Last weekend I completed East Creek 600 in New Jersey. . . DC Randonneurs 600 was on my son 5th birthday and I couldn’t make it. I still wanted to complete my first SR Series. Just needed this one last distance. The second option was to ride it in a different state. After a short research, I come across the NJ East Creek 600k. That was 2,5 hours drive for me.
The week before a big ride I try to rest as much. I want to get my gear ready in advance. I hate last second preparations. Friday was the day before the ride and all I wanted to do is sleep. Knowing that i will sleep 3 to 4 hours in the next 2 days, that was the normal thing to do. My body felt rested and ready.
Hotel was booked for the night after the ride and I loaded the car. As I was driving north, I asked myself:
” Am I ready, this is 600 km. Mentally and physically I knew I am. It was just my knees that always worry me, so i had to pace myself and just keep pedaling at a slower speed. I’ve done one of these rides but its been so long. Was I scared or worried? Definitely not. This is my biggest ride of the year unless i decide to go for the Appalachian Adventure 1000k in September. A 600km was on my calendar, highlighted in yellow since last October. As Paulo Coelho says in one of my favorite books , ” The Alchemist”:
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
After driving through the night in about 3 hours I made it to the start point. It was 2:30 in the morning. The only person there was the front desk associate smoking a cigarette and drinking his morning coffee. “Am I even in the right place?” . Then I see a Randonneurs USA poster on the window of the lobby and I felt good.
Very soon the organizer arrived together with few riders. Time was already ticking.
I had to get my gear ready and I am very particular about it. I even have a folder with a checklist 🙂 At first ,everybody seemed friendly and helpful. I’ve never done any rides in New Jersey so everything was a new experience to me. Joe Kratovil (RBA New Jersey – New York) asked me if i had my drop bag ready. He was there with one more person in the lobby. They inspected my bike. I told him that my bag was ready, but where do you want me to leave it, I responded. ” Anywhere he said, you are the first to leave a drop bag, just choose a chair or a table” . I smiled.
I was greeting people while preparing myself for a 2 day adventure. It was soon time to start. We were given short instructions and then Joe shouted ” Go” . Nobody even moved. ” It’s this way” – he said again… We were heading into the darkness. The only thing you can hear was tires rolling and many tail lights in front. I was simply trying to keep up. . .
Hold on, did I mentioned there was a person with a velomobile: Velo what? Here it is.
According to Wikipedia:
“A velomobile, or bicycle car, is a human-powered vehicle(HPV) enclosed for aerodynamic advantage and protection from weather and collisions”
He completed the course in 19 hours and 33 minutes .The next finisher was 9 hours behind him. All i can remember is that the first 5 or 10 miles he had tough time in the terrain full of pot holes and hills. On the other hand, descending he looked like going 40 Mph and just vanished into the darkness.
We started pedaling strong in the early hours Saturday. It was still dark for the first hour and a half. There was one leader in front and then two groups of 5 people each. I remained with the first group for some time before I decided to let them go.They were too fast for me. My plan was to pace myself. I know it is not about how fast are you the first 100 miles, but rather feeling good after mile 200 . It felt like I was riding again in Bulgaria :). All you can hear is – “Hole, watch out”, then another rider shouted :” Hole , watch out”. We were too close to each other and I decided to leave a gap between me and the front riders . There was no way to avoid all potholes. Suddenly, on the first sharp turn the lead rider screamed “left turn!” and dove into it; I knew this will likely cause a massive pile-up and slowed down. One person lost his water bottle. I was later told , he did not finish. Trying to avoid the falling water bottle, he injured his knees.
Soon afterwards the sun settled. The sky looked red. Birds were singing. What a pleasure. We were still pedaling with over 17 Mph 35 miles into the ride in Ocean County,NJ. It looked to me that everyone had a boat in the driveway. Many houses and electrical poles were equipped with solar panels. At 7:10 am our group of 6 made it to the first control. 55 miles in 3 hours and 10 minutes.” I need to slow down…I need to slow down, I said to myself”. We were in Browns Mills Wawa. Here in Maryland we have Wawa as well,and that is a gas station. I know I remember from the ride report that many control stops are at these establishments. To my surprise this was not a gas station :), but rather convenience store similar to 7 Eleven and open 24 hours with a decent choice of food and refreshments. What a great idea I thought. They had a volunteer at every control. Total of 9 controls. Hands down. I am so thankful to all volunteers . They had cold water and food for everyone. Mostly cookies, homemade brownies . . .
An hour later I am with the second group of 5 before they decided to crank up the speed and drop me. I was still not feeling my legs very well beneath me. It normally takes me good 75 miles to really be in sync. At the same time I reminded myself that I have decided to ride a slow pace and just finish. I missed last 2 seasons due to knee injury. So let them ride. Before you know it I was in familiar grounds. My Mp3 player was playing my favorite tunes. GPS and cue sheet showing the way. It is early in the morning , I am on my bicycle, spinning the pedals alone.
Soon after that, I look at my helmet mirror and noticed one rider trying to catch up to me. It was James, and we were still 80 miles into the ride. We pedaled together the rest of the way. I could not ask for a better company. We talked for hours and helped each other many times. This was his first 600k ride so I was really impressed with the way he was moving. We passed by Atco Dragway . Luckily, there was no event so not much traffic there. Soon we were riding along all these houses with a sort of monument in the front. Either old tractor, statue of dogs or dears . . . etc . You get the picture. A thing of beauty.
Next thing I see on the street are those mattresses, laying on the shoulder. I do remember Bill Olsen now talking about it on the sleep control later that night. To my surprise, I have this photo. He was telling us that this mattress looked so appealing ,he felt like stopping and taking a nap on it. Another rider suggested that this won`t be a great idea, risking itching for an hour at least. We had a laugh about it.
Around 10:45 we entered Gloucester county. Another Control, another Wawa. We pedaled 7 hours so far and completed 110 miles. I was thinking again, that I am moving faster than I wanted. What happened to slowing down? Quick refill and we are on our way. That was almost halfway to the sleep stop.The first few miles after the control were on a bike path. There was zero traffic and both sides ,covered with thick bushes and trees. It felt so good and cool, and those tires were rolling fast . It was still flat. I think i am getting dizzy. Where are the hills? Ok, maybe I didn’t mean that.
In the early afternoon we were still passing along these huge houses , others with solar panels, lots of farmland and red barns. Pleasure for the eyes.
At almost 2 o`clock we made our way to the next control at Bravos Pizza in Salem. Another friendly volunteer greeted us and signed our brevet cards.He promised the pizza was really good, and then went out to check out our bicycles. I had 3 huge slices and my riding partner James had 1. With a smile on my face I explained how much I eat, and how you can’t really tell…
Within 10 minutes a group of 5 or riders showed up. Later we called them” the peloton”. They always arrived within 10 minutes at every control behind us almost until the end.One of the guys was shouting at me as they passed by : ” Did you feel the pressure of the peloton” . I replied : ” Yes , I did.”, and smiled. On my way out one of their members noticed that we had the same bicycle frames – Blue Velo Orange Rando. That was a guaranteed conversation . He told me that he drove to pick it up all the way from Annapolis. I felt lucky living 15 minutes away from there.
Despite flat routes New Jersey had plenty of vineyards and blueberry farms.
They even have a city named Vineland
Few hours before dark 2 more riders caught up to us. One of them was a face I recognized from one of the recent RUSA magazines. Big and tall man in orange PA Randonneurs wool jersey ,riding with sandals. Yes, it was Bill Olsen. The only man to do 7 X 1200 km rides in one year. Yes, seven. I felt honored to ride beside him. His body reminded me that of my grandfather. His bike and gear were nothing out of the ordinary or crazy expensive. I can tell his results were just pure strength. He can pace himself and ride a bicycle for days. We quickly sparked a conversation and I can tell he was a great person to ride with. I don’t remember seeing him at the start line. He then explained to me, that he overslept and started at almost 5 am. One hour after everyone. He was trying to catch up all day. The conversation shifted to Europe after I told him that I am born in Bulgaria. We talk a little about his ties with Germany and joked about things as we pedaled.
We were heading towards Ocean City ,NJ, 221 miles into the ride. Next control was after twenty miles. We kept climbing up this bridges and there was the wind. It was the windiest point in the ride with heavy traffic . Being Saturday evening, all drinkers and party goers were out driving furiously from one bar to the next .
Almost 2 hours later we made our way to the sleep cabin in Eldora.In 19 hours we covered 2/3 of the ride. That was impressive. We climbed for a bit into the darkness until I noticed a blinking sign on the side of the road. The Cabin was 100 yards to the side of the road. We were greeted by more friendly volunteers. The wife’s of some fellow riders were there. They were preparing food and managing the control. Everything was perfect. They were taking sleep turns, while running the control, waiting for riders to come by. I was immediately told where I would sleep, and where the bathroom is. This is all i need. I was exhausted. And also dealt with a bit of knee problem earlier in the day. Using all my ibuprofen, creams,and ice seemed to do the trick. Bill Olsen , and a big group of riders were there eating and sharing stories. We still had some energy to laugh and talk about our day.In a little over 3 hours we were up. Getting ready to leave. A quick breakfast, bike check, refilling of supplies and I was ready. Wasted time at the sleep control was 4 hours overall.
Our second day of adventure started early around 3:30 am. I was feeling rested. Just 130 miles left. Not so easy! We knew they are few hills coming.
It was very quiet and foggy in the early morning. We were on this bike path for fours. Slicing through the fog. Visibility was very poor. Can anybody see us? We opted for using our vests again ,blinkers ,and keep the headlights on. Passing by beautiful farmland, gardens, and vineyards, we arrived at the next control. Hammonton, NJ. We now just had one more control before the end.
I kept hearing my bicycle making noises when I pedal. It was the pedal rubbing against something. My riding partner hands me a bottle of lube. First I lube the chain . As I am doing that, I cut my finger between the chain and the cranks. Ouchh. James then tells me how this has happened to him many times. It was my first. Am I missing something here?
Soon we entered the Pineland National reserve. It was beautiful, with flatter route.They had all this campgrounds there where you can rent RV`s , Canoe and Kayaks. There was also a canal running along the route. Beautiful like lily flowers were floating on top.What a scenery . There were also the bee houses. Plenty of food there to make a great honey.
We only had like 5 to 6 hours left and I was feeling good. I got dropped behind James few times taking bathroom breaks. Maybe I was over hydrated. He was peddling his way into the horizon, filling the bike lane. I quickly caught up to him, and we continued the conversation. Mainly counting the last few miles , and the upcoming hills, talking about bike equipment and how we feel.
Next control was at mile 326 , 50 miles before the finish. Almost at 11 o`clock we made our way to Vincetown , NJ. There, we were greeted by another friendly volunteer, ready to sign my card. He was there with his kids all day. What a dedication! He had cold water for us as well. We were so exhausted and decided to take a nice break before making our final push. The last 40 miles were hillier. As we left the control – more riders started to arrive.
We then crossed Pemberton township. How about more noise from my bike. I think the poor bicycle is more bruised than I am. At least my knees were feeling strong. I used my superhuman senses, and it seemed like the tire is touching something. James was persistent that it was the fender. I told him that I was aware the fender is like 4 mm from the tire. For some reason I installed it that way. Soon, I realized that a screw attaching the fender to the frame was loose , and was touching the tire. I am glad I discovered it now, and not downhill going 40 Mph. Tightened it up and continued. I am riding and listening to my bicycle now and the noises it makes.Feeling like a crazy person, still expecting something to break. Quickly I adjusted my headphones and turned the music up. I can’t ride without an ear bud hanging on one of my ears. With just a few hours until the end, I was climbing those hills fast . Attacking them before they even get close to me.
A little after 3 pm we arrived at the Days inn. 374 miles were behind us. What a wonderful weekend. The weather has been perfect with temperatures never reaching over 80. Not even sunny until the second day. Not really raining, but rather drizzling the first day, cooling off our bodies. We were met by more volunteers at the final control. I quickly showered and greeted few finishers. James just finished his first ever 600km ride, and I did my second after a long pause. What a relief!
Paulo Coelho just inspires. He says :
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
This was such a great weekend, and excellently organized ride.
Here is my picture collection https://www.flickr.com/photos/61126095@N06/sets/72157645322872812/