Sunday, May 31, 2009

Training ride on the PBP

That's the Princeton-Belmar-Princeton permanent in New Jersey, not to be confused with the more famous Paris-Brest-Paris ride in France.

I am spending a few weeks living in NJ, visiting relatives, and working remotely. I have been off the bike for probably ten days, and I have been going through 'withdrawal'.

I found the PBP Permanent on the RUSA website and exchanged emails with the owner, who promptly sent the cue sheet and some additional information. The ride is a big 208km/129 mile loop connecting Princeton, which is inland mid-state, with Belmar, a famous beachfront party town on the east coast. The ride is mostly flat, with lots of short hills just to get your attention. Oh, and lots of highway overpasses.

Since I have been such a couch potato, I decided to give it an unofficial whirl today. The ride is not 'reversible' for credit, but since I am staying only five miles from Belmar, I biked to Belmar and started and finished there today. It was very convenient not having to load the bike on my car.

Aside from getting on the bike again, my other goals were to get a feel for long rides in the 'Garden State', and to learn the route. Knowing the route is important, since my normal slow speed allows no time for bonus miles.

I learned some hazards which are different from riding in North Carolina.
  • When riding in the 'door zone' on the main oceanfront street in Belmar in the early morning, you must beware of fisherman unloading their gear from their parked cars whirling their fishing rods out into the street and whacking you in the chest. (Luckily there was no fish hook at the end)
  • When riding on desolate rural roads with heavily overgrown vegetation, you must beware of lush poison ivy hanging out into the road, patiently waiting to brush you in the face and arms. It is everywhere. I would guess 1 of 20 places where bushes encroach into the road is poison ivy.
  • There are a good number of dangerous sewer grates still in place here. These are the ones with the slots in the same direction as travel, at the perfect width to capture and hold a road tire and launch the rider.
  • New Jersey likes traffic circles, aka rotaries. No modern traffic-calming devices these, but high-speed chicanes. There is one on the ride. I crossed it empty in the early morning today, but have no idea how I will cross it with typical traffic.
  • Public works departments apparently collect yard waste which has been placed in piles in the street. I frequently encountered piles of branches, logs, and/or leaves in the residential areas and had to avoid them. Some piles were so big that cars had to swerve to avoid them. Yech.
On the other hand, one hazard I expected did not materialize.
  • New Jersey drivers are a different breed. The highways here are like roller skating rinks. Cars sashay from side to side continuously, making the most of every available inch. Something that seems to be out-of-character is that if you are merging onto the highway, drivers actually let you in. It appears to be courtesy, but I think it is a mature realization that letting you in now will avoid a wreck and congesion later. And everyone's goal is to avoid congestion. Finally, drivers do parallel park here. They know the exact exterior dimensions of their car, and they whip their cars into and out of tight spots with great flair and pride. It is impressive. Given all this, I was expecting a lot of aggression and verbalization.
  • Instead, they carry the same efficiencies to dealing with bicycles. Not once did someone pull up on my tail on a narrow two-lane and wait for an opening. No. They hung back, watched for a slight opening in the oncoming traffic in the distance, and poured on a masterful display of horsepower and timing at exactly the right moment. It didn't happen just once, it went on throughout the day. Time after time, I'd see a car hang back behind me, then gun it as an oncoming car was approaching me. Eeek! Then nanoseconds after the oncoming car passed me, the car from behind would whip left and pass me, whip right back in front of me, and nicely miss the next oncoming car. After a few hours of this masterful dance, I found myself not paying attention. They are that good.
Back to the PBP ride itself, it is very pleasant and enjoyable. Most of the ride connects small rural towns and villages, and goes through beautiful farmland. It passes McGuire air force base, which I think was responsible for the large airplanes and helicopter formations seen during a good portion of the ride. The ride also goes through a number of high-end neighborhoods and upper-crust towns, especially near Princeton. The permanent owner has done a wonderful job of finding low-traffic scenic roads through to connect all the dots. Here is my pre-ride transcription of the route: (It takes a while to load; do let it continue loading if it stops.)

During the ride, I passed about 25 cyclists. Most were individuals or pairs, and one group had about ten riders. The biggest surprise was that they were all very friendly. I waved at everyone, and they all waved or said 'hello' back. And the big group which passed me all said 'good morning'. Very nice.

One lesson-learned for this ride is to carry lots more food and drink. Convenience stores and services are non-existent on several long stretches of the ride. At one low point, I walked into a neighborhood swim club and asked to buy bottled drinks from a vending machine. My regalia definitely did not blend with the dress code of a swim club, but some nice ladies welcomed me anyway.

As for me, I am in better condition following the ride than I anticipated. I am tired but not dead, my shorts did fine (normal street clothes), but both of my little fingers are numb (what's with that?). I took 14 hours to finish due to my normal slow pace (10mph), plus, ahem, about five wrong turns (my fault) which added about ten bonus miles. This should improve to get under the limit next time. And my dumpster bike did fine for another 200km. I look forward to doing this ride for RUSA credit in some time in June.

Unfortunately, I can't post any photos from today. I had the obligatory shots of controles, a high-speed passenger train racing through the Princeton NJTransit station (one of the controles), all the animals (horses, a bull, and a huge hog), and fun shots (like a road sign 'guinea hen crossing'). And one house in the country had a tall platform in the back yard with a celestial observatory dome (presumably housing a big telescope). Very neat. Well, I had just bought an inexpensive digicam from WalMart, and it lost all the photos when I tried to upload them. There is a point at which I can be 'too cheap'. Arrgh.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Summer in New Jersey

So this is summer in New Jersey?

It's Memorial Day Weekend, the official start of the season, meh.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

'Twas a dark and foggy morning

A spooky sunrise, shortly after 6am on Tuesday, May 12, 2009, during my bike commute. So very neat.

Click the photo to enlarge it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Search for Black Creek

Alright, so it wasn't that hard.

To follow-up on my last post, I found the body of water known as The Black Creek using the topo maps available on The creek is just west and south of the town of Black Creek, NC.

Click on the map to see a bigger copy.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

"You two look terrible!"

Actually, it was shouted more like "ARRGH, YOU TWO LOOK TERRIBLE!!!", accompanied by a scrunched facial expression and slightly recoiled body language.

This was the greeting we received from the startled counter person at McDonald's at the conclusion of our 200Km (120+ miles) bicycle ride yesterday on the 'Showdown at Black Creek'. Alas, he was right.

On the other hand, we thought it was great. My riding companion (I'll call her "Jayjay") and I were still standing after having just ridden our second RUSA permanent, this one from North Raleigh to Black Creek NC and back, in just under 13 hours.

The ride got off to an uncertain start. Early in the week, Jayjay had injured a knee. We were not sure she could or should try such a long ride and risk getting stranded or cause long-term damage. She decided to go for it moments before the start. It turned out to be a good decision. She was able to finish, thanks to keeping the revs high throughout, as well as some good drugs. (Memo to self: I need to devise a portable ice bag for occasions like this.)

We had one mechanical problem. About 25 miles out, Jayjay's right bar-end friction shifter completely locked up. It had been hard to shift before, but completely froze today. After three or four unsuccessful shift attempts going up one hill, all forward motion had been lost anyway, so we stopped to look at it. I was able to force it into a central usable gear, so she could proceed shifting only the front chainring, effectively a two-speed bike. We decided to continue onward and work on it seriously at the Kountry Kwik Pik.

I looked for some light oil at the convenience store, but had to settle on a huge can of WD-40. This was actually a blessing in disguise. I started at the derailleur end of the cable and moved forward, spraying gobs of high pressure WD-40 into the sheaths as I yanked on the cables. When I got to the friction shifter, I unloaded much of the can into every opening. Finally the lever broke loose. Jayjay said it shifted better than ever. Woo hoo, success. I think the easy shifting made her knees feel better too.

As we made our way east with renewed vigor, the wind started to pick up. We were expecting thunderstorms today, so this felt like a bad omen. Every flag stood at attention, and of course the wind changed direction every time we turned. However, we only had to contend with the wind. The skies stayed mostly cloudy, and we never got more than a few drops of rain here and there.

As we approached the town of Black Creek, I started wondering where the body of water known as Black Creek was located. I slowed going over every bridge, trying to evaluate if it the water was black enough, or if it could be called a creek. I took lots of photos, but don't think I found it. Our next ride will be the "Search for Black Creek".

We ate lunch at a picnic table in the Black Creek Community Center, a delightful park right behind the fire house. Curiosity got the better of a young boy playing football, and he came over and spoke with us. He asked where we came from. He immediately turned and screamed to his friends that we had bicycled from Raleigh. General disbelief all around. Then he asked my age. Complete disbelief. His wary eyes accused us of duping him, and he scoffed and ran away to play more football. Yeah right, and 200K is only the entry-level RUSA ride distance...

As the clock ticked on steadily during our return trip, Jayjay expressed concern that we would not finish on time. She repeatedly insisted I continue forward on my own rather than wait for her, under the mistaken perception that I ride faster than she does. I eventually relented about 5 miles east of Youngsville, and sprinted off into the distance. Of course, this sprint depleted what little energy I had left just as I returned to the rollers in Raleigh. This is such a fiendishly great ride with the hills at the ends, and I blew it. I was in Slog City. I stopped some, I walked some, and for what little good it did, I refueled at the convenience store at Old Hwy 98. So you can imagine my pleasant surprise, as I stopped for one final photo at the Wakefield High School stopping point, that Jayjay caught up to me and we rolled into McDonald's together. What a hoot.

Oh, and traffic was cordial, dogs were tolerable, and my face isn't too sunburned.


And, as always, many thanks to the route designer for a great ride.