I made it to the starting line, and that has been the most difficult part of every ride this year. Last year I packed up to drive to the 600 and then promptly unpacked and rode my bike to Premise Maid Ice Cream instead. The other people eating ice cream thought I was being athletic and health-conscious by riding my bike to get my ice cream. I just felt tired and disappointed in myself.
This year, to improve my chances of being there on Friday night at 10pm, I did not work on Friday and I reserved a room at the Day’s Inn in order to rest as much as possible before the start of the ride. I checked in to my room at about 3, got my bike ready and rested until 5pm or so when I went to the Prestige diner for dinner. I tried resting a bit more, but of course I was too nervous to really sleep. Fortunately, NCIS episodes wile away the hours pretty quickly.
I usually start to feel better once things get going. When I checked out of my room and went outside to join the growing group of randonneurs, I saw lots of familiar faces. That’s better. Laurent was talking about taking it easy for the first night. Diane was busy taking photos. Katie was chatting up everyone. I said hi to Walt and Bill and several others and just sat on a curb watching the excited and nervous group get ready for the start.
Soon enough 10pm arrived. A brief meeting and we were on our way. So much for Laurent’s resolution to ride slowly. After a few miles, I couldn’t even keep him in sight, so Katie, Bill and I kept a pretty good pace moving through the moonlit night toward our first Wawa controle. Wow, what a reception we received there. it was probably 2am but there were five or six people cheering us into the parking lot. I asked for help changing my Petzl light batteries and three people were there to help me out. Amazing support on this ride! We had coffee and snacks and were on our way. We probably only stopped for about 15 minutes–good, we were focused on what we needed to do and were not wasting time.
During the next stage, Katie started not feeling well and let me know that she would be peeling off at the point where the outbound route crossed the inbound route. So we rode and talked our way through the rest of the night hours and right as the sun was rising, Katie and I said goodbye to each other and rode in different directions. She had several hours to get back to the start, and I had an hour or so to get to the next controle at an Egg Harbor Wawa. This one was NOT a super Wawa, however, so I had to go across the street to the McDonald’s for a restroom. Once again, I made pretty quick work of the controle and got back on my bike. Early on, I wanted to be as efficient as I could in order to have some spare time for resting and dealing with fatigue later on. Laurent was somewhere way out in front. In fact, I did not see him until Walt and Laurie’s house later that day.
The next section, 50 miles to Burleigh, is all along the shore. Riding this bit is an odd mix of beauty and boredom. You get regular views of the ocean and estuaries as you cross one bridge after another. You also make your way through the busy tourist spots along the shore, but then you are presented with long stretches along rough-paved numbered streets so that you really have to work hard not to watch the numbers slowly, very slowly, increase or decrease. The highlight of this section was the brief conversation I had with a woman on a bike who pulled up alongside me and asked me if I was doing the 600km ride. When I said that I was, she told me that her husband had done the shorter rides on the NJ series this year but had been unable to do this event because of a health issue. She wished me luck and turned around to head back in the other direction, but her interest and good wishes stayed with me. One of the things that I love about randonneuring is how it brings out a generosity of spirit in people.
I was quite happy to reach the Corner Café in Burleigh as I was tired, hungry and hot. I felt badly going into the café as hot and sweaty as I was (and the café was very busy), but I really had no choice. A seat at the counter was available and I quickly ordered French toast and apple juice. It’s really hard to eat in the heat, but this food seemed to be the right thing and I was able to get it down.
After a brief nap under the trees outside, Dawn woke me up and I was back on the road. The heat really intensified in the early afternoon, so that the 21 miles to the next controle was not easy. The person in the pizza restaurant that was the information controle wanted to know why the local newspaper didn’t have a story about us. When I ventured that we weren’t really that remarkable, she responded that we sure weren’t like her regular customers. I had no response for that so walked back out into the oven of afternoon heat and headed for Mauricetown.
The heat continued to be the story of the day, well, the heat and the horse flies or whatever they were. From here to Walt’s house and for some way past it, the marshy landscape although beautiful is a kind of torture for me as these large biting flies divebombed and bit me, even through shorts and even though I covered every inch of my body with nasty bug spray. They were not to be deterred. It took weeks for the lumps to go away! Whenever there was a piece of shade in this stage, I took maximum advantage of it as the heat was really debilitating. At the Mauricetown Wawa, ice, ice cold water, and ice cream were in order. I tried to rest in the shade for just a little bit, but I didn’t have so much time in the bank that I could afford to lounge about too long.
Eagle Manor is 28 miles from Mauricetown. Again, the scenery is beautiful, but the bugs are awful. Reaching Eagle Manor felt like an accomplishment. I’d been on my own for most of the day but had done my best to keep moving at a good pace, to ride smartly, eat wisely, and stay cool as well as I could. Getting to Eagle Manor more or less in one piece felt good. Laurie and Walt are such gracious hosts, too, and even though they had been greeting riders for hours before I got there, they greeted me warmly and showed me where bags, food and showers were. A cool shower was the first order of business and a rest was right after that. I didn’t really sleep for more than a few minutes, but lying still and slowing down was restful. When I got up, Laurent was still there and I asked if we could ride through the second night together. We quickly got our bikes in order and headed out while there was still some light left.
At some point, two riders from Boston started to tag along with us off and on. At least a couple of times, they went ahead but then suddenly they were rejoining us from behind. Some folks have a talent for piling up extra miles. They were pretty good-humored about it though. The Daretown Wawa was the only unstaffed controle on the whole ride—it was quite an achievement to have so much support on this long ride, and we really appreciated it. We had snacks at Daretown and headed out for Hammonton, where some folks had taken hotel rooms to get some rest in beds. Even though Joe Fillip had offered his room if I wanted to rest there when we got to Hammonton, I didn’t feel that I had enough time to ride to the hotel, rest, get back up and get back on the route. Laurent and I agreed to a brief rest at the Wawa in Hammonton though—so we joined other randonneurs on the sidewalk at the side of the building. Hard concrete can feel pretty good sometimes. I think I even dozed for a few minutes, but the rest was cut short by an over zealous store manager who decided he needed to power wash the parking lot and side walk where we were right then. I’m not sure why it was so urgent at 3am in the morning, but he didn’t look like he was willing to negotiate.
Off we went then, on our way to Vincentown, through the Pine Barrens, and on to Sooy Place Road. We’d just been on some of these roads for the Longest Day Ride and hadn’t been looking forward to riding them again, but during the night it seemed to go pretty well. Laurent and I stopped in Chatsworth for a brief cat nap at the municipal building, and then we were on our way again. Somehow I didn’t suffer from sleepiness so much this year. The last time I did this ride, the second night was very difficult for me. This year went considerably better.
Still, by the time we reached Vincentown, it was good to stop. A very large cup of coffee and some breakfast helped revitalize me a bit. We were able to stop for half an hour or so, too. Mordecai Silver and Sam Collins left with us from this stop, and the four of us pretty much rode together for the last segment of the ride. The weather turned hot again, and I worried about us overheating, but somehow we managed to keep moving forward. I felt pretty sluggish through this stage but did my best not to hold the others up too much. It was nice to spend some time with Mordecai and Sam and have the chance to chat as we worked our way through the last miles of the ride. Just about 10 miles from the finish, we finally found a store open and stopped for cold drinks and ice cream. And ice. It was quite hot again, so this break made it possible for us to finish pretty strongly.
As usual, it was great to see the last controle finally appear in front of us. We turned in our brevet cards and sat down in the airconditioned hotel lobby with some cold drinks and snacks. We finished with about two and one half hours to spare. A successful ride. I finished this event feeling much better than I did the first time I did it.
I would like to thank LeRoy, Walt and Laurie and all of the other volunteers for making it possible for us to do this ride in such a comfortable fashion. Your presence and support meant a lot to me as it did to all of the other riders, I’m sure. Thank you.