Friday, January 15, 2010

January R12 - New Jersey Transit 200k Permanent

Al by the frozen Watchung Lake

Yours truly - same location - wishing I had my mittens

This month's ride would serve two different purposes. One would be to fulfill my January R12 requirement. The second would be to erase the scar from an old DNF for my friend Al which occurred on this same route. The DNF was a result of a crash which happened 110 miles into the ride. Al and I were pace-lining on a slight downgrade when he suddenly went down. He suffered a concussion and was unable to finish. After seeing he was in the hands of capable EMT's I went on to finish the remaining 15 miles alone. That was almost three years ago and it was Al's first attempt at a 200k. I knew it bothered him that he didn't get to finish it. When I learned of a favorable weather forecast for Thursday, which coincided with a day off from work. I contacted Al asking if he wanted to take another crack at it. He quickly agreed and we were on for an 8:00am start.

Raritan to Summit 28 Miles
It was a chilly 20F at 8:00am in the quaint little town of Ratitan. We grab a cup of coffee at the Quick Check Market while we were getting our brevet cards documented. We get underway about seven minutes late which doesn't really bother me since we have 13 1/2 hours to finish the 126 mile course. Little did I realize how close it would be.

The early miles are fairly easy as the route heads north to Bedminster then turns to the east towards our first control in the town of Summit. The initial six miles are on Country Club Road which features a few small to medium rolling hills. The little hills help me warm up my core and legs. However, after a few miles my fingertips are quite cold. After the turn onto Washington Valley Road the terrain is fairly flat for the next sixteen miles. Even though the sun is starting to warm me up my fingers are going numb. As we pass by Watchung Lake I notice it is frozen solid. I can't resist the photo opportunity. We stop for just long enough to take a photo and push on. After about three miles we come upon Sky Top Drive, the first substantial climb of the day. This is a reasonably gentle three mile incline to the Top of the Watchung Mountain Ridge. I usually enjoy it, but today I absolutely love it as it serves to totally warm me including my fingertips, which were wavering between stinging cold and numb. Once to the top we are just a few turns to the control at the East Side Deli. We arrive feeling quite comfortable and with plenty of time in hand. I get my card signed, have a Clif Bar, a Gatorade and we head on to the west.

Summit to Budd Lake 33 Miles
This section wins the award for the most relentless leg of the course. There is no major climb just a seemingly never ending succession of large rollers. One would think that a town named Summit which is atop the Watchung Mountain Ridge would be at a higher elevation than a town named Budd Lake, but that is not the case. Budd Lake is 700 feet higher in elevation. The first of the big rollers start coming as we go through Madison, Chatham Township and Mendham. Some are more tolerable than others, but all them serve to tap the energy reserves. Al begins to falter a bit, starting to fall back. Having ridden with him for a fairly long time I can tell he is suffering. He really hasn't trained specifically for this type of ride. After all I did just contact him four days before. About halfway through the segment I start looking at the time. At our current pace we will make the control in time, but there will not be much of a cushion. While in my opinion this part of the route is the most punishing there is still much climbing to be done further on. At the top of one of the hills Al mentions that he doesn't see how he can finish. I sense he is regretting his decision to take the ride on. In the last mile to the control he asks if this is the town with a train station. Time for a white lie. I tell Al there is none. The truth is I really don't know if they have one, but I do know they don't have one on the line that runs past our starting point. I don't want Al to pack it in here. I feel he still has a chance at finishing. We arrive at the control 45 minutes ahead of the closing time. I'm also feeling the effects of the previous thirty miles. I will need to take in calories and fluids before moving on, but time is something we need to keep on a eye on. We spend about 20 minutes refreshing ourselves at Dunkin Donuts before continuing our western trek.

Budd Lake to Washington 23 Miles
The first few miles of the leg feel the same as what we just finished, but then things soften. There are still some hills later on but more of the kinder gentler variety. I'm hoping we can pick up a little time on this segment as we have no room for error. A flat tire or other mechanical issue will be a show stopper. Al is making the good effort to pick up the pace a bit. I'm sure he is still hurting but trying hard not to show it. Initially, he was following along on the cue sheet, but is now focusing all his effort on riding. Which is fine. I'm fairly comfortable navigating us around the route. We roll through Schooley's Mountain, fortunately we are already at the top and only need to descend into the valley and the town of Califon. We stop briefly in Changewater at the information control which is a church sign. At the outskirts of Washington we climb Skyview Drive, a short but steep little kicker. Finally we hit Route 31 and roll on that for a mile into the control at the Bagelsmith Market. We did pick up a little time as we are 48 minutes ahead of the closing time. I suggest to Al that we be brief as the next section is only 11 miles long and features two major climbs. We keep it to about 20 minutes including setting up for night riding. Sunset is in about a half hour.

Washington to Hampton 11 Miles
After only a mile of warm up on Route 31 we turn off onto Buttermilk Ridge Road. This is a fairly substantial climb, but not the worst we will be facing. Al climbs right with me as we both opt for our small triple chain ring to grind our way up. Once on top there is a long descent as we drop into the quiet little town of Asbury. After another two miles we approach the toughest climb on the route, Ludlow Station Road. The steepness of this grade has forced almost every rider who has passed this way to walk, for at least a portion of it. I only know of two who have managed to stay on the entire way. We are in full darkness but I can still manage to see the wall of the hill up ahead. I've been meaning to get my bike in for a tune-up as the chain will not stay on my 27T cog. All day it has been jumping off onto the 24T. The bike sat idle in the garage for much of a year while I rode the recumbent known as Mellow Yellow. I start up the hill in the small ring, which also requires some finesse to get the chain to drop on to. I get about 20 percent up thinking that maybe I can make it all the way, joining the ranks of the select few who have done so. It doesn't take long for that dream to fade as I find a driveway to bail into and clip out. I start the trudge up, which is almost as hard as riding. I see Al just behind using his two foot gear as well. When we reach a less severe section near the top of the hill we remount and continue on. There is only one more, not so bad, climb left before the control. I look down at my computer to check the mileage and notice it is not registering. It was working fine all day but now it is displaying 0 miles per hour and the odometer appears to be stopped at 85 miles. It must have stopped working shortly after leaving the Washington control but I didn't notice until now. From a practical standpoint we can't afford to take any time to diagnose and rectify the problem. I'm figuring I can navigate the rest of the route without a working odometer given my familiarity with it. But, on the other hand almost any navigational error would prove to be fatal. We climb the final bump with Al hanging right in there with me. From here it is a flat three mile roll into the control which is the Tiger Mart/Dunkin Donuts by I-78 in Hampton. We arrive 18 minutes before the closing time. The course has taken a toll on the both of us. It takes about five minutes to get documented and we spare a few minutes for a fast beverage. Al has not mentioned wanting to pack it in since the one time in Budd Lake. He's making every effort to stay ahead of the clock, and appears determined to finish. I've ridden with him long enough to know that when he decides he wants it he'll get it done.

Hampton to Bedminster 25 Miles
We depart the Tiger Mart with just a few minutes left in hand. To make matters worse after a few miles of gentle terrain passing by the Spruce Run Reservoir we will be dealing with some major climbing. I tell Al we need to somehow find a second wind on this stretch to make it. We tackle the first easy miles quickly. We turn onto busy route 31 having to make a quick left onto a steep upgrade, Creager Road. We catch a break in the traffic and grind up the steep climb. We then have a long descent into the town of High Bridge, which does have a train station on the Raritan line. Al makes no mention of it as we pass right by the depot crossing the tracks. We wend our way through the small downtown section of High Bridge on our way to the killer climb which is Wilson Ave. Just outside of town we make the right turn onto the hill. It pitches up quickly getting steeper as it goes up. I select my easiest functioning gear and grind up about halfway remaining in the saddle. After my legs really start to tire I stand for a bit and then resume the seated position. This is a tough hill to take on at mile 106. Once at the top it drops down for a bit. I don't see Al behind me, but am confident he is somehow getting up the hill. I descend conservatively in the dark as the road surface is not the best. At the bottom of the descent the road starts up again under a new name; Herman Thou Road. I wonder if Mr Thou and Mr Wilson are aware of all the pain caused to cyclists by the roadways that bear their names. It's kind of a crazy thought, but I am tired so it's acceptable, at least to me. After the climb and subsequent equally conservative descent. I reach a stop sign intersection where the cue sheet has us making a left and then right. I wait there for Al. In a few minutes he appears by my side and we continue. With the two turns complete we find ourselves on Haytown Road which unfortunately is another substantial climb. Once at the top we descend for what seems like a very long way arriving at another stop sign. I know by memory that this is Cokesburry Road a major climb. But, the good news is it is the last serious climb on the route. We grind up it together, but ever so slowly. It takes quite awhile to reach the turn off to Bissell Road which for the first time in awhile is more downhill than up. I've not been bothering to check the time during the hilly parts as I figured there is nothing much we could do to change anything. Once we are on flat ground I will calculate what we need to do to make it to the control in time. After descending Bissell we turn right on Rockaway Road which runs along the river. We are headed down stream so the terrain is now in our favor. We run this for the next two miles and then deal with a few smaller hills on Femely Road. After which we knock off two more flat miles and then make the turn onto Burnt Mills Road. From here it is a four mile run to the control on all flat road. I do the math and tell Al that we need to average at least 15 miles per hour for the next four miles to arrive 15 minutes before the closing time. I put what I have left into the pedals and take the lead. Al is right on my wheel. I can't tell how fast I'm going with my non-working computer but my guess is about 17mph. Not great, but it is night and I am tired so it will have to do. After about two miles my Dinotte headlight goes out. The battery has run down. I have a spare one in my pack but can't take the time to change it now. I ask Al to take the lead which he does. He holds the pace I was keeping and I follow behind a little to the left to use his light to see ahead. We arrive at the control 18 minutes before the cut off. Our control here is a Burger King. We need to order something so we have a printed, time stamped receipt. I gamble that it can't take very long to get a piece of apple pie so I order that and coffee which is self serve. Al duplicates my order. Pie and receipt in hand I sit at a table for about one minute wolfing down the warm dessert. Then I take my coffee outside with me to change my light battery. With the new battery in place we start the final 6.5 miles to the finish.

Bedminster to Raritan 6.5 Miles
We have about 30 minutes to work with. There are no hills larger than small rollers which won't slow us much. On the other hand it is night and there are three highway intersections with long traffic lights. One of which can take up to three minutes. We make a solid effort at a brisk pace. At least it feels fast to me, but I don't have a working speedometer. Whatever it is it will have to do. We are both right together and I'm impressed with Al's cadence. He is managing a fast spin on these final miles. On one of the little rollers it was all I could do to stay up with him. Unbelievably my headlight goes out again. Al agrees to take the front again. My spare battery apparently was not charged up very well which is another stupid mistake on my part. When we hit the first of the three highway intersections I check the time. We have a 1.5 miles left and close to fifteen minutes. We should make it. Upon pulling into the control we lay up the bikes and rush in to get documented. I grab a bag of chips on the way to the register with Al following suit. Fortunately, there is no line and we quickly have documentation showing us in six minutes before the cut off. I hear a familiar voice behind me and turn to see my wife. She was following the Tweets I'd been posting to Twitter throughout the day and decided to surprise me by meeting us at the finish. It just doesn't get any better than that.

I never remember being happier at the finish of a ride. I'm actually happier for Al's accomplishment than I am for having gotten my January R12 on the record. I felt if he had not finished it would be a sour experience for him. After a number of years trying to recruit him into randonneuring he was just now starting to get a true appreciation for it. It's hard for anyone to understand this type of riding until they have a finish under their belt. Al now has two. With hopefully, many more to follow.

Things I've learned while undertaking the R12 this year is that I've become too casual with preparation. Starting the ride with bike and equipment in top working order is a key element to successful randonneuring. The last two rides I've had to work through various problems. I later discovered that my malfunctioning computer was because of my new Dinotte headlight. One of the cardinal rules of brevets is to not use anything you haven't tested on a long ride before. The new light somehow interfered with the wireless computer and I didn't know it would happen. Also, I wasn't counting on the battery life to be so much shorter than that of my former light. Worst of all starting a tough ride with wonky gears is just stupid.

In addition, I'm giving some thought to softening my permanent route. Since many permanents are undertaken during the winter season, when we are not as well trained, it seems foolish to feature one with 8500 feet of climbing. I've reviewed the maps and have a modified route in mind that will take out the short extremely hilly leg from Washington to Hampton. In addition, the Washington control can be removed eliminating over two miles of riding on a busy highway. The third bonus to the change is a relocate of the start/finish closer to home. Preferably, at a spot that has more available parking then the busy train station town of Raritan. I'll be working on this over the coming months. Stay tuned!

Ten down Two to go!