Sunday, August 17, 2014

Steel Weekend: Stretched Cables, Surprise Desks, and Mung in the Doin's

 The most accurate depiction of me yet

17 August 2014

Beaker came home on Friday.  I didn't load her* up with the lights and bell right away.  First, we were going to play in the Sourlands, so that she could loosen up and I could figure out how she rolls.

The first thing I did was attach the saddle bag and the light.  Then I took pictures.  This one is framed the way it is because I have a picture on my desk from Big Joe's funeral.  It's a black and white photo, circa the 1970's, from the looks of it, of his steel bike, leaning against a garage door.

It was Ross Hart's idea to put a blue stem clamp on.  It was a surprise when I saw it.

I would have preferred a more old-school looking chain ring.  There's only so much I'm willing to spend, though.  Nothing new in the size I wanted was quite what I pictured in my mind.  Still, it's Ultegra, so...

Carbon bottle cages aren't old-school either.  I picked them because my aluminum coffee mug rattles against Gonzo's metal bottle cage.  It's distracting.

The Mavic wheels are a far cry from old-school.  They are, however, unused, from 2007.  In bike years, that's not new.

On Saturday morning, Jim and Marc met me at home.  Marc was on his new climbing bike.  Jim said he felt left out.  He was also drooling over Beaker.

From the moment I clipped in, it was as if Beaker and I had known each other for ten years.  She felt as comfortable as an old pair of jeans.

Well, okay, sure, everything will be just dandy for the first ten miles on fresh legs, even on a rented clunker.  I didn't suppose this feeling would last.

We met Blake, Bagel Hill Barry. Pete, and a very tall Mark on a very tall Serotta, in Pennington.  It wasn't until Jim asked, "Where are we going?" that it dawned on me I hadn't come up with a route.  "Sergeantsville," I said.  I also suggested we might stop at Wheelfine so that I could show Michael the finished product.  I promised we'd have no big hills.

Taking one of my usual routes out of town, we encountered a freshly-milled stretch of Pennington-Rocky Hill Road.  Pete suggested a neighborhood detour.  As we turned off the bumpy stuff, I said, "I have a steel fork.  It don't bother me."

I thought that Beaker might be twitchy on turns.  She's not.  What are the odds that Beaker's rake is the same as Kermit's?  Beaker has a curved fork.  It'd take some real measurements to figure it out.  I'm not that motivated.

On Stony Brook Road, as we approached Mine Road,  I said, "We could hang a left here and find out what she's made of." (Pause) "Left turn!"  (This is how Cheryl and I went up Mine the first time: I called "left turn" out of the blue.)

Jim, Blake, and Pete were, naturally, the first ones up.  Mark sailed up too.  I was my usual distance behind them, and that was a surprise.  I'm supposed to suffer a lot more than I did if I'm hauling a steel frame up a hill.

Halfway up, Marc stopped.  When he got to the top, he explained.  "I was looking for that tenth gear.  It locked up."  Miss Piggy never lets me forget that it's her I'm on when I'm climbing.  I have that tenth gear, but it'll take some double shifting to get to it.

The view from Route 31 of the Hopewell Valley at Mine Road:

This is the world I know.**

Marshall's Corner-Woodsville Road has two hard rollers.  If Beaker was going to be jumpy on a descent, here's where I'd find out.  She wasn't.

At the top of the second roller, I looked back through my rear-view mirror and saw Barry walking into the woods.  Jim couldn't see him, and, as the good sweep he always is, said, "I'm going back."  I figured Barry was simply in need of a tree to duck behind, and that he and Jim would be along in no time.   It took a little longer than that.

When Barry appeared, he looked shaken.  I was confused. "What happened?" There were some cuts on his legs.

"I dropped my water bottle," he explained.  "I was looking for it when I crashed into a desk."

"So you crashed into it when you were off your bike," I said.  "That must've been right after I saw you."

"No," he said.  "You saw me after I crashed.  I was on the bike when I hit the desk."

He assured us he was fine.  On we went.

At South Hunterdon High School we turned onto Mount Airy Road.  This would be the test of descending twitchiness.  Nothing.

Halfway up Sandy Ridge Road, Beaker decided that she didn't like being in one particular gear.  Either side of it was fine, but the 32-tooth cog was a non-starter.

When we got to Sergeantsville, Jim took a look and tightened the cables.

Beaker on her first journey

Inside the general store, I headed for the coffee, as I always do, only to nearly walk into a shelf. They've rearranged the place!  I'm not sure that's allowed.  The coffee, while not the flavorless brown water that used to be brewed here, still has a long way to go.

Breaking the Golden Rule of Bike Routes -- Thou Shalt Not Double Back -- I doubled back all the way to South Hunterdon High School.  Somewhere in here I realized that if I were asked, I wouldn't be able to answer whether I was on Kermit or Beaker.

Even Dinosaur Hill seemed easy.  (This is wrong.  It's never easy. Tailwind?)

Rock Road dumped us across from Wheelfine.  Michael was outside.  "Mister Johnson!"  I called.  He looked up from the tiny two-wheeler with the twisted chain and the fellow who was doing his best to untangle it.

"Oo La La!" he said.  He wasn't surprised at my description of the feel.  While we talked, the other guys poked their heads into the store.  This is something everyone should do at least once, just to say they'd seen it.

I've been working with the Hopewell Valley Arts Council on bike routes for the Stampede (the routes aren't up yet, so I won't bother linking).  There's one ox in particular that the Mayor of Hopewell Township wants the routes to include.  I tried to argue against it, seeing as the ox is at the bottom of Poor Farm at Woosamonsa, a blind curve at the junction of two hills on a narrow road with no shoulders.  She didn't agree with me, and she thinks the ox is special.

Well, it's not, and a car had to weave its way between us bikers as we attempted to stop safely by the ox as we came barreling down Woosamonsa.  I mean, okay, I get that it took a lot of work to encase this ox in armor.  But, meh.  It's not worth crashing for.

On our way home from Pennington, we stopped at a yard sale we'd seen on our way in.  I stopped feeling weird about having four road bikes:

And at least I've never owned one of these:

At the end of the ride, I was still astounded that Beaker had done so well, that the fit was so perfect, that the feel was so familiar.  "This is what a good frame gets you," I said.  Jim replied, "That, and a mechanic who knows what he's doing."

Sunday morning I had to take Jack to the Trenton train station for an Amtrak to Boston (he's there on a fellowship for two weeks).  The sky was alternately spitting rain and sunny up until about 9:30 a.m. Things were clear by 10:30.  I had Kermit ready to go. I wasn't caffeinated, which is rare.  I felt as if I were wading through mud.  There would be no pace-pushing today.

Joe and Jim met me at home, and we started out on a circuitous route to Allentown.  We did get rained on, a very little bit, before we crossed Route 130.  After bumping through the eastern portion of East Branch in the Assunpink WMA (remind me not to do that again), I felt the need to get out of the big ring.

Kermit was having none of that.

Were I to take the anthropomorphization of my bikes to its logical conclusion, I'd chalk this up to jealousy, a temper tantrum from the eldest child when a new, attention-grabbing baby enters the house. But I'm not quite that crazy.  More likely, the shifter was dying or there was still some of New Egypt's rainy pavement stuck in my derailleur.

The rest stop I had chosen was Bruno's One Sweet Ride in Allentown.  Outside, on the sidewalk, Jim looked at Kermit and said, "There's probably mung in the doin's." Joe and I liked this enough to repeat it a few times.

Jim fussed with the derailleur's limit screw to no avail.  Halfway through, I said, "You know, we're outside a bike shop."  This had not occurred to any of us.  I took Kermit in.

Jim Bruno put Kermit on the stand and proceeded to discharge chunks of mung from the doin's until the chain popped from one ring to the next over and over again.

The fix didn't last past Windsor Road.  

In Mercer County Park, Jim's front tire went flat.  He chose a good place for it, along side the cricket pitch. There was a match going on.  I watched the bowler and the batsmen and the guarded wickets to the end of the innings and that's the extent of my knowledge of cricket terminology. The players walked off the pitch at the same time that Jim got his wheel on.

I spent the afternoon doing yard work and chores.  I hung Kermit by the rear wheel and dropped lube into the derailleur; tomorrow I'll flip him over to lube the other side. I also got Beaker ready for her first day as a work horse. Yes, I know.  Why turn such a fine piece of machinery into a mere commuter bike?


Compared to how I'd had Gonzo loaded up, this is minimal. I can strip the lights and have Beaker weekend-ready in a matter of minutes.

Here's Gonzo, for comparison, in my office at work, next to my colleague's Ramona***, who, unloaded, is as heavy as Gonzo is loaded:

Gonzo is visiting Ross at the moment, awaiting diagnosis on a crunchy hub and crunchy cranks.  If I've ridden Gonzo into the ground, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised.  After four seasons of commuter service, Gonzo will be returned to his original role as winter beater bike.  On commute days where rain might threaten, Gonzo will be pressed back into service.

*Yes, Beaker the Muppet is, presumably, male, and one would traditionally assume -- presuming one goes along with this less-than-sane motif of naming bikes in the first place -- that Beaker the Tommasini would therefore be male.  But identity is a continuum, and Beaker the bike identifies as she.

**I had a temporary, part-time job in the winter of 1995.  I lived in Maple Shade at the time; the job, with an environmental consulting firm, was wetland delineation along the NJ Turnpike at Exit 4.  The office, though, was in Flemington, an hour's drive from home.  There's little I remember about the drive except how slow Route 31 could be, and a particular view of a valley as the road rounded a curve. The first time I saw it, I was listening to the radio.  One of those bland '90s songs by a bland '90's band was playing, with the refrain, "It's the world I know."  Ever since then, every time I round that curve...

***Of course I named her.  I started off calling the bike "Romano," after the person who left the bike to my colleague.  But my colleague looked up at me and said, "I think it's a she."  So we re-named it.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Off-The-Books Late Start Decaf Sunday La-Dee-Da

16 August 2014

My house, 10:30 a.m., flat terrain, 40-something miles, no pace-pushers.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Hill Slugs Ad Hoc, Saturday, 16 August

14 August 2014

A retirement party in Jersey City on Saturday afternoon means that I can't lead a long ride starting far away on Saturday morning. Add to that the impending Friday taking-home of Beaker (brake-arrival-dependent) and we have a recipe for a moderately hilly, local-origin, breaking-in ride of an almost reasonable distance (something like 45 miles).

Let's meet at our usual winter spot: the Hopewell Administration Building on Main Street, across from Ingleside, in Pennington. The ride will start at 8:30 a.m.

Extra-milers (55-ish) can meet at my house for an 8:00 a.m. start.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

News from the Road, August 9 and 10, 2014

10 August 2014

Fourteen years later, Eagle Road still sucks.  Just not as much.

I met Cheryl when I was sweaty, and I said goodbye to her when I was sweaty.

Tom's Synapse, the same frame and setup as Miss Piggy, gives him no trouble whatsoever.  I have something like ten times more miles on mine than he has on his.

I was shooed away from joining the C+ Etra ride, even though a certain someone who is faster than I am, and notorious for going off the front, was welcomed.

He who leans his electronic-shifting bike against a shifter at night shall find his electronic shifter battery completely run down the next morning. She who mocks electronic shifters shall say "Ha ha!" and then blog about it.

The average today on the so-called B ride out of Etra was officially "Jesus fuck!"  This is not yet a recognized pace category.

Gary W looks out for nervous riders who don't think they can keep up (*cough*).  Thanks, Gary.

Tom Y shall henceforth be known as Parrafin Tom.

Carbon is everywhere. Titanium is not steel.  Steel is steel.  I am an anachronism.

Beaker might -- might -- be ready by Thursday.

And that's the way it is.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

MIne, Mine, Mine!

the only logo on the frame

3 August 2014 

For four months I have been hinting at this blog post.  Most of you have already figured it out, in no small part because I haven't exactly kept it a secret.

I know, I know.  It's so tedious to listen to someone go on and on about a new bike.  I mean, it's all right at first.  But ten seconds later, it's like, shut up already.

For those of you who have about as much patience as I do for this sort of thing, I'll try to keep it interesting.

It all started, well, I'm not sure when it started.  Part of it was because Jim would post pictures of pretty frames on his blog.  Many of these frames were lugged steel, and it's around then that I realized how much I like lugs.

I have two steel bikes in my stable now.  One is Kermit, my beloved Waterford. While Kermit is lugged, the lugs are painted over.  One has to look for them among the psychedelic swirls.

The other steel bike is Gonzo, a beat-up LeMond of unknown vintage, that I found on eBay, already beat up.  Gonzo is my winter beater bike turned commuter barge.  Gonzo is ugly, but, being a beater, beauty was never the point. Gonzo has no lugs.  

Steel and lugs don't have to go together.  Lugs are heavy, and good welding job can shave off some frame weight without sacrificing frame integrity.  At the same time, cheaper steel frames are often lugged because it's easier with cheap, heavy steel.  Here's an example from a frame I saw somewhere in Princeton:

If you look around on a typical group ride, you'll see mostly carbon frames.  I have one of those too (Miss Piggy).  The price of carbon has come down while the quality has gone up.  Most frames are mass-manufactured overseas, so that many brands are made by the same factories.  Frame-making in the United States isn't what it used to be.  Nowadays, only the high-end Cannondales are made here (Miss Piggy was made in China).  There are a few bespoke frame builders: Waterford, for example.

"Steel is real." 

I hear that over and over again from other riders when they see me with Kermit. But while the price of carbon frames has gone down, the price of steel has gone up.  Even the lightest steel tubing is heavier than carbon.  The good stuff isn't mass-marketed anymore.

One can still find old steel frames on eBay.  A vintage, lugged Colnago can fetch upwards of $1000, and that's a cheap starting bid.

I know because at the end of March I started looking.  Ed and Jim had stopped at Wheelfine Imports, an isolated shack at the top of Route 518 above Lambertville.  Jim posted pictures.  A few days later, as we parked our bikes in Clinton, I asked if any of the frames hanging in the shop were lugged.  Jim said, "Uh-huh" in a dreamy sort of way.

That's when it really got going.  "If you buy it, I'll build it," Jim said.  I declined. Where would I put a fourth bike, and why would I need it?  I use all three that I have.  I really don't need another.

But, theoretically, what would my ideal lugged bike look like?  Jim and I talked about it on the road (it must not have been a hill, because he was riding next to me).  "Either fire engine red or electric blue," I said.  Given the colors in my stable, and the colors that I wear, a simple paint job with standard colors seems out of character.  But that's what popped into my head.

That evening, over dinner with our usual weekend posse, I told Sean about it. He and I hatched a plan:  Gonzo's parts could be transferred over to a new frame.  I could give Gonzo's frame to Jim to play with and donate to the Bike Exchange. I'd gain a new bike without gaining in number.

When I bought Gonzo's frame on eBay in 2003, I paid $250.  I figured I might have to spend twice that now.  My eBay search began and ended within a week due to sticker shock. Sure, I could bid several thousand dollars to get a used frame, decades old; and I did, on a purple Colnago. But I refused to go over $1000 and lost the bid by $50 minutes away from auction's end.  I was only a little bit bummed out.  The frame might not have fit a 9-speed cassette, and it wasn't a simple, solid color either.  It would have fit into my zany zoo quite well, though, and it sure was pretty.

Minutes after the auction was over, Jack suggested buying a new frame. It would cost more, he said, but I'd know what I was getting, could pick the size to fit me exactly, and could choose the color.  He'd suggested this before; I'd declined out of guilt.  I should mention at this point that Jack makes a lot more money than I do (although both of us are in academia, so make of this as you will).  It would, in effect, be his money that I'd be spending.  He doesn't mind, though, because every bike I get gives him leverage to invest in vintage wine and vintage books. What can I say?  We have expensive vices.  At least they're somewhat utilitarian.

So how much would a new steel frame cost?  I asked Waterford, knowing that Kermit's list price was $1200 when I found him used in 2000.  Unpainted, without a fork, a new Waterford would cost $2000.  Add the fork and a simple coat of paint, and the price would be close to $2500.  Then there would be shipping.

I already have a Waterford.  What else was out there?

Infoguy read about my musings and emailed me that his single-speed Pinarello is chrome lugged (I have a picture of it online somewhere).  He told me where he got it, and I called the shop (I think it was BikeKing in PA).  The owner had one steel frame for sale, but when I looked it up online, there were no chrome lugs. I already knew that Ross wasn't selling lugged steel.

March 29 was a rainy Saturday.  I had to go into the lab to check on some mice, but first I called Wheelfine.

"Bike shop!"  This is how Michael Johnson answers the phone. Our conversation lasted upwards of fifteen minutes.  He knew what I was on about, and he had some frames on hand.  After I did whatever it is I had to do with my mice, I drove out to one of the middles of nowhere that we pass every weekend.  The shop sits on 518 at the corner of Hunter (a dirt road), surrounded by farms.  The entrance is on the side, a solid, unadorned, single white door.

This is what I saw when I stepped inside:

This is the front room.  Off to the left is another room, where, if one can get to it, one can shop for jerseys.

Michael directed me towards the window.  I climbed over comfort bikes to get there.  "See the Tommasini?" he asked.  There were two, one pale blue, and one snakeskin brown. I didn't much like the colors.  But the lugs!

"I can get you any color you want, any size you want."

That was it. Lug lust at first sight.

I told him about my unsuccessful shopping so far, about how I'd been thinking I could find a frame for $250.  "Add a zero to that," he said, something I'd already pretty much figured out.  The price for a new Tommasini would be no exception.

Another half hour, another customer come and gone. Talk of frames, forks, gearing, local roads. Frame size, color choice, and a promise to get back in touch on Monday with measurements and a look at Gonzo.

I had two days to change my mind.  I didn't change my mind.  I put down a deposit on Monday afternoon.  The order was placed on April 1.  Michael said he'd told the distributor that I didn't want any logos.  "She's a bike commuter in New York City," he'd said.  "But I'm not!"  "Work with me, here," he said.  The frame would be handmade in the Tommasini factory in Tuscany, Italy.  "It could take a few months," Michael said.

While waiting, my plans morphed from removing Gonzo's parts to building a new bike, relegating Gonzo back to beater status (winter rides and rainy commutes). Wheels stood in the way of that.  I didn't want to spend another $1000 on wheels. The very day that I had that thought, Tom Y sent an email around offering a $1200 pair of unused Mavic wheels (vintage 2007) for $350.  Sold.  On July 4 I took possession of the wheels.

Wanting the same setup as Gonzo and Kermit (39/53, 11/34, Shimano 9-speed), I went off to see Ross and Oscar at Hart's.  Shimano doesn't make Ultegra or DuraAce 9-speed shifters anymore.  It's all 10- and 11-speed now.  I could do that for $1500, but it would make the new bike incompatible with the others.  I want to be able to swap parts in an emergency.  I want the new bike to look old-school.  Ross suggested I search online; he'd contact a dealer on the west coast.

Turns out people are dumping 9-speed DuraAce all over the place.  I picked up 2 pairs on eBay for $100 and $150.  One of the two will be for the new bike; the other will be a spare set should something I own fail.  It was Oscar's idea to hoard spare parts.

I spent a little more money online to get the little things: bottle cages, a rear flasher, a wireless computer, tires, and bar tape.  Jim gave me a pair of "mickeys," in-line cable adjusters I can reach from the handlebars while pedaling.

Meanwhile, I'd been talking about the frame, disclosing all sorts of information save for the color.  As the season wore on, more and more people began to ask if the frame had arrived.  "Not yet.  I'm still waiting."

It took four months to the day.

The frame arrived at Wheelfine on Thursday afternoon.  Taking time off for time served (11+ hour days come in handy), I left the lab early, drove home to pick up the box of bike parts I'd accumulated, dragged Jack along, and headed to Lambertville.

And now, the big reveal:

Electric blue.

Chrome stays:

The fork is chrome.  There is one logo, on the headtube, an inlaid badge.

His name will be Beaker.

Because, well, given Beaker's profession and character, it makes all kinds of sense.

Right now, the bike is in pieces on a back shelf at Hart's. Ross has to accumulate more parts to fit my Guru measurements.  Oscar figures Beaker will be ready in a few weeks.  I've waited this long.  I can wait a little longer.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

All Trained Up and Nowhere to Go

Paradise Vineyards, Old York Road, Chesterfield

2 August 2014

5:33 a.m.  It's too dark for August.  I peer out the front window to the street. There's enough light to see puddles, and rain hitting them.  I send Neil an email.  "I wouldn't ride in these conditions," I tell him.  The radar shows a rainy mass moving north.  NOAA is predicting a 100% chance of rain all day. I stumble around a few minutes more, petting the cats and watching the rain, until Neil emails back.  We cancel our plans to ride the Event Century at 7:30 a.m., and we agree that going back to sleep is just the thing to do.  Before doing that, though, I email Jim to ask if the rest stop volunteers still have to show up.  "I have no desire to ride in this weather," I tell him. "Even my crazy has limits." He replies that the rest stops will be open for the few intrepid bikers.  I tell him we've canceled.  "Smart," he writes.  "I'll expect a blog post."

I guess I was more tired than I thought.  It's 8:00 a.m. when I finally muster the energy to get vertical.  A little rain is falling, but it seems to be petering out. I check the weather again.  The massive mass on the radar is pulling away.  NOAA's hourly forecast is down to a 30% chance of rain, even though the text version is sticking with 100%.  Weather Underground has it at 80%.  

I putter around some more, peeking outside every few minutes.  "I've never been rained out of an Event before," I muse to Jack, who couldn't care less. When it's time to decide what clothes to put on, the rain has stopped.  I dig out my most fluorescent jersey, the one that still bears mud stains from a very messy winter ride.  I find a dark pair of socks.  I check the Event page for registration hours.  It's 8:45 now; sign-in for the 50-mile route ends at 10:00 a.m.  If I stop puttering, I can make it.  I tell Jack, "I'm gonna go do the fifty.  Might as well.  I paid for it.  I'm not sure when I'll be back. It depends if I run into anyone." If I ride the 50, I'll get a metric in.

The roads are damp, but not damp enough to get me wet. I swerve around puddles. 

Registration is empty.  Ira is the first person I see.  "Can I still ride the fifty?" I ask him.  "You can ride whichever route you want," he smiles.  Today's numbers have been bleak.  Only a handful have signed up day-of.  I take one of each cue sheet over 50 miles, because, at this point, it's not a transgression.  

On my way out, I ask John S if I should follow the green arrows.  "Follow the black ones," he says.  Ha, ha.

At route 130, I wonder how obsessed would I have to have been to go for the century solo.  This is the first Event century I've missed since I started doing hundred-milers in 2004.  Oh well.

It's weird passing other bikers.  I'm usually the passee, not the passer.  These people are on hybrids, mostly.  It's hardly a fair comparison.  It's funny how the ride levels shake out by time.  I've gotta be the only B rider to have started at 10:00 a.m.  It's a hard-core thing.  Hard-core starts early, weather be damned. That, or hard-core is still in bed.

If I don't find anyone I know, this will be the longest solo ride I've ever done.

I watch my computer.  I'm keeping my century pace.  I'm pushing to keep it. There's nobody to draft behind, nobody to pull.

There's nobody, period.  I haven't seen a soul since the edge of Hamilton.  I wonder which rest stop I'm going to arrive at.  I wonder who will be there.  I wonder how people ride by themselves all the time.  This is where the real test of biking love comes in.  How much of my biking addiction is the result of my deep need to be around people?  What sort of hermit would I be?

OK.  White Pine Road.  Must be heading to the Pinelands Nursery.  I need water. If nobody's there, I'll double back to Columbus, to the general store.

It's a relief to see other bikes leaning against the nursery's barns.  Terry C is volunteering here.  Now I can say I ran into someone I know.  Bob S emerges. He's riding the 50 too.  I ask if I can join him.  He's amenable to that, but one of his companions -- someone I rode with a lot more in the past -- isn't.  He says something disparaging about my speed.  I send them on their way.  "I'll catch you guys later," I tell Bob.  But I spend so much time talking to Terry that I know there's no way I'll find those guys on the road.

It gives me something to push against the wind for, though.  If I can find them, we can share in the drafting.  The wind is coming from whichever direction I turn into.  Out here the cornfields are no help.  I watch my pace drop; then I stop watching.  I pass one rider, and gripe about the wind as I go by.  Then it's empty again.

40.0 miles:  I see my shadow. 40.1 miles: it's gone.  43.7 miles: I see my shadow. 43.8 miles: it's gone.

I'm tired.  I shouldn't be this tired.  I'm supposed to be going 100 miles today. Dodged a bullet.  100 woulda sucked.  

On Old York Road, northbound out of Allentown, John and Jane are going south. They work at registration early each year, then head out later.  I wonder if they're going 60 miles.  We wave at each other.

Around 50 miles, the yellow and green arrows merge.  At 52 miles, on Sharon Road, the yellow ones point to a rest stop; there is no green.  I start to pedal past, then change my mind. I don't need any food or water right now, but I'd like to see who's hanging out here.

Everybody's hanging out here.  I see Plain Jim first, then Mary, then TEW, and Don S, and Herb, all working the rest stop.  They're surprised to see me.  "I thought you'd be doing the century!"  I explain the rain.  "Who are you riding with?"  The voices in my head, I tell them.

While I'm talking to TEW, digging out a photo on my phone for her, I see that Cheryl, working a different rest stop, has texted.  "R u riding today?"  I explain the rain, and tell her where I am.

A woman on a handsome, white Colnago (carbon, though) recognizes me, and I her, and we figure out that we've been in Spinning classes together for years.

Jim calls me over to admire a vintage Tommasini.  Why he does this is the subject of another post.  (She keeps saying that.  Make with the post already.  We've pretty much got it figured out at this point.  Ah, but you haven't seen it, have you?)

George D pulls in, finishing up the 65-miler solo.  Joe and Dave arrive, with Gary (who found the other two at registration at 10:30).  We'd all done the same thing this morning.  None but Dave and Joe had the presence of mind to contact anyone else.  So we hang out for a while before the last 8 miles home.

Which we take at a reasonable pace, not pushing, just talking.  Amicitia quam celeritate.

We pull to a stop together at Route 130.  George says, "I love this crazy thing that we do."

"This crazy thing?" I ask, gesturing towards our bikes.

"Yep.  I love it."

"Green up!"

"Can I put that in my blog?"


We pick up another solo rider less than a mile from the end of the ride.  We're the first he's seen on the road.

Things are more lively at the college than they were this morning.  There's music and food.  I scan the picnic tables for a familiar face, but see none.  John S is still there, cutting watermelon (I keep taking slices).  Ira puts the pieces on a board, carts them off, and returns.  He tells me that the rider total is half of what they'd planned for.  No surprise.  "We lost money today," he laments.  Over his shoulder, I can see a pile of watermelons.  We could each take one home and they'd still have leftovers.

Chris pulls on my braid.  In the role of sag, as he always is on Event day, it's been uneventful.

John and Jane emerge.  They'd gone to visit some of the rest stops.  "It was lots of fun!" Jane exclaims.

Chris tries to stuff a bag of oranges into my jersey pocket.

"You never caught us," says the Pinelands Nursery rider whom I never caught. "Yeah," I reply, "I spend a long time at Pinelands, and then I wound up hanging out on Sharon Road."  He's loading himself up with boxes of extra food, for which Ira seems grateful. 

I'm trying not to eat too much watermelon, remembering one Event century where I ate too much watermelon.  As if on cue, Ira says, "The last century I did was with you."
"And Preben," I add. "I was jet-lagged.  You guys pulled me home."

"I remember that," he says.  "You were hurtin'."

"And I ate too much watermelon," I add, reaching for a final piece.

Finally, I mosey back towards Kermit, John S following me with ideas for long routes through New York State.  "I'm not likely to do those any time soon," I remind him, "If ever."  But that's not how his mind works; such is the worldview of a randonneur.

The wind has died down for my ride home.  The voices in my head are quiet.

I'd make a lousy hermit.  How much of my biking obsession is fueled by a need to be around people?  A lot.


Among the many pictures that Jim took at the Sharon Road rest stop is this one.  I like it because it shows off Kermit's colors, and, in the background, watermelons.

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: