by David Cohen
Getting up at 2am on a Saturday morning is not one of the more pleasant aspects of randonneuring. The 45 minute drive to Princeton took me through several areas of heavy rain. The radio said it was 39 degrees. Great April weather. This is the worst biking weather there is, not counting disasters, I'd rather ride in 10 degree wind or 105 degree heat than 40 degree rain. But, I wasn't alone. At the start, there were 40 of us wrapped in everything we could find to keep us warm and dry. There's only one way to deal with this kind of situation -- resign yourself to getting wet, smile, and have fun.
The Princeton 300K took us into the woods of northern-central New Jersey. The ride promised forests, state parks, and more beautiful Jersey countryside. We rolled out of the start at 4:15am after some warnings from Diane Goodwin (RBA) about wet roads and extreme downhills. The route, designed by sadist Sandiway Fong, was very hilly, which coupled with the rain, meant extreme care was needed. The first 37-miles covered fairly easy terrain, nothing more than a rolling hill here and there. What made it tough was the weather and the moonless darkness. My fancy newfangled Photon Fusion headlamp provided absolutely no help. I was counting on it to supplement my Cateye Halogen, but all it did was illumi- nate the cue sheet and not much beyond that. Back to the drawing board for my lighting system. Luckily, the group was going slowly and holding together so the lighting systems of the others helped me along. We were all cold and soaked to the bone, but we managed to get to the checkpoint in okay shape without any major problems.
Morning light came, but the rain kept up. I left the checkpoint with Bob from Long Island, Alexis from Maryland, and Jud from Jersey. The serious climbing began and Jud fell off the back. Eventually I fell off fromAlexis and Bob, who were climbing great. Though I fell off their pace, I was feeling good and felt even better once the rain stopped at mile 60. My toes and fingers took a while to dry and warm up, but I had weathered the rain in good shape. Now that the sun was out, it was time to enjoy all that's good in brevet riding - the beautiful scenery, the thrill of moving along under your own power, and the endless food needed to fuel that power. This section of the ride was the toughest by far. For 60 miles it seemed that every turn took me up another short and steep hill. With the wet roads, I couldn't take advantage of the downhills. Some of the climbs were conquered at the wicked speed of 3.5 mph. If I hadn't done rides with climbing like this before, it would have been very disconcerting.
With the checkpoint 20 miles away, I rolled into a country store and found was the most cost-efficient fuel I've ever had while cycling: a delicious Hostess Apple Pie. Packed with just under 500 calories and 65 grams of carbs it cost just $.99. APowerBar costs $2 and has 240 calories. At 120 calories per dollar, the PowerBar is a ripoff compared to the Apple Pie (480 calories per dollar). The taste comparison is no contest. For the next 20 miles of hills, the fuel and the pleasure of finding a new tasty energy source powered me along. As did coming up with this ode to the Hostess Apple Pie: Oh, my 480 calorie prepackaged pastry, You fill my legs with endless steam, To eat you whenever I want, Is something of which non-randonneurs can only dream.
When I got to the 100 mile checkpoint, I was the first one there. I had been crawling up the climbs, had taken two breaks at stores, taken countless bathroom breaks, and knew that Bob and Alexis were in front of me. I figured a few people must have passed me during one of my stops. But, they took a wrong turn and logged at least 5 bonus miles. And, the others were struggling on the crazy hills just like me. I've never been first to a checkpoint, so I enjoyed getting first dibs at Susan Plonsky's fabulous brownies and quick service at the deli for a sandwich and Milky Way.
I left with Bob and Alexis, hoping to hang with them for the rest of the ride. We stayed together through the climbing in Jenny Jump State Forest. When we got to Penwell and the six-mile climb up Schooley Mountain though, the two of them separated from me. By now, the weather was unbelievable - 65 degrees, blue sky, no clouds whatsoever. Absolutely perfect cycling weather. The descent from Schooley Mountain was dry, so speeds of 40+ were an absolute blast. The misery of the morning weather had disappeared and it turned into a glorious day.
A few more ups and downs took me to Black River Road, another great descent and then a winding road through the woods with a pretty river on the side. About 5 miles before the checkpoint, I came across Alexis and Bob on the ride of the road fixing a flat. I stopped for some company and to help. Amazingly, the next mile took us about 35 minutes - Alexis got a total of three flats in less than a mile. They were all unrelated too - a pinch flat at first, a faulty patch next, and then a defective tube. By the time we were ready to roll for good, Jud had joined us. The four of us made it to the checkpoint just around 5pm. We were the first ones there, again. Apparently the hills in the middle had really gotten to some people.
The last forty miles promised to be faster - relatively flat and with a tailwind. We didn't realize how much faster until after I gave Alexis, who was feeling tired, a Vivarin. That miracle pill transformed him into LanceArmstrong for the next 40 miles. Bob and I were both pretty tired but latched onto Alexis' back wheel and let him pull us on the flats at about 22mph for most of the way home. There were a couple of climbs and areas of traffic that slowed us down, but we made it back just before dark around 8pm. We finished the ride in 15 hours, 45 minutes. My odometer registered 13 hours, 12 minutes riding time and 12,300 feet of climbing over 189 miles. This was a challenging ride with tough climbing. Thankfully, after the pretty lousy start, the rest of the ride had magnificent weather and gorgeous landscapes. I pray to the cycling gods for good weather on the 400K next month.