View of Downtown Salem, NJ the half way point
On Sunday May 23rd six riders gather at the Hightstown Days Inn to undertake the NJ 400k pre-ride, or volunteer ride as it’s known. The purpose of the ride is two fold. First and foremost is to check the route for hazards, road closures, etc, while testing the cue sheet for errors. Secondly, the ride allows those who are helping with the event to receive official credit for the distance even though done in advance of the actual scheduled date. At 4am organizer Paul Shapiro along with volunteers Katie Raschfdorf, Janice Chernekoff, Jon Levitt, Walt Pettigrew and yours truly depart Hightstown for points south.
Hightstown to Button Hill Campground 65 Miles
It is a pleasant 63 degrees with some humidity. The weather forecast calls for off and on showers throughout the day. With my rain gear safely stuffed in the rear pack I head out with the group in the pre-dawn darkness knowing it will be dark again when I return. Katie and Janice opted to ride at their own pace so the four of us pulled past them just beyond the downtown section of Hightstown. The riding conditions were quite nice. I found myself enjoying the quiet stillness of the early morning hour as we headed towards the first control in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. We cross I-195 and pass through Allentown heading towards the Fort Dix/Maguire military installation. Which upon our arrival we are greeted with daylight. We continue our southerly trek to Chatsworth which begins what is known as the Pine Barrens region. We enter the Wharton State Forest on CR 563 which leads us to Green Bank. Lots of canoeing and Kayaking takes place in this area as a well known estuary is nearby. From there we turn west onto CR 542 into Batso Village and the remaining couple of miles to the control at the Buttonwood Camp Ground. On the day of the ride there will be volunteers with food and beverage at the ready when riders arrive. Today there is nothing here, so after looking around the place briefly we push on in search of a commercial establishment. We follow the route to CR 623 and continue through Pleasant Mills and into Ellwood, where at the crossing of SR 30, White Horse Pike, we come upon the Elwood Deli. The rustic little place serves us well as we replenish fluids and intake a few calories. The temperature is up near seventy at this point so I opt to lose the arm warmers for the next leg. I notify Katie and Janice the location of the deli but they reply that they are turning back at Batso to enjoy a somewhat shorter day on the bike.
Button Hill Campground to Salem 55 Miles
Leaving the deli behind we head west towards the state of Delaware. Our control stop in the town of Salem is on the New Jersey side of the river. We notice the wind has picked up quite a bit giving us a fairly strong push from behind. This makes for some nice fast riding as we pace line our way past the cranberry and blueberry farms. We are keeping a nice average speed, but know that unless there is a shift in direction we will have to face a strong headwind on our return route. For the time being it doesn’t dampen our spirits as we enjoy the scenery change from the woods of the barrens to the open farmlands. So far we have encountered only a few sprinkles of rain. The rain gear remains in the pack. This is perhaps the most enjoyable leg of the route for me. The lightly traveled roads and open views of the area bring about a tranquil feeling. We continue our pace lining efforts with each of us taking turns at the front. While it requires a bit more effort on the front of the line I am enjoying my time there as it offers the best opportunity to look at the scenery not having to keep a constant eye on the rider in front. Although, as in most parts of our state one does need to keep watch for pot holes (more on this subject later). We pass through Alloway which has a lake somewhere and a lot of farms like the rest of the region. We encounter a brief shower that lasts only for a few minutes. Soon thereafter the outskirts of Salem appear and we are quickly in the down town area. The town is quiet on a Sunday. We find ourselves as the only lunch customers in the Bravo Pizza and Pasta, which is our control. The other years I’ve done this ride I’ve always enjoyed the pizza here. It doesn’t disappoint this time either. This stop is almost the half-way point at 120 miles. I enjoy the food, the rest and chatting with my ride companions.
Salem to Button Hill Campground 55 Miles
After the nice break we set out. We’re headed back to the pine-barrens region via a slightly different route than the outbound, although we are on some of the same roads for periods of time. As soon as we leave the city limits of Salem I immediately notice the headwind. I knew it was coming, and mentally prepared, but unfortunately my legs aren’t all that thrilled about it. I take my turn at the front, after which I feel blown up. This next section becomes my low point of the ride. I am not able to pull much. My fellow riders pick up the slack for me, giving me a lot of time to sit in the draft. I’m looking forward to the wooded sections of the barrens where our direction becomes more northerly, and there will be trees to block the wind. I watch as our average speed slowly dips from 16.7 mph to 16.5 mph. There is no way to keep the same pace as the outbound. A strong shower douses us for about five minutes and then stops. I notice as the passing showers move in the wind increases like squalls. The temperature is warm enough that it doesn’t pay to don a rain jacket. It’s easier to just get wet and then air dry when the shower ends. We decide that we will need a food stop in lieu of the empty campground at Batso. We detour off route to the town of Hammonton and stop at the Wawa, which is a control on the NJ 600k. I badly need this stop and eat heartily in an attempt to regain my prior energy level. It showers hard while we are sitting outside eating. Fortunately, we are sheltered under the roof overhang. The rain ends shortly and without delay we head back out towards our next stop in Vincentown.
Button Hill Campground to Vincentown 37 Miles
We work our way back to the route and into the pine-barrens. As anticipated the wind is not as difficult here. We continue with the pace lining and I begin taking some pulls feeling a little better. Walt, Jon and Paul are all taking longer and stronger turns at the front than me, but at least I feel like I’m contributing something. As we get to Chatsworth Walt hits a viscous pot hole and gets pinch flats on both tires. We pull off in front of a house to undertake the repair. I assist by putting a new tube in the front while Walt attends to the rear. It all goes pretty efficiently with Paul assisting by pressuring up one of the tires. There are little bugs eating away at us so we can’t wait to leave. With everything back together we start to head off when Paul yells from behind that he has a flat. After pulling apart the rear tire he finds a puncture in the tube and a sharp stone in the tire. The repair goes quickly, partially motivated by our desire to get away from the bugs. Just prior to leaving we get a call from Katie and learn that her and Janice have made it safely back to Hightstown. With all punctures repaired we continue on our way. Soon we find ourselves on Sooy Place Road which heads west away from the barrens. Even though the winds have subsided some west is a nice direction to be headed. I am beginning to enjoy the ride again feeling somewhat renewed from the food and the rest. We soon find ourselves crossing route 206 and pull into the Vincentown Wawa for our final rest before the finish. It is turning dark so we plan to leave with night gear and lighting on. While we are taking our break in the front of the store it rains hard. Again the roof overhang keeps us dry. The temperature is dropping making me feel a bit chilly. I decide to leave there with arm warmers and a wind vest for the final leg. The rain is reduced to a sprinkle as we depart for the final leg.
Vincentown to Hightstown 39 Miles
This next section is the most difficult to navigate. The cue sheet is very accurate, but it is night, there are a lot of turns, and we are all pretty tired. Fortunately, Paul has the GPS functioning to keep us on track. We follow the cue sheet as well to check it, but I confess to having a little trouble focusing. Although, between the four of us we manage to check all the cues and find they work fine. The roads selected are pleasant and mostly free of traffic. We stay on the quiet country lanes until Allentown where we cross I-195 and make a bee line for Hightstown on county roads. The rain picks up seriously as we near Hightstown. Then absolutely buckets for the last couple of miles to the finish at the Day’s Inn. I am very pleased to be done. Our finish time is 19hrs 30min, well below the 27 hour limit. I’m pleased with the outcome. Especially given that I felt rough for part of the time.
This is indeed a fun ride. The flatness of the route suits riding in a group. It was great to have three other riders, who I also consider friends, to share the miles with. As well as to share the work load. That is not to say that it’s particularly easy. The route has its own set of challenges. The winds can be bad in some of the more open areas. In addition, I find that 400k of essentially the same terrain can be difficult in and of itself. The lack of hills requires one to spin steadily for a very long time. Taking a toll on the muscle set involved. I find myself quite tired the next day and in need of as much recovery as a hilly ride of the same distance.
I look forward to seeing the main field of riders this coming Saturday!