Hunterdown & Bucks Counties Take 1
December 19, 2020 § Leave a comment
The misperception of my home state, New Jersey, is rather vast and narrowly confined to the NJ Turnpike corridor. That perception begins, from the South, as you cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge and espy the Industrial properties that occupy both shores of the Delaware. There is a break for many miles, until you approach Port Reading and Carteret where the Tanker Farms begin, then transitioning into all out oil refineries, before phasing into the Meadowlands, peppered with the transportation industry. Considering that a majority of through traffic travels the 95 corridor, this is what those travelers see all the time, though to be fair, since the very last section of 95 was completed only a few years ago, some traffic has shifted away from the Southern 5 exits of the NJ Turnpike.
It is against this backdrop that I bring you a recent bicycle adventure I participated in with a new group of cyclists. This all began about two and half months ago when Robert R queried a bunch of us about riding the Covered Bridges Ride in Bucks County. This is a real organized ride, that was run in 2020, with safety precautions, but Robert wasn’t able to commit that weekend, and still wanted to ride it, and thus was looking for fellow cyclists to engage. Out of the bunch it was mainly he and I that were trying to put the ride together, and we were settling on a Thursday (which Thursday is unimportant), and we were trying to entice others to join us. I think Robert had the day off, and I was going to take the day off, but finding people who would take a vacation day for a ride is like trying to find humanity in a Trump supporter. As we were planning this, Joanne P sent me a picture of a loop that started and ended in Jersey, and covered about 65 miles of Hunterdon and Bucks counties, asking if I knew anything about the route. As it was a picture of the route, and not the RideWithGps route itself, I could only ascertain that it covered many parts of both counties where various rides that I have done, have ridden, so that while I wasn’t familiar with the exact route, I had ridden many of the roads traversed, and since she wanted to know if it was “hard” I told her there would be a lot of elevation changes, but she would not have any issues with them.
When this was all in the works, it would have meant, for me, doing the Covered Bridges Ride Thursday, and then if I wanted to, this Hunterdon/Bucks ride on Saturday, which I wasn’t against doing, and was seriously considering it. I was trying to roust up riders for the Thursday ride, and reached out to friends Rich G, and Greg C, both of whom were unavailable. The Saturday ride was with a group of cyclists whom I wasn’t familiar with, that Joanne P and Gerry G had come across and ridden with a few times. An apparently very cordial, older group of cyclists, mostly men, who were very welcoming to new legs in the group, and if I wanted to try them out, they usually ride out of Rumson Country Day School on Saturday mornings. We are going aside here for a bit. There are actually a lot of groups that ride in and around Monmouth county, and I am familiar with quite a few of them. In my Naivete, I always thought, that “The More The Merrier” always applied, and for years I tried to expand at least three groups that I rode with:
- The Pronto Group – Called Pronto for “Tavolo Pronto” an Italian Bistro, once partnered in by members of the group, that attests to the old adage, “Don’t go into business with your friends” if you want to remain friends. The group fractured, the business was sold, but it’s current owners still run it as an Italian Bistro, and we have used that location for years. While many cycling “clubs” charter to be open to newcomers, and to be ambassadors to the sport of cycling, I would say that in general, the Pronto Group was not all that welcoming to outsiders. They weren’t hostile, and it isn’t like outsiders didn’t eventually become insiders, if they persisted, but the group doesn’t really take that charter seriously, and though I love this group, I stopped trying to bring new people in a long time ago.
- The Track Group – I was introduced to Andrew and Andrea B quite a few years back by a friend of mine, Chris R who wanted me to take Track cycling a little more seriously, and so I reached out to them in the Fall when they were beginning their weekly cold weather training rides on Fixed Gear bikes. I owned a fixie, which at the time I used on the track, and with a rear brake I joined these folks on any Saturday morning where the start temperature was 34F or warmer. Since you need a fixed gear for the ride, and on the track, I tried, many times in vain, to get my roadie friends interested in riding the Track. I talked about the races, the Wednesday night fun at the Track, the camaraderie, and the benefits of racing on an oval, but since it involved investing in yet another bike, and for the most part completely different equipment, the number of takers on that front was also pretty limited.
- SFAC – I think the letters actually relate to some financial group, but this was a group whom I could count on to be riding most weekday mornings from mid Spring through late Fall. ALL of this group were at least ten years my junior, and I ran across these guys, at random, many years ago while out on a “training” ride. To be honest, I think they were just organizing themselves and getting “started” with riding the road again. Tom F had been a racer, but maybe perhaps he has been off the bike for some time, or just “couldn’t get out much”. I could be very wrong about all of this, however, I was sporting my beard, we hooked up, I was in my late 40’s, and riding 200+ miles a week, I was racing, and though I am not winner, I am a pretty strong rider, and I was used to putting the hammer down for long periods of time, and I guess I made an impression on them. Fast forward a couple of years, and I ran into them again, and they were a lot stronger, consistent, and they remembered me. “The bearded wonder!” they called me. All they could remember was I had a beard, and I pulled them down Ocean Ave at 26 mph. Anyway, we exchanged names, and made it a point to add me to their ride coordination correspondence, and I joined them for TTh beatdowns, with easier rides on WF. Since I knew a lot of people who liked to ride fast, I kept trying to add in people to this group, but this is a very discerning group, and I learned that inviting people to ride with this group wasn’t in the best interest of the group, nor the people invited. Again I love these guys, and love riding with them.
These were the three main groups I have been riding with for a while. There is another group of 30-40 somethings OHV, that is very strong and fast, and while this group is open to new faces, those faces better be strong and fast, because this group has some heavy hitters in it.
Anyway, it is against this background, that the opportunity to ride with yet another group had arisen, and as it had been proposed via a route plan that began and ended in Stockton, NJ, it seemed to me, that I could invite some others, and if there were issues with too many unknowns doing the ride, then we could simply start on our own, and run the course ourselves. No big deal. The weather did not favor the Covered Bridges Ride, and so that was postponed again, leaving only this Saturday Hunterdon and Bucks counties ride, and to place a cherry on the top of all that, the weather was supposed to be awesome. My list of “others” boiled down to my friend Rich G. and I shared with him the route, and like me, he had done a lot of the Kermesse Sports rides in the area and was familiar with the terrain. He was also in sync with my assessment, that if there were issues with us, then we would simply ride the course on our own and spare this group our troubles.
Friday evening I texted my friend Ken L. who was also doing the ride to find out for sure where in Stockton we were meeting, and he replied back quickly that we weren’t meeting in Stockton per se, but just outside of it at a friend’s house, and he sent me the address. I forwarded this along to Rich, and then made plans to be the first one there, so I could grease the skids, shall we say. I didn’t tell Ken that I had invited someone else, and I am not sure who knew that I was even coming. In any case, I had all my stuff ready to go, and an early pearly alarm set. By “stuff”, I meant that based on the weather forecast, which was a semi-cool start in the mid 50’s, and expected to hit the low 70’s, I packed nothing but warm weather gear, and would wear my sweatshirt until the ride started. For food, I packed a couple of slices of sourdough, and some PB packets to spread on them. A couple of SiS electrolyte packets, and some cash in case we happened upon a real convenience store.
I was up early pearly, and because I had prepared, I was ready to go rather quickly. A quick stop to make a personal deposit, and I was in the clear. I dialed in the address, pressed directions and then start, and the electronic voice of direction came to life. “Proceed to Cotswold Circle and turn right”. This went on for the next hour and as I was approaching Lambertville, still about ten minutes out, my phone rang. As early as I thought to be there, apparently Rich thought to be there even earlier. Ha! According to him, he was the first to arrive, and “Where is everyone?”. I told him I was 6 minutes away, and to hold tight.
Our meeting place was NOT in some secluded quiet little neighborhood offshoot of a Hunterdon County byway, it was directly on the byway, and though it was a rather roomy driveway, there was not going to be enough room for everyone, but when I got there it was just Rich and me and our host, whose name now escapes me. It wasn’t long before more people started showing up and soon the entire driveway was packed with a couple of cars off the road, and not quite in the driveway, but actually more in the yard. We quickly learned that our host, was merely a car host, and was riding with his own friends, so we were really simply dropping our cars at his place. A place it was indeed. A kind of mini homestead with many outbuildings that gave the appearance of being livestock buildings, though no livestock was visible. We couldn’t leave the driveway blocked, so some of us were directed to move our vehicles to an “upper” lot on the edge of the property, where we could easily stroll back. 3-4 acres is what I would estimate, but maybe it was 5. I walked back along the road, but later learned that the property was all his, so I could have simply cut back through the grass, which would have been easier, as I had moved the car in my socks.
We paid our leaves to the host, and departed onto a road of Hunterdon County where we immediately had to finish out the climb our host lived upon. While his road was not completely rural, it was rural enough. That is what is nice about Hunterdon County, is you can avoid most of the non-rural roads, and escape to the back roads pretty quickly, and stay pretty much off the grid for long periods of time. This wasn’t my planning, so though I looked at the route, I hadn’t clue where we were going, nor a guess at which way to proceed at any of the many intersections we came across. I simply followed. When the road descended, I tried to keep up. These weren’t my native roads, so I erred on the side of caution. When the road ascended I was happy to find I wasn’t the slowest climber in the group.
At some point we wandered into the areas covered by The Hell of Hunterdon, and Fleche Buffoon, so I started to recognize things, and roads and ways became familiar. For instance, I knew when we were heading into Frenchtown, because it was the reverse of the course from Fleche that headed out. While in Frenchtown, we stopped at the smallest convenience store I have ever seen, part of the Exxon. Without social distancing it was nearly impossible to squeeze anyone inside, so you might imagine trying to observe 6′ of separation. It was tight quarters in their, yes, but I managed to find a chocolate payday bar. How do you make a payday bar better? Chocolate, of course!
From Frenchtown we crossed the river and began the Bucks County portion of this ride which for a short moment had the appearance of including Uhlerstown Road, one of the steepest most unforgiving climbs along the Delaware Escarpment, but fortunately just before the covered bridge is access to the towpath, and we headed south to Headquarters Road, where we took the longer, less climby route where we intersected Uhlerstown road a short while later. See, when a road leaves water, it generally goes up, and when that water is the Delaware Flood Plain, as in Uhlerstown Road, then it is a leg grinding ascent. If you find a road that parallels a creek, say going in the opposite direction of the creek’s flow vector, then the ascent is a lot more gradual, and doesn’t require the smallest gear ratio you have on the bike. That was the way we went.
I am not going to go into every detail of the route in Bucks county except to say, that almost every road we were on was a tertiary or less roadway, and while there were still plenty of steep climbs, the roads were great cycling roads, because, no traffic. You can check out our actual tracks here.
We re-crossed the Delaware on the foot bridge to Bull’s Island State Park, where we picked up the Towpath on the Jersey side for the final miles of our ride. It was a very nice day, and I think in retrospect, the last place you want to be, as a fairly serious cyclist, is on the towpath with every other Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane out for their cycling experience. There just isn’t room for all of us, and we really should have simply gone out to Route 29 and ridden the large shoulder all the way to Stockton, but that isn’t what we did, and then what followed, which was completely my fault, disrupted the harmony of the Universe that we had achieved during our ride. I had taken a picture of our group, which I was behind, and had trouble re-attaching my phone to my handlebars as everyone else successfully rode around a slower rider travelling in the same direction. I was still kind of limited in my concentration to what was immediately ahead of me, the slower rider, when I didn’t look further down trail to see that the way was clear, when I moved to the left. That lapse in judgement put a huge scare into the younger woman (early 30ish) that was going the opposite direction. We did not engage in a crash, because I got out of her way just in time, but not before a stream of angry words issued forth from between her not-so-sweet lips. I uttered a sincere apology, but she kept screaming and yelling, and after my second apology, and she was still screaming, I had the scream back that I was only going to apologize twice if she kept up her rant. That was that. We went our separate ways.
We re-grouped in Stockton, where we contacted our host and put in an order for pizza which should be there by the time we climbed up out of town and pulled back into his driveway. We took the longish way, with the most vertical ascent to get there, which also included the busy road, but soon we were on his road cranking out the final two miles. I might have dropped the hammer and pushed the pace, and Cary came along and then pushed the pace a little more when he came off my wheel. I had to jump out of the saddle to sprint to get on his wheel, and when he hesitated for just a moment, I had recovered enough that I jumped around him and rode the final bit alone to my car. Everyone else finished, we took care of our wardrobe changes, and then were sitting on our host’s rear deck where we could get a full view of the outbuildings described earlier. Turns out our host had sheep and chickens, but since he was selling the property, he got rid of the animals, and only had his dog. About 5 acres in total on a pretty quiet street with access to Nirvana for cycling roads. Too far from my workplace, and I am too old for such a property, but someone will buy it, and do the place right.
As I was eating a plant-based diet, the pizza was not on my list of approved foods, however our host had a vegan chili warming on the stove and offered me a bowl, which I heartily accepted. We all enjoyed what remained of the afternoon for a short bit of conversation and then we slowly ambled out and left for our own homes. Though I already knew a few people in this group, I will say that I made some new friends that day. When the COVIDs are over, I am not convinced that my old Pronto Group will resume again, so I need to find another group to add to my quiver. I could be wrong, but having options is always the best option.