Sunday, November 25, 2018

Pole Farm Sunset

Pole Farm entrance, Keefe Road, Lawrence Township, NJ

25 November 2018

Clouds had been rolling in all afternoon. I got to the Pole Farm in time for the last few minutes of sunset.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Winter Got Here Early

Pemberton-Vincentown Road at Burrs Mill Road

24 November 2018

I: Saturday (Kermit, Beaker)

Winter showed up more than a month early, dumping 5 inches of too-warm snow on us mid-day mid-week. Most of it was gone a day later, and by Saturday we were good to go.

Tom led the Insane Bike Posse -- Jack H, Bob, Joe, Jim, Chris, Pete, Racer Pete, and me -- from Bordentown. The guys huddled in a patch of sunlight until everyone was ready.

Tom's plan was to go to Pemberton, circling the lake in Browns Mills first if we had the legs and it was warm enough for it.

We passed the cluster of birdhouses on Chesterfield-Arneytown Road. The sun was in exactly the wrong place for pictures. I tried anyway.

By the time we got down to Mirror Lake the sun was high enough not to get in the way.

When we reached the corner of Stuart Road and Pemberton-Vincentown Road I was transported back to this summer's suckiest century, to when I stopped here for pictures and to stave off leg cramps. The field was barren now.

We stopped at the Wawa on the north side of Pemberton. "Are you still bike commuting to work?" someone asked me.

"Um, well, I'm not sure," I said. My last trip had been a week ago, on a day I left early for class and still had some daylight to go home in. This week the weather was too cold and rainy. Before I could clarify, Jim cut in.

"Oh, honey, you're done."

"I guess I am." I guess that means I take Beaker up to Wheelfine for her conversion to Campagnolo.

We started up  Arney's Mount, the highest point in Burlington County at a whopping 250 feet above sea level.

"The air's getting thin up here," Chris complained.

"Suck it up, buttercup," I called back.

At the end of the ride Chris documented our leggings. Mine, the dots, kept falling down, despite the safety pin I put in the waistband.

I got home early enough that there was time left to make the trip to see Michael. I got there at 4:00 p.m., an hour before closing. He was in the middle of weighing a frame for another customer he was expecting any minute now. "Three and a half pounds," he said.

We mulled over which drivetrain to get, which handlebars to choose, the stem (he still had one that he'd ordered in case we needed it for Rowlf), seat post, and even wheels. He was about to write it all up so that I could put down a deposit when the other customer came in. My progress, slow as it had been, now ground to a halt as he split his time between us but kept all of us talking together.

I took pictures of his shop, cluttered but organized.

I left the shop at 6:00 p.m., Michael still talking to the other customer. I left Beaker, blue and black, mostly Shimano, pretty but not beautiful.

I'll be happy to be rid of that blocky stem.

II: Sunday (Rowlf)

Sunday was at least ten degrees colder than Saturday. I traded the falling-down polka dots for a tight pair of wind-stop leggings and Kermit for Rowlf.

Rowlf is full Campagnolo, and if you have Campy you'll understand why I'm converting.

Jim was leading from his usual spot, Six Mile Run at Blackwells Mills. Chris was there, and Ricky, who had been absent yesterday.

"Where were you?" I asked. It's not like him to miss a ride.

"At home, eating ice cream," he answered.

Jim has a handful of routes for his Sunday recovery ride. Most of them stop at the Bagel Barn in Montgomery, but today's would go through Hopewell, giving us the choice of Boro Bean or Brick Farm Market. "Boro Bean," Ricky said.

We rode down Canal Road, avoiding the big puddles left over from Friday's rain. Jim led us through the back of Princeton and we got to Rosedale Road, where Rowlf reminded me that he was meant to go downhill all day long.

We cut through ETS, climbed up Carter, and descended into Hopwell (Rowlf loved that one too). When we arrived in Hopewell Jim asked, "The Bean or the Brick?"

"Ice cream face here wants the Bean," I said, gesturing towards Ricky.

"Bean," he confirmed.

"Bean it is," Jim said.

After coffee, muffins, and a delay while Chris changed a flat tire, we were on our way. I stopped on Township Line Road for a picture of a pair of trees I'm almost certain I've photographed before. (Yep

Earning his bad-ass B ride leader cred, Jim led us straight to a closed road.

The flooding on Blackwells Mills had receded enough that we got through easily. The water was still high on the Millstone River.

The parking lots between the river and the canal were still flooded.

We finished our ride around the same time a lot of the mountain bikers were finishing theirs. The fellow in the car next to mine was coated back-to-butt in shiny red-brown clay. His white bike was even worse.

III: Friday (Grover)

The morning after Thanksgiving was even colder than the preceding weekend. When I left the house on my mountain bike, wearing every warm thing I could put on, it was 27 degrees. The plan was to meet Pete, and anyone else crazy enough to venture outside, at the Brearley House entrance to the towpath. 

From my house to the Brearley House is only two miles. On a mountain bike in sub-freezing temperatures it feels like ten miles.  Pete, having ridden in from home on the LHT, was the only one in the parking lot. We took off right away, into the shelter of the trees on the path down to the canal.

Pete uses the towpath to commute to work. He pointed out where the path had been washed out and repaired. We dodged a flock of geese and disturbed a great blue heron.

At Quaker Road we left the towpath and headed west on a dirt path to the trail that follows the edge of a cornfield into the southern end of the Institute Woods. The trail is flat and wide there, but nothing is marked. We occasionally saw side trails but stuck to the main one as it passed the Princeton Battlefield to our left and until we saw cars in a parking lot ahead of us. We turned right, hoping we'd be able to ride a big square back to the cornfield. 

Instead we came upon a swinging bridge, the new deck and cables fastened into an old concrete stairwell. 

"We'd better walk it first," Pete suggested. He'd heard rumors that there was a connector to the towpath on the other side. "But I've never seen anything that looks like an entrance on this part of the towpath," he added.

We rested our bikes by the bridge and walked over. The deck wobbled and creaked under our feet.

On the far side was a faint trail through the woods. We turned around, fetched our bikes, and crossed again.

Within seconds of starting to ride we had to dismount again as the trail narrowed and disappeared in places, obstructed by fallen trees. We followed it as best we could until we reached the bank of the Stony Brook. On the opposite side we could see the berm of the towpath. There was no way across the water anywhere in sight.  We turned around.

Back on the main path, we decided to take the first left onto another wide path. This one was riddled with frozen truck tire tracks as far as we could see. Back in my mountain biking days I would have grudgingly gone on, following Chris and the Johns and whomever else was experienced enough to bounce right over frozen ruts. Not today. Pete, who used to mountain bike a lot, wasn't into it either. We turned around again.

We came across another wide trail and started down it, only to come face-to-face with a massive tree that we didn't feel like climbing over because there wasn't much trail behind it.

We turned around again, retracing our route back to the cornfield, along Quaker Road, and back to the canal.

"This spot would look good at sunset," I said. "The sky would reflect on the water." 

"It's not always this wet," Pete said. It has been the few times I've been past here, and each time I've thought I should come back at sunset.

Farther along we disturbed the same great blue heron again. The flock of geese was still there, and in front of it another heron. We slowed down, then stopped, so I could try to take some pictures before we got too close and flushed it out. The bird had puffed himself up against the cold.

It saw us and got ready to take off.

It flew ahead of us, over the water, and settled down among the geese. This meant that we flushed it again, and a third time as it flew ahead of us once more.

"If this bird keeps flying with us we're going to have to sign him into the ride," I said.  The fourth time was the charm; the heron wised up and flew off behind us.

Back at the Brearley House I showed Pete the clear-cut that the office park owners had illegally done back in August, in violation of a site plan, resulting in a cease-and-desist order from the Lawrence Township attorney. The woods had been a barrier between the office park and the historic house.

We followed the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail through the office park and back to Princeton Pike. Pete stuck to the trail to go home. I turned onto the road. It was almost noon and almost above freezing now. I ended the ride with a measly 14 miles, but at least I got some outdoor exercise.

In the afternoon Jack and I went grocery shopping. The sun had set 20 minutes before we were finished. On our way home I drove back to the Quaker Road entrance to the canal. There was barely light enough to get the picture I wanted. It would have to do for now.

IV: Saturday (Kermit)

With afternoon rain in the forecast, the air would be warming up above freezing by 9:00 a.m. Tom figured there would be enough time to get a ride in. Bob and I met him at his house at 8:30 a.m. Under thick cloud cover and little wind, the clammy air felt colder than yesterday somehow. My fingers had barely warmed up by the time we reached Etra Park, where Ricky was waiting.

"I have a stupid route," Tom said. We'd never get too far out in case it rained. We'd go towards Englishtown, then turn southeast to Millstone, where we'd try to get to that coffee shop where Roy's used to be, the one that was closed the last time we tried to go there, the one across from Vesuvio's on Millstone Road, the one whose name none of us remembered.

We rode through chilly, clammy air and a little bit of traffic. There might have been a few places I would have considered taking pictures, but none of them were worth stopping or peeling off my lobster-claw gloves for. They would have been monochromatic dead-flower stalk landscapes under a flat, gray sky.

The Copper Ladle looked closed. Vesuvio's had looked closed when we passed it. "Clarksburg it is," Tom said as we turned into the gravel driveway to make sure. I ducked behind a dumpster to pee. There was a clean-looking mattress back there too (I didn't touch it). All in all it was more sanitary than the Clarksburg General Store bathroom.

Tom had crossed the road and was gesturing us towards Vesuvio's, which was open. I've only been in there a handful of times, but each time the staff has been very biker-friendly. They welcomed us in and offered us a seat at the bar. Tom, Ricky, and I ate cookie dough-laced brownies (don't judge!); Bob had the presence of mind to get soup instead.

When we stepped out again Ricky asked how many miles it was back to Etra Park. "Seven," Tom said, but he planned to go the long way, through the Assunpink WMA, to look at the river. I voted for going straight back; I was cold again. There was no resistance at all to my suggestion.

I did pull over on Perrineville Road to get a picture of a stand of trees along the Rocky Brook by Perrineville Lake. Here, amid all the chill and gloom, was a little ember of autumn.

Seven miles back to the park plus the long way around to Tom's to avoid the Wal-Mart traffic on Route 130 gave us nearly 45 miles, which was plenty good enough.

The rain held off until after sunset.