Sunday, September 19, 2010

Introducing Miss Piggy

She has my hair.

18 September 2010

Friday was a good day. First, I accepted a job offer, then I handed in my resignation, and after that I went to pick up my new bike, a Cannondale Synapse in black, white, and don't-run-over-me green..

There's a huge backstory to the job thing that will probably never see the light of day. The quick version is that, after a dozen years of 3-hour round-trips to work, my commute will be a mere fifteen minute drive each way.

Anyway, my world was feeling a little surreal by Friday afternoon. I made it to Hart's with ten minutes to spare before closing time only to discover that Ross had forgotten to order the pedals. "Tell ya what," he said. "Go home, get your other bike, and we'll swap." But that would take at least half an hour. "Don't worry. I'll be here," he told me. The joint was jumping at 6:00.

So I went home, pulled the wheels off of Gonzo, and stuffed the frame in the trunk. Gonzo, whom I considered selling to make room for Miss Piggy, is going to be my commuter bike.

It was a race against sunset as Ross and I tweaked a few things. I rode through the back end of Pennington, grinning like a fool.

Miss Piggy's real debut would have to wait til Sunday, though. Tomorrow was Tom's Sandy Hook ride. Long and flat, it was no place to test a bicycle tricked-out for climbing.

I took Miss Piggy home. Jack was in NYC. Cheryl and I went out to dinner to celebrate my new life. Jack was home when I got home. We watched TV as I adorned Miss Piggy with her saddlebag of tubes and levers and added a small pack for the top tube to hold my camera. I hung the pump on the top tube but I didn't like the aesthetics of it.

What I needed was a pump holder that fit to the side of the bottle cage, not instead of it. I looked over at Gonzo and poached his. Now he was upside-down, wheel-less, missing pedals, minus a pump, and short a bottle cage. With a dropped chain, too. Some commuter bike!

By now I'd spent an hour and a half messing with my new toy. I couldn't just leave her til Sunday. I sent an email to Cheryl and Blake. "I'm going with you," I told them.

Blake is one of those guys who could kick my ass with one leg tied behind his back. But he's not like that. He's that rare breed of speed without attitude. And he loves to climb.

We started in Lambertville and took the river bridge in the town of Stockton. I've never done that; I've always crossed at Bulls Island, a few miles north.

Blake posed for scale. "So you don't think it's the Walt Whitman," he said. That's Cheryl up ahead.

We'd only gone a few miles when I decided that my seat was too low. I'd brought the wrong size Allen wrench, but Cheryl had a tool kit. I dropped the seat by two millimeters and it felt perfect. (When I got home I measured it against Kermit and found that I'd gotten the height exactly right.)

Here's a picture of the wooded side of Fleecydale Road.

Here's a cottage farther up the hill:

In Carversville we turned onto Wismer, which starts with a short, steep climb. I dropped into a low gear and shouted, "Go, Pig!" as I felt myself zipping up the hill ahead of Cheryl and Blake.

I wasn't anticipating the rest of the road, which levels out then becomes a slow climb that's probably a mile long. I decided to switch into the smallest ring. Big mistake. I lost all momentum before I'd caught my breath. Afraid I'd drop my chain if I changed front gears on a hill, I had to turtle along until I went aerobic again. Blake and Cheryl passed me, standing as I stayed seated. Lesson learned: I don't know how to use a granny gear.

At the top Blake stopped at a turn and was surprised when I didn't. He said, "I thought for sure you'd want a picture."

"Of what?"

"The farm," he said. I hadn't even noticed.


We were up on the ridge west of the Delaware River. To get back to Uhlerstown by the water, Blake decided to take Uhlerstown Road. It intrigued him, he said, because Google Maps says the road is closed between December and April.

The reason was obvious right away. I took this picture near the top. Things only got narrower, steeper, and more full of gravel after this. I was too busy grabbing the brakes to grab my camera. I had to hold Miss Piggy back; she really wanted to go. Now I know why Tom fell on his Synapse.

At the bottom of the hill is a covered bridge by the Delaware Canal. I took pictures of it back in the spring when I went walking on the canal with Jack, Gordon, and Terry. I can't find the blog post at the moment, but it's in there somewhere.

Miss Piggy takes a break in Frenchtown:

Climbing Horseshoe Bend, Blake disappeared ahead of us. "He says he wants more climbing gears," I said, "but what we really need to do is take some gears away from him."

On the Jersey side, descending Locktown-Sergeantsville Road:

Cheryl and I were pretty trashed by the time the ride was over. Miss Piggy's cables were stretched to the point that some of the smaller gears were useless.

Cheryl went home to take care of the dogs. Blake and I walked over to Rojo's for lunch. We hung out there for a while and ran into the same bikers we'd seen in Frenchtown.

On my way home I stopped by Hart's to get Miss Piggy's cables adjusted.

I didn't feel tired anymore. We'd climbed about three thousand feet in forty miles, which is on the low end of elevation and distance for a Hill Slug ride. Still, it should have been enough to make my legs a little sore. But that never happened. The next day I took Kermit to the Freewheeler's picnic ride, where we dropped the hammer on Route 524.

Up next: Will OLPH reveal why she quit her Philly job? Or will she just keep posting pictures of asphalt, trees, and the Raritan River? Stay tuned. She might even be leading a ride next month...

Round Valley, The Road Less Graveled, and Other Attempts at Real Photography

4, 5, and 6 September 2010 (written 19 September 2010)

I've often complained here about how tough it is to get pictures of the Round Valley Reservoir from the road. So when Jack and I went to the reservoir to hike the perimeter trail, I took my little camera with me.

The Cushetunk Trail is nine miles long in one direction; it doesn't loop back or connect to anything else. Nor, as we found out, does it afford many views of the reservoir. After an hour we weren't much past where the trail parallels the road; we saw more of the road than we did of the reservoir. We turned around.

The best views are in the first half mile or so:

After that, it pretty much looks like this:

A downed tree bends a fence:

It doesn't look like much from here, but this is a section of the Best Downhill Ever, the road that snakes its way up to the western end of Round Valley Reservoir:

That damned fence gets in the way again:

You can't get there from here: a view through the fence:

More trail, more fence (keeping us on the outside of the mysterious Youth Center):

This was the steepest section we encountered. I took this picture on our way back. The black blob on the bottom right edge is the head of a friendly dog:

More reservoir through the trees:

The following day, Tom and I finally got around to doing our long talked-about picture-taking ride. Jeff came along just for fun, and displayed boundless patience as Tom and I acted like tourists.

I decided to take my digital SLR camera out of the house for the first time. I bought it to take pictures of my jewelry, and that's all I've used it for so far. I did remember to remove the macro lens, but I didn't remember to reset the film speed to something more more suitable to a sunny day than 1600. I might have noticed this after the first few shots, but, because it was so sunny out, I couldn't see the display screen very well, and didn't bother looking. Despite this, most of the pictures came out all right, if a little washed out and sometimes blurry. A few are un-postable. And some of the rest I tweaked to hide the fact that I clearly do not know how to use a real camera.

Anyway, aside from my stupidity, the only other thing that got in the way was all the newly oiled-and-chipped roads in Hunterdon County. Rockaway Road was the first. Water Street was second. I forget the third. By the time we got to the fourth one, at Suttons, I said, "No." We took Sawmill instead and stopped for pictures of the water wheel. There was one more graveled road after that, which makes five that we came across, a new record for the most freshly chipped roads in one ride.

All in all, it was worth hauling several pounds of camera around. I'd gladly do it again, with the proper film speed next time.

Tom has his photos posted here, with more detail about the route we took.

The next day I joined the Labor Day All-Paces Ride. There's only one picture worth showing from that one: Matt's getup. I'm also throwing in a couple of cell phone photos I took while I was picking tomatoes at Cherry Grove Farm over the past few weeks.

First up is the bridge over the Raritan River on Studdiford. I shot into the sun here, which I knew would be trouble. It's barely passable in black and white, but I kinda like how ghostly it looks after I played with the color and contrast and who knows what else:

We stopped at the Thor Solberg Airport in Readington. This is the air traffic control bowling pin, which Tom says is labeled as curiosity #1 on Dustin's NJ Bikemap:

Here's a zoom, taken with my point-and-shoot:

This little plane has propellers in the front and back, which, if I'd had the camera switched on when I tried to take pictures of it on the ground, you could have seen:

This menacing-looking machine is from WWII:

We came across some old farm equipment on Pulaski Road. I had fun taking pictures of this, so bear with me:

Hunterdon County is still full of working farms. Most of that is cropland, but there are a few cattle farms as well. It all seems so peaceful, which is why I took this next picture of the bucolic Readington Farms dairy:


Rockaway Road, despite the gravel, is still one of my favorite roads. There's a shell of an old mill at the bottom of the hill. While Tom was taking some excellent pictures of the Rockaway Creek, I played around the building:

Wide open, no graffiti:

Mike calls this the Gingerbread House. It's been for sale for at least a year. Tom and Jeff had to wait a good long time for me on this one:

The wind was whipping the willow branches around at this estate on Hoffman's Crossing Road:

Around the bend:

The Raritan River valley south of Califon:

The Raritan at Califon:

The water wheel on Sawmill Road:

Kermit and Jeff by the side of the road:

The view from Fox Hill Road. Tom's right: You really have to see it for yourself.

A little farther down the hill:

Another point-and-shoot zoom. I really wanted to focus on the cart, but I didn't have the right lens:

The other side of the road:

Pumpkin harvest at the bottom of Fox Hill Road:

I got tired of pulling out the big camera and took a few hay bale shots with my mainstay point-and-shoot:

We didn't stop for any more pictures after that.

For those of you who have stayed to the bitter end of this photographic travesty, here's a treat: Matt Rawls in his Labor Day All-Paces attire:

"Pedal, pedal, pedal!"

OK, I really shouldn't leave you with that image, should I? How about organic tomatoes and some insect-on-insect carnage? I took these pictures with my iPhone:

This is a tomato hornworm (a moth caterpillar) that has been parasitized by a braconid wasp. The wasp lays eggs (little white cones) on the caterpillar's body. The larvae, inside the cones, eat the caterpillar from the inside. By the time the wasps mature and leave, the caterpillar is dead. The wasps arrived at the farm on their own, and, judging from the four pints of cherry tomatoes per week I've been hauling home for my half-share, these wasps did a good job of pest management this year.

Here's an uninfected hornworm:

On the upper left, a dying, parasitized caterpillar; in the center is one that got lucky:

Here's what was left on the vines a week later:

The evening sky over tomatoes:

OK, one last thing before I sign off. Last Saturday, while I was holed up inside a library all day at a Sierra Club meeting, Cheryl led a ride in the Sourlands. They saw a black bear in a driveway on Ridge Road:

Up next, Blake drags me and Cheryl through the hills of Pennsylvania.