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.

1 comment:

dean furbish said...

Glad you were able to locate a Permanent near you! It's a great way to see the country up close. Enjoyed the write-up and the meaning play in the title!