Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Big Bang Theory.......New Jersey

I entered New Jersey with a host of assumptions about its residents, based primarily on hearsay of that wonderfully educational show, "Jersey Shore".  I expected a rude, self-centered population; when my Warmshower hosts called, cancelling my stay with them so they could attend a party, I was not surprised. It aligned with this perception. 

As the sun set, I found myself looking, unexpectedly, for a place to sleep. On this hot holiday weekend, I had little hope of finding a hotel that:

  • had availability 
  • was not outrageously expensive
  • was clean.  
I was an hour from New York City, 40 miles from Brooklyn and 30 minutes from Staten Island......that close to the city, I was concerned.  Pulling out my trusty Iphone app, I repeated the process I had gone through two days earlier....letting the app guide me to the perfect place at the perfect price.  Call after call confirmed my fears; hotels were full and they were expensive.

Continuing to drive towards the start point of the morning's ride, I passed a posh-looking, independent hotel in a small, but obviously wealthy community.  With nothing to lose, I stopped.  Travelling comfortably, I was not exactly presentable; donned  in a tshirt, (that might have had Cheeto crumbs clinging to it), gym shorts and that ever-present blue baseball hat, I would have fit in better at the Texas State fair, where fried Twinkies are considered a delicacy.  By all appearances,  this was a hoity-toity establishment, filled with wonderful antiques, and feeling very much like an  'old money' institution. Expecting the worst, I approached the well-groomed older gentleman behind the mahogany reception desk.  I truly anticipated a snooty, condescending attitude, with a price tag on the room to match.  I got neither!

**BANG**  Assumption number one shattered!

The place was inexpensive and the man was very cordial. When he told me he did not have laundry facilities onsite, he offered to wash my dirty, smelly bike clothes in the hotel's commercial machines, suggesting I grab something to eat while he did so.  At one time, this would have mortified me, but I accepted his offer with great appreciation, warning him of the unpleasantness of the laundry bag's contents.  Unruffled, he took the bag, and sent me to a nearby restaurant. Upon my return, the laundry was done and neatly folded.  Wow!

Ensconced in my very fine room,  I attempted for the second time that day to contact the ride leader of tomorrow's ride.  I had arranged to ride with a local bike club's, the Central Jersey Bicycle Club, Fourth  of July century (100 miles) ride. Other than an email from Manny weeks earlier, acknowledging my request to ride with them, I had heard nothing from him.  Receiving no answer, I left another message,  assuming I was being stood up and on my own tomorrow.

**BANG**  Assumption number two shattered!

With in minutes, he returned my call, welcoming me to New Jersey, confirming that he was expecting me and gave details of the morning's ride...... 7 am, rain or shine, at the Brookdale Community College, Lot 7.  He even had a support vehicle and SAG spots set up.

Morning arrived with black clouds hanging ominously in the pinkish-red morning sky.
"Red sky at night, sailor's delight; 
red sky in the morning, sailor take warning."
Heeding this warning, I packed my rain gear and headed out.  Gentle droplets bounced benignly off the windshield as I made my way to the start point. Upon arriving, others were already dressed and ready to ride in the rain. In the half hour that followed, the sun played hide and seek and we, in turn, put our rain jackets on, then took them off; it was just to hot and humid to leave them on if it wasn't raining.  Introductions made, I was welcomed into the group as if I had always been a member.  Then we were off.

Riding abilities varied widely and I soon found myself riding with the front runners.   Knowing I was only riding half of the century, I could afford to pick up my pace. Being New Jersey, I expected heavy traffic and a densely populated urban area.

**BANG**  Assumption number three shattered!

Most of the ride took us through small towns, past cornfields and by enormously large horse farms and homes.  The pavement, though wet, was smooth and traffic this early was still sparse.  At one point, the skies opened and dumped rain on us as though a pipe had broken.  Very warm at that point, no one bothered to don rain jackets, reveling instead in the wonderfully cooling bath.  
"Raindrops keep fallin' on my head...."

I rode with Marianne and Chris.  Marianne is a scientist for a big pharmaceutical company and is training for an Ironman.  Chris is from Kenya and relatively new to cycling.  Both are very strong riders.  My suspicions that they were lowering their pace for me were confirmed at the 25 mile SAG stop.  Knowing that I was returning, they planned the remainder of their ride....

Chris:  "I'm ready to pump this up a bit"  (in his accent twinged English)
Marianne: "I am, too.  What did you have in mind?"
Chris: "Why don't we average 20 mph and take turns pulling."
Marianne:  "Sounds good to me."

**BANG**  Assumption number four shattered!

HA!  I actually thought I was 'hanging' with these two super athletes....that'll teach me to give myself high fives!

Chris, from Kenya
Marianne, the Ironman
Despite numerous request to continue the ride and stay for lunch, I had to say good-bye to all my new friends from the bike club. I needed to complete my mileage, then head on to the next state, Connecticut.  

As they refueled their bodies, I thanked them for the wonderful ride and fellowship, then departed. Waving good-bye, I knew they were the true representatives of aptly named New Jersey....the Garden State.  

Because, after all,  it is the Fourth of July....

Central New Jersey Bicycle Club, and one happy Texan
SAG stop at mile 25
This ambitious soul is riding all 100 miles on her elliptical cycle!
Horse farms galore.  Big money!! (Bad pic, sorry)
This house needs a haircut.....
Pretty lakes

More horse farms.
 These stores made me you think they are 7-11 knock offs!