On Friday night at the Days Inn by New Jersey Turnpike Exit #8 over thirty riders are preparing for a full night on the road. It is pleasant out with an air temperature in the seventies, and little to no wind. A touch of humidity can be felt with rain showers being a distinct possibility for later on, and throughout the weekend. For now the conditions are near ideal and the group seems to be in good spirits. Many are using this ride as the final step in the qualification process for PBP, elevating its importance. Everyone is hopeful of a successful finish, but most know that things can go wrong along the way. A few final announcements are made by the ride organizer, Walt Pettigrew. Upon conclusion the go signal is given and we begin the 376 mile route.
East Windsor to Whiting – 50 Miles
The riders exit the hotel parking lot heading south on Route 33. Quickly a single line of taillights is visible exiting the busy highway to the quieter roads for our 50 mile journey to the first control in Whiting. I’m riding with my friends Paul and Jon. We are taking it easy early on, which is always my preference on a long ride. Hearing a noise coming from Paul’s bike we pull over to check it out. My friend Todd passes by along with his friend Leslie who is riding her first 600k. Paul’s problem turns out to be a leaf which is stuck in the front brake rubbing the tire. We are quickly back underway, only to ride past a turn. Our error was not realized until a mile beyond. Ring up two bonus miles for the home team. The route has us going through Millstone Township, Jackson and New Egypt on pleasant roads with light traffic. At 28 miles into the ride Paul announces that he is not feeling well. His plan is to ride back to his car using a route that he is familiar with. He continues with us for about ten more miles until the point we must turn in different directions. He assures us he is okay to ride back alone. A stomach condition has given Paul many challenges this year. Amazingly, he has managed to complete three of the four required rides for the series. I’m willing to bet that he finds a way to complete the series before the season is done. Jon and I continue on to the control which is just a short way ahead. We are pretty near the back of the pack but there are still many riders in the control. The volunteers check us in and offer us water. While replenishing my water I notice a spoke dangling on my rear wheel. It had broken without me knowing it. I unthread it from the nipple allowing the nipple to fall into the wheel. It rattles around when the wheel is rotated slowly but stops at any kind of speed. The wheel did not come out of true, which is the benefit of 32 spokes per wheel. If nothing else goes wrong I should be able to finish the brevet with the wheel as it is. We leave the control near the back of the pack.
Whiting to Tuckerton – 27 Miles
Leaving the control we head south towards the Pine Barrens region on Route 539. My rear wheel is rolling smoothly. Finally, we hit our stride and begin making good time. We start catching up to riders on the road. I see their tail lights flickering from far back as we gradually work our way up to them. We exchange pleasantries as we pull by. Then I begin looking for more tail lights to focus on. Jon and I take turns on the front with long pulls. I feel quite good. I’m not sleepy at all despite the late hour. The miles pass quickly. We catch up to two riders, Mordecai and Sam from New York City. Mordecai is riding a fixed gear. They fall into step us. We ride together for a good number of miles. As we hit a succession of small hills they fall back. We decide to stick to our “A” plan which doesn’t allow us to wait up. We have several ride strategies to use. Plan “A” is our optimum, which has us covering over 500k the first day to sleep in Atco, in lieu of the organized sleep stop at Fairton. It’s an aggressive plan, one which I’m not fully confident I can manage. However, for the time being we are on the pace. In a short time we arrive at the second Super Wawa control of the evening. There are a good group of riders in the control and a volunteer as well. We make quick work of the stop further improving our position as we head out.
Tuckerton to Somers Point – 40 Miles
Once again we are moving well. The night is pleasant, although a bit misty at times. The cloud cover is keeping the temperature mild. I’m comfortable with just a short sleeve cycling jersey and shorts. We pass a couple of more riders as we head towards Egg Harbor City. We are working our way south staying near the coast. Daylight happens on this section with a slow lightening of the cloudy skies. We come across Todd and Leslie who fall into step with us. The route follows a bike path for a number of miles. I pull our small group along at a good pace. The bike path ends. I feel good and remain on the front. Todd and Leslie gradually drop off the back. We continue our pace, riding the “A” plan. After jumping on and off another bike path we arrive at the Super Wawa control at 118 miles into the ride. A total time of eight hours has elapsed. We waste little time at this control as well.
|Jon rolling smoothly along the New Jersey Shorline|
Somers Point to Burleigh - 33 Miles
This section follows mostly along the shoreline. It is flat with some wind, but not unfavorable. We manage a decent pace picking up a rider, Mark, along the way. At the 200k point I check the time to notice we have managed to reach here in 8.5 hours. The pace aligns well with Plan “A”. We pass through Ocean City and Sea Isle with everything looking familiar to me. I recall riding through here on the MS-170 only last month. Mark hangs in with us occasionally chatting about his past rando experiences, which are extensive. The conversation is enjoyed and the miles tick off quickly. After a bit Mark seems to have a low point, dropping back. Our plan only allows us to keep rolling. I hope we see him again later on. We cross numerous bridges on this stretch. Some are formidable and can be considered climbs. I rather enjoy the brief change of terrain. As we near the control a light rain begins. By the time we arrive at the Corner Café, in Burliegh, it is a full on rain shower with thunder boomers. The volunteer, Dawn, checks us in quickly. We decide to take a break, out of the weather, and get something to eat. I enjoy a nice stack of pancakes. All the while the weather rages outside. Heavy rain, thunder and lightning pummel the area for about twenty minutes. By the time we finish our food it has lessened considerably.
Burliegh to Cape May Point State Park - 19 Miles
We depart the control with only a light drizzle falling. The temperature is warm and I am comfortable riding without rain gear. This section will lead us to as far south as someone can go in New Jersey. The rain ends quickly and the roads begin to dry. The miles to the cape are easy. We maintain a nice pace arriving at the park and the Cape May Lighthouse in good time. Ren and Rob Mortara are there having just arrived a few minutes before. They have been plagued with flat tires. We answer the info control question, take a photo of the lighthouse and move on.
|Brothers Ren and Rob at Cape May State Park|
|Jon at Cape May Point Lighthouse|
Cape May Point State Park to Tuckahoe – 36 Miles
The return from the park retraces the route in. We see a number of riders headed to the control. After a bit of riding we hit the 300k mark, halfway into the ride. I notice the time is less than 14 hours, which is still on Plan A. In a few miles we pass by a convenience store where there are about a half dozen of our riders there, including the Mortara brothers. We continue on without stopping. Some miles later we happen upon a group of riders from Boston called the Randoliers as is easily determined by reading the printing on their matching jerseys. They hook onto us as I’m on the front. I’m feeling good and happily pull the whole group along for some distance. Jon and one of their riders take some turns as well. We keep a nice pace to the Pizza shop control in Tuckahoe. There are a few riders in the stop when we come in. Jon and I agree to take a few minutes to enjoy a slice of pizza. We quickly eat refresh our water and head out.
|Jon riding with the Randoliers|
We leave the control in the company of Doug, who has an odd choice of mount for a 600k. He is using a time trial bike. While plenty aerodynamic it doesn’t look very comfortable. None the less Doug takes a strong pull or two and then pulls off rather suddenly stopping on the side of the road. We look back and can see nothing wrong. We assume he just needed a nature break and we continue on. After riding awhile we come across the Randoliers again. They were out of the last control before us, but then stopped at a market. We converge with them just as they are getting back on the road. I pull the group along for a bit when suddenly I’m not feeling so strong. I pull off letting Jon take over. I’m thinking I just need to sit in for a bit to recover. Jon and one of their riders pulls the train along while I, and the rest of the group are content to sit in. After a time I try taking the front again, but it becomes clear that the snap is gone from my legs. Our expected arrival at Eagle Manor, in the neighborhood of 5pm, is still solidly in line with Plan A. However, with my energy level diminishing I’m questioning whether I will be able to manage the 46 additional miles to Atco. Until now I’ve been upbeat when discussing the strategy with Jon. At Cape May it looked like a good bet to both of us. Without saying anything aloud I’m having strong doubts about it now. The remaining miles to the control are a grind. We have a navigation problem which takes some time to resolve. A few miles out Jon has a leaky tire which we stop to pressure back up. The Randoliers continue on. I’m feeling fully depleted when we finally arrive at the entrance gate to the mansion. The road which leads to the main house itself is a half mile which I find excruciating. I tell Jon I don’t know if I’ll be able to leave anytime soon. I feel badly about it since he seems good to go. We decide to eat and rest a bit before making a final decision.
|Eagle Manor - Haven for the sleep deprived photo by M. Neel|
Eagle Manor Overnight Control
The Eagle Manor is a privately owned mansion that is currently unoccupied. Walt, the ride organizer, is the caretaker for the property. We were allowed full use of the huge house which included a screened rear porch overlooking the river. A full kitchen, numerous bathrooms, and a good number of large bedrooms equipped with cots for sleeping. The volunteers staffing the control give me soup and a sandwich. After having the food I feel only marginally better. Despite the fact that it is just 6pm, and there is more than two hours of remaining daylight, I don’t feel like I should continue without significant rest. I discuss this with Jon and he readily agrees to remain at Eagle Manor until mid-night. Welcome to Plan B.
Although I am in a fairly exhausted state I sleep fitfully. After a couple of hours I wake up with leg cramps. I have to walk around to loosen them up. I stop in the kitchen and see a few people I know. One of them, Steve, asks what time I’m heading out. He and his friend Patrick would like to ride out with us. We agree to be ready to ride at mid-night. I head back to the room to try for a little more sleep. I awake at 11:15 on my own. I begin preparations to leave. Jon is awakened at 11:30 by one of the volunteers. We are ready to ride five minutes in advance of mid-night. Steve and Patrick depart the control with us.
Fairton to Medford – 62 Miles (Day 2)
Our group of four takes out into a pleasantly overcast night. With an air temperature in the sixties and a very light mist the conditions are good for riding. I’m glad for the company of my three riding companions. While not feeling as powerful as I did for much of the prior day I feel good enough to make the remaining 115 miles. The six and a half hour rest has worked its magic. In prior years the return route on day 2 was another run through the Pine Barrens. I always kind of enjoyed the solitude of the area in the pre-dawn hours. As for this year the region is passed by, in the interests of re-positioning the sleep stop beyond the 400k point. The strategy made sense as the resource of Eagle Manor was now viable as an ending point for the first day. The majority of riders used the mansion for sleep, which was never the case in the past. The route, while not as unique as the wooded expanse of the barrens, worked fine. The roads were mostly in good condition and we were routed through quiet areas. With the one exception being a gentlemen’s night club we passed by right at the closing time. Fortunately, there was a gas station with convenience store at the same intersection. We took the opportunity to refresh our water supply allowing time for the rowdy crowd to dissipate. Shortly, we pass by the location of our Plan “A” sleep stop, in Atco. Jon and I agree that it would have been quite a trek to make it there the prior night. We’ve adjusted our thinking to the sanity of Plan “B”. We are both satisfied with our progress so far. A short time later we are directed off the main road into an expansive neighborhood, a golf course community. The cue sheet directs us to enter a bike path that we can’t locate. At the point it is supposed to be we see nothing but woods. We wind up using Patrick’s GPS to re-route ourselves using roads. Eventually we end up at the same location the bike path would have delivered us to. A fair amount of time was lost in the process as well as another bonus mile added to our total. Soon thereafter we arrive at the Medford control. It is 5:30am. The first wisps of daylight present themselves. Another overcast day is predicted with rain later in the day. We relax at the control for a while drinking coffee and chatting with the volunteers George and Katie. After which we head out for the final leg to the finish.
|Jon and Patrick on the morning of Day-2|
|Steve on Day-2|
After about 5 miles we pass by the Vincentown Wawa on Route 206. In the past this was the penultimate control. The route to the north is especially pleasant as the roads have some elevation change and are quite scenic. We are not pushing ourselves as there are some more formidable hills in the last 25 miles. We roll steadily along passing horse farms on quiet country lanes. The skies remain overcast with a cool air temperature. The conditions are pretty much ideal for the final miles. The terrain changes to be a little hillier. None of them are terribly difficult. The added pressure on the tired legs is a relief from the constant spinning we’ve been doing. The largest of the hills is Agress Road. As we approach it I tell Patrick that the most difficult climb is ahead. He tells me he has very little energy left. When he spots the hill he stands and sprints to the top at incredible speed. There must be a reserve tank he didn’t know he had. With Agress behind us there is little in our way to the finish. Both Patrick and Steve are about to finish their first 600k, and an SR Series. We arrive at the finish with large smiles on their faces, mine too for that matter. We are clocked in by Kyle for a time of 35:25. It is 9:25 am, time for breakfast.
|Patrick and Steve happy with their first 600k finish!|
Since joining the Randonneuring ranks in 2006 I’ve started nine 600 kilometer rides. Counting this one seven were completed. I’ve learned something from each one. I view this ride as a success, although, there were mistakes on my part. While useful to have a ride plan it is probably better to have none than one that is too aggressive. Planning to complete 500 kilometers on day one was, in my case, overly optimistic, and, unnecessary. I was determined to try and make it work. In the process I pushed myself beyond what was sensible given my abilities and the length of the ride. Arriving at the sleep stop totally thrashed was not smart. Thankfully, I was able to recover to the degree that I finished the 185 remaining kilometers on Day 2 fairly comfortably. The six and a half hour rest at the sleep stop making that possible. So, despite a bad plan, and, my maniacal dedication to it, things still worked out. And, there was a lot to be happy about. Mostly, spending thrity-five hours on the road with friends both old and new is always a worthwhile endeavor. Not to mention the completion of an SR series, and, qualifying for Paris-Brest.