Magical Princeton

September 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

The Princeton ride has been a magical ride for many years. My earliest rides were with the Colts Neck crowd, and that made Princeton a round-trip of roughly 60ish miles. You could do that in a little over 3 hours and make a bagel stop downtown, all then followed by a hard hammer pace home.

It was awhile after I started riding with what IS now the Pronto Crew, that one day Larry, Mark and I decided to go to Princeton. It was an early Fall day, and the conditions weren’t the best, but we were the only ones who showed up to ride. I don’t think there was a plan to go, but seeing how it was just the three of us, after we each confirmed that we didn’t have any time limits, Princeton became the target location.

On that day, and this may be why so few showed up, there was a fairly brisk breeze out of the West, so 40 plus miles into a headwind was going to be a challenge. Since this was well into the riding season we were all in pretty decent cycling shape, and so we set out. We did all ride well that day and the miles seemed to peel away quickly. It’s a surprisingly straight route to get there, all on back or near back roads. Roll West out on Front Street into and through Holmdel. Cut down through Colts Neck and around Freehold Boro. Soon you pass through Englishtown and you are in the midst of the flat lowlands of Central Jersey. Out Federal, and soon you are on a long straight road that takes you deep into Monroe Township. From my memory, Federal used to end at a road that is now Applegarth. In my early days that was a rural road with a large farm. We used to turn right and navigate to Station where we we would head West until we hit this knucklehead junction where Conrail, and the NJ Turnpike were. Station did not cross the railroad in those days. We had to jump on a small road and go south about two hundred yards to cross and then double back to the other half of Station. It was bizarre.

That was all different now. I knew immediately when we got to Applegarth that the world had changed. Fortunately it wasn’t too difficult to figure out what to do, and soon we had crossed the Turnpike and headed into the quaint old town of Cranberry. Here we transfer to Cranbury Neck Road, and begin another long stretch of secondary bliss. Rolling farms bring you soon to the site of the Martian Invasion that Orsen Wells broadcast his radio drama version of The War of the Worlds. The pond at Grover’s Mills is such a quiet and quaint refuge from the normal hustle and bustle of life, but that is where the Martians chose to land.

Beyond this, the road ends at the first pretty busy road on the whole adventure, Route 571, otherwise known as the Princeton/Hightstown road then turning into Washington. This takes you right into the Northern end of downtown at Nassau. Along this portion the rider is treated to a pretty fucked up traffic circle at Route 1, and then the last mile of flat land that finishes over a body of water known as “The Ideal Course” where you often see Princeton Scullers actively training. Once across, elevation enters back into the ride with a long climb to Nassau.

We grabbed an outdoor table at Panera (The old bagel place had long closed its business doors), some coffee and pastries, and we watched Princeton life stroll by. I believe, it was a reunion weekend and there were all sorts about in the jackets of their day. We chatted some of the old-timers up while we sat there. They shared their experiences, and we shared ours.

When we had had our fill, and rested enough we decided it was time to take advantage of the wind that would now be at our backs, and ride home. I don’t know how others feel about this, but personally, I do not favor out-and-back rides. Even though the road does have a different perspective in the opposite direction, I favor new ground. Fortunately Larry felt the same way and said he thought he could pick out the route as we came upon it.

North on Nassau to Harrison we made a right and descended off the high ground back into the lowlands. When you hit Route 1 on this leg of the journey, it isn’t just crossing the street. You have to make a left and ride the gutter North for a short jaunt to Plainsboro Road. Usually the light is red when you arrive, so with the green, and a little effort you can get to the right turn lane for Plainsboro Rd. before the highway traffic comes roaring by.

Riding into Plainsboro, Larry said, “I think we make a left up here at the next light” which put us onto Dey Road which becomes Route 614. This is a relatively busy E/W road that has had a lot of development along its way over the years. Where the developments have gone up, Dey is 4 lanes with a wide shoulder. Where the farms still exist, it is 2 lanes with limited shoulder. It seems that a fair amount of traffic does exit into the various developments, and so the two lane portions aren’t that bad. However, the speed limit on that road is 50 in places. I don’t really like that.

Route 614 is a strange road for another reason. It isn’t continuous. After crossing Route 130, you hit South River Rd and 614 shifts to the north like South River was some kind of fault in the earth and the East side slid north about a quarter mile. South River road is not a road you want to spend a lot of time on. More developments are then passed, and soon we get back into the rural confines of Monroe Township and the traffic dies significantly. At this point I am starting to recognize the route as well, and soon we navigate through Hoffman’s Station before joining back up with Federal Rd. again where we soon descend (what little there is to descend) back into Englishtown.

Continuing to enjoy a terrific tailwind we opted again for some different roads home. We were now in our main riding territory, and route options were many, though the towns are the same. Out of Englishtown, it is still Freehold Township, and then Colts Neck and Holmdel before we crossed the Navasink from Middletown into Red Bank. We ended that ride where we had started, Tavolo Pronto in Fair Haven, with a nice lunch and much discussion of how great that ride was, and what a shame no one else came out to play.

It’s a strange thing about riding in a group. It really depends on the ride as to which group will make that ride the best ride. On the one hand, I feel like I want as many people to enjoy what I just enjoyed, and I am willing to lead those rides, but on the other hand, there is a point at which the group is too big for a ride like this. When you are approaching 5 hours on a bike, it’s all the little things that can detract from the experience. The better you ride together, the better the ride is for all. Although mechanicals are inevitable, if you can get through a ride without unnecessary stops, the ride is more enjoyable. On this day it was just Larry, Mark and myself, and that was perfect. It was magical. Each of us could do our turns on the front, and we knocked those miles out one by one. It’s hard to get that magic in a ride, and you don’t know when you set out that this will be that ride. It’s just at some point along the way, you realize “this ride is going pretty well”, and when it’s all over you look back and say “That was some ride!”.


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