This is an epic ride but well worth the challenge. You see aspects of NJ that you don’t expect: hills, steep hills, more hills, remote wooded areas, horse farms, and so many deer that you need to watch out for them. Riding with Chris Newman has trained me to pay more attention to lawn sculpture, and you’ll certainly have the opportunity to see many fine displays on the route.
It’s an early start to the day, but not as early as it could be. We rolled out of the Forrestal Village parking lot just after 5am. The moon was still high in the sky but the temperature was relatively moderate. The initial, 30-mile stage rolls mildly but by the time you reach Bagel Junction in Whitehouse, you’ll be ready for your second breakfast. Eat up! The next place to stop is Hackettstown, 20 miles further up the road and over some good hills.
When you reach Hackettstown, if you’re short on water or snacks, you’ll want to stop at the Quick Check because it’s 35 more miles until lunch in Blairstown. Just out of Hackettstown, you come upon Ryan Rd. The cue sheet says, “BL” to remain on Ryan Rd “and climb.” Fortunately, I had forgotten about this steep little gem until I was facing it and quickly shifting down to avoid falling off of my bike. Be prepared. This will be a good test of your climbing legs, but you’re rewarded with a good downhill and soft right turn afterwards so you get to recover a bit.
Honestly, there are enough significant hills that I can’t remember all of them, but Sunset Lake Rd and Birch Ridge Rd (picturesque, innocent-sounding names), kept me focused on the task at hand and made me grateful for the grilled cheese, fries and root beer that I devoured at the Blairstown Diner.
Naturally, since you descend into Blairstown, you have to climb back out of it so right away you start to work off that big lunch you ate. The next significant climb is in Jenny Jump State Park. However, patience and a steady pace will eventually get you to the top of the hill, and there is a fast downhill out the other side of the park. The next section, until you turn onto Penwell, is relatively mild and will give you some time to recover from your efforts.
The 6 miles up Penwell–it climbs in stages–will have you looking forward to your stop at Schooley’s Mountain General Store (open until 8pm). Stop. Eat ice cream or whatever your heart desires. Rest on the porch for a few minutes. It’s about 20 miles from here to Hacklebarney where volunteers will be waiting with food to get you fueled for the last 40 miles, and there are a few climbs along the way, but only one or two that are significant. Probably the most notable one is the hill up out of Cailfon. Again, just keep an easy pace and keep going.
Hacklebarney always seems to me like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but actually, it’s only about 10 miles from there back to Whitehouse, a fact that is reassuring at this stage of the ride. You get a fast descent down Black River Rd; unfortunately, the road is filled with potholes so you can’t really enjoy this descent, especially if you’re doing it in the dark as we did. We stopped at the Wawa at mile 164.1 (a few miles beyond Whitehouse). Quick snacks and coffee and we were ready for the final push–the last 22 miles. So now you face the same rolling hills that you cruised over at the beginning of the day. Gentle, rolling hills that eventually give way to flat terrain for the last few miles.
This ride definitely makes me feel like I’ve been somewhere else for a day. It’s not that the terrain is so strange or so remote, but everything that this ride presents–and for me that includes my own questions about whether I’m up for the task–means that I must bring all of my attention to it. I finish exhilarated, exhausted, sore, but satisfied with my effort. Some rides require this kind of attention and that is their value.