Sunday, October 28, 2018

Dreary Halloween Ride

Pleasant Valley Road 

28 October 2018

Today was my annual ride to Lambertville to see Union Street's Halloween decorations. Yesterday's rain had cleared out but the roads were still coated in wet leaves. Ricky met me at home and we headed to Pennington under clouds, with temperatures in the high 40s.

There was a nearly full complement of regulars to meet us. Tom, Bob, and Spare Jim had driven in. Andrew and Racer Pete had biked over. We were waiting for one more, one of the new post-docs I work with, who, despite being from the Netherlands, wants to climb every hill he can, including Fiddler's Elbow.

When we saw someone approaching at high speed, tucked into aero bars, I knew it must be my colleague. Several decades younger than I am, he put the fear into some of the Slugs. Colleague pulled in and immediately started introducing himself. Pointing at him and Racer Pete, I said, "You two are going to have something to talk about."

My plan, since we had new blood in our midst, was to get to as many of my favorite roads as distance would reasonably allow.

It was a chatty bunch that rolled through Pennington, across Route 31, and onto Woosamonsa.  The "bridge out" signs are still up. The bridge is still up.

From there we turned onto Bear Tavern and then Pleasant Valley-Harbourton Road. The leaves had turned more since last weekend, but they weren't putting on much of a show. The low clouds and silver-gray light added some drama on Pleasant Valley Road.

On Valley Road, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a solitary sheep in a barn doorway and stopped for a closer look.

We turned onto Goat Hill and then Hewitt. We crossed 518 at Rock Road. We took Dinosaur Hill (Harbourton-Mount Airy) in the fun direction and stayed the course all the way to the Mount Airy cows.

Alexauken Creek Road was awash in brownish-yellow. I didn't want to stop for more pictures, though, because I'd held up the group enough already.

At Rojo's in Lambertville several Slugs sat down at a table with a solitary rider. They were already deep in conversation by the time I got there. Carrying coffee in a glass mug, I was reminded of my latest glassblowing achievement and had to show off the coffee mug I'd made in class last week. (There will be pictures in my next blog post.)

We ended up talking about medical technology for a while. We probably stayed a little too long.

As I suited up again outside I noticed the little geocache stone in one of the Rojo's planters. "Perk Up," it said.

We were chilly and I didn't want to spend too much time on Union Street. The display I'd come to see was a little disappointing because the artist had covered up a lot of the statues to protect them from last night's wind and rain. Unlike previous years I didn't get off my bike to walk around. I relied on my camera's zoom instead, with mixed results, because there's no manual focus.

The house next door had a pirate theme, which was less interesting than the political signs.

We climbed out of Lambertville on Rocktown Road, heading for Route 31.

"Jim's not here to sing us across," I said to Tom.

"We can sacrifice the new guy," Tom said.

"Yeah. Post-docs are cheap. My boss can always hire a new one."

I relayed this information to my colleague as we waited for traffic to clear. We all made it across, even though it took three waves to do it.

Tom wanted to know if I'd led any rides recently in sunshine. "We had a little last week on the way home," I said.

We went up Linvale and turned onto Snydertown.

At the bottom of Stony Brook Andrew and my colleague left us for home, both of them living in Princeton. In my front pack I had hidden a handful of Halloween candy; I handed them each a piece for their efforts.

Everyone else had to wait until we got back to Twin Pines.

This time I got a closer look at the back of Spare Jim's truck.

"Honk if you think I'm Jesus" was given to him by his kids.

"No farms, no beer," because hops.

"Support our pants," because that's what belts do, and all those rah-rah support-our-troops magnets do nothing of the sort.

"Tacoma BFD," because one can purchase extra letters online for cheap, so why not?

The parking lot was spilling over with parents and SUVs. I focused over the action on the field to capture the best of the day's tree colors:

As Ricky, Racer Pete, and I  negotiated our way out of the parking lot, Ricky said, "This parking lot was the scariest part of today's ride." He was right. Maybe I should consider starting from the old spot two miles up the road until it's too cold for weekend sports.

Racer Pete turned off on Federal City. As Ricky and I turned onto Route 206 the sun came out.

In my driveway the fallen leaves were still wet from last night's rain.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Working for our Muffins

Mill Road, Readington, NJ

27 October 2018

I'm a week behind on blogging because I'm being run ragged at my day job and I finagled extra glassblowing time today, after which there were pictures to upload, blah blah blah.

So anyway, I'd promised the Slugs a hilly ride from Hillsborough to Califon. The total elevation gain, about 3500 feet over 54 miles, wasn't so bad overall. However, nearly half of that would be in the middle 16 miles, including 2 nasty ascents before the rest stop and one after. I didn't put any of this in the online ride description, of course, first because I'm a bitch that way, and second because there's not enough room for that much text. I did mention the three climbs as the motive to earn our muffins.

We had rain overnight, and I drove through drizzle on the south side of the Princeton Ridge on the way to Hillsborough. Jim, Ricky, and Andrew signed in. Jim took a picture of the parking lot puddles so that he could razz me later if need be. I decided to copy his idea so that I could razz myself later if need be.

The forecast called for clearing skies and for a strong wind to move in out of the west. I hoped we could get most of the way to Califon before the wind happened. We were on Readington Road when we saw the first of the blue sky.

"What's that up ahead?" Jim asked, staring at the sky with mock bewilderment.

"That, my friend, is the wind."

Under the clouds were Cushetunk and Round Mountains. Round Valley Reservoir is behind them.

The Readington Farm dairy plant, with all of its shiny towers, is the dividing line between the suburban Route 22 corridor and the rural hills to the north.

Beyond the dairy is Mill Road, one of my favorites.

I told Ricky that I was contemplating leading a recovery ride tomorrow, since Jim wouldn't be able to and the only other B in the calendar was a fastboy ride.

Sometimes there are cows in the water by the bridge. Not today. The herd was resting in the field. Jim noticed the color in the trees. I stopped for pictures. The guys rode ahead.

A driver slowed as she approached, and stopped to talk to me. "Beautiful, isn't it?" she asked.


"I live up the road," she said, gesturing behind her. "Last week the river was so high it flooded. You know how the cows like to be in the water?"

"Yeah. I've taken pictures of them."

"They were stranded. The water was so fast they couldn't get out. They were afraid to walk on the blacktop. They'd never seen it." Eventually, with some human aid and encouragement, the cows made it back to the pasture.

The route I'd chosen was one I hadn't done for years. We turned onto Halls Mill Road. At the end I asked, "Do any of you know Deer Hill?"

None did.

"You will after this," I said, and gave them fair warning. I took a picture of the field we were next to before we set off again.

There's no real reason to climb Deer Hill other than to remember that there's no reason to climb Deer Hill. There's more incline after it, on Bissell, before turning off onto Still Hollow.

There is a reason to descend Still Hollow: the view from the top is worth the brake-grabbing on the steep descent to Rockaway Road.

In Mountainville somebody has decorated the bridge with little pumpkins.

After Rockaway, Philhower.

I decided to count the ascents, dividing them into separate efforts. I counted eleven over two miles, the seventh being the longest and steepest, and the final two happening after the intersection with Sutton.

Our break at the Califon General Store was well-deserved. Andrew had chicken soup. The rest of us had muffins or cookies. Andrew was the only smart one; we were all a little chilly.

We had to climb out of Califon one way or another. I chose the short, sharp shock of Main Street and then the left onto Academy, still climbing. When we reached Guinea Hollow we coasted.

I was enjoying the zen of the yellowing tree canopy, Rockaway Creek, and the six-mile coast through Mountainville and down Rockaway Road; I didn't stop for pictures. I wish I had.

We went a different way back through Readington. I'd warned everyone that all the little rollers were going to feel like giant hills. The rollers were taking their toll, as predicted. We got a little spread out when we reached Neshanic Station.

We waited next to the old Buick dealer. Ricky looked inside. He said he saw an old [somethingsomething] and a [whoseawhatsit] in there.

One more little hill on Clawson, then the overpass on South Branch, and we were finished.

"Are you going to lead that recovery ride tomorrow?" Ricky asked.

"Lemme check the wind," I said. "I don't know if I'll have the legs."

I checked when I got home. The forecast was for 25-mph gusts all day long. I thought about it. I thought some more as my legs turned to cement by dinner time. I started an e-mail to Ricky to ask him what his thoughts were, and then I deleted it.

Despite my nickname and my reputation, Sunday morning I slept in and lifted weights at the gym.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Hot Mess, Part Three

Raw Glass Necklace, the only decent thing I've made from glass in weeks

18 October 2018

My slump didn't end when October began. Another lab session, another lab partner, and a handful of feeble attempts at bigger pieces netted me two heavy-bottomed, shallow bowls fit for a not very thirsty rabbit. I didn't even take pictures of what I put in the annealing oven. At lest the temperature in the studio had come down a little.

During a break I decided I should get a picture of something, so I took a couple of the block bucket where all the blocks return at the end of the day.

A lot of them are new cherry wood. The color leaks into the water and when we use them on hot glass they give off a sweet smell.

As we were leaving, one of the advanced students picked up a bowl that had been sitting on one of the tables. It was what our instructor calls a "floppy bowl." It was green outside and silver inside.

"That yours?" I asked him.

"Yeah. It's cracked."

"It's beautiful," I said.

He showed me the inside. Barely noticeable, running across the bottom, was a hairline fracture. He was about to throw it out when he stopped and said, "You want it?"


So now it's at home, with all the other glass, on top of the display case.

If you zoom in a lot you might see the crack, running from 2:00 to 8:00 across the bottom. Our instructor says the bowl will break eventually. If it does I'll glue it back together, unless it looks like art when it's in two pieces.

I arrived for class two days later feeling dejected and questioning my hobby choices. It was hot again too.

"We're gonna get you a good bowl tonight," my classmate said. We worked well together, our instructor staying back then jumping in to show us what we'd done wrong after we'd done it. I told my classmate that I wished he were my lab partner. I finished two pieces.

It was my classmate's turn to have a bad night. "I'm thinking too much," he said.

"I hear ya," I said.

He was about to toss his final piece of the night before he was finished. I stopped him because he'd scolded me last week for pitching one of mine halfway through. I coaxed him over to the break-off table so we could "put it away" in the annealing oven. It cracked in half when he knocked it off the punty.

"I'm kinda glad that happened," he said.

Our instructor decided to show us how to make a ribbon. He blew a bubble, gathered a lump of glass, and, turning the bubble with one hand, he drizzled the hot glass over the bubble with the other. The result was an organic look that I wanted to replicate.

I had a plan for my next lab session.

If it's Monday it must mean a new lab partner. For every bowl I struggled through, which took me the better part of half an hour each time, she made three or four perfect ornaments.

I was getting better at getting more glass and moving it off the pipe so that I had more to work with. I was getting better at shaping the edges too. But, invariably, I'd get to the last step, where I'd want to heat the piece one more time for some final shaping, and the whole thing would go floppy on me. What I put away was worse than what I'd made last week.

I still wanted to try the thread thing though. My lab partner had seen it done but had never done it herself. "Let's try it," I said, "and see what happens."

It took us a couple of passes to figure out how to drop the hot glass on, and how hot I needed to get it. What we made was a mess but I didn't care; it was just practice. When I made a bad punty and the piece shattered on the floor I didn't really care.

"Go again," she said, so we did, and this time we knew what we were doing. I had the floppy bottom problem again, though, and when I broke it off the punty part of the bottom came off with it. We put it in the annealer anyway.

I griped to one of the advanced students about my floppy bottom problem. "The bottoms are too thin," he said.

Argh! "I finally figured out how to make the bottoms thinner and now they're too thin!"

"You went too far in the other direction," he said.

When it was time to clean up for the night I noticed the leaves that had blown in from outside the open shop door.

At home I had another look at last week's bowls. As off-center as these were, I knew that what I'd made tonight wouldn't look this good.

I packed them away with the rest of my glass rejects.

Saturday's ride got rained out and instead I went to a meeting I hadn't been planning to attend. I took a beading project with me: the handful of raw glass chips that the assistant had let me take on the first night of class. The chips were rough and uneven, and so were the connections I made between them. I decided to call the necklace "Beginner." I wore it that night, and to work for a few days too.

When I retrieved Monday's bowls on Wednesday before class I was ready to throw them straight into the can of glass to be re-melted. I thought the better of it, though, because I wanted our instructor to see them so he could tell me how not to make the same mistake again. I also wanted to ask him how to make the threads less gloopy.

My classmate hadn't arrived, so I had time to wander over to the thermometer. For the first time it was below 80 degrees, even if only by a tenth of one.

I had time to photograph last week's screw-ups too. Here you can clearly see how the bowls collapsed.

This is the thread experiment. The bottom is half missing but it wasn't meant to be anything other than practice. I really dig this thread thing though.

Hanging out in the studio was a woman who my trainer at the gym had been hoping would find me. He trains her too, so we had something other than glass to talk about -- mostly our athletic injuries. I told her that our trainer calls me a "meathead" for lifting too heavy.

It became clear that my classmate wasn't going to show up. I was about to get a private lesson. It might not have been what our instructor wanted, but it was something I sorely needed.

I asked if I could dump Monday's pieces into the recycling bucket. "Nope," he said. He wants us to keep everything until the next critique night so that we can mark our progress. Sigh. These pieces would never make it to critique night.

His plan had been to show us some more embellishment techniques. He stuck with that, showing me a lily pad bottom and a dip gather, both of which he made look easy, neither of which I'm ready to attempt.

I asked if I could practice bowls some more. The first one went floppy on me at the last step again. I was putting it too far into the glory hole, not knowing that the ceramic door was plenty hot itself, and heating the punty and the bottom when I thought I was only heating the top.

When I screwed up a punty he had me make a handful of them until I got it right.

I had been standing on the wrong side of the punty rod when affixing it to the piece, using my left hand to guide the rod when, as a right-hander, I should have been manipulating it with my right.

I was pushing the punty onto the piece, indenting the bottom, rather than letting the hot glass melt onto the bottom without pushing it.

I was shaping the top with the jacks by coming in from above the piece. He told me to approach from the bottom. "This is so much easier!" I said, and got the piece opened and flared in one go.

I wanted to try a thread again, this time with more control. He told me to get more glass on the punty rod so that I'd have a bigger reservoir. That helped, as did holding the rod with the diamond shears in order to steer the glass onto the piece with more control.

I flubbed the punty a little, but he saved it and I opened the piece up into a bowl. I was excited that everything was working. He cautioned me not to be until it was in the annealing oven. It reminded me of the fellow on my Belmar century this summer, the one who kept on saying "this was great!" before the ride was over.

Well, when I knocked the piece off the punty I cracked the bottom. It was the second time tonight that this had happened. "You're hitting it too hard," he said. Once a meathead, always a meathead. He put it in the annealing oven anyway.

When it came time to sweep up there were more leaves than glass scraps in the studio. Our instructor rolled out a screen across the divide between the studio and the sagging blue picnic table.

"You learned a lot tonight," he said. "Put it all in your notebook."

So when I got home I did.

On Monday I want to make more thread bowls, good ones this time, ones I'll like enough not to melt down. I hope I can remember everything I need to remember.