I will never be a randonneur. I don't recover quickly enough. I'd told myself that I'd take the week after the Event century off the bike, lest I run into my nearly annual overtraining wall. The weather, though, starting on Tuesday, was cool and clear and I couldn't stay away from taking Beaker to work for three days straight. For those short hops I had decent speed and strength. But my legs were hurting in a way that suggests injury rather than strength.
Saturday's threat of rain that never came postponed Tom's ride to Sunday. I'd been off the bike for all of two days.
From the moment we walked over the river bridge from Frenchtown I stopped believing anything Tom told us. This was, after all, his Lying Bastard Ride, which I've endured a handful of times. It's never the same route twice; it always has a hill or two that he doesn't tell us about.
He knows the Insane Bike Posse will follow him anywhere.
A proper Tom ride, besides being full of lies about hill grades, should also include a bridge out and a gravel road. The first requirement was met on Headquarters Road over Tinicum Creek*.
The barriers had been on the bridge for so long that weeds had grown tall along the length of them. Gravel and decaying leaves, in the shape of receding flood puddles, surrounded the blockades on all sides. None of this was a deterrent to us, nor, apparently, to whomever had the decency to mark the barrier with the message that the road is open.
We rode up and down and up and down and up and down because that's what upper Bucks County does. Jack H, Ricky, Jim, Bob, and Tom were almost always in front of me. On the steeper hills I dropped into the granny gear to save my legs for whatever Tom would throw at us next. The further we went, the more my hamstrings hurt, and they hurt in a way that was telling me I need to take a week off the bike.
We stopped at 20 miles on the outskirts of Perkasie at the Down to Earth Cafe. I would have been happy to sit there for an hour, drink coffee, and call a cab. But no. We had 32 more miles to go.
Up and down and up and down and "Are we going to Lake Nockamixon?"
"No. That would have added too many miles," Tom said. Instead we were mostly riding through narrow, wooded roads and past corn fields where the flowers were still pushing their heavy scent up my nose.
We stopped again at a convenience store at 38 miles. Next up, Tom said, would be a gravel road, and, farther on, the Red Circle of Death.
"The Red Circle of Death," he said, leafing through a stack of njbikemap pages. Red Cliff Road, he warned, would be a drop of a couple hundred feet in a couple tenths of a mile. I wasn't worried about that; it took us down to the river, which would mean that the climbing would be over.
First, though, was the gravel. "It looked all right from the satellite pictures," he said, "And it's better than riding on 611."
Descending on loose gravel sucks. Descending on loose gravel while standing with one foot clipped out and leaning against the pedal while one's hamstrings are screaming sucks even worse.
At the bottom of the hill the road curved over a stream. We crunched to a halt as we faced a similarly steep incline on the other side of the bridge.
I took a seat on the stone wall and pulled out my camera. This site was clearly a hangout for people who like to stand long rocks on end.
Now, for the hill. A few of us doubled back to get a moving start. Tom went first. I was towards the back, with Jim behind me.
Under the gravel was sand. I chose a bad line and clipped out as my wheels began to spin out. As I ground to a halt, so did Jim, who was saying, "Nope. Nope." This is the first hill I've walked on my road bike since 2012 when Fiddler's Elbow sent Miss Piggy's wheel into the air. Jim and I weren't the only ones walking. Tom might have been the one person who managed to stay upright.
The road leveled off enough for me to get back on the bike, only to have to dodge deep potholes that dotted the road the way air holes dot Swiss cheese.
"Which part of the road looked okay to you," I asked Tom as we regrouped at the end, "The gravel or the potholes?"
Jim said, "We can not do that again."
"If my tires aren't showing threads by the end of this ride, I'll be surprised," I said. The new ones haven't arrived yet. There's going to be a tire-changing party up in my place this week.
We moved on.
"I haven't been on some of these roads," Tom told me.
"It shows," I said.
We were up on a ridge somewhere between Frenchtown and Durham. Tom stopped to change the batteries in his old GPS. Jack H, who can never sit still, rode in circles around us.
"Hurry up," he said, "I'm getting dizzy."
"Getting?" Ricky asked. It warms our hearts to see a new Slug become part of the Posse so effortlessly.
The Red Circle of Death was upon us soon enough, and after the gravel adventure it wasn't so bad. With two miles to go, the orange juice I'd drunk at the convenience store was kicking in.
Walking across the bridge back into Frenchtown hurt, though. With every step, my hamstrings said, "Yipe! Yipe!"
At the far end of the bridge, in the water by the Frenchtown bank, was a large log that had been lodged there long enough to sprout a plant. I stopped for a photo.
As I was bringing the log into focus, two bright red kayaks poked into view. I zoomed out, feeling lucky.
Apparently I got lucky twice. I didn't notice the snake until I uploaded the pictures at home. I think it's a northern water snake.
(*That I know the location of all the events in this post is because Son Of, who can handle the simple task of recording a route, recorded the route. Save for the first and last two miles, to say I had no clue where we were would be to give me too much credit. I had no fucking clue where we were.)