 is crossed at Three Bridges. Somewhere along this point the rain stopped and we easily navigated the remaining roads to the control stop at the Whitehouse Mall. The Bagel Junction was ready for us with hot coffee and warm, fresh out of the oven, bagels.
The next segment is a long trek to the northwest to the town of Blairstown. We cross US 22 at Whitehouse heading towards Oldwick. We are on Rockaway Road for awhile with the river on our right. We’re headed upstream so it’s a gradual uphill to the town of Mountainville. It rains on us again for a brief time. Not as heavy as before and fortunately brief. Guinea Hollow Road delivers the first climb of the day. While not one of the four big climbs my legs do feel it. We then hit CR 512 and head west to Califon. This is a fast and smooth downhill section for which my joy is only hampered by the thought that it will be climbed much later in the day when we head back through here. The only way out of Califon is up, which brings us to Sliker Road, again not one of the big four, but memorable just the same. The other side of Sliker is Point Mountain Road which is a very twisty downhill. While the surface is essentially good there is grit in the road on many of the turns, we decide to take it conservatively and survive. State highway 57 is crossed at Mansfield Township, where we hit a short but steep uphill before turning onto gentle terrain for the remaining miles to Hackettstown.
Just a few miles past Hackettstown the first of the major climbs looms. Ryan Road is the shortest of the big climbs but the steepest. We grind over the top to then tackle the somewhat tricky descent on the other side. Once on flat ground we enjoy the view of the chicory and sod farms of Allumuchy Township. The terrain is docile for a bit. It is good to conserve energy here as there is much more climbing yet to come. We manage a steady but moderate pace through the little town of Johnsonburg on through to SR 94. We are on 94 for a very brief time as the turn for the Stillwater loop is quickly reached. This twelve mile piece is the northernmost point of the route. As is typical with northwest New Jersey it is quite hilly. The most notable climb is Sunset Lake Road, it goes on for quite awhile. The redeeming factor is the peaceful setting and nice scenery. The end of the loop drops us onto Main Street in Blairstown. Our control is just down the street on Route 94. We purchase lunch foods at Dale’s Market and head across the street to Foot Bridge Park to enjoy our food on one of the park benches. The weather is taking a noticeable turn for the better. The sun is shining and the temperature range is in the mid to high sixties. We apply sun screen and remove some layers of clothing before heading out to tackle major climb number two, Jenny Jump.
The route from the Blairstown control to Jenny Jump was just revised to detour around Ackerman Road, which is closed for re-paving. The new roads are very nice to ride with some small to medium hills and pleasant scenery. Soon we turn in to the entrance of Jenny Jump State Park and begin the long climb to the top. This two mile climb has a few steep sections that really take a toll. Fortunately, once over the top the next several miles that follow are on milder terrain. The mild part ends abruptly with a steep uphill on Westerveld Road en-route to the tiny town of Port Colden. After which more mild terrain brings us to Washington and SR 57. The next turn, off of SR 57, presents big climb number three, Penwell Road. This is a six-mile grind to the top of Schooley’s Mountain. There is a one mile steep section followed by five miles of more gradual climbing. Many veterans of the series believe this to be the toughest climb on the route. It seemed so to me on this day as the hill just wouldn’t end. There are numerous false peaks in the last mile. I kept thinking each one was the end only to be faced with another. When finally the intersection of Schooley’s Mountain Road came into view I was ready for a break. Conveniently my two riding companions were waiting for me at the General Store right after the turn. I’m riding the recumbent and am climbing quite slow. Paul and Jon were nice enough to wait after all the climbs. They had Gatorade and food all ready for me when I arrived. I sat on the covered porch and enjoyed the respite. With 24 miles remaining before the next control, and another big climb, the stop was much needed. The next ten miles to the town of Califon are moderate. We enjoy a nice fast descent on Naughright Road. The descent is smooth, fast and curvy but somewhat hampered by an abrupt turn to be made onto Fairview Ave. Soon we make the turn onto CR 513 for the remaining five miles to Califon. This is a pleasant section of road with a light tail wind it can be heavenly. Once in the small town of Califon we join CR 512 and begin the final big climb of the day. This late in the ride the climb feels quite tough. It’s steep enough, or I’m tired enough, that I use my granny gear to make my way up. My friends are again waiting patiently at the top. I’m kind of longing for my upright bike at this point, but I vowed to see the season through on this machine. It's just frustrating to know I would be climbing much faster on any of my other bikes. The remaining miles to the control are not especially difficult. Some rolling hills are encountered but nothing tough to climb. We make our way without incident to the control at Hacklebarney State Park. On the calendar date of the ride there will be much activity here with volunteers to greet the riders and food at the ready. But, today there is no one, so we simply pull in to the park eat an energy bar and move on. I have a sense of relief now that all the major climbing is behind us.
Some rolling hills remain between the park and the town of Pottersville. Again, nothing tough to climb, but with over 140 miles in the legs any hill is noticed. Once into Pottersville the terrain really becomes gentle. We are headed down river on Black River Road and it is easy going. We make good time through this stretch and arrive at the crossing of US 22 and Whitehouse Station for the final 30 miles to the finish. The roads used at this point to deliver riders to Princeton Forrestal Village are the same as the outbound miles. The one change is the return control is at Three Bridges. We pass by the Whitehouse Mall, where we stopped many hours ago for breakfast. We are still enjoying daylight. The sun, although low in the sky, has stayed predominant for most of the day. Once through Whitehouse Station we hit some rolling terrain on the quiet roads that lead to US 202 and the control at the Wawa Market. One of my companions would state that no bike ride is complete without a Wawa stop. The final control would meet the requirement nicely. We make quick work of the food and beverages. We then don our night riding gear for the impending darkness. It is still light when we depart for the remaining 22 miles, but nightfall will make an appearance soon. We complete Summer Road and Fairview Road and quietly pass through the little village of Neshanic. It seemed like so long ago we rode through here in the pre-dawn darkness. There was enough light left for us to appreciate this peaceful little spot. Soon after crossing the Elm Street Bridge darkness finally overtakes us. We become UFO’s again with our lighting systems and reflective gear confusing motor vehicle drivers. With the smell of the barn my energy reserves kicked in and we were able to maintain a nice brisk pace for the final easy miles to the finish. We pulled into the lot at Forrestal Village with a total time of 17hr 48min. My riding partners would have finished quite a bit sooner, but they had chosen to wait for me as I slogged up the many hills on the route. I much enjoyed and appreciated the companionship. Certainly it would have been a much harder day undertaken alone. I was pleased with my result as it was proportionately faster than my 200k time three weeks earlier. I was never under the pressure of the clock as I always had more than an hour in hand. I spent much time the prior two weeks training in the hills. Although I'm still climbing slow there appears to be some improvement. Also, I'm less beat up after tough rides. There is hope for me yet.