Sunday, November 22, 2015

Beaker's Weekend

Hopewell-Amwell Road

22 November 2015

If there were a fire in the house, I'm the second bike that OLPH would rescue.  Kermit would be first. Unless she were to have two hands free. Then she'd grab both of us.

I'm Beaker; I'm the one she commutes to the lab on. Hence the name. Ha. Ha. Ha. I'm a Tommasini. I'm hand-built Italian steel with chrome lugs, chrome stays, a chrome fork. And she uses me to commute to work. What a waste of craftsmanship. To add insult to injury, as soon as she sets her clocks ahead one hour, she stops using me even for that.

I suppose it doesn't help that I was outfitted with prima donna Mavic racing wheels that she snagged for almost no money. She got what she paid for. I had little more than a thousand miles on myself when a spoke in the rear snapped for no good reason. I was out of action for a week from that one, and then a month later the same wheel went way out of true, again for no good reason. She took me out one more time after that was fixed, and then it got dark.

Last week, though, OLPH gave me a present: New wheels. Mavics again. She'll never learn. These are snazzy, though, and sturdy. The blue hubs and spoke nipples almost match my paint. The rims are meant for 25 mm tires; she's used to 23 mm. I'll have to keep my quick release brake levers open a little for those extra 2 mm until she adjusts me properly. I got a new cassette out of the deal, too. I'm so shiny.

OLPH has this friend she calls Winter Larry. He's only seen me once before. He wanted to see me again. She told him that she'd bring me out into the hills on Saturday if he'd promise to come out on the ride. I'm not sure she trusted her strength, Larry, or me, because before she gave me any chain lube and filled my tires, she got that new Piggy Cannondale creature ready to go. In the end, she picked me. I'm the Tommasini. I'm better than anybody and she knows it.

Plain Jim's unpainted titanium Habanero by the name of Yellow Maserati met us at home, along with Pete and his Cannondale. Cannondale. Why are there so many damned Cannondales? Damned carbon. I'm okay with titanium; at least it's metal. But carbon? Steel is where it was at, is at, and will be at long after that carbon-plastic nonsense has come and gone. I'm a little heavy, sure, but I don't shatter; I dent.

When we got to Pennington, there was another blue steel beauty trying to steal my thunder. Winter Larry cooed over me, so I felt a little better about everyone flocking to Celeste's hand-made steel machine made with uncouplers so that she can take it anywhere. I shine; she sparkles. Call it even.

There was a good amount of metal around today, for a change. Tom had his Feather. And who was that? Mighty Mike and his Bianchi! Without a helmet! Pete, who lives a few minutes away, went off to fetch a spare while Mike got ready.

Somebody asked, "What big hill are we doing today?"

OLPH answered, "Province Fucking Line." Tom looked dejected. He wasn't expecting OLPH to be such a bitch. Before she died, Miss Piggy told me about what Tom made her do over the summer; I think he hastened her demise. If OLPH were to break Tom or his Feather today, that would be fine with me. Turnabout is fair play.

OLPH wasn't taking the usual route to Lambertville. She said she didn't want to fall into the Cranbury trap of same-old-same-old, so instead of getting there and back in 35 miles, the plan was for 48. The path was circuitous all right, but at least it gave us all a long warm-up before we got to Province Fucking Line.

 The easy part of Province Fucking Line

Province Line Road follows a line drawn in the 1700s that divided the state into East and West Jersey. Not much of it remains. We can get to a few miles of it in West Amwell, and there's a long stretch north of New Egypt. Some of it is Quakerbridge Road now; nobody takes a bike on that stretch. There's a commemorative plaque in stone where the road crosses Route 518:

North of 518 is where the tough part is. The hill starts off mellow enough. OLPH stopped to get a picture of a turkey vulture on an old silo.

She told Larry that she had to make up for not getting a picture of the vulture on the gold steeple in Cassville last week.

Vultures are regulars on Province Line Road. Right where the trees start is where the road gets steep. The birds like to hang out there, where they can see the field and any riders that drop from exhaustion.

Tom almost dropped, but he rescued himself. So close...

This is a favorite photo spot, where Province Line meets Hopewell-Amwell Road.

The  Hill Slugs collected themselves on Lindbergh at Ridge Road. OLPH takes too many pictures of tree tops. She should be taking pictures of me. I'm beautiful.

At the corner of Bowne Station and Queen, outside of Lambertville:

We were nearly 30 miles into the ride by the time we got to Rojo's in Lambertville. The owner wasn't around today. When he is, he sometimes comes out to admire us while our riders are inside.  Too bad for him, what with two blue steel beauties leaning against his wall and all.

Tom was confused again when OLPH made a left instead of a right on Route 29 in the center of Lambertville. She had planned to take 179 for maybe a quarter of a mile, then make the first right onto a residential street where she'd never been before. But when she took a look at the grade on that road, she went right on past it. She said I didn't have the gearing for it. Wrong: She doesn't have the legs for it. Wuss.

From the chatter coming up the line, though, it sounded as if the other Slugs were grateful she didn't make that turn. We plodded along 179, passing the spot we'd have emerged not too much farther up the road. No wonder nobody goes there; there's not much reason for it. OLPH said something to Jim about somebody named Ed who would have charged up that hill.  She said, "If I had Miss Piggy, I'd have done it." Screw you, OLPH, and that stupid Pig of yours.

We had one more big climb, on Marshall's Corner-Woodsville Road.  "It's a double-humper," OLPH said. "The second one looks much worse than it is. You'll see it from the top of the first. Don't panic." I think some of them panicked, but we all made it up in the end.

The Slugs waited for each other.

OLPH said, "Hey, you know how it's a flock of birds? What's a group of slugs?"

"A plague?" Celeste offered. "Like a plague of locusts"

Someone else said, "A slime."

OLPH said, "A grumble?"

"A fest!"

A slimy grumble-fest Slug plague 

I got back home with nearly 60 miles on my new wheels. OLPH likes the way they feel, and she said she's going to keep them. She promised Jim she'd fix my brake adjusters too.

OLPH wasn't sure who she'd take out on Sunday, if she went at all. It would depend on how much sleep she got after a small party she and her husband were hosting at the house.

She brought one of the guests down to look at Miss Piggy, and I was jealous, until she showed him my snazzy new wheels. After the party, though, it was Miss Piggy she brought upstairs and gave the water bottles to. She must have been pretty tired.

But in the morning, she carried the Pig back down and filled my tires instead. I'm the one that got to ride in the car to Cranbury. That's because my big ring is bigger than Piggy's big ring. I go into 53-11 real easy.

When she took me out of the car, she called Raj over. He was on a carbon Colnago. I was happy to see another hand-made Italian bike, even if this one was carbon. Raj admired me, but we all knew that his Colnago is far better than I could ever hope to be.  I'm willing to cede my status to a carbon frame, but just this once. Just this once.

Today's ride leader wasn't Winter Larry. Winter Larry wasn't there. Today we were led by JeffH, who said we were heading "due east," to face the headwinds on our trip home.

We were two miles into the ride when he led us down a closed road. OLPH led a group down this road many years ago. It was a moonscape back then, and her riders complained. Today we had to be carried over a barrier and our tires were full of dirt. But at least there weren't any potholes. OLPH has a reputation for crossing closed roads like this; she said she had no right to complain. She was amused, but she wondered if the other riders were. Chris was, and probably Jim, too.

The dirt went on for quite some distance, including under the Turnpike. At least the dirt was level, though. That's an improvement from years ago.

After that we were good for a while.

Then we hit traffic on Sweetman's Lane. Usually the Freewheelers turn off after the bridge, onto Kinney, to get away from traffic. Today we went past Kinney. That's where a car came within one foot of knocking me and OLPH over. OLPH was pretty grumpy after that. She wanted to catch the car at the traffic light and knock on the window. The car was long gone by the time we got there, though. And the traffic was even worse on the other side, all the way through Englishtown, and the road surface was less than hospitable. OLPH let her opinion be known at the rest stop. I think she unintentionally insulted JeffH, and she felt bad about that, but they were talking while they ate, so I guess everything was more or less okay.

The route back towards Cranbury was quieter.

OLPH said her feet were getting cold. Dressing properly this time of year is tough. Today was warmer than yesterday, but today was cloudy and a little clammy. She should have known better than to go out without foot warmers.

A handful of miles east of Cranbury, OLPH was with Jim, Chris, and Barry, behind JeffH. The rest of the riders were far enough ahead that when JeffH signaled a left turn (from Dey Grove to Dey Grove, go figure), they didn't hear him. We turned. He motioned to us and then went straight on to catch the others. We thought he was telling us to go ahead; the rest of the group was fast enough to catch us anyway. So we went ahead. Jim asked OLPH, "Do you know where we are?"

"Kinda sorta."

OLPH kept looking in her rear-view mirror for them. They weren't there.

Chris knew the way home, though, so we followed him.

We followed him straight to another closed road.

Chris was showing Jim a picture of the road not too long ago. OLPH said, "Are you going to make me cross an I-beam? I'm not very good at that."

"Maybe," he said.


I gave up Princeton Pike at rush hour for this? I'm getting my feet all dirty!

There was no I-beam, only dirt.

OLPH said to Barry, "I'm the one with the reputation for this kind of stuff, but I think I'm going to have to give it over to these guys."

Barry said, "Let me know next time and I'll bring my mountain bike."

Jim said to OLPH, "Are you sure you're not leading this ride?"

If the rest of the group had followed us, they'd have caught up to us by now. If they'd gone straight, we'd have run into them or even been behind them at the next intersection. There was nobody there.

We had a few minutes of peace along a wooded stretch of road. OLPH looked down at my new wheels and decided for sure that she'd keep them. To be fair, though, she could run square wheels on me and I'd still be awesome.

OLPH likes to drop the hammer on Cranbury Station Road. It's the last couple of miles before the traffic light at Route 130 in Cranbury. I was all ready for the 53-11 thing, but she never did click it in. Maybe she didn't because there's another warehouse (like we need another warehouse) going up and the road is a mess. Maybe she was too grumpy and tired.

We waited around in the parking lot for the rest of the group to return. They did, after maybe five minutes. They'd turned around and taken the dirt bridge too. OLPH and JeffH grumbled about the condition of Cranbury Station Road.  "It used to be fun," she said.

OLPH stood for a long time in the shower, waiting for her feet to warm up, and thinking.

On one hand, people are getting tired of the same old routes out of Cranbury. Leaders are trying to do different things out there, but, little by little, we're losing the good roads. Nowadays, the only decent routes have to go south towards Bordentown or Allentown or New Egypt, or maybe Jackson or Cassville. But some of those places are so far away that the leaders have to adhere to prescribed routes in order to keep the distance reasonable.

Kermit has told me about the last few times OLPH had taken him to Cranbury. Two out of the past three rides went north. One of them was to somewhere near Spotswood or something; there was no scenery to speak of, and the roads weren't the best ones to be on. Another time, the leader didn't show up, and the one who volunteered took the riders through some gnarly roads near the Princeton Junction train station. Kermit said OLPH didn't enjoy either of those rides. So much for originality.

On the other hand, OLPH thought, as she stared out the window onto the gray November sky, being on a bike is much better than being in the gym.  OLPH was thinking that perhaps she should lead a few Sunday rides from Mercer County Park. From there, one can go in almost any direction without encountering the bad stuff. She could take me, or Kermit, or even Gonzo, out for a recovery spin with a group that could go a little slower than the fast boys on JeffH's rides. He wouldn't have to try to keep two groups together the way he has to now. OLPH thinks she might try a few off-the-book Sundays and see what happens.

Meanwhile, she really needs to fix my brakes.  I look so stupid with my quick-release levers sticking halfway up.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hill Slugs Ad Hoc, Saturday, 21 November 2015

18 November 2015

We're sticking close to home this Saturday. I'll come up with a creative 45-ish mile route to one of our usual haunts.

Meet for a 9:30 a.m. start at the Hopewell Administration Building on Main Street, across from Ingleside, in Pennington. Extra-milers can meet me at my house for a 9:00 start.

Facebook Can Go Away Now

18 November 2015

Now that Winter Larry has a smartphone, I am without an excuse. I've joined and posted a cat picture for good measure.

You can find me, if you're so inclined, as Perpetual Headwinds.  I promise not to post pictures of my breakfast.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Other People's Toys, and the Born-Again Outhouse

"The 20th century is officially over.  Larry got a smartphone."
-- Waldorf
(Also, I need a new camera.)

15 November 2015

Winter Larry, our Winter Larry, emailed me from a smartphone last night. 

I'd sent him a message that I figured he wouldn't see, but the rest of the Slugs would, that Jack and I had left West Chester early and were now home.  

The conference was over early in the evening. Our friends were driving home. Our hotel room was one microwave away from crappy: the tub drain was blocked, leaving us standing in several inches of water whenever we took a shower; the shower sprayed the bathroom floor; room service had taken all the towels without replacing them, leaving me to flag down a housekeeper in order to snag some towels for my post-ride shower; and the so-called breakfast consisted of no water to drink, tepid water for tea, lukewarm oatmeal, and no milk for Jack's cereal (he had to wait around after I found someone to ask). If we left after dinner, we could be home in a little more than an hour. So that's what we did, and we got home in time to unpack everything and for me to load Kermit into the car.

I: Other People's Toys

I got to Cranbury early enough to take my time setting up.  Rajesh came over to show me his new bike. A friend had sold him a high-end carbon Colnago,  60th anniversary edition, with Campagnolo Super Record components. Complete, the bike weighs fifteen pounds.

"How much did you pay for it?" Steve (you'll see his bike later) asked.

"I don't want to say," Rajesh replied sheepishly.  He then told us how much he'd saved over the original price.  Suffice it to say that he saved more than I spent on Beaker's custom frame.

Raj loves this bike. The top tube is the classic Colnago star shape. The frame is lugged. The decorations are hand-painted, and the gold sparkles. The frame was made in Italy; most Colnago frames are, like most other brands, made in China.

Larry was on his newly-built Litespeed Ultimate.  It's very shiny.

Status and shine aside, Steve stole the show with his tricked-out recumbent. He showed me a picture of the blue cloth cover that completely envelopes him against the elements.  Only his head sticks out. For today's ride, most of his bike was unnecessary, but that hardly matters, does it?

 Larry wants me to bring Beaker next time he leads.  I should tell him to send me a text to remind me.

II: The Born-Again Outhouse

You'll notice that all of the above pictures were taken from the parking lot.  They were taken after the ride.  I deliberately did not bring my camera with me on the ride today.  That leaves me with having to describe what we saw in Cassville.

The bathroom was out of order in the deli near the St Vladimir Russian Orthodox Church, but a deli patron pointed out the porta-john in a park behind the trees across the lot from the church.  Jack H, Neil, Mark, and I turned in there while the rest of the group went ahead to look at the church.

The steeple, a gold cross, had a vulture sitting on it today. The bird and the top of the cross were close to the same size. 

I was first to use the bathroom. Inside, everywhere, in thick black marker, is scrawled, "Jesus saves," sometimes with a radio station frequency after it, sometimes not.

"This is a born-again outhouse," I told the guys when I emerged.  I offered no other explanation.  "You'll have to see for yourselves."

Which they did.

"Praise the lord," Neil said.

"Praise the lord and pass the toilet paper," I added.  "It's God's own outhouse."

Mark said, "It's a holy outhouse!"

And Neil replied, "Holy shit!"

Now we have two landmarks to visit in Cassville.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

West Chester in the Wind

West Chester, PA

14 November 2015

Today's ride was all about entering another one of Tom's rides into the annals of stupidity.  It's not the route that was stupid; the route was fine. It was me and the weather that made the ride stupid.

I'm in West Chester, PA, as I write this. Jack is at a conference here.  He'd planned to take public transit from home on Friday and return the same way on Sunday.  But when he looked into the logistics, he found that the trip would take him half a day, culminating with a 2-mile walk down a state highway without a sidewalk. If I were to drive him, I could get him there in under an hour and a half.  He warned me that I'd have to amuse myself on Saturday.

"Okay," I said.  "I'll bring a bike."  

I searched ridewithgps for routes starting in West Chester and found a few from the local bike club (whose web presence is arguably as bad as ours). I copied out a few of them by hand (because I still don't own a GPS), then surfed over to Tom's Best Bike Rides Philadelphia hoping that I'd find something I could trust. 

Then I checked the weather.  Hoo-boy.  30 mph wind gusts on top of a steady 17 mph breeze out of the northwest.  Maybe not.

Or maybe.  Things could change. It was only Tuesday.  I emailed Tom, and after a few exchanges, I put together two of his routes for a 40-mile loop, writing in the first 20 mile loop as a bailout just in case.

By Friday the forecast hadn't changed.  I packed Miss Piggy II anyway. Tom had assured me I wouldn't need climbing gears, but I figured that, with the wind and the likelihood that I'll have been up late the night before and will have eaten something less than optimal for dinner and breakfast, I'd need all the help I could get.

I also loaded a bag with a computer, books, and beads, should I decide to hole up in the hotel instead.

We arrived in West Chester in the late afternoon on Friday.  Immediately we ran into two of Jack's favorite people, whom I consider my friends within the context of Jack and conferences (we rarely seem to talk otherwise).  Then we ran into a couple more whom I'd met during our short trip to Ghent two years ago. After that, Jack and I, with his two favorite people, went to the 5:00 reception long enough to have a snack and smuggle four wine glasses back to their room.  There, we had drinks (I even had half a glass; it was rose champagne; Jack is slowly teaching me). 

Dinner was the four of us at a noisy Italian restaurant in town.  I was already half asleep before the meal started.  I have trouble staying awake on days I don't drink coffee.  We then went back to the hotel and hung out in our friends' room.

We had something of a funk-off.  Jack and I won, I think, because we had more real funk on our iPhones than our friend did. We won with Stevie Wonder ("I Wish"), Parliament ("Flashlight"), James Brown ("Get on the Good Foot"), and a few selections from the Meters. This segued into Prince (if you've never seen it, watch him solo at the end of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, and Jeff Lynne at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004). And we had to show them the Tom Waits-Cookie Monster mashup of "God's Away on Business." )You'll never hear Tom Waits the same way again.)

It was nearly 1:00 a.m. when I climbed into bed.

After a crappy breakfast (lukewarm oatmeal in the dining room, then cottage cheese and coffee in the room while Jack showered), I contemplated the bike ride. There was much silent waffling.  I knew, though, that once the caffeine hit and as soon as I put on my cycling clothes, I'd commit to at least the short route. 

I drove Jack to the conference with minutes to spare before the 10:30 session. From a parking lot at West Chester University, I started the ride.

With such a short route, lots of time to kill, and no Slugs waiting for me, I stopped frequently for pictures:

The roads were on the narrow side, with not much shoulder. Drivers were patient, the same way they were in Virginia.  One even put his flashers on behind me as I plodded up a hill.  I waved him past as soon as there was room.

On Wylie Road, a tree was resting on power lines.  No matter. I could fit underneath.

On Creek Road, I fell in behind another cyclist (Orbea, white shorts). He seemed to be slowing down to let me catch up, so I did.  "I'm from New Jersey," I said.  "I'm not used to cars being this polite."  He said he just got back from seven years in Australia.

At the next stop sign, I said, "I think I'm hanging a right here."

I was wrong, as I figured out a mile or two into traffic on Street Road. I doubled back. The turn I'd wanted was about a tenth of a mile further along. The turn took me past Brandywine Creek:

Cabooses!  (Cabese?)

By now, even I was getting annoyed at my frequent picture stops.

 So I didn't take any more after this one:

Uphill + headwind = steeper hill. I was happy that I'd brought my climbing bike. 

I was protected from the wind much of the time by tall trees, although when I hit open road it was like hitting a wall. One crosswind gust nearly sent me sideways. I'm not used to a light bike in big winds. Kermit is the one for open fields in December.  The prettiest roads were the narrowest and steepest ones. Maybe we should come back here next season.

When I got close to West Chester again, I made a wrong turn and saw more of the town than I'd bargained for. For the third or fourth time, I pulled out my phone to figure out where I was. For the third or fourth time, I found myself wondering if I shouldn't get myself a GPS already.  Eventually, after asking several pedestrians, I found the university again.

I got back to the car with just under 25 miles, which was enough. In the hotel room, I ate the rest of last night's leftovers and set about blogging.  Soon I'll head back to the campus, where Jack has implored me to join him for a reception and demonstration of stage combat.  The conference ends tonight, so I don't expect to get another ride in before we head home tomorrow morning.