Sunday, March 21, 2010

Princeton 200k Frenchtown Asbury Practice Ride

Princeton 200k Practice Ride
Trenton Frenchtown Asbury
March 20th, 2010

I'm signed up for the Princeton 200k on April 10th. This practice ride was advertised as a way to ride the middle 50mi, including the worst hill -- on Adamic Hill Road. I wanted to see if that hill was all that, so I wouldn't have to encounter it for the first time during the 200k. This turned out to be an extremely wise choice.

The initial plan was to rent a car, drive to Frenchtown, do the ride, and drive back. This would've entailed an hour and a half drive in each direction, only to do about 50 miles of riding. It barely seemed worth doing. But wait! There's a crazy way of doing the ride! Much more fun.

The 5:15am NJT train from Penn Station to Trenton would get me to Trenton around 6:45am. A 30-some-mile flat ride up the Delaware would take me to Frenchtown, and thus the ride. Do the 53mi ride, ride back to Trenton, and we get just under a 120mi ride. Whee! That's just under the distance for the 200k (124mi), so it'd give me the same distance, if not the same exertion.

First, a word about trains which leave Penn Station at 5:15 on Saturday mornings. Last call in NYC is 4am, which ensures that the 5:15am train is chock full of club kids returning home. Such an interesting crowd. They were loud when boarding, as to be expected, but everyone quieted down pretty quickly as soon as we pulled out of the station. Everyone was either passing out or staring dully out the windows, trying to will the train to their station as quickly as possible.

I stayed up too late Friday night making my own cue sheet for the ride, and ended up getting maybe five hours of sleep (more likely less). As a result, I was pretty quiet on the train too, trying to get some sleep during the ride. I wasn't able to get any sleep on the train, but I don't think it affected the ride.

Anyway, the train pulled into Trenton on schedule, and off I went on my ride. I've gotten a lot more comfortable with the route into and out of the city, so I was over the Delaware without difficulty. The Pennsylvania side of the Delaware is impossibly scenic. The route to Washington Crossing is ok (I've done it several times now, as part of NYC/Trenton and NYC/Philly rides), but it gets even better above Washington Crossing. Barely any traffic, houses that were old when my parents were young, quaint little towns...

I liked New Hope, PA -- at 8am. On the way back, at about 2:30pm, it was overrun, but in the morning the streets were clear, leaving nothing but a quaint main street. Just north of New Hope is the intersection to the left. For me, it pretty much exemplified the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware. The road comes in, hits the stop sign between the two houses, and makes a sharp turn to wind between them. I'm sure this made a great deal of sense when carriages were the order of the day. Now, it's a reminder of time gone by.

The plan was to take River Rd all the way up to the bridge to Frenchtown, but I saw signs indicating that the road was closed beyond the bridge to Stockton. The practice ride started at 9am, and I had no time to waste back-tracking, so I decided to cross to Stockton, and to complete the ride to Frenchtown on the New Jersey side. Not very much to report between Stockton and Frenchtown -- the road was pretty flat and unpopulated. Tree-lined, some surrounding hills, the river off to the left.

And then the battery in the PowerTap hub died, just a couple of miles from Frenchtown. With it went my wattage and distance. No data for the rest of the ride. I'm convinced that made the ride seem longer, since I had no idea of my progress.

Arriving in Frenchtown, everyone had gathered in the Citgo parking lot. A quick briefing, and off we went. Overall, the ride was hilly. Very hilly. I'd been expecting something equivalent to a Nyack muffin ride, but nothing like this. The return from Nyack has long gradual hills, like the one to the NJ state line. This ride was largely composed of relentless sharp relatively short hills, punctuated by some truly evil hills.

The most memorable hill was 0.8mi on Adamic Hill Road, just outside of Riegelsville, PA, but on the New Jersey side. It's like Ash St in Piermont, only longer and steeper. To make matters worse, I was doing it on a tri bike, with a 12-25 rear cassette. Thanks to this training ride, I'll be doing it during the 200k with a 12-27 rear cassette. One only hopes that that'll be enough. I've never ridden a hill like this before. It has an average grade of about 15 degrees, with maximum grade around 25-30 degrees.

I wasn't able to make it up the hill in one shot. I had to stop twice on moderately flat sections to catch my breath. I'm proud to say that I didn't have to walk -- I was either stopped, breathing, or riding. My goal with the 12-27 is to ride the whole thing, but we'll see. A lot depends on what the first 30 miles of the ride are like.

Beyond that, nothing jumps out at me about the ride. Lots of hills, lots of beautiful NJ farmland (yes, I did actually just say that). Hopefully I'll be able to pay more attention the second time around. The hills were so tough that I spent most of this ride trying to catch my breath.

The ride back was similarly uneventful, though New Hope was a pain in the neck. Temperatures were in the 70s, so everyone and their brother was out touristing. New Hope is apparently one of the places one goes when one tourists. Traffic was backed up for at least a half mile in both directions, in and out of town, which was fun to weave through. I held a pretty good pace, though. I was aiming for a minimum of 15mph, to get me back within two hours -- in time to catch the 4:30pm train. As it happened, I made the 3:59 train.

Arriving at 6:45am, getting back to the Trenton train station at 3:45pm, gave me a 9 hour ride. That's about a 13.3mph average, though that includes all stops (at least 15min each in Frenchtown, Asbury, and Frenchtown again). A 15mph average would require an hour's worth of stopping, which is possible.

I didn't take any pictures, but I came away with a souvenir of my ride: a sunburn on my arms. I was wearing gloves and a bike jersey, which left me with a burn from mid-bicep to just short of my wrists. Extremely well defined starting and stopping places for the burn. Oh, and I noticed that my lips were getting chapped as I returned to Frenchtown, so I stopped to get chapstick. This saved me from some of the unpleasant recovery needed for the NYC-Wilmington ride.

All in all, the practice ride was the 50 toughest miles I've ever done. I'm very glad I did it, as it let me know that I need a hill-climbing rear cassette. I also need to do more hill work so rides like this don't kill me in the future. I hadn't been taking the 200k very seriously, as the distance didn't/doesn't scare me. I'm taking it seriously now, as the hills are a cause for concern. I'd been thinking I'd be able to move on to the Princeton 300k without too much trouble. Now I know I need a lot more practice. I'm confident that I'll finish the 200k -- it's just going to be hard. The first hard century I've done, so that's nice.

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