Bob descending one of the multiple spans at the Jersey Shore
Considering the DNF in Virginia this ride would take on new importance. I have completed an SR series for the last four consecutive years. A streak I definitely wish to continue. While I don't need two 600k's, I absolutely need one. So far this season I've finished none. My confidence level is at least in the medium range although, given I have finished this ride three prior times, it should be higher. I'm amazed at how an unsuccessful event can play with the mind. The make up of this ride is quite different from the DC version in that this route is largely flat allowing one to gain a lot of time to be used later for sleep. The tricky part is the night time start, Friday at 10pm. With the finish control closing Sunday at 2pm. I typically start this ride feeling sleep deprived in the first few hours. The question is where and when to take sleep during the ride?
I arrive at the Hightstown Days Inn which is the start this year. I meet the five other volunteer riders there. A sixth rider, my friend Paul, will be tagging along for the first 95 miles. Then riding back on his own. The other riders are organizers Walt and Bob, volunteers Rick, Dawn, and my friend Jon. All the riders are of abilities close enough to allow us to ride as one group. Although, it was stated that riding the entire ride together was not a requirement. Differing sleep needs have the potential to break up the group before the end.
Hightstown to Whiting - 50 Miles
At 10pm sharp the seven of us head out for the first leg. Although a somewhat humid night there is a bit of a chill in the air. The further south we get the chillier it feels. I started out with arm warmers and knee warmers, but most of the other riders did not. After about 20 miles they are pulling them out of their packs. We move along quite well on this segment despite chatting amongst each other for the first hour or so. The terrain is as expected, mostly flat with an occasional small rise along the way. We reach the first control in good time. Needing little to nothing we move on quickly.
Whiting to Egg Harbor City - 43 Miles
This stretch cuts through the New Jersey Pine Barrens region. The roads traversing the vast wooded area are flat and largely free of traffic. Now begins the serious pace lining. Several riders are taking strong pulls on the front keeping the group moving at a good clip. The night air feels cool and pleasant with the miles ticking off very efficiently. We expected to arrive at Egg Harbor City at just about sunrise. We actually arrive quite a bit before having really averaged a good pace. At the control I mix up some more Sustained Energy which I am experimenting with, having tested it on one prior permanent with decent results. After a short break we are ready to depart. We say goodbye to Paul who will be riding back to the start from here on his own. Our next stop will be Burliegh, NJ.
Dawn riding on her first 600k
Egg Harbor City to Burliegh, NJ - 50 Miles
Shortly after leaving the control daylight comes. We ride by the Atlantic City Airport seeing large parches of dense fog around. We pass directly through one section of it. As one would expect it is misty like light rain. We will be facing a humid day with some fairly high temperatures but so far the going is easy and pleasant. We are making a bee line for the Jersey Shore. We cross some rather long bridge spans, which pass for hills in this part of the state. Upon reaching the shore, at Ocean City, we head due south to the Cape May area. Things get significantly more difficult here as the wind direction is from the south and we are very exposed to it for the next twenty miles. The advantage to group riding soon becomes evident as Rick pulls us for what seems like forever before relinquishing the front. At which point Walt, Jon and I take somewhat shorter turns into the wind. We manage to roll at about 16 mph for most of the stretch. More so than a physical toll it's a tough mental section. We are just grinding straight and flat into the headwind with little change in scenery. Finally, we turn inland to the west to arrive at the control which is a cafe with a great breakfast menu. A sit down meal sounds good at this point. With an order of Banana pancakes quickly consumed I feel energized for the next leg. The Sustained Energy appears to have helped me maintain a steady energy level, but with a belly full of food I decide to wait a while before mixing the next batch.
Burleigh to Mauricetown - 46 Miles
Turning inland after the control is a welcome relief from the wind. I'm feeling quite rejuvenated and take some long turns on the front. We quickly cover the 21 miles to an information control which is right by a very active bike shop. Rick needed a couple of inner tubes, so we all took a quick break there. After which we formulate the info control question to be used the next weekend. Back on the road we continue to make good time.. Bob appears to be fading a bit, but hangs in for the most part. He has been suffering from a bad allergy forcing him to reduce his training regimen considerably. Typically, he would be pulling our legs off. Today he seems to be working with nothing more than mental fortitude. I know him to be plenty tough. I'm hoping it will get him all the way around. Our control in Mauricetown, another Wawa, arrives quickly. I mix another batch of Sustained Energy for the next leg for which we quickly depart.
Walt and others passing through shore towns
Mauricetown to Fairton - 28 miles
With exception to a brief attack by huge biting flies near the Delaware Bay, this section of the route passes by uneventfully. I've been looking forward to the rest at the Eagle Manor Estate which is the official sleep stop of the ride. It is late afternoon as we approach the stop and it has gotten quite warm. Some time out of the sun will be appreciated. Walt unlocks the chain which crossed the half mile driveway into the property. The huge estate home looms into view. Out destination is the smaller home nestled on the property which is designated as a caretaker house. Walt currently resides there and makes the home available as a sleep stop for this ride. There is food ready for us in the kitchen and we all take in some calories. While we are all gathered around the kitchen eating I ask everyone if there is a sleep plan. Up until now there has been no discussion on the topic. At the moment I feel tired, having ridden through the night covering 217 miles, but I am not really sleepy. It would be futile for me to attempt sleep now. With the exception of Jon the rest of the group wants to sleep at this stop. Jon's thinking was aligned with mine. We decided we would leave the other riders and move on to Hammonton taking sleep at the Howard Johnson's motel. We would all try and re-group later in the ride. After eating Jon and I quickly depart for the next control in Daretown which is one before Hammonton.
Fairton to Daretown 32 Miles
Once underway, headed to the north our decision to move on is validated as we feel the expected tailwind. Knowing this would be the case played into our strategy. The weather is hot but the wind pushing us along more than compensates. The going is easy and the Wawa store is quickly reached. With less than 30 miles to the intended sleep stop we need little time here and move out quickly.
Daretown to Hammonton 28 miles
The Hammonton control is to the northeast. The wind is still beneficial, although not quite as much. I'm feeling pretty tired but not at all sleepy. I am glad we kept moving. At our pace we figure we will reach the Wawa, which is the official Hammonton control, by about 8pm. We will purchase any food we need and move on to the hotel, which is less than three miles away. The planning is accurate as we pull into the Wawa at about 8:15 with the miles to get there being relatively easy. With bags of food tied around our necks we ride the few miles to the hotel on Route 33. The sun is setting as we pull in and sign up for a room. Once inside the room eating our food we discuss the sleep plan. We should be asleep by 10pm after showering eating and laying out our gear for the morning. Adding in 3 1/2 hours for sleep would have us waking at 1:30am. Budgeting a half hour in the morning to get dressed and check out of the hotel we would be on the road by about 2am. We further projected we would cover the remaining 100 miles in about 7hrs, including the in-between control, for a finish at about 9am. Before getting to bed I receive a text message from Walt. He is with Rick and Dawn at Daretown having left Eagle Manor a couple of hours after us. Their intention is to ride through to the finish. They are willing to meet us at the hotel and have us leave with them. We decide to stick to our plan and take sleep. I learn that Bob left Eagle Manor soon after us and is riding straight through on his own without sleep. I admire anyone who can go two consecutive nights without sleeping, but know that I can't. My head hits the pillow right at 10pm and I am out like a light.
Hammonton to Vincentown - 48 Miles
Jon wakes me at 1:30am. I get of bed feeling amazingly refreshed for having gone so long without sleep and then sleeping for such a short time. Quickly we are dressed and ready to go. We leave the room and head to the motel office to check out. The office is locked and we can see no one is behind the desk where we checked in. I bang on the door a couple of times to no avail. Just as I'm preparing to slide the key under the door a person appears and lets us in. I hand her the room key stating the room number we occupied. She replies with: "You aren't checking out at this hour are you?" I affirm that we are indeed checking out and if there is any kind of paperwork involved could we kind of get to it so we can be on our way. The details are handled quickly though it feels like forever because we are anxious to get moving. Once underway we regain the route on County Route 542 headed for the Pine Barrens for the second time in as many days. In the wee hours of the morning the barrens are a very quiet place to ride a bike. We don't see another vehicle or human being for many miles. We do however encounter deer, raccoons, and other wildlife indigenous to the area. Jon is setting a fairly brisk pace, especially given it is dark. I feel decent enough to hang in, at least for now. After about 20 miles we hit Chatsworth which is a small town on the more northern end of the Pines. We are riding at a nice steady pace. The temperature is in the mid sixties with little to no wind. Taking the time to sleep appears to be paying off as I am alert and comfortable. After Chatsworth we find ourselves on Sooy Place Road which we follow for about eight miles. The area is still wooded but there are a few houses nestled among the trees as we near a more populated area. We now see occasional vehicle traffic here and there. I wonder how the rest of our group are managing as we close in on the control. On the approach road about a half a mile out I see bicycle headlights coming at us. I can't imagine who else would be out here at this crazy hour. Sure enough as we get close enough I see it is Walt, Dawn and Rick. They have just left the control and are headed for the finish. They tell us they have been struggling with sleep deprivation and have been forced to stop for cat naps along the way. With daylight only minutes away they should be okay for the remaining miles to the end. Once at the Wawa control I order a breakfast of pancakes and fruit. The pancakes are the little microwaveable kind so I'm kind of surprised it takes so long for then to prepare them. The workers at the store have been there all night and are apparently more sleep deprived than us. The pancakes are definitely not worth the wait but there is little else available at 5am. The fruit however is quite good as is the coffee. After listening to a lonely store customers life story (where we wearing a sign saying come talk to us?) we move on for the final leg. We spent a bit more time than we expected, but we are still not far off our plan.
Vincentown to Hightstown - 49 Miles
Jon cruises by corn fields on day two en-route to finish
With the return to daylight and a full stomach I am ready for this last stretch. The final section starts out flat and gentle like most of the ride but somewhat unexpectedly becomes a bit hilly. There are no dramatic climbs mostly just little kickers with a few slightly bigger bumps. Normally, I love this type of terrain, but it doesn't feel good to my legs today. I struggle to stay close to Jon who seems to be having little difficulty with any of it. Agress Road is the longest of the hills, but fortunately one of the last with about five miles to the finish. I grind my way up while Jon stands and sprints up. The remaining few miles are mostly flat so we ride in to the town of Hightstown and then loop around to the hotel which is on the outskirts of town. We pull into the parking area at 9:05am. The rest of the group is there by their cars having just recently arrived. Bob is also there looking rested, showered and dressed in street clothes. He finished over two hours prior to Jon and I. Walt, Dawn and Rick arrived 25 minutes prior to us. It was a nice reunion and I'm glad that everyone finished safely.
Rick at Dawn at the Days Inn parking lot at the end of the ride
There are many 600's that are more challenging than this one, most especially in the terrain category. However, most, if not all, are morning starts. The night start concept adds an additional component of difficulty. I have little problem riding throughout the first night, through the next day, and into the evening. Once night two begins I need sleep! Preferably quality sleep in a bed. I also welcome the opportunity to wash up and start out again with clean clothes. While Jon and I were the last of the group to finish we moved efficiently on day two not having to struggle with sleep deprivation. I admire the others for riding through, foregoing the amenities and grabbing a nap on a store front or park bench. But, with that said I would not change the decisions we made as our plan is what worked best for us. I'm feeling a bit more optimistic about the upcoming 1000k around Lake Ontario in New York and Canada less than three weeks away.