We turned up Fleecy Dale Road, which has been closed for years. It still is, but now at least we can ride over the mud and gravel. This being a Tom ride, it didn't elicit any comment.
Coming towards us at high speed was group upon group of very serious-looking riders. They turned up Fretz Mill, which is steep enough to topple people who aren't prepared for the ascent. This was the course of the Fleche Buffoon, 75 miles and 6100 feet of climbing. I was glad that nobody my speed had suggested it, because if they had, I'd have had to have agreed to it. (No, Ed, you are not my speed. You're faster.) From where I was, it looked like a race. Nobody who passed us was talking.
In Carversville, I had to shed my leggings. I watched a photographer dash around for pictures of the Buffoons zipping past.
As we crawled up Wismer Road, the same Buffoons I'd seen in Carversville popped out ahead of us at an intersection. They finished the hill as if it had been flat.
At the top of the hill, at an intersection, Ed disappeared again. Tom spotted him attempting to go inside the Point Pleasant fire house. Somebody outside stopped him. Tom rode over. Jack H and I had no idea what was going on.
Lined up at the intersection behind us, waiting for us to cross, were a dozen or so Mini Coopers.
On Hollow Horn, I doubled back to a rusty piece of farm equipment. Ed followed me. I wanted my camera to focus through the grass; it focused on the grass instead. I didn't think to switch to manual focus, because I never think to do that. I stood up, took another shot, and got back on Miss Piggy.
Every few miles, we'd come across the serious climbers, always in the opposite direction. The Mini Coopers passed us again. This time I paid attention to the license plates, should this become a recurring theme. "I'm not sure I'm awake," I said to Tom, "between the Minis and the Fleche."
The Buffoons and the Insane Bike Posse met again at the top of Bridgeton Hill Road. I was surprised they weren't climbing it. I stopped to get a picture or two. From behind I heard one of them say, "Good idea."
"I climb this all the time," I explained, "but I don't get much chance to look on the way down."
"Watch yourself on the curve," I cautioned.
As I dismounted at the Homestead General Store, the flock of Mini Coopers drove past us again.
A few of the smarter Buffoons pulled off at Homestead. The ride wasn't supported, one of them told us, save for a single grab-and-go at the windmill in Alexandria. "Smart move," I said. "There's nothing up there."
I got a few more pictures while we waited for Ed, who finally admitted that he wasn't all there today.
For the first time ever, I rode my bike over the Milford bridge. Apparently we can do that if we ride in the road; we're vehicles, after all. "That felt weird," I said.
On Pittstown Road in Everittstown, we came across this tree, which looks like the tree that every five-year-old draws in kindergarten class.
Ed, meanwhile, was taken by the dilapidated barn across the street:
We passed Sky Manor airport. This was the first time I'd seen anything taking off or landing. We stood for a while to watch a takeoff, a landing, and a helicopter hovering close to the ground.
Landing and hovering:
This was the easy part of the ride, up on the ridge, after the hard rollers of Route 519. We wound our way back southwest, towards Federal Twist.
"Do you feel okay?" Jack H asked me on Milltown Road. I had to pee, but, other than that, I felt fine.
"Because we're on a Tom ride and nothing has happened. No closed roads, no rain."
"We're not finished yet," I reminded him.
As we got closer to Federal Twist, I told Tom, "I have to find a tree."
"It's only five miles to Bulls Island."
"I know," I said, and found a suitable spot at the corner of Milltown and Federal Twist. The guys rode ahead. In front of me, Ed had been in the bushes too. Sensing the descent, he took off. By the time I reached the beginning of the hill, there was nobody in sight.
I reached 50 mph once on this hill, back during my first year with Kermit, or maybe it was before that even, with Bluestreak. I've never hit that speed since, and I'm totally okay with that.
Miss Piggy, the old one, never felt fast on descents. The new Piggy doesn't either. I've always been cautious. When I reached the steepest descent, I reached for the brakes. I only let loose after Raven Rock Road, where the grade is less and I can see the bottom. Tom and Ed were there. Jack H must have gone ahead. He does that a lot. Bulls Island is only a quarter mile away anyhow. I checked my maximum speed. 41 mph. Fast enough for Miss Piggy.
"How does your bike feel going downhill?" Tom asked. He wondered if the new frame feels different from the old one.
"It's more stable, I think. But I don't feel fast. It doesn't feel right somehow. It's stiff. I can feel every bump in the road. If I were on one of my steel frames I'd feel more confident." He agreed.
We didn't see Jack H when we reached the parking lot. We figured he must have gone on to the bathrooms.
I'd already loaded Miss Piggy into the back of my car, and Tom had packed his Synapse, when a rider came up to me.
"Are you Laura?"
"Yeah," I said. I'm used to this. It's the braid and my reputation.
"Your friend had a crash on Federal Twist," he said. "He's on a Trek."
I shook my head. "None of us has a Trek," I said.
"His name is Jack. He's banged up. His bike is wrecked."
"I was last. I didn't see anybody."
Tom said, "White jersey?"
Tom jumped into his truck.
"I'll wait here."
"I didn't see anyone either," Ed said. "He was ahead of me."
It was one of those frozen time eternities before I heard Tom's tires crunching on the gravel again.
Jack H stepped out. Gingerly. His right cheekbone around his eye was purple. Blood dripped from his left leg. He hobbled towards his car. Tom lifted the frame from the bed of his truck. The right side of the handle bar dangled from its cables, the carbon shattered.
"I was going down the steep part," he said. "And the bike started shimmying. It got worse and worse. I hit the brakes but I couldn't control it."
"How did we not see you?"
"I went over the rocks. I was curled up in a ball." He hadn't lost consciousness; he was sure of that.
"I was last. How did I not see you? Or your bike?"
"We were focused on the road," Tom said. "We weren't looking for dead bodies."
"How did I not see you?"
"I didn't move for a few minutes. I couldn't breathe. That was the scariest part. Another biker found me. He's a doctor. He helped me roll over." Most of the force had been taken by his left shoulder, and his lower back was sore.
"Let's see your helmet," Tom said. It was smashed on the left front side.
He assured us that he was fine to drive home, and promised he'd go straight to the hospital.
"Bring the helmet," Tom said.
"My head feels fine."
"Doesn't matter," I said. "You could wind up with a headache later, a subdural hematoma, and it's all over. Have them check your head. Want me to follow you back?"
We all peered at his brand new bike, now lying in pieces on the floor of his van. "Looks like a warranty replacement," Jack H said.
After six hours in the emergency room, he came home and emailed me and Tom. He'd been very lucky, the doctors told him; he'd only mildly fractured a lumbar vertebra. Whatever was going on in his shoulder would have to wait for his orthopedist visit. "See you next week on the ride. Maybe," he wrote.
Sure. I suggested a kiddie trailer hookup. "Sweet," he wrote. "I'll carry water bottles for all." We'll put the trailer on Ed's bike.
I'm still stuck on the part where none of us saw him lying in a ditch on the side of the road. I'm going to keep coming back to that for a long time.