Too much he-man strength

busted inner tubeTime to get serious about my training if I’m going to ride 385 miles of the East Coast Greenway over six days come October. So today three of us headed into the hills and tacked on an extra 10-mile loop to our usual route to give us 50 miles.

We were just about to start on yet another hill when I heard a strange clack, clack. No, it wasn’t the sensor and reader for my cycle computer touching. We looked a little closer and discovered my tire had bulged out on one side and was hitting the brake pad. How this happened somewhere after mile 30 and not at the start is beyond me, but the easy solution was to let out some air, get the tire back inside the rim and pump it back up.

If only!

First we struggled to get the mini pump to properly attach to the valve. We even tried with another pump. Then we struggled to get the pump off. Air out. We tried again. And we let out all the air. And then we couldn’t get any air in.

What had we done?

With all that wrestling to get the pump off, the guys (because it wasn’t me!) had actually pulled the valve out of the inner tube! This one was history. And we were miles and a long uphill and downhill from the nearest bike shop.

Fortunately someone (not me!) had a spare tube. Once again, no air.

bike repairIt turns out that one had a small cut, caused perhaps by tools tucked in alongside it in the under-seat bag. We could quickly patch it, which I did, but fortunately another someone else (again, not me) had a spare tube. By this time we’d had enough practice with the pump and — phew — at the end heard the satisfying “pop” as the pump came off cleanly.

Back on the road!

 

 

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Following the footsteps of George Washington … and his spy

Time for another history-themed bike ride in New Jersey.

Today I led a 7-mile family-friendly ride on a road that George Washington and his troops took after their victory at the Battle of Princeton before we looped back on the D&R Canal towpath. You know it’s truly a family ride when two (speedy) 5-year-olds and a 7-year-old are part of the group!

Franklin Township closed Canal Road — avoided by all but experienced road riders — from Rocky Hill to Griggstown. This was the Griggstown Road back in 1777, and we were looking for the marker honoring the march to Morristown.

True, we missed it the first time — I thought it was by the red locktender’s house. It’s actually just past it on the way to Griggstown and on the other side of the road. Look for the two small American flags.

Or maybe we were just distracted by the friendly volunteer firefighters at the locktender’s house, offering free water and candy, even to adults. Honest — only the kids said yes to the candy. Not that they knew where the market was either.

But on our second trip back, when we were only four and we did find the elusive marker, they let the lone child step into a firefighter’s boots and wear the attached pants!

With the road closed, we had time and the peace of mind to stop for turtles. We did it even more often on the towpath. Some of us caught a look at some big ones (a foot across?) taking a break on a log, but others just heard the big splash as one dove off  — and wondered whether that was a child falling into the canal!

And the spy included in the name of ride? That would be John Honeyman, who lived in Griggstown. But whether he was a “notorious Tory spy” or just faking it and really spying for Washington or is, as the CIA calls him, “the spy who never was” — well, that is up to you to decide.

My ride, though, was more than just the 7-mile loop plus an extra 3 or 4 miles to find the marker. I rode from home to get in close to 30 miles as I train for the weeklong fundraising ride in October from Wilmington, NC, to Savannah. That was after 40 hilly miles on Saturday. Got to do more given those 80-mile days, even if they are flat!

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A bike ride from Portugal to India without leaving New Jersey

Northern New Jersey may be the last place you think of for a bike ride: densely populated urban areas with way too much traffic (and potholes) to make a cyclist happy.

This East Coast Greenway adventure showed us we had it all wrong. And it highlights just what a melting pot this state is.

 

Where is New Jersey’s big Portuguese area? Newark’s Ironbound section, of course. It’s a stone’s throw east of Newark Penn Station, where just about any New Jersey Transit train will take you (yes, we were on an early morning one), and not far from Newark Broad, the other Newark train station. There are at least three Portuguese bakeries on Ferry Street, and we only had to bike about a half-dozen blocks before we hit the first one.

Now we’re no connoisseurs of Portuguese pastries, so we were happy with egg custard tarts and their version of a croissant. But you could get a full breakfast if you wanted. It even opens at 5 a.m. — on Sunday!

There was plenty of indoor seating, but we wanted to stay near the bikes. Only later did we realize we just had to turn the corner and we’d have found several tables with chairs outside!

Fueled up!

And off the three of us went.  Biking through downtown Newark to University Heights, past the new Whole Foods, and then through residential areas was surprisingly pleasant. I know this was Sunday morning, and I’m not claiming it’s like this during the week. I’ll also admit our expectations for Newark were pretty low — and that we were wrong about it.

The Garmin struggled (OK, maybe our fault as newbies to this gadget) and East Coast Greenway signage was spotty at times (faded turn arrows!), so I’m glad we had old-fashioned cue sheets as backup. (The Garmin should have had the same information but whatever…) The Newark Greenway leading us to Weequahic Park was a treat. It would be even better if those signs had a small East Coast Greenway logo on them, just to reassure us that we’re on the right route.

Oh, and there’s an East Coast Greenway kiosk in the park!

 

If you want to avoid Newark (miss the Ironbound?!), the route at the southern end of the park seems to go a handful of blocks from the North Elizabeth station. I have no idea what the route is like. Newark Airport isn’t far away either — though I can’t imagine biking there.

At this point, we started going a bit west and clearly into the close-in suburbs. Hillside Township. Union. (The Union train station is only a handful of blocks off the route.)

Oh, and then we reached Italy. Just a short, unexpected layover.

Carmen is no longer around, but his bakery remains in the family, as it has been for about 40 years. Before that it was a Bavarian bakery.

I’d have liked a Nutella tart (hey, what are calories when you are on a bike?) but they aren’t sold individually. Guess I have to get a group together for the next time just so I can try one.

So I settled for a sfogliatella with sweet ricotta cheese.

(And yes, it’s all about the food. Always.)

Now we started riding through a string of parks (and a golf course). Locals may know which trail to take, but a few more signs would be helpful for us out-of-towners.

Just not this kind. Though I suppose knowing that we were supposed to stick to paved paths did limit the potential for wrong turns. A local called it an oxymoron — more moron than anything else.

More suburbs. Kenilworth. Cranford. Again, a few blocks from a train station. We found the short cut under the railroad tracks (not on the cue sheets). Winfield Township. Rahway and another train station. A busy crossing between two trails that really could have used a pedestrian-activated signal. (On bikes, the extra block each way to a traffic light is no big deal. But it is for pedestrians. Thank you motorists who stopped and let us cross.) Woodbridge. An unpleasant 0.7 miles on St. Georges Avenue. The southbound route could easily avoid half of it by routing people on Midfield Road instead.

Finally, Oak Tree Road, just off the route. This is New Jersey’s true Little India. There are plenty of Indian grocery stores and supermarkets in my area, plus restaurants, but this was so much more. Plus stores selling saris, jewelry, religious items … we only touched a bit of it and will be back to explore it properly.

Yes, we stopped for a spot of lunch —  big samosas, mixed pakora and (not in the photo) a mango lassi. We had no idea where we “should” go, so we stopped at a small dive of a place. From our table, I watched one person press fresh sugar cane juice for a couple of customers. I wonder what that tastes like — Gatorade on steroids?We could have called it a day after close to 30 miles and hopped the train home at Metropark. But we kept going. We gave the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park (not to be confused with the National Parks Service site in West Orange) a miss and rode on to Metuchen.

Oh, the Middlesex Greenway. This is what we wanted in some other spots — a wide rail trail with no traffic in sight! We left the East Coast Greenway here, turning right onto the Middlesex Greenway instead of left and going into Metuchen. We wanted to quickly check out the construction going on near the train station — lots of luxury apartments, plus a Whole Foods opening in October. Some locals think it’s too much, too many people. Apparently all the projects boast bike rooms, as if they were in hipster Brooklyn.

I’m guessing this will make the Middlesex Greenway even more popular. Metuchen, add some signage from the trail as well as a wide path for just those few blocks for those who don’t want to deal with traffic.

The East Coast Greenway’s interim route from the other end of the Middlesex Greenway, in Woodbridge, takes you a good 8 miles on a busy road. (The goal is to extend the Middlesex Greenway to Perth Amboy and create a better, more pleasant route.)

We instead followed a quiet route (at least on weekends) known to the third member of our group: at the Metuchen end of the Greenway go left very briefly on Middlesex Avenue, then right on New Durham Road, past the on and off ramps for I-287 and to the next traffic light, where we turned left on Talmadge and then right on Ethel Road. (If you were going the other direction, you could stay on Ethel, crossing Talmadge until you hit New Durham, but it was easier for us to use the traffic light.)

We stayed on Ethel for a good while, until it ended at a T intersection. By then we were on the edge of the sprawling Rutgers campus. Left on Suttons Lane to the end, then right on Road 2 (what a name!) until it ends, then right on Cedar Lane all the way down until a traffic light at River Road and straight across into Johnson Park. Stay left, eventually getting back on the River Road sidepath, turn right at the light across the river and into New Brunswick.

Stay on Albany Street and you’ll get to the New Brunswick train station.

This time we hopped the train. Otherwise we might have reached Honduras or Colombia (in New Brunswick) in our jaunt around the world.

It was a great 46-mile whirlwind day of travel by the time we got home.

A word of warning for anyone wanting to do this: you must be comfortable cycling in traffic. Yes, there are many quiet residential roads and trails through parks. But there will be places where you need to be confident and take your lane to make a turn. This is not like the East Coast Greenway route south of New Brunswick that uses the D&R Canal towpath and just crosses roads, often with the help of a pedestrian-activated signal.

It’s also not a fast ride, and not just because we stopped to eat a few times. It’s urban cycling, with lots of turns to watch for and lots of traffic lights.

And yes, I would do it again.

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Another section of the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail is done

One of my longer bike rides over the past week was along part of the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail, a non-quite-finished 22-mile loop off the East Coast Greenway just south of Princeton.

We usually take the D&R Canal towpath (part of the East Coast Greenway) for about 5 miles to the turnoff to Brearley House and then ride past the Lawrenceville School and through Mercer Meadows, a big county park — basically going clockwise on the loop. This time we decided to go counterclockwise because we knew there was a section through the Carson Road Woods that we’d never been on.

Before we got to that, though, we found another section that’s been finished — a sidepath along Province Line Road. It’s the red dotted line in the upper right of this map, and its completion means the trail is 88% done. (See the full map here.)

I don’t have any photos, unfortunately, and it really seems like nothing glamorous —  basically a wide asphalted sidewalk right at the side of the road, with no little strip of green acting as a divider. But it’s a key connection on a road that’s busy at rush hour and where motorists go fast at any time. One person I know grumbles about the drainage grates running across the sidepath every so often … and I could do without the rocks around them (probably also for drainage). But it’s a big step.

After all that excitement, we rode the trail on the edge of a Bristol Myers-Squibb campus to reach Carson Road Woods. It has five miles of marked trails, including one mile that’s part of the LHT. Our route felt more meadow-y than the heavily wooded Maidenhead Meadows trail, another new section (for us, at least) near the start (the green dots leading to the parking sign on the map).

After Carson Roads Woods we rode through a neighborhood to Rosedale Road, where we’d seen an LHT sign but had no idea where the trail was. Now we know — neighborhood roads, then trail.

Had we continued on the LHT, we’d have gone through the ETS site, using a trail we’ve previously ridden. Instead, we turned toward Princeton and then home.

All in all, a 20-mile day. Essentially flat, but definitely one for the hybrids.

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Time to start training for the next East Coast Greenway ride

Yes, I’m once again doing the East Coast Greenway‘s week-long fundraising ride, that one with the unimaginative name of Week-A-Year. This time it’s 385 miles over six days, from Wilmington, N.C., to Savannah. In October, so not killer heat but still hurricane season, as we learned last year. (Here’s the first pitch to please support it with a tax-deductible donation.)

I admit I wish it was a seven-day ride. The mileage is more than other rides, though we’re promised it will be flat. Hopefully with a nice tailwind. We’ve got 80-mile days going into and out of Charleston, S.C., and it would have been nice to split one of those in two, just to have more time to play tourist. But it is what it is. Sometimes you’re constrained by where you can get hotel rooms for all of us.

Flat or not, 80 miles is a lot. As are 385 miles (see the full itinerary here). So time to get serious about spending more time on the bike.

I didn’t feel like hills today, so I decided to figure out what it would take to get to this new microbrewery I’d read about last year called Screamin’ Hill. Not that I care about beer. But it could be a fun group ride sometime. (Just bring your own food — they have none. Not even pretzels. No permit.)

This place is only open Friday afternoon/evening and Saturday afternoon — the owners have real jobs, we were told when we pedaled by on a Sunday early this year (that ride was from Allentown, not from home, to kill time while the car was getting serviced).

Every craft beer has to have a story, and this is how this one starts:

“Screamin’ Hill Brewery harkens back to a time in America when life was simple, when farmers brewed with what was at hand from the year’s harvest.”

Whatever. I just wanted a ride.

So off I went, following the route we often take to go through the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area for more than half of the way. Then it was new sights. I hit the nine-mile Union Transportation Trail but gave it a miss since it’s not paved and I was on my road bike. I passed the Cream Ridge Winery. And a farm I know from the Trenton Farmers Market. And horses. It’s rural.

Turns out it’s just under 20 miles to the brewery. As good as flat. I tried a different route on the way back. The road to Allentown had more traffic. I’ll stick to the quiet option.

Add on a second, 12-mile ride to get some groceries, and I am feeling virtuous about my 52-mile day.

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More of the East Coast Greenway in Maine, more ice cream

You might remember my not-so-patient wait for ice cream during last year’s week-long ride along the East Coast Greenway in Maine. Because of course you should eat ice cream while biking whenever possible.

We were back in Maine this month to visit friends. They said they’d be up for a bike ride …. so off we went on the Eastern Trail, another part of the East Coast Greenway. The section from Kennebunk to Biddeford is hard-packed, not asphalt, and in one spot a bit muddy after some rain. Glad we had the hybrids. It switched to quiet road through Biddeford and into Saco, where we stopped for lunch at a cute cafe with a deck. I, however, was more interested in ice cream. Not on the menu.  Fortunately the waitress was a connoisseur and pointed us in the right direction.

So once everyone was fortified with real food (and my “side” of pulled pork had to be the equivalent of a breadless sandwich — somewhere between a quarter pound and half pound), off we headed to Biddeford and and the Sweetcream Dairy.

Our Maine friends and their ice cream

Oh, hipsters. This place is a registered dairy and milk processing plant. Can your favorite place in Brooklyn, Portland or wherever claim that? It batch-pasteurizes its milk. Locally sourced, of course. Provenance on the website. Maine herbs and fruits. I’d say it’s mostly farm-to-table for the ice cream crowd. And located in a repurposed mill — more hipster points.

“Mostly” locally sourced because how do you get local chocolate? Lemon and poppyseed? Key lime? In that true hipster way, it was well-curated — no 31 flavors and all that. Yet I was tempted by so many — rhubarb sorbet, perhaps?

A couple of samples later, I picked the dark chocolate. But there’s a twist: It was vegan. So not me. No idea what the secret non-dairy ingredient was, but it was awesome. I went for the kiddie size and it was so rich, I really could have used one of the citrus flavors to offset that. (Wonder if they’d do a half-and-half in a cup?) A single scoop would have been too much.

Sweetcream, get yourself a sign to and from the Eastern Trail!

All in all, nearly a 20-mile ride. One day I’ll ride the rest of the trail, from Portland down to the New Hampshire border. Stopping for ice cream, of course.

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Biking with George Washington

This is the coolest bike ride of the year so far — pedaling with George Washington (OK, a reenactor) and about 80 “troops” from the site of Battle of Trenton to the Battle of Princeton. All that was missing (beyond Alexander Hamilton) were some Redcoats in hot pursuit (even if that last part isn’t historically accurate). Next year!

This 10-mile “Chasing George” ride (with accompanying historical talks) was organized by the Historical Society of Princeton with help from a number of organizations, including a few of us representing the East Coast Greenway who escorted one company of “soldiers” from the Trenton train station to the Douglass House, site of a Council of War after the Second Battle of Trenton and the starting point for this ride. Some 37 of us took off behind General Washington, followed by 32 others who took a wider view of history. They had ridden out from just south of Princeton to Washington Crossing (site of the Dec. 25, 1776 crossing of the Delaware River) and then onto Trenton.

Yeah, the kids loved it. They made sure they were up front with George!

Our route wasn’t historically accurate; we took the D&R Canal towpath (part of the East Coast Greenway), which wasn’t built until the 1830s. The General and his troops had swung wide to give the Brits the slip that night. We ended up near the Princeton Battlefield as part of Princeton’s annual Ciclovia. Too bad it’s held on the edge of town, so attendance is pretty sparse.

But what was so important about these battles? These are the 10 days that saved the American Revolution. And it really was almost at an end. Washington had suffered one loss after another in the New York area and had essentially fled through New Jersey to just across the Delaware in Pennsylvania. Much of the Continental Army had signed up for one year and could go home at the end of the year. And on Christmas night, the army crossed the Delaware, despite the snow and the cold, and surprised the Hessians in Trenton on the morning of the 26th. They won, shocking the British. (And no, the Hessians weren’t drunk). Soldiers stayed on. There was a second Battle of Trenton on Jan. 2 and Washington’s forces held on as night fell. The British planned to finish them off in the morning, but Washington and his troops slipped out of town on a back road heading for Princeton and places north. British soldiers heading south to Trenton spotted them as dawn broke, and there you have the Battle of Princeton. Another win for Washington, and the Revolution was saved.

Want more? Read “1776” if you haven’t already. And catch the re-enactment of the crossing every Christmas Day, take part in Patriots Week in Trenton the week after Christmas and then watch for the Historical Society of Princeton’s own Battle of Princeton events just after that.

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