Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Shore by Night 200k

The NJ Randonneurs "Shore By Night 200k" began at 10 pm. Fourteen of us would take an overnight bike ride from Cranbury NJ to the Jersey Shore and back - 130 miles. A simple description of a simple event. So why was it that doing that simple thing felt so dreamlike, surreal, inverted?

We met in an unlit parking lot in the picturesque town of Cranbury, New Jersey. Katie R. checked us in. Janice C. inspected our bikes and night gear. Readiness officially confirmed, I looked to see who was here.

The riders' head lamps disappeared the faces behind them. Disembodied voices tumbled into the perceptual void. Headlamps and bikes lights skim blue-white on the asphalt, sliding around in spectral silence.

This ride was advertised as a good intro to night riding and new randos seem to outnumber the more experienced. With a little over two years in this sport, I now lean toward the latter category and, as a result, I know a few people.

Joe K. is here. He's been riding fixie all year and he brought his one gear machine to this ride as well. I brought mine too, knowing full well that riding the fixed gear guaranteed that I would pedal each and every inch of the 130 mile course. Bill R. is down from Martha's Vineyard. I am glad to see Bill. He has the kind of smile that puts you at ease even as it conveys a sense of boyish adventure. Dawn E., running a little late, arrived close to the start time. We last rode together on a 300K in Florida, though we've seen each other on rides since then. She and I decide to ride this one together. Night rides are better with company.

Right on time, we start too fast. We chase red tail lights of the fast starters as if they were will-o'-the wisps leading us into the dark. Joe K is behind us, riding a sensible ride, so I know we took off way too fast. He will certainly catch and pass us. But Bill is up ahead and I hoped to ride a bit with him. The course is mostly flat and Dawn is game, so we give chase.

Riding a 70 inch gear means that for every 2.1 mph in speed I must pedal 10 rpm. My RPM dances around 100 as we try to bridge the gap. I've been watching too much Tour de France - Phil Ligget's voice is in my head narrating the chase - I can't make out the words but his excited British accent is unmistakeable. This is ludicrous. This is fun.

A red light. We catch up. I breathe deeply to slow the rapid staccato drumbeat in my chest. Luckily, Bill decides back off the pace confessing that testosterone fueled the surge. We three let the others go. We ride to the first controle at a still brisk but controlled pace.

We ride rolling hills under a moonless sky, spinning up into the night, flowing down through cool air. Sodium vapor street lights form yellow circles that interject moments of vision into the darkness, intermittent stage lights linked by the ride into a kaleidoscope of disparate images. Sounds reach out from the periphery to touch consciousness. Rustlings in the leaves echo across the road.

Janice and Jayne have homemade brownies and cookies at the next controle. Bill leaves with strict efficiency, vanishing into the night. Dawn and I depart a bite or three later and resume the ride to the sea.

Before we reach the ocean, the light taste of brackish air seeps into my nose and mouth, mixing at the back of my tongue. It's salty, metallic, a complex organic mash up of flavors with hints of pine and sandy marsh thinned by the promise of a sea breeze. It tastes of light wind through long stalky reeds.

In Sea Bright, New Jersey, night life emerges under street lights and neon, colorful and animated. Scores of twenty somethings in flip-flops and shorts spill out of the closing bars flooding the pavement. With liquid hips they walk, making the wavering progress that waves make against the shore, slipping back and forth in wanton indecision. Their voices bubbling across the avenue. At a 7-11, they gather in slack limbed pools, some with backs propped against the walls, sating base appetites with 2:00 am indulgences.

With a turn toward the ocean, quiet reclaims the night. A deep inky blackness, darker and thicker than the moonless sky, takes the place of the sea. The water is known more by its absence than its presence. We ride along the edge of the earth.

Ocean Ave becomes Ocean Blvd. Sea Bright becomes Sea Girt. After missed turn, then a call to confirm that we are on the right track, we bee line to next controle. Chris hosts the next controle at her house. Katie is there too.

At about 3 am, Chris's home is a welcome oasis of light and food. We eat, restroom and chat with our hosts and overlapping riders. And I drink coffee. Hot caffeinated coffee. The last hours of the night are always the toughest and I waited hours for this. Two mugs later, we return to the ride.

In the dark amidst the pines trees, the air feels scrubbed clean. The scent of pine is oh so light and oh so sharp. The crisp freshness cleanses the palate after the sensory feast at the ocean. 

Riding well past the halfway point means the earth is turning toward the sun: slowly, inexorably, momentously:

Janice checks us in at the next controle, cheerful and encouraging. (By the time we are done, Katie and Janice will have pulled all nighters to support us on this ride.) We leave to complete what we started. Heading back inland toward the final controle returns us to rolling hills. The sun is full in the sky. We are on a simple Sunday morning ride that will end with breakfast at a diner. 

The night is over. After an omelet and some coffee, it's time to start the day.


  1. Love your poetic writing Nigel. You have a talent for conveying the essence of a ride. And dammit! - I missed an opportunity for some of Janice and Jayne's brownies!

    1. Thanks Ron. The brownies were DELICIOUS. Looking forward to the return of the Purple Burley!

  2. Very nice write up - sorry we look you out too hard - had to be some early for breakfast Keith my wife and friends...

    1. Thanks,

      No worries, you didn't take me out too hard (I think that is what you meant to type) we all ride our own rides on these events, I take full and sole responsibility for my start! Hope you enjoyed your breakfast.

  3. That was a delightful post to read, evocative and beautifully written. Made a night ride sound delightful. Thanks.

    1. Thanks Suze, it was actually quite a nice ride.

  4. Thanks for this post. I'm contemplating trying a brevet and this one is geographically convenient, as is the permanente that you described.

    1. The NJ Randonneurs stage a full season of rides and several of them make for excellent first brevets. Most are withing the same vicinity as this ride. You can check out their website for more details NJRando(dot)com.