Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Princeton 120k/200k Volunteer Ride

Next up on the New Jersey Rando calendar is the classic Princeton 200k.  For the last several years a 120k Populaire has been offered for those riders looking for something a tad less challenging than the full ride. 

The streets of Princeton are quiet on Saturday morning
Typically, the volunteer pre-ride, undertaken the weekend before the main event, would consist of a small group of volunteers who would ride the entire 200k route, testing the cue sheet and road conditions.  This year for a variety of reasons, not the least being a strong storm prediction for the afternoon hours, we would ride the 120k as the volunteer ride.  I agreed to ride the remaining distance alone two days later to complete the full 200k route check.

Princeton 120k

Three riders start out from Princeton Forestall Village at the appointed 7am start time.  I'm riding with the organizer, Jud, and fellow volunteer rider, Shane.   It is a cool 41 degrees with a strong wind coming from the east.  The wind is predicted to reach about 20mph by late morning.  Also, torrential rains are expected for the afternoon.  We are hoping to be done by then.
Organizer Jud climbing in Princeton Township
Volunteer rider Shane
Ride to Frenchtown

We wind our way from the shopping village to the small town of Kingston, just two miles away, then turn towards Princeton.  For most of the ride to Frenchtown we have the wind at our back.  Of course, the down side to this is the reverse will be true on the return.  For the moment the route is flat and the roads are peaceful on this early Saturday morning.  We go through the downtown section of Princeton and turn onto the Great Road which is a gradual climb up through Princeton Township.  We wind our way through some quiet country roads ending up in the town of Hopewell.  Here we work through a detour by-passing a bridge under repair.  Fortunately, the detour is well marked and we have no trouble getting onto North Greenwood Ave for the long, but gentle climb up to the Sourland Ridge.  After hitting the crest of the hill we immediately descend the other side via Rileyville Road and Runyon Mill Road.  We ride the rolling terrain of Wertsville Road into the tiny downtown area of Ringoes,  which appears just after the crossing of US 202/31.  So far the roads have been scenic and void of traffic.  We use Rosemont Ringoes Road to Seargentsville passing by the deli that is a favorite stop for cyclists.  The sign out front states that "bikers are welcome".  Shortly after we arrive at the covered bridge, which is the only surviving one in the state.  We follow more country lanes with some good sized rolling hills, which serve to prepare our legs for the bigger climbs yet to come.  We go through Kingwood Township on Route 519, before finding our way to Horseshoe Bend Road.  This road is an up and down affair for the next three miles, with one particularly steep kicker that can easily catch one off guard.  The road surface is a bit chewed up in places so the downhill sections require some restraint.  Soon enough, at the other end of Horseshoe Bend, we reach Route 12, which quickly delivers us to Frechtown.  The Legion Hall on 6th St is the control.  It is somewhat quiet here today, with just a few workers milling about.  However, it will be buzzing with activity next weekend as riders from both the 120k and 200k share the control.  Volunteers will have food and beverages at the ready.  As for our small group today we just eat an energy bar, wash it down with some water and head back out for the return.
The store at Seargentsville

The sole surviving covered bridge in New Jersey
Shane at Frenchtown

Return to Princeton

Immediately, upon leaving the Legion Hall we feel the wind.  It is a strong steady force with occasional gusts.  The open sections of the return route, which there are many, will be difficult.  We retrace to Route 12, leaving Frenchtown.  We quickly turn off onto Ridge Road which begins the first climb.  It starts out steep then tapers off to be fairly gentle.  It's the strong cross wind that puts the hurting on me here.  Judd and Shane are doing a bit better as they put a bit of a gap on me.  We re-group before the turn onto Route 519, which also has a bit of a climb.  I manage to stay with them this time, although it's clear to me they are both stronger climbers.  They are probably holding back a bit to give me a break.  Soon after we turn off onto Oak Grove Road, which we will follow for the better part of eight miles.  The wind is quite bothersome, but there are sections that have some protection.  None the less it is a long grind.  We take turns at the front which helps.  The road ends with a short somewhat steep climb up to Route 619 which features a big long drop into Flemington.  The wind takes some of the fun out of the descent, hampering our speed a bit, but the view of the valley to the left is breath taking.  We turn away from the downtown Flemington area crossing Route 31.  We parallel the river to the crossing of Route 202 and climb up Dory Dilts Road to Old York Road in Three Bridges.  The climbing is fairly mild in this section with our only real adversary being the ever increasing wind.  We also feel a few raindrops and a mild sprinkle every now and then.  It's certain that heavier rain will be coming sometime soon.  Hopefully, we can cover the remaining 20 miles before it does.  The next challenge to present itself is Manners Road which we ride from Route 514 to its end at Wertsville Road.  There are four good sized rollers on it.  The road is also quite exposed, so the crosswind is a factor as well.  It goes a little better than I thought it would with Jud and Shane just slightly ahead at the Wertsville Road turn.  We then quickly turn right onto Lindbergh Road, which will be the final big climb of the day, but, arguably the toughest.  Jud stops at the Country Store just before the hill to eat an energy bar.  Shane and I continue gently up the hill knowing that he will likely catch us before the top.  Just as the hill starts to get serious Jud appears.  He passes by and continues his pace to the top.  Shane picks it up a bit and I lag behind, content to grind my way up.  We re-group at the turn to Long Hill Road.  From here it is a flat to downhill run across the Ridge to the gentle descent on Hollow Road.  The wind is not a factor up here as the roads are surrounded by dense woods.  The long, but bumpy, descent on Hollow Road delivers us to Route 518, which we take east for about four miles.  We make the turn which puts us nose into the wind.  I'm now in my element. I don't climb particularly well, but I can pull steadily, into the wind, for long distances.  I take the front and stay there for the full run to the US 206 crossing.  Strangely, it feels good.  After crossing the highway we enter the small town of Rocky Hill, just a few turns and two small hills to the finish.  The final steep, but short hill brings us to Kingston and the turn towards the Shopping Village.  We arrive before 1pm with a total time of 5 hours, 50 minutes for the 75 miles.  We have just enough time to load up our bikes before the rain hits.

Riding in the wind

Not an everyday sight in New Jersey

Horses staying warm
The rain would continue throughout the night causing rivers to overflow their banks throughout the region.  I was grateful we rode the 120k version, instead of the full 200k, as we would have been out in the worst of it.  I had a great time on the ride.  The route was both scenic and challenging.  A great option for those who haven't the time, or may not yet have the legs prepared for a hilly 200k.

Princeton 200k (North West Loop)
The town of Milford on the Delaware River

In keeping  with my commitment to ride organizer, Jud.  Two days later I would ride the section of the 200k from the Frenchtown control and back.  The control is used twice by the 200k riders.  Once on the outbound to Asbury and again on the return to Princeton.  I drove to the Legion Hall and set out from there on the bike to test the cue sheet and roads for the 51 mile loop.  Details of the ride are below.  

Ride to Asbury

Monday morning at 10am I depart the Frenchtown Legion Hall on my Salsa Caseroll.  I'm riding solo on a beautiful sunny 55 degree morning.  I enjoy a nice warm up on Route 619 which is a flat three mile stretch to Milford.  I turn off onto bridge street into the small riverside town.  It is eerily quiet as the bridge to the Pennsylvania side is closed for repair.  After a couple of quick turns, accurately depicted on the cue sheet, I am on Route 627 riding parallel to the Delaware River.  It is a euphoric experience as the spring weather has transformed the area with colors of green and yellow everywhere.  The run along the river is about six miles, which begins as flat, then becomes mildly rolling.  It is an enjoyable section only hampered by the knowledge that at the turn off will be the most challenging climb on the 200k, Adamic Hill Road.  Riders departing the Frenchtown control have 10 miles to allow their food to settle in before hitting one of the steepest climbs in the area.

Waterfall by Delaware River on Route 627
I haven't climbed Adamic since this same time last year, so in a perverse way I've been looking forward to it.  I make the turn on Mt Joy Road with Adamic less than a mile away.  The cue sheet correctly warns the rider with the words (steep climb) in the cue.  The hill starts out gently at the bottom, lulling one into thinking it won't be that bad.  But, after the first twist in the road things get pretty interesting.  I pass by a home owner loading his pickup with wood.  He notices me and informs me that it is a long hill.  I respond in agreement.   Perhaps, to offer a little encouragement he then says that I'm almost to the top.  As much as I would have liked to believe it, I think that half way does not quite fit the definition.  I thank him for the information just the same.  After two steep switchbacks the grade lessens and the historic Vollendam Windmill comes into view.

A sign of things to come

Getting interesting

Climb to the top

The historic windmill at the top of the climb
The next several miles are on country lanes with some less serious climbing.  The route then turns onto Route 519 with a small climb followed by a screaming fast descent on nice pavement.  After which there is some rolling terrain for several miles as we enter Warren County near Bloomsbury.  I make the turn onto Bloomsbury Road by the Muscenetcong River and enjoy the rolling terrain which will lead me to the control in Asbury.

Fun ahead!


Say, is that one of them new fangled steel frames?
I come across a guy riding a carbon Kestrel on this stretch.  He looks over at my Salsa and asks me if I'm riding one of them steel bikes.  I confirm that it is.  He says he didn't think anyone rode them anymore.  Obviously, not a member of a local randonneuring club.  On the next good sized roller I give it maximum effort leaving the guy behind to contemplate the pros and cons of frame materials.  After a total of about five miles of rolling terrain I arrive at the tiny town of Asbury and the quaint deli that is used as the control.

Asbury Deli and control
In the best of country tradition

Return to Frenchtown

After a short coffee break and the removal of my arm warmers I'm back on the road.  The temperature is now in the mid-sixties with mild winds.  Just after the Asbury control there is a two phased climb that I've always found challenging.  Mostly, because I always feel pretty stiff after a control.  Hitting a good sized climb right away doesn't help.  Today I've only ridden 30 miles to get here (it will be 60 for the 200k riders) and I only took a short break at the deli.   I feel good on both hills.  I fly down the back side of the second hill remembering to get on the brakes in time for the turn off before the bottom.  Safely on Good Springs Road I notice the clouds moving in.  It's plenty warm and no rain has fallen so I just enjoy the beautiful views, taking photos while rolling through the countryside.  For the next ten miles of countryside there is minimal climbing, mostly just some rollers with an occasional small kicker thrown in.  I come across a river crossing where I stop to photo the surroundings.  After which I hit a small but steep climb.  There is a succession of turns which leads me to Route 627 which is a pleasant rolling four miles to the Riegelsville Road turn.  This leads one back past Mt Joy Road retracing the route along the Delaware back to Milford.  The rolling hills are a bit easier in this direction, which is down river.  The rock cliff is on my left.  In places water is flowing from the mountain top down the rock face of the cliff.  It is a quick six miles to the town of Milford and Bridge Street.  After an easy three mile run, retracing the same route as the morning, I am back at the Legion Hall in Frechtown.  It took me a total of four hours and fifteen minutes, which included some stopping to take photos, and notes on the cue sheet.  The total distance of this section is 52 miles.  The weather conditions were ideal.  It was by far my most enjoyable solo ride of the season.   
A view from Good Springs Road

Bridge on Still Valley Road
Me, having more fun than should be allowed on a Monday


It is easy to see why the Princeton 200k is a classic event.  The route delivers a hearty challenge with as nice a scenery as the state has to offer.  This year the date has been moved a bit later into the month of April making a cold weather day much less likely.  This is not one to miss out on.  The 200k is the best pick if one has the time and the conditioning.  If not the 120k is a great option.  You wont find a ride in the region that will surpass the quality of this one.  The control at Frechtown is fully supported and staffed with experienced randonneurs.  The Asbury Deli is a pleasant country restaurant with a friendly staff and plenty of tables offering riders a comfortable spot to rest.

I'll be working the start and finish this year for the third time.  I look forward to seeing both familiar and new faces alike.

I hope to see you.  Boo-Ya!



Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cranbury 200k - The season opens in New Jersey!

Team Big Blue, Katie and Jon at the start

The Start

After one of the most trying winters in a decade the first New Jersey brevet of the 2011 season was about to begin.  Over fifty riders sporting varying levels of cold weather gear are scattered about Village Park in Cranbury, NJ for the chilly 38 degree start.  At the stroke of 7am ride organizer, Laurent, gives us the go sign and the large group makes its way out to the quiet streets of the town. 

Big Red vs Big Blue

My friend Al and I are aboard the Burley Tandem we call Big Red.  From the pilot's seat I have my sights on another tandem, just ahead, which we've nicknamed Big Blue.  Our friends and fellow randonneurs, Katie and Jon, are set on maintaing an aggressive pace with a pre-planned finish goal of under 9 hours.  Although our target finish time is more conservative, we're hanging with them for awhile to see how it goes.  For the moment it is requiring a serious effort.  With the wind behind us the pace is very brisk.  We ride in their draft for a few miles until both our tandems blow past a turn at 25 mph.  We almost crash into Big Blue as Katie realizes the mistake and brakes to make a u-turn.  I decide to keep with the pace, but stay off their back wheel.  The route has too many turns to establish a safe tandem pace line at high speed. With few hills in the way there is little to slow things down.  We are consistently between 20-27 mph with a light tailwind assist.  As we climb a small roller my friend Paul, on a single bike, pulls alongside.  Paul arrived at the start at the last minute.  He was late by a minute or two getting underway. I'm impressed that he managed to make up that time in the first ten miles.  The pace continues with us sometimes going past Big Blue, as circumstances allow, but mostly we are just a little back.  Within the last few miles to the Union Beach control they make it through a traffic light as it is changing.  From our position about ten yards back we choose to stop.  Our arrival at the control, mile 30, is about a minute behind them.  We come in with a large group.  By the time we park the tandem there is a long line to get the brevet card validated.  Once we have that done we spend another minute adjusting layers of clothes as the air temperature has risen quite bit since the start.  Katie and Jon depart the control.

Mechanical #1

About two minutes later we leave the control together with Paul.  No sooner do we make the turn from the parking lot when I notice my crankset has come loose sliding partially out of the bottom braket.  The right side crank arm is rubbing.  We stop, Paul stopping with us on the side of the road.  It takes about 15 minutes to put things right again.  We are back underway with no hope of catching up to Big Blue.  Not that there was anyway.  They seem determined to stay on their pace. Unless something goes terribly wrong we will not likely see them on the course again.  Just as well, as we can concentrate on meeting the time goal that works for us.  We are not really in competition with anyone other than ourselves.  While it was fun to mix it up with them for awhile it was never meant to be a race.  At least not on our part.

With the crankset re-centered and turning smoothly we are headed to the beach.  We cover about five miles before we actually work our way to the ocean.  The town of Keansburg marks our arrival at the shore line.  We pass by the amusement park, which is locked up tight. I've always thought the place looked like something from a Stephen King novel.  We breifly ride by the ocean before turning towards the Atlantic Highlands and the long gentle climb up Mt. Mitchell.  I find it a bit more difficult on the tandem than the times I've done it on my single bike.  We do manage the top without incident and the view of the Manhatten skyline is impressive.  After descending the back side of the climb we cross the bridge into Rumson and work our way back to the Ocean.  We parallel the beach for about ten miles to Asbury Park.  All the while a brisk wind blows from our right side while the ocean is on our left. This is unusual, and concerning, as the wind is coming from our primary direction of travel for the return to Cranbury.  I'm silently wondering if we can still manage our goal.  We quickly pass through the town of Asbury Park, which is quiet.  We then arrive at the Bradley Beach control (Hess Express) shortly thereafter.  We make reasonably quick work of the control and are back on the road headed south along the shore line.

Mechanical # 2

We pass through the town of Belmar on Ocean Boulevard and continue south to Sea Girt.  We then turn inland and into the wind.  It's a bit of a grind, but it doesn't feel as bad as I had envisioned.  While certainly we are moving at a slower pace it is not so slow that we have to abandon our time goal.  I am optimistic that we can still make it.  As we head up a small rolling hill Paul's saddle suddenly comes loose.  The saddle bolts need tightening. This proves to be a difficult fix on the side of the road using the multi-tool.  None the less, the saddle is succesfully retightened after about 15-20 minutes.  We continue on to our next control in Jerseyville.  The wind relentlessly challenges us on the final miles to the control.  We maintain a slow, but steady pace through it with Paul remaining in our draft as much as possible.  The miles are ticking off efficiently.  Our goal is still within reach.  Surprinsingly we arrive at the Jerseyville Wawa control at the target time.  We have allowed for an 18 minute stop.  After fifteen minutes we head out for the final leg.

Grind to the Finish

The winds coming out of Jerseyville are the strongest of the day.  The area consists of mostly farmers fields with nothing to block the full force of the gusts.  After about fifteen miles we encounter some small hillocks which helps to break the monotony of the trek.  Al has been keeping me up to date with time checks.  At fourteen miles from the finish it looks like a good bet we will finish safely under the 10 hour mark.  We are riding on familiar roads that are used by a number of popular routes in the area.  The air temperature has reached the 70 degree mark.  Despite the challenging head winds everything feels right to me.  I am fully enjoying these last miles.  We quickly are at the US 130 crossing with Cranbury just across the highway.  After a few turns we are in Village Park, at the finish, in a time of 9hrs 45min, within our goal.

Team Big Red at the Finish!                photo by Mrs. Al

The first ride of the New Jersey brevet season brought with it a number of firsts.  For Al and I it represented our first 200k completed on a tandem.  Also, a PR for Al at the 200k distance.  Katie and Jon would be the first riders to make it around the route setting a new course record of 8hrs 33min.  For Paul it was his first time riding the route during daylight hours, as the ride was originally established with a night start. 

With warmer weather moving into the region I am excited about the upcoming season.  I've had an incredible off season logging more miles and RUSA kms than any other year.  I hope to be able to ride my way into the RUSA K-Hounds club.  The requirement for entry into this small group is 10,000 kilometers accumulated through brevets and permanents in a single year.  To my knowledge a New Jersey resident has yet to hit the mark.  Not that my goal is to be the first, as I would enjoy seeing other area randonneurs make it.  The continuing growth of permanents and permanent populaires in the region should give everyone a fair chance.        

See you on the roads