I told a few people my plans for Saturday involved some sort of big ride...80, 100, 120 miles...something out there a bit. There were more than a few responses that bordered on concern for my overall mental well being, as in why would I elect to put myself thru such an endeavor. But enough people seemed interested in what such a day might be like that I decided I'd try to put some of the pieces of the day together and tell a bit of the story. Of course, I'm fairly certain the only people reading any of this are my wife and her sister (she's my sister now, of course...thanks for all the kind words Erika, love you)...so this is really nothing more than a heavy dose of self indulgence. But hey, I rode 109 miles yesterday...I'm allowed a little indulgence, right?
Most long rides start the same, the morning follows a pretty steady routine. Up at 5, coffee brewing. Luna and I take our walk, drink some coffee and talk about the day ahead (Luna didn't have any big plans for the day and told me to enjoy myself). Breakfast is something that will stick to my stomach for at least 2 hours, usually oatmeal with some peanut butter and honey, some eggo waffles with nutella...anything that makes me feel like I won't be hungry in 45 minutes (yogurt and granola just doesn't work...I'll be hungry before I walk out the door). And there are the usual checks...tires, food, glasses, $20 bill, credit card, ID...6 gel packs, 2 energy bars...spare tube, CO2, cell phone. I put my bike shorts on just like everyone else, 1 leg at at time (though I applied a bit more butt butter than most of you do, I'm fairly certain about that)
Things start to change as soon as I roll out the driveway. There's a different feeling in my head before a big day. 40, 50, 60 miles really aren't a big deal...a few hours rolling around...they can brutal, fast, hard miles, but they're over in a few hours. Saturday was different. I knew I signed up for a long day, I figured I'd log nearly 7 hours on the saddle and be home about 8 hours after I left. So when I rolled out at 5 before 7, I knew it was on.
The first 35 are easy. The first 10 are spent trying to escape the Route 22/78 universe, the next 15 are rolling miles thru the Great Swamp (yes, there is a Great Swamp up here in NJ, and it's not the same one where everyone from the Soprano's seems to end up), and the next 10 are like rolling thru an episode of lifestyles of the rich and famous. There are a few spots in the Mendham/Bernardsville/Far Hills triangle where (former?) masters of the Hedge Fund Universe and pretenders to the throne reside...they actually label their driveways, as in private road #117...it's obscene how extravagant some of the spreads are up there. But the roads are nice, there's very little traffic, and they all seem to end up at Coco Luxe.
Coco Luxe is a great turnaround point for most rides. Great pastries and cookies (an unreal Savory Scone), coffee...everyone is super friendly to cyclists. It's just a great spot. For me, Coco Luxe served as the beginning of the ride...the next 45 miles were the goods, and I knew it. There's a quick little hop up the hill to cross over 206 and another short steep section to get into Pottersville...and then the ride starts. Pottersville Rd. is a very unique climb for these parts because it's actually more than a mile long. It's about 3 miles, averages a fairly tame 5-6% grade, but it hits you with a couple 10% sections that let your legs know what you're in for. Normally, the last section is baking in the sun, but I was blessed with a cloudy cool morning, and all went well. At the top, take a right and start rolling towards my old stomping grounds, Long Valley. At this point, 40 or so miles in, I'm still debating which way I'll take to the top of Schooley's Mountain (yeah, it's NJ, but it is called a mountain...humor me). It feels good to roll over some familiar roads, the roads that I first really became a cyclist on nearly a decade ago. I remember how hard it all seemed in the beginning...30 mile rides were torture...and it feels good to be stronger now than I ever remember.
At mile 49, I decide to take my suffering straight up, literally. Schooley's Mountain Road is brutal...it averages nearly 10% for it's length of nearly 1.5 miles. The curve...if you've been there, you know what I'm talking about...is 10 seconds of hell. It's so steep my front wheel lifts off the ground when I get out of the saddle and start working. It's like 17%, and it's made worse by the fact that it only backs off to 8%...there's no easy rest until the climb is over. At the top, I know I'm fully committed to the ride...I'm 50 miles away from home and there's no easy way back. 30 miles of rollers and climbing before I can take the "easy" way home.
Along the top of the mountain and into Califon at mile 60...a quick stop at a god awful gas station to grab a few bars and bottles of water...and more hills. Califon Rd. to Guinea Hollow to the back of Philhower (the easy way, but I wasn't done yet). Into Mountainville, along the river until I get to Still Hollow. This is another one of those "I can't believe we're in NJ" roads. It reminds of the scene from Shawshank Redemption where Red travels thru Maine to find the box beneath the black stone along the old stone wall. Still Hollow Rd. is a mile and a half of New England road here in NJ, and it's steep as heck in the beginning and end, with a nice rest in the middle. Still Hollow gets to the top of Bissel and one of the best descents around, all the way back down to Rockaway, a left and a right onto Hill and Dale and the final point of suffering, Parsonage Lot. What a great name, I think...kind of evil sounding. It's like hitting a wall...no switchbacks...just a proper straight up steep climb. Well over 10% for nearly a mile with a few 15+ hits...it hurts, especially after 75 miles.
At this point, the worst is over...Old Turnpike Road (517) is a few minutes of 35mph fun into Oldwick. An unremarkable stop at the general store (it was too late to get the good stuff, the pastries and scones were long gone)...Lamington Rd., Liberty Corner, thru the Hills and over Somerville Rd. I did have an extraordinary meeting with a big doe and her newborn fawn about 90 miles in...the rest of the ride was just a process of ticking away the pedals to home. More busy roads and unfriendly traffic, SUV's and cell phones, fat people making fun of me and my bike shorts...full New Jersey style. But I think that's what makes the ride complete...109 miles of full service NJ cycling