It was supposed to be an easy ride. Then Dave called.
Sunday morning, Lars and I met at his place in Hackettsktown for what we figured would be an easy ride. Lars has been taking it easy this year with a bum shoulder and I’m not supposed to beat myself to a pulp while rehabbing my knee. Dave called up, and jumped on the ride. The old Flatland Posse – or most of it – was back together for a day. Now that we all have families, it’s not easy to organize.
Occasionally, I’ve wondered where Dave might be if he’d chosen to go for it as a professional athlete. He’s a wicked strong a cyclist. In his first Lake Placid Loppet, he threw down a three-hour time. At Ski for Light’s Soldier Hollow event last January, blind skier Walt Raineri won a 5 km time trial in 18:21, with Dave guiding. Leading up to Ski for Light, Dave hadn’t done any ski-specific training, and SoHo is near FIS’s upper altitude limit. He’s wicked strong, has a big motor and so much talent, it’s amazing.
Lars was a pro mogul skier before seeing the light with cross-country skiing. Like Dave he’s got a sub three hour Loppet under his belt – a feat that remains elusive for me. He’s got a smooth technique on skis that I can’t emulate. Lars and Dave got into biathlon for awhile, joining the Saratoga Biathlon Club. Lars has also raced mountain and cyclocross bikes. Bottom line is, they’re both way stronger than I am.
We agreed we’d keep it an easy ride. You can’t avoid hills in our part of NJ, but we could at least detour around the walls. Schooley’s Mountain trilled its siren call, but we found a way up without attacking the nasty grade from Long Valley.
We kept to the ridge running west from Schooley’s Mountain. Every so often, I’d look around and think, Yeah, I’ve been on this road before. But the roads in between were all new. I’m not sure I could connect them all on my own after one tour. From the ridge, we plunged downhill into Califon, then veered west along the Raritan River to Ken Lockwood Gorge. Turning south we climbed Hoffman Crossing Road.
On the following downhill, Lars and Dave dropped me without meaning to. They could push the pace on 53-inch big rings, where I’m running a compact crank. Even if I had grownup gearing, my caution on unfamiliar downhills would have held me back. I burned some matches to catch up to them. On a couple of the bigger hills, the small inner ring was an advantage, and I could stay in the saddle while climbing. Overall, I noticed that if I went off the back even a couple of bike lengths, it was tough to catch up.
Eventually we worked our way into Cokesbury and what may be the most bucolic hamlet in north NJ, Mountainville. There we turned north wending our way back. In Chester, we stopped at Hacklebarney Farm for fresh cider donuts and coffee. I’ve driven and ridden past this place more times than I can remember, and this was the first time I’d checked it out. In season, you need to stop here.
After a break, we put in another 45 minutes of hard riding to return to Mount Olive. It wasn’t fun loosening up – I get really stiff when I take a break for more than five minutes. But we pushed the pace, getting back in time to get lunch and another cup of coffee before I headed home. I had a great time riding with Lars and Dave and was pleased to be able to stick with them for most of the ride. Gotta get out again before the snow flies.