Friday, September 14, 2012

New Jersey State Record Crossing (East to West)

The wind feels cool blowing through my one piece cycling suit.  It's just a few minutes past eight on a cloudy Sunday morning.  The aforementioned wind is coming off the Great Bay in Little Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.  I'm at the center of a small gathering making final preparations to ride my bike to the western end of the state where the pavement will end at the Delaware River, some eighty miles from the starting point.  The purpose of the gathering is to attempt to break a standing UMCA record for crossing the state from east to west.  That record stands at 5 hours, 55 minutes.  I'm hoping to beat that time by a substantial margin, perhaps an hour or more.

At thirteen minutes past the hour I'm ready to go.  My nervousness begins to fade away as I turn the pedals on the Specialized Langster fixed gear.  My wife, son and David, the UMCA official, pile into the follow vehicle to trail behind me.  This is a requirement for a UMCA record.  I question whether it will be a distraction.  As it turns out I quickly forget it's there.  Focusing on maintaining a brisk pace for the miles ahead requires most of my concentration.  With the remaining mental capacity I am making sure I don't miss a turn.  I am to stay on Great Bay Boulevard for over six miles.  The area is very open and quiet at this early hour.  I can see the water to  my left.  There are multiple narrow bridges with traffic lights to ensure no two vehicles meet on the wooden section, which is only wide enough for one vehicle.  The UMCA rules require adherence to all traffic laws.  I lose a couple of minutes waiting at these lights, even though no vehicle comes through.  After crossing US-9 I am headed to the heart of the Pine Barrens region.  This is a good place to be when the wind direction is opposite of helpful.  The trees make a nice blockade allowing a steady pace to be maintained.  My goal is to manage the full distance without a stop.
Waiting at one of many traffic light crossings
 With the follow car safely in tow we roll through Green Bank and Elwood arriving at US 322, White Horse Pike.  Thirty-two miles are behind us, we remain on target.  After crossing the highway at a jug-handle intersection on Malaga Road I signal my crew for a hand-off water bottle.  We never practiced this from the moving vehicle, we only discussed the safest way to do it.  The exchange goes smoothly with little to no time delay.  My wife is the support person in the back of the HHR.  She is responsible for hand-offs and is helping me with navigation.  Periodically small slips of paper with turns for the next ten to twenty miles are passed to me.  I clip them to the bar to keep track of the route.  When we pass the forty mile point without any major mishap my confidence begins to soar.  I had driven the route two weeks ago.  Doing so is proving extremely useful as I recognize many of the landmarks where turns are located.  Combined with the small cue-sheets I'm being handed from the support crew all is going smoothly.  
Official UMCA follow vehicle
 After a sixteen mile stretch on a single county road, CR 690, we find ourselves close to fifty miles.  With about thirty left to the finish.  It looks as if we are going to shatter the record.  Although, I'm trying hard to block out that thought.  I think about the expression "counting chickens before they hatch".  I need to concentrate on nothing but staying on course and giving what I can to the momentum of the bike.  

Soon enough I begin to see the cooling tower of the Salem Nuclear Plant looming up ahead with steam steadily flowing from it's top.  Our destination is quite near the plant, which uses the Delaware River to cool the reactor core.  The wind has picked up quite a bit, and for now, I am right into it.  With about ten miles left I pick up my effort to compensate.  Mostly, it is effective.  My average speed is holding fairly well. 

The final miles are exposed land, mostly corn fields.  When the turn for Fort Elfsborg road comes up I know we are within a few miles of the end.  The road twists its way through some farmland and makes a hard left to become a residential road.  I fly by the small houses until the tiny park at the end of the road is in sight.  Not much point in sprinting , but, for the benefit of the crew I pump my fist int he air as I hit the transition from road to dirt, which is where the land yields to the river.  We have taken more than 1.5 hours off of the existing record using a fixed-gear bike.  Needless to say we are a happy little group at the finish.  The finish time is 4 hours, 27 minutes.

At the finish on the Delaware River.  Notice the flags.

A hug for the crew chief and vehicle driver, my son Charlie

Left to right: David, UMCA Official, Charlie (son), Crew Chief, Lucy (wife) support crew 
 A UMCA event is an unusual practice for me.  The past seven years have been largely spent randoneuriing.  While much has been accomplished in that time the repetitiveness of the activity can make one weary.  Something different than the routine can be refreshing.  Preparing for the record attempt took incredible time and energy.  And, much of it was off the bike.  In fact, meeting the UMCA paperwork and vehicle signage requirements where quite time consuming.  As was designing and driving the route.   With the experience gained in this successful attempt I feel that future participation will be easier.   There are literally scads of records across the country that are ripe for the picking.  I'm hoping to find the time and a willing crew to take a shot at another one.  Stay tuned.