Sunday, May 28, 2023

Impostor Syndrome Strikes Again


Griggstown Causeway, D&R Canal

28 May 2023

In late April, my old camera crapped out. I can't seem to make them last more than two years these days. They have a rough life, bouncing around in my jersey pocket for thousands of miles every year. This time, I didn't get it wet, I didn't scratch the lens, and I didn't wear out the zoom motor. This time, while I was standing on the railroad bridge on Camp Meeting, trying to take some photos of the freight train below, I got the green screen of death. Attempts to revive the thing worked for two feline photos, and that was it.



So I bought another one, same model, because I'm cheap and lazy. I tested it out on my pile of spare Muppets.

Tom and I usually contact each other mid-week to figure out which one of us wants to lead a Saturday ride. I'd been thinking it was time for our annual journey to Flemington from Hillsborough, but we found out that Lower Creek Road, washed away by Ida nearly two years ago, was paved again. So we compromised and came up with a route that would get them both. 

We had planned to start from Prallsville Mills in Stockton, but there was some sort of thing going on that sent us to Bulls Island instead. It made no difference, really. Having vetoed Federal Twist, Tom accepted Warsaw instead. From there, we bumbled around the ridge for a while and descended into Flemington from the northwest.

I'd mapped the return route to take us to Bonetown because, well, duh. 

The one other time I'd been here, I'd started from the west and it was all uphill. This time, we descended. I had no idea there'd be a spectacular view.

Here's the obligatory picture of the Green Sergeants Covered Bridge.

I darted ahead so that I could stop for a million photos of the new road. Is it me, or did they move it inland? Last time I saw the previous iteration, the road was in pieces in the water.

When we got back to Bulls Island, I took some photos of the canal.

Eight days later, on Plain Jim's ride again, we crossed the railroad bridge on Camp Meeting. This time there were tanks being transported north. We pretended we knew they were bound for Ukraine.

We were taking our rest stop at Bessie Grover Park because the Blawenberg Bistro was closed for a Hallmark holiday. Several Freewheelers took advantage of the playground. That's Luis on the right. I don't know who the guy on the left is.

Bolong tried out the swing.

And then he joined Steven on the seesaw.

With Our Jeff's big trip to Nova Scotia a year from August, I'm feeling pressure to do more climbing with him and his group. He leads rides from the PA side of Washington Crossing on Wednesday evenings. 

I can't even remember the last time I went on an evening weekday ride. I think it was a Friday night a handful of years ago. Before that, I hadn't done any since I started working at Princeton and commuting by bike instead. 

Pennsylvania still scares me. All the roads have one of five names: Creamery, McCaffrey, Stonysomething, Somethingcong, and Somethingtong. They go up or they go down. There's nothing flat. The roads are narrow, with weird intersections that go off at odd angles. I never know which direction I'm facing. And I'm always, always, always last.

But if I'm going to ride with these folks, I need to ride with these folks. And if I can't hang with them, I shouldn't try to hang with them.

I registered for the ride and stressed about it for three days straight. 

He had a big group, something close to fifteen people. I found myself in the middle of the pack, behind Jeff and Heddy and in front of a few others who had signed up for the Nova Scotia trip. 

There was one guy, whose name I didn't catch, who called out "Good job!" to a woman who was spinning her way up a hill a wheel's length in front of me. "Oh, fuck off," I thought. Was this random Boomer the arbiter of skill? Were we here for him to judge? 

It wasn't much farther along when this a-hole said it to me. "Shut up, please," I said as I passed him.


"Shut up."

I never did get to give him a piece of my mind, but, rest assured, if I see this person again, I will. Safe bet he has no idea how demeaning and patronizing he sounds. 

Anyhow, the sun was low as we made our way back towards the river. We were up on a ridge. The sky was orange. It was the smoke from the forest fires in western Canada. I pulled over to get some shots.

When we got back to the park, I remembered how to set my camera for sunrises and snapped a few more.

Jeff's group always goes to It's Nutts after the ride. I hadn't come prepared. Fortunately, I'd stuffed a pair of sweatpants in my trunk years ago, I don't even remember why. They came in handy.

Saturday was rainy. It was just as well. On Friday night, Jack and I had been up until after 2 a.m. with Mojo, and I was distracted and sleep-deprived all day. I made up for it by riding to Plain Jim's Sunday ride, a trip to a bakery in the center of Raritan. I took Beaker.

I got to the Griggstown Causeway early, with enough time to stroll around and take pictures.

This house was flooded by Ida. Its windows are borded up, but there are still canoes for rent in the yard.

Across the road is a tarp-covered shed.

The wall of the old house by the towpath is fascinating.

Eventually, Jim's group rolled in, and we made our way up to the Nevius Street Bridge over the Raritan River.

We went through Bound Brook on the way back. There's a clock in the middle of a traffic circle.

I signed up for Our Jeff's ride again. The group was smaller and faster this time, which got my nerves jangling all over again. He promised us one big hill, one of the Somethingcongs or Somethingtongs. 

On our way, we reached my favorite intersection in Bucks County, because I have the mind of a child.

Before we got to the big hill, Jeff looked north and said, "I don't like the looks of that sky. Does anyone have radar on their Garmin?"

I had no idea one could get radar on one's GPS. "I have an app," I said, and checked my phone. "It's coming straight for us," I said.

The hill was on the way to the river, so we took it. I remembered it from years ago, a wooded affair with lots of curving, short, sharp, shocks. 

On the other side, we checked the radar again. "Rain ending in Newtown," Elaine said. 

"Are we in Newtown?" I honestly had no idea, but it hadn't rained and wasn't raining. 

I checked my app, RadarScope, if you're curious, and it looked worse than before.

We bailed on the rest of the route and made for the river with haste. In the end, we stayed dry and only lost about four miles. When we stepped out of It's Nutts an hour or so later, the rain was coming down.

I rode from home to Tom's Raritan Ramble on Saturday. The route was moderately hilly, so I took Janice. On the way back, I broke off from the group so that I could get home without going through Princeton. In the morning, Nassau Street had been partially closed off (I rode through it anyway, of course). Because of reunions and graduation, I sensed the place would be a shitshow in the afternoon and I wanted nothing to do with it. 

I was getting tired. The thought of having to go through the center of Hopewell, with all its traffic and potholes, in order to climb out of the valley on Carter Road, seemed less appealing than turning left onto Province Line. I saved maybe half a mile and a handful of bumps, but I paid in elevation gain. 

When I pulled Kermit out of the car for Jim's ride on Sunday, I knew it was going to be a rough one. Like me, Jim had ridden into Tom's ride yesterday. He was tired too. 

Jim lists his rides as C+, hoping to keep the fastboys away. He makes it clear that the faster folks can go ahead if they want to. That's fine if those guys are a minority.

When the fastboys push the pace and take over the ride, it's another story altogether. It only takes one or two of these guys to get the rest going. Even people I wouldn't have expected got caught up in it. I often found myself in the middle, calling out to the riders ahead to wait for our leader when we got near an intersection. Sometimes they'd blow through two or three turns without waiting, only to show up in a bundle at some other corner a mile away. 

At one point, Jim chastized the bundle: "You know, some of yiz ougtha lead your own damn B ride."

I'd come out for a recovery ride, not this mess. By the end, even the designated sweep had dropped the leader. We were close to finished when I managed to corral five riders who were waiting to make a left onto a busy road. "Are you going to wait for our leader? You gotta dance with them what brung you." One was about to make the turn and circled back. 

Jim, meanwhile, was behind us, waiting for another rider who he hadn't realized had already passed him. There were some phone calls and he eventually came rolling up. 

I think non-leaders have no idea how much work leading a ride really is. Not only do we have to come up with safe and scenic routes, but we're also responsible for everyone who shows up, at least until they ditch us. It's our job to try to keep the group together. Creating a description that attracts the people we want is the work of years.

When the ride gets hijacked by a fistful of Strava slaves, we're left wondering why we bother. Or at least I am. Jim was far more calm than I would have been had this been my gig.

I don't expect anything to change. I've been at this for 23 years now. After all this time, I still get pissed when pace-pushers show up, I still think I'm only an athlete impostor, and I'm still afraid of Pennsylvania hills.