Never Got Warm

October 31, 2016 § 1 Comment

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar; 
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close that door. 
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm— 
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm."

From “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert W. Service.

I thought about poor Sam McGee often during this day. It was to be one of those days where I knew ahead of time it was never going to get too warm. We were not going to find ourselves in the midst of a late October “Native American” summer day. No, that wouldn’t come until the next day. This day was going to start out in the low high 30’s low 40’s and it would never get out of the 40’s. For that matter we wouldn’t even see the sun until it could clear the Kittatinny Ridge to our east.

A Facebook memory appeared on my timeline last week for a solo ride I embarked on that included some terrific roads in Rockland, Putnam and Westchester counties NY. That memory reminded me of a ride that I did two weeks later with my friends John Genuard, and Cliff Rigby where we did a nice 67 mile loop around the Kittatinny Ridge starting at Dunnfeld Creek Parking Area in The Delaware National Recreation Area. So, I started querying friends to see if I could muster up a hearty group for another go at this ride. The first order of business was to start socializing the route with people I knew that could be very interested. That included John Lewer, Eddie Baker, Terry Downs, Ray Villa, as well as of course Cliff Rigby.

John had a couple of clients scheduled for Friday, so unless they rescheduled on their own he was out. Eddie was on board at first, but then a budget meeting at work put the kibosh to those plans. Terry was very interested and would get back to me, and Cliff was in, and was trying to get some of his Friday crew to join. The forecast showed rain ending early pearly that morning and it being clear but cold with NW winds picking up all day. The indicator was partly cloudy, which does get hopes up for seeing the sun. By Thursday morning it was Cliff, myself, Terry, and Meredith if she could get a dog sitter, and if they could fix her heat that day.

I managed to get D1 to awake early enough to drive me to the rendezvous point at Exit 109 Garden State Parkway. There we would transfer to Cliff’s truck and then motor out to the Water Gap. Terry was planning on a post-ride visit with his daughter near Scranton, so he followed us up. Along the way we kept hitting patches of light rain, and then at points the roadway was still moist so it wasn’t clear whether we were experiencing more weather or if it was just road spray. The sky looked pretty favorable, but it was still very dusk-like out and it was difficult to assess.

We arrived at the parking area around 7:45 and by some miracle Terry had managed to stay on our wheel. I suppose that in retrospect maybe that wasn’t such a challenge as how many white Chevy  pickups would be carrying 20 grand of road bikes? The parking lot for  Dunnfield Creek Natural Area is tucked into a wooded area and is covered with wet leaves and does afford the convenience of a port-a-johnnie. The toilet is a nice convenience, but there are other toilets on the other side of Route 80 at the official Visitors Center. We all had pretty much dressed at home, so there wasn’t too much to do except make final decisions regarding the full state of dress. For example I was planning on sticking with winter knickers, with both a short and long sleeved base top layer and a long sleeved cold weather Cycles 54 jersey over that. A skull cap, some warm gloves, and wool socks. I failed to retrieve my shoe cover booties from the attic, so the socks would have to be enough. Terry was walking around in cycling shorts and for a moment looked like that was his decision, but he quickly donned some over-tights. I can’t speak to what Cliff and Meredith decided on, but they both looked to have made sound decisions in their clothing choices.

Now is a good time to discuss where we were personally in our fitness preparedness. Cliff had completed the Northern Transcontinental PAC Tour in August, that included a small team of friends (myself included) that intercepted him in Little Falls, NY and rode him home along a route of my design (I need to write this up). However, not long after returning home, Cliff fractured his ankle and was off the bike for a few weeks. Terry’s words to me were “This will be the longest ride I have done since the last time I rode with you guys last Spring”, so clearly Terry wasn’t exactly at the top of his game. Meredith has had a lot on her plate all summer dealing with personal issues that I won’t elaborate on here. Needless to say cycling for some time wasn’t her first priority, however she is a spin instructor, and we do call her the Honey Badger because she is tough. As for myself, I had geared the mileage down quite a bit since the summer, and was only just about 3 weeks into regular spin classes again. Last Wednesday I started an option to ride to spin class, spin, and then do a road ride afterwards. So I wasn’t too bad off, but I certainly wasn’t where I had been, fitness-wise, most of the year.

This is the actual route we traveled. I had changed up the route from last year to take care of getting off Route 206 for the climb over to the East side of the ridge. That section of 206 has virtually no shoulder, is a double climbing lane, and has guard rail right up to the edge of the roadway, so I just never felt overly comfortable on that, and I usually have a pretty high tolerance for road traffic. It just didn’t feel that safe, so I noticed Deckertown Turnpike to the North cuts through, and an added bonus would be we could enter Stokes State Forest and work our way south to the top of 206 climb, and then we would only have a short well shouldered section of 206 to ride before we were off again on a quiet rural road, Route 521 South. In addition, I changed the route to take Walpack Road from Peter’s Valley to Dingman’s Bridge, and there finish the last section of Old Mine Road, which just happens to drop us off at the bottom/beginning of Deckertown Turnpike. There was additional changes at the end of the ride to avoid as much of 94 as possible, but as will be laid out shortly, we didn’t do that.

It was about 40F when we started, and the wind couldn’t have been much more than a few mph that early. The sun was still low in the sky, so although we could see the illumination of trees in Pennsylvania, we were in shadow most of the early morning. The roadway was pretty clear, and the surface was decent enough. While there was one large early boulder in the road, that was the only hazard of its type we came across. By the time we got to Millbrook Village, I knew we were in for some hurt later on. The road undulates a few times to get that far, but I could feel it in my legs already that I was going to need to not push it on any climb. Cliff isn’t a fast person, and certainly not a fast climber, but he is persistent, and with time he will get to the top. Our first real test was a wall the rises straight out of Millbrook Village. Fortunately it isn’t terribly long, however the one memory I have of that roadway was what lay on the other side. For some unknown reason to me, the National Park Service hasn’t done anything with the descent down to Flat Brook, and that makes for a pretty treacherous stretch of road where as a cyclist, you have to ride the brakes the whole way down, while simultaneously keeping your arse off the saddle so you can utilize your thighs as shock absorbers. Anyone who has skied moguls knows the feeling I am talking about when I say my thighs were burning by the time I got to the bottom. Poor Meredith dislikes descending immensely, and this was almost too much for her. Fortunately that was the only stretch of road like that that I knew of and we went on.

I need to say something about the traffic where we were. If you have a background in statistics, then cutting out the noise to get to the real data is what you do. Well, it is safe to say, that in the Fall, on a Friday, statistically speaking there is virtually NO TRAFFIC for miles along Old Mine Road. It was hunting season, so there were vehicles here and there off the road, but it is simply amazing how far you can ride and not be passed by a car in either direction. That held true for our sojourn through Stokes, our short section on 521, most of Ossawa Road, then almost all of Old Schoolhouse Road, and it probably would have remained that way for most of the other roads had we not decided on a change in plans.

When we got to the intersection of Millbrook Road, and Birchwood there was a decision to be made. Though we had been snacking along the way, the AT Trail deli on Route 206 was closed, and the wind on top of the ridge was too much to stick around there, so we hadn’t gotten to stop and get some warm coffee or fuel up, so we were all running low, and I could feel that a change was needed. We were supposed to turn right and stay high along the ridge, but if we turned left we could descend into Blairstown, NJ and perhaps there would be someplace to warm up and get some refreshments. Left, we went, and a good thing, because all I can remember is that I was on auto-pilot following the road and very thankful that we were losing elevation, and then reasoned that it would be downhill all the way to Blairstown. That was a good thing. In Blairstown we found The Gourmet Gallery where we shuffled inside and immediately felt the warmth, and found ourselves in food heaven. I ordered something they called Sausage Haystack, which was grilled sausage with angel hair pasta, cheese and potatoes. In addition I got a triple-decker chocolate brownie. We all ordered coffee, Cliff picked up some Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper chips that were awesome, and Terry snacked on some PB sandwiches which are is goto fuel source for long rides.

Finally, we were warm enough, and the next task was to beeline as straight as we could go to get back to the truck. That meant getting on Route 94, which isn’t all that bad, as most of it has fairly wide and decent shoulders. Route 94 ends at Columbia, NJ where we have to cross into PA to catch 611 North up to the town of Delaware Water Gap, PA where we can catch the walkway across the Delaware and back to the truck. So, we had 8 miles on 94 into what felt like a wind, but really the wind was swirling quite a bit. That covered we were across and in PA on 611 and approaching the Water Gap, when it seemed like the wind was picking up. In truth, what was happening was the wind was funneling through the Gap, and at one point it almost blew us over, but it did catch Meredith, and as she turned away from the gust, it turned her 180 degrees around in the other direction. At that point was like “No Way” could she continue, but no way could we leave her there. There was no place to hide there,  and we only had another mile to go to get to town. I told her this was the worst spot, which it was, and if she just got going again, and sat on our wheels, we would get through it, and through it we got. The intensity did abate the further along we got, and soon we were crossing the Delaware and back at the trucks.

We were too tired to change into our street clothes, so we packed everything up, said our goodbyes, and did our high-fives with Terry, and then we all set off for our respective homes.

It may sound like we had a terrible time, but really, we had a great time. It could have been warmer, and it could have been a little less windy, but we covered some spectacularly beautiful roads, with brilliant scenery, and we did it together and we have that shared experience banked away for the future. In two or three years, a Facebook Memory will appear on this date, and we will all say, “That was a great day!”.

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