Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bike Tour and Blisters… or Man, Does My Ass Hurt!

This post is an anomaly, an aberration, an event that will never be repeated. There will be no sartorializing. In fact, my mode of dress throughout the period I am writing about was so shockingly appalling that there is no photographic record of it. You will also notice the tone of this does not match the rest of my blog. You are not obligated to read it… if you wanna be a dick about it.

For those of you, my gentle readers who are unaware, I am an avid cyclist. While the bikes I ride are classic examples of elegant design, the attire, or “kit” as they say, is nothing to be proud of. I have been described as “approaching douchebaggery” while dressed in my padded spandex. Trust me, the requisite outfit is purely utilitarian, and for a ride that was meant to be about 225 miles each way, an absolute necessity.

The bike, however, is a thing of erotic beauty. Sensual beauty? Sensuous beauty? No, bicycles are sensual. People are sensuous. I chose to take Lorelei out on this adventure. She is a 1977 Schwinn Superior, with a hand fillet braised chrome molybdenum frame weighing in at about 28 lbs (not counting her luggage rack and all of my steamer trunks strapped to her.) Her most exciting feature is that she is Flamingo Pink, a color only available for the first six months of that year. It would seem that no one wanted a pink men’s road bike except for me.

Guess who she is named after.

She is not as high-end as Miriam, my 1970 chrome Paramount p-13, but is swankier than Red Sonja, my 1978 Continental II.

Now you know the who; time for the where… and maybe some sort of why. I have been toying with the idea of riding down to Rehoboth since last summer. The idea of taking a long tour has always appealed to me and I have been meaning to see what Rehoboth is all about for years. Since there is no convenient mass transit route from here to there, this seemed like a natural two-birds-one-pointy-stone solution. I am also participating in a long charity ride in September that requires a bit of preparation, but more on that later.

Now on to the nitty-gritty observations from throughout the journey: Trust me, it is quite a mixed bag of exhilarating and terrifying. Consider this as hints to any other novice doing an unsupported tour through unfamiliar territory solo.

The first takeaway: Don’t trust your GPS… especially a Gamin Bike-specific GPS device. I tried to plan out a rough course beforehand, but thought I could rely on my Garmin Edge Touring GPS to guide me through the specifics. Ha! I took the ferry from Wall St. to Jersey City. That part went smoothly, but upon reflection I offer up takeaway #2: don’t dawdle! Get up early and leave early… not mid-morning. You will want that time back later, but the universe just doesn’t work that way. But I digress; it was early on in Jersey City that I first discovered that Garmin (ATMOS for Doctor Who fans. You will discover why.) is not the most reliable source for directions. He (totally a guy, and kind of a dick) started to direct me down non-existent streets and around in circles: a whole string of left turns, ultimately returning me to the ferry terminal about 20 minutes after I had landed. At that point, I used Google Maps to get a rough idea of how to get out of JC. Unfortunately, I did go back to ATMOS for the actual directions. He took me on a lovely tour of some park… we’ll call it a loop. Eventually, I did find a dirt trail to take me to the only bridge I could bike over, according to my “bike-friendly” GPS. That route was a highway (US 1/9) with no shoulder and a massive amount of tractor-trailers. Those drivers were not nearly as considerate as I assume BJ McKay would have lead me to believe. Then ATMOS decided it could take me off the highway, which I thought would have been much better, but no, those back streets were in horrible condition, threading through industrial warehouses and lined with more enormous trucks. I had gone into this with trepidation about getting through urban North Jersey, but I truly thought that the bike-specific GPS would plot a better path. I gave serious thought to aborting the entire venture, but I am a cheap bastard and had already booked the hotel at the end. No refund, so no bailing out. I consulted with Google once again and found a route to Newark.

Now Newark was surprisingly pleasant for a place known as the murder capital of the Northeast. The ride became quite pleasant at that point. Takeaway #3: just take the PATH train to Newark next time. I would give more details of my route, but ATMOS shut down around Princeton, claiming that no route existed to go… anywhere… and did not save any record of that segment. I am fairly certain he did it just to erase any evidence of the insanely bad directions he offered.

I made the decision in Newark to have ATMOS guide me to Bound Brook where I could get on the Delaware-Raritan Canal Path, which would take me to Trenton. I reasoned that a shorter route like that would be simpler for a simpleton GPS to calculate. Indeed, that part worked out ok. I rode though Summit (Named without any poetic license… it is simply up, peaking at Highpoint Drive… no imagination there on the part of the city planner. It was completely literal.) Happily for me, the second half of summit was all downhill along an empty, well-paved, winding road that threaded through lovely parkland. I must confess I did exceed the posted speed limit on those downhills. I had to stop at one point to relieve myself in the woods (too graphic? too crude? we do all pee sometimes) where something made its way down the back of my jersey and undershirt. Nature does have a dark side. Whatever it was bit and/or stung me. I say whatever because when I reached back, all I found was a green gooey blob of mush, mixed with red (I assume my own blood.) A little itchy but not enough to ruin what had become a euphoric mood.

A little further down the road I felt as if I had been going uphill for ages. It didn’t look like too much of a grade, but I did find myself looking far down into some picturesque valley. I can’t tell you where since as I said ATMOS deleted my trail. I would have taken a picture but I was not stopping with the camera on this trip. Sometimes you just want to be in what you know is a fleeting moment and experience it as a “now, but never again.” I was also very eager to convert all that potential energy I had invested in into kinetic. After a long uphill, gravity owes you a free ride. I did see my first substantial roadkill along that segment — a raccoon. Coincidentally, I just watched a Nat Geo special on raccoons. Urban raccoons will soon evolve into a hyper-intelligent species that will subjugate us. Perhaps that channel is following in the sensationalist footsteps of TLC and Bravo.

This whole section of the ride exhilarated me. Just before Bound Brook I did get myself a pint of those roadside Jersey blueberries. I forgot how good they could taste. I had also eaten an energy bar for the first time on this trip. They are vile! Perhaps the blueberries were just that much better in contrast.

I was hoping to stop for lunch before setting out along the canal path, but all I found in Bound Brook were Mexican restaurants. As much as I love Mexican food, and it smelled very appealing (I was also famished at that point) my better judgment kicked in to remind me of the, shall we say, biological impracticality of eating something like that while riding far from any facilities. Tip from The Amazing Race: take loperamide hydrochloride before heading out for a long day of no bathrooms. The food choices being limited, I opted for some yogurt to go with my blueberries. Takeaway #5 (I think): stick with fresh fruit and vegetables on a long tour.

I did start down the Canal Path at that point, but was not too keen on its surface. It was packed earth and gravel, but leaned more towards the gravel. Perhaps fine for a mountain bike, or even a hybrid, but a road bike is not named for no good reason. Even with my new 1¼” tires, she prefers actual roads. I did do my best to travel the adjacent roadways, but ATMOS really wanted me back on the bike trail. I switched back and forth but should have stayed on the paved roads. It was around this point when I encountered my first vehicle-triggered traffic light. I had read about these signals that require the mass of an automobile for them to change, but had never had to deal with it. Quite frankly, they suck if you are a cyclist who obeys the traffic laws.

From there I had another delightful segment to Princeton, which has some great designated bike lanes on the roadways. If only they were more common. I would have loved to stop there for some fine Ivy League College dining, but I was already far behind schedule. The easy roads encouraged me to keep moving along towards Trenton. I did stop just outside of Trenton to have a well-deserved Nutty Buddy… mostly because I found a deli that let me bring my bike in. With my trunk and pannier bags, locking Lorelei outside and removing everything would have become a huge production. Second piece of roadkill — a big, juicy possum. The rest of the ride to Trenton went swimmingly as well, even though I was becoming worried about the setting sun.

I crossed the bikeable bridge into Pennsylvania at about 8:15. I had really expected to be entering Philadelphia by that time. Little did I know just how pear-shaped this ride was about to turn.

First impression of Pennsylvania was, "How fun!" I was so wrong!

Now it was getting dark, and I had to rely on ATMOS even more. He must have known how vulnerable I was and sent me down a dark, winding road. In all honesty, I was still enjoying it then. The road was empty, and the downhill grade made it a lot of fun… until I got to the bottom. I saw a train in a covered station and thought it was some sort of commuter area. I even considered bailing on the rest of the ride and taking it into town. Lo and behold, this was actually a restricted area, a NJ Transit Rail Service Depot. Then ATMOS suddenly directed me to turn onto “unpaved road.” I realized I was getting dirty looks from the rail workers, and it was VERY wrong. I turned to head back the way I came and that is when I learned that ATMOS was indeed homicidal. He demanded I turn left… onto a railroad track… with an oncoming train. Luckily I have eyeballs and did NOT obey. I continued back out to the main road, ignoring his demanding beeps and incessant calls to make an immediate U-turn.

From there it went from bad to worse. Night had fallen and ATMOS directed me onto US 1. At this point, I will admit that the terror set in. Takeway #6: cheap LED lights are fine in urban settings so that YOU are visible, but in other environments, have lights that will actually illuminate your path.

ATMOS changed his mind abruptly and had me turn off into a suburban enclave. At this point I had no idea where I was other than Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia, so I had to rely on him. That turned out to be a 30-minute detour that took me back where I started, leaving me in fear that he would try to murder me on the same rail tracks. Then he declared that no route could be calculated and shut down, losing all trace of where I had been once again. Once I rebooted him, he recalculated a path. This time he lead me further down Route 1 to some more dealable roads. Honestly, this part wasn’t horrible but I had no idea what might happen next. That kept me moving at a cautious pace, especially since some of the roads were completely unlit. My front light just barely illuminated the white line in front of me to see any turns a few feet ahead.

Eventually, I made it to Northeast Philadelphia. It was probably 10:30 or 11 at that point. I would have stopped to call my friend who was expecting me that night, but I was again afraid of the unfamiliar area… you know the kind… urban but isolated with a lot of abandoned buildings, peppered with corner dive bars… real dive, not faux dive. Needless to say, I rode fast and hard for the next hour until I made it to his apartment. I did get to hear a pair of hookers say, “Look at the skinny white boy on the bike.” At least that gave me a chuckle.

I got to my friend’s place around midnight, desperate for a shower and a pizza-steak hoagie. I only got one of those things.

Needless to say, the plan to ride the longer leg from Philadelphia to Rehoboth the following day was abridged, and abridged by a lot.

My friend who was joining me for the rest of the trip suggested that we divide the second leg into two days, but the hotel was booked and I was not going to lose that money (I am both poor and cheap!) New plan: train from Philadelphia to Atlantic City and then ride from AC to Cape May to catch the Cape May-Lewes ferry. That is a ride I can handle. Being from South Jersey I know that place and felt very confident.

Unfortunately, there was a headwind the whole way, and I had not quite recovered from the day before. As my friend pointed out, my pannier bags were acting as sails to create a huge amount of wind resistance. This part of the ride would have been pleasant, but a train delay put us 30 minutes behind and ferry service stopped by early evening, forcing us to ride fast and hard the whole way. Fast might be a mischaracterization, since the wind resistance forced me to take a huge speed hit. At once point he suggested that we take the local bus, which I know would only take us a few miles, and would be slow. As it turns out, it probably didn’t save us any time, but allowed me some much-needed rest. Ultimately, it was a brilliant idea. The bus took us to the Dunkin Donuts by the Rio Mall (my fellow Cape May people know what that means) and then the ride from there to the ferry was something I had started doing as a tween. I found the familiarity invigorating. Also for my Cape May compatriots, did you know they added a bike path along the rail line from Rio Grand next to Route 9? And it continues along Ferry Road (now Carl Sandman Boulevard) all the way to the ferry terminal. That would have given us all a much safer childhood. We made it to the ferry about 30 minutes before departure. Hooray!

The ride from Lewes to Rehoboth was only about 8 miles, but a big part of the route was another gravel path. Again, crappy for a road bike. We made it to the hotel just before dark.

Another lesson learned: prolonged compression of the blood vessels and nerves in the perineum will not only cause chaffing and blisters in males, but can also cause transient nerve damage and impotence. Very personal information here: I couldn’t feel my junk for days… I still can’t feel much. It is surprisingly common according to Web MD. I think it was really because of the hard riding in race position at night through northeast Philly and from AC and the rough ride over the gravel in Delaware. My very cheap riding shorts from China do not have sufficient padding. I have ordered a much better pair, based on my sister’s recommendation. I will need them for my 275-mile ride later. I am also forced to rethink my devotion to my Brooks saddle. As much as I love its classic nature, perhaps there are alternatives to riding on a leather seat whose design has gone unchanged since 1898.

Rehoboth was fun: amazing crab cakes, some nice oysters, hotel hot tub to soothe the aches. And FUNLAND!

The water was too cold to go all the way in. Home is out there somewhere.


The perfect Spring seaside dinner. I earned this one.

I finally got to make up for NOT going into that carnival.

The trip back was a total pussy move. Rehoboth to the ferry via actual roads, which made a huge difference in speed, as in, we could ride twice as fast. The ride from the ferry into Cape May was something I could do with my eyes closed. We took the easy bridge instead of the more fun/dangerous big bridge, but I think that is a young man’s game.

On a disappointing note: I was REALLY looking forward to the eggs Benedict with crab at the Mad Batter, but they had closed at 10 am for a wedding. Man, I wanted those.

From there, it was just the bus back. We might have ridden, but it was raining on-and-off and it had to be done in one day to make a 9 am appointment the next day. And saying I could ride it would definitely have been a case of my mouth writing a check that my ass couldn’t cash!
And now for the shameless plug for charity: This September I am riding from Boston to NYC to raise money for the NYC LGBT Center's AIDS Outreach, Prevention, and Education programs. The tour is 275 miles over 3 days. It's a fantastic cause, and I encourage you to donate and spread the word. Contributions are tax deductible and many companies will offer matching donations for their employees. Have I nudged you enough?
This is the link to my fundraising page: Cycle for the Cause

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