Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Great Adventure 112k Permanent - A Very Cool Ride

A very frozen central Jersey corn field

With snowy and frigid days far outnumbering the moderate ones scheduling any kind of ride is a chore.  None the less, for the second weekend in a row I would find myself getting together with a small group to ride a permanent.  With a snow storm having blown through just two days prior, add to that a frigidly cold weather forecast, there was a lot of doubt about our ability to follow through with the plan. As the day approached the roads were clear enough.  Although, it would be bitterly cold and windy.   The one redeeming factor would be sunshine.  Four of us stayed committed to the ride which was the 70 mile Great Adventure Populaire, an out and back route from Hillsborough to Jackson. 

Left to right: Paul, Al, Joe and Chris at the start
The riders, all regulars of the NJ Rando Brevets were Chris, Paul, Al and myself.  To give the temperature a chance to rise out of the single digit range we began the ride at 10am from the Mountain View Plaza in Hillsborough.  Our starting temperature was 17F with a wind chill factor of 9F.  The wind was blowing strong from the north.  I chose my fixed gear bike for the flat terrain and dug out every wool layer I could find.  I wore five upper body layers, three head covers, tights over leg warmers, Lake winter cycling boots and lobster gloves.  Chemical warmers wedged into gloves and boots would help keep the digits from suffering.
Heading out on the first few miles

After a few photos our band of heavily dressed riders departed to the sound of cheering (courtesy of my wife who had driven me to the start).  The wind was mostly in our favor for the 35 mile stretch to Jackson meaning that the return trip would be mostly into the wind.  At least it was predicted to be somewhat warmer in the afternoon with a high temperature around 25F.   The roads on the route were largely clear, although we had to dodge the occasional icy patch.  In some of the open areas snow drifted onto the roads, but only in a few spots.  With the sun shining it didn't feel all that bad, I would even venture to say I was enjoying it.  With the wind pushing us along and no big hills to climb we arrived at the Jackson Premium Outlet Mall in good time. This being our halfway point we took the opportunity to refuel.  The food court was a warm refuge from the elements.  With sandwiches, pizza and other offerings there was something there for each of us.  After a relaxing lunch we headed back out for the return trip to Hillsborough knowing that it would be tougher than the ride out.
Enjoying the warmth of the Jackson Outlet Food Court
The wind didn't feel all that bad as we made our way through Millstone Township and Monroe.  There was a fair amount of wind block around in the way of wooded sections and small hills.   It was the approach to Plainsboro, just after Cranbury where we were the most exposed.  With open farmland all around us we got the full brunt of it.  Those were some very unpleasant miles.  Everyone was fairly grim at that point, most especially me.  It was bone chilling cold and I was suffering from a crushing headache, which I later discovered was the fault of an over tight helmet.  All the head covers I was wearing were causing my helmet to cut off circulation to my head.  I had thought it was from the cold.  Once we reached Monmouth Junction we had more protection from the wind.  Moving forward became less of a grind.  We were only about 10 miles from the finish which raised my spirits a bit.  After crossing the canal at Griggstown we were very close to home.  We kept a steady pace to the finish despite crossing some more exposed areas for the last couple of miles.  We pulled into the finish in just over 6 hours total.  The second half having taken more than a half hour longer than the first half.  I removed my helmet at the mini mart and my headache went away immediately.  That's when it finally dawned on me what was wrong.  After completing the mandatory RUSA paperwork Paul offered to drop me off at home.  I rode my bike over to his car to load up when the urge hit me to just keep riding for the 2 1/2 miles to my house.  I thanked him for the generous offer and kept pedaling back the way we had come.  With the wind at my back, I felt great. 

Paul with a warm smile

Al leads the way (except Chris who is ahead taking the photo)
Chris' two rides. One is a fixed gear (fueled by popcorn)


Chris was definitely the spark that got the ride together.  She wanted to begin a round of P-12 rides this being number one.  She didn't let the less than ideal conditions scare her off.  The rest of us followed her lead.  Paul, undecided as to the P-12 award now has the first one in the bank should he later choose to go for it.  Al and I both have a 100k Populaire on the books for January that was completed on New Year's Day relegating this ride to the status of just for the fun of it. 

Only two years ago it would have taken a team of horses to drag me out in similar conditions.  I never cease to be amazed at how adaptable we can be.  Riding in the cold conditions one for riding in the cold.  At this point a 30 degree day feels balmy.  Having said that my next brevet is to be a 300k in Florida, where most days this month have reached above the 60 degree mark.  However, should there be a sudden cold snap I'm more confident that I can deal with it.

Stay warm!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Princeton-Belmar-Princeton 200k Permanent - January R-12

The Dunkin Donuts at Belmar had its share of snow
Not unlike my prior R-12 there is some difficulty finding the right window of opportunity to schedule the rides during the winter months. A group of R-12 hopefuls decided to ban together for the January ride. A snowfall spoiled our plans for the weekend after the New Year. We then set our sights on the mid-month three day holiday weekend (M.L.K.). More snow was predicted and cold temperatures, but miraculously the forecast changed at the last minute giving us an opening on the Sunday. Everyone jumped at the chance.

A wintry view of the beach at Belmar
Our group was nine in number at the 7:30am start in Princeton Junction. The largest gathering I'd ever seen on a Permanent. It was a pleasure to ride along with this pack of experienced randonneurs which included my regular riding companions Al, Paul, and Jon. I was pleased to see New Jersey series regulars Katie, Ron and Barb. And, representing the PA Randonneurs were Bill and Ixsa. Ron and Barb were aboard one of the two tandems. Katie and Jon were the team on the second tandem. The temperature at the start was right around the 30 degree mark. By afternoon we would bask under a strong sun with temperatures around 35F. Although we faced some unfavorable winds after the turn to the west out of Belmar, they were never daunting.

Seven of the nine riders remained together for the entire ride. Bill and Ixsa fell back after the Belmar control and continued on their own. With two tandems among us we had plenty of weapons for plodding through the westerly wind as we managed a nice steady pace through New Egypt and Permperton. As is usually the case with a good size group we took a good amount of time at the controls. Much of it spent enjoyably reminiscing about past Rando experiences. Daylight was with us until just a few miles before Hightstown. After which we arrived at the Cranberry Pizza for a quick slice before undertaking the final seven mile dash to the finish. That last little stretch would be the coldest of the day at 28F. The two tandems teams mustered their remaining reserves and lead the way to the Dunkin Donuts, where we had set out from this morning. The seven of us were in just under 11 hours.

For Jon and Paul it would be their 24th consecutive 200k, fulfilling their second R-12. Tandem couple Ron and Barb logged the first ride of their third go around, having already earned two consecutive R-12 medals. For Al it would be ride number one of his second time at the award. Katie would score her 9th in a row at a first R-12 attempt. My number is 22, two more for my second time at the award. Also of note is Jon and Katie finished their first 200k as a tandem team. Bill and Ixsa made their way around in just over 12 hours braving some cold temperatures and black ice as the snow melt of the day re-froze. They stand at number 4 for Bill and 3 for Ixsa working toward their first R-12.


Just two years ago the R-12 was a very small part of the Randonneuring culture in our area. There were no permanents to ride and little talk of developing any. Currently, its growth is exponential. The popularity of this prize may surpass that of the Super Randonneur award. It is not uncommon for new riders to complete twelve monthly 200k's immediately after their first brevet. Speaking personally it has motivated me to learn to ride in weather conditions that I once considered intolerable. I enjoy the year round training and feel more ready for the regular brevet series when the spring events arrive. Perhaps most importantly, when folks get together to share a fun challenge, enjoying each other’s company in the process, I think that is a very good thing. Let’s keep it going.

See you on the roads

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Two Valley Loop 107k Permanent Populaire - Ringing in the New Year!

Al in front of the Stanton Mountain General Store
With the drop of the ball at midnight on December 31, all the prior year's accomplishments and totals were wiped clean.  It's a fresh start, a new beginning, and a time to set new goals.  In light of the recent announcement by RUSA of the new P-12 award I set my sights on chasing this medal, along with other more ambitous goals,  for 2011.  Given that there were no Permanent Populaire routes within a hundred mile radius I needed to create a route and seek approval from RUSA. The approval came through just a few days before the New Year.  Something seemed right about attempting the ride on New Years Day.  I recruited my friend Al to join me on the inaugural ride. What follows is a description of the route and the ride.

The inaugural ride of RUSA route #1027, Two Valley Loop 107k.

It's a cold 24 degrees in Hillsborough, NJ as I ride over to meet Al at the start, three miles from my house.  We had settled on an 8am start time.  It's not a surprise that other than the two if us there is nothing moving at The Mountain View Plaza.  We start out on time headed for South Branch, Three Bridges and the first control on Stanton Mountain.  With the exception of Otto Road the first 18 miles are on easy terrain. The only challenge being the cold, which is quite noticeable, and the potential for black ice from the prior day's snow melt.  We pass by the horse and dairy farms of South Branch making good time on the empty roads.  The climb up Otto Road to Summer Road occurs smoothly and we quickly pass through Three Bridges crossing US 202.  A few turns later we arrive safely at Stanton Mountain to find the General Store closed for the holiday.  We document our passage by taking photos of ourselves in front of the store and move on.

The next five miles feature rolling hills and one good size climb which has a nice warming effect. The sun has now overpowered the clouds bringing the temperature up closer to the predicted 42 degree high.  After arriving at the Round Valley Reservoir there is a nice descent into the town of Lebanon.  Then US 22 is crossed to begin the longest climb of the day up Cokesbury Road.  We start to see walkers and joggers taking in the fresh morning air as we grind our way up the two mile ridge.  A short descent brings us to Califon Road and a couple of shorter steep climbs.  We quickly descend Rt 512 into Califon only to climb back up to our control at the junction of Rt 513.  The Tiger Mart/Dunkin Donuts (mile 33.2)  is open so we enjoy coffee before moving on to Long Valley.

We follow Route 513 into Long Valley, which is 5.5 miles of gentle terrain.  The wind has picked up and is blowing in our favor delivering us into the town quickly and efficiently.  We then turn onto Route 517 headed south to Fairmount.  Soon after the turn is the second longest climb of the day. I feel borderline hot on the way up, despite having removed the wool balaclava and heavy gloves at the last control.  After the climb we are faced with nothing more than gentle upgrades and a few rolling hills to the next control at Whitehouse Station.  As we casually make our way up one of the rollers a guy on a carbon bike wearing race kit passes by moving at a very brisk pace.  He looks over and says; "have a nice ride".  I wish him the same, but think to myself how can he be so sure he wont be seeing us again.  He's gained quite a bit of ground as I make the decision to start chasing.  Al hangs right on my rear wheel as I gradually move the needle up.  I notice the rider up in the distance is no longer moving away.  We reach the long gradual descent into Tewksbury at which point I pour everything I have into staying low and pedaling hard.  We are gaining ground.  As the road flattens out I stay down on the drops and use my momentum to stay on top of a big gear.  We are now within 40 yards.  I choose the next upgrade to make the pass.  He appears surprised to see us.  As we go by he politely asks us for a tow.  Following in our draft through the town of Tewksbury he turns off on Lamington Road wishing us well.  Although, I might have enjoyed the chance to chat with the guy, I am sort of glad to be able to return to a more casual pace.  The effort of the chase has left a dent in me. I'm really looking forward to the upcoming control now only 4 miles away.

At the Whitehouse Mall we take a twenty minute rest before pushing off for the final 15 miles to the finish.  The route to Hillsborough has nothing substantial to climb.  At best there are a few rolling hills through Readington and a couple of little kickers.  The miles tick off efficiently and soon we are navigating our way through the outskirts of Hillsborough.  At which point I make a navigation error, left instead of right, costing us six bonus miles. Having lived and cycled around the town for many years one would think I would have no difficulty leading us to the finish.  Certainly, Al thought so having chosen not to display his cue sheet on the last section.  Thankfully, we were on a short 107k ride and not a 200k where the extra miles could have been painful.  We both had to laugh at the absurdity of it once we were at the finish with time to spare. 
With the three miles to ride from the finish to home I ended the day with 80 miles and an RUSA total of 107k.  Not to mention number one of the twelve rides needed for the P-12 medal.  A good start to 2011.


While the challenge of the P-12 may seem lame in comparison to it's big brother, the R-12, it still requires planning and discipline to string them together for 12 consecutive months.  A ride of longer than 199k can not be counted towards a P-12, leaving only the Populaire variety as eligible.  In direct contradiction to the name, Populaires are not all that popular.  Only a few per year are on area brevet calendars.  Currently, only sixteen appear for all of 2011 in a nationwide search. With only two accessible to our area.  With that in mind I plan on submitting to RUSA additional permanent routes of the Populaire type.  I encourage other RUSA members to do the same.            

Happy New Year!