Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hill Slugs Ad Hoc, Saturday, December 10

8 December 2016

Oh, hi, winter! I didn't see you sneak in. You're a little early. Why don't you go sit over there in the corner for a couple more weeks? No? Dang.

Okay, Slugs. The weather isn't going to cooperate with our road-riding intentions. Let's hit the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail for a no-hammer, no-drop, 20-mile ride instead.

We'll start at 10:00; it should be above freezing by then.

Meet at the Maidenhead Meadows parking lot across from Foxcroft Road on Princeton Pike, about a quarter mile south of the Princeton Pike-Province Line intersection in Lawrence Township.

(I live three miles away and will be dragging my knobby tires up Princeton Pike around 9:30. If you want six extra miles that will feel like twelve extra miles, let me know.)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Visit to a Hindu Temple, Musings on Reincarnation, and Other Irreverent Reflections

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Robbinsville, NJ 

4 December 2016

Winter Larry took four of us on a quick detour today, to the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville. No photography of the indoor structure is permitted; to catch a glimpse of the inside, follow this link, or, better still, go see it for yourself, because each carving and inlaid stone was done by hand.

Winter Larry (Jewish) Rajesh (who is Hindu but not of this particular denomination) and I (atheist) went inside. They stood by the entrance while I took my shoes off and walked around the mandir. Despite by irreverence, two of my favorite structures are the products of religious devotion:  Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and this place, twenty minutes from home.

The temple stop was early on in our trip southeast.

We had a tailwind much of the way out, which is how Winter Larry rolls, which is the opposite of how the Hill Slugs roll.

On Imlaystown-Hightstown Road, Winter Larry admired a soaring vulture. As we turned onto Emely's Hill, he mused that he'd like to come back as a bird. "I'll come back as a mouse," I said. "I've killed too many." Larry was confused about why I'd come back as a mere mouse. I said, "What's a mouse ever done to anyone? Humans are awful. We hate each other. We kill each other. Why do we assume that humans are the highest animal? Maybe I should come back as a house cat."

Upon further reflection, I added, "Or a mule. I want to come back as something that can't reproduce."

Our break was at the Wawa in Jackson. Across the street, from deep within the woods, we could hear gunshots. Then there was a boom that sounded like an explosion. For a while after that, there was silence. I half expected to see smoke and hear sirens. Instead, the shooting resumed.

Winter Larry zig-zagged us back to Cranbury, doing his best to hide us behind trees.

As we waited at a light to cross Route 130, I saw a parked tractor-trailer across the highway. Emblazoned on the side, in blue capital letters, was "JESUS IS LORD."

I said to Rajesh, "The Hindus have their hand-carved marble, but the Christians have 'Jesus is lord' on the side of a truck. Jesus for the win!"

Jeff H added, "Murica!"

Rajesh said, "Whatever gets the message across."

"Geez," Jeff said. "Here we are being sarcastic, and Rajesh is being the voice of reason."

"It's a different means to the same end," Rajesh offered.

"He hasn't been in New Jersey long enough," I suggested.

Anyway, you all should go see the temple, for the artistry and the devotion put into it, no matter which imaginary friend* you pray to.

(*It's my blog and I'll be an asshole if I want to. I'm definitely coming back as a cockroach.)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Uphill and Into the Wind

Senator Stout Road near Alexandria

3 December 2016

The route was based on an old one, tweaked last night to avoid steep climbs, because it's December so fuck it. 

I drag the Slugs up to Homestead General Store at least once per year. We stop by more than that, though, because Tom and Blake are fond of the place as well. I'm pretty sure that I've never hauled a group up there in December.

Eight of us made the trip. The wind, out of the northwest, in the double digits and gusting twice as hard, was a bonus that, somehow, nobody got around to blaming me for.  I suppose this is because there are two things that are certain on a Hill Slug ride: hills and wind. Nobody is going to fault me for the obvious. They know what they're getting into.

Our first stretch was on level ground, along Route 29 and Lower Creek Road.  Lower Creek is lined with anti-PennEast signs, and I happened to see someone coming out of one of those houses. I stopped for a minute to talk to him about battle plans.

We started climbing after going through the Green Sergeants covered bridge.

It was simple, dumb luck that the roads I chose for climbing were through dense tree cover. We barely felt the wind at all. Not until we got to the top of the ridge, as we headed west, south of Pittstown, did the wind hit us sideways. It was colder up there, too.

Rajesh looked at the sky to our west and said it looked foreboding. "Sky says, 'summer's over, bitches!'" I replied. I'm only now starting to admit that fall happened.  That I'd planned a 50-mile ride in the hills above Frenchtown in December is testament to my denial.

Somewhere up on the ridge, Andrew and I got to talking politics. He said we're witnessing the end of democracy. I wondered if it hasn't been eroding for a while now. "When," I asked "did we hit peak democracy? It's like peak oil: you don't know till you've gone past it." We're in kleptocratic oligarchy territory now.

The patchy cloud cover and the bare trees on the hills to the west made for a rare contrast. I stopped on Oak Summit Road for a picture.

Farther along, near where Senator Stout meets Hog Hollow, was a field of dead sunflowers. I had to stop again.

The Delaware River, on the Milford side of the bridge to Upper Black Eddy:

The Delaware Canal, more mud than water, behind the Homestead General Store:

Homestead General Store's trellis has been cleared of vines and the chairs have been put up on the tables for the winter.

Inside was crowded and toasty-warm. I bought coffee and a muffin, my usual fare, plus a chocolate chocolate chip cookie to take home and share with Jack.

The eight of us took up three tables.

"We're taking Route 29 back, aren't we?" somebody asked.

"Is that what you guys wanna do?"

"Yes," they all said.

Another true thing about Hill Slug rides: Just because there's a hill doesn't mean we have to climb it.

We agreed that we should get back into the hills at Stockton rather than deal with traffic on 29 between there and Lambertville. Tom suggested we go on Lower Creek again. An unspoken rule about ride routes is that one should never take the same road twice in a ride, especially not in the same direction. "We'll forgive you," he said.

So we hammered down along the river for 15 miles, pushed by a righteous tailwind.

Back on Lower Creek, I stopped to take pictures of the anti-PennEast signs. The bastards have altered the route, again, this time taking out even more of Lower Creek Road and a larger chunk of an organic farm (the owners of which have been vocal opponents of the pipeline -- hmm...).

Lower Creek is a one-lane road with no shoulder. On one side is the Wickecheoke, a stream that has the highest protection the state can give it. The bank is short and steep. It is surrounded on all sides by forests and farms. And this is where the pipe would cross:

Because of the route changes, FERC has opened up the comment period again. It closes on Monday. This time around, I'm collaborating on comments written by the NJ Sierra Club staff. The route might have changed a little, but our overall message is still the same: PennEast cannot prove that this pipeline is necessary; the environmental damage would be irreparable and insurmountable; and PennEast has yet to obtain data, necessary for permits, from the 70% of NJ properties whose owners have deemed off-limits to surveyors.

We had one more real hill to climb on Covered Bridge Road, and a couple of little rollers after that. Then it was all downhill on Brookville Hollow. We thought we'd lost Tom on the way, but it turned out that he'd merely stopped for a picture of the clouds over a farm field.

In the parking lot, we hung out and talked about next weekend. It's supposed to turn cold. I never make firm plans until a couple of days before the weekend, but it looks as if we might be taking shelter on the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail. Watch this space.

The chocolate chocolate-chip cookie never made it out of Lambertville. I guess I'll have to buy two next time. Or three.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Hill Slugs Ad Hoc, Saturday, December 3

1 December 2016

Let's do one last trip to Upper Black Eddy this year.  The first half will have hills; the second could be flat if we don't feel like climbing, or hilly if we do.  The route will be about 50 miles either way.

Meet for a 9:30 a.m. start at the CVS parking lot on Cherry Street in Lambertville. There's a bagel shop in the shopping center and Rojo's down the street if you want to grab some carbs or caffeine before the ride.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Main Street, or, What Goes Through My Head When My Legs Are Tired

Beaker at Main Street 

27 November 2016

After the Saturday Cranbury mayhem (is there any other kind?), shivering, because it was cold for 50 degrees, I park the car across from Main Street and waddle up the steps in my cycling shoes. With one day remaining before the bakery closes, there's nothing on the shelves and the cases are half empty.  I do my part by filling a box with an assortment of brownie-adjacent squares, to be defrosted for a party to be named later. And some macaroons. And two cups of rice pudding (too much cinnamon, but whatever).

I come home to Plain Jim's announcement that he'll be leading a recovery ride from Six Mile Run, through Hopewell, and stopping at Main Street for one last chance at whatever would be left.  We trade a few messages, during which I learn that the erstwhile Snakehead and a passel of his buddies will be showing up. So much for recovery.


I'm standing in the hallway between the two rooms my fleet live in.  What to ride, what to ride? When one has a stable, this presents a problem.

I'll need something to get me up the smattering of hills along the route. Miss Piggy would be the obvious choice, but there will be enough flat stretches in between where her low gearing won't be enough to allow me to keep with the pace-pushers. Kermit would be good for that, but he'll end up hurting my back on the climbs, what with his weight and my legs already being two-day tired.

Duh. All this time, I've been staring at the solution.

Beaker, lighter by far than Kermit, geared for the Sourlands, has been yoked to the plow all season. It's time to let her run.  Off comes the two-pound battery for the 3000-lumen headlight. Off comes the dinky blinky.  Off comes the bell that the students completely ignore anyway. Hey!  There's a beautiful bike under all this! In comes the air. Chain check, greasy finger, good. Up she goes to the front hallway.

Next question: Do I ride from home? If I do that, I can leave when the fastboys drop me. Or I can leave when we climb out of Hopewell. I've done that climb once this weekend already. Maybe I'll take Crusher instead. Or I can follow them to Main Street and leave from there. That'll cut 12 miles off the total. How far is it from home to Blackwells Mills anyway? Eighteen miles. Thirty-six on top of 37 is too many for a third day in whatever temperature it's gonna be tomorrow. 40-something at the most? Maybe I'll drive to Main Street and start from there. Maybe that's stupid. Either drive all the way or leave the car at home.  I'll decide in the morning.

For the second time in three days, I've made the decision with no time to spare. I'm going to have to hammer a little to get there in time.

There's still frost on the ground. This is barely a decent hour to be on the bike in August.  I toggle between distance and time on my computer.  I don't see any other cyclists until I reach Canal Road (six miles to go!). There's a line of riders heading south. They're all wearing fluorescent yellow jackets. All of them. Winter team kit?  I'm going to get to Six Mile with five minutes to spare. That should be plenty of time, because Snakehead is never ready.

I roll up to Jim, Ricky, two guys in fluorescent yellow jackets (friends of Snakehead), and Snakehead himself, not ready, scurrying around in a flurry of fluorescent yellow booties and gloves. Some recovery ride. I'm so gonna be dropped.  Fine. I could turn around now and have nearly 40 miles. I eat half of an energy bar for insurance while Jim rattles off a pre-ride lecture that sounds uncannily like mine.

We're off to a fast start for a recovery ride. We get spread out, but everyone waits. Before I know it, we're in Hopewell. I guess this is where I peel off, after the rest stop.

But we don't appear to be stopping. We're going straight up the hill. Bleah.  If I peel off at Cleveland, I'll have 45 miles for the day. Good enough.

Or not; I'm making the turn. I have enough oomph to get through Princeton. I'm probably going to lose it on that annoying hill on 27 into Kingston. Which I've already climbed once today.

Main Street is crowded, noisy, and there are still pastries left. I find a lonely loaf of pecan coffee cake (to be thawed for a party to be named later), check for rice pudding (nope), and opt for a pumpkin square (free with the purchase of the loaf, which costs twice as much as it ought to, but whatever at this point).

As we prepare to part company, I move things around and shove the cake into my jacket. This is why winter requires big pockets. Things are a little tight around the equator, but I've only got ten miles to go.

The final seven miles has me and Beaker on autopilot. She could do this stretch without me.

I wish I could join these guys, but there's a back yard full of leaves to rake.

I drink way too much coffee with lunch instead, and trudge out back to take care of the end of autumn.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Gloomy November Impromptu Black Friday Ride

View of the Sourland Mountain from Route 518

25 November 2016

Some of the best rides are the ones nobody plans for.

Halfway through Thanksgiving, John K posted an impromptu Black Friday ride from Hopewell to Rojo's in Lambertville. I rustled up a few Slugs for the 9:30 start.

At 8:30, I decided I'd rather ride than drive to Hopewell. I didn't get a move on until 8:45, which meant that if I didn't hustle I'd be cutting it close. It's not far from my house to the center of Hopewell Borough, less than ten miles, but there's a bridge out on Carter Road. Rather than take my chances, I went around, which added a couple of miles.  I managed to get to John and Plain Jim a few minutes before 9:30. 

John wasn't quite ready, so I moved off to take a picture of the sky:

It was a chilly morning; not quite cold, and when the sun poked through, almost warm. But standing in the parking lot, I cooled down too much.

Bob N rolled in, also from a late start. There was more shooting the breeze. I'm not sure what time it was when we finally pushed off.

John had a vague route in mind, but mostly he was making it up as we went along. The first handful of miles were Hill Slug standard winter no-brainer roads (Stony Brook to Snydertown to Linvale; Stony Brook is still a bag-rattler), but then we breezed past Mountain and took Rocktown and Losey over to Wertsville.

At the light at 202/31, John announced the next few turns. "My buffer is full," Jim complained, which set off a string of wisecracks that showed our ages.  Two turns later, Jim and Bob didn't turn, but they heard us shouting and reversed course.

The first time I was on Boss and Garboski Roads was in Kermit's first year, as Cheryl and I were following Alan K through hills I wasn't geared for. I'll always hear his voice when I read the word "Garboski," and I'll always think of those roads as the back way into Sergeantsville, no matter which direction I'm facing. I also always remember being on Garboski in December 2001, when it was warm enough that long sleeves and leggings sufficed and there was news of a record blizzard in Scotland.

Where Bowne Station meets Sandy Ridge-Mount Airy, there's a farm we never look at when we're coming up alongside it. We're too busy focusing on the little hump at the Bowne intersection.

We took Lambertville Headquarters Road down to Route 29. I should take this road more often.

We passed a house with politically unfavorable signs. Jim gave them the finger.

On Union Street in Lambertville, we saw this, among others, that helped us channel our anger:

The tables at Rojo's were taken up by laptops, so we stood at a counter at the back of the store. There, we ran into Paul I, poet and fastboy hilly ride leader. I didn't recognize him at first; he was wearing civilian clothing.

On my way out, I bought a bag of beans and remembered, when I handed over the cash, why I don't buy Rojo's beans on a regular basis. When the price is more than a dollar an ounce, there'd better be a good reason. Today, East Timor was the reason.

John offered to carry the beans in his massive saddle bag, but I stuffed them into my jersey instead. I'd have to carry them from Hopewell to home in any case.

We thought we were heading up to Quarry/Rocktown, but John changed his mind at the last minute and sent us up Swan instead. I used to panic at the thought of it (Alan would lead us up there), but now I have a granny gear in front and 32 teeth in the back.

Some banter needs to be explained. Other banter can be taken out of context without losing the original goofiness. Such was the exchange John and I had on Hewitt Road:

"Happy birthday! Wait! Don't blow out the candles!"

"Don't get blood on the cake!"

"What flavor is the icing? Type A!"

The plan was to stop briefly (ha!) at Wheelfine. John had been riffing on a recent sale announcement: buy a new bike, get a free cap:  "I wasn't sure about the four thousand dollar bike, but with the cap, well..."

"If I buy a cap," I asked, "Can I get a free bike?"

Bob had never been in the place. It's always fun to watch a newbie walk in the door.

Michael said to me, "I'm upset." I figured he was about to tell me that Campagnolo had discontinued a silver group we'd had our eyes on.


"It's the last paper Freewheel," he said. "People look at it."

"It wasn't cost-effective anymore," I said. "And it's a pain in the ass."

John played with a cotton cap on the counter.

"Organic!" Michael said. John turned around to decide which bike would be the one, then put the cap back on the counter.

"We'll have a glossy flier for you," I reassured Michael. If there have been new members who joined because they read the Freewheel at Wheelfine, none of us knows about it.

I'd have told him he can always print the PDF, but this is a man with a rotary phone behind the counter.

Somehow we got out of there before my cycle computer shut off.

We took Rock Road and 579 back to 518, and stayed on that the rest of the way back to Hopewell. By now, the cloud cover was too thick for sunlight, and we were feeling colder than when we'd started.

This was November gloom.

We coasted into Hopewell.

I slogged back up the Princeton Avenue hill, grateful that there wasn't much traffic, because the road surface is slowly disappearing and I had to veer out a lot.

Carter Road has been freshly paved and striped. How can I tell it's fresh?

You're welcome.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The D&R Canal, But Not the Whole Thing

D&R Canal North of Washington Crossing

20 November 2016

Yesterday was nearly summer. Last night brought sleet, thunder, a little snow, and a power outage in the wee hours of the morning. Today's winds were a steady 25 mph from the northwest, gusting from 35-45 mph. 

It was not a day I wanted to be on the road.

Instead, I met Sue M for her PFW Sunday ride on the D&R Canal towpath at Washington Crossing. Chris was there too.  After a delayed start (I'd been rerouted around a downed power line between my house and the highway), we made our way north along the New Jersey side of the river, into the wind.

We didn't have much of a plan; we'd ride until we got tired of the headwind. Lambertville is 6.5 miles away, and we were almost in the center of town, crossing a little bridge over the canal, when Sue's wheel skidded out on a steel plate. She hit the deck and stayed under her bike long enough for me and Chris to double back.

She'd hurt her shoulder, and while she could still ride, she thought it best to go back. "You go ahead," she said. "I'll be fine."  Nope. We went with her, and she was fine, as long as she didn't move her right arm.

"You realize," I said, "that you're going to have to write yourself up." Been there, done that.

"I know."

"And report yourself at the Board meeting," because, as Ride Captain, in addition to concatenating all of the rides coming in from the Ride Coordinators and sending them to me to edit for the newsletter, her duty is to read off all of the accident reports to the Board of Directors every month.

"I know," she said.

After hoisting her bike into the back of her car, and getting assurances that she would be fine and get x-rays ("I'm not messing around," she said. "I'm heading to RWJ."), Chris and I decided to continue south towards Trenton for a while.

"How far do you want to go?" I asked as we neared Cadwalader Park in Trenton.

"To where we were last time," he said. "That way I can say I've done the whole thing. Not at once, but I can say I did the whole thing."

Last time we'd gone from Princeton down to the Trenton War Memorial and back. With John K, I'd come this way into the city twice. I figured ought to be able to remember how to do it.

Between the two of us, we found the signs,

and we got to the spot where we'd turned around last time.

By now the wind had picked up, and the return trip was real work whenever there weren't trees to dampen the force. I was tired enough when we got back to our cars.

At home, I checked my highlighted Mercer County map that's been tacked to a wall for fifteen years. Today was the first time I'd been on the stretch of towpath between Washington Crossing and Scenic Drive.  I still haven't done the whole thing. The pink highlighter on my Somerset County map peters out at Amwell Road.  Looks like I've got some homework this winter.