Thursday, November 26, 2020

Last of the Autumn Leaves

Paulinskill Valley Trail, Warren County, NJ

26 November 2020

I am so. far. behind.

I: Getting Beat Up on the Paulinskill Valley Trail

I am so far behind that we're going all the way back to October 23, a misty-ish, warm-ish day when Tom persuaded a handful of us to pack our trail bikes for a trip to Warren County. He wanted to ride about half of the Paulinskill Valley Trail

We started at the Knowlton end, where the trail wasn't much of a trail at all. It was narrow, bumpy, and muddy. I fell trying to swerve around a mud hole several hundred yards in. That set the tone for the rest of the ride. Not only was I now far behind Tom, Ricky, Jack H, and Pete; I was also afraid that the entire ride would be like this. Because of my herniated disc, I've been told to avoid trails like this. "One fall and you're in the hospital," my doctor told me ten years ago.

I caught up to them when the trail met a road near a viaduct.

They hadn't seen me fall, much less noticed how far behind I was. Fortunately, the trail got smoother, wider, and, mostly, drier after that. Ricky and Jack H were on converted road bikes. Pete was on a true gravel bike. Tom was riding his new mountain bike with 29-inch wheels. I was on Grover, the 2007 Canondale cheapo mountain bike with 26-inch wheels. I had to work hard just to keep the rest of the group in sight.

Tom checks the trail map

I was happy that we stopped to admire the river. "It's too bad it's cloudy," Tom said. If the sun were out, the autumn colors would pop.

The three on their gravel bikes got so far ahead of me and Tom that, at times, we couldn't see them.

We were a dozen or so miles in when we reached the largest mud pit of the day. Tom decided this was a good place to turn around. Jack H, Pete, and Ricky decided to forge ahead. I knew I didn't have enough water or leg reserves to stay with them. I had been working too hard just to keep up.

Tom said he wanted to go more slowly and take pictures on the way back. No problem!

The Route 94 underpass

Tom wanted to stop at a field he'd noticed on the way up.

Getting a good picture of the viaduct wasn't easy.

We'd parked at a ballfield about a mile away from the trailhead. Between the trail and the field was a narrow, winding lane that crossed over the Paulins Kill.

Tom changed his clothes and headed north to visit his father. I sat in my car and ate my lunch. As I was finishing, the gravel bike guys pulled in, sweaty and exhausted. They'd gone almost to the end, having had to venture across main roads and encounter a chain-link fence.

On my way down the northern reaches of Route 31, I passed a pair of Trump fascists who had set up a tent in a parking lot. They were selling memorabilia, including framed pictures. This is a cult.

As I sat in traffic south of Clinton, I began to think about trading my mountain bike in for something better suited for the trails I ride. I bought the mountain bike for hopping logs, not for speeding along rail trails. If I keep having to work this hard just to keep up with gravel bikes, I'll be miserable. On the other hand, I put less than 200 miles on my mountain bike in any given year; I can't justify spending any serious money for a replacement. In my garage is a 1998 Cannondale hybrid. Plain Jim and Wheelfine Michael think it's something they can work with.

II: Late Color Closer to Home

Two days later I listed a ride at the last minute and got one taker, Pete. I wasn't feeling creative and stuck to a predictable route from Pennington to Sergeantsville.

The top of Stony Brook Road was worth stopping for.

There was a threat of rain. On Rocktown Road we stopped again to look at the front coming in.

I caught a bit of a murmuration of starlings (center left).

If I'm going to stop halfway up the steepest part of the climb from Harbourton to Mount Airy, there had better be a reason. There were two: a pretty wildflower, and a Halloween display across the street.

We were seeing more complicated decorations than usual. People are stuck at home with nothing else to do, I guess.

Then there was this fascist asshat. "Let the man do his job?" Which is what, exactly? Golfing and letting people die from Covid-19?

Dutch Lane is always pretty.

III: So Much for Lambertville Halloween

We Slugs made our annual pilgrimage to Lambertville on Halloween. Passing the decorated house on Harbourton-Mount Airy Road again, I stopped for better photos.

For some reason, Route 179 from Gulick Road to Lambertville is underrated. Yes, it's a busy road, but the shoulder is as wide as a car and there's this view:

I led the group down Union street towards Rojos, hoping to pass that house, but I must have cut in too late. After our break, I headed back down Union all the way to Bridge Street. Usually an all-out decoration-fest, the houses had little, if anything, on display. It only occurred to me then that not having throngs of people strolling past houses was, this year, the responsible thing to do.

"Don't boo," the mask says. "Vote."

IV: Solo Before the Rain

The next day, I took Beaker out for a short ride to Allentown and back. I'd woken up late and found myself with just enough time to squeeze 30 miles in before the rain arrived.

On Gordon Road, as I was putting my jacket back on, I noticed this sign at the entrance to a development. "Attention: security equipment in use. You are being watched." What a welcoming community!

A fellow Free Wheeler had mentioned a coffee shop in the old mill at the southern end of Allentown. I knew it wouldn't be open, but I wanted to check it out. I walked behind the mill to look at the bridge over Doctor's Creek from the underside.

I turned around and headed home, racing the northern edge of the storm for the final seven miles. The rain won.

V: Sergeantsville a Different Way

I haven't been leading as many rides this year as I have before. I listed one for November 8. Only Jim signed up. I had no route in mind from Pennington to Sergeantsville. 

We started of predictably enough, stopping on the southern end of Stony Brook Road to catch the last of the autumn leaves.

We crossed Route 31 at Rocktown, then took Gulick to Route 179. I turned north towards Ringoes, turning onto Route 579. I decided to stay there for a while, maybe all the way to Route 523.

North of Ringoes the road opens up to farms on both sides as it rolls slowly uphill towards the outskirts of Flemington. 

Down an unpaved driveway, under an old tree, was a pickup truck loaded with pumpkins.

They were Trumpkin pumpkins, unfortunately, but no matter. The fascist had lost the election, not that he dared admit it.

When we saw Britton Road we turned onto it because it's almost, but not quite exactly, unlike Jim's last name. The road had more hills than I remembered.

The maple on the side of the Sergeantsville General Store was on fire with color:

We passed the "Let the man do his job" barn on the way back. The banner was gone. 

I got Jim good and confused by turning onto Woodens Lane from Route 518.

After that, I was a total asshole because I led him the whole way up (Un)Pleasant Valley to Pennington. Normally, I try not to put the biggest hill at the end of a ride, but Jim was a good sport.

VI: Sunday Cows

Jim led a ride. I was on Beaker and Ricky was on Barney. I took pictures of our bikes but they didn't come out well. There were a lot of people signed up, many of them fastboys. I only stopped once, I'm not sure where (Sunset or Orchard maybe), for cows.

VII: Sergeantsville a Different Different Way
Last Sunday a handful of Slugs, plus Leonard G and Martin, signed up for my ride. I tweaked the Sergeantsville route to go around Britton and (Un)Pleasant Valley. We stayed on Route 579 all the way to the intersection of Route 523.

I love the view there, even when it's gloomy:

Jim pointed out the cows in the corner of the pasture.

We turned onto 523 towards Sergeantsville. On the way, we passed this monument to fascism, racism, homophobia, sexism, nepotism, corruption, and stupidity, at the entrance to a certain small business whose name I've conveniently forgotten. Your cult leader lost, asshole. Burn this mess down.