31 May 2013

What I Remembered On My Memorial Day Ride

I can't think of any bike ride I've taken, at any time in my life, that didn't leave me in a better state, in some way or another, than I was in before the ride.

Sometimes it's the exhiliaration of riding a particular distance, up a mountain or across some other type of difficult terrain. Other times, the euphoria can come from having braved rough weather conditions--or enjoying favorable ones.  Or we can be happy about something we've seen, someone we've met or a meal or snack we've eaten (or drunk!) along the way. 

I was happy I took my ride to Somerville on Memorial Day because, as I mentioned, I got to see a race and I pedaled my first (non-metric) century in three years. But, ironically enough, some of the happiness I felt from doing, and having done, the ride came from the moments of melancholy I experienced along the way.

You see, along the way, I rode along roads, through places, I hadn't seen in a very long time.  But I once rode them routinely, especially when I was a student at Rutgers and during the time I lived in the area after returning from living in  France.  

Sometimes I rode with the Central Jersey Bicycle Club, back when long-distance (or almost any adult) cyclists were still geeks of a sort.  In those days, most people who didn't live within a town or two also didn't know about the race, let alone the Tour de France or the Giro d'Italia.  And most motorists had no idea of what to do when a cyclist was on the road.  (Many still don't.) 

Much of what I saw, and experienced was familiar to me.  Road surfaces on Route 28 in and around Plainfield and Bound Brook were just as bad as I remembered them.  Of course, that added to the charm of Monday's ride.  Also, the towns I saw along the way hadn't changed nearly as much as I expected.  Sure, there were some new houses and office buildings, and the complexions of some towns' residents had darkened or lightened, but they--and everything around them--were unmistakably Central New Jersey.  In other words, they're close enough to New York that many commute to it, but far enough not to seem like a suburb of the Big Apple.  Also, even in an affluent town like Westfield--whose downtown has stores that rival those of other high-income enclaves--there is still the down-to-earth quality one finds in more working-class towns like Bound Brook and Plainfield, a quality I don't find, say, on Long Island.

Also, I found myself re-connecting with a rhythm of riding I didn't realize I followed through all of those years I lived and rode in the area.  New Jersey, of course, doesn't have the kind of mountains that Colorado or Vermont have.  But, when you ride in New Jersey, you can count on this general principle:  If you are riding north or west, you're going to higher ground.  So, you can expect to do some climbing.  Because many extant roads in the Garden State were created by simply paving over older roads (or even trails)--some of which date to the Revolution or even earlier--climbs tend to come more suddenly.  You climb mostly in short bursts because there's often very little to lead up to it.  More modern roads have more gradual (if longer) inclines and longer straightways leading to them mainly because modern road-building techniques made such things possible.

Also, if you pedal south or west, there's a good chance you'll be riding into the wind (if indeed there is any).  In thinking back to the days when I rode almost daily in that area, I realize that I often, unconsciously, rode in accordance with the terrain and wind patterns I noticed on Monday.

I guess some rides--especially if we begin them when we're young--never end.

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