An Epic April Start
I started with this email to my team at work:
"Hey all. I'm feeling great today, but if I have to sit in front of a desk all day today I may go postal on someone. So I'm bagging out and taking a me day. I won't be on the other end of the BB and I won't be reachable. If you need to get hold of me, hire a sky writer and canvass the skied of North Jersey. Be good, TTYT."
And that was the start. I got myself ready, walked to the back door, then took off my Garmin. I said to hell with numbers today. No numbers, no heart rate, no power, no speed, no metrics other than what I got in this head of mine. Just me and the bike, and partially sunny skies and a good, solid spring day. It sounded good in theory. More on that, and some other things, a bit later. Theories aren't always all they're cracked up to be.
On top of that, I'm going long, like WAY LONG, to kick off Martin's Epic Ride Competition. Like Kirt said the other day, I can make a bunch of laps at Lewis Morris sound epic sometimes. Well today, I didn't feel like turning mundane into epic. So I decided to go real epic and let the pieces fall where they may. I had intended to unplug from the world today. But I couldn't help myself and did check on the board from the phone once in a while during pit stops. Plus, I ended up going to the strange lands of North Jersey, where my road knowledge isn't what it is here. So I had to check the map a few times. But in the end, everything worked out great...
Well, save for the fact my legs may never work properly again. And like a dozen different things I might do differently. Here is a rough estimate of my day:
Actual hours: 12
Approximate map, probably not even close at all:
I kicked off the day around 6:00 am and rolled north until I hit the highest point in the state, which is appropriately named High Point. What the destination lacks in creativity it makes up for in precision. High Point comes from the same group of people who named Long Island. This is not to be confused with the people who have named Long Road, which is a mile long local road that we often ride. Anyway, I went up, then went down. And that was that. Epic, right?
Well, maybe there was more to it than that. The day started off fine, maybe boring even, which as you might surmise didn't last the whole day given that map above. I kicked it off with some Kings of Leon because the last time I did a monster ride, The Magic Day I listened to them, as well as Wheezer and a few other bands which I cannot for the life of me remember. I got through Chester and such with no issues, and was just buzzing along enjoying myself, when of course I had to get my first flat of the year when I ran over some glass on the side of the road. This was to be expected, and so it goes. But when I looked at the glass I could make out that the bottle was from a Rolling Rock. People still drink that crap? Anyway, I had 2 tubes. And who ever gets more than 1 flat in a ride? Yeah, you know how that's going to go. But that's going to be a bit later in the story.
So I changed the flat, no issues. I was extra careful not to pinch the tube when I pumped it back up and after putting it back on, it seemed solid. I was on my way and forgot about it. I texted my very own personal sag wagon and she told me that if I needed a lift home I better not get all the way to High Point before I called for a ride. I thought that I'd be good. And between Utah, Bill, and maybe 26er I'd have at least some small support network up here. But then I remembered Utah is on a cruise getting fat. And Bill doesn't usually check his phone. But you know, ignorance is bliss so I went with it. I love bliss, it's a wonderful state of mind.
So maybe 3.5 hours into this ride and I'm eating a smoked salmon sandwich (suck it, I once read that Harlan does it so why not?) on the side of the road, I'm just enjoying the day and looking in the trees and such for some form of entertainment. I think I was in the realm of Augusta at this point and it struck me as I was eating this that The Bard was actually a reasonable rescue option if I needed it. Then I thought it would be a god idea for me to text him and see how he's doing. But then I forgot when I saw a hawk in a tree.
I would write here that I like hawks, but then, everyone likes hawks, so it's not like I'd be saying anything. Well this was a big hawk, I guess he's good at what he does. He was just sort of sitting in a tree looking down. And I was watching him with that spaced out expression that you get when you've done a bunch of hours in the saddle but have a ton more to go. When suddenly this thing flies down from the branch and attacks something on the ground. As you can imagine, I'm floored by this. I did once see a hawk take out a rabbit as I was driving down a county road in Warren county once. But it's fairly rare to see.
Imagine my surprise when this is what I saw? And what's more, it kept going at it so I was able to snap a pic of it:
I don't really know how to describe this other than surreal. I'm sure this lasted all of 20 seconds but it seemed like this mini-epic battle in the wild kingdom. Just crazy, and how lucky I am to have had the camera out because I was trying to get a pic of the hawk? Before I knew it, it was over, and the hawk flew away empty-handed, presumably to look for some other form of prey that wasn't quite as feisty to deal with. I'm sure it found a suitable replacement somewhere.
Anyway, I felt like just wrapping up my ride there because how much more awesome could this get? But here I am however many miles from home, so I might as well ride this one out. I have to admit that at this point, I'm already considering getting to High Point and hopping on a train to go home via whatever circuitous route NJ Transit would take me. But then I wasn't sure that NJT went to High Point, and of course as I sit here I now know that it does not. There is some off route that goes to Port Jervis. But checking the schedule it would have been crazy. The only train that leaves Port Jervis would have been at 9:29 pm, then I would have gotten home at 1:59 am. How absurd. My sag wagon would have had to come get me and she wouldn't have been so happy about that I'm sure.
It also struck me that if I bailed in time, I could beg Robin to come get me after work. Why do I keep mentioning possible bailouts? Because once I got to High Point, I was good and done. It was about 12:00 and I wanted very little to do with coming home at this point. So I sat and thought about it. And really, it wouldn't have been epic if I rode 65 miles to High Point. then asked someone to bring me home. Granted, I would have been in MUCH less pain that I am right now. But it really wouldn't have been worth it to go half way then have to wait. So I decided that at worst, I'd at least start to head back and see how I felt. Rather, I'd start to head back and see if it's true that everything is downhill from High Point. But not before taking a pic:
Thankfully, it was. At least at first. But then it wasn't. And add in some wrong turns, and I had absolutely no idea where in god's name I was. I mean, I have an iPhone but at this point I'm, at 30% battery. I need to stop texting so damn much. What can I say? I'm addicted to communication. Anyway, I had turned the phone to airplane mode when I came down from High Point but then I quickly realized I was off track and wasn't necessarily headed where I thought I was.
No matter, epic right? We want an epic ride? Sure, this is shaping up to be one of those. But you know, sometimes epic in reality is more than one can handle, both mentally and physically. At some point, I realized I had gone southwest instead of southeast. The sun kept poking its head in & out of the clouds and for a while either I wasn't paying attention or it was hiding behind the clouds, or some combination of the 2. Anyway, it struck me that I was way off course about an hour after I came off the mountain.
When I saw this, it was just too symbolic of how the second leg of the journey was going. It was like the gates of hell and I was about to walk in. This was too rich to pass up the photo op:
So I took a little time to try and figure out how I'm going to get home. At this point, I'm thinking that I may just want to ride it out southwest and head towards Easton, PA where my parents live. Since they're retired they have nothing better to do than give my sorry ass a ride back home. So after some contemplation, I decide to just ride it out this way. Screw it, you only live once! Of course, this sort of approach to life may cause that lifespan to be much shorter than expected. But you know...epic, right?
So I'm through Newton and on the north side of Washington when I get my next flat. I guess you knew that was going to happen, because I alluded to it earlier in the story. But I had 2 tubes. So I was good to go. Everyone with me here? I sit on the side of the road and change the tube again, and I rip the headphones out because I have long since stopped listening to anything. The music lasted almost 4 hours then I was on to some Radiolab. But have you ever tried to keep earbuds in your ears for 12 hours? It's painful. I hadn't had anything on for a while, and my ears reveled at the freedom of having them out.
Did I mention I was out of water by now too? This sort of thing is required at this point. Somehow I always do this. I had passed a store with a full bottle and figured that I would find another soon. But then when I changed the flat I drained the whole bottle because I was thirsty. I ate my last waffle then, and it tasted like crap. Try eating the same thing for that many hours on a bike. Nothing tastes good at this point. So now I'm thinking, should I head towards Washington to find some food/drink and a bike shop for tubes? I don't know why, but this seemed to make sense at the time.
And away we go, slightly off course, into Washington. I made it without too much of an issue, though I was thirsty. At this point my body is destroyed. I've done maybe 3 rides of 3 hours in the last 6 months. Sure, I have years of experience but this is out of my realm at this stage of the game. Thankfully it wasn't the summer, so I wasn't too dehydrated. But I was hurting. So I got 3 big jugs of Gatorade and a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
Yes, I ate the whole thing. At the time I really didn't give 2 craps what it would do to me. As I'm sure you can guess, it wasn't the best thing in the world. To say my stomach revolted would be a bit of an understatement. But I kept it down and got back on the bike. As I rode away from the convenience store several things happened here, which I will do my best to try and explain.
1. I started to go east, back towards home. I totally forgot that I decided to go to my parents and get a lift home. I guess I was somewhat out of it. Maybe in the back of my head I really wanted to complete the circle? Maybe I was punch drunk? Hard to say, even now as I sit here. I admit that I was thinking about going back east at several points before I got to Washington. But I never decided to do it. That is, I guess, until I actually did it.
2. My stomach felt like a tanker filled with fluid. This was not a good feeling that I assumed would pass as I pedaled. I wasn't right on this assumption.
3. I forgot I was supposed to look for a bike shop.
In the end, I highly recommend taping the following note to your top tube, and handlebars, and maybe leaving the same note in your bike bag. It should say, "DO NOT EAT BEN & JERRY'S ICE CREAM WHEN ON A LONG BIKE RIDE!" At least that's what it should roughly say. You can make up your own motivational slogan.
Maybe a half hour later, I'm on the side of the road throwing up. No surprise to anyone reading, I imagine. I'll spare you the details and pics. Yes, I took a pic of it but now that I'm extracted from the moment it makes no sense to actually post this. After this I felt better, and got back on the bike and continued rolling. But shortly after I was hungry again. Thankfully, I soon rolled into Hacketstown and was able to get something to eat again. I stopped to get 3 slices of pizza and a cup of coffee. This felt good, and my stomach was so much more happy to have this in it. The coffee was remarkably settling to my stomach.
And yes, those of you geography buffs in NJ will know that Hacketstown isn't actually the best way to get back to Bernardsville from Washington. It's funny, because I lived in Washington when I was a kid, and in my head Hacketstown is directly east of Washington. But as we all well know, it's actually northeast. This is awesome, in that way that is not at all awesome. In fact, it sucked.
On the bright side, I knew where I was.
On the dark side, it was too far away.
On the darker side, I got a flat a bit before Schooley's Mountain Road. This is awesome, beyond words to say how awesome.
Ok, bright side again, and bizarro world in the same moment. Bright side is that I know there's a Cyclecraft down the hill in Long Valley. I consider riding my bike with a flat, but even in this state I know that these $1200 carbon wheels are not meant to be ridden down a hill on the rims. As little as I want to walk, I force myself to get off the bike and start walking. I absolutely refuse to look at my map to see how far I have to go. I don't want to know that it's 5 miles. As it turned out, it was probably more. But it didn't matter because against all odds, a truck pulls over in front of me.
And the driver's side door opens up and much to my joy it's one of the guys from Team Bulldog. I think his name is Tom, though I'm honestly not sure and frankly I don't care if it is Betty. He gets out and asks if I need a hand, and of course the answer is yes because I probably look like the saddest sack ever in the history of biking. For all I know I have crapped my pants and look like I've spent the day in a cow pasture. But I say yes and he agrees to give me a life to Cyclecraft. He let me sit in the front of the truck, so I guess I wasn't soiled by my own filth after all.
Anyway, this would be an awesome story except that after I got my flat changed (yes they did it for me) and they gave me 2 extra tubes at no cost (for real, I guess they were feeling generous after I told them my ride story), I still had to ride home. At this point, I texted my sag wagon and she said she would come get me. But I was probably 2 hours away and I refused to tell her where I was because I had to complete this journey myself. But I did make it clear that I was now having a miserable time and she'd never hear the end of my complaining.
So on I rolled. It was about 5:00 now and I have no idea what was going through my head other than trying to get home and eat a real meal and hopefully not vomit on the way, though honestly I didn't care so much about vomiting as long as I could nail down the first 2 things. So, bring it on. From here, the rest of the ride is a blur but in a good way, because I didn't really need to feel any more pain than I was already in. I ride, just ride, and pound through it all to the end.
For some reason I cannot totally understand, I take the hardest possible route home the last few miles. Instead of going around the mountain, I go up & over and then choose the harder of the 2 ways over the hill, up Jacob's Ladder. This is totally and completely idiotic. On my best days this climb hurts, and I have to admit that I had to paper boy the climb to even make it. Getting through that was one of the hardest things I had to do all day.
Then I was home, rolling into the driveway and to the back door. And I got off my bike and my ass let out a sigh of relief. And I then opened up the back door and was greeted by the amazing smell of dinner, which was a freshly made batch of paella. Imagine my surprise to find this waiting for me. Nothing short of amazing:
As I sit here now, I wonder what I was thinking when I left this morning. I have spent the last hour or so writing this up, trying to relive this and my rear end still cannot understand why I would do such a thing. What's more, I don't know what I was thinking in not bringing a GPS. Aside from the map with the constant compass feedback, I now really wish I had a line on a map that showed me where the hell I was and what my numbers looked like. The idea was to go for a bike ride in data-less peace. But at the end of the day, I'm a data guy, not a Buddhist or Daoist or Whateverist. I like data. Next time I won't make the same silly mistake. But then, next time I won't do such an absurd ride, more than likely.
The last few weeks I have spent countless hours trying to tell Utah that he & I are not endurance guys. Then I start this whole competition with a ride like this. I guess this one proves my point, that in the end, I am not made for rides this long. But to be sure, they are memorable. And when the long road of life winds down to an end, it's better to have a brain full of memorable life events than to have lived a safe but boring existence.
Well, at least my head thinks so. My ass may be singing a different tune.