Friday, October 9, 2009

Pedalin’ through the Punkin' Patch…

Last Sunday morning, I woke up and stretched my legs to see how they felt after my ride and subsequent fall the previous day. My knees didn’t hurt that badly and there was no ache in my quads – all good signs. I checked out the grossness that had developed on my left knee, applied some anti-grossness ointment and band-aids and it was game on.

This particular Sunday, October 4th, was a long time coming. I decided in August that I wanted to set an end-of-season goal ride for myself, and SIBA's Pumpkin Patch Pedal was it..

The drive to Jamesburg was filled with pounding music, butterflies flittering in my gut and things to remember – like that this is a ride, not a race and most of all, the importance of stretching. I’m used to just kind of jumping on the bike and going, but considering both my fall the day before and the distance which was laid out in front of me, stretching would be important.

I was excited as I pulled into Thompson Park and finally found a parking spot – the place was packed with hundreds of cars and riders of every shape and stripe. There were the serious looking guys with fancy carbon road bikes and matching outfits.. all the way down to middle aged ladies and families with children on mountain bikes.

I signed in, got my goodie bag which includes this here coveted long-sleeve shirt, a water bottle (which will never be used for actual drinking water because it’s not BPA-free), a yellow paper bracelet which indicated that I purchased a post-ride turkey sub and my cue sheet.

This cue sheet will later become the infamous device which added an hour and eight or ten extra miles to the ride. Don’t worry, I’ll explain shortly.

You couldn’t have asked for nicer conditions. It was 72 degrees with sunny blue skies marbled with cotton. This day was perfection. My mom used to work around this area so I was familiar with the first stretch of the course. I remember going to work with her when I was a kid and always loving this one stretch road where sunlight shone through trees and mottled the pavement. I smiled to myself, remembering childhood, as I rode it.

I’ve gotten used to riding alone, I actually enjoy it most of the time. Maybe it’s an only child thing, but I think the individuality of this sport is one of the things that has drawn me so heavily to riding. Sometimes I ride with my friend’s husband, but that’s only happened a few times this season. So, you can imagine my pleasant surprise when about 12 miles into the course, one woman with road bike and fancy jersey and all, said that she lost her partner somewhere and she would ride with me for a while.

Sharon was the only black person I saw on the entire ride, and she was freakin' awesome. She’s a special education teacher for the Philadelphia public school system. “God bless ya,” I said. We rode side-by-side and chatted through Millstone and Upper Freehold, while I had the ability to chat anyway, before the hills came.

After that, this is the view I had of her most of the time.

She made me feel good because most of the time people don’t talk to me on the road. Ya see, I’m on a hybrid bike (looks like a road bike and a mountain bike had a baby) and although I am the new owner of fancy-pants bike shorts, I don’t have one of those special jerseys and wear New Balances instead of clip-system bike shoes. Please, this sport is expensive enough, one step at a time, thanks!

Sharon told me that she did her first century ride on a hybrid. This made me very happy.

Somewhere aftercrossing Route 537, Sharon dropped me. My legs were aching – not even my knees, but my legs. The churn was slowing and I realized just how dumb it was for me to have gone on the ride with Heath the day before. And there were hills. Whoever said this ride was “flat as a board” should punch themselves in the face. They weren’t terrible hills, but my muscles were just too fatigued. I did keep it going though.. even if it was embarrassingly slow.

I made it to which would turn out to be the only rest stop, 25 miles into the course, in about two hours. This was in New Egypt, but the sign said Plumsted. I need a proper map to tell the difference. Sharon was there, smiling at me when I arrived. Her partner (I don't think she's a gay, the other lady was just a riding partner) was there waiting for her. I shoved some bagel wedges into my mouth, washed them down with Gatorade, refilled my camelbak and was off again. Sharon asked if I wanted to ride with them. I said, “I’m sure ya’ll be passing me soon, this way I get a head start.”

It’s true. Sharon came and went in the hills on the way back.
This ride went through some gorgeous central Jersey farmland. I took some random snaps as I passsed by. I want to point out that ironically, I did not see one single pumpkin patch. The farmland looked something like this.

So, I signed up for the 50 mile ride (called a half-century in those circles). The cue sheet showed it was 53.4 miles but in reality, I rode 61.5. Why, you ask? Because one of the turns on the cue sheet was shittily marked. Short answer is we (Sharon, myself and this other guy Larry) all made a right when we should’ve made a left. It wasn’t until we got to Route 537 again that I was like, no, there is something wrong here. We had already crossed this road twice and since we were on our way back north, we shouldn’t be crossing it again. We turned around and headed back up. I say up, because there were many hills involved here, which added to be being pissed off about the situation.

When we got back up to that spot where we zigged instead of zagged, there were about 15 other riders on cell phones trying to figure out the right way to go – so it wasn’t just us. I bitched to the people at SIBA (Staten Island Bicycle Association) about this later. It added something like an extra 9 miles, and about an hour, onto my ride. And though I was sporting fancy pants bike shorts, they only delayed the inevitable ass-to-cheese-grater feeling. Also, due to their crappy directions, the next/last rest stop for the half-century was closed by the time we got there.

I pounded a Powerbar on the side of the road while watching purdy horses on some course. This was mile 41 on the cue sheet but 51 in real life, and I just needed to give my butt a rest for a minute.

The remainder of the ride was mostly mine in solitude. I kept playing leap frog with two ladies who were maybe in their 50’s. They were nice. My legs were moving slowly, my quads screamed at me for not resting the day before and my ass was absolutely killing me. Luckily the weather was amazing.

I realized as I got closer and closer to Thompson Park where my day started, that due to the cue sheet error, I had already accomplished my goal, now I just needed to finish and it didn’t matter how slow I was.

I pulled into the park and I couldn’t believe I had actually done it. Five hours and fifty-three seconds (5:00:53) after the start, I finished. I didn’t crash. My spokes didn’t fly off the wheel like shrapnel-y needles. I just finished. I rolled up to the gazebo where they were handing out the post-ride Subway lunch (my friends know that I will cut a bitch for a turkey sub) and saw Sharon, her ride partner Carol, and Larry all sitting on benches. They smiled and congratulated me on finishing my first ride. Sharon clapped as took off my helmet, before I limped over to the gazebo. I realized it was first time I looked at any of their full faces, sans helmets and sunglasses. I will never forget them.

Two dudes played acoustic guitar next to the gazebo. They played songs that seemed cliché but made me smile while I was horking down my turkey sub. At the moment, song titles escape me, but they played stuff like “Ramblin Man” and “On the Road Again”. If I could muster the energy to walk, I would’ve requested “Life is a Highway."

This was my first organized ride and for me it meant more than that – it was like a rite of passage. Next time, and yes, there will be a next time I’ll plan things out differently so that I can finish just as strong as I start.

Maybe next year I’ll do the century. Yeah. Goals we set are goals we get.


  1. Sounds like the ending of my half-marathon. Let me know when your next one is. Perhaps I can be at the finish line.


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