Sunday, August 13, 2017

Tom's Red Circle of Death Ride

 Delaware River at Frenchtown

13 August 2017

I will never be a randonneur. I don't recover quickly enough. I'd told myself that I'd take the week after the Event century off the bike, lest I run into my nearly annual overtraining wall. The weather, though, starting on Tuesday, was cool and clear and I couldn't stay away from taking Beaker to work for three days straight. For those short hops I had decent speed and strength. But my legs were hurting in a way that suggests injury rather than strength.

Saturday's threat of rain that never came postponed Tom's ride to Sunday. I'd been off the bike for all of two days.

From the moment we walked over the river bridge from Frenchtown I stopped believing anything Tom told us.  This was, after all, his Lying Bastard Ride, which I've endured a handful of times. It's never the same route twice; it always has a hill or two that he doesn't tell us about.

He knows the Insane Bike Posse will follow him anywhere.

A proper Tom ride, besides being full of lies about hill grades, should also include a bridge out and a gravel road. The first requirement was met on Headquarters Road over Tinicum Creek*.

The barriers had been on the bridge for so long that weeds had grown tall along the length of them. Gravel and decaying leaves, in the shape of receding flood puddles, surrounded the blockades on all sides. None of this was a deterrent to us, nor, apparently, to whomever had the decency to mark the barrier with the message that the road is open.

We rode up and down and up and down and up and down because that's what upper Bucks County does. Jack H, Ricky, Jim, Bob, and Tom were almost always in front of me. On the steeper hills I dropped into the granny gear to save my legs for whatever Tom would throw at us next. The further we went, the more my hamstrings hurt, and they hurt in a way that was telling me I need to take a week off the bike.

We stopped at 20 miles on the outskirts of Perkasie at the Down to Earth Cafe. I would have been happy to sit there for an hour, drink coffee, and call a cab. But no. We had 32 more miles to go.

Up and down and up and down and "Are we going to Lake Nockamixon?"

"No. That would have added too many miles," Tom said. Instead we were mostly riding through narrow, wooded roads and past corn fields where the flowers were still pushing their heavy scent up my nose.

We stopped again at a convenience store at 38 miles. Next up, Tom said, would be a gravel road, and, farther on, the Red Circle of Death.

"The what?"

"The Red Circle of Death," he said, leafing through a stack of njbikemap pages. Red Cliff Road, he warned, would be a drop of a couple hundred feet in a couple tenths of a mile. I wasn't worried about that; it took us down to the river, which would mean that the climbing would be over.

First, though, was the gravel. "It looked all right from the satellite pictures," he said, "And it's better than riding on 611."

Descending on loose gravel sucks. Descending on loose gravel while standing with one foot clipped out and leaning against the pedal while one's hamstrings are screaming sucks even worse.

At the bottom of the hill the road curved over a stream. We crunched to a halt as we faced a similarly steep incline on the other side of the bridge.

I took a seat on the stone wall and pulled out my camera. This site was clearly a hangout for people who like to stand long rocks on end.

Now, for the hill. A few of us doubled back to get a moving start. Tom went first. I was towards the back, with Jim behind me.

Under the gravel was sand. I chose a bad line and clipped out as my wheels began to spin out. As I ground to a halt, so did Jim, who was saying, "Nope. Nope." This is the first hill I've walked on my road bike since 2012 when Fiddler's Elbow sent Miss Piggy's wheel into the air. Jim and I weren't the only ones walking. Tom might have been the one person who managed to stay upright.

The road leveled off enough for me to get back on the bike, only to have to dodge deep potholes that dotted the road the way air holes dot Swiss cheese.

"Which part of the road looked okay to you," I asked Tom as we regrouped at the end, "The gravel or the potholes?"

Jim said, "We can not do that again."

"If my tires aren't showing threads by the end of this ride, I'll be surprised," I said. The new ones haven't arrived yet. There's going to be a tire-changing party up in my place this week.

We moved on.

"I haven't been on some of these roads," Tom told me.

"It shows," I said.

We were up on a ridge somewhere between Frenchtown and Durham. Tom stopped to change the batteries in his old GPS. Jack H, who can never sit still,  rode in circles around us.

"Hurry up," he said, "I'm getting dizzy."

"Getting?" Ricky asked. It warms our hearts to see a new Slug become part of the Posse so effortlessly.

The Red Circle of Death was upon us soon enough, and after the gravel adventure it wasn't so bad. With two miles to go, the orange juice I'd drunk at the convenience store was kicking in.

Walking across the bridge back into Frenchtown hurt, though. With every step, my hamstrings said, "Yipe! Yipe!"

At the far end of the bridge, in the water by the Frenchtown bank, was a large log that had been lodged there long enough to sprout a plant. I stopped for a photo.

As I was bringing the log into focus, two bright red kayaks poked into view. I zoomed out, feeling lucky.

Apparently I got lucky twice. I didn't notice the snake until I uploaded the pictures at home. I think it's a northern water snake.

It's 10:30 p.m. and my hamstrings still hurt. This is a good thing, because the weather for the week is bike-friendly, and if my legs didn't hurt, I'd be filling Beaker's tires right now.

Can I refrain from cardio for five days? Yes; the hard part will be not eating as if I've burned it to earn it. I'm still going to the gym to lift weights, though. I'll skip the squats.

(*That I know the location of all the events in this post is because Son Of, who can handle the simple task of recording a route, recorded the route. Save for the first and last two miles, to say I had no clue where we were would be to give me too much credit. I had no fucking clue where we were.)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Guest Blog: Joe and the Fig Rolls Tour the British Isles

Scottish Rain and Fig Rolls

12 August 2017

At 50p for a pack, Tesco's fig rolls had become a substantial part of Joe's luggage. Having run out before my trip to England in March, he'd asked me to bring some back for him. I did, and having tasted them, asked him to bring me some back after his summer visit to Scotland and Ireland.

Joe sent me the first picture at the beginning of his trip. "Scottish rain and fig rolls," he wrote.  "One is disappearing faster than the other, but both are renewable resources."

The next day he sent another email titled "Looking to swipe your Tesco fig rolls."

 "A very interested individual"

The next day, "4 out of 5 Scottish Reindeer Prefer Tesco Fig Rolls."

 "...according to a not-very-scientific study at Cairngorm National Park."

One day later, it was clear that a blog post was warranted: "In Bold Move, Tesco Fig Rolls Conquer Loch Lomond." Flat Stanley, move over. There's a new fig in town.

"Heroic Tesco Fig Rolls Defend Edinburgh from Jacobite Assault"

"Always need a well-fed army to blast away at religious zealots."

From the Sugarloaf in County Wicklow, "Tesco Fig Rolls Monitor Sea Level Rise in the Irish Sea:"

In Uncle George's garden, "Archaeologists Study Newly-Discovered Monument to Tesco Fig Rolls in Irish Countryside:"

At 50p per pack in England and Scotland, fig rolls are a bargain. In Ireland, the price jumped to 75p.

"Irish Sheep Stage Protest of Tesco Fig Roll Price Jump:"

"Police need to be called to calm rowdy ovines."

"Go Big and Go Home:"

The fig roll army amasses. 

"Tesco Fig Rolls Prepare for Global Conquest:"

"Our series reaches its finale...or is it just the beginning of a new world order?"

Today Joe handed four packs over to me. "You know how heavy these things are?"

"How many did you bring back?"

"About a dozen."

I'll ration them out slowly; I'm not sure when Jack and I will be back in England.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Blake's Mellow Sunday Loop

Aquetong Road

6 August 2017

This ride is a week old. I needed a few days to figure out what I wanted to write, and before I knew it, the Event was upon us.

Blake's rides always scare me. He leads in Pennsylvania. The farther north we go the worse the hills get. He's a strong climber and I'm not. I never know what's coming, and, despite having been on these roads dozens of times, I never have a clue where I am. The walls in my upstairs hallway are plastered with county maps of New Jersey. There is no room for Bucks County. Pennsylvania remains terra incognita.

I went with Blake, Cheryl, and Nevada last Saturday. I figured it would be the only time I'd see Cheryl on the road before she'd decamp to Florida at the end of the summer. Cheryl and Nevada were coming off of some crazy-ass, month-long, Strava-based (fuck Strava) hill-climbing competition. My day job being what it is, the last thing I want on weekends is competition. It's enough to keep me from attempting B+ rides in the flatlands, where, the last time I tested the waters, the only conversation was about Strava (fuck Strava).

Knowing I was riding with foot-counters set me on edge. In the parking lot while we waited for Blake, I know I said "I don't give a shit how many feet I climb. I just go." I don't remember what sparked me to say that.

Merciful Blake didn't torture us, it turns out, and I had fun.

We started in Yardley and the farthest north we got was Carversville.

Flowers at Carversville Inn

Fleecydale Road was closed again, but we saw bikers coming up from it who told us the road was passable. Cheryl and I begged Blake to change the route. It's one of our favorite roads. I might get up there once in a year.

When we came upon the heavy machinery, Cheryl said, "We'll never get across!"

Oh, ye of little faith. Has he been away from the antics of me and Tom for that long?

The detour spared us some hills. We rode along the river to New Hope and climbed out on Stoney Hill. I'm sure I'd never been on this road before. I would have remembered it. From New Hope it follows above a single set of railroad tracks and turns off into the woods, with a steep slope up on one side of the road and down on the other side.

At the end is the foundation of an old stone house. We'd passed it earlier in the morning from the other side. The light would have been better from down there. I did my best to capture it from where we were standing, up the hill, in the shade. I didn't do a good job with it, and my edits later didn't help much.

I did better with the lighting on the cornfield.

Blake had only one big hill in store for us on the return trip. It's on the same ridge as Eagle Road, but Thompson Mill is much easier.

At the end of the road, Nevada asked me, "How much does your bike weigh?"

I haven't got the slightest clue. Again, I heard myself say, "I don't give a shit" before I could stop myself. Cheryl said, "You don't know how much your bike weighs?"

Too late now for decorum. "I haven't got a fucking clue. Put it this way: compared to what I weigh, my bike is rounding error."  Safe bet I weigh more than Cheryl, Nevada, and both of their bikes combined.

I really need to take a chill pill and be like Moxie:

#52: 2017 Event Century

Van Horne Park, Rocky Hill

6 August 2017

Before I start, I need to tell y'all that yesterday's Event century was one of the most enjoyable centuries I've done. It was cloudy, but not rainy. It was sunny, but not hot. It was windy, but not gusting. There were hills, but only little ones. I rode with friends I haven't seen since early spring. I saw people at rest stops I haven't seen since last summer. And I got a new pair of tires 30 miles in.  Read on.

Regular visitors to this blog will know that I have a fleet of road bikes that I keep in good working order. Having more bikes means that there are more things that can slip under the radar. Kermit's tire condition was one of these things. As I prepped Kermit at 9:30 p.m. the night before the Princeton Event, I noticed that the rear tire was getting flat. I don't mean out-of-air flat. I mean three thousand miles flat. It was too late at night to go fussing about swapping wheels (which would require cable adjustments) or tires (I had no new ones on hand and I'm not quick with tire changes). I checked carefully for nicks and threads, and, seeing none, figured I'd be okay for another hundred miles. The first rest stop tomorrow would be at Hart's anyway. I could always go begging for a quick change.

At 5:30 a.m. the rain was moving out. When I left the house on Kermit at 6:55, front and rear lights blinking, I was going around puddles. The roads, like my shorts, were damp when I pulled into MCCC.

I checked in with Ira. "That storm at 4:30 gave me palpitations," he said. 

"I counted about 20 riders on my way over here," I assured him. My path to the college was on the routes that crossed over Route 1. I would pass that way three times today.

I set Kermit up where the rest of my group would see him.

We'd agreed on a 7:30 start, and we were close to on time. There were six of us: Neil and Mark, Gordon, Ricky, Brian, and me. Jud had emailed in that he would be half an hour late and wished us luck.

As we were about to push off, Neil said, "My bagels! I forgot my bagels!"

"There are some over there," I said, gesturing towards a towering pile on a table under a tent.

"No. I want mine," he said. So we passed by his car on our way out. He grabbed a small, white, plastic bag and proceeded to tie it to the front of his Camelbak straps.

"Don't you want to put them inside?

"I want to eat them!"

I turned to Mark. "Neil has a feed bag!"

It's always good to start a long ride in the right mood, and the mood had been set.

I waited until our first red light to snap a picture.

"A little underexposed, but I'll fix it," I said to Gordon, who gave an approving nod. (With a minor tweak in gamma correction Neil came out of the shadows.)

On Bakers Basin Road we picked up a few riders who Neil knew. We got talking about the diminishing returns of ten thousand dollar bikes, and then moved on to praise heavy steel vintage. Two of the extras were on the hilly route and turned off at Fackler Road. We kept on Princeton Pike to Province Line.

Nearly half of the century route would be on this side of Route 1. Mark and Neil had it in their heads that we'd be climbing into the Sourlands. I assured them that there would be no big hills. To them, though, as flatlanders, an overpass is a hill.

The terrain wasn't hilly, but it wasn't flat either. There were enough small descents to send Mark and Neil bombing past the rest of us.

"Better watch yourself on the turns with that feed bag," I told Neil.

"Nah. The Camelbak balances it out."

"Now you know what it's like to run around without a bra."

Our meandering, westward loop took us through Ewing, Hopewell, and, eventually, to Hart's.

"Kermit thinks he's here for a check-up," I said as we pulled into the lot behind the store. Ross was standing by the rear entrance.

"Whaddaya think about this tire?" I asked him. "Do I have another 80 miles?" He took a look, put his hand on it, and said, "Stop by after the ride and we'll get you a new one."

"How fast could you do it now?"

"Five minutes," he said. I leaned Kermit towards him. He took the bike inside while I snapped a few more pictures of Neil in better light. Cheryl got a kick out of his feed bag too, and snapped some pictures from her vantage point behind the food table where she was volunteering with Dave H, Gary, and Donna.

Inside, I caught up with Ross as he was being pulled a million ways at once. I asked him to replace the front tire too. Whenever I see him I stick around to chat. We once spent ten minutes under the front eave in the rain after the store had closed. If he weren't tending wrench, he'd have a good career tending bar. This time around I learned that he's done two triathalons so far this year and is raring to go for more. 

Less than a mile after leaving the shop, I heard "thhhpp!  thhppp!" in the front wheel and stopped. The tire was becoming unseated. I've done this myself a few times. I stopped before the inevitable "bang!" had a chance to happen. I apologized profusely for holding the group up again; nobody was upset about it. The delay gave Mark and Neil more time to clown around as they helped me put in a new tube.

New tires, like new sneakers, always feel worlds different and leave me wondering why I waited so long to make the change. (Note to self: I need new sneakers.)

Coming out of Hopewell we came upon Mary's group. She was with Tru, Jud, and a handful of others. Jud joined us for a while.

All morning we'd had one eye on the road and the other on the sky. As we moved along Route 518 (we skipped the rest stop at Sourland Cycles) towards Hillsborough, I whimpered to Gordon about how much I wanted to stop and take pictures of the clouds. Every half mile I whimpered but I did not stop.

The sky over Van Horne Park in Rocky Hill was only slightly less dramatic.

My iPhone 6 beats my Canon SX280 HS. Nothing beats what it looked like through my polarized sunglasses. ("There's an app for that!" Gordon said.)

Dave C had provided a floor pump for the rest stop. I took the opportunity to deflate the CO2 from my front tire and fill it with ambient air to my usual 110 psi. I did the back too.

Two things happened as we crossed over Route 1 into the flatlands: the sun came out and the wind picked up.

"This is where the route gets stupid," I warned the team as we turned onto Scudders Mill Road in Plainsboro. I'm never a fan of the Anywhere, USA sprawl of West Windsor. I knew that, given the route and its rest stop constraints, this was the best way through. But it still was something less than fun. There were too many cars and too many traffic lights.

We bunched up with Mary's group again, then spread out. Mark and Neil got ahead of us at a pace I didn't want to match; it was too early (we were only halfway) for me to burn it up.  On the other hand, I could see why they'd want to get well out of this place.

Things got better on the other side of Route 130. We regrouped and had a good pace going as long as we didn't have the wind in our faces.

Our next stop was at a community park on West Manor Way in Robbinsville. This is the rest stop where all the cool kids hang out. It used to be run by the late Don Sprague; Plain Jim has taken over managerial duties. TEW was there, and Carol, and Rajesh (who is looking forward to his next 600 km brevet, for reasons sane people will never understand). Chris, manning the SAG wagon as usual, put in an appearance. Some bonehead leaned his bike against the women's bathroom door while I was in there, so of course I inadvertently knocked it over when I stepped out. Serves him right.

The route would have us passing through here twice. The gps route provided to us showed a spaghetti mess that I hadn't bothered to edit out when I downloaded the file to Son Of. I fully expected Son Of to blow a gasket here, and it did. Leaving the park, I no longer had turn-by-turn directions, but the route was there.

What I had edited out, upon Neil's advice, was the trip to the next rest stop at Walnford. Between the mill on Hill Road and Holmes Mill Road is an unrideable stretch of sand that none of us wanted to ride or walk around, especially after last night's rain. Instead, we turned onto Extonville and Polhemustown to join the route again at Route 539. This shaved a mile off our distance, but we all agreed it was well worth it.

Somewhere in here I learned from Ricky that this was Brian's very first century. I wish I'd known earlier and had made him eat more. He'd hit the 70-mile wall.

Back at the community park again, my GPS didn't find its navigational beeps. Brian sat down to rest. I had flashbacks of Bob N crashing out here last year on his first century, and of Rajesh the year before. Neil, Mark, and I gave him some sage advice. In the end, though, he'll figure out what works best for him.

It was getting late. Jud took off for home. I was already much later than I'd hoped to be; I had plans with Jack that required me to be cleaned off and in the car by 5:30. Mark and Neil told us to go ahead; they'd stay with Brian. They were feeling the distance a little too, having pushed the pace through West Windsor.

Gordon and Ricky, neither of whom appeared to be the least bit tired after 102 miles, damn them, turned into MCCC and I headed straight for home. It's been years since I've stayed for the after-ride festivities. I really ought to one of these days, but I think I'd have to drive there. Once I get this close to finished, I don't want to stop.

From my house to MCCC is about 5 miles; I finished with 112, which is as close to randonneur as I'm going to get.

My post-century ritual has me stumbling around the house, unpacking, washing my helmet, washing my sticky water bottles (they're always sticky), stumbling around some more, and eventually showering. I had enough time to do all of this and grab a quick snack of cottage cheese and pickles before driving almost an hour to meet a friend for dinner.

The place he'd picked we'd been to together once before. It's called Helm and its menu is colorful, annoying, pretentious, and deliberately vague.  The poor server has no choice but to explain the entire thing to each table.

I figured I'd be either ravenous or nauseated (my post-century body flits from one to the other on a whim). Fortunately I was the former before the latter and got through half of what I'd ordered before I gave up. I skipped dessert, knowing full well I'd be ravenous again when we got home. I was, and helped myself to a big bowl of ice cream.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Rowlf Likes Rollers

Island Road, Columbus, NJ

23 July 2017

Rowlf needed some road time. I drove him to Allentown this morning for the 8:00 a.m. start from Bruno's. While it was cooler than yesterday, the air was far more humid. Chris led me, Joe, Mike, and Chad south in an almost drizzle.

I set Son Of the $500 Piece of Shit to record, which is the one thing I can trust Garmin to be good at. Chris had only a vague idea of where he wanted to go; I had no idea where we were once we got out of Allentown. We crossed 206 and 130 a bajillion times. I had the vague sense that we were near the Delaware River.

I knew this because we were hitting a lot of rollers in the shade. I didn't build Rowlf to be a climber, but, despite his weight, he's not bad at going up the little stuff. 

What Rowlf really wants to do is descend. Rowlf and I have fewer than 500 miles together, yet on a downhill I feel more secure on this 1986 Colnago steel frame than I do on any of my other bikes, including Kermit, who has something like 38,000 miles with me. If I were to have the legs to carry Rowlf to the top of Acadia's Cadillac Mountain, I bet I could ride back down that scary part without getting the heebie-jeebies. If he didn't weigh a metric ton (and if I didn't), I'd put a triple and MTB gearing on him and see what he could do up in Warren County.  For now, though, Rowlf is my recovery ride bike.

We took our rest stop early, at a 7-11 only 18 miles in. I'm never hungry that early, and I dislike 45 to 50-mile rides that make their one and only stop at fewer than 25 miles (Winter Larry, I'm looking at you and Battleview Orchards). I drank some orange juice but I got hungry on schedule at 25 miles anyway.

While there wasn't much of a chance of rain in the forecast, the sky hung heavy over us nearly the entire time.

I stopped for my first pictures on Oxmead Road, about 23 miles in.

I stopped again about 3 miles later, on Gilbert Road, because the sky was doing a drama thing:

I seem to be snapping a lot of sky like this in 2017.

On Island Road we came upon a flower farm. Mike stayed back with me as we watched the water spray.

The corn in Burlington County is ahead of the corn in Warren County. 

Here, the silk is already browning.

The smell of corn flowers was powerful again today, inching closer to nauseating.

A few miles from the end of the ride, Joe and Mike peeled off to go look at another flower grower. I almost followed them but I had second thoughts and doubled back to catch up to Chris and Chad. I was wet, sticky, hungry, and a little tired. Chris then peeled off too, needing to get some food into himself before he rode home. I guided Chad back into Allentown.

As is becoming custom, here is Moxie, posing by dozing while I unload my wallet, phone, and camera from my soaking wet jersey: