11 March 2018
I don't mind losing an hour of sleep if it means we gain an hour of sunlight. In my mind, winter is over. On the ground, not so much.
Pete and I got all the way to Mercer County Park before there was any ice in our way, thin strips from snow on the opposite side of the road. Even that was melting. We went around it when we could, sloshed over it when we couldn't.
Ralph, who had also ridden in from home, said he'd encountered some, and potholes. I handed over the sign-in sheet and went to look at the Assunpink from the bridge in the woods. Prem had a flat anyway; there was time. I had to dismount and wobble in my cleats through frozen slush to get to the bridge.
Prem and Chris were still working on the flat. Pete griped to Rick W and Jeff about having to stand around in the cold. Andrew and The Jerry Foster, no strangers to Hill Slug banter, respectfully held back. When a second tube got pinched, Prem sent us on our way.
Nine were signed in but I'd lost one already.
We had a light tailwind as we moved counterclockwise along a route Tom had suggested in penance for bailing at the last minute. I'd had several versions of this route in my files anyway and dutifully copied one onto a hand-written cue sheet in case the GPS were to become confused. Tom uses different mapping software; it doesn't take much to mess up Son of the Piece of Shit.
Son Of did get a little kerfuffled on our way towards Robbinsville. He righted himself without my help. I mostly knew where I was going anyway, although I always get myself confused in that little neighborhood off of Richardson Road. It didn't help that we weren't following the old PFW Event arrows through there either.
At the far end of Hamilton I worried that the shade and depth of Iron Bridge would be a slushy nightmare. It was clear. The only casualty was a water bottle that bounced from its holder on the back of Ralph's fixie. While he retrieved it I took a picture of the fence along Ellisdale Road.
We turned east, through open farm fields and past a row of red maples that were starting to bud. I had to point them out, but I didn't stop for any pictures. None would have done justice to what we were riding through. All around us were rolling, snow-covered fields, last fall's cut corn stalks poking out in endless rows, interrupted by bare trees, silos, and barns poking into a clear blue sky, the blacktop road cutting through the middle of all of it.
When we finally stopped at Roy's, Jerry asked why I hadn't taken any pictures. "There were a few spots where I was thinking, 'picture' and I wondered why you didn't stop."
"I wanted to," I said, "but I don't think they would have worked. It was a panorama. I couldn't have gotten the whole thing." That, and I didn't want to interrupt the steady pace the guys were putting out. The Slug-to-Fastboy ratio* was too low for my constant photo stops.
So instead I took a picture at Roy's of icicles and water spilling past a gap in the gutter to a pool on the ground.
This was a tough crowd. There was a considerable amount of trash-talking other riders, none of whom are my regulars. You trash a regular Slug in absentia, you gotta go through me, and I will not be having any of it.
Jerry and Andrew decided that they wanted to take the second half a little more slowly and went off on their own, towards Old York Road.
The rest of us continued east, turning north into the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area. I was a little worried about ice and snow there. All the roads were clear, though, including the moonscaped descent out of the WMA. One benefit of leading a group of experienced riders who know the area is that I don't need to tell them to keep left down that hill, and I don't have to worry that anyone is going to do an endo either.
At Nurko Road two things happened. First, my cue sheet and the GPS diverged. The GPS told me to turn; my cue sheet had us going straight. I must have copied from the wrong version of this route. I turned, figuring I'd shave off a few miles and get the guys back to the park that much faster. The second thing was that Ralph got a flat.
We didn't think this would be a big deal. Ralph warned us that it would be: his rims are several inches deep and he'd have to muck around with valve extenders. He told us to leave. "We'll stay," I said. "Hill Slugs always wait." Nobody else objected.
Ralph didn't want any help as he emptied a water bottle-shaped tool container onto the grass. He needed a wrench to get the rear wheel off. "No quick-release," he said. But no derailleur fuss either. He dug around some more, with Jeff having seen where shiny things had fallen, and removed the top of the valve on the new tube. In its place he fastened an extender. The finished valve was something like six inches long.
"Don't let Trump see that," I said. He slid a protective patch of rubber over the stem and secured it by the valve. There were some suggestive murmurs about that, and Ralph said "come on, baby," as he wiggled the long stem down into the deep rim.
We got a little spread out on Windsor Road, with Chris, Rick, and Ralph in front and me, Pete, and Jeff in the back. We weren't that far behind really, but it was enough that we three didn't make the light at Route 130. The guys in front didn't wait.
Hill Slugs wait. Fastboys don't.
Pete and I didn't go back with Jeff to the East Picnic Area. We turned toward the park road instead, facing the usual park headwind, the ice melted now into stripes of water.
There was enough salt on Kermit that I gave the bike a gentle misting and toweled him dry.
It's now 6:00 p.m. and the sun is high in the sky. We have another hour til sunset. I'm ready to quit Spinning entirely and commit to bike commuting until November. But there's more snow in the forecast, because of course there is.
(*The ideal Hill Slug-to-Fastboy ratio is inexpressible because one can't divide by zero.)