Sunday, July 27, 2014

George the Ox, and How I Came to Know Him

 George on display in Bob and Norene's driveway

27 July 2014

This is a story about a Fiberglass ox named George, his friend Chuck the Cluck, and how I got to know them.

It all started when I met Cheryl in the fall of 1999, when Jack and I moved from an apartment in Plainsboro to our house in Lawrence Township and I switched gyms.  She taught Spinning classes.  By May of 2000 she'd convinced me to come out on a Free Wheelers ride.  It was the Spring Fling out of the Masonic Temple in Kingston.  Bob and Norene led the C+ ride.  Terry C was on the ride; we'd met at the gym in Plainsboro, but we'd never talked more than a few minutes at a time.

I became a regular on Bob and Norene's rides, following Bob's lead on Friday nights and Saturday mornings.  Terry S was part of that crew, and Barb, Marty, Our Jeff, Andy, Al, Chris, Terry C, and Gordon.

As I was learning how to be a ride leader and a proper Hill Slug, I met Marilyn, Mike, and Theresa.  Bob stopped leading; I couldn't get to Jeff's Wednesday night rides anymore.  But we still had parties together.  We still went out to dinner together.  We got invited to the Adirondacks together.

By this time, I'd discovered the post-century buzz, improved my gearing, shed a few pounds, and more or less cemented my reputation as a Our Lady of Perpetual Headwinds.  Big Joe and Little Joe added me to their exclusive long-distance list.
I still hung out with the Friday night crowd.  I still took Cheryl's Spinning classes during the week.

Big Joe died.  Plain Jim swept in.  Miss Piggy happened.  Ron became a Slug. Blake took away some of my PA hill fear. The hills got bigger.  More strong Slugs like Ed appeared.  But I never lost touch with the Friday night crowd.

When it came time to plan Cheryl's going-away party, it was the Friday night crowd we thought of first, then the Slugs, then everybody else.

Which brings me back to George the Ox and Chuck the Cluck.  Bob is one of the many artists who volunteered to paint an ox for the Hopewell Valley Arts Council's Hopewell Valley Stampede.  After many months of labor, and an eviction from the local Senior Center for wearing a flag on his posterior, George the Ox is ready for his final clear-coat.  Today was to be his last day in Bob's garage, on display in the driveway all day before being carted away, not to be seen again until mid-August (at the corner of Route 518 and Hart Avenue, at the Johnson farm). At Cheryl's party, Bob made sure that we all knew time was running out.

After yesterday's ride, I had no plans to be on a bike today.  Blake, Al, and Cheryl were going to make one last trip to Carversville at 8:30 a.m.  I was tempted, but I knew my legs would not hold out in the Pennsylvania hills.  The only times I've been to Carversville, I've been miserable; I didn't want to extend that tradition.  When I awoke at 7:00 a.m. I stood up, stiff-legged, saw rain and wet pavement, texted Cheryl that I was going back to bed, and did so.  Half an hour later, there was a text back.  Cheryl had seen and done the same thing.

I puttered around the house, drinking coffee and contemplating driving back to the intersection of Route 527 and Province Line, where, in yesterday's near-rainout, I'd fished the cue sheet back out of the zipper bag I keep in my jersey, spilling the bag's contents all over the intersection.  I thought I'd retrieved everything, but when I got home I discovered that one key item was missing.  I'd lost a small pouch where I'd kept an old driver's license, an old credit card, a spare insurance card, a Wawa gift card, a Homestead gift card, and a spare house key.  It's not a good thing to lose identification that comes with a house key.  On the other hand, I can pretty much guarantee that the only pedestrians at that intersection, ever, have been me and Cheryl, painting J arrows for the Ride for McBride.  It would have been a safe bet to assume that the next lawn mower would turn my identity into mulch.  Cheryl would no longer need the spare house key I'd given her.  She texted that I could stop by and pick it up.

Then Bob sent a text image of George the Ox in his driveway.  By this time the caffeine had kicked in and my legs no longer hurt.  I suited up for a short ride to Cheryl's, and then to Bob and Norene's.  "See the ox at 41 Buck," proclaimed a blue-paint sign propped against a fence near the development's clubhouse.

I turned the corner, saw George, dismounted, and rang the doorbell. Norene welcomed me in.  Bob came out of the garage, blue paint on his fingers. Chuck was sitting on a table.  I grabbed him and made for the ox.

Because an heir to the Johnson and Johnson fortune sponsored Bob's ox, Bob gave George a Band-Aid (also the nickname of one of the heir's sons, an athlete who had earned the reputation for a small amount of recklessness).

My favorite part of George is the teeth:

Credit where credit is due:

Washington crossing the Delaware from the left,

and from the right:

In order to maintain an even temperature inside and out so that the paint won't chip, each ox has a vent in its nether regions.  Bob has disguised the puncture:

Our Jeff pulled up.  Cars drifted slowly down the street, heads turned.

Norene took me around to the back yard.  A storm shattered the glass on their patio table, so Bob made a sculpture from the frame, with wire and aluminum cans:

Lest one wonder how I became a collector of bikes, suffice it to say that I've learned from the masters:

Right around then I got a group text from Terry C, calling the weekend regulars (we're a subset of the Friday night crew, plus Dale and Sean) for an impromptu cookout potluck at her house in the evening.  That settled it.  I now had an excuse to go find my lost cards:  I would pass by on my way to target="_blank" title="Emery's Berry Patch">Emery's Berry Patch.  Jack, under the weather but a good sport, agreed to come along.

Finding my lost parcel was the work of ten seconds.  Jack was impressed.  I found my way from the intersection to the farm without a map.  Dare I say I'm learning my way around the flatlands?  I got us from there to Laurita Winery, too.

There is one decent thing about the winery:  the view.

The wine is so bad that Jack called it quits halfway through the 7-sample tasting.

On the drive home, I winged it, mapless, taking different back roads through prime Free Wheeler country.

If Cheryl hadn't cajoled me into that first bike ride with the Free Wheelers, I'd never have known those roads, about Emery's, about how to paint route arrows, about how to lead rides, about the lives of several dozen people I'm still friends with after 14 years, about Hunterdon County, about being able to eat without gaining weight, about North Creek even.  Or about George the Ox. I wouldn't be up past my bedtime writing this blog entry either, now that I think about it.

So, Cheryl, enjoy Florida.  You'll have left your mark here in central New Jersey.


And now, before y'all get all weepy and shit, here are pictures of our newly-landscaped front yard, because Norene asked for them:

Here's the back:

If We're South of New Egypt, We Must Get Wet

This was not in the forecast when we checked at 7:00 a.m.

27 July 2014

Hawkin Road, southbound, near Colliers Mill:

Tom Y:  "I feel raindrops."

Me:  "It's not rain.  We're sweating in unison."

East Colliers Mill Road, eastbound, five minutes later:

Me (looking at the sky):  "Daaaaaaaaaaaamn!"

Why is it that when I lead a ride that goes south of New Egypt I tend to get rained on?  It's bad enough that I get blamed for the wind.  Now this.  Our Lady of Perpetual Sogginess?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hill Slugs Ad Hoc, Saturday, 26 July

23 July 2014

I have a 66-mile route planned for Saturday.  It's flat, and this time I promise I won't make wrong turns.  We'll start at the East Picnic Area at Mercer County Park at 8:30 a.m.  We'll pick up the 50-mile Ride for McBride route (sign up now for the September 20 event) south of Allentown.  There will be two rest stops.  I'm aiming for an honest B+ average, but if we wind up slower, meh.  That having been said, pace-pushers can go feel fast somewhere else.

If 66 miles isn't enough, start with me at my house at 7:45 a.m. and finish with 80 miles.  Let me know ahead of time and I'll make enough coffee.


 We love this house.

23 July 2014

On Saturday, Tom led his Califon route "backwards," meaning that we climbed several hills I have not felt the need to climb. The first was Black River Road.  The second was Hoffman's Crossing. They were both work, but neither was as odious as they appear to be when one is descending at speed, gripping the breaks for fear of landing in the Raritan or a tributary thereof.

We were one ridge east of Schooley's Mountain when we stopped for a break at a Krauszer's.  I went for a pureed frozen mocha.  Cheryl was sure it would freeze my stomach, and therefore my legs, when we got going again.  It didn't, so that's one more thing I know I can eat on a long ride.

Not long after we got going again, Plain Jim and Winter Larry, riding next to each other directly in front of me, burst into song:

I'm disturbed

We're disturbed, we're disturbed
We're the most disturbed
Like we're psychologically disturbed

Hear ye, hear ye

In the opinion of this court
This child is depraved on account
He ain't had a normal home

Hey, I'm depraved

On account I'm deprived
So take him to a headshrinker

My daddy beats my mommy, my mommy clobbers me

My grandpa is a commie, my grandma pushes tea
My sister wears a mustache, my brother wears a dress
Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess

Yes, Officer Krupke, he shouldn't be here

This boy don't need a couch, he needs a useful career
Society's played him a terrible trick
And sociologically he's sick

I am sick

We are sick, we are sick
We are sick, sick, sick

Like we're sociologically sick

"Westside Story!"  Larry explained.  "Officer Krupke!" Jim added, and spelled it for me.

The haul up Hoffman's Crossing was rewarded by the triple descent of Suttons, Guinea Hollow, and Rockaway Roads.

I don't remember when my first trip up Rockaway Road was.  John S probably took us there on one of his legendary "Which Way, John?" routes that had me lost the minute we left the parking lot.

Since then I've learned the roads of Hunterdon County, and since then I go out of my way to be on Rockaway Road if my route takes me within a few miles of it.

There's one trip up that always sticks in my mind, from March 2009.  It was just me, Cheryl, and Mike B, several days after I learned that I was being forced out of yet another lab due to lack of money.  As we started up the gradual hill, I found myself deep in thought and a little ahead of my friends.  What was I going to do with my life?  Did I want to stay in science?  Could I stand being low-life techie scum for the rest of my career?  Was it even a career?  What else could I possibly do?  What other skills did I have?

Here it is, July 2014, and that experience was two labs ago. As I let Miss Piggy wind out along the wooded road, I assessed my situation, as I always do when I'm here.  Yesterday marked the day I tied for the second longest I'd worked in any lab. Not only that, but this is the longest I've ever gone without surfing over to the university's open positions page, the longest I've ever gone without pondering a jump, the longest I've ever gone being happy.

It was around this time that Jim caught up with me.  "Does it count as the Macho Mile if it's a woman ahead of the pack?"  So I explained my strange elation and all was understood.

We stopped to take pictures of The House, for sale again, or still.  It's different every time.

On the drive home, I detoured to the lab to check on a pair of mice that I'd done brain surgery on two days before. I hoped they'd look and smell better than I looked and smelled. They did.

I was slightly less than refreshed when I woke up the next morning, but I had energy enough to push Kermit through a little headwind from home to Blackwells Mills to meet Plain Jim, TEW, and John S for Jim's D ride to Main Street in Kingston.  

Y'know, it took the leisurely pace down Canal Road to make me realize that I'm always pushing, always, when I'm on my bike.  I'm never pushing myself to the edge; I'm never going as fast as I can.  But I'm always pushing in one way or another.  If it's not up a hill or to keep the pace or to get to a ride start in plenty of time, it's distance, or worthless competition with my own average commuting speed on the way to the lab. And on Sunday, as John and I talked about possible routes along the northern reaches of the Delaware River, as TEW and I talked about the whales she saw in Alaska, as other bikers whizzed past us, as I looked over at the raft of plants floating along the edge of the D&R Canal, I wasn't pushing at all, and it was perfect.  I knew full well that most of my flatland buddies were, at that very moment, setting some new speed record on Gary W's Etra ride, and that, by all logic, I ought to have been out there with them, "improving" myself.


I used my phone's camera for these farm pictures on Canal Road:

Jim, TEW, and Susan (who caught up with us on the canal) headed back to Blackwells Mills after our rest stop.  John went north, back to his house in Metuchen.  I went to the lab, to check on my mice again.

I kept my cycling shoes on when I went into the animal colony.  In the animal rooms we wear a different sort of bootie:

Kermit waited for me in my office:

Two more years here and I will tie for the longest I've worked anywhere. I can't control the money, but I can control myself.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

In Which I Don't Suffer for my Art

 The Delaware Mocha at Milford

6 July 2014

I've been putting off my annual rest week for about a month now.  I haven't taken more than two days' rest after any of this season's centuries.  The weather has been too good not to bike to work, so I've been doing that two to three days each week for most weeks since early March.  I've been pumping iron at the gym, too. 

After last week's century, I never got my full power back.  I could feel it on the hills today.  It's not that I felt tired; I had fresh legs and a bloodstream full of coffee, after all.  It's just that I couldn't get my legs to do what I wanted them to do.  And now I'm home, feeling fatigued and dizzy, as if I'd been on a hilly century, but without the tired legs.  Right.  The week off starts now.

The ride that put me over the edge wasn't very difficult.  There were a lot of fast people on it, though, which only accentuated my lack of power.  It didn't bother me, though, because Tom's rides are always social.

As we wound our way up the ridge on the NJ side of the Delaware above Bulls Island, Tom and I talked bike routes.  I want to follow the Delaware as far as we can on the NJ side.  The problem is that Route 80 gets in the way at the Water Gap.  We might have to dart over to PA up there.  Stay tuned.

Tom took us up 519 towards Rick Road, and from there to Hartpence (where I'd never been) and Woolf.  On Hartpence I had to shift into my granny gear, yet another sign that I was off my game.  When I went to shift back to the middle ring, Miss Piggy did it without complaint.  As I passed Jim, who was dutifully counting riders at the top, I said, "I should give Miss Piggy a dog biscuit or something every time she shifts without a problem."

Tom gave us the descent on Hickory Corner, where I once ran over a squirrel's tail.  I didn't stop for pictures when there was an expansive view of the ridge to the north; I figured they'd come out looking flat. Tom tried it, though, so surf over to in a few days to see if he's posted his photos.

We descended into Milford after that.  This week's storms did a number on the river. The water was high and, through my sunglasses, red.

At Homestead General Store I put in a coffee order for me and Terry C.  We have a deal:  whoever gets there buys coffee for both of us.  The plan was to pick it up after the ride.

Then we were headed up Bridgeton Hill, where I chanted, "wheel on the ground" until we got past the steepest section.

It was a few turns later, near Ralph Stover Park, where I stopped for the pictures that would get me dropped from the ride.

They didn't even come out the way I wanted them to.

Jim stopped to take a picture of me taking a picture, because he likes being meta. We saddled up again, talking about how, with digital cameras, we don't have to hold them to our faces when we focus.  In every picture of me taking a picture, I've got my arms stretched out.  I do this so that I can zoom in as much as possible without relying on the digital zoom (which pixellates).  We were just winding up that conversation when we got to the end of the road.  Nobody was there. Ahead of us was a sign that read something like "no thoroughfare."  Having been here before, my hunch was to go down that road.  But, to our left, on a dirt road, I saw a biker in an orange jersey and thought it must be Bagel Hill Barry. So we turned left.

When we got to the end, the orange biker was nowhere to be seen. There was, in fact, nobody at all to be seen.  So we turned right, which seemed to us (even with Jim's professed lack of directional sense) the logical way to turn.  Still nobody. When the road ended in a T at Cafferty (a name I recognized), we stopped and I called Tom.  (Cafferty, it turns out, goes on roughly forever.  If I've been on this road, or past it, before, I have no idea where.)

By now they'd figured out that we were missing, but for us to turn back to catch up would be the work of at least ten minutes (they'd gone up a few big hills).  I could hear Tom rustling paper maps.  Jim checked Mister Garmin.  Both came to the conclusion that, despite the fact that we were running more or less parallel to each other, there was no meeting up to be had.  So Tom sent us on our way, downhill, on a glorious stretch of road that I might have or might not have ever been on.  Jim and I decided that this stretch of Cafferty, between Tory and Route 32, requires a revisit.

When we got to the bridge over the Delaware at Bulls Island, we decided to wait for the rest of the group here instead of in the parking lot.  I apologized perfusely for the missed hills and distance.  Jim was not at all perturbed.  Neither was I. If I'm going to be dropped, this is the best scenario for that to happen. We agreed that Jim should get his Hill Slugs Waders Club card punched because I'd taken him down a dirt road unnecessarily.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw two fawns walking along the towpath towards the bridge.  I grabbed my camera, found a perch at the wall, and waited for them to emerge.  I caught sight of them in the shrubs:

This picture makes getting dropped worth the experience:

The red Delaware River:

The river as I see it through my sunglasses, more or less (more less than more, but you get the idea):

A kayaker paddles through the mud:

Jim and I had a conversation in Gearspeak, the parlance of Wrenches, which I am not. Yet. We were talking about shifters and 11-speed cassettes and wheel spoke position.  I said that I'm a Luddite when it comes to shifters:  I don't see the point of electronic ones.  "Why?"  I asked.

"They save a smidge of weight," Jim says.

"Pfffff!"  I said.  "Sean says that even index shifters are untrue to pure mechanical form.  He says that with index shifters you're never between gears.  I told him that I'm between gears all the time with Miss Piggy."

Tom and company pulled in right around then.  Many years ago, I accidentally dropped him, an event that has given him much verbal mileage.  Now that he's inadvertently dropped me, we're finally even.  Not that we won't find a zillion other things to razz each other about.

After the ride, I drove back to Upper Black Eddy to pick up our coffee and order a PB&J sandwich.  On the way home, I conjured up another route to try.  While I got gas somewhere near Amwell, I emailed Tom and Jim the idea:  579 minus 519 equals 60.  It'll have to wait for a dry, temperate day.  Stay tuned.

As for all the Gearspeak, there's a reason, but that's the subject of another post. Now I'm off to dinner, the start of a week during which I will not be permitted to eat anything that's not nailed down.  Phooey.

Friday, July 4, 2014

July 5 Ride Canceled

4 July 2014

I wasn't thinking when I'd listed an Event century training ride for July 5, sandwiched between the All-Paces and a hilly ride from Tom H.

As of 7:30 a.m., July 4, the roads are dry.  I'll see you at the All-Paces, where I'm scheduled to lead.  If we get rained out between now and then, I'll see you on Tom's Delaware River Hills ride on Sunday.

UPDATE:  Jim blogs so I don't have to.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


29 June 2014

I went out with Statler and Waldorf again yesterday.  

Neil had planned a flat to rolling route in the high 70-mile range.  He wanted to go to Delicious Orchards in Colt's Neck ("I need some doughnuts," he wrote). When I wrote back that I was thinking of tacking on enough miles biking from home to Cranbury and back to make it a century, he threw in another rest stop. I told him not to go out of his way for me, but he confirmed that he likes route mapping as much as I do.

I always prep my bike the night before.  Kermit's rear tube was flat again.  I guessed that I'd missed whatever was still in the tire from the last one, and went about changing tubes.  I found a small nick in the tire, but it didn't appear to have gone all the way through.  In the morning, the tire was still full, so I set out at 6:50 a.m. in order to give myself plenty of time to get to Cranbury.  

I had a headwind, and my speed was lower than it ought to have been.

We were about 11 miles out when we hit a bumpy patch.  I started to fall behind. Two miles later we rounded a corner, and that's when I felt the rear wheel go mushy.  We stopped so I could pump it up again.  "There's no point in changing the tube," I said.  "I can't find the puncture."  I got it back up to something approaching 100 psi.  Neil kept looking at my wheel, though.  It was going soft again.

Semi-soft is good for cheese.  Not so much for tires.  So we stopped again, Neil being determined to find the culprit.  It took all four of us, but we did.  The nick had, indeed, ever so slightly gone all the way through, enough that a grain of sand could get in and pierce the tube (Neil extracted said grain).  The leak in the tube was so small that it took Steve five minutes to find it.  Mark had a patch that he stuck on the tire.  We filled it up.  "So much better!"  I said.  "I can feel every bump in the road again."  I like running my tubes at 115 psi.  This time it held. No wonder I'd been so slow on the way to Cranbury.  "You don't notice it until it gets below 100," he said.  "You were leaking air all night."

At Delicious Orchards, Neil was dejected.  There were no apple cider doughnuts. "I got two brownies instead," he said.  I was perplexed, because he was holding two foil pans, each about an inch deep, four inches wide, and six inches long.  He was holding two brownies, and he was going to bring these things home in his Camelbak.

Now, I'm no stranger to hauling things home.  Usually it's coffee.  Sometimes it's pastry.  Once it was a loaf that Mike B carried in his front pack for ten miles.  I'm pretty sure that Neil's load was heavier than anything I've carried back.  Anyone who has ridden with Neil knows, though, that the weight of two gargantuan brownies is but a tiny fraction of his usual load.  I once witnessed him remove a can full of change and a tub of Gatorade powder. So in the brownies went.

About twenty miles later, Neil said,  "My back is killing me." I suggested that we could eat some of his load, but he said his wife would see right through that.  Oh well. We stopped at the Manasquan Reservoir for water and readjustment.

 Neil and Steve

The stop was Mark's idea.  One of the shore cycle groups uses this place a lot.  It has a ranger station with real bathrooms and a water fountain, and a couple of vending machines for drinks.

We watched an egret and a heron, and talked with a park ranger who told us about the pair of bald eagles and the osprey who live on the edge of the water.

He told us about the cat collar that the rangers found in the eagles' nest when they were banding the chicks. Keep your cats indoors, folks.  The birds'll turn on kitty sooner or later.

The wind shifted, because this was a ride with me and Neil.  As headwinds go, it wasn't much, but it was enough for us to keep our reputations.

The route back was through the low rollers of Millstone.  It was enough to start to wear us out.  In Monroe, Steve peeled off for home.  At the edge of Cranbury, I went straight as Neil and Mark turned towards the park.  I found a tree to sit under and grabbed a quick snack, then headed for home, into the wind.