Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Rough Crowd

 Mercer County Park East Picnic Area Bridge

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.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

It's Not the Hills, It's the Wind

Wertsville Road at Rileyville Road

7 March 2018

"I don't wanna say this too loudly," Pete murmured, having ridden in from the north, "but I think I had a tailwind." Louder, he said, "When you hock a loogie to the side and it stays with you, you know there's a problem."

Yeah, there was a headwind all right. I'd been in it with Linda, Ricky, and Jim for the ride from home to Twin Pines. Two days ago a nor'easter toppled trees and power lines. The wind stuck around for an extra day. Today was calmer, with gusts of only 25 mph.

Andrew, Jeff, Richard, Chris, and a visitor invited by Linda rounded the group out to ten. "We're going to Flemington," I told them. "We're going to have a headwind the whole way up and a tailwind on the way back."  Jim volunteered to sweep, although I didn't believe for a minute that I'd be ahead of him once we got into the hills.

I said that we'd have mostly rollers, and that the wind was going to be the bigger problem, and with that we were off into it.

Our warm-up hill was at the northern end of Pennington-Rocky Hill Road. We got ourselves well spread out. Jim kept to the back with Linda and the visitor. At the top of the road we waited.

"That guy is having a hard time," somebody said. Someone else added that the visitor said he could push 600 to 800 watts in spin class. I've only ever hit above 500 in ten second bursts, and never more than once in a class, if I even try to get that high. But a 45-minute spin class with a flywheel isn't a near-freezing road ride with a freewheel and a 25 mph headwind. So we waited.

We saw Jim's helmet bobbing up the crest of the hill. He appeared, by himself, grinning. "They didn't make it so I ate 'em," he chirped. When we were finished laughing we turned left for the descent into Hopewell.

For the first time my GPS didn't get itself lost as we went through town and up Greenwood. "All the way to the end," I said, and Jim groused about what my definition of rollers might encompass. "Never believe a ride leader," I said.

We passed houses running on generators, saw uprooted trees, and noticed a handful of power lines that were not where they should have been. At the top of the mountain we passed a house with half a dozen fire trucks in front of it.

The wind was pushing away the clouds on Wertsville Road.

I let the guys get ahead of me as I paused near Losey to take a picture of my favorite lone tree there.

More headwind, open fields, rollers, and then we were in Flemington at Factory Fuel. We were just about the only ones there. The factory space behind the coffee house, usually a farmers' market, was empty.

What took us forever to get to took us no time to return from. The tailwind pushed us to Manners Road, where I stopped for a picture, as I usually do. I didn't expect much this time, the sun being in the wrong spot and the Sourland Mountain an indistinct gray blob. One of them came out well enough to share.

Jeff hung back with me for both of my Manners stops, the second one being at the bottom of the hill, where the fields on either side look as if they should be posters for an Americana that we imagine flyover country to be.

We went sideways up the mountain: Rileyville to Saddle Shop to Runyon Mill to Orchard to Linvale. Chris complained about the crosswind, stronger now than it had been this morning, the whole way. Although we could have kept the tailwind if we'd stayed on Rileyville, there wasn't a one of us who wanted to climb that hill.

Andrew left us when we reached 518.

On Stony Brook there was a situation that the local electric company hadn't gotten to yet.

We rode right under it, of course.

I got a few shots of the stream while I was at it.

In the summer all of this is hidden.

Pete turned off for home in Pennington.

We finished the ride with six of the ten we'd started with. My reputation is intact.

When I got home, Moxie supervised as I photographed the sign-in sheet with my phone and sent it on to Ken W to be recorded.

Outside our first crocus was in bloom.

Three days later it's covered in six inches of wet, heavy snow. I ventured out three times during and after the storm to shake the snow off of four evergreens in the back yard, doing my best to keep the pitch pine from permanently pitching over and the three arbor vitae from being arbor mortis.

Spring officially begins in two weeks. We set our clocks ahead this weekend. If you're in New Jersey don't look out the window right now.

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Window Between the Rain

Doctor's Creek, Imlaystown

25 February 2018

Tom's 7:00 a.m. email said that the ride was on but the roads were damp. Things were likely to be messy, he wrote, so I put Kermit away and swapped rear wheels on Gonzo, replacing the sludgy one I use on the fluid trainer with the snappy one I use on the road.

This took time I hadn't planned for. Frequently when I do this wheel swap it comes unseated in the first handful of miles, when I try to start from a heavy gear and the pedal stomp yanks the chain which pulls the wheel out of line. Today was no different; I had to stop once on either side of Quakerbridge Road to lock the wheel back into place.

As I rode through Mercer County Park the sun shone on Gonzo's sparkles. It's rare that I see the paint in good light.

I rolled into the East Picnic Area at 9:01. Jim was still getting ready so I didn't feel as tardy as I could have.

With Ricky and Chris making us five, we were heading towards Imlaystown. From there we'd turn west and check the radar in Cream Ridge. As of now we'd have until noon before the rain came in.

Jim lamented that he might never find the fitness to climb a hill again. I reminded him that I'm riding on a calf and a half. We both grumbled that lately good riding days have been few and far between. We'd be rained out tomorrow. Again.

Gonzo hadn't been outside in a while. The fast wheels helped, but te bike was work to get rolling. 

In Imlaystown, on Davis Station Road, where Doctor's Creek is dammed for a lake, I stopped for pictures. I have few, if any, of this spot.

I suspected that the patch of blue sky to the east would be the last of the sunlight for the day. We were heading south, towards the cold front.

Tom checked the radar when we reached Route 539 and Burlington Path. He didn't see any rain so we continued towards Allentown the long way, through Walnford, where everyone stopped for pictures of the old mill. The sky was completely clouded over, the water murky from days of rain.

We climbed out of the valley and took the hairpin turn onto Polhemustown. The first drops of rain hit us as we approached Extonville Road. The guys were 30 miles in; I was at 37.5. We turned right, heading for home without a rest stop.

We rode in and out of rain through Allentown and Robbinsville. On Gordon Road, Tom asked me if I wanted to follow him to his house so he could drive me home. "If it keeps on raining like this, yes," I said. But by the time we got to Sharon Road, where Tom planned to turn off, we'd ridden out of the rain again and I stayed with the group.

"We've lowered our standards," I said to Jim. Two years ago we'd never have bothered to go out with a forecast as iffy as this one. Three winters ago we didn't venture out if the air was below freezing.

There was more rain and then there wasn't and then there was. Jim asked me if I wanted a ride home. "If it keeps raining like this then yes," I said. But it didn't, and anyway I was already wet, so I continued on, through the park, in and out of drizzle.

At home I wheeled Gonzo to the back yard and turned the hose on him, misting away the day's grime. I let the bike drip dry on the screened porch. This would be as good an excuse as any to spray a quarter of a bottle of Simple Green onto Gonzo's drive train and start over with Teflon lube. Being the beater bike, Gonzo doesn't get a trip to the spa like the others.

My wet clothes, covered in grit, went straight into the washing machine.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Sergeantsville the Long Way 'Round

Orchard Road, East Amwell, NJ

17 February 2018

"That road with the two hills and the potholes was a good road. Except for the hills and the potholes," Joe M says.

Potholes. What a crop we have this winter! I'm going to have to take a few roads off the list until they get paved over. The trip up to Pennington from my house is going to have to get two miles longer so I can avoid Route 206. Marshalls Corner-Woodsville Road between 518 and Mine is a goner too. That's the one Joe was talking about.

Ricky arrived at my house early because he knew I'd be brewing some of my too-strong coffee. It was a little bit above freezing, sunny, with a light south breeze when we started off for Pennington. Only Joe was in the Twin Pines parking lot, doing loops to warm up.

This is the first hilly ride I've done since I tore my calf. It's been about a month, and I felt it. A couple of times the injury reminded me of its presence, not hurting exactly, but hinting that if I didn't switch gears or change my cadence bad things could happen. So I found myself lagging behind Joe and Ricky on every hill between Hopewell and Sergeantsville. I had full range of motion so it must be that the muscle hasn't completely come back.

We passed by the Mount Airy cows without stopping for pictures. I have enough already.

I don't often approach Sergeantsville from Route 523. From a quarter mile away the store, bright salmon, stands out in a way that it doesn't from other approaches. From the bottom of the hill we could see the whole thing at once. I took that picture right after the store went from white to orange. Today I got a close-up.

We sat in the vestibule and dallied while Joe had dumplings and I drank hot chocolate. I made sure to take a picture of our two bikes before we left because I have a Synapse and he has a Soma. This is pure neuroscience geekery.

Tired and wary of re-injury as I was, I decided to find an easier way home without repeating roads and avoiding big climbs. We went east, down Route 604 towards Ringoes. Clouds were coming in fast.

That was the last we saw of any sun. The wind picked up too as we crossed over to Dutch and Back Brook Roads.

I'd forgotten what Van Lieus looks like when turning onto it from the north. What an annoying set of little hills, and the new chip seal didn't help.

We went up Runyon Mill to Saddle Shop, and turned on Orchard, where I paid a visit to the horses that hang out in the pasture around the dilapidated barn where the cows and chickens used to wander across the road.

There was a donkey in the mix.

Not wanting to repeat the Snydertown-Stony Brook-Wargo-Titus Mill stretch, I turned right on Roue 654 and we rode on the shoulder of Route 31 for a mile or so (don't worry; the shoulder is wide and the sight line clear) to Woosamonsa. The wind and clouds made the air chilly again.

Trying to make the route easier made the route longer; we got Joe back to Pennington with 48 miles and close to 3000 feet of elevation gain. I apologized for going over the advertised distance; I'd listed the ride as 40-45 miles, which it would have been had I planned even a little. Joe and Ricky didn't mind though. Ricky is always about extra miles. Joe confessed to being a little lost during the second half but he said he liked the route. So I guess I'll do this one again on a day when the sun is out and I have more power in my legs.

Which won't be long now. The first snowdrop of the season has bloomed next to my driveway.

Meanwhile, my legs hurt far more than they should after what I would have considered a nothing ride. Better luck next weekend, OLPH.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Chain Flu, Dreary Winter Ride

Mercer Lake at the Caspersen Rowing Center

14 February 2017

My fleet has come down with the chain flu.

I took Kermit and Grover to the shop for a drive train cleaning. I don't have the tools at home to dismantle cassettes and bottom brackets. The lube I've been using for the past two years smells like cat pee and sucks up dirt in seconds. I wanted to purge the system and start over with something a little less sticky.

And a little less worn down, it turns out. Both bikes came back from the shop with new chains and cassettes. It was the first new one for Grover after more grime than miles, and the first in three years for Kermit, after something over 6000 miles. Beaker went in and needed the same, after almost 4200 miles. Beaker came back and Miss Piggy went in*. Same thing, 3000 miles. Rowlf and Gonzo are keeping their distance and washing their hands a lot.


Tru said Saturday's ride was on. Tom offered extra miles from his house. "That's the cleanest that cassette and chain will ever be," Tom said, admiring Kermit's shininess. "If we get rained on it won't last long," I said.

We got to Etra early enough to kibbitz and take some pictures at the edge of the parking lot across the street from the lake. The gate has been closed across the entrance on the lake side for the past couple of months.

Jim was back for the first time in forever, his lungs and schedule finally clear. Tru had a big crowd. Ricky was there, although I didn't get a chance to talk to him at all. There was a rare Winter Larry sighting too; we caught each other up on our non-biking lives. He hasn't been leading from Cranbury on Sundays this year. He'd become fed up with being dropped by the B+ riders who would show up and take over his B-paced ride.

Etra is the new Cranbury these days. It's a better starting location as far as traffic goes, but it takes so much longer for me to get there that I'm not inclined to go unless I can start from Tom's house, four miles away but easily ten minutes closer to my house by car.

Wary of the forecast, Tru kept the route local. We meandered towards Princeton Junction. Minutes away from the rest stop at Dunkin Donuts we found ourselves under a rain shower. A few of us checked our radar apps and came up dry.

Tom suggested that we break off from the group at Mercer County Park. We'd go in and look at the lake. I was all for that.

We'd all turned onto North Post Road when the rain started up again. This time it was heavier. Tom and I kept on towards the lake anyway. The rain stopped when we got there and we spent a few minutes taking pictures.

We'd had a mid-week thaw but there was still enough ice in the middle of the lake for the gulls to stand on. Beyond the gulls was the southern shore and the paved trail through the woods. I think maybe I remember mountain biking there.

Even though we didn't have many miles for the day, Tom didn't want to risk an extra loop. It was a wise choice: the rain started for real on my drive home. It continued all night and through Sunday, turning my back yard into a lake and forcing me to spend time on the trainer. One of these days we'll have a weekend with two days of good weather. One of these days.

(*With a fleet this size, trips to the shop are choreographed. This year two went in together and I dropped the third off when I picked the first two up. The fourth one went into the car the night before the third one was ready. Two summers ago I did the same thing, but instead of driving I rode over with one bike and home with another until all that needed service received it. Not having put any people on the planet, this is the closest I'll get to being a soccer mom.)

Monday, February 12, 2018

R.I.P. Infoguy

12 February 2018

John taught me how to ride a mountain bike.

John taught me how to edit a newsletter.

John taught me that we can still do what we want to do even if we have to carry our mechanical hearts in our jerseys.

John knew the answers.

John was the Free Wheelers.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Cold Mud, Cookie Run

Delaware Canal South of New Hope, PA

3 February 2018

Mid-week Tom put out the call for a towpath ride. I was hesitant at first; although I was no longer limping I had come in low on the revolutions per minute in Tuesday's spin class.  I did a little better on Thursday. On Friday my trainer had me doing dead lifts and I told Tom I'd be there. It was even looking as if Plain Jim would finally, after too long with bronchitis, be joining us, but he canceled at the last minute. He had to buy a car or build a computer or something.

Ken messaged me while I was eating breakfast. I told him where we were going and when to be there. He wasn't at the Washington Crossing parking lot when I got there. He'd texted Pete, too, and Pete was sure that there was no way Ken was going to be able to ride from his house in time. So, along with Chris and Ricky, we started across the bridge to New Hope, figuring that Ken would be able to catch up with us walking slowly.

The sun didn't do much to warm us up. The air was well below freezing, and there was a stiff breeze out of the northwest.

"All hail the zoom lens!" I said as we reached the Pennsylvania side. The walkway is on the south side of the bridge but the scenery was north. 

Tom agreed.

He'd used his zoom to take pictures of Wedsnesday's lunar eclipse.

What little ice there was we crunched over. I quickly found myself in the back of the pack, unable to reach a faster cadence comfortably and unwilling to risk reinjury trying. I used a photo op as an excuse to reset my legs.

No zoom in my legs but plenty in my lens.

The brief rest helped. Outside of New Hope we reconvened at a spillway.

In the iced-over canal under the bridge at Stockton were two boats with their best days behind them.

There was no apparent way around climbing a flight of cement steps to get to the Stockton bridge.

When we reached the New Jersey side, there was Ken, who had missed us by an undetermined amount of time, taken off up the New Jersey side of the towpath, bringing his A-game with him and asking everyone he passed if they'd seen us. He was mighty proud of his speed, and also mighty cold because he'd been standing there for fifteen minutes. During the wait he did take a picture that blows away anything I'd taken all day:

The walk across two bridges and the riding in between seemed to have taken hours. The trip back, with a more-or-less tailwind, seemed to take about twenty minutes. The path here, gray clay, was mushy. Those of us without fenders found ourselves bespeckled. My Camelbak caught most of it. The pack looked as if I had rolled it in pebbles.

Grover's underbelly was encased in the stuff, which was so frozen on that I couldn't knock it off with my hands. I left the bike on my back porch. Maybe tomorrow's temperatures would be warm enough for a good hosing down.

4 February 2018

We were out and didn't get home until well after Peter F's registration deadline for his Sunday ride. I emailed him, unsure if the rain would even hold off long enough to squeeze a ride in. I assumed not and set the alarm for getting enough sleep. Early in the morning Peter had written back, first saying the ride was off and then that it was on. By the time I got out of bed, stretched my calf, fed the cats, fed myself, and got Kermit ready I had fifteen minutes less than I thought I'd need to get to Etra for the ride. I got in the car anyway, unsure of how long it would actually take me on a Sunday morning. Too long, it turned out, and when I passed the Old Trenton Road entrance to Mercer County Park I turned in and headed for home.

I decided to do my own thing and work on my cadence and endurance. "I'm going out to Allentown to get cookies," I told Jack. We checked the weather. I'd have until about noon to ride dry. I left the house at 9:20 a.m.

The wind is usually at my back when I ride to Allentown. This time it was in my face all the way. My goal wasn't so much speed as it was keeping a steady pace and trying not to slow down or stop. Apart from red lights I only stopped to remove my balaclava, only to replace it a quarter mile later, and to take a handful of quick pictures of the sky over Reed Recreation Park in Allentown.

I noodled about so that I'd have 20 miles before stopping in at Stonebridge. There wasn't much interesting in the way of cookies but I bought a few anyway. While I was waiting to pay a fellow who was clearly an off-the-bike-today cyclist approached and asked how far I'd gone. I told him and added that I was trying to beat the rain. He said I was a die-hard. 

Going home was easier. I had the wind at my back.

After crossing Route 130 I was met with sleet. Sleet is better than rain to ride in, but lordy is it painful. The sleet turned to snow when I reached Mercer County Park. Much better, and I had a rare tailwind too. There was nothing coming out of the sky on the other side of the park and I made it home dry. 

The hose was dry too. I thumped Grover on the ground and half of the towpath plaster came free. I got the rest with my hands. I put both Grover and Kermit in the car. In the rain-soaked afternoon I drove them up to Hart's for a thorough drive train cleaning beyond anything I could accomplish at home.