Saturday, June 20, 2009

Big Slosh on the PBP 200

As a child, I loved to ride my bike through standing water. There was a big park down by the river, and it flooded often. My buddies and I would sneak out after a big rain and go riding through the thigh-high water. We never got hurt crashing into submerged picnic tables because it was so hard to pedal that we couldn't go very fast.

These fond childhood memories came gushing back to me vividly as I rode the PBP permanent today, a 208Km (129 mi) loop connecting the towns of Princeton and Belmar, NJ.

The weather had been raining all week, and Saturday's forecast was for more of the same. As I drove my car to the start in Princeton, the news radio station predicted 'drenching rains' all afternoon. And they repeated the forecast every ten minutes, making it hard to ignore. But I had already paid my $5 fee, and was not going to throw that away.

I got off to a late start. My first distraction started when I arrived at the Princeton Junction train station, the start of the permanent. It must be a popular place for commuters heading into New York or Philadelphia, because there were parking lots all around, and each had big signs listing different entry criteria. Some lots were for local residents, some for permits, some for monthly passes, and so on. None said 'RUSA event parking'. All the businesses nearby also had big threatening signs to keep train riders out of their parking lots. I finally drove the bridge over the tracks to the other side and found a lot for 24-hour general public parking. That should work.

My second distraction came when I went into a Dunkin Donuts shop to get a donut, drink, and receipt, and to have my card signed. Well, the clerk complained that the night crew had not fixed her cash register, and she could not print receipts. Uh oh. And she did not want to sign my card. My powers of persuasion were not working. Each time I said something else, such as 'I am biking 129 miles today', she would believe me less. Finally, I think she signed just to get rid of me. Once outside the store, I remembered that I had a timestamped receipt from the parking lot, so I headed on my way...

The first 45 miles to Belmar went swimmingly well (pun intended). The skies were grey, winds were light, traffic was nonexistent, and it was dry. I had ridden the route three weeks ago, and I recognized most of the turns. I passed so many friendly cyclists that I lost count.

When I got to the Dunkin Donuts controle in Belmar, I was surprised to see my wife waiting for me. She had ridden her bike the three miles or so from where we are staying to the controle, and was waiting patiently. This was the first time she has seen me during a ride, and she was not happy with my appearance. She kept saying that I looked 'dead', which may have been true. She spoke to me for the few minutes it took me to snarf another donut and guzzle a drink, then I was gone.

The next 50 miles were not so dry, as I hit two separate rain storms. The first started shortly after leaving Belmar, and it rained hard for about two hours. I learned the challenge of reading a small-print cue sheet with raindrops inside and outside my goggles. It rained all the way through the next controle at a Wawa in New Egypt. There was a little break after leaving New Egypt, but then it rained hard for another two hours. It was interesting to ride through Fort Dix in heavy rain, with the booming sounds of a serious firing range in operation nearby, convoys of Humvees racing by, while biking in the rain. It was almost surreal.

The rain finally stopped (or so I thought) as I approached the town of Pemberton. The sun actually peeked through the clouds for a few minutes, and I squinted in the bright light, wondering about sunglasses. I lingered in the mens' room at the next controle at a Wawa store, enjoying the warm air from the hand warmer. It didn't dry anything, but it did feel good. I took a few photos of the old railroad depot in Pemberton, then headed out for the final leg, rejuvinated.

Alas, the brighter sky didn't last long. Less than 30 minutes after leaving Pemberton, the skies opened up again, this time with a vengeance. I remembered the weather forecaster's words about 'drenching rain', and realized this is what he meant. The deluge continued for another full two hours. I thought I had been soaked before, but that was nothing. It was raining so hard that cars actually seemed to be driving a little slower. I got off the bike twice just to make sure my two taillights were working. I hoped the Superflash brand was up to its marketing hype.

It was on this leg that I had my favorite experience of the ride, and this is what brought back those childhood memories of riding under water. As I crested the top of an overpass over I-195 or the Turnpike (I have no idea which), I could see tons of rainwater gushing down the bridge with me to a big flat spot at the bottom. The entire roadway was under water, six lanes wide with entrance and exit lanes, probably the size of a football field. And it was anyone's guess how deep it was.

Now a child may be forgiven for doing foolish things, but there was no such excuse for me. Prudence said I should ride the brakes and cross the abyss with all due concern, but I ignored Prudence. In two nanoseconds, I saw the opportunity, weighed the alternatives, upshifted, squealed out loud, and pedaled down the bridge as hard as I could. I blew two huge rooster tails to either side as I blasted through the lake, I soaked myself with greasy water, and blew road schmutz into my face. It was absolutely great. It was my favorite part of the ride. And I only hit one huge pothole in the underwater pavement, and it didn't cause snakebites.

The slog continued through another few towns, but time and memory jumbled together after that point. The rain let up a little for a controle in Cranbury, and finally stopped for good as I approached the end of the ride at Princeton Junction.

When I got to the finish, I was surprisingy lucid. I remembered the hassle I had at the Dunkin Donuts this morning, so I first made a withdrawal from an ATM across the street to get a timestamped receipt, then I went to Dunkin Donuts to have my card signed. It was a good decision, because I stood on line forever behind one customer on his cellphone who was taking orders for individual donuts and custom blended coffees for a party at his house. Arrgh.

I was amused that the clerks at three of the controles recognized my permanent card and almost grabbed it out of my hand to sign it (Belmar Dunkin Donuts, New Egypt Wawa, and Pemberton Wawa). They must have seen lots of RUSA riders coming through. On the other hand, it was obvious neither clerk at the Princeton Junction Dunkin Donuts had ever seen one. Next time, I'll find another place to get my card signed. :-)

Overall, it was a great day. It was my first long ride in the rain, and it gave me plenty of time to think about improvements. I might actually buy some real rain gear. And a visor. Oh, and maybe a shower cap. Temperatures were mild throughout the day which made the rain very tolerable. I shivered cold for the first few minutes after each stop, but quickly warmed as blood resumed pumping. And finally, my dumpster bike held up for yet-another long ride, I had no flats, and traffic was very cordial (except for one driver in Hightstown who rolled through a stop sign causing some angst).

And when I got back to the parking lot at the Princeton Junction train station, I enjoyed a few high speed trains blasting through the station. It's on the Northeast Corridor, so trains can go fast. So neat to watch the high-speed electrics blow by.

Here are my photos from the ride. Most photos are from the first leg when it was dry. I borrowed the camera from my friend Jayjay, and kept it dry in a ziplock bag during the rainy parts of the ride. Enjoy.

1 comment:

dean furbish said...

I hear it rained on the "other" PBP as well!

Great story. I really enjoyed the write-up and pics.