I took the group across the mountain sideways, on Saddle Shop Road, so that people could enjoy the view of the next ridge, to our right, and the woods at the top of the mountain, to our left. In between are farm fields.
We passed a curious sign on Rocktown Road:
We weren't almost there. I needed to pack in another ten miles before the rest stop.
The "stop PennEast" yard signs that were so prevalent here were gone today. I'm involved enough to know that the fight against the pipeline has not ended, so I'm not worried.
This is the first house we saw when we turned onto Union Street in Lambertville:
Rojo's was crowded.
Three college students, from Penn State, were collecting donations for their annual cancer charity drive. I gave them a dollar and a handful of candy from the bag I'd been carrying all this time.
One door down, a woman and her son were soliciting donations for the Boy Scouts. "Almost there," said their sign. I was still in the dark about where "there" was, but, whatever.
Half of us wound up sitting outside. I was taking my time, as I always do, when Pete peered into my coffee cup to see how much longer he'd have to wait. I got up then.
"We're gonna go slow on Union," I said, for a good reason.
I was taking pictures of this house when the owners drove in to park in front. The woman in the passenger seat, holding a small dog, thanked me for liking her house.
"How long did it take you to do this?" I asked her.
"I paint new dolls each year," she said.
"Where do you keep them all?"
"In the basement. They pack up nice and small."
When I looked down the street, I didn't see any of the Hill Slugs until I pulled up in front of the growing masterpiece that is the work of Delores Dragan. The nine of us made up half the crowd in front of the house.
Cats, looking like cats do every day of the week:
She can even make a flower look creepy:
This one, though, is serious. Dead serious.
Each candle and each dead bird is next to the name of a black person, murdered by police or vigilantes, dating all the way back to Emmett Till. Each label has the name and age of the victim.
Across the street, neighbors have added to the spectacle:
Pete couldn't take all this milling about anymore, and took off. We were down to eight.
A tailwind pushed us out of Lambertville as we climbed Rocktown Road. I backtracked across Route 31, onto Mountain again, then up Linvale.
Rajesh and Ricky were ahead of me. Not by much, but by enough that when I called out the left onto Snydertown a good quarter mile before the turn, I didn't think they heard me.
I called out again as the red barn came into view. I put out my arm, hoping one of them was looking in his mirror. "Leeeeeeeft! Leeeeeeeeeeeeeeft turn!"
"LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFT!" Chris bellowed from behind me.
Rajesh and Ricky continued down the hill, oblivious. At the start of the ride, I'd warned, "You ride ahead, you're on your own." I turned left. There was enough spread behind me that I figured the two ahead would see the last of us and turn around.
We got spread out on Snydertown. When we recollected, I was surprised that Rajesh and Ricky weren't there. I'd seen that Rajesh had a GPS, and I figured that they'd decided to use it. They'd get back to Pennington long before we would.
We were down to six.
Where Stony Brook Road meets Route 518, Andrew peeled off for home.
This was starting to feel like an old school ride, before the Hill Slug moniker was official, with one exception: back in the day, I'd have followed the two errant riders and adjusted course. Not today. I no longer chase people down, and that goes double if it means climbing back up afterwards.
Near the southern end of Stony Brook, I stopped to catch the afternoon light on the trees:
Our last stretch, the few miles on Pennington-Rocky Hill Road, were into a strong headwind. We got spread out enough that I stopped to wait before we reached Pennington. I didn't want to lose anyone else.
When we pulled into the parking lot, Rajesh and Ricky's cars were still there. Uh-oh. I checked my phone, which hadn't rung or buzzed in all this time.
Tim said, "I don't know whether to love you or hate you right now." Yeah, yeah, say something I haven't heard before.
I passed around the bag of candy. The guys wouldn't take more than one piece each. Sheesh.
I plopped myself down on a bed of pine needles and called Ricky. "Where are you? We were calling out 'left turn' but you didn't hear us."
"Woodsville Road," he said. "We were at 31 but we climbed back up." He wasn't angry at all, and took the blame on himself, which, I think, is a first, so thank you, Ricky and Rajesh!
"You guys have GPS?"
"Yeah, on my phone, which I have to keep in my pocket."
"Go back down. It's a great descent." I gave him directions back to Pennington. "You've still got about five miles," I said.
"Go home," he told me. "We're fine. Don't wait. I'll call you when we get back to the parking lot."
I got up, looked at the bag of candy, and put a handful on the roof of each of their cars.
Rajesh texted me later. His GPS and phone batteries had both died. They'd waited a while at the bottom of Linvale, then climbed back up, passed someone who told them we'd turned onto Snydertown, and I don't know what they did next, but they wound up going back and forth on 31 for a while before I called.
Some of this is my fault. I ought to have called them as soon as it was obvious they hadn't turned around. It's not easy balancing ride leader authority and ride leader guilt. At least I didn't drop them off the back. There's no getting out of the shame of that one.
Before he left, Tim said, "I read your blog." (Hi, Tim! I'm about to embarrass you!)
"I hope you won't be offended by this," he said, "but I thought you'd look different."
"What do you mean?"
"I thought you'd be this skinny, gray-haired, seventy-year-old."
Nope. I'm a lumpy, henna-headed, fifty-year-old. (And quite henna-headed today, too, because I did the henna thing just last night, and the blonde bits are a frighteningly Halloween orange today.)
"Because you take pictures. I'm a photographer," he said.
I wasn't offended; I was amused, and confused.
"Do I write like a seventy-year-old?" As I said this, I wasn't even sure what that would mean.
"Nobody likes to stop for pictures," we said in unison.
Unless you're a Hill Slug.
I hope he comes back. His heckling is high-end stuff. I hope Rajesh comes back, too, so I can show him that I usually keep my peeps together. Ricky I'm not worried about. I think he's been on enough of my rides now that he's a proper Hill Slug.