Thursday, March 4, 2010

February R-12 - NJ Transit 200k - Revised Route

Photos:  Top - Jon trying to stay warm waiting to depart Budd Lake.  
Bottom - Al with a grim look of determination preparing for the next leg.

I'm starting to get the hang of this R-12 deal. I watched calmly as two major snow falls came through the area leaving over two feet of heavy snow on the ground. Fortunately, the January R12 ride was in the books before storm number one showed up at the end of the month. Storm number two was very early in February, leaving me optimistic about my chances of getting a break later in the month. None the less, I spent some time on the RUSA web-site researching permanents in the warmer climates. A permanent in South Carolina looked particularly inviting. I admit to being seriously tempted. However, before making travel plans I had a bit of an epiphany. I reasoned that earning an R12 might be a sweeter accomplishment if done in one's own back yard, dealing with whatever nature dishes out. Perhaps the real challenge is picking the right opportunity, the right route on the right day. I've become quite proficient at analyzing the weather with quick links to and NOAA on my laptop. I've kept any non-work related commitments to a bare minimum keeping myself free and ready to go when opportunity comes knocking. Having gotten this far into it I've decided to make it or break it at home.

While waiting for the road conditions to return to some semblance of normal. I did three things. Shoveled snow, rode my indoor trainer, and worked on changes to my permanent route. The proposed new route would start/finish in my hometown, instead of Raritan. Also, proposed were some significant changes to three of the segments. I submitted the changes to RUSA for approval. The approval was granted and coincided with a reasonable weather outlook for Sunday 2/21. Given that the route would need an initial test ride it seemed prudent to ride the February R-12 on the revised course. My friend Al agreed to ride it with me despite an epic battle with the old route still fresh in his mind from the prior month. In addition, my buddy from the Bronx, Jon, would join us. Jon would be working on an R-13, or a second R-12.

Sunday morning at 6:30am I departed home on the Salsa Caserole for the less than three mile ride to the new start at Mountain View Plaza. It was the first time I ever rode to the start of a brevet from home. The temperature was in the upper twenties with a light wind from the west. My legs were a little stiff from the commute the day before. I'd only logged 75 miles the prior week and no road miles the week before. I was feeling a little under prepared for a hilly 200k. None the less I was mentally determined to get around it somehow. I arrive at the plaza and immediately spot Al behind his SUV preparing for the ride. Jon arrives moments later. We stop at the convenience market at the corner to document the starting time of our ride. We get underway about 10 minutes passed the 7:00am starting time, which seems to S.O.P. for Permanents. I've not done one yet where we departed on time.

Hillsborough to Summit - 28 Miles
This first section features significant changes. The route now starts about eight miles further to the south. We use a north east approach to the Watchung Mountain Ridge and join the original route quite a bit further to the east than before. The initial 11 miles features mild terrain as we ride next to the canal on Weston Canal Road to South Bound Brook. We then cross the Canal and the Raritan River into the town of Bound Brook. We cross US hwy 22 which brings us to the first significant climb of the day, Morning Glory Road. With fresh legs the climb presents no problem and serves to warm us up. Once at the top we join the old route which follows the lower part of the ridge through Warren and Watchung to deliver us to our second major climb of the day, Sky Top Drive. Again, we have no problem negotiating the three mile ascent to the top of the ridge. Once to the top we quickly reach the town of Summit and the first control at the East Side Deli. The deli is a waiting place for landscape crew workers. The food there is Spanish/Mexican. Jon enjoys a piping hot tamale. I would have tried one but it was not the vegetarian variety. I settle for half a PBJ and a Gatorade. Al, also passes on the cuisine eating a Cliff Bar. Soon we are back underway,

Summit to Budd Lake 33 Miles
This section is unchanged, which some will consider unfortunate given as it is arguably the toughest leg of the route. A relentless succession of sizable rollers serves to take a severe toll on the riders energy level. There is no let up until the control at Budd Lake is finally reached. Additionally, there is generally a head wind. True to form the wind is present today. I notice it most just as I crest the top of a hill. It feels like my brakes are rubbing holding me back. The miles are ticking off quite slowly. About half way to the control Al says that he is considering abandoning the ride at the Budd Lake control. It's kind of a deja vu moment as he made a similar statement on this section last month. I tell him that he doesn't have to decide now, he can wait until we get there. He says he would like to call for a ride in advance so he doesn't have to wait too long to be picked up. Jon encourages him to give it a few more miles before making the call. He agrees with this plan. The topic never comes up again. As we near the control Jon amps up the watts dropping me on one of the bigger hills. I'm feeling beat up and do not even give a thought to chasing him. Al has fallen back a bit so I wait up for him at the next turn which is about a mile from the control. We roll in together both of us happy to be at the Dunkin Donuts for a much needed rest. Jon is waiting for us at a table inside. After a coffee and bagel I, for one, am feeling much better. Al seems to have recovered as well and prepares to continue. I take a photo of Jon and Al outside the store as we prepare to leave. The wind chill is making us feel quite cold.  As the photos show no one has a happy face at this moment.

Budd Lake to Hampton 25 miles
This leg of the route is unchanged to the point the information control is reached at Changewater. With rested legs we undertake the few remaining hills which come about right away, then the terrain eases for awhile. It is a short 17 miles to the info control. We make pretty good time having no knee breaking climbs to contend with. We find ourselves in front of the church at Changewater. We provide the required information on the brevet card and prepare to follow the new eight mile section of the course to Hampton. I had fully intended to come out and ride this new stretch while waiting for RUSA to approve the revisions. Unfortunately, with the distance from home, and the relentless bad weather, I wasn't able to get it done. So, the three of us would be test pilots venturing into the unknown. I'm hoping the roads I selected using Google maps are at least paved. Jon decided at this point that he would pick up the pace to the finish as he needed to be done at a specific time. Knowing we would not keep up we say goodby. I was glad that he could ride with us for as long as he did. Getting back to NYC on a Sunday night is no easy deal. Immediately after leaving the church we hit Forge Hill Road which is quite a climb. I would estimate at least a 15% grade. Fortunately it is not terribly long and it is nicely paved. As an added bonus it has some scenic value. It's a keeper. We watch as Jon motors up ahead. I marvel at his climbing ability and energy level. The rest of the route to the Hampton control is mostly flat, or downhill, and features nicely maintained roads. Jon is still at the Tiger Mart/Dunkin Donuts when we pull in. He is just preparing to leave so we say goodbye once again not expecting to catch back up to him on the next section. Al and I spend a leisurly half-hour refueling and resting at this control. There are still some big climbs in front of us and I admit to feeling sub-par at this point. None the less we end the break and depart headed for the town of High Bridge.

Hampton to Bedminster 24 Miles
This section of the course is unchanged. It features some flat terrain passing by the Spruce Run Resevoir then gets pretty gnarly for about seven miles after that. I'm not feeling tip-top on the first few miles and am worried about the big climbs. I've had some leg twinges, which for me is genrerally a warning that leg cramps are not far off. We turn onto Route 31 for a few hundred feet before turning off on Creegar Road, which is a short steep kicker. We then descend into the small town of High Bridge. We pass through the downtown area and head for the biggest climb of the day, which is Wilson Ave. I'm nervous about getting up this hill. If I'm going to cramp this will be where it will happen. As I make the turn and see the steep pitch to the roadway I drop into my lowest gear. My intention is to climb very conservatively. Al gets ahead of me and is climbing at a faster pace. I block out the impulse to try and stay with him. I have to let him go and concentrate on keeping myself together. I make it up about halfway when my left inner thigh cramps up. I manage a quick dismount and immediately begin walking. The muscle continues to cramp while I'm walking up the hill. I see Al make it over the top of the hill as I continnue my painful trek up. Once I am almost to the top I remount and begin spinning in my easiest gear, the muscle finally relaxes. I start down the descent knowing full well that the road pitches up once again shortly. Herman Thou Road is the second phase of this climb. Same road, different name, similar elevation profile as the first. I have the same trouble with cramping only this time it's less painful when I walk up the last section of the hill. I take that as a good sign. After another descent I meet up with Al. He's been waiting at the next turn. There are still two more climbs ahead of us. Neither as severe as the twin hills of Wilson and Herman Thou, but sustantial enough, especially given my situation. We quickly make the turn onto Haytown Road, the first of the two remaining hills. As soon as I hit the upgrade I gear way down spinning up the hill as gently as I can. I make it to the top without cramping. Next up Cokesburry Road, the final climb of the day. I use the same technique and have a similar cramp free experience. I now know there is nothing else ahead that can hurt me. With plenty of time still in hand I'm feeling confident of a finsh. The remaining few flat miles to the control pass by quickly. We pull into the Burger King just as daylight is leaving us. A short break for coffee and apple pie and we are back on the road for the final leg.

Bedminster to Hillsborough 16 Miles
The roads on this final stretch are unchanged to the town of Raritan. From the Burger King control we head south on Country Club Road for seven miles into the small train station town of Raritan. We pass by the Quick Check Market, which was the former start/finish control.  The revised route then continues south along the river into Hillsborough Township.  With the exception of a couple of small hillocks the terrain is mostly flat to the end.  I'm feeling fully recovered and am pulling us along at a nice pace. It is fully dark and there is little traffic.  The temperature is falling, but I'm still feeling comfortable. There are only a few turns and a few miles left to the finish.  I check the time noticing we have a chance to finish in under 13 hrs.  I tell Al I would like to pick it up a bit for these last few miles.  He admits to feeling pretty beat up but agrees to give it a try.  I take the front and notch it up maintaining between 19-22mph.  I'm surprised at how good I'm feeling despite working hard I'm in no distress.  Al hangs in on my rear wheel right to the finish where we pull up in front of the Pizza Shop.  Our finish time is 12hr 58min which is more than a half hour faster than our time last month using the old course.  Inside Joe's Pizza we collect Jon's brevet card which he left in the care of the counter guy and order a couple of slices.  Jon finished in 12hrs picking up almost an hour on us in the last 40 miles.  I send a text message to my wife letting her know we finished and I'll be home soon arriving the same way I left.......on my bike.

Overall I was pleased with the newly revised NJ Transit route.  I think the spacing of the big hills was better and the removal of the ridiculously difficult Ludlow Station climb was a plus.  Although I wasn't able to make all the hills today without walking I will on a good day.  The cramping was disturbing but I'm prone to it hilly when I haven't trained enough.  It might have helped if I kept up with the Endurolyte tablets that I normally take at each control.  I took two at the first control at Summit and accidentally dropped the container spilling all the pills on the ground.  None the less, I will make an effort to ramp up the training and get back to consistant commuting.  Hopefully, there won't be too many more winter storms to contend with.

Eleven down - one to go.  Stay tuned! 


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