Saturday, January 13, 2018

It's Cold. Whatever.

Tom Trying to Look Warm

13 January 2018

I haven't been on a bike outside in almost three weeks. Hell if I'm gonna spend another weekend at the gym or on my trainer. I email the Slugs, hoping that at least one of them will be willing to handle whatever the roads or trails have on them come Saturday morning. 

Pete and Tom are game, and we go back and forth about road versus towpath, ice versus mud, all the way into Friday evening, when we sort of settle on the towpath from Washington Crossing with a road ride as backup. 

I haven't filled Grover's Slime-filled tubes since March. The first inflation of the season is always an adventure. The front valve sticks shut, and then gives me trouble when I try to close it. I squeeze the tire every time I walk by. It might be losing air.

I fill Miss Piggy's tires too. I almost put Gonzo's outdoor wheel on (he's got the indoor trainer wheel now), but it's late, I'm tired, and I'm sure to do a sloppy job right now. If we do ride on the road I'll switch wheels tomorrow morning.

I dream that Capital Health has built a hospital at the Hughes Drive entrance to Mercer County Park. The lake is now on the south side of the park road, at the top of a hill. The view is beautiful but I've forgotten my camera. I ride through the hospital campus. They've done a good job with making the place bike-friendly. There are lots of people walking around. My alarm goes off.

At 7:30 a.m. the wind is blowing strong. It's above freezing now but the temperature is going to drop throughout the day. Tom has a new idea: let's meet at the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail on Princeton Pike. Hot diggity!  That's three miles away. It's easier to ride over than wrestle Grover into the back of the car.

Grover's front tire is low. This time the valve opens easily and the air I put in holds.

Expecting mud and puddles, I wear the sock liners I haven't put on since my mountain biking days. The three miles up Princeton Pike are into the wind and a workout I wasn't expecting. "I don't know how you ride that road to work day after day," Pete says. "You should take the towpath instead. Your zen would be through the roof." Truth is, I don't even notice the traffic anymore.

I take a few pictures of the sky to the south as Tom finishes getting ready.

The first few miles are on dry roads. We do have to go through some puddles and squish through soft cinder. I am slowly losing gears. By the time we get to the Pole Farm for the long, shallow climb into the wind, I'm no longer able to shift into my climbing gears. I have to resort to the tiny front ring instead.  Good thing I'm a masher by nature.

This is the big little hill that divides the park into the Delaware watershed and the Raritan watershed. This picture is from the Raritan side, just over the top of the hill.

We have some shelter from the wind for a while. Pete warns us that Roesdale Park is going to be a challenge. It isn't too bad, apart from a runnel-filled descent to the lake. I stop for pictures and notice the swans.

I stop again when I get a little closer.

We skip the path through the Rosedale stables, figuring it will be too muddy. We stay on Federal City Road instead. I take the opportunity to wail on the rear shifter. Nothing. I'm having trouble getting into the granny gear up front too.

Pete leaves us when we get close to his house. Tom and I turn north, up Pennington-Rocky Hill Road.

The trail through the woods next to Carter Road sends us across Carter and abruptly ends at a sign warning us that we're on private, Bristol-Myers Squibb property. We stop in the parking lot to figure out how best to avoid the mud under the power lines off of Province Line Road. Tom has a trail map with him so we double-check. We'll stay on Province Line all the way across Route 206.

It suddenly feels a lot colder. On Pretty Brook Road at Province Line I have to put glove liners under my lobster claws. My feet, toasty until now, are also getting cold. I need to circle around a few times too. We have that big climb after the bridge and, without the big rings in the back, I need to get into the granny ring. The derailleur finally moves and I follow Tom down the hill to the Stony Brook.

After yesterday's 60 degrees, two inches of rain, and five inches of melting snow, it's no surprise that we have whitewater.

It's a little calmer downstream.

On the ride home on Princeton Pike I stop for a few more pictures at the edge of the Cherry Grove Farm property. This is the pasture that extends all the way to Route 206. In the spring the cows graze here. Now it's under water.

I dread having to haul Grover up onto the repair stand to tighten the cables. I have a sinking feeling that we're in for more trail days and I can't afford to screw anything up and lose the bike to the shop for a weekend.

I wheel Grover inside. Instantly, muddy water begins to drip from the bottom bracket. I shove an old towel underneath and walk away.

An hour later everything is shifting fine.

Obligatory Snow Pictures: Colonial Lake

Snowdrift Ripples at Colonial Lake Park

13 January 2018

A surprise snow day a week ago had us housebound most of the day. After we cleared the snow in the late afternoon I had an hour before sunset to take a walk around Colonial Lake in Lawrence Township. We've lived here since late 1999 and almost bought a house in Colonial Lakelands, yet I'd never walked around the lake.

With the wind still blowing and the temperature in the teens, I hadn't chosen the ideal time to do this. Time was of the essence, though, because there is a plan brewing to build a hotel along Route 1.

The four-story building would be set back almost to the lake and the thin line of trees obscuring the bowling alley parking lot would be gone. The Colonial Lakelands neighborhood is in an uproar over this. It's NIMBY to the hilt; however, there is a case to be made to preserve, and even add on to, the park, by buying the land for preservation rather than building on it.

Odds are long against the neighborhood. The parcel is in a Highway Commercial zone and hotels are permitted. As long as the developer stays within the rules and gets permission to vary from them, the hotel can be built.

That's where the neighbors come in. They're organizing and have opened a channel to purchasing the property. As a veteran site fight soldier with two decades of site fight experience, I'm working with Save Colonial Lake as adviser and devil's advocate. My job so far has been to keep the group level-headed, grounded in reality, and away from NIMBY arguments that would guarantee a hotel in one hot minute. It's good to see so many people engaged.

Anyway, that's why I decided to walk around the lake in twelve degree weather near sunset. I brought my camera along.

This is the view from the parking lot, looking north.

I walked east, counterclockwise along the shore. It's not as if the view is pristine. The lake is ringed with houses set back from the path by a road. In the winter this is painfully obvious, which is why the "the hotel will ruin the view" argument is, at least in the winter, arguably bogus. However, the group's Facebook page sports pictures taken in the summer and fall; the hotel would stick out then.

I stopped less than halfway up the eastern side. The path I was following disappeared under the snow. There were no more footprints to follow either. I was at the edge of another parking lot. A man in a maroon pickup truck, the driver's side window open, was watching me. I wondered if he thought I was the developer. I wondered if he thought that I thought he was the developer. I wondered if he was the developer. I was surprised he didn't try to find out what I was doing. I took a few pictures and turned back.

The thin line of trees on the opposite shore is where the bowling alley is and where the hotel would join it.

The maroon truck passed me as I made my way across the field to my car.

Two nights ago was the first real organizational meeting for Save Colonial Lake. I looked around the room for the face I saw in the truck. I don't think he was there. The closest match turned out to be somebody whose name I recognized from my day job, and it was good to put the name to a face and meet each other for real. I also reconnected with someone from the Wal-Mart battle days, someone who was also the last person to get a Princeton Free Wheelers lifetime membership before lifetime memberships went away. Small world and all that.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Upper Limits, Lower Limits (Last Miles Part Two)

Shadow Selfie, Stony Brook, Princeton

26 December 2017

Not content to be beaten by my 2015 self, I needed 39 more miles. Perhaps if Rick W hadn't listed a ride on Boxing Day I'd have let it go. When I saw his post I figured he hadn't gotten around to canceling it yet; the day's high wasn't even going to reach 32 degrees.  

Best make sure, so I emailed him. "Yes," he answered, "my threshold is about 20 degrees (before wind chill). Given the projections for tomorrow to be mid-20s, I'll be there." I saw his crazy and raised him half an hour by riding from home. I figured I'd peel off from his group anyway, not being able to hold his pace on a warm day.

I wore my warmest everything. Riding with a crosswind up to Princeton my knees got cold. That was a new one. I was otherwise toasty until I reached the ride start at the Princeton Shopping Center. Peter F was already there. "I'm going to drop off at some point," I told him. He said, "Rick's not gonna do 45 miles. It'll be more like 25." He added that we wouldn't be going into the Sourlands either, which meant that I'd pretty much have to be along for the full route.

Rick drove in a few minutes later. We had to fumble around to find a pen that worked so that we could sign in. I had to take my lobster-claw gloves off for that. Bad idea. 

We started up Mount Lucas Road. An annoying little hill on any other day, it was still annoying today but at least it warmed us up. Descending, however, pretty much sucked.

"Brutal," Peter stated as we reached the bottom. We didn't have to ask what he meant.

I had to pull the pair of glove liners out of my pocket and add them into the lobster-claw mix. That's high-end cold right there. The claws make my hands sweat if the air is anything above 32 degrees.

Rick had two short routes in mind. When we got to the decision point I already had almost 20 miles. I voted for the shorter route. Not that it mattered; Rick was halfway into the shortcut turn already.

Everything on me was toasty except for my toes. I was wearing my ventless, ankle-high winter shoes, with toe warmers under my toes and on the top of my shoes. I had wind-resistant booties on top of all of that. There wasn't room for anything else, which was part of the problem, because ideally one should have room to give one's toes a good wiggle. I had room for a mediocre wiggle. When I bought these shoes a decade ago I hadn't known about wiggle room, nor that Sidi runs small. 

I hadn't bothered filling my Camelbak in the morning. I'd stuck with a bottle of Gatorade-water, hoping that the salt and sugar would keep the water from freezing. That mostly worked, except that the valve froze solid. I resorted to unscrewing the cap and drinking at red lights. 

We got onto Canal Road at Blackwells Mills, 18 miles from home. We were protected from the wind there. Rick's route conveniently went the same way I was going, so we stayed together into the middle of Princeton. We parted ways where Washington Road meets Nassau Street.

"Thank you, I think," I said.

On my way back down Princeton Pike I turned onto the bike path where it crosses the Stony Brook. When I commute to and from work I go over the Stony Brook bridge. I'm always very focused on traffic there and I never have the chance to look around. I stopped on the path and pulled out my camera. I was surprised that it worked; my old one would never have tolerated this much cold.

I was in time for a line of geese passing under the bridge.

I had time for one artsy shot before my feet began to yell at me.

I coasted into the driveway with 40 miles, beating my 2015 distance by two miles. The thermometer on my GPS read 26 degrees. It was 12:05 p.m.

The Gatorade was starting to freeze.

I stood in the shower, the water on as hot as I could stand it, until my feet warmed up again.

Pete G has sent around an email asking if anyone wants to ride the towpath tomorrow. Whaddaya say, feet? There's more room in my mountain bike shoes.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Last Miles of the Year

Sky over Cherry Grove Farm, Route 206, Lawrenceville

25 December 2017

I never set out to have five road bikes. I never set out to count miles either. Yet here I am, a phone-accessible spreadsheet in hand, the date in one column and a row for each bike, dutifully entering the distance at the end of each ride. None of it matters, of course. Racking up more miles doesn't make me a better person. 

November came around and I looked at my total. If I could get in 250 miles by the end of the year I'd reach 5000 miles. I checked last year's spreadsheet. I'd fallen short by 120 miles. I decided that this year I wanted to get there. It would be a first*.

Then I went glassblowing twice, and it snowed, and I painted the house, and it snowed again, and all of a sudden there were 120 miles to squeeze in before the end of the year.

No problem. The Thursday before Christmas would be a short day (for work and also the winter solstice). I'd take Beaker into work in near-freezing air, get 14 in, and beat last year by 2 miles.

Friday I was staring down a stressful afternoon with the family. In the morning I stripped Beaker of her commuting light and went out for a solo ride, camera in my pocket, to find 20 or 30 miles and take some pictures.

Back in 2000 and 2001 there was a Friday night ride that left from Pennington. It was almost always the same route. It was the first ride I led when I substituted for the regular leader. It's a good recovery route, with a minimum of hills and very little traffic. Keefe Road has a bridge out, so I took Federal City instead and passed close enough to the iconic pole on the Pole Farm. This is where having 40x zoom comes in handy.

This is also a zoomed in shot:

Close to the side of the road were a few tufts of ornamental grass:

On Carson Road I stopped for a hay bale,

and, of course, the chair -- only now it's two chairs -- on the little mound where the road makes a sharp turn:

Bayberry Road:

On Woosamonsa Road, on the stretch between Route 31 and Burd, is a herd of cows:

They were perfectly positioned so that, no matter how close I got, the fence obscured them all.

I got back home with a little over 31 miles. 66 and change would get me to 5000. Two more rides would do the trick.

Then Bob N sent an email to the Hill Slug regulars. Would anyone be up for a Sunday ride from Hopewell?  Hot diggity!  The short route from home to the elementary school is 10 miles. I offered to map a route and make it official (the club's new ride calendar is handy that way). I came up with something that would give them 43 miles and figured out a sane way to stretch my to-and-from distance to give me 66.

The forecast was for clouds and temperatures hovering five to ten degrees above freezing. I wore my heaviest gloves and packed a lighter pair; I'd need to switch off several times.

I didn't give myself quite enough time; nor did I count on a mild but steady headwind. When I passed the cows on Route 206 I didn't stop.

I arrived five minutes late, one minute behind Ken G. Ed W (who had passed me in his car and so knew my whereabouts), Ricky, Bob N, and Pete were also there. Pete's healing knee would limit him to a couple of hours. Ed had a time constraint. Both would need to peel off before we reached Sergeantsville.

There was a good winter sky above us in the parking lot.

Playing with my zoom, I honed in on a pair of crows across the street:

Not once did I stop for pictures as we zigged and zagged up and across the Sourland Mountain, over the hump on Van Lieus (where we could see Round Mountain in the distance), across 31/202 on Old York, up Wagner, down Wagner, up Wagner (with more potholes than I remember), and finally north to the Sergeantsville General Store.

I didn't take one of my usual routes back. We took Frontage Road, no longer the smooth passage we'd remembered, and went up Gulick. I stopped there to change gloves and also to get a picture of the tree I know I must have taken pictures of before.

Ken peeled off at the top of Marshalls Corner-Woodsville Road. We were down to three. Bob had ridden in from home. If we had wanted to be dramatic, both of us could have split off and left Ricky to enter the parking lot by himself. We didn't do that.

On the way home I did stop for the cows. They live in the Cherry Grove Farm (not the organic one on Carter; the one on 206 that sells eggs and cheese), the largest piece of unprotected open space in Lawrence Township, which stretches from 206 to Princeton Pike. I sometimes see the herd grazing by the Pike on my way to work in the summer.

If you zoom in, you'll see the second cow on the left giving side eye to the cow on her left.

I'm having too much fun with this zoom lens.

Now something past 3:00 p.m., the sun was low in the sky.

I rolled into the driveway about a mile short of 5000. A trip around the neighborhood did the trick. I'd done 67 hilly miles in near freezing weather at the end of December in order to meet a ridiculous goal that has no meaning anywhere ever. Still, it felt good to have done it.

At least I'm not on Strava.

(*Actually, no. While writing this blog entry I found that I'd gone 5038 miles in 2015. Now do I have to find 39 miles between now and January 1?)