Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last Ride of the Year: The Mercer County Park Playground

31 December

There's something new in Mercer County Park this winter: some young punks built themselves an obstacle course. When we first came up on it I thought it was a canine agility course set in the middle of the woods.

Chris and I rode on past it. "Wow," I said. "Something even you won't try." So, of course, he led us right back to it. Naturally, chicken that I am, I took the opportunity to get some pictures.

Chris contemplating an ascent:

Chris goes for it:

"This is as far as I'm going," he says.

The teeter-totter is weighted at one end:

Chris makes it over on his second try, but I miss the shot and make him do it again:

This frightening piece of art isn't finished yet:

I'm a long way from trying even the teeter-totter. My big achievement today was going fast enough to keep up with Chris on the path back to the parking lot. Until my rear wheel started to spin out, that is, and I slowed back down to my usual, Rubber Chicken, pace.

So, that's it for 2008.

Our New Year's Eve party starts in 3.5 hours and we're nowhere near ready. See y'all on the road in '09!

A Few End-Of-The-Year Photos

26, 29, and 30 December

Whenever we ride to New Egypt we go to the same place for a break. It looks like a fish tank and inside it's steamy in the winter. The coffee ranges from good to hot water. The muffins are either worthy or sticky.

New Egypt is changing from a rural outpost to what Chris calls "New Brooklyn."

Here's a picture of our rest stop from the outside. Most of us never remember the name. This week's prize goes to Cheryl for calling it "Taster's Choice." Y'know, that horrible ground coffee in a glass jar you get at the supermarket?

Here's a view of the inside. This was the first time the windows weren't fogged up, but it was still warm enough in there that a few people felt the need to strip. From left to right: Mike M., Gen, Chris, Mike B., Cheryl, and Al.

Cheryl, the Mikes, and I went for a short one on Monday. I stopped for pictures of one of my favorite roads, Woosamonsa.

Yesterday Jack and I went to visit Nora and Sharon in Brooklyn. Here's sunset from the B Train:

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 Playlist

30 December

Here's what I rode to this year:

Chicago (Groove Armada) [crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge at the American Cancer Society Bike-a-Thon]

Leilani (Hoodoo Gurus)[any flat road on the way out of Cranbury]

Mud City (Trey Anastasio)[by association from last season, any hilly ride out of Montgomery that I wasn't leading]

North Part 2 (Afro Celt Sound System)

Mr. Bitterness (Soul Coughing)

You're Going to Need Somebody on Your Bond (Taj Majal) [climbing Lindbergh]

Kiss That Frog (Peter Gabriel) [climbing Goat Hill]

Sweet Potato (Cracker)

Sutrix (Talivn Singh)

Any Way She Moves (The Casbah Club/Simon Townshend)

I Cannot Reverse You (Bob Mould) [climbing Federal Twist]

Rise (American Music Club)

Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn/St. Andrew (The White Stripes) [sung out loud on Harbourton-Mt. Airy from Rocktown to Church in both directions]

Jaded (The Crystal Method)

Can't Go Back to Jersey (G. Love and Special Sauce)

John's Star (The National)

Trouble (Dave Matthews) [the first song in my head, first thing in the morning, for about a month during the whole BMS thing]

Burst Generator (The Chemical Brothers) [lifting at RWJ-Hamilton for the first time]

Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes)

The Silken Whip (Afro-Celt Sound System)

World Turning (Fleetwood Mac)

Squalor Victoria (The National)

Riding the Skies (Afro-Celt Sound System)

Ice Cream Smile (Big Country)

My Doorbell (The White Stripes) [trying to hold a "hover" for two minutes at the gym]

The Fall Collection (Bob Mould)

Shaolin Satellite (Thievery Corporation)

Eclipse (Talvin Singh)

Low (Trey Anastasio)

Subterranean Homesick Blues (Bob Dylan) [reciting the words to Eva while going up Dinosaur Hill]

Weapons of Mass Distortion (The Crystal Method)

Home (Zero 7)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lookit What Smolenyak Did!

27 December

John doesn't own a car. That doesn't stop him from doing much. Here's how he got his new TV home, using his single-speed bike, no less:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Ride

25 December

Mike B. and Cheryl pulled this one together, with me, Mike M., and Dan in tow. Cheryl had to get two chickens in the oven by 12:30, so we kept it short, meandering along roads I don't get to much because, ironically, they're too close to home.

I was dressed for the occasion, having rubber-banded a set of antlers with bells and lights to my helmet. I even wrapped a strand of mini plastic lights to Gonzo's top tube. My fellow Slugs expect weirdness from me. I can't disappoint.

At this time of year, if you go up Crusher Road, you can look down into the Hopewell Valley, into the center of Hopewell Boro where the church is.

Farther along Crusher Road you can see a blue bottle sculpture at the edge of a yard. If you look into the back yard there's another one, a blue bottle tree. These structures are said to ward away evil spirits.

Hey! I was just Googling "blue bottle evil sprits" and I wound up on our very own Glenn's Flickr page! Small world.

They don't seem to ward away bad photography:

Mike M. showed Mike B. the part of Province Line Road that's closed to cars. The bridge over the Stony Brook was iced over, so we took our time walking across it. All the rain we've had turned the quiet stream into a torrent:

Downstream was calmer:

It's difficult to imagine that this bridge was once strong enough to hold anything more than pedestrians.

The wooden surface is patched with plywood in places. Next to my left foot, as I took this picture, was a hole that let me see straight down into the water.

Province Line Road once delineated the boundary between East and West New Jersey (there's a little bit about it here and here). If you take a ruler and put it on a map of the state, lining it up with Province Line Road in Princeton, you'll be able to line the ruler up with Quakerbridge Road to the south and to the southern portion of Province Line Road near Allentown even farther south.

Here's a picture that Mike B took of me, my antlers, and the little lights on my top tube:

Santa didn't bring me a digital camera today, so it looks like we're stuck with my crappy cell phone pictures for a little while longer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mercer County Park, Flooded

13 December

Too cold and windy for the road once again, Chris and I headed for the woods of Mercer County Park. We'd had a lot (like, several inches) of rain a few days before, so we decided to stick to the dry side, the western side, of the park.

You know you've got a lot of water on a trail when even Chris says it's time to turn around. This trail abuts the lake, so it wasn't much of a surprise when we saw how much of it was under water:

I've mentioned the stuffed animal shrine in the park by Hughes Drive. Well, it's gone. Only a few scattered logs remain. We did find a lone tree bunny, though:

Deep into the woods, far from the lake, we had to turn back again:

On our way back to the parking lot we swung by the boathouse. At the edge of the lake is a path to a gazebo.

We got ourselves a good, and necessary, tire washing:

For those of you keeping score at home, I didn't fall this time. I'm getting some confidence back. We did a lot of Hall Of Mirrors (*) riding. I've come to the conclusion that it's impossible to ride any of the three Halls without grinding to a halt somewhere. I can't tell if I'm getting better at it, but it almost doesn't matter. The impossibility of it makes it all the more fun.

(* Mercer County Park has three Halls of Mirrors on the west side and one old one on the east. These are stands of young trees, very close together, into which sinuous paths have been created. They twist tightly and often, with trees so close together there's barely room for a set of handlebars to pass. Some turns are almost 180 degrees. The trails double back on themselves so that a person can be minutes ahead of you and three feet away at the same time. Chris and the Johns can fly through these things. Me, not so much. But it's a heck of a lot of fun trying.)

Off-the-Bike Photos

6 and 8 December

On the road it's been too cold to stop for pictures, and besides, with full-fingered gloves I'm all thumbs with the cell phone's buttons.

So, instead, here are some pictures I took when I tagged along on a hike up the Sourland Mountain with Mike and Theresa.

Hiking up the Sourland Mountain is easy. The first time I did it I was wearing sneakers. We went up a newer trail, one I don't remember having been on before. There's no view from the top on this trail. Instead there are lots of big rocks.

Mike found one to climb. While he was doing that, I took pictures of some other big rocks.

The Sourlands are like this. There are boulders strewn all over, and diabase rocks are covered by only a thin layer of soil. This makes for pretty bad farming, which is why so much of the Sourlands are still open space. Development threatens, but conservationists are fighting back, and maybe even winning for a change.

On our way down we saw a stone dam off the trail. Mike veered towards it like an iron filing to a magnet. As we walked across, Mike was singing the theme to Indiana Jones. In my head that mutated to the Monty Python's Flying Circus theme, which makes for some interesting hiking music (it is, after all, a Sousa march).

Here's the dam:

Two days later I went to the gym for an early morning Spinning class. I walked out around 7 a.m. to see this over the parking lot:

Ah, sunrise over Mercerville.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Caffeinated Diversion

4 December

Look at this.

Catching Up

4 December

Yeah, I know, I haven't posted any adventures recently. I've been busy making jewelry instead. I'm within a handful of sales of breaking even this year, which will make both me and the I.R.S. happy. Take a look at the stuff I have for sale. At the very least you'll get a chuckle as you think to yourself, "She charges how much for this crap?" I custom-design crap, too, if you're interested.

But that's not why you came here today. On with the biking thing:

Our road rides are getting shorter and colder, but we're still out there. I haven't been stopping for pictures because, with full-finger gloves, I'd probably drop my cell phone into the middle of the road and watch it get run over.

We followed Mike M. on the road the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Common sense is the first thing to freeze up. We should have been on our mountain bikes in the woods, but no, there we were on Canal Road from Kingston to Amwell Road, spending half the time winding out our gears just to get feeling back in our fingertips. We left the canal to climb up Coppermine and Old Georgetown both. I'd never been up the latter or down the former. Did you know you can see the Sourlands through the trees on the way down Coppermine? Pretty cool!

At the end of the ride Mike B. was obsessing for more, and like especially daft sheep, Theresa and I followed him. We got as far as Main Street in Kingston, where we stopped at the bakery to use the bathroom. It was there that my senses, and a full-body chill, caught up with me. "This is stupid," I said, and we turned around. Theresa and I drove home; Mike pedaled all the way back.

I woke up the next morning with a sore throat, but Clayton Park was calling.

It was just me and Chris on our mountain bikes at Clayton. It was a lot of fun. All that Energy Zone training in Spinning class at RWJ-Hamilton is paying off. I didn't fall, and I made it up more hills than I did last year. But on the others I was downshifting too much and kept running out of oomph too early.

I hopped over a handful of logs, too, mostly because I didn't see them with enough time to panic. I just had to go over them instead. Chris said he'll need to remove the rubber chicken from the back of my mountain bike this year. I told him that Clayton isn't the place to test one's nerves, just one's aerobic capacity.

The shifting had been sloppy, so I took Grover to Ross' shop for a tune-up. Oscar found a bent tooth in the middle front chain ring. I have no idea when that happened. Somewhere out there a log is laughing. Oscar said, "We hammered it back into place."

By the time I picked Grover up on Monday I'd had a low-grade fever going for a day.

By Thanksgiving I sounded somewhere between a heavy smoker and a pubescent boy. That made Thanksgiving night at my cousin's house a little more entertaining for everyone.

Saturday was warm enough to ride on the road, and my voice was mostly back. Mike M. found himself scheduled for a ride on the same day at the same time. I worked out a route that had us meeting in the middle on the way to Sergeantsville. Like the space station and the space shuttle hooking up. All was going to plan until Mike M's seat post bolt exploded at the top of Lindbergh, leaving him to send a lone rider along the ridge to meet us. Mike somehow managed to get back to Rocky Hill without a saddle.

So that's it for now. My ride for Saturday looks like it's going to be canceled due to sub-freezing temperatures at start time. I'll either be falling off my bike at Mercer County Park or following Mike and Theresa on the road later in the morning. The former promises to be more of a story. Will I finally earn the right to remove my rubber chicken, or will I have to add another one?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The First of the Fall Headwinds

16 November

This was me, Chris, Wall-E, Eva, Cheryl, the Mikes, and Arty yesterday:

(The first person who can name where this picture comes from gets a free muffin on my next ride.)

Back to My Favorite Puddle

15 November

My ride got rained out, so I went with Mike B. and his brother, Arty, by car up to Stanton for brunch on Saturday. Arty lives in Brooklyn, so we took the scenic route to show him where we ride.

Arty commutes to work by bike. Pedestrians drive him nuts. "First I tried a whistle. That didn't work. I got a horn. That don't work. There's only one thing that works."

"What's that?"

He raised his fist and shouted, "Outa my way, motherfucker!"

Mike said, "Are you going to put that in the blog?"

"Of course!"

It seems that neither Mike nor I can get enough of our favorite puddle, and we had to show Arty. So we drove up to Round Valley Reservoir. We parked at the boat launch and walked over the berm to a trail in the woods at the edge of the water.

We were in between storm cells. One minute the sun would almost be shining and the next the sky would be steel gray all over. The wind was picking up, too. I'd never seen waves on the reservoir before.

We think this bird might have been a cormorant. I've only ever seen them floating low in the water or standing on pilings hanging their wings out to dry.

The bird just sat there, facing the handful of fisherman on the nearby shore. Mike said, "He's waiting for them to catch a fish, then he'll swoop down."

Then the bird raised itself up a little. "Here we go," I said, thinking it was about to fly. But instead it let go a jet of urine. "It wrung one out, as they say," Mike said.

After that we drove to the Readington buffalo farm. We got lucky: the herd was grazing right next to the driveway. We drove all the way in. There's a small store back there selling buffalo burgers, buffalo sausage, buffalo jerky, t-shirts, caps, and three kinds of plush buffalo toys. I bought a $3 buffalino for Jack.

Mike asked if I ever had buffalo meat, knowing I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years. I said, "Well, there's Tofurkey. I'd try it if there were Tofuffalo."

The farm has a museum of sorts, too: a small room with a DVD on a loop, samples of horn and hide, and pictures of buffalo at glued to poster board.

I tried for one more picture as our car pulled out of the driveway. Blurry buffalo:

I'm glad we got a chance to walk around the places we usually see from the road.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Watching History Happen

I know why this donkey is smiling.

6-8 November 2008, Washington, DC

It's like getting to a party after it's pretty much over: we can see the aftermath, the lingering festive mood, a few goodies left on a table here and there.

A Union Station crewman says, "Welcome to Obama Country," and I don't know if he's talking to just the conductor or all of us. I turn and smile anyway. Jack and I drag our bags upstairs.

This is Union Station:

We head towards the line for a taxi. A woman in the queue recognizes Jack and waves us over. "Are you going to Georgetown?" After the usual formalities you get at conferences -- Where do you teach? What's your specialty? Big classes? Tenure? -- we have to ask each other the inevitable: "Where were you at 11 o'clock last Tuesday night?" and not, "Did you work on the campaign?" but, "What did you do for the campaign?"

At the front desk of the Georgetown University Conference Center hotel it's the same thing, more tales of dancing in the streets.

Out on the streets on our way to dinner with Sean, Dale, Kevin, and Rebecca, we learn that Sean owes Dale a dollar because he didn't think it could happen but it did. Dale says, "I put my 'I voted' sticker on it and hung it up."

The next day, after everyone has put in their obligatory conference time, it's off to the Smithsonian museums to be tourists with Sean and Dale. We decide on the Air and Space Museum and stand beneath Soviet missiles, jet engines, Apollo capsules ("They fit a guy in there?"), one of the Wright Brothers' flying machines.

Then there's this cool sculpture outside:

Dale shows me pictures of the 20-foot long tribute to Obama at the Lincoln Memorial and I want to go. They don't mind seeing it again, so we pile into a cab, me in amazement how far everything is from everything else, and drive through rush-hour traffic. We don't have much daylight left by the time we get there.

The tribute is easy to find: it's where the crowd is.

I zero in on the tribute. Even if I could think of something original to write, I don't know if I'd find room to put it.

Behind the tribute is the edge of the Reflecting Pool. I kneel down to catch the Washington Monument's reflection.

When I turn around I'm facing the back of the tribute. Having run out of space on the front, people are signing the wood on the back.

We climb up to the Lincoln Memorial. Near the top I turn to ask Sean, "Where's the spot that Martin Luther King--" but we're looking down and I'm standing right on it. There's an engraving in the stone step. Sean and Dale have a picture from yesterday; someone had laid flowers here then but they're gone now.

I look up and out towards the Reflecting Pool. Behind me is the memorial to Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves in 1862 and died for it. Under my feet is where Martin Luther King said, "I have a dream" in 1964, and died for it. And now it's 148 years later and 42 years later and there it is at the edge of the water, the end of something, the beginning of something, history cascading down the steps onto white panels on wood and the Washington Monument beyond. There are ripples of joy seeping into the gloom we felt for so long now that we no longer even noticed until three days ago when the gloom started to lift.

Another taxi takes us back to Georgetown where we meet up with Sharon, Nora, and Sonia on a restaurant's rooftop patio. We eat lots of skinny breadsticks. I watch the moon through the trees as it slides past half the branches and the night gets colder. Sean disappears, is gone too long, and emerges again with a Georgetown University sweatshirt for Dale. She puts it on before the shivers even happen.

The next day we pass this on our way into town:

And this, in a store window:

On a street corner is a stall selling Obama paraphernalia. Outside of Philadelphia's 30th Street Station you can buy Obama t-shirts, hats, and buttons, but this guy has Philly beat:

After filling up on Thai food, Dale, Sean, Rebecca, Jack, and I pile into yet another taxi and head for the Museum of Natural History.

We don't get too far in before we're wading into a sea of children. We get as far as the stuffed moose.

Two stuffed moose:

I duck into the gift shop to buy another stuffed moose for Jack.

There are too many people here, so we try for the minerals, give up on that, and find ourselves in the midst of dinosaurs. I like the expression on the face of this flying critter:

We give up on the Museum of Natural History and cross the mall in search of our second choice, which is closed. We wind up at the Museum of African Art.

This is a view from one of the lower levels, looking up:

On the lowest level of the museum we find an exhibit of photographs from the Civil Rights Movement. A crowd of whites taunting the first integrating high school students, a black photojournalist being beaten, a bus being burned, marches, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lying in state. I'm ashamed of what our country was, is.

The man in the gift shop upstairs had said, "There's only one picture missing. President Obama."

Back in Union Station the next morning we pass a store with a curious table outside:

If there's this, there has to be the other. I go around to the opposite side of the column to find it:

I still have my Obama pin on my denim jacket.


Three days later, at work, I run into a friend who volunteered for the campaign in Philly. He's wearing a huge Obama pin. I flash the little one still living on my fleece cover-up. "How much longer are we allowed to gloat?" I ask him.

"Forever," he says.