Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Trouble with Piggy

 View from the Masonic Lodge, Princeton, NJ

The trouble with Miss Piggy is that she never stays dialed in for more than a few weeks.  That I managed to go all winter without having to adjust the cables or the derailleur or something else probably has more to do with the bad weather than having gotten everything just right.

So when, last week, I lost the rear small cogs to front derailleur rub when in the front middle ring only, I was not the least bit surprised.  I was, however, annoyed.

I spent much of today's Spring Fling ride grinding away, and unable to shift into the big ring unless the chain was already on the smallest cog, dumping me into 52/11 whether I wanted to be there or not.  Dave H was much amused by my two-handed shifting antics at the top of the Sourland Mountain.

Now that I'm taking Jim's bike maintenance class, I was hoping that this would be something I could learn how to fix myself.  The first thing I did when I got back to the Masonic Temple was to find Jim.

We took a look at it, and he figured out that the derailleur was toed in too much.  He started in on adjusting it but stopped because it would require a cable adjustment.  I resigned myself to taking Piggy to Hart's.  Again.

6400+ miles, and 1000 of those are on the repair stand.

Tom is a retired bike shop owner to works for Ross now.  He's new to Miss Piggy and to my special relationship with the shop guys.  He was about to write up a repair ticket when I told him that the fix should be quick.  Then I described the problem. I think I won him over by being so specific, and he put the bike up on the repair stand.

It took about five minutes for him to make the repair, most of that time having been spent figuring out what was wrong.  The derailleur had dropped down, clockwise, just a few millimeters, which was more than enough to throw things off.  That's a new one for Miss Piggy. "I hate front derailleurs," he said.

I told him I can never keep the bike in tune for more than a few weeks at a time.  "You ride too hard," he said. "That's your problem."

"Uh-huh.  But my other two never give me any trouble."

"How is the Tommasini?"

"I love that bike."

I said, "Last night I dreamed I decided to get rid of the Cannondale, but you guys told me I wouldn't get more than $500 for it."

"You're probably right."

"I'll keep it till the frame cracks."

"Then you should get a Guru."

"I'm not sure I want any more carbon."

He showed me Ross' new Guru frame.  "Here," he said, handing it to me. At first I wasn't sure I was holding it; the frame was that light. "Five thousand dollars for the frame."

I said, "There's no beauty in carbon frames."

"They're not designed for that," he admitted.

I keep Miss Piggy because she's geared to get me up the big hills.  I can finish a tough ride and walk away from it.  She's easier on my back than the others are because of her gearing and lower weight.  But if I were forced to get rid of one of my frames, she'd be the second to go after Gonzo (and that's only because the frame is very nearly beat to shit).

Love her or hate her, Miss Piggy is mine until the frame falls apart.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Mercer High Points on a Perfect Day

18 April 2015

I decided to add extra miles to Tom's Mercer High Point ride by biking from home to the Rocky Hill ride start about 12 miles away. Sunday was going to be a non-riding day; out-of-town guests would be spending Saturday night at our place. I figured I could safely burn up all my energy on one day instead.

The weather was perfect:  mild, dry, clear, and slightly breezy.  Tom had a good sized group, with the usual Slug compliment (me, Ron, Bagel Hill Barry, and Snakehead), another Ed, and Blake (out of winter hibernation for the second time this year).

Tom's high points are loosely defined.  There are the true high points, and then there are the highest points we can reasonably get to on road bikes.  The Middlesex high point met both criteria.  Mercer would not prove to be so easy, so we tried to satisfy both parts separately.

The first high point was on Rileyville Road at Featherbed. As with Middlesex, this spot didn't look or feel particularly high up, even though we were on top of the Sourland Mountain.

Here, Tom corrals us for a group photo:

We were somewhere on the Sourland ridge when Ron realized he'd left his keys on the hood of his car.  He stopped, not sure if he should turn back. We convinced him that nobody would take his keys nor his car from where we'd parked.  "At least it gets my mind off the hills," he said.

We descended from the Sourlands and climbed to Mount Airy (cue the White Stripes' "Prickly Thorn but Sweetly Worn").  I did not take pictures of the cows.  They were facing away from us.  Instead I took pictures of other things at the top of the hill.

Tom chose Alexauken Creek Road as our route into Lambertville (cue Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home").  I took my time, stopping for pictures, while the rest of the group continued on.

There's happiness on a bike, and then there are those moments of ecstasy.  This was one of those moments.

I found Snakehead stopped across from my favorite pasture.  "This road is to be savored," I said.  That's when I saw the two white horses.

We rode together, slowly, taking it all in.  Next to a stream we saw three more white horses.  "Larry will love this!"  I said, and stopped.  The horses didn't even look up.

Tom was waiting for us at the end of the road.

Rojo's wasn't crowded, for a change.  R.E.M.'s Monster album was coming through the speakers.  "We've been listening to them all day," the barista said.  "Starting from Murmur?"  I asked.  "Yep."  Not a bad playlist.

Most of us sat outside. A shaggy, wiry-haired dog and his owners poured out of a car and chatted for a few minutes.  Groups of cyclists glided past. A man holding a tray of fresh-squeezed orange juice from Big Bear next door came by to offer us samples.

The route Tom had chosen out of Lambertville is familiar to anyone who has ridden with me for a long time, but for Tom it was his first journey up Swan and Studdiford.  We regrouped at the top of Goat Hill.

Next was Unpleasant Vallley, because the true high point of Mercer County lies within the Ted Stiles* Preserve.  We weren't able to reach it on our bikes, but we did climb the gravel drive into the parking lot.

The high point is up there somewhere:

Although we hadn't reached the same altitude as we had on Rileyville Road, Tom decided to take a group picture.  I was looking over his head at the cirrus clouds and the power line when he got the photo.  He would go on to disparage my neck in his blog, as if I didn't hate my body enough already.  Thanks, pal.

Anyway, the sky was pretty:

I had about 65 miles under me when I started to feel the long-distance hypoglycemic buzz.  From where we were I could have peeled off for home from any number of intersections, but I didn't.  Tom asked, "Are you going to go with us to Rocky Hill"

"Yeeeeahhhhh," I said.

"You don't sound too happy about it."

He hadn't heard me and Snakehead discussing the reason why:  If I were to go to Rocky Hill, I'd pass Main Street in Kingston on the way home.  Iced coffee and rice pudding were what I needed.  Snakehead wanted a sandwich.  We decided to meet there after the ride.

I said, "Also, I want to see if Ron's keys are still there."

Ron said, "Ron wants to see if Ron's keys are still there."

They were.

I grabbed them.  "How much you want for these?"  He held his hand out.  "You know what we'll be asking you from now on," I said.

"I'll never live this down," he said.

A small tailwind pushed me to Kingston.  Snakehead arrived soon after.  There was no rice pudding.  I wandered around, lost, not sure what I wanted to eat.  I settled for something I'd never choose under any other circumstance:  two little cake pops.  "Sugar and fat, " I said, not sure if I'd barf them up later.  That and a small iced coffee.  Snakehead got his sandwich and a big bag of chips.  "Have some of these," he offered. "They'll help with dehydration."

We were close to finished when TEW appeared, on her way home from the ride out of Sawmill in Hamilton. She sat with us and the chips instead of going straight for an iced coffee.

This is one of the grooviest things about being a Freewheeler.  You get to be out on a glorious day, eat cake pops and chips, drink as much iced coffee as you want, and run into people you'd never have met otherwise, all the while your bike waiting patiently against a tree.

I finished the ride with 77 miles.  I didn't feel dizzy.  I didn't need a nap.  And I didn't barf up the crap I ate in Kingston either.

Instead, I set up the sofa bed for our guests, showered, ate some more, invited the Saturday night folks over to join our visitors for take-out dinner on our back porch, and waited on the front steps for people to arrive. In the end, there were six of us with far more food and beer than we needed.

We all slept in on Sunday morning.  I made coffee for everyone, and then we went to a diner for breakfast. My friends hit the road around noon, the leftover beer with them.  I went into the back yard to resume what looks to be a long-term project:  cutting down the stories-tall bamboo that is dying by degrees, looking more and more like a bad comb-over than the dense thicket it once was.

Next week, Tom's high point mission continues in Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

[*Going back to the Lost Years:  Ted Stiles was on my dissertation committee.  He was one of only two professors I met in grad school who were truly involved in land preservation.  The other was Ralph Good, who helped create the Pinelands Preserve.  Both died, the latter during my time in grad school, the former a few years after.  Anyway, there I was, during my oral exam, flailing and failing, secretly angry and disenchanted.  Someone on my committee asked a question that took me some time to come around to answering.  I noticed that Ted was rifling through voluminous papers in his wallet.  "I'm boring Ted," I said. He looked up, sheepishly. Fast forward five years or so.  I was working on the trail plan for Baldpate Mountain with some other Sierra Club members and a handful of other local conservationists.  Ted was there.  We were gathered around a huge map, our goal to convince the County not to put so many trails through the park that there would be little undisturbed forest left.  As we were working, I noticed that Ted was doing something else. He was rifling through the papers in his wallet.  "Son of a bitch!" I thought.  "This is just something he does! He wasn't trying to psych me out after all!"  As everyone was leaving, I was talking to Pat Sziber, a big name in local land preservation then and now.  At the time, she was a lab manager at Princeton University (I would later work across the hall from the lab she had only recently retired from. Small world).  I was jealous that she actually had a job there; I was still a lab tech at Penn.  I gave her the short story of my sordid career: that I'd earned a PhD in ecology, didn't want to run a lab, and was now a career technician, "a lifer," I said. Ted chuckled.  "A lifer," he repeated.  I never saw him again.]

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Be the Dog

12 April 2015

No pictures today.  I needed all of my pockets to stash shed clothing.

Having only used my bike to commute to a meeting yesterday, I planned for extra miles today.

A tailwind pushed me to Mercer County Park, where I met Jack H and Ron S at 8:05 a.m. I had toe warmers in my shoes, leggings over my shorts, arm warmers under my short sleeve jersey, glove liners under my half-finger gloves, and a vest over my pockets.  It was about 42 degrees.

We got to Cranbury faster than I thought we would, so we went around the town for a few minutes, then pulled into the parking lot to schmooze.

Winter Larry had 15 people today, including a handful of Gary's fastboys, plus Gary. The Slugs were represented by me, Jack H, Ron S, Marc, and Bagel Hill Barry. Donna was there (two women on the ride!). JeffX was there too, and there was a new guy named Mike, who could have done today's ride on one leg without breaking a sweat.

At one of the Province Line Road intersections, we stopped to collect ourselves back into a group. At that moment, a motorcycle came through, blasting Billy Joel from its speakers.  I made a face and turned to Dave H, who rides a motorcycle in the winter.

"Billy Joel? Really?"

"Of course!"

Mike said, "That's what we old heads listen to."  I'm pretty sure I'm the same age as he is, and I do not listen to Billy Joel.

"That's just wrong," I said.  "Shouldn't it be Deep Purple or something?"


Less than halfway through the ride, I ditched the vest and arm warmers.  The glove liners, toe warmers, and leggings came off at the rest stop, which was the Dunkin' Donuts in Arneytown.

The bottom of my muffin went uneaten.

Speaking of which, I got asked about Jim's status more times than I can count.  Maybe you should show up at the ride start, Jim, just to prove you're ambulatory.

Larry was on his newly-built, 5-year-old, last-of-the-American-made-Cannondales Cannondale. He didn't realize he'd put on compact gearing until I pointed it out. Three fewer teeth in the big ring didn't seem to slow him down. On the flip side, JeffX was on a fat-tire cross bike, which did slow him down enough to keep him at the front instead of off the front.  That, or he was just behaving himself.

Not wanting to repeat the moonscape experience of Old York Road near the Assunpink Creek, Larry detoured us coming and going.

We were on Sharon Road, westbound, on our way back to Cranbury, spread out on the open road, a mild wind against us, under a clear sky, the air twenty degrees warmer than it was when I left the house, when an SUV passed us.  A long-haired golden dog had its head far out of the window, taking in the first decent spring day we've had.

I  wish I were that dog.

I looked ahead at the blue sky and the reddish tint of the budding trees, the wind in my face.

No. Wait.  I am that dog!

Back on Old York Road, I didn't pull.  Mike and a few of Gary's fastboys did the work. I sat in, four or five riders back, with a few behind me. This is how it should be.  Winter is definitely over.

Marc and JeffX joined us on the return trip to the park.  Somewhere near Village Road I passed my high distance for the season. A few miles later I could feel my breathing change the way it does when I'm almost through a century: it gets faster and my body starts humming.

I pulled into my driveway with a little over 75 miles. Despite prescription anti-allergy drops, my eyes were bloodshot from pollen.  I was ravenous, light-headed, and stinky.  I ate, showered, and collapsed onto the bed still wrapped in towels.

Crazy season approaches.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Friends Off The Bike

11 April 2015

Go read what Plain Jim wrote today.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Learning How to Fix a Bike

Wheels at New Brunswick Bike Exchange

10 April 2015

Plain Jim is a good instructor. 

He looks so much better than he did on Saturday.

He was a bad boy, though, because he wasn't wearing his wrist brace. I tried as often as I could to get him to hand off the tools to one of us. I was less than successful.

"Shoeshine, that hurts!"

"Stop. Gimme the wrench."

Here we are learning how to remove the pedals and bottom bracket. We're swapping Jim's winter SPDs for summer Looks.

I brought Gonzo in because Jim wanted to see the hub ooze up close and personal. After class he tried to open the hub but didn't have the right tools. We both spun it. Sometimes it grinds, sometimes it doesn't, which is what's been happening for years. We declared the hub dead.  

My project for the class is to put new handlebars on Gonzo. This requires a new stem, new bar tape, and new cables. I wasn't planning to have to build a new wheel as well.

Good thing I have Beaker to commute on, huh? Riiiiight.

Below is a fine example of a tacoed wheel, as in shaped like a taco. Jim's front wheel is a less dramatic version of this.

Next week's class begins with tire changing. If I get marooned in traffic again, I won't be missing anything new.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Things You Shouldn't See on a Bike

8 April 2015

This is what happens when we pull out our beater bikes and take them on the road.

Marc's rear derailleur cable, snapped and tied off in Bordentown on Sunday:

Gonzo's rear hub, oozing black goo after a winter on the trainer and one ride into the lab this morning:

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Curse of the Chocolate Bunny

Not the Worst Thing About Today's Ride

4 April 2015

Something always happens on the Chocolate Bunny Ride, so much so that in its third year Cheryl and I decided that anyone who finishes gets a chocolate bunny.

It's a longish ride for this early in the season, and it's deceptively difficult for a route that climbs the Sourland Mountain only once, then avoids it for the return trip.

The first time Cheryl and I did the ride it was just the two of us, with me on a sprained ankle.  The second time, two people turned back after 10 miles, and a third bonked completely with fewer than 10 miles left to go. In subsequent years there were complaints about the wind and the traffic. We soldiered on nonetheless, sticking to the same course, more or less, no matter the wind nor the temperature.  These days, people know the perils of the Chocolate Bunny Ride.  They show up anyway.

This year, in an unusual moment of uncharacteristic goodwill, I rerouted the return trip to avoid being out in open fields with the wind blowing at a steady 24 mph and gusting into the mid-30s.  I am fond of my Slugs, after all.  Still, it was going to be tough going today no matter what.

I received an early morning email from Andreas, a visiting Swede capable of far more than the customary Slug pace. He promised to behave.  He and Jim showed up at my door for the extra miles.

We fought the wind all the way to Pennington, where 6 more signed on. John K, Bagel Hill Barry, and Ron S rounded out the regular Slug roster. Celeste and Ron A, who are Sometimes Slugs, were also there, as was Fran (all the way from Connecticut).  That made 9 of us, a large group for a day like this.  It must have been the promise of candy that brought them out.

John got a bunny straight away for mishearing "new potholes" for " new pot," and Andreas earned one when he called out, "It's the Easter Bunny!" as we passed a roadkill rabbit.

The Hell of Hunterdon ride was also today.  We came upon a lost soul who thought he might have missed a turn.  He hadn't, but he earned himself some chocolate anyway.  So did John, by proclaiming,as I pored over the fellow's cue sheet, that we were visiting the Stations of the Bike (this marks the first time I've chucked a piece of candy across the street).

The hills shielded us from the wind, more or less, although we did have to lean about 15 degrees sideways on one tree-lined stretch of Long Hill.

By the way, this is what a pipeline right-of-way looks like.  This one is the Transco line that cuts across the Sourland Mountain in East Amwell.  Imagine many more scars like this one if PennEast gets its way:

The descent from the top of Long Hill to Wertsville Road was, well, interesting.  I can't have been the only one to have been hugging the brakes.

But then we were finished with the headwinds for a while.  From Wertsville to our rest stop near Route 206, the tailwind pushed us along Amwell Road at something near an A pace.

We stopped at the Bagel Bistro, of course, where one can still order a roast bee sandwich from the overhead menu. "We have to fix that," admitted one employee, who seemed fond of the missing f. There was some interest in the "Iris" coffee as well, until one of the workers noticed and chalked in the missing h on the eye-level blackboard.

Then we were off again, eastward on Amwell Road, heading for the canal.  There was a light that half the group got caught at, so I snapped a picture of the sky while we waited. Notice how much the tree is bending in the wind.

We were just through another light, three of us a little in front of the main group, when I heard shouting. "Flat!" I called out, because it's flat tire season.  But when I turned around to look, what I saw looked worse than that.

Everybody's bike is on the grass. There's a car in front of them.  Fran is running. Someone in red is on the grass on his side.

He rolls over and sits up, the left side of his face covered in blood.

It's Jim.  

He'd hit something in the road, and then his head on the way down.

I dig out my bandanna.  Jim is already wrapping his around his head.  He's mobile.  He's talking. He's coherent enough to give John two phone numbers for The Excellent Wife.  She doesn't pick up. Andreas wets my bandanna.  Fran dabs Jim's face with it.  There's blood on his glasses, Jackson Pollock style.

He stands up. He says he's okay. "My wrist hurts, and my shoulder," he says, but he can move both. 

We look at his bike.  The front wheel has a dent in the rim.  The left shifter is bashed in. He can't ride even if he thinks he can.

A cop shows up. We want him to take Jim and his bike to the hospital, or home.  "I can't," the cop says.  "I can't fit him and his bike." Really?  It's an SUV.  "I also can't leave Hillsborough."

He speaks into his radio.  The rest of us are trying to figure out whose spouse, relative, or whatever lives the closest to where we are, nobody but me really knowing where we are.

Jim tries to call TEW again, but his hands are shaking.

An ambulance pulls in behind the police car.  A paramedic asks Jim to fill her in.  "I'm okay," he says, "A little head-achey, but if you want to give me a mental assessment, please do."

"What's your name?"

"Jim Brittain."

"What's your address?"

He answers with slight hesitation.

"Who's the president?"

A long pause.  "Oh, Jesus!"

"No," the paramedic says, touching Jim's arm.  "He only wishes he were.  Try again."

Another pause.  "Obama!"

"What month is this?"

"It's...It's...I don't know."

This is an unfair question.  It's only just April, but it feels like March and we're riding as if it were February.

"Maybe I should go to the hospital," Jim says.  They take him into the ambulance and close the door. The rest of us aren't going anywhere.  We're trying to figure out what happened.  The best we can guess is that he might have swerved to miss the grate and hit the rut instead, jamming his front wheel. "He did do an endo," Ron A says.

Andreas knocks on the ambulance door.  It opens.  Jim is sitting inside with the paramedics.  "Do you want me to stay with you?" I ask him.

"No," he says.  "I'm okay."  The paramedic explains that she's just getting him calmed down and assessing the situation.  The door closes again. I use John K's phone (because he has it out and TEW's numbers already dialed in) to text her that Jim has crashed and okay.

Meanwhile, a couple of the guys have taken the wheels off of Jim's bike and loaded it into the rear of the police car. The cop gives me his card with the station address on it.

Time does that weird thing it does when a friend is bleeding.  I'm shivering, but I don't feel cold.

The ambulance door opens and Jim pops out.  "The Excellent Wife is coming to get me," he says. "Where's a good place to go that she can find?"  Back to the Bagel Bistro.  He assures us he'll be fine waiting there.  I'm not sure whether I should stay with him or lead the rest of the Slugs to safety.  I decide that I need to lead. Nobody knows where we are. He climbs into the police car and they drive away.

We were at times quiet and at times jitter-chatty on the canal.  We had a tailwind, though a few of our number were beginning to lag.

This always happens, and I have yet to figure out why.

The customary Chocolate Bunny route leaves the canal at Griggstown and goes straight west through open fields almost all the way to Montgomery.  Today we stayed on the canal to the end of Canal Road, then hid ourselves between the trees of Cherry Valley, Cherry Hill, Drake's Corner, and Province Line.

We would get spread out, regroup, and get spread out again.  I thought I had everyone when we stopped to wait at the intersection of Cherry Valley and Carter Road.  From here it would be a straight shot back to Pennington.  It took more than one light cycle to get everyone together again.

After that, it was all tailwind, which was a decent reward.

But I didn't see Ron S or Barry, and I could have sworn they'd been with us at the light.  At Titus Mill I sent everyone else on and waited. I backtracked a bit.

I called Jim.

"I'm home," he said.  "I got a look at myself in the mirror.  I look like a zombie."

"I look forward to your blog."

"I'm not sure what I'll say," he replied.

After I hung up, there was still no sign of Ron or Barry.  I wondered if they'd gone ahead when the light had changed, not stayed with the group.  They were probably back at the parking lot already.  I turned around.  Barry doesn't have a cell phone. If Ron were hurt, I'd never know.  Shit.

But my second hunch was the correct one: they'd gone ahead of us.  By the time I got back to the lot, the rest of the crew was worrying about me.

I reported in on Jim and dumped bunnies into people's hands.  "That's it for the Chocolate Bunny Ride," I said.  "I'm not leading it again." I'd said that at least twice already since Amwell Road. Fran gave me a disappointed look.

"I have something for you," she said.  It was a brilliant purple bunny, all the way from a specialty chocolate shop in Manchester, Connecticut. I did what I did last year when Cheryl gave me the Golden Bunny Award:  I took a picture.

Then I ate the last two chocolate bunnies.

Fran said, "You know, if my Ron had been here, there would have been three Rons on this ride.  It would have been --" and here, John chimed in, "-- the Do Ron Ron Ron Ride!"

I groaned.  "I'm out of bunnies!"

The tailwind pushed me and Andreas home.

Jim's car was still parked across the street.  I wondered when he'd be able to drive it. I wondered when he'd want to ride a bike again.

"I'm never leading the Chocolate Bunny Ride again," I told Jack when I got inside.

"You know the route has nothing to do with it," he said.

I'm not so sure. Something always happens on the Chocolate Bunny Ride.

I took a picture of the bloody bandanna,

and filled in the Incident Report:

Meanwhile, Jim managed to post something. I'm going to have some explaining to do on Winter Larry's ride tomorrow.

Jim just called.  He and TEW are on their way over to get his car.  I have extra chocolate bunnies. He's going home with all of them, like it or not.

Update:  Jim went for an x-ray and came home with a brace and stitches.