The Oyster Creek 200K undulates like easy waves on a breeze brushed pond. No significant climbs means no screaming descents but the varying terrain intersperses spin worthy flats with opportunities to rise from the saddle and power over gentle rises. It is a good course to enjoy a fast ride or a merciful one.
It is late July. The oppressive heat of the last few weeks has broken. Summer, normal summer, the summer of blue skies, warm lazy days and crop filled farms, the summer that I imagine when I think of summer, has returned, if only for the morning.
The forecast of torrential rain and thunderstorms in the afternoon and early evening prompt me to start the course at 6:30 a.m. This time, I ride alone. I missed an opportunity for a midweek ride with company but that's okay. To be a Randonneur, you have to be comfortable riding alone. In fact, to enjoy this sport, you have to enjoy the solo ride. I enjoy the solo ride. It calms and restores. It gives me a chance to re-create.
The Oyster Creek 200K is a new route designed by Rick L. It starts in Vineland, NJ, before winding its way through blueberry farms, the Pinelands and wildlife refuges of central New Jersey. The cue sheet and course reflect the care and attention to detail of an experienced route designer.
Rick spaced the controls at long enough intervals to ride good size chunks of the route in one stretch but he also identified the intermediate stores and bathrooms so that a rider can take care of business along the way as necessary. The turns and sight cues are very easy to follow. The course has lots of "T" intersections (my favorite) which allow you to ride without worry of missing the turn. But most of all the road selection shows the experience. For the overwhelming most part, I ride on quiet roads that are light on traffic and heavy on scenery.
The route gently transitions. The strip mall start quickly slides into the small town. The small town soon slips into the spacious lawns of suburbia. I settle into a riding groove. The lawns grow into farms. Along the way, scrap lumber produce stands, policed only by the honor system, display ripe blueberry and fresh picked corn. The farms grow larger before they give way to marshy patches of seclusion then beaches and water crossings. A wildlife refuge borders the road.
The Oyster Creek Inn and Restaurant, a wooden building dappled in faded white paint, sits at the end of the road at the edge of the water in a National Wildlife Refuge. Its screened "crab room" sells crabs and beer. It caters to locals, boaters and bikers alike. Here, I am beyond the halfway point of the route. After a quick controle check-in and soda, I return to the road. In the distance, across a sea of tall grass, the towers of Atlantic City shimmer on the horizon through a curtain of light. The cycle of transition reverses.
All day long, I ride a strong and steady pace. No rushing, no dawdling, just living in that middle place between hard and easy where time and effort find balance. Occasional cross winds start and fade but, for the most part, flags hang limp on their poles. On this quiet Sunday, the peace of this world is with me.
Luck is with me too. I reach the final control before the rain storm which will cover the area in less than an hour. As an unexpected bonus, I also completed the course in less than 9 hours - a first for me as a solo rider. Some memorable days come unbidden but long awaited, like a warm summer day in July.
more pictures here