Sunday, July 27, 2008

Recovering in Larryville

26-27 July

I was painting the bathroom last night when Jack popped his head into the room to tell me that my father called. I figured that my aunt must’ve taken a turn for the worse. Then I realized it was more sinister than that: he’d read my blog.

After cleaning off the brushes and cleaning off myself I called him back. Indeed he’d read the bit about overtraining and had pretty much freaked out. Freaking out is usually my mother’s territory, especially if it’s something medical. This was a fitness thing, however, and my mother doesn’t know how to break a sweat.

So I had to reassure him that I hadn’t done any exercising for six days now and that the overtraining symptoms had all but disappeared. His opinion was that we cyclists are all obsessive nuts. Why did we need to go riding 70 miles anyway? Because we don’t want to drive that far, I told him. “There are parts of New Jersey people don’t know about. We have great scenery, horses, cows, sheep, a covered bridge, and even a Dutch windmill,” I added.

Not convinced I was better, he asked me to call him after tomorrow’s ride. Fine. Whatever. I hung up, pretty sure that my parents had switched skins.


Tom’s ride today is taking us to Sergeantsville via Dutchtown-Zion Road, a road we call “rude” because it starts off annoying and gets worse at the end. I’ve been up it a handful of times. I don’t worry about it anymore because I know what’s coming.

We’re starting from the D&R Canal parking lot in Rocky Hill. Henry and Irene – Wall-E and Eva now – are in the parking lot when I arrive. I’m glad, but surprised, that they’re here. Tom says, “I thought you’d be taking some time off.”

“We did,” Eva says. “Two days.”

And here I took six.

There are Anchor House riders, and then there’s the rest of us.

Cheryl’s here, too. I had to twist her arm a little.

She tells Mike M. and Tom that she found a job working from home. She’s not starting until the end of August, which gives her a month to goof off.

I tell Mike that Glenn gave my resume to the director of his group at BMS and the director wants me to come to the campus for a visit even though there aren’t any jobs open in his group right now. “That’s positive,” Mike says. I’m a complete stranger to the corporate world, so if Mike says it’s good, I’m glad to hear it.

Eddie and Artie are at the far end of the lot. The last time I saw Artie was one ride after the time his chain exploded. “You know this is dangerous having us both on the same ride,” I tell him. A year before the exploding chain he’d gone on one of my hilly rides and wound up in the hospital a few days later with chest pains. It turned out to be work-related stress and his heart was fine, but he enjoyed telling people that I’d damn near killed him.

We start by climbing out of the canal valley towards the Sourlands. It’s a gradual hill but I feel it on most days. Today I don’t. Good sign.

I feel pretty good climbing Dutchtown-Zion, too. I stay in the back, looking for the “Beware of Attack Frog” sign on one of the mailboxes by the stream. For the second time I can’t find it. The people must’ve moved, or maybe the frog died.

I pass a few people after the road gets rude. Mike M. asks how much more of this there is. “This is it,” I tell him. Around the corner Tom is ready with his camera. I give him the thumbs-up and pull to a stop next to him and Irene.

A wave of dizziness hits me and I freeze. “We need a few minutes here,” Eva calls out. Wall-E razzes me: “If this old body can do it, you certainly can.” I say nothing, waiting to find out what my body is going to do. Eva tells him, “She can’t answer you right now.”

The wave passes. Sean had warned me that I might not be fully recovered right away. I hope that’s all this is.

It turns out to be. Unlike last week, I feel no lasting effects of the wave as we continue to climb up the Sourlands, first on Hollow Road, then Long Hill towards the ridge. I feel fine. The next big hill won’t be until the end of the ride, when we go up Lindbergh. I haven’t been up that one at all this year.

Meanwhile we’re riding across the ridge towards Lambertville. I tell Eva about the BMS visit. She says I’ll get laid off. “I’ve been told that scientists are the last ones to go,” I tell her.

“Bullshit,” she says. “Do you know how many of my clients are former BMS scientists?”

“OK, well that sucks. But if I’m earning twice as much as I’m earning now I’ll be able to put money away for when I’m laid off. And then there’s the Philly wage tax.” She agrees about those things. Philadelphia takes 5% off the top and we don’t get it back even if we live out of state. I’m willing to take the gamble. “I can always go back to Penn.”

Tom takes over the ridge on Rocktown Road. Of all the times I’ve been here I’ve never taken a picture. I haven’t photographed much this close to home. I stop for some long-overdue photos.

Instead of turning onto Mount Airy Road we go down the other side of the ridge on Rocktown and turn onto Mill Road. I’ve only been here two times so I don’t remember what it looks like. Country houses are hidden in the shade. We round a corner and face a short, steep hill. From behind us Artie is cursing at his gears. He says something about an engine and flies past us, hollering, “Yah! Yah!” as he whacks his own butt as if he were a horse. We giggle our way up the hill.

At the top is a farm with a pile of hay bales partially covered in tarp next to a barn. I think about a picture, but it’s not very pretty. Eva is reading my mind: “Not so attractive when they’re like that.”

The wind is out of the west today. The gas coming off the generating station on Queen Road is particularly pungent this morning. Farther up the road Artie wonders where the “horses that look at us” are. The pasture is empty, making the barbed wire fence just look sinister. I wonder how long it takes a horse to learn what barbed wire is.

Tom turns us onto Bowne Station. This means we’ll be climbing a lot of little hills instead of the long, roller-ish ascent to Sandy Ridge. At least Bowne Station is in the shade. I haven’t been here in about a year. I still feel good, but I’m not pushing myself. I’m supposed to be taking it easy.

The hills on Buchanan don’t bother me at all.

Eddie offers us a sample of a new electrolyte tablet he’s been taking. He says he can feel the difference. I try one. “Take two. You might not feel just one.” Too much salt can be as bad as not enough. I don’t have a lot of water left anyway, so I take just one.

We ride past the Sandy Ridge cemetery and down towards the covered bridge. Cheryl and I go through the one-lane bridge. “We’re the only ones doing this, aren’t we?” I ask. “We have to. It’s tradition.” I hear someone else rattling over the wooden slats as I return on the road outside of the bridge.

This is Covered Bridge Road, the road leading to the covered bridge, but not the road the covered bridge is actually on. You need to know where you are around here.

Now we’re climbing what Eva has called “Mount Ringoes” into Sergeantsville. It’s another long one but it’s not steep. To our left is Pine Hill. I’ve heard that’s a ball-buster. The electrolytes are kicking in. I know the feeling from the few times I’ve had to take sodium chloride tablets on hot days. I sweat a lot, so I make sure to replace it with electrolyte drinks and tablets. I’ve seen how well they work, too, the most recently being that guy on the century two weeks ago.

When we pull into Sergeantsville there are a few bikers already there. I lean my bike against the stone wall. A guy in a nearby chair looks over and asks, “Does Kermit help you up the hills?”

“Naah. I wish he did. If I could figure out a way to get the breeze to move his little feet and get that to help me pedal…”

The guy says, “You know there’s no such thing as a tailwind.” He doesn’t know he’s talking to Our Lady of Perpetual Headwinds.

At the other side of the patio Blake and Little Joe are talking. The two of them got here separately, Joe riding with the guy who noticed Kermit. I ask Joe if he’s got any biking plans tomorrow with Big Joe. He does, something flat. I ask if I can tag along. “I really don’t want to go to Cranbury.” He tells me to be at Big Joe’s at 8 a.m.

I’ve got my usual coffee and homemade cherry nut bread. Cheryl is hovering around but she doesn’t snag any of my bread the way she usually does.

Sergeantsville is another place I’ve never taken pictures of. Here’s one side of the General Store:

Here’s the front. Sitting in front are Tom and Eva. Cheryl and Mike M. are behind them.

Here’s the other side of the store, the part that’s a house. It’s built into a hill so when you go upstairs to use the bathroom and look out the window you’re on street level.

Here’s a view of bustling, downtown Sergeantsville. It’s pretty busy today. There seems to be more traffic here than there used to be:

That’s the one traffic light in the whole place. It just flashes.

I decide to call my father. My mother answers the phone. “Yo. Is Dad around?”

“Yeah. He’s on the porch. What’s wrong?”


Dad picks up. “Yo, Larko!”

“Thirty-one miles down and I’m fine. We’re at the rest stop. I feel fine. I just had some coffee and some homemade cherry nut bread and we’re about to leave.”

“That’s your problem. You eat too much.”

“Hey! How dare you!” All my life it’s been my mother’s job to tell me I eat too much. They’ve definitely switched skins, or they’re both sharing hers. He has no idea, of course, just how much you have to eat on a long ride. I’ve tried not eating. It doesn’t work. We don’t let people not eat at rest stops. On last year’s first century I figured out that I ate over a thousand calories during the ride. We’re going half that distance today and I’ll be doing it on a couple hundred calories of homemade bread, a few Shot Bloks, and a heavy dose of caffeine.

“OK, then. You drink too much coffee.”

“This is my first cup in days.” I never drink coffee on a Friday. I need the caffeine to pack its full punch on Saturday. Better to dry out during the week.

“I gotta go,” I tell him.

I eat too much, huh? Well, I have to keep my well-padded-tank-with-boobs figure somehow, don’t I? Note to the parental units: be careful what you say while I’m on a ride. If I’m in bike shorts anything anyone says is fair game for the blog.

Wall-e and Eva are finally feeling last week’s 500 miles. They’re taking Tom’s cue sheet and heading back on their own at a slower pace.

When we cross Route 31 Tom turns onto Dutch Road. Artie and Eddie peel off. There are a few more hills that way. Artie just wants to head up Lindbergh and go home. Now there are just five of us and I’m the slowest.

We turn onto Back Brook Road, which parallels Wertsville. I’ve only been up here once. Cheryl and I are pretty sure this will dump us out on Bad Manners Road. “You know there’s a big hill on Manners, right?” Cheryl and I are asking him this at the same time.

“Well, it’ll be a warm-up for Lindbergh,” he says, but he says his map shows us not winding up on Manners.

So much for knowing every road around here. Tom is right: we wind up on Van Lieus. I know what’s coming. I tell Cheryl, “You don’t like this road.” It has a couple of short, steep hills, the kind that annoy the heck out of her. She starts to remember.

Tom and I stop for a photo at the top of the hill.

We turn onto Wertsville. There’s a farm on the left that’s just begging to be in a picture. I pull off and tell everyone I’ll catch up.

By the time I’m finished the group is out of sight. I turn onto Lindbergh in time to see them disappearing up the first part of the hill.

Lindbergh is another slice of bucolic splendor but I’m not stopping on this hill. On my right is an open field. To my left are overgrown shrubs. There’s probably another farm behind them. The road descends a little, over a stream and under the trees before it ascends again. I look out of my rear-view mirror. I can just barely see the next ridge through the trees.

Not long from now the road is going to get steeper. I keep track of mail box numbers. I’m in the forties now. The steep stuff is around sixty-four, or maybe seventy-two. Anyhow it starts or ends at one of those.

I have a good climbing song in my head: Taj Mahal’s “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond,” a rolling blues number, live. The best part is when he sings, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Get your ass into it! Hallelujah! Shake it!”

When that ends I’m just about at mailbox sixty-four. Onto Peter Gabriel’s “Kiss That Frog.” For the first time I’m enjoying climbing this hill. I can’t see anyone ahead of me. Everything’s so quiet. I know where to go from here if I don’t catch the rest of the crew.

By the time I get to the song’s bridge I’m passing mailbox seventy-two. The steepest part is over. A few more twists and I pass everyone waiting for me at Ridge Road. I keep pedaling. There’s still more Lindbergh to tackle.

“You didn’t have to wait, guys. I was getting a picture.”

“That’s OK, Tom says.”

As I pass, he says, “She’s not stopping. She’s too macho to stop.”

“I have to make up for last week.”

“What happened last week?” Cheryl wants to know. I forgot to email her the blog while her internet connection isn’t letting her get to a lot of pubic sites. I guess I forgot to tell her, too. “I had to stop on a hill.”

We turn on Zion and fly down the hill, then turn onto Hollow and fly some more.

The wind is at our backs on Camp Meeting. Tom proposes doing an extra six-mile loop up Georgetown Road by the canal. Nobody seems to want to go. “I’m supposed to be taking it easy,” I tell him.

Allen says, “I noticed.”

“My father says we’re all obsessive nuts.”

“When people say I’m crazy I just say –”

“—Well, yeah!” we say in unison.

He’s worse than I am, though. He proceeds to tell me about the time he took his bike with him on a cruise to Bermuda. “People gave me strange looks when I wheeled my bike up the ramp. They wanted to know what I was going to do with it. I told them I was going to ride laps around the ship.” He rode laps around the island of Bermuda instead.

I stop for more pictures at the corner of Orchard and Burnt Hill. I tell the group not to wait. Dustin’s map has an exclamation point near this intersection, but I’ve never really looked at it until now. So here are some more pictures of close-to-home places we pass all the time:

A mile down the road Mike and Tom are waiting. Cheryl and Allen have gone on. “You didn’t have to wait,” I say again, and again Tom says it’s okay. Opossum Road is an annoying little stretch because it’s uphill and we always hit it at the end of a ride. But I’m feeling pretty good and it doesn’t bother me.

Tom laments that we’re going to finish with only fifty-four miles. “It’s a bit short,” he says. Crazy Season lives.


Sean, a former marathoner and triathlete, warned me by email that after a week of rest, “just do not be surprised if you are not completely zippity-do-dah in a week.”

I certainly felt “zippity-do” today, but not so much “dah” until I had that coffee.


There’s rain in the forecast for Sunday afternoon and Big Joe wants to get home early. I ride over to his house for an 8 a.m. start. There’s nobody on the road. Even Route 31 is empty when I cross it.

Big Joe, just back from a trip to Cape Cod, comes out of his driveway and gives me a Terrorist Fist Jab. He says we’re going to Rocky Hill.

I wonder how we’re going to get up there without climbing. Little Joe says that what Big Joe calls hills are things we don’t even notice we’re climbing.

And that’s what happens. We get all the way to the Great Road without hitting any of the usual major inclines along the way. I’m impressed.

“We’re going to the crazy place,” Big Joe says. The North Princeton Developmental Center, a sprawling complex of decaying buildings and toxic waste that once housed mentally disturbed boys. Now it’s abandoned, save for a brand spanking-new elementary school in the center of what would make a perfect setting for a horror movie. Soon the buildings will be razed to be replaced by a huge housing development. Already the side roads are blocked off, keeping us from pavements cracked and sprouting knee-high grasses.

I’m going to take pictures of what we can still see before all the creepy is plowed under.

“I wonder what it does to those kids to be going to school in the middle of this place,” I say to the Joes as I catch up at the edge of the elementary school. Big Joe says, “We were wondering the same thing.” They’ll probably be his patients in ten years.

The way out is blocked off. We duck under the tape and continue on our way, past shiny white tarps covering mounds of anyone’s guess.

We stop at the Wawa in Rocky Hill. I get some iced coffee and root around for a decent muffin. I’m halfway out the door when Cheryl, in biking gear, is halfway in. It takes me a second to remember that she’s not on our ride today, another half to wonder whom she’s riding with instead, and another full second to notice the sandals on her feet and remember that she’s teaching two Spinning classes this morning at the gym down the road. “The next class is at ten,” she says. I don’t even know what time it is.

She joins us outside, having just enough time to snag some of my muffin stump. Ride muffins have to have a Cheryl to eat their stumps. That’s the rule. She hurries off, coffee in hand.

Big Joe gives us the rest of the route: “We’re doing the Real Estate Ride followed by the Institution Ride.” He takes us onto Prospect Street in Princeton, where each of the houses could easily swallow three of mine. We pass cross streets called “Castle Howard” and “Prince William.” I scoff at it. Little Joe says, “How pretentious.” I wonder why we weren’t asked to show our tax returns before entering this neighborhood. We’re parallel to Route 27, Princeton’s main drag, but it’s silent here.

We turn into Princeton University property. At the end is a concrete wall on either side of the road, a grand entrance trying very hard, like the rest of the campus, to look like something in England. Give it up already: this is New Jersey.

The plan is to head towards my house to drop me off. We get onto the marked bike route on Princeton Pike. The northern end begins just north of the Lawrenceville border. The southern end peters out just before the I-95 overpass.

“We’re leaving the land of the haves and entering the land of the have-nots,” I explain. “The highway is the divide.”

Little Joe says, “One of my friends calls this side of town ‘Larryville.’”

“That’s perfect! I’m going to have to steal that.”

Joe says his friend picked it up from other people. I wonder why it’s taken me nearly nine years to learn it. Larry it is, too downmarket to go by the full ‘Lawrence.”

We turn into my neighborhood. “I have to do another half mile to get to forty,” so I take them in a big circle. Big Joe calls it another Real Estate ride. Our development was one of the early post-World War II suburbs, built in the mid-1950s. There are only a handful of models, but time and multiple owners have changed so many of them that it takes a keen eye to pick out which houses are clones of others. I get the half mile and send the Joes on their way home.

Jack is on the rowing machine when I walk in the house. “Get rained out?” he asks. I’m never back this early.

“Joe needed to be home by eleven.” What time is it anyway? I peek at the oven clock. 10:45. That’s, like, the whole day left. Cool. I’ll get some blogging in.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


20 July

This is the time of year when I’m usually out of the country for two weeks. This year our travel money went to much-needed work on the house. So instead of spending a couple of weeks off the bike and away from the gym I’ve continued on my usual workout routine: biking long distances on the weekends and Spinning and weight lifting at the gym during the week.

Over the winter I never stopped cycling outdoors. When temperatures permitted, I’d go with a group of hearty friends for a 45-miler in the hills or on a 50-miler to New Egypt. On colder days I’d join an even heartier group for a few hours on our mountain bikes in the Pinelands. And then there was the gym, always the gym, during the week, with occasional guidance from a trainer who found pleasure in pushing my muscles to their limit.

When the weather got warmer, my rides got longer and hillier. This year I found bigger hills sooner and tackled them more often. By June I had lost count of the number of metric centuries I’d completed.

And I wasn’t the toughest one out there, either. Some people were training for the Longest Day by riding centuries every weekend. Even more were training for the 500-mile, week-long Anchor House ride from Vermont to Trenton. They’d find every hill within fifty miles of the Delaware River and climb each one over and over again, seventy miles at a time, every weekend. Compared to these people I was a downright wimp.

I was doing pretty well. I even survived a relentlessly hilly metric in early June on a day where the heat index topped one hundred degrees. Sure, I was tired at the end, but I walked away from it convinced I was ready for the American Cancer Society century in July.

Then something started to happen at the gym, as it seems to do every summer: I couldn’t get my heart rate up in Spinning class. No matter how fast I spun, no matter how much resistance I put on the bike, my heart rate refused to go over 75% maximum. I was shooting for 80%, even 85%, but it just wouldn’t happen. I expected this because I figured I was training for endurance outdoors. The only time I could get anaerobic anymore was on a big hill. When this starts to happen it’s usually around the time I take a vacation anyway. But not this year.

Things got worse. I got a sinus infection. I stopped being able to sleep through the night. I got an ear infection. I started falling asleep on the train home from work. I got another sinus infection. I felt draggy at work during the day and wired at night. I felt nauseated a lot.

In spite of all of this, I completed the American Cancer Society century at more or less the same pace I handle any other century. I went to the gym two days later and was surprised to find that my starting heart rate was higher than usual. But it still wouldn’t budge over 75%.

Then yesterday I tackled a hilly ride on another hot day. There was nothing on this ride I hadn’t been able to handle a month before. Yet my heart rate went so high in the middle of a hill that I felt nauseous and dizzy and had to stop, something I haven’t had to do on a hill since my early cycling days. I felt dizzy and shaky for many miles after that, and had to sit by the side of the road at the top of a much gentler hill twenty miles later. It wasn’t the heat. “Something’s definitely wrong,” I said.

Last night I didn’t sleep through. In the early hours of the morning I strapped on my heart rate monitor and went back to sleep. When I woke again I checked my resting heart rate. It was 9 beats per minute higher than the last time I’d checked it.

Something is definitely wrong, and I know what it is: I’m overtrained.

A quick search on the web reveals a host of overtraining symptoms, not all of which I have:

persistent fatigue (yep);
elevated resting heart rate (uh-huh);
muscle soreness (now that you mention it…);
increased infection susceptibility (got it);
increased incidence of injuries (dodged that bullet);
irritability (nope – the hills are too pretty for that);
depression (see above);
loss of motivation (see above);
insomnia (in spades);
decreased appetite (I wish);
decreased sexual performance (none of your business!);
weight loss (they say that like it’s a bad thing);
increased cortisol (stress hormone) levels (beats me);
headaches (no more than usual);
sudden inability to complete workouts (do big hills count?)
inability to concentrate (do boring meetings at work count?)

All the articles I read say the same thing: to overcome overtraining, you need to REST. I know this is difficult for us to accept and even tougher to do. But for someone who has been experiencing overtraining symptoms for even four weeks, as little as five days off can be enough to give the body time to repair damaged muscles and reduce stress.

So, as of this writing I hereby swear off my bike and the gym for a week. I will test my waking heart rate at the end of the week and decide what to do from there. Meanwhile, I hope to start sleeping through the night and to get a lot of stuff done that I just haven’t had time to do for the past few months.

I know there are a lot of you out there who could use some time away from the bike. Do yourself a favor and get a little rest. We have the Princeton Event century coming up in a few weeks. Let’s be ready for it.

For more in-depth reading on overtraining, see:

Listen To Your Body

19 July 2008


(For Tom's take on the day, and for more pictures, go to his blog entry)

Ah, yes, another ride from Frenchtown to a reservoir on a day that promises to boil asphalt right off the roads. At least I’m used to it now.

This one isn’t mine, though. It’s Michael H’s. He and Tom did this last year when Tom was scouting locations for his NJ ride book.

I spent yet another night not being able to sleep all the way through, and my guts are a little angry again this morning, but I’m really looking forward to this ride. Michael and Tom pick the best scenery.

I give myself an hour to get up to Frenchtown, and I need it. On Route 31 I’m stuck behind a line of cars following a Readington Farms tractor-trailer. This puts me in a good mood, though, because I’ve passed Readington Farms on my way to and from Oldwick. You can smell the milk being processed as you pedal by on Mill Road just north of Whitehouse Station. When I turn onto Route 12 I get stuck behind a massive piece of farm equipment on a flatbed trailer. There’s no way to get to Frenchtown from Lawrence without being stuck on a single-lane road somewhere, so even though I’m nervous about getting to the ride on time, I sit back, listen to my music, and enjoy the farms stretching out on both sides of the road.

I pull into the Bridge Café parking lot with ten minutes to spare. Tom’s car is next to mine. “It looks like it’s gonna be another death march,” he says.


I run to the bathroom again, trying to get rid of whatever it is that doesn’t want to be in me right now.

We gather in the lower parking lot next to the canal. There are thirteen people here but I know only a few: Tom, Thom, Michael, and Glenn. There look to be a handful of strong strangers, too. You know the type: the leggy guys with no body fat and close-cropped hair that never shows from under the helmets.

Michael pulls me aside. He gives me some ride leader updates and then tells me not to be nervous. He scolds me for telling Marilyn that his rides are tougher than mine. I still think they are. Mine are longer, and a little faster, sure, but he puts in bigger hills, and more of them.

He gathers the group and describes the route. We’ll be going first to the Merrill Creek reservoir for a water stop, climbing the biggest hill before we get there. Tom says that he and I will be stopping on the hill for pictures.

Then we’re going to Bloomsbury for a real rest stop, and heading home after that.

We start the ride along the Delaware river, heading north. Coming south in a steady trickle are Anchor House riders, bound for Lawrenceville on their last day. Each group we pass we greet with “Congratulations!” I’m keeping my eye out for Irene and Henry.

We’re near Milford when I spot them, Henry in the lead. “Wall-E! Eva!” I shout, over and over again until they see who we are and cheer back at us. They made it. Those guys are tough. I envy their strength and endurance. I can’t get my head around a 500-mile week. I’d be a stressed-out wreck from January until the end of the ride.

A few miles later we pass a big group shouting to us. I recognize Bill at the end but I’ve completely missed Bob and Barb at the front. After that we see nobody but strangers. Glenn is calling out, “Congratulations!” to all of them.

Somewhere near the river there’s a small pileup as a handful of riders miss a turn. One guy falls and scrapes his elbow. A pick-up truck pulls up next to him and we see him walk to the house we’re standing in front of. The guy in the truck sends him inside and he cleans up. We munch on snacks while we wait.

I’m riding next to Glenn, whom I haven’t seen for a few weeks. He’s been a big help, whipping my resume in shape, giving me the inside story of life at BMS. I’ve found two job leads online and another through a Sierra Club friend. Glenn knows the group advertising the online leads and likes them a lot. He wants to give them my resume and to send it to HR next week while I apply online this weekend.

Now he’s telling me the story of his 94-year-old Floridian uncle who just got his drivers license renewed for eleven years without having to take a driving test.

I’ve lost track of where we are. Nothing has been familiar since we pulled away from the river. Now we’re turning onto Montana Road. Tom says, “It’s like two Lindberghs.” We will climb 600 feet in a few miles. The beginning isn’t much at all, but I’m not feeling quite right. My guts are churning. I don’t seem to have my usual power. I pull out a few Shot Bloks. They’ve always done the trick.

The road goes into the woods, dark and winding. We spread out and I find myself alone in the middle of the pack. Tom stops by a creek ahead of me but I want to keep going. “Send me the picture,” I call out as I pass him.

The road curves. I’m not feeling well at all. My heart rate must be too high. I feel nauseous, which only happens when I go over 180 beats per minute, and which doesn’t happen often at all. Should I push on? If I do, will I blow up and be unable to climb for the rest of the ride? It happened to me in 2000 in the first five minutes of a hilly ride and I don’t want to repeat that. Should I stop? I don’t stop on hills. I haven’t stopped on a hill since 2005 in Germany, and even then I was practically at the top. What the heck is going on here?

I look up and see another short, steep rise. My body decides for me what to do. I clip out. I wimp out.

Might as well get some pictures to document my defeat. I’m next to a stream hidden by undergrowth.

I look behind me. Two more people are stopped below me. I look above as another rider passes. My breathing slows but my hands shake as I take pictures:

Tom comes around the bend. I get back on the bike to time it so I can ride beside him as he passes. I’m ashamed that I’ve stopped. He says, “That’s about where I stopped last year.”

“Something’s wrong,” I tell him. “I don’t stop on hills. I think I’m gonna throw up.”

The rise levels out. I could have made it this far, I think to myself, and then I could have been okay. Now I’ll have to come back and do this hill again.

At the top as we gather to wait for everyone I’m still not feeling right. We’re a few miles from the Merrill Creek reservoir. I hang near the back.

At Merrill Creek reservoir we fill up on water. I take a salt tablet. Still shaky, I’m talking to one of the fast guys about overtraining. He tells me to check my heart rate first thing in the morning. I haven’t done that in a few years. I think I know what I’ll find. I’ve already looked up the symptoms and I have at least half of them: persistent infections, fatigue, insomnia, low workout heart rates, and gut trouble. It wouldn’t surprise me if my heartbeat were too high too.

I find a place to sit next to a pile of tall guys. We look down at the reservoir, listening to birds, catching our breath, talking about movies, rehydrating. Glenn hears a hummingbird. Michael calls us back to our bikes. I run to the bathroom one more time but I don’t feel any better.

Now we’re going down a long hill in the shade, and then up again to an open rise. At the top Tom has stopped for pictures. I join him.

“I’ve been looking at the blog photos,” I tell him. “It’s either very cloudy or super-hazy.” Tom says he doctors his pictures to remove the haze. I leave my cell phone shots the way they are. The sky is a blue-gray haze, but the cell phone just remembers the blue:

Tom says we have one more hill to climb before Bloomsbury, but it won’t be bad. We're going to Asbury. I stay in low gear at the back of the pack. Often when I rest like this I get my mojo back on the next hill. As for now I have no power and the nausea has been replaced by a steady ache in my stomach.

But I’m not in a bad mood. No way. It’s just too darn pretty up here to be distracted by anything like a stomach ache. I have no idea where we are. North of Route 78 somewhere, where the real hills are. Hunterdon County? Warren County? Which side of the Musconetcong are we on? If we crossed it I wasn’t paying attention. The hill to Asbury dives into the trees. The shade feels good.

When we reach Bloomsbury (Hunterdon County now), I’m hungry and nauseated at the same time. I order a PB&J, grab some iced tea, and find a seat. We take our time. Three of the fast guys say their goodbyes. As we get back on our bikes I tell Michael that even though I feel bad I’m not in a bad mood. “This is a beautiful ride. If you’re gonna be miserable, you might as well have good scenery.” I’m looking at the goldfish pond in front of the store. Michael says we have 20 miles to go. “It’s going to be a metric,” he says. That’s OK by me.

We have one last hill to climb to get out of the Musconetcong River valley. Michael has picked the gentlest way out, a road called Tunnel. It’s wide, flat, and shaded, a five-hundred foot climb that Tom says we won’t even notice.

I’m in my lowest gear just spinning. Glenn is next to me, telling stories from his days as a rest stop worker on the Iditerod. His brother, who lives in Alaska, is a musher. He has such interesting relatives. By the time he finishes his story I can see a stop sign sign between the trees. It’s just a sign that a stop sign is coming, but it’s a good sign nonetheless. I speed up a little but Glenn calls me back. We come up to another rider. I tell him, “I have to make a gluteal adjustment but I don’t want to stop pedaling.” He laughs over my choice of words.

We’re not the last ones up. I take the time to catch my breath. A wave of nausea washes over me. “I’m gonna throw up,” I announce. Glenn holds Kermit and I sit by the side of the road in pine needles waiting for the wave to pass. I chatter to distract myself. Tom tells me that we’ve climbed some big hills today. “Nothing I haven’t done this year,” I tell him.

“It’s hot,” he says.

“I did the double reservoir ride in worse, and there were more hills. Something’s definitely wrong. My stomach hasn’t been right for a week. There’s definitely something wrong.”

We’re waiting for Michael. “Should we call him?” I ask. Just then he pulls up. “I had a stomach cramp,” he says. Tom looks at me, “See? You’re not the only one.”

I stand up and immediately regret the decision. I join another guy leaning against a wooden fence. In a few seconds I reach for the bike.

It’s all downhill from here anyway.

We take one of Michael’s favorite roads: Sweet Hollow. He once said that any road with the name “Hollow” in it is going to be pretty. So far he’s been right because there’s usually a stream on one side of the road. Sweet Hollow dives down from Swinesburg (Garden State Stomp!) to Little York, under a canopy of trees, following the Hakihokake Creek down towards Frenchtown.

We turn onto Spring Mills-Little York Road and things start to look familiar. We’re in Double Reservoir Ride territory and we have to make a decision.

The plan was to turn down Javes, but when I’d tried to get on it in June one of the bridges was out. Tom says he got across the supposedly closed bridge only a few weeks ago. Michael decides we’ll try it, but if we can’t cross the bridge we’re not climbing all the way back up here. There’s really no other choice but to do that or wade across the creek.

Tom says, “I’ll lie down and you can ride over me. It won’t be the first time.”

“The first time it’s on purpose,” I clarify.

Javes picks up where Sweet Hollow left off, crossing tributaries and following the Hakihokake Creek.

The guy in the Lehigh jersey and I are first to get to what’s left of the bridge. “Tom better have some pretty long arms,” I say. There’s nothing but nothing where the concrete span used to be. “Let’s wade across.”

We lift our bikes onto our shoulders and walk through high weeds to the bank. The water
is shallow, the stream bed stony. The cold water feels good on our feet.

There’s a sign on a tree telling us that the creek is stocked with trout. “This water is very clean,” I announce. Tom says, “Not anymore after what’s washed off my shoes.”

I rest Kermit on some stones near a bridge support and take out my cell phone. “I’m getting pictures of this, Tom.”

He takes out his camera. “How often do you get to take a picture of a stream from in it?” he asks. I take pictures from under the steel supports.

Someone gets a flat while carrying his bike. Maybe he just hit the valve, but he changes the tube anyway. We stand in the shade, our wet feet cooling us off. Here’s the bridge from the downhill side.

The Guy Who Fell says to me, “You seem to have recovered.”

“That’s ’cause we’re going downhill and flat. If I had to push right now I’d probably fall over.”

We turn onto Milford-Frenchtown Road with only five miles left to go. I’m in the back of the line when I feel a second wind coming on. I jump to the front. Ahead of me are the Guy Who Fell and the Lehigh guy. I catch up with them and we rotate pulls back into town. I tell the Guy Who Fell, “I guess I did recover.”

By the time I’ve changed clothes the people in the lower parking lot have gone home. Only Tom and the Guy Who Fell remain. I call home.

We’re on for dinner with Kevin and Rebecca in Belmar at 6. It’s 3:30. I’ll just about have time to shower. I buy a drink and two cookies at the Bridge Street Café, wash my face and arms, pull a mug of coffee from my backpack, and head home.

The caffeine makes me even more jittery, of course. I have 45 minutes to think about what happened today and what I’m going to do about it. Clearly I need to check my resting heart rate as soon as I wake up tomorrow morning. I’ll put the heart rate monitor on the nightstand when I get home. And I’ll have to take some time off for sure. I want to do Tom’s ride next Saturday. That gives me six days off. No biking. No Spinning. No lifting. Nothing. I’ll have to read more about overtraining, too. And blog about it.

As Cheryl is fond of saying, “Listen to your body.”


I have just enough time to shower and send an email to Michael and Glenn thanking them for the ride and for distracting me. I down some milk, grab one of the Frenchtown cookies, fill a bottle with water, and jump in the car with my hair still wet.

After my first bike trip to Belmar, Chris asked me what I thought of the place. “Well,” I said, “It lacks the charm of Cape May and the nudity of Sandy Hook.” Numerous trips later my mind hasn’t changed.

We arrive in Belmar minutes after Kevin and Rebecca do.

I’ve biked down here enough times to be convinced that there is nothing at all redeeming about Belmar. I doubt that dinner at Klein’s fish market will change my mind. It doesn’t, not least because I’m vegetarian. It’s hot, crowded, loud, and the Shark River has been completely removed from nature. Save for a few gulls, the rest is concrete, bridges, and tourist boats making noise. Klein’s does make some good cole slaw, though, and the pasta is tasty. I’m finally just hungry now, and I clear my plate.

Rebecca suggests we take one car and drive over the Shark River drawbridge to Bradley Beach, where she spent every childhood summer at her grandmother’s house.

First we walk along the boardwalk. I take a few pictures that come out blurry as the light fades:

We cross the main street. To the west beach houses stand choc-a-bloc against each other like a walled city. At least the sunset is pretty.

This isn’t really fair; I’m comparing the architecture to Cape May and the beach to Sandy Hook. Belmar and Bradley Beach just can’t compete. Where Sandy Hook is a state park running wild with au natural bathers and au natural beach vegetation (even cacti), Belmar looks like an inner city plunked down near a nearly duneless beach. Where Cape may is proud of its Victorian architecture and bird sanctuaries (I can think of three off the top of my head), Bradley Beach has, well, a boardwalk. But this place is full of memories for Rebecca; coming here has stepped her back in time and that’s worth more to her right now than anything.

Rebecca takes us to an ice cream parlor one town over, in Ocean Grove. I go inside to buy candy sticks to save for later. Jack and Kevin get sticky from their ice cream; Rebecca and I manage to stay clean.

We walk on to Asbury Park. I ask Jack for one of the candy sticks I’d asked him to hold for me. “Hmm, watermelon?”

“Scallop,” he says.

Green apple.

There’s something surreal about this edge of town. The skeleton of a casino stands next to an abandoned, looming concrete bath house. I prefer Asbury to Asbury Park.

We walk through it, smelling the air of has-been and surreal.

On the other side is a strip of stores, one of which is a candy shop. I have to go in, of course. I get salt water taffy, which is the most cliché thing one can do during a day-trip to the beach. Jack, Rebecca, and Kevin are sitting on a bench facing the ocean.

I get my candy sticks back and open another one. “Carp,” I say to Rebecca. Watermelon.

It’s time to head back to the car. Over the ocean the moon is rising, a misshapen orange ball on the water. Everyone walking on the boardwalk stops and stares. I take out my cell phone, knowing full well I won’t capture the moment.

(There's only so much a watered-down version of Photoshop can do with a bad cell phone photo.)

We walk on. I pull out the last candy stick. “Octopus, I think.” Lemon.

Irene's Final Anchor House Photos

The Anchor House riders are home. It wasn't until this year that I learned that fully one third of the money for the Anchor House for Runaways comes from the annual 500-mile ride. Youse guys did good.

Here's Irene's last installment:

"The accordionista serenading us on top of the hill at the ice cream stop on day 6"

"Us'm crossing over into NJ on the pedestrian bridge at the Delaware Water Gap"

"Sunrise Over the Delaware Water Gap"

"That's it for pix from AH Ride 2008. Glad to have done it, feeling proud of ourselves, glad to be home 8:08 a.m. 7/20/08"

Friday, July 18, 2008

One More Message from Irene

Sent: 7/18/08
6:39 p.m.
To: Irene Hilem
Message: 1 more day!

Received: 7/18/08
7:33 pm
From: Irene Hilem
Message: Eee-va! Wall-e come home!

If you saw the Trenton Times today, you saw Henry and Irene among a crowd of cyclists on the Susquehanna bridge. Henry's easy to pick out. He's the tall one. Irene's easy to find, too: she matches Henry.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Irene's Tour de Vache Continues

The first message from Irene this morning was, "Crossed the PA state line at 9 am -- travellling south thru the Poconos on SR 92. Lotsa hills."

The next message included a photo of yet another piece of bovine art they passed by in Binghamton, NY yesterday:

Today they crossed the Susquehanna:

And later on Irene wrote, "We climbed this sucker. Done the Hill Slugs proud."

Mike B., who has been hearing from Theresa, wrote to me today: "It’s even worse than you think for the Anchor House people. There is a vomit virus going around this year. Theresa tells me that starting with Barb Clancy three of her room mates have gotten really sick. It has spread to other riders and the sag staff."

Barb was "one of the first to go down so she is ok now," he added later.

I texted Irene to find out if she and Henry were okay.

She wrote back, "We're fine, the SAG stops have gone to complete panic & have tongs or toothpicks everywhere (but they don't use gloves in food prep)"

For those of us reading about this from home, we're still mystified as to why these people do this ride. It's for a good cause and all, but geez!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Crazy Season Part III: Irene Sends Pictures from Anchor House

16 July 2008

Benny says it's Lazy Season. He and Burnaby are having a tummy-off. It's a draw.

OK, unless you’re riding Anchor House this week, you’re not allowed to complain about hills for the rest of the season.

While I was riding a cushy, flat, century, Irene, Henry, Theresa, Barb, Bob, and Garey were hauling themselves over the Vermont hills. Then they pulled themselves over the Adirondacks. Maybe they’re tackling the Appalachians today, I have no idea.

But Irene has been sending me cell phone pictures daily.

On Saturday there was a motorcycle escort out of Trenton:

Sunday gave them a sampling of local bovine art:

This last one, Irene says, is "high class bovine art."

Monday she sent a picture from Saratoga County:

Tuesday they suffered, with a 14-mile ascent being the easy part:

But at least the bovinity was real:

As were the Amish:

Today the art switched from cows to trucks:

Irene assures me that she and Henry are dutifully sampling the local ales, which, she says, are very good.

What mountain range will these intrepid Anchor House riders conquer tomorrow? Stay tuned.