Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

27 July 2010

I Pedalled There And Came Back

I'm back.

Yes, I did ride to the Delaware Water Gap.  The ride took more twists and turns--and I'm not talking only about the ones in the roadway--than I could have expected.  Then again, who ever expects twists and turns?  If they were anticipated, would they be twists and turns?

I started out on a route I've talked about in other posts:  over the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (a.k.a. Triborough) Bridge to Randall's Island.  In riding over it, I have a great view of the Hell Gate Bridge, which I've also mentioned in previous posts.  However, Charon didn't ferry anyone under it; surprisingly enough, I din't see any boats going under it.

From there, I passed by the Harlem matrons and their children and grandchildren on their way to or from church, breakfast or lunch. (They're not the sort of people who "do brunch."  Even though I sometimes do it, I'm glad there are still people who don't.)  Then, over the George Washington Bridge to Fort Lee and a few other Bergen County towns that look like Swiss villages with lobotomies.  I have seen them often enough, on other rides, that I hardly notice them anymore:  The faux-chalet and even-more-faux-Tudor houses and stores, as well as the gleaming "box" buildings in the office parks, are landmarks by which I can navigate without thinking.

Once I got past them, I spent another two hours or so riding through suburban sprawl before I realized I made a wrong turn and was in Rockland County.  I didn't mind:  the riding was pleasant enough, but it took me out of my way.  The directions I was trying to follow stopped making sense, so by that time I was trying to navigate from my memory of a long-ago ride.  When you have my navigational skills, that's a hazardous thing to do and is even more perilous when the ride you're trying to re-create is one that you did when you got into a fight with someone who's now you're ex and you didn't plan the route you took.

Anyway, when I got back into New Jersey, puffy cumulus clouds commonly seen on hot summer days thickened and darkened.  (Woody Allen would've had a field day with that, I'm sure.)  In  Saddle River--a town that has recently had the highest per-capita and per-household income in New Jersey, and has been among the top ten in both categories in the United States--the clouds opened up, and I ducked into what was probably the least well-kept spot in that town:  the entrance to the basement of a church that didn't look as if it was attended by very many residents of the town.  

I wouldn't have minded riding in the rain on such a hot day.  I did, in fact, ride, until the rain fell so heavily that I couldn't see where I was going and lightning flashed.  With the big lawns that surround the homes and other buildings, and the golf courses, there's lots of open space, and I didn't want to be a target.  Later, I would find out that the same storm spawned a tornado in the Bronx.

Anyway, after the rain stopped, it wasn't quite as hot or muggy, but still more of both than I like.  I rode for a while before stopping for a slice of pizza in Brothers Pizzeria,  a place where a two fortyish Italian men were making the food, a teenaged boy (who looked like the son of one of the men)  was slicing the pizzas and putting slices in the oven as customers ordered them, a fortyish woman was working the cash register and an older, but not quite old, Italian man was presiding over everything.  "Can I help you ma'am?"  "How hot do you want it, ma'am?"  "I hope you have a good day, ma'am."  The signs in the shop said they'd been in business since 1970:  It's easy to see why.  And, yes, the pizza was very good, made with a thin crust (Why do some pizzerias insist on making slices that could double as insulation?) and a tangy, slightly acidic, tomato sauce that wasn't sweet or salty as sauces are in too many other places.  

Now I'm going to tell you a little secret:  These days, I think there's more good pizza in New Jersey than in New York.  Too many places in New York try to make pizza something that it's not:  a gourmet fetish item.  Then again, I might be old-fashioned:  I've tried pizza with pineapple and, while I can understand why people like it, it's just not for me.  I also don't think that chocolate chips belong in bagels.  Believe it or not, I've seen that, too!

OK, back to bike riding:  After restoring myself (The word "restaurant" comes from the French "restaurer":  "to restore.")  I pedalled for I don't know how long and ended up at the Wanaque Reservoir, which I rode around.  That cost me about another hour, but I didn't mind.  Here's one of the few photos I took, and the only one I thought was decent:

You can see that it was a hot day, and was preceded by an even hotter day.  

At that point, I was a bit less than halfway to the Water Gap.  From there, I pedalled up to Franklin.  Here's something that, according to cynics, could happen "only in New Jersey":  within the Garden State, there is a town called Franklin, another called Franklin Lakes and a Franklin Township.  I passed through Franklin Lakes and, of course, Franklin; Franklin Township is in another part of the state.  I actually lived in Franklin Township for a time and from there commenced some of the long-ago rides I've described on this blog.

Anyway, if any of you are geologists, you probably know about Franklin.  If you're a rock-lover, you should know about it.  At one time, it was a major source of zinc and manganese; today, it's known as "the fluorescent mineral capital of the world."  Believe it or not, more varieties of minerals can be found there than in any other place in the world.  It might be one of the few places in this world that's actually more interesting and attractive under infrared light.  What one sees with one's own eyes and a normal camera is a place that's not so much pretty as it is picturesque, or at least calm, in a rather melancholy sort of way:  a bit like parts of  New England and the Ardennes and Picardy regions.

This, I was told, was once a mine pit.  It filled with water and the trees grew around it after mining ceased some time after World War I, which is when much of  mining generally went into decline, at least in the US.

The rest of the ride took me through scenes that felt rather like this ones.  Even the areas that hadn't been mined or farmed felt as if some sort of history were echoing or muttering through them.

And I could feel my own history.  Yes, my body was letting me know that I haven't done a ride like this one in a long time.  It wasn't just the fatigue I was feeling or the sunburn I got in spite of frequent layerings of sunscreen.  I also got, believe it or not, blisters on both of my feet.  By the time I got to the Gap, I could barely pedal at all, as the blisters were between my instep and big toe.  I think I got the blisters from the shoes I was wearing.  I'd worn them before on shorter rides, but I think that they didn't give me enough support for ten-plus hours on Arielle. Getting them, and my feet, soaked in the rainstorm probably didn't help, either.

So, yesterday, I took the train home.  The father of a family from North Carolina who were on their way to visit relatives gave me a ride to Hackettstown, which is about twenty-five miles away and the nearest station in the New Jersey Transit system.  From there, I took a train to Newark, where I took the PATH train to 33rd Street in Manhattan.  

I hadn't taken a train to or from Newark in years.  So, I didn't realize that a new terminal has been built at Broad Street.  That's where the NJ Transit train went.  Penn Station, which has been Newark's main terminal for decades, is about half a mile away.  There's a light rail that connects the two and I could've brought my bike on it, but doing so seemed more trouble than it was worth.  So I rode my bike, barely pedalling at all.

Millie came by about five minutes after I got home.  She was even more surprised to see me than Max and Charlie were!

I wish I could have ridden back.  But at least in riding to the Gap, I pedalled 112 miles, which is the longest I've done in my life as Justine.  And I rode up and down more hills than I have in a couple of years, and rode with a load (admittedly, not large) for the first time in a long time.  Arielle, my Mercian road bike and my Carradice Barley performed much better than I did!


  1. A good ride! My friend Chris who is my age (65) is strong rider, Pan American Team, Olympic tryouts, etc. He held a RAM record for a while. A few years ago he was riding up in the Michigan U.P. with his brother and an old teammate. He said it was warm and sunny when they left. At about mile 50 the wind came up and it started raining. They decided to turn back. The rain and wind continued, and the temperature dropped 40 degrees. He said he has ridden the TdF climbs, but this was the hardest ride of his life. When they got back to civilization they pulled into a restaurant and ordered hot soup. He said he was shaking so bad he couldn't hold a cup and they were too tired to even talk. After 15 minutes of staring into their coffee cups, one of his partners looked up and said, "Well, that was epic". I think about that whenever I'm being pushed hard. Your ride was epic.

  2. Sorry to hear about some of the unexpected complications, but in a way that is what this kind of cycling is all about. And of course, 112 miles is nothing to sneeze at! I hope to be able to do that some day soon. Did you ride those miles all in one day, or over the course of two?

    Oh, and the reference to "Swiss villages with lobotomies" is very funny (and true)!

  3. Velouria: I did the 112 miles in one day. It's the first time in at least seven years that I've ridden that many miles in one day.

    Gunnar: "Epic". That's an interesting term. I feel that in some way the ride was an odyssey for me: It was, in a sense, a ride into my new life. I can understand how your friend Chris felt because I have also done TdF climbs. This ride may have been as difficult simply because I wasn't in as good shape for this one as I was for the climbs in France. But the ride I did on Sunday may have at least as much significance for me as those climbs have had.

  4. I once abandoned a two week ride on the second day and took the train home. My own fault, I decided that a trailer would be a better idea than bags in the days before you could buy a trailer. Naturally I overloaded it! The first day into the highlands of 90 miles just wore me out, second day broke the hitch... Surprising what you can do with bent fencing wire and rope, I rode slowly to a station about thirty miles away and bought my ticket home where the trailer was dismantled, the tyres half worn already! I still use the Carradice bags bought forty years ago and am sure they shall out live me.

  5. Coline--Wow! You tried to rig up a trailer? My respect for you grows.

    I think those Carradice bags are stronger than just about any trailer ever made.

    I must say: I'm happy my early posts are still being read!