The next big thing, my goal ride for this summer of training, is less than two weeks away (more on that later). To get in one more 200k, both as part of a taper and as a “safety” to keep my R12 streak alive, I rode the NJ Transit 200k on Sunday.
I signed up for the 200k permanent sight unseen. For those readers just tuning in, a permanent is a Randonneuring route that one can ride at any time after making arrangements with the route owner. (Click these links for details on Randonneuring and permanents.)
The route owner, Rando Joe, advised me to “bring my climbing legs” since his Garmin measured the course as 8400 feet of climbing. Oh-oh! I know Joe. He is a strong rider, who bikes thousands of miles a year and who tends toward the understatement. The fact that he offered such advice probably should have been taken as fair warning. I used to preview rides by plotting the course on mapmyrides.com. I would use the results to find the climbs, anticipate the hard parts and plot my strategy to ride it. I did not do that this time. In fact, I did not have a strategy other than to ride the road in front of me and to move quickly through the controls. Turns out, the NJT has most climbing of any 200k route that starts in New Jersey.
Joe gives a thorough description of the course here. However, I read that description after riding the course. On Sunday morning, I only knew where to start and to read the cue sheet for where to go next. The rest would I would learn as the day progressed. In hindsight, that may have been a good thing. Sometimes bliss is, in fact, ignorance.
Sunday dawned cool and gray. The muted sky cast a shadowless monotone light. Flags drooped lifeless in windless air. After a summer of repeated humid heat waves, the dry, 60 degree air felt like air conditioning. After a warm up segment of about an hour, the course became a series of rolling hills, long climbs, and steep climbs and repeat. With the name NJ Transit, I sort of expected the course to be an industrial urban affair with lots of railroad tracks or something. Instead, the course roamed through bucolic and tranquil scenery. It followed ridge lines and wove through protected wild and semi-wild areas. Its roads border preserved farmlands and acres of sweet corn. It passes lakes and slow rivers on tree lined roads and occasionally meanders through towns. And it does so by climbing - repeatedly and incessantly.
The climbing and descending developed into its own hypnotic pattern. The slow ascents and fast controlled falls providing a contrasting rhythm - hard is slow and fast is easy - hard is slow and fast is easy - for a world that slowly twirls in the presence of a star. It took hours for me to sense it even as I became it and it became me.
The controls were methodical interruptions in the pattern. With each destination, a plan created in the approaching miles was quickly put into place. Restroom, refuel with a concoction of OJ, water sugar and salt, supplement with snacks as desired and then resume. Climb and descend. Rise and fall. Inhale and exhale.
Nothing stays the same even as the rhythm continues. I tire and I recover. I thirst and I drink. I hunger and I eat. I focus and my mind wanders. But always, I move forward, until the movement becomes a place of calmness and restoration. Always, I move forward toward the isness of being.
Despite the difficulty of the course, I complete the Transit within minutes of my pre-ride goal. The training seems to have worked. I do not know what the future holds but I feel ready to take on the next big thing.