Sunday, November 27, 2016

Main Street, or, What Goes Through My Head When My Legs Are Tired

Beaker at Main Street 

27 November 2016

After the Saturday Cranbury mayhem (is there any other kind?), shivering, because it was cold for 50 degrees, I park the car across from Main Street and waddle up the steps in my cycling shoes. With one day remaining before the bakery closes, there's nothing on the shelves and the cases are half empty.  I do my part by filling a box with an assortment of brownie-adjacent squares, to be defrosted for a party to be named later. And some macaroons. And two cups of rice pudding (too much cinnamon, but whatever).

I come home to Plain Jim's announcement that he'll be leading a recovery ride from Six Mile Run, through Hopewell, and stopping at Main Street for one last chance at whatever would be left.  We trade a few messages, during which I learn that the erstwhile Snakehead and a passel of his buddies will be showing up. So much for recovery.


I'm standing in the hallway between the two rooms my fleet live in.  What to ride, what to ride? When one has a stable, this presents a problem.

I'll need something to get me up the smattering of hills along the route. Miss Piggy would be the obvious choice, but there will be enough flat stretches in between where her low gearing won't be enough to allow me to keep with the pace-pushers. Kermit would be good for that, but he'll end up hurting my back on the climbs, what with his weight and my legs already being two-day tired.

Duh. All this time, I've been staring at the solution.

Beaker, lighter by far than Kermit, geared for the Sourlands, has been yoked to the plow all season. It's time to let her run.  Off comes the two-pound battery for the 3000-lumen headlight. Off comes the dinky blinky.  Off comes the bell that the students completely ignore anyway. Hey!  There's a beautiful bike under all this! In comes the air. Chain check, greasy finger, good. Up she goes to the front hallway.

Next question: Do I ride from home? If I do that, I can leave when the fastboys drop me. Or I can leave when we climb out of Hopewell. I've done that climb once this weekend already. Maybe I'll take Crusher instead. Or I can follow them to Main Street and leave from there. That'll cut 12 miles off the total. How far is it from home to Blackwells Mills anyway? Eighteen miles. Thirty-six on top of 37 is too many for a third day in whatever temperature it's gonna be tomorrow. 40-something at the most? Maybe I'll drive to Main Street and start from there. Maybe that's stupid. Either drive all the way or leave the car at home.  I'll decide in the morning.

For the second time in three days, I've made the decision with no time to spare. I'm going to have to hammer a little to get there in time.

There's still frost on the ground. This is barely a decent hour to be on the bike in August.  I toggle between distance and time on my computer.  I don't see any other cyclists until I reach Canal Road (six miles to go!). There's a line of riders heading south. They're all wearing fluorescent yellow jackets. All of them. Winter team kit?  I'm going to get to Six Mile with five minutes to spare. That should be plenty of time, because Snakehead is never ready.

I roll up to Jim, Ricky, two guys in fluorescent yellow jackets (friends of Snakehead), and Snakehead himself, not ready, scurrying around in a flurry of fluorescent yellow booties and gloves. Some recovery ride. I'm so gonna be dropped.  Fine. I could turn around now and have nearly 40 miles. I eat half of an energy bar for insurance while Jim rattles off a pre-ride lecture that sounds uncannily like mine.

We're off to a fast start for a recovery ride. We get spread out, but everyone waits. Before I know it, we're in Hopewell. I guess this is where I peel off, after the rest stop.

But we don't appear to be stopping. We're going straight up the hill. Bleah.  If I peel off at Cleveland, I'll have 45 miles for the day. Good enough.

Or not; I'm making the turn. I have enough oomph to get through Princeton. I'm probably going to lose it on that annoying hill on 27 into Kingston. Which I've already climbed once today.

Main Street is crowded, noisy, and there are still pastries left. I find a lonely loaf of pecan coffee cake (to be thawed for a party to be named later), check for rice pudding (nope), and opt for a pumpkin square (free with the purchase of the loaf, which costs twice as much as it ought to, but whatever at this point).

As we prepare to part company, I move things around and shove the cake into my jacket. This is why winter requires big pockets. Things are a little tight around the equator, but I've only got ten miles to go.

The final seven miles has me and Beaker on autopilot. She could do this stretch without me.

I wish I could join these guys, but there's a back yard full of leaves to rake.

I drink way too much coffee with lunch instead, and trudge out back to take care of the end of autumn.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Gloomy November Impromptu Black Friday Ride

View of the Sourland Mountain from Route 518

25 November 2016

Some of the best rides are the ones nobody plans for.

Halfway through Thanksgiving, John K posted an impromptu Black Friday ride from Hopewell to Rojo's in Lambertville. I rustled up a few Slugs for the 9:30 start.

At 8:30, I decided I'd rather ride than drive to Hopewell. I didn't get a move on until 8:45, which meant that if I didn't hustle I'd be cutting it close. It's not far from my house to the center of Hopewell Borough, less than ten miles, but there's a bridge out on Carter Road. Rather than take my chances, I went around, which added a couple of miles.  I managed to get to John and Plain Jim a few minutes before 9:30. 

John wasn't quite ready, so I moved off to take a picture of the sky:

It was a chilly morning; not quite cold, and when the sun poked through, almost warm. But standing in the parking lot, I cooled down too much.

Bob N rolled in, also from a late start. There was more shooting the breeze. I'm not sure what time it was when we finally pushed off.

John had a vague route in mind, but mostly he was making it up as we went along. The first handful of miles were Hill Slug standard winter no-brainer roads (Stony Brook to Snydertown to Linvale; Stony Brook is still a bag-rattler), but then we breezed past Mountain and took Rocktown and Losey over to Wertsville.

At the light at 202/31, John announced the next few turns. "My buffer is full," Jim complained, which set off a string of wisecracks that showed our ages.  Two turns later, Jim and Bob didn't turn, but they heard us shouting and reversed course.

The first time I was on Boss and Garboski Roads was in Kermit's first year, as Cheryl and I were following Alan K through hills I wasn't geared for. I'll always hear his voice when I read the word "Garboski," and I'll always think of those roads as the back way into Sergeantsville, no matter which direction I'm facing. I also always remember being on Garboski in December 2001, when it was warm enough that long sleeves and leggings sufficed and there was news of a record blizzard in Scotland.

Where Bowne Station meets Sandy Ridge-Mount Airy, there's a farm we never look at when we're coming up alongside it. We're too busy focusing on the little hump at the Bowne intersection.

We took Lambertville Headquarters Road down to Route 29. I should take this road more often.

We passed a house with politically unfavorable signs. Jim gave them the finger.

On Union Street in Lambertville, we saw this, among others, that helped us channel our anger:

The tables at Rojo's were taken up by laptops, so we stood at a counter at the back of the store. There, we ran into Paul I, poet and fastboy hilly ride leader. I didn't recognize him at first; he was wearing civilian clothing.

On my way out, I bought a bag of beans and remembered, when I handed over the cash, why I don't buy Rojo's beans on a regular basis. When the price is more than a dollar an ounce, there'd better be a good reason. Today, East Timor was the reason.

John offered to carry the beans in his massive saddle bag, but I stuffed them into my jersey instead. I'd have to carry them from Hopewell to home in any case.

We thought we were heading up to Quarry/Rocktown, but John changed his mind at the last minute and sent us up Swan instead. I used to panic at the thought of it (Alan would lead us up there), but now I have a granny gear in front and 32 teeth in the back.

Some banter needs to be explained. Other banter can be taken out of context without losing the original goofiness. Such was the exchange John and I had on Hewitt Road:

"Happy birthday! Wait! Don't blow out the candles!"

"Don't get blood on the cake!"

"What flavor is the icing? Type A!"

The plan was to stop briefly (ha!) at Wheelfine. John had been riffing on a recent sale announcement: buy a new bike, get a free cap:  "I wasn't sure about the four thousand dollar bike, but with the cap, well..."

"If I buy a cap," I asked, "Can I get a free bike?"

Bob had never been in the place. It's always fun to watch a newbie walk in the door.

Michael said to me, "I'm upset." I figured he was about to tell me that Campagnolo had discontinued a silver group we'd had our eyes on.


"It's the last paper Freewheel," he said. "People look at it."

"It wasn't cost-effective anymore," I said. "And it's a pain in the ass."

John played with a cotton cap on the counter.

"Organic!" Michael said. John turned around to decide which bike would be the one, then put the cap back on the counter.

"We'll have a glossy flier for you," I reassured Michael. If there have been new members who joined because they read the Freewheel at Wheelfine, none of us knows about it.

I'd have told him he can always print the PDF, but this is a man with a rotary phone behind the counter.

Somehow we got out of there before my cycle computer shut off.

We took Rock Road and 579 back to 518, and stayed on that the rest of the way back to Hopewell. By now, the cloud cover was too thick for sunlight, and we were feeling colder than when we'd started.

This was November gloom.

We coasted into Hopewell.

I slogged back up the Princeton Avenue hill, grateful that there wasn't much traffic, because the road surface is slowly disappearing and I had to veer out a lot.

Carter Road has been freshly paved and striped. How can I tell it's fresh?

You're welcome.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The D&R Canal, But Not the Whole Thing

D&R Canal North of Washington Crossing

20 November 2016

Yesterday was nearly summer. Last night brought sleet, thunder, a little snow, and a power outage in the wee hours of the morning. Today's winds were a steady 25 mph from the northwest, gusting from 35-45 mph. 

It was not a day I wanted to be on the road.

Instead, I met Sue M for her PFW Sunday ride on the D&R Canal towpath at Washington Crossing. Chris was there too.  After a delayed start (I'd been rerouted around a downed power line between my house and the highway), we made our way north along the New Jersey side of the river, into the wind.

We didn't have much of a plan; we'd ride until we got tired of the headwind. Lambertville is 6.5 miles away, and we were almost in the center of town, crossing a little bridge over the canal, when Sue's wheel skidded out on a steel plate. She hit the deck and stayed under her bike long enough for me and Chris to double back.

She'd hurt her shoulder, and while she could still ride, she thought it best to go back. "You go ahead," she said. "I'll be fine."  Nope. We went with her, and she was fine, as long as she didn't move her right arm.

"You realize," I said, "that you're going to have to write yourself up." Been there, done that.

"I know."

"And report yourself at the Board meeting," because, as Ride Captain, in addition to concatenating all of the rides coming in from the Ride Coordinators and sending them to me to edit for the newsletter, her duty is to read off all of the accident reports to the Board of Directors every month.

"I know," she said.

After hoisting her bike into the back of her car, and getting assurances that she would be fine and get x-rays ("I'm not messing around," she said. "I'm heading to RWJ."), Chris and I decided to continue south towards Trenton for a while.

"How far do you want to go?" I asked as we neared Cadwalader Park in Trenton.

"To where we were last time," he said. "That way I can say I've done the whole thing. Not at once, but I can say I did the whole thing."

Last time we'd gone from Princeton down to the Trenton War Memorial and back. With John K, I'd come this way into the city twice. I figured ought to be able to remember how to do it.

Between the two of us, we found the signs,

and we got to the spot where we'd turned around last time.

By now the wind had picked up, and the return trip was real work whenever there weren't trees to dampen the force. I was tired enough when we got back to our cars.

At home, I checked my highlighted Mercer County map that's been tacked to a wall for fifteen years. Today was the first time I'd been on the stretch of towpath between Washington Crossing and Scenic Drive.  I still haven't done the whole thing. The pink highlighter on my Somerset County map peters out at Amwell Road.  Looks like I've got some homework this winter.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tom's Turkey Ride and Autumn Miscellany

Overexposed and overprocessed sweet gum tree

19 November 2016

With nine people on his ride today, Tom brought out the Holy Kickstand and performed his blessing of the bikes. 

In Bordentown, a flock of turkey vultures perched on the roof of a retirement home.

Axe Factory Road, closed, as it always is, at least has fresh blacktop north of the bridge.  That's an improvement.

At 21 miles, we stopped at a park to use the outhouse. We had to ride onto a gravel driveway to get there. Tom and Jim declared that this counted as riding on a dirt road, therefore satisfying the two criteria for a Tom ride. I wasn't convinced that a driveway should count.

Our rest stop, 32 miles into the 55-mile ride, was at the Wawa in Pemberton. Outside was a group of kids collecting money for their new Won by One basketball team. We tossed dollar bills into their buckets, talked to the coach, and learned just how expensive it is to outfit an after-school activity. The kids weren't shy at all about talking to us and asking about our bikes. We weren't shy at all about answering them.

We made it all the way to the end of the ride without incident, injury, or a depletion of riders. 

Tom is attempting to eliminate single variables from the Synapse curse: He was in Gettysburg with his Synapse and Jack H (nothing happened); he was with only me and our Synapses in Bucks County (nothing happened); and now he was with me, Jack H, and no Synapses (nothing happened).  I'm still going with the multiplicative synergy of hills, two Synapses, and other people's bikes, for the curse to function properly.

When I got out of the car at home, one of my neighbors from across the street came over to talk to me, distraught about the election. We talked for half an hour. 

Later in the afternoon, as the sun was low in the sky, it lit up another neighbor's sweet gum tree.

That reminded me of the handful of autumn photos on my phone, which I will present here as a distraction to reality.

A storm rolling in from the north over my neighborhood in October:

Later that week, fall colors on campus:

In my back yard, the hostas have taken over. In late October, they began to die back for the winter:

In September, I planted two azaleas that bloom in the spring and fall:

On the campus path into the lab on a foggy morning:

Another neighbor's maple tree, lit up by the morning sun:

The little Japanese maple that I planted a few years ago turned a brilliant red this fall:

And, finally, the purple glass pumpkin I bought in Corning, which I like even more now that it's been in the house for a while:

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Clearing Our Heads at Cranksgiving

 The Krakow Monster and Rowlf at the firehouse before the ride

12 November 2016

Joe and Dave have done the Cranksgiving charity ride since its inception three years ago. This year Jim and I tagged along. The ride benefits the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. Participants receive a list of groceries to buy (not all lists are the same), stop at three stores to fill the list, and carry the items back to the start of the ride. The route is only 20 miles, so I rode from home, and Plain Jim tagged along. Jim took loads of pictures and posted them on his blog.

For me, the ride was cathartic. Jim and I spent the 9-mile trip from my house to the West Windsor fire house swapping bewilderments and opinions. We've both come to the conclusion that there really are two Americas, there ain't bupkus we can do about it, and nothing is going to change as long as the party in power gets there by gaming a deeply flawed system.

The political talk continued on the way from the fire house to our first stop at McCaffrey's, as Dave and I (who are not on the same political page) found much to agree upon without either of us getting tetchy.

My mood was further elevated in McCaffrey's, where shoppers and clerks were amused by the ten or so of us clomping through the aisles in our bike shoes and fluorescent gear, shopping lists in hand, looking slightly lost at all times.

I'd only brought a small backpack; the box of instant oatmeal packets took up half of the real estate within. I was glad for the Cranksgiving volunteers outside the store who offered to take the load from me and add it to the pile of bags they'd already collected from other riders.

That left room for the large pack of large socks we picked up at Princeton Pong (whatever that is), and for the pasta and granola bars at Trader Joe's (where nobody seemed to notice our goofy garb).

Today's ride helped clear my head. We got together, had some fun, and helped those who don't have the luxury to pedal around West Windsor on a clear, breezy, November morning.

 First Presbyterian Church of Dutch Neck

A treetop in the wind 

A warning sign for literate geese at Carnegie Center

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

We're Better Than This

9 November 2016

We're better than this.

Don't get sucked into Trump Derangement Syndrome. You're better than that.

Don't assume everyone who voted for him agrees with everything he said on the campaign trail. They're better than that.

Grieve, and then pick yourself up and work for the causes you've been working for since before any of this started. You're better for it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

To B or Not to B

Bunker Hill Road, near Kendall Park 

6 November 2016

I don't recover from rides as fast as my biking buddies do. When I head out to Cranbury on a Sunday morning after a hilly Saturday ride, I don't expect to be at my best. Once in a while I stray, but for the most part, I choose a leader who I know will keep an honest B pace.

Last night's extra hour of sleep left me feeling more rested than usual, so when I arrived in Cranbury to find myself amid a mob of solid B+ riders, I was only a little nervous. Winter Larry was leading, and there were two other solid B people in the mix besides.

"This ride's gonna split," I told Larry. He agreed. I could easily see Peter F taking the fastboys and leaving the rest of us in peace.

We were facing a steady 15 mph wind, with gusts in the mid-20s, out of the northwest. Larry decided to head towards the Sourland Mountain, into the wind. Sourlands? I grabbed my camera.

I dropped into the small ring, a rare event for me and Kermit out in the flatlands.

After we got through the open fields north of Plainsboro and crossed 522 on the edge of Dayton, the group got spread out. When we collected ourselves again at Route 1 and crossed the highway, I noticed that two of the B riders (one in an unmissable pink jacket with a pink and black bike to match, the other in orange) were missing. I called out to Larry.

"They turned back," he said.

So did Peter, who had a prior commitment.

It's bad enough to be intimidated by the crowd in the parking lot. It's worse to have to drop off and go home alone on a ride whose advertised pace is one you can do in your sleep. At least they'd have a tailwind.

When we crossed Route 27 in Kendall Park, I had to stop to take a picture. I waited for everyone to pass down the hill, out of the frame.

I was half hoping that, despite Larry's instructions for everyone to wait at the canal, the entire group would be gone and I could proceed on my own at my own speed. I was half hammering, too, so that I could catch up before they'd have to wait too long. I almost caught Larry, so I didn't pull in too much after he did.

We continued to spread and scrunch all the way through Harlingen to Dutchtown. When we reached Route 601, Larry called out "free zone" and let the hammerheads hammer. We rode next to each other, talking about how best to resolve the pace problem, until I waved him on ahead so that I could get a picture of Hidden Spring Lavender:

Again I caught up as he was pulling into where everyone else was waiting. We stayed together through Skillmman Park, cleaned up and paved, no longer the creepy, abandoned, dilapidated site of a state home for epileptic boys. 

Then we spread out again.  This time the group didn't wait at the light at Opossum and 518. There were four of us caught at the red as the rest took off towards 206, where we were planning to stop at a bagel place in a strip mall.

This gave me and Larry more time to wonder why the B+ boys weren't over in Etra, where erstwhile Hill Slug, Marc-o, has been leading B+ rides for a month. Larry was feeling despondent. Why should he lead any more B rides this winter?

"This is very August," I said. It's late in the year now, but this sort of problem usually rears its head in the middle of the summer.

The light turned green. The fastboys were out of sight.

"I'd Sprague 'em," I said. "I'd go on to Main Street in Kingston."

Larry looked torn. "I can't. I told someone where we'd be stopping."

"I'd Sprague all of 'em."  Winter Larry is too much of a gentleman for that.

After the break, our route was more with the wind than into it.  Again we spread out, and, if not for a series of well-timed traffic lights on Plainsboro Road, we'd never have regrouped, this time into two bunches, the fastboys ahead and the tired ones back with me and Larry. 

I know I'll eventually age out of the B category, but I'm not there yet. I can even pull a B+ once in a while, if it's flat, I've slept, am caffeinated, and my legs are fresh. But I don't come out to Cranbury on Sundays looking to hammer. I hope we can resolve this, maybe by having the B and B+ rides leave from the same place at the same time so that the riders can sort themselves out. I hope the two who left today come back.