Sunday, September 11, 2022



It was a newspaper-in-the-shoes kind of ride.

11 September 2022

After a stressful week with not enough sleep, I chose to stay off the bike yesterday. Everyone I wanted to ride with was otherwise occupied. I even skipped the Sourland Spectacular. Instead, I slept in, took care of a couple dozen rusty paint cans that had been squirreled away in the crawlspace, did some yard work, walked around Bordentown with Jack, did some chores, and headed off to South Jersey for dinner with friends. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm day. 

As we ate dinner, I watched the clouds roll in. Tomorrow would be rainy in the afternoon.

I'd signed up for Eric H's Sunday ride. It was his first as a ride leader. He was filling in for Jim. These days, learning how to list a ride using the club's online calendar is more of a challenge than keeping a handful of riders together. 

I set out on Kermit, aiming to meet the group on Canal at Suydam at 9:00. They came rolling down a few minutes later. The forecast had gotten worse; two riders had canceled. So there were five of us, which is a good number of people to have on your first ride. He kept us all together.

Eric used one of Jim's routes. The plan was to stop at the Blawenburg Bistro. I'd leave the group there to make my way home through Hopewell.

We were a handful of miles in when I called out "Hole!" and pointed to a crater. Engrossed in conversation, a rider behind me hit the hole dead on. Carbon bikes make a certain noise when they misbehave. This noise was loud. Somehow, this rider stayed upright, suffering only a pinch flat that was quickly remedied. 

We were about five miles away from the rest stop, facing west, when the rain started. The Sourland Mountain was shrouded in gray mist behind a field. It wasn't raining hard. We pressed on.

A mile later, the rain picked up. We took a vote and decided that the best thing to do would be to skip the rest stop and head home. I had 33 miles at this point. 

I followed the group as far as the canal. When they went north, I turned south, with 15 miles between me and home. 

The rain was for real now. When you get to a certian level of wet, it no longer matters. I tilted my GPS so that the water would roll right off it. My shoes were soaked. My water bottles were coated in grit. My gloves were sponges. My sunglasses were useless; I peered over the top. I pedaled nonstop through Kingston and Princeton as the rain got heavier. By the time I reached the Lawrence border, I was riding through puddles.

I wheeled Kermit into the back yard and, in the rain, hosed the bike down. I cleaned the chain with Simple Green in my trusty Chain Pig, hosed the bike down again, and dried everything off with a towel.

Kermit and I have been in the rain together so many times that, to us, it's just another day. 

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Columbia Trail Diversion Booster

Columbia Trail, High Bridge, NJ

4 September 2022

Burned out on leading, I was more than happy to sign onto Marty and Bobbi's Columbia Trail ride on Saturday morning. I got everything ready on Friday evening, including knocking a fair amount of canal towpath from my trail bike shoes.

I got up early on Saturday morning. Distracted by a spider web in the back yard,

I left the house ten minutes later than I had planned. High Bridge is 45 minutes from my house. It was looking like I would arrive three minutes before the start of the ride. At a red light, I called Marty. "I'm gonna pull in at 8:27," I said. 

"All right," he replied, "But the ride doesn't start till 9." Derp.

This gave me time to drive up to the Hilltop Deli, one of our refuges during my hellish Double Reservoir route. I was glad to see they'd survived the pandemic. "The community was great," he said. They kept him going. I bought two muffins and headed down to the center of town to a little coffee shop at the bottom of the hill. I bought two muffins from them, too. Jack and I always split the muffins as dessert after dinner; four muffins will last us four days. 

The front parking lot was already full at 8:40. The rear one was nearly full too. 

M and B gathered us together to go over the route. Earlier in the week, I had offered a detour down to the Ken Lockwood Gorge. I warned that there's not much road left in some spots, and that we'd have to walk our bikes over at least one Ida washout.

Brian S, who is mainly a trail rider, upped the ante: If we turned downhill on Mill Road, we could get onto a path that would take us past Lake Solitude.

"Ooo!" I said. "Let's do that!"

What he didn't tell us was that, once we turned off Mill Road, we'd be on a path that made me think we were trespassing. We weren't, he assured me. The path led to a little bridge over the Raritan. I stopped for pictures.

On the other side, things got rough. The path turned into single-track, uphill. I nearly wiped out on a sandy spot when my left cleat got stuck in the pedal (it's been doing that since I got the bike, and it doesn't matter which shoes I'm wearing or how loose I make the pedal). I managed to stay upright and proceded up a hill of broken asphalt. 

At the top, Brian made a sharp hairpin turn. I kept going straight, into a driveway, to signal to everyone else what was going on. 

Having seen the profile for the GPS download, none of us was expecting to have to climb at all today. Yet here we were, gasping for air a mile in. "You can blame me and Brian for this!" I said. 

The hairpin took us to a paved road that went uphill some more. We were on River Road, which is where I wanted to be eventually anyway. We passed the lake on our left. I didn't stop for pictures because much of the view was obscured by trees. 

We gathered ourselves at the intersection of Cokesbury Road and River Road. "Hey, Jim!" I called out, pointing in the direction we were not going. "You know what that hill is?"


"Pedal, ya pussies!" I'm a horrible person.

River Road runs out of pavement at the entrance to the Ken Lockwood Gorge. There's a ramp that leads out over the river. Only Bobbi and I took pictures.

The path is not meant for bikers, or, if it is, it's been a long time since anyone tried to make it passable. Dirt road potholes are one thing; gravel bikes can handle them. Downed trees are another. Here, we got to separate the tall people, who lifted their bikes over the trunk, from the small people. All we short folks had to do was duck a little.

"You can blame me for this part!" I called out as the rest of the crew came through. I took some pictures of the river. 

I could see from the lines on the rocks how low the water was.

We came upon a stone bridge that reminded me of the Acadia National Park carriage road over Upper Hadlock Pond.


The next downed tree had been cut so that we could shimmy through.

I took more river pictures at some point:

Then came the big washout. I was too busy watching my feet as we clambered over babyhead rocks on foot. Only Brian and Chris stayed on their bikes.

Bobbi had Things To Say when we got to the end of that. Once again, I begged to take the blame. She had a great take on it all, though: Now she's done it and seen it, and if she hadn't, today would have been just another ride on the Columbia Trail.

At Hoffmans Crossing, we got back onto the trail. From there, it was smooth pedaling. The trail is wide enough that we barely had to break our pace to make way for walkers in our direction or anyone coming towards us. 

Somewhere north of Califon, we stopped on a bridge over a Raritan River tributary. Another trail rider offered to take our picture with Bobbi's camera. In a rare moment, I let myself be photographed, standing behind my bike and partially obscured by another rider.

Outside of the Coffee Potter in Long Valley, we stopped for a quick rest. Then we pushed on to the end of the trail at Bartley.

The same rider who took our photo before asked if he could do it again, this time for the NJ Trails website.

From High Bridge to Bartley is 15 miles of imperceptible ascent, less than a thousand feet for the entire length. The return trip descent is perceptible. 

We stopped again at the Coffee Potter. This time, some of us went in. The shop is in an old bank. They've repurposed the drive-through teller window to be a drive-through coffee window. Cars lined up all the way around the building. The line inside was almost out the door. By the time I got to the front, I no longer wanted to wait the extra two minutes for iced coffee, and left with two cookies to split with Jack later. (That's dessert for the week!) In the end, I needn't have worried about the extra two minutes. Nobody was in any hurry.

I checked the time. Jack had a 3:00 appointment for the new, bivalent Covid booster. I'd made an appointment for 4:00, just in case I didn't get home in time to drive him. I wanted to be ready to get him to the appointment, though, hoping they'd take me early so I wouldn't have to wait around at the CVS for an hour. It was hard to judge how much more biking time we had.

We set off again soon enough. A few of us got ahead. We stopped to wait at the field next to Mill Road in Middle Valley, the one with the Tewksbury hills in the distance. Today we had sunflowers.

There was this curious sign, too, an endless loop* of "No, please, after you!"

Chris and I got ahead again. In Clinton, he kept going. I waited, taking a picture of Fozzie and looking for spiders by the stream.

Together, we arrived at the bridge over the Ken Lockwood Gorge. 

I pointed down to the path and said to Bobbi, "That's where we were,"

We only had a couple of miles to go. The incline is the most obvious here. I sped back to the parking lot, not even stopping for all the gnome homes lining the trail outside of High Bridge. Cleaning off and packing Fozzie away took some time. I thanked B and M for a fun ride and headed home.

I had just enough time to shower (my legs were a dusty brown from shin to knee) and eat (no cookies, just lunch a person eats when she thinks she's fat; I'm full of contradictions) before driving two miles to the CVS that was doling out vaccines.

We'd both signed up for the booster plus the flu shot. Both were administered in the same arm, which I wasn't expecting. 

It was Moderna again. That's five Moderna shots for me. I now have enough data points to measure where I am on the post-vaccine side-effects scale. 

We sat on the couch, watching TV for a while, waiting for the stuff to kick in. Our arms were already sore. That never bothers me. I started to feel chills and a little dizzy, right on schedule.

But I'd signed up for Jim's Sunday ride, so I got up to get everything ready. It didn't take long to start feeling as if today's 30 flat miles were 60 hilly ones. Still, it was early. My plan was to ride from home and meet the group on their Boro Bean run. That way, if I felt shitty, I could turn off at any point. 

As the evening wore on, I got stiffer and stiffer. We went to sleep early. Surprisingly, I slept well, but when the alarm went off at 7:00 a.m., I could feel every part of my torso objecting. From bed, I canceled my registration and emailed Jim. He replied that this was a wise choice. I slept another hour instead. 

So far, though, as of 5:30 p.m., 26.5 hours after the shot, I'm feeling relatively okay. The first booster knocked me on my ass, with a fever too. Not this time. The flu shot tends to make me a bit soggy a few days out. Maybe that will hit tomorrow, when I go out riding with a small group of people who, like me, would rather not deal with the mayhem that is the Labor Day All-Paces Ride. For the rest of today, I'm going to continue to chill while my immune system creates antibodies for 6 different things (two Covid variants and four flu variants).

Our new glassblowing instructor has assigned us the impossible task of drawing 100 different cups. I got through the first 25 by drawing things I've made over the years. The next 25 riff on shapes we were taught as noobs. I've got a few more riff ideas, and then comes the hard part: finding cups online, as he asked us to do, and coming up with enough to fill our sketch books with 100 cups. I know what I'm doing for the rest of tonight. Ugh.

(*No, not really.)

Sunday, August 28, 2022


Assunpink Creek, Mercer County Park, Drought

28 August 2022

When I posted the route for Saturday's ride from Mercer County Park to Charlestown Coffee, I edited an old map. I forgot an important detail.

I rode in from home with Rajesh, who was the only one out of the handful of people I contacted to take me up on extra miles from my house. Jack H would undoubtedly ride in from Yardley. Blob, massochist that he is, chose to make the 18-mile trip from his house. 

We took the shortcut through the woods, stopping at the little bridge over the Assunpink. We're in a drought. The water was a sickly, murky, gray-green.

This is a reflection of the trees in the water:

Blob arrived at the parking lot looking a bit worn. "It's from the eight flights of stairs I had to climb trying to get through Princeton's campus." Dang. Had I known he was planning to cut through campus to get from Washington to Alexander, I'd have told him, "You can't get there from here." Campus right now is a maze of blocked roads, construction barriers, and students moving in.

Racer Pete rode in from Ewing. Joe C rode in from Hamilton. Everyone else had the good sense to drive. The air was sticky, and already I was wet with sweat.

There were eight of us, a number that's easy for me to count while moving. The new person, Joe C, it turned out, had been Rajesh's bike mentor and coworker years ago. They hadn't seen each other in forever. 

Someone noticed that the jersey Rajesh was wearing said "Wiggins" on the front. "I got it cheap," he said. I replied, "I'm calling you Wiggins from now on."

Eric H wants to be a ride leader. "Eric is going to give the spiel," I announced.


"Pop quiz!"

He did pretty well for not having studied. He's been on so many of Jim's rides he's got the patter down. 

We were heading east, approaching the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area, when I realized how tired I was. I'd had a hectic Friday and didn't sleep well. I looked down at my speed and was ashamed. Only then did it occur to me that we were heading dead-on into the wind. Somehow, I always wind up in front when we're in a headwind.

We made it down to New Egypt without incident. Next to Charlestown Coffee is a deli. They're connected inside. They're in a little strip mall at the corner of Routes 518 and 539, which is neither peaceful nor scenic. But the place has everything a cyclist could want, including a shady breezeway (that was indeed breezy) we could gather ourselves in, out of the way.

I opted for a mango smoothie, just fruit juice and ice. One advantage of being the ride leader is that I get to decide when we're ready to leave. This is important when I'm trying not to get brain freeze (I failed). One has to go slowly with these things.

The route back continued the counterclockwise circle, so we were in a crosswind again when we got to Hill Road. Some of the road is under trees, and under our wheels were dead leaves.

My lack of sleep was catching up with me here, and I wound up in the back of the group. I had a nagging feeling that the GPS would tell us to go north on Walnford Road, which, I only remembered at this moment, has been closed for bridge repairs for quite a while now.

Near the top of the last of the seven hills, Racer Pete got a flat. I stopped to lend a hand. I figured the rest of the group would be gathered at the intersection, waiting for me to make a detour. I know the roads around there well enough to fake it, but not as well as I know the roads in the Sourlands.

Fortunately, it was a front tire flat and a quick fix. And, as I suspected, the bridge was still out and the group was waiting. Blob and Jack know what Hill Slugs are about. They'd already assessed the situation.

"It's walkable," Blob said. "Loose dirt," Jack H said. 

Hmm. They were all already between the road-closed sign and the concrete barrier. Going around would add extra miles. It was hot. And windy.

"Well, I do have a reputation to protect."

Heddy, with a little grin, did an about-face and lifted her bike over the barrier.

A few people wanted to know where this crossing sits in the scale of difficulty. Racer Pete did lose a cleat cover, which adds points. We did have to hand our bikes off to people; that adds points. But the actual crossing was relatively easy, and dry. I'd say this sits somewhere in the middle. Eric H and Joe C got their Hill Slug initiation, so that's a plus.

The rest of the ride was hot and windy. With two miles to go, I felt myself starting to bonk. I guess I ought to have ordered the large smoothie, not the small one.

Wiggins and I made it back to my house with just under 62 miles. 

The evening was spent down in Collingswood, celebrating the new citizenship of an old friend. I was the designated driver, as always. We didn't get home until after 11:00, and by the time I'd cleaned the litter boxes, fed the cats their evening snack, and checked on the spiders, it was past midnight.

I slept in, and went out on my own with Beaker. The rear derailleur, which Michael had fixed as much as he could, requires a lot of double-shift-up-single-shift-down action. It makes quite a racket. I was glad to be by myself. I did the old Friday Night from Pennington route, with a detour into Hopwell. This is my recovery ride muffin run. 

On the ground everywhere were dead leaves. This is what early October should look like, not late August.

Boro Bean was strangely quiet. The guy who sits on the porch with his guitar said the place had been packed, including bikers, earlier. "Threatening skies," he said. 

I wish it would rain. I wish it would pour for days. 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Guest Slugging

Sky over Ringoes, NJ

21 August 2022


Bobbi is Tom's biggest fan, so say both of them. When she and co-leader Marty A listed a ride with "non-speedy climbers" right there in the title, I clicked on it to find that the route they'd chosen was the Hill Slug route from Tom's book, Road Biking NJ. I've been burning out on leading rides. This seemed like a no-brainer.

They'd tweaked the route to start in Hopewell rather than Pennington. For a hot minute, I considered riding in from home. Then I thought the better of it, because, to get there with time to spare for a 7:30 start, I'd have to leave my house at sunrise. It's tough enough for me to wake up before 6:30, let alone to to be ready to pedal before that. So I slummed it and drove.

The only folks I knew on the 15-person ride were Blob, Rajesh, and John K. We huddled together at the start.

There was a big talent spread, as would be expected wit a group of 15 people. Marty led and Bobbi swept. I tried to stay near the front, which is what I tend to do, when I can, when I don't know anyone else's riding style.

Marty and Bobbi kept the group together, minus a burp in the beginning, from Hopewell, up Crusher, down Carter, to Bayberry Road (marked for chip-seal or micropaving). Just as I was telling Marty that I always look for the herd of sheep on Bayberry, we came upon them. They were in the southwestern field this time. I stopped for pictures, waving everyone else on.

The sheep and goats all moved towards me when I said hello to the dog in the next pen. I didn't have anything for any of them except a shot at internet fame.

We went south on Pennington-Rocky Hill (where we pased a sign for chip seal or micropaving on Old Mill), across Route 31, over Burd, and up Woosamonsa. I felt as if I had home court advantage here. These are the roads I take when I haven't thought of anything better. I'm not usually here in the summer, though. They're much easier when my legs aren't imprisoned in winter tights.

We got spread out on Pleasant Valley-Harbourton Road. We stopped at the top of the first hill to collect ourselves.

We climbed up Goat Hill and went east on 518. It was so early still that Michael's truck wasn't yet parked in front of Wheelfine. Good thing. Most of the bikes on this ride were electronic-shifting, disc-brake, carbon-framed, it-bikes. Lately, I've been thinking that Miss Piggy's 7-year-old frame and 12-year-old components might qualify as antiques. 

The titular boulder of Dinosaur Hill was recently painted. It glowered at us as we zipped past. 

There were no cows to photograph at the top of Mount Airy. 

The listed pace for this ride was a notch slower than what I'm accustomed to, and while I wasn't the fastest climber, I felt more at ease on the hills than I usually do. The pressure to keep up with everyone wasn't there. I found myself out in front on the flats, which is where my rides get faster too. The temptation to ditch leading Hill Slug rides grew, but, at the same time, I knew that I needed to push myself to keep up with the Slugs in order to maintain whatever it is I have. It's not easy being a brick shithouse in a world of two-by-fours. 

To add an extra mile, Marty adjusted the route so that we wouldn't go past the cemetery. Instead, we stayed on Sandy Ridge, which is a thing I never do but I think I might from now on. The road is pretty and shady.

We filled the bike rack at the Bagel Barn. I think people are choosing this place over the general store a quarter mile up the road. I like to alternate. Someone asked me earlier which one had better coffee. My answer was, "Meh." I rarely get anything to eat at the deli; at the general store, it's their homemade cherry-walnut-squash bread or a chocolate muffin. The general store has tradition and history on its side. It's quirky and also salmon-colored. The deli has a concrete pig near the entrance and a bathroom you don't have to climb a set of rickety, curving stairs to get to. 

We got spread out after we left the rest stop. We regrouped outside of the Carousel deli in Ringoes. There'd been a flat somewhere back there. I had my camera out when Bobbi caught up. She takes more pictures than I do, always of people, and none of me because I asked her not to. "What are you taking a picture of?" she asked.

"The clouds."

I wished it would rain, but that wasn't in the weather's plan today. The entire state is in a drought now. There's rain in the forecast for Sunday night, all day Monday, and into Tuesday morning. I want it to pour the entire time.

We climbed back over the Sourland Mountain on Linvale, then gathered to regroup at Snydertown. I pedaled past, calling out to Marty that "I hate hate hate this road! I'll see y'all at the other end." The last thing I wanted to do in that moment was to stop at the bottom of the hill.

I hate Snydertown because of where I always put it during a ride: towards the end, after a big descent. At this point, my back is starting to hurt (or I've lost a seat bolt), I'm getting hungry, I've just climbed the mountain, and I'm mentally not ready to go up again. 

Really, though, there's only a little bit of climbing, at the beginning. The rest is nearly flat or slightly uphill. The road is narrow, winding, and was recently chip-sealed. There are no potholes. There's no traffic. The trees are tall and often hide the houses. It's a beautiful few miles. I guess it's not so bad after all, especially when I'm not trying to catch up to the rest of my riders. 

I waited in the shade at the corner, where there's yet another sign warning of impending chip-seal or micropaving or whatever. 

Name a quiet road in the Sourlands, near the Delaware River, or in Hunterdon County. Odds are it's going to be covered in gravel or tar next week. 

Across from the sign, up in a tree, was what's left of a caterpillar tent.

We flew down Stony Brook to 518, where the riders standing near me looked ahead in horror at the asphalt wall between us and Hopewell. "Do we have to climb that?" I screwed up my face. "Yeah, but it's not as bad as it looks." There are a couple of breaks in the incline that we couldn't see from where we were standing. It's a grind, and we did it. Everyone made it back to the start in one piece. 

After I cleaned myself up and packed Miss Piggy away, I stopped at Boro Bean to bring home a couple of muffins. 


Jim's ride had a few people signed in for his ride when I added myself to the list on Saturday evening. He was doing the Boro Bean run (yay! more muffins!). As is my custom, I planned to meet his group en route in Princeton and peel off after the rest stop. I miss out on a few miles, but I climb a little more to make up for it.

At 7:55, I checked the registration list again. I don't know why I did that. What I saw unnerved me enough that, had it been an hour earlier, I'd have canceled. But now I was committed; they'd be pushing off from the Claremont School in five minutes, a mob of fastboys that was exactly what I did not want right now. I was sleep-deprived and still tired from yesterday's hills. What I wanted was a recovery ride, not a catch-up fest. Bleah. 

I set out on Miss Piggy, taking my time. I had a mild tailwind to help me on the way into Princeton. When I got to Snowden, I opened the route on my GPS and did my best to follow it backwards while it refused to give up asking me if I wanted it to reroute me to the start. I was snaking through a neighborhood, clueless about which way I was facing, when I saw Rick waiting on a corner. We chatted for maybe five minutes before the group rolled up. 

I waited until I saw Jim, at the back, before I started to move. I hung with him and a few others as the rest of the group got far ahead and missed a turn.

"Let them go," I said. "Let them go." 

"See ya!" Jim called out, and on we went. 

They figured it out, and Jim waited for them at the end of what Jim called "a rabbit warren" of back streets. He read them the riot act about keeping the leader in sight, and from then on, everyone behaved, even up Pretty Brook and Cleveland, which I somehow managed not to be the trailing rider on.

After those hills, I relaxed, and was even having a touch of fun. We rolled onto Bayberry, where the sheep were in the next field over. I wondered if they were getting enough to eat, what with the drought and the grass being pretty much dead everywhere. At the end of Bayberry, as we regrouped, I looked up at a couple of the trees across the street, their leaves curled in, drooping.

In the moment, I was feeling pretty good, and even contemplated staying with the group past Hopewell for a while. But I knew that, because I hadn't eaten (only stuffing a couple of muffins in my pockets), the feeling would not last. Instead, I took the long way home, west and south, through Pennington. I wound up with 8 fewer miles than Jim's group had, but with more hills to make up for it, and probably a good deal slower, too, as I pushed against a strong south wind that promised rain.

It was so early when I got home that I didn't know what to do with myself, so I made a pot of coffee.

Free time will be obsolete a few days from now. Glassblowing starts up again on Wednesday. My brain will split in half, one part for glass, and the rest for everything else. I won't have time to be grumpy about ride leading and hills and whatnot. That's probably a good thing. I can barely stand myself right now.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

#66: Feels Like Work


Belmar Beach

14 August 2022

Tom listed a 60-mile ride into the Pinelands from Mansfield for July 30. A few days before the ride, I'd asked the Slugs if any were interested in adding miles. The weather was threatening to be uncomfortably hot for that. I had no takers.

We started early and had a tailwind. Our first stop was at the Brendan Byrne State Forest ranger's station. Tom runs this ride every year, and I've learned to check the shed by the side of the parking lot for spiders.

This time it was easy. A little jumper was already there, not under the eaves but out in the open, on the door.

iNaturalist later identified it for me as a white-faced jumping spider.

Next to the shed is a map of the Pinelands. Mike V was pointing out his annual century route to Heddy. I stepped into the conversation only to have Mike denegrate my annual Belmar century route because "you don't go to see the beach." By this, he meant that we don't spend time riding up the coast, in traffic, stopping for pedestrians at every intersection while a concrete wall blocks our view of the ocean. No, we head east, stop in Belmar, take some pictures, and get the hell out of there. Tom leads a ride from Monmouth Battlefield up to Sandy Hook. Now that's how one can see the beach.

We stoped again at Nixon's in Tabernacle. I sat on the sidewalk outside of the store. I've learned the hard way that, especially mid-season, I need to sit down during rest stops to keep my back from hurting. 

Eric H asked me if I wanted to put in some extra miles at the end in order to make the ride a metric century. That seemed easy enough, to go from 60 to 63 miles. 

As we got closer to Mansfield, though, the group became spread out. Mike, Heddy, and Luis were in front of me. I was more or less by myself. I got caught at the light in Columbus, and by the time I got going again, I saw Mike and company ride past the entrance to the park. This is easy to do; it looks like someone's driveway. 

I sped up to try to catch them as they went past the other entrance. While I was gaining on them, I was figuring out that they, too, were doing extra miles. They turned right on Island Road, with me in hot persuit. I caught them at the entrance to the Kinkora Trail.

"Yes! I'd love to do some extra miles!" I called out. "Thanks for asking!" Then I explained why I had chased them in the first place. There was no apology, only this from Mike: "Rule number 2a!" He meant Jim's rule: If you chase someone who is off the front, you, too, are off the front and on your own. Fair enough, but they really ought to have floated the idea to everyone. Eric and I should have, too. 

When we arrived back at the park, a lot of people had already left. I explained what had happened. "Do you want to do those extra miles?" I asked Eric. He said he was good with what he had. Tom said, "I made it 60 miles on purpose to see what the OCD people would do." Now he knows: we'd behave like jerks.

The past month of biking had pretty much made me miserable, both physically and mentally. I hadn't taken a break from biking since four days in late April, when I was in Covid jail, and it had been eight months before that since my last pause. The leg work in my lifting routines wasn't helping either. It had gotten to the point that my quads were so tight I couldn't put full weight on my knees without wincing, either on a stairway or standing on my bike over a rough patch of road. Group riding was feeling like an obligation, during which I was being judged for my performance and road choices. 

I needed to take a week away from the bike. And I did. I picked a good week not to ride to work. We were in another heat wave, which was supposed to break on Friday night and rain on us into Saturday. 

I'd only been off for six days when I figured we'd be rained out on Saturday anyway and listed a ride. It didn't rain. Nine people registered, and one more showed up at the parking lot. It was a stupid route, mucking about in the Sourlands without ever getting too far from home, should the clouds have a change of heart. My legs felt pretty good. I registered for Jim's Sunday ride when I saw that the regular pace-pushers hadn't. 

What I was waiting for was a warm, clear, day with little wind, to list my Belmar century. It might take until September to get it, I figured.

That day ended up being yesterday. I posted the ride early and it was full by Thursday evening. I opened up two more slots and they filled immediately. Twelve is all I can handle. I can't count more than that and pedal at the same time. Fortunately, I knew all but one of the folks who had registered, which means I knew they could handle it.

This ride requires logistics. 100-milers start from my house. We pick up the 85-milers at Mercer County Park. Then we move on to Etra Lake Park to fetch the 68-milers. This time, I'd also be grabbing  one at our first rest stop in Jackson.

We had a solid century crew: Martin, Rajesh (who'd changed his mind from 85 to 100), Ken W, Heddy, Ming, Carmen, and I picked up Jack H (who'd ridden in from Yardley) at Mercer County Park. Our 63-milers were Jim, Pete, and Bob. Tom, who now lives a few miles away from the Minit Stop in Jackson, met us there for a 50-mile ride.  

It was a clear day, in the low 70s. The wind was out of the north, enough to notice but not enough to get in the way. We felt it on Cedarville as we approached Etra, but for the rest of the ride to the beach, we pretty much ignored it. 

Belmar wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be, given the weather. Traffic wasn't bad either. 

Carmen, who is visiting from Germany and will be leaving soon, wanted a group photo with the sand in the background. Those of us who do not want our pictures on the internet stayed across the street. 

I took my requisite hanful of beach photos. What are those umbrella-tenty-things? I'm not up on the latest in beach coture. 

For me, the most difficult part of a century is the section between 50 and 75 miles. On this route, we're going slightly uphill, and into the wind a bit, between Belmar and Freehold. There are a few long stretches that sometimes feel demoralizing. I'd warned the group that I'd have a grumpy ten miles somewhere in there. It usually happens around mile 70. 

We were a few miles away from our 73-mile rest stop when one of our riders bonked. He has more career 100+ mile rides under his belt than the rest of us combined, and it took us all by surprise. But hey, this happens. We stopped and people shoved whatever food they had on them in his direction. I took the opportunity to eat something, in an effort to stave off the grumpies, and to stretch my back by arching it, looking up into the tree over hour heads.

"There's a spider web up there," I told Heddy.

No, really. When I looked at the photo at home, I knew it was a labrynth orb weaver web, with two egg sacs above where the spider is hiding.

My yard was loaded with these last summer. Here's an egg sac from one of last year's residents:

And here's a closeup of a Metepeira. Isn't she pretty?

Right. Back to the century. Our bonking rider got hit with cramps and limped into the Freehold rest stop, a Dunkin Donuts in a sprawling shopping center. He loaded himself up with sugar.

"There's a point in every century," I said, "Where your body goes from this is fine to what the fuck. I never know when exactly that is, but I always know after it's happened."

Meanwhile, some of us were losing our minds. I don't know what started it, but Martin and Heddy were deeply engrossed in a conversation about whether it's "water under the bridge," "water over the bridge," or "water over the dam." This is an easy answer when one isn't nearing the end of a 100-mile ride. 

Then, Heddy started asking everyone who came out of the store, "Taylor Ham or pork roll?" We got some lively answers out of that.

We only had 13 more miles to Etra, and our cramping rider made it there. He was contemplating finishing the century, but we talked him out of it. I've been there. Even after a rest and food, cramps have a way of coming back, and being stuck on the road when that happens is Not Fun. Jim volunteered to drive him back to my house. I texted Jack so that he'd know where the pickles were. We were digging into our snacks. I downed some caffeineated shot blocks, not because I needed the jolt, but because I wanted something sweet.

The last 15 miles felt slower, and it didn't help that we had to ride into the wind for some of it. I could feel my breathing rate increasing, which is a sign that my body had crossed over into what the fuck territory. When I get this close to the end, I just pedal and ignore everything else.

At least we had a tailwind up the last hill to my house. Jim and the other rider had come and gone by the time we got there. After everyone left, I was still in the street, talking to my neighbors, who are about to leave for a week in Acadia, and, well, we had to talk about my happy place, which is theirs too. 

I finally got inside, ate some things, and had a bout of vertigo in the shower when I leaned down to clear my hair out of the drain. My breathing was still fast. There have been few centuries where this has not happened. 

Thanks to Covid, we have a pulse oximeter in the house. I was curious, so I stuck my finger in. Sitting on the bed, doing absolutely nothing but scrolling through my phone, my resting heart rate was in the 90s!

We had dinner reservations in Philly, so I didn't have time to write a blog post. Instead, I put this up on the PFW Facebook: 

By 73 miles, we’d pretty much lost our minds. Heddy and Martin were asking everyone who came out of the Freehold Dunkin Donuts, “Taylor ham or pork roll?”

The ensuing banter entertained me all throught dinner (rude as it is to check my phone), and even spilled into the actual dinner conversation. In the end, it looks like the winner is pork roll.

We didn't get back home until nearly midnight. I had to go check on the spiders, of course. It was 1:00 a.m. when I settled into bed. My heart rate was back down to where it usually is when I'm doing nothing. I turned off the alarm.