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!