Friday, May 18, 2012

Princeton 300k Pre-Ride - The Fixie Challenge

 The fun part of agreeing to undertake this ride was that I wasn't confident I could do it.  I've competed this route no less than four prior times, and, segments of it dozens of times.  This time, I would be attempting it on the fixed-gear.  Not my longest fixed ride, but, in my mind it would be the toughest.  To my amazement three of my four riding companions also agreed to ride fixed.  As the scheduled date approached, and my nervousness increased, the fact that others would be riding with a single cog kept me committed.

I'm not my best at three am.  With all my gear ready, the Jamis Sputnik in the van from the night before, I drive to Princeton Forestall Village, arriving fifteen minutes in advance of the four am start.  The four other riders are there already making final preparations.  I'm riding with Todd, Paul, Roy and Jon.  All but Todd will be on fixed-gear bikes.

The Start
The Village of Kingston at 4:10am
 Exactly at the designated time of four am we take out from the quaint shopping village in the early morning darkness.  The first thirty miles are fairly gentle, a nice smooth warm-up before the difficult miles ahead.  The weather is reasonably pleasant with an air temperature in the low fifties and moderate winds.  The humidity is high causing a misty fog.  We spin quietly on roads that are totally void of traffic at the early hour.  At times chatting with each other, but mostly just taking in the pre-dawn stillness.  An overcast sunrise begins just prior to our arrival at Whitehouse Station.  The designated control is the Bagel Junction in the Whitehouse Mall.  We take the opportunity to partake in a nice breakfast of freshly baked bagels.  While enjoying the respite we discuss the severity of the terrain on the next section.  The four of us riding fixed are figuring there are hills we will be forced to walk.  For at least some portion.   We all agree that Ryan Road in Petersburg will likely be the first to take us out.  Although, there are significant hills to climb before we get there.

Whitehouse Station
Todd (L) and Roy (R) at Bagel Junction, Whitehouse Station
 Reluctantly leaving the comfortable environment of the bagel store we cross US-22 headed towards Oldwick.  We work our way to Rockaway Road, which is a slightly uphill run along the river to the tiny town of Mountainville.   The first lump of the day appears on Guinea Hollow Road which brings us up to Route 512 near Califon.  While not a particularly difficult climb it is followed by a long fast high-cadence descent into the small town.  With little chance to rest the legs we take on two quick kickers which lead to Route 513.  A quick turn-off is made on Sliker Road. This begins a long challenging climb along the side of Point Mountain.  We all manage to stay upright for the entire climb.  A fast twisty descent to the Muscenetcong River follows on Point Mountain Road.  We cross US-31 near Washington climbing again up to Rockport Road where we enjoy a pleasant rolling stretch into Hackettstown.  Each mile brings us closer to the first real steep climb at Ryan Road.

Ryan Road
Roy and Paul walking Ryan Road
 Traversing the western half of the town of Hackettstown on US-46 we climb up to Liberty Township.  We turn-off on Petersburg Road and are quickly met with more steep kickers.  A long gradual descent leads us to the turn onto Ryan Road one-half mile before the climb.  Todd has fallen back.  We all wait for him at the bottom of the climb, delaying the painful experience just a bit longer.  When he arrives we immediately start up the hill.  The road pitches up sharply very early on.  It is all I can do to turn over the pedals until finally I feel stuck.  I don't have the strength to move the pedal to the bottom of the stroke.  Clip out, or fall are my choices.  With little desire to break a hip I take option one (clip out).   With feet firmly on the ground I look around to see my fellow fixie riders walking their bikes up the steepest section of the hill.  Score one for the mountain.  No one with a single cog stayed on for the entire climb up Ryan.  Todd successfully climbed the hill with gears.  Once at the top a fast descent delivers us to Allamuchy.  We pass by sod and chickory farms on gentle terrain.  Interstate 80 is just off to our right.  The traffic there seems out of place in this farm community.   I'm happy when we enter the small town of Johnsonburg and can no longer see or hear the interstate.  We pass through the sleepy town headed for State Highway 94.

 Stillwater Loop
Despite running the biggest gear of the group Jon climbed strong all day
 Once Route 94 is reached signs pointing the direction to Blairstown lead one to believe the control is near.  Unfortunately, a cruel joke is played at this point.  The cue sheet quickly directs riders to the north for a little venture known as the Stillwater Loop.  This is twelve miles of challenging terrain in one of the northern most regions of the state.  A substantial climb on Sunset Lake Road comes at a time which makes it hard to enjoy.  None the less it is climbed successfully by our entire group.  There is a payback for the effort which is in the form of breathtaking scenery.  Millbrook Road has a view which seems to go on forever.  The remaining miles to Blairstown pass uneventfully.  We are soon enjoying a hearty lunch at the Gourmet Gallery in the small downtown area. 

Jenny Jump
Pain and suffering ahead
The departure from Blairstown comes with the knowledge that one of the most notorious climbs on the course is looming in the distance.  Seven miles of somewhat hilly terrain bring us to State Park Road, and the start of a long steep trek up the Jenny Jump mountain.  Roy and I are climbing together.  Jon is a bit ahead.  Both Paul and Todd are a bit behind.  Roy announces the percentage of grade as reported from his Garmin.  We are climbing fine until we exceed 16% of grade.  We are once again relegated to walking.  We watch in awe as Jon continues the climb, without walking.  We only walk a short way until the grade lessens.  We resume riding to the top of the climb.  What follows is a screaming descent down to Route 611.  After which we enjoy mostly moderate terrain to the information control at the Anderson Hotel in Washington.
A grimace on his face as Paul tops Westervelt Road in Washington

Penwell Road
Roy and Jon re-grouping at hill top
From the turn off Route 57 in Washington to the top of Schooley's Mountain involves six miles of climbing on Penwell Road.  The initial section, near the YMCA camp, is quite steep for about one mile.  After which the remainder of the climb is considerably more moderate.  All of the day I was thinking that the steeper section of Penwell would be too much for the fixed-gears.  To my surprise we all made it without dismounting.  When the gradient eased I felt strong and pushed a bit on the remaining miles to the top.  I rather enjoyed the climb and a nice break at the General Store conveniently located at the apex of the mountain. 

 Hacklebarney State Park

After a bit of rest at the store we descend off the mountain into the town of Long Valley.  From there it is a short distance to Califon, where there is an information control followed by the final big climb of the day.   The slow, steady grind up Route 512 actually buoys my spirits as I know that this is the last of the extended climbs.  All riders make the climb upright.  We continue on to Fairmount, near Chester and the control at Hacklebarney.  Once on State Park Road we hit a few smaller hills, but nothing compared to what we've been through.  Basically, the severe terrain is behind us.  Upon arrival at the control we are greeted by Todd's friend Leslie, who has graciously volunteered to provide food and drink for our small group of pre-riders.  We relax and enjoy warm slices of Pizza.  After a nice break we reluctantly resume the ride.  We have a couple of hours of daylight left and forty-five miles to the end.  We plan to make an optional stop at Three Bridges to switch to night riding mode.

Push to the Finish

A few steep kickers hit us on the way out of the park.  After which we manage with a long, bumpy downhill into Pottersville.  This is followed by a run along Black River Road.  We are headed downriver, moderately losing elevation all the way to the crossing of US 22 at Whitehouse.  We pass by the shopping center where we enjoyed bagels many hours ago.  The final thirty-miles from this point follows the identical route as the outbound.  Everything is familiar as we work our way to US 202 at Three Bridges stopping at the Wawa Market.  We keep our stop brief departing with lights and reflective gear functioning.  We still have some daylight left although the sun is quickly sinking.  Like horses to the barn we are covering ground quickly and efficiently.  We reach the tiny town of Neshanic Station as daylight yields to darkness.  I've ridden this section so many times I've no need for a cue-sheet.  Methodically, we work our way through South Branch, Montgomery Township, Franklin and Kingston.  The final one and a half miles on Academy Street feels like a sprint.  Although, night riding has the perception of feeling faster than the reality.  None the less we are soon enough at the finish in the Forrestal Village Parking lot.  We took 17 hours and 22 minutes to cover the hilly route.  All said and done it's a successful day on a fix.


My friend, and fellow Randonneur, Nigel Green posted a writing by Jane Flanders entitled the Hard Way.

I found the short piece thought provoking and relevant.   Why would anyone do anything in a manner that would make the task more difficult?  According to Jane Flanders this is done frequently in error, but just as often by intent.  The point being; sometimes it's the difficulty factor that makes something fun to accomplish.

I confess that my fixed-gear season is somewhat of a fluke.  I never originally set out to do this.  It all began when I took a trip west and brought along the fixie as my only bike.  I wound up spending months away from home in a very hilly region with nothing else to ride but a 46x18.  I made the best of it.  And, of a warm winter, by racking up many miles, and RUSA kilometers, on the single cog.  When I finally returned to the east I had little desire to ride anything but the fixed.  I expect at some point that will change, but for now my intention is to take it as far as a can.  Hopefully, accomplishing a full series on fixed, and, possibly a repeat K-Hound award.   With every one of the 10,000 kilometers ridden.......the hard way.        




1 comment:

  1. Joe:
    Nicely done both on the report and the ride! You were riding (and sometimes walking) with a good group.
    I have to say I find it oddly encouraging that there were sections that were too steep to ride fixed and yet you all finished in a very good time. Makes me more inclined to try my fixie on a route that I would have previously thought was too hard since I too often do things "the hard way."