Sunday, January 13, 2019

Brain Freeze

Delaware Canal Towpath near Yardley, PA

13 January 2019

"If you like what we just did you'll love what's coming next," Ron said as we stood on the wrong side of the street, next to a crosswalk, at a busy intersection of Route 29 in Trenton.

What we'd just done was cross the Trenton Makes Bridge and ride our mountain bikes through the Capitol and State Street, then dipping south again on Calhoun Street, taking the wrong way down a ramp to an asphalt path along the river. Considering that everything I'd done so far today had been steeped in massive airheadedness, I had no reason to question anything.

We'd started at Washington Crossing on the Jersey side. After a full year of not being late to rides, I started this one off by showing up at 9:58. I'd stupidly left home after 9:30, after checking the calendar for cancellation one last time, not wanting to drive all the way to the park to find I'd missed the announcement en route. There was enough snow on the ground to cancel the other two rides that had been scheduled to go out today.

I can go from driver's seat to saddle relatively quickly. Grover, now 12 years old, and my least cared-for bike, requires two extra steps: seating the front wheel and engaging the brake. The first is a pain because the skewer is a few millimeters short. I always have to unscrew the cap to the point that the spring is ready to fall out in order to get the fork onto the skewer. Recently the spring disappeared. This has made seating the wheel that much easier. Meanwhile the front brake cable is starting to fray. Getting the notch at the end to fit into the slot on the other side has always been a struggle. Now I have to make sure I don't make the fraying worse. Today I managed to accomplish both tasks without losing or breaking any more parts.

I did notice that the left crank arm is exposed at the bottom bracket. I showed it to Jim. He told me not to worry. Chris suggested the part might be in the car. "It's probably on a trail somewhere," I said. Jim agreed.

We started off by walking across the bridge to the Pennsylvania side. I noticed that the back wheel seemed to be resisting, yet when I lifted the bike it spun freely. I chalked it up to the wheel's age and continued walking.

Ron and Ken W debated the best way to get to the towpath on the other side. Ken pointed us into the park and Ron led through several twists and turns that left me completely disoriented. When we reached the path he turned left. The ride description had said we'd be heading north, so I figured I was just confused, and anyway the towpath isn't always next to the river on the Pennsylvania side.

I seemed to be exerting more effort than usual to keep up. My seat, which I'd never adjusted after the end of my mountain biking days, felt too low. Maybe the shocks in the seat post were collapsing. Jim suggested I could move the post up a few millimeters. It sounded like a good idea. Jim, riding the Krakow Monster on wide road tires, was keeping to the back and riding gingerly. We both stopped at  a high spot to take a picture, and a rest.

I stopped again farther down.

A cyclist on a fat-tire bike passed us in the opposite direction. He wasn't wearing a helmet. It was at this point that I realized I wasn't wearing a helmet either. With the balaclava on, I hadn't noticed the lack of pressure from the helmet straps. With a balaclava on, my head was covered, and the other riders, four in all, hadn't noticed my lack of headgear either.

While they were waiting for me to catch up they had their cameras out, each getting pictures of me and the scenery as I approached. I made the most of it and pointed to my head as I got closer. That started a discussion of where they could now post their pictures, because one can't be on a PFW ride without a helmet. They decided that as long as our club president didn't see it we'd be fine. (Hi, Ira.)

Then they decided they should kick me out of the club. "We should Barry her!" Yep, they've coined a new term to honor the dishonored. 

"I think I forgot to start my GPS," I told Ron. He'd had some trouble getting his started earlier. Oh well. I'd find out our distance at the end of the ride. "We've gone 5.5 miles," he said. I decided to start recording, and hit the button, only to find that I'd been recording all along after all.

On we went until we saw the city of Trenton. It was now that I figured out we hadn't been going north. Never mind that this is my third towpath ride in four weeks, each of them covering the same ground. It all looks different when there's snow.

We got as far as Pennsylvania Avenue, where we have to walk our bikes through the back lot of a warehouse, over a pallet that crosses a swale. Jim had the presence of mind to backtrack and take a flat course to the street. Chris rolled into the 7-11 on the other side.

As I walked the bike to rest against a post I felt the resistance in the rear wheel again and handed Grover off to Jim. Without missing a beat he diagnosed the problem: in my haste I'd fastened the front brake on the wrong notch. The brake pads were rubbing, not so much as to stop me, but enough to create drag. For some reason I decided that the pedals shouldn't be moving backwards when I roll the bike backwards, never mind that all my bikes do that and I knew that. I immediately felt like a fool.

While we were at it we raised the saddle a few millimeters. I drank half a cup of what was supposed to have been coffee. I had a couple of bars with me but it didn't occur to me to eat anything.

Moving was much easier when we set off again, but crossing the Trenton Makes bridge on foot was a cold, cold experience. We weren't likely to see temperatures above freezing all day, and the sky was completely overcast. What little breeze there was hit us dead-on.

We had a little more discussion near the capitol complex to figure out how best to get back to the towpath. Having done this a few weeks ago with Tom and Chris, I remembered curving around to the south then climbing a short hill towards State Street. Chris suggested turning north instead, so we did, finding State Street several traffic lights later. We turned left and got stuck in Sunday traffic, which was a New Jersey Transit bus.

If we'd stayed on State we'd have found the towpath on short order. Instead, though, Ron pointed us back toward the river on Calhoun. I thought he'd given up and was planning to go back to the Pennsylvania side, but just short of the bridge he turned right, the wrong way onto the bridge ramp. I went up onto the narrow sidewalk, which was interrupted by lamp posts that required careful navigation around. 

Ron turned sharply onto a paved path along the river. This was a section of the city I'd never been in. The path ended led to a street with old-ish houses, many of them with front porches, open or glassed in, that faced the river, far enough and high enough from it not to wind up under it. 

We turned away from the river as the street was about to end, and that's where Ron made his pronouncement about what was next. "This is what they do on the Wednesday night rides," Ron said. We were going the wrong way up a one-way hill, then walking our bikes on nearly hidden dirt path in a small patch of woods. It angled sharply, ending at a series of posts several inches too narrow to fit a set of mountain bike bars through head-on. Chris, of course, decided to ride up it, only to have to stop short. 

Jim and I got out our cameras. Neither of us could fathom doing this in the dark. "Well this was stupid," he said, looking down at the path and Route 29 beyond it.

When I turned around I recognized where we were: the place where the canal goes over the road. We were nearly on the aqueduct. Beyond it there was scenery.

The sky was starting to clear a little. We picked up the pace, with Jim in the lead and me second. Behind me I could hear Chris cackling as Ron found himself breaking through ice none of us could see beneath the snow.

I stopped for one more picture now that there was some blue sky to look at.

Not having had time before the ride to take some pictures of the river at Washington Crossing, I took a couple of minutes to do it at the end.

When it came time to undo the front brake so I could take the wheel off, I had to struggle for a solid three minutes before the cable released. This is typical. If Grover hadn't been such a cheap bike in the first place I'd have invested in some improvements years ago. I guess I ought to revamp the front end when towpath season is over.

Monday, January 7, 2019

January Feels Like March

Hopewell Valley from Province Line Road

7 January 2019

Yesterday's rain had almost dried from the roads when we set out. We were dressed lightly for January 6; it was almost 50 degrees out at 9:00 a.m.

My plan was to go up Province Line and get to the top of the mountain and under the trees before the 20-mph wind gusts kicked in.  Ricky started with my from my house; these days I feed him coffee. Racer Pete was just rolling in when we approached Twin Pines.

Chris and Martin were parked in the lot. Pete G rolled in and said he would cut off early. He'd been down with the flu earlier in the week. He stayed with us to the top of Pennington-Rocky Hill Road.

I generally don't stop for pictures while I'm climbing a hill. However, the rays of sun poking through the cloud cover over the Hopewell valley were enough for me to pull over on that part of Province Line just north of 518 where it turns west before the real climbing begins. It was worth falling behind everyone for this shot. Chris didn't think it would come out, but I always look over my polarized glasses when I take pictures, so I knew it worked.

We stayed up on the ridge, protected by the trees, all the way to Rocktown Road. At the top of Gulick we got hit with headwinds; at the bottom, along Route 179 and Queen Road, it wasn't so bad.

I waved the guys on when I saw the horses on Alexauken Creek Road. The sun was out now, and it was messing up my shot.

We stopped at Rojo's in Lambertville. With as many tables and as much space as they have, we still had to wait then cram ourselves around a small one.

And now for the tailwind.

I stopped at the top of Rocktown-Lambertville Road, the spot right after the climb out of the valley, where there are corn fields mowed down for the winter.

I managed to keep us out of the wind for most of the ride home. Our return trip seemed easy, so easy, in fact, that I went into autopilot and blew right past the entrance to Twin Pines. I didn't even notice until I was well beyond it and wondering where the driveway went. Chris and Martin had long since peeled off. Ricky and Racer Pete had been too polite to question their leader.

I apologized to Chris and Martin by email when I got home. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's going to be a while before I live this one down.

Monday, December 31, 2018


End of the Delaware Canal

31 December 2018

Jack H knew the way. Tom and I followed. 

We started from Jack's house in Yardley and wound through some high-price neighborhoods to get down to the canal, crossing onto the towpath on a little red bridge in Morrisville.

The tunnel under NJ Transit's Morrisville Yard was still an active construction site.

We took a path through the woods, emerging on the side of the Northeast Corridor tracks, where I stopped to take pictures of the graffiti.

Yes, that's a swastika on the pillar. Welcome to America.

The guys were waiting for me on the other side. I emerged as Jack was explaining the finer points of embankment reinforcement.

If you're looking for canal scenery you're better off north of Morrisville. The canal was a murky, stagnant, shallow green. We were never far from the traffic on I-95, buffered from it and trailer parks by leafless bramble.

We were following the highway and the Northeast Corridor. I could tell where we were by the landmarks I remembered from my SEPTA commuting days. We crossed busy roads in Levittown; I could see the landfill across from Burlington. I was looking for the old factory in Bristol, across a pond from the train station.

There it was, but first, a great blue heron, the third we'd seen today, this one with a leaf in its mouth.

The factory has been converted to offices; next to it another old building has become apartments.

Jack led us past that to a path that led to the Delaware River, where the Delaware Canal ended.

We found the dock and rode up it as far as we could.

We were trying to get our bearings. Across from us was Burlington Island. The docks pointed west. A factory billowed something on the New Jersey side to the northeast.

Bristol's main drag looked like a fun place to walk around.

Jack led us back to the towpath. Somewhere north of there I had to stop and laugh at the state park sign at the edge of a large big-box shopping center. Can you say "easement?" The park was the towpath, two ruts of red clay chips between the parking lot and Route 13.

I finally found a spot worthy of a scenic photo. This was as good as it got.

Back along the tracks I stopped again for pictures.

As I was putting my muddy bike away I noticed, for the second ride in a row, that my 11-year-old Camelbak was leaking. This time I was well soaked; even my shorts, under thick leggings, were soggy.

It was warm enough to give Grover a good hosing off when I got home.

So that's that for 2018. I rode about 500 fewer miles this year than last. I put more miles on Grover, my mountain bike, than I did on Rowlf, my 1986 Colnago. That'll have to change next year. I took Gonzo, the Le Mond I'm trying to destroy via fluid trainer, out on the road only once. Miss Piggy, in the hills, barely edged out Beaker on my commute; adding in the few times she got to run free of lights, Beaker beat Piggy by about 50 miles. Kermit, of course, beat everyone else, because I like Kermit the best.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Looking for the Sun

Marshalls Corner-Woodsville Road at Mine Road

30 December 2018

Cold air is easier to ride in when you know the sun is going to come out.  Even if the temperature doesn't change all that much, a few degrees warmth from the sun makes riding near freezing temperatures more tolerable.

Mine was the only ride listed today. Still, the group was small. There were six of us: me, Ricky, Ken, Ed, Racer Pete, and newcomer Sophie. I sized up the talent and knew I'd be leading from the back.

When I lead from Pennington in the winter I usually go one of two places: Lambertville or Sergeantsville. The destination is predictable but the route is not. I hadn't decided where we were going, but when Sophie said she'd never been to Sergeantsville it was settled.

There was a little blue between the clouds when we left, but we were riding in a calm, slightly clammy Sunday morning.

I got very close to being dropped on the top half of Stony Brook Road As payback I didn't warn everyone to shift down when we turned from Snydertown to Linvale. I can be a vindictive bitch when I want to. At least the group stayed more or less together after that.

On Mountain Road near Rocktown the sky looked dramatic enough that I stopped for pictures. It wasn't getting any closer to sunny.

"Wait at the cows," I instructed as we started down Harbourton-Mount Airy Road.

This wasn't a typical Hill Slug group. There was a triathlete and a racer in the mix, and everyone else, with the exception of myself, was a natural climber. While nobody was deliberately pushing the pace, there was a certain amount of jockeying for first up the hill. I figured there might a chance they'd wear themselves out trying to be King of the Mountain. Halfway to the cows I could see that it was starting to happen; I actually passed a couple of people before I stopped in front of the pasture.

One cow stood away from the herd. I pointed my camera at her. 

She saw me and, hay dangling from her mouth, sauntered over to the fence to pose for Bovine Vogue.

When we got to Sergeantsville were the only cyclists at the general store.

Halfway through our break two women wearing Ironman jackets rode in. Geez. All the fast people are out today.

The sun still wasn't out when we left. Ken grumbled that I hadn't kept my promise. We were on Lambert Road. I looked past him, to the north, and gestured. The sun was shining in Flemington.

We took Dutch Lane to Wertsville and climbed up Losey to Rocktown, and then turned on Linvale. At the top the sun came out from behind a thick cloud.

"Look, Ken!" I called out.

Ken yelped in elation.

"Be quiet!" Ed admonished. "You don't want to scare it away!"

We went down the other side of Linvale, across Route 31 to Woodsville Road, and across 518 to Marshalls Corner-Woodsville Road, which, hallelujah, has been paved from 518 to the Pennington border.

At the top, near Mine Road, the view was worthy of a few pictures.

Ken saw the ray of light at the same time I did.

The blue sky, though, was still behind us.

We never did see our shadows again.