Let’s Ride to the Beach!

Apparently, 10 years in Arizona was all it took for “going to the beach” to become part of my lexicon, instead of just saying “down the shore” as most locals do. Of course, when I lived in Arizona, getting to said beach involved a five- to six-hour drive (to the San Diego or LA area) — around here, we can zip down the shore in just a couple hours, sometimes less. That’s obviously way too easy, so I decided to celebrate Independence Day by joining my bike club for a nice, long ride from Flourtown, PA, to Ocean City, NJ.

This ride has been organized for the past four years by the same gentleman in the club, and the description included SAG support and a shower at the end of the ride. He asked for $5 for SAG, and the B&B that was letting us use their showers at the end also asked for $5 per person, bringing the cost of the ride to a grand total of $10. However, it was organized as a one-way ride, so each rider was responsible for figuring out their return trip logistics: some drove down with a partner the day before to leave a car in Ocean City, some went up to Atlantic City afterward to catch a train back to the Philadelphia area; some carpooled with others. My boyfriend offered to drive down to meet me at the end of the ride; at the last minute, we called the B&B that was letting us use their showers and, since they had a room available, decided to stay overnight and have a beach day for the July 4th holiday.

There were three advertised pace groups with ride leaders for each group: 13-15mph, 16-18mph, and 18-20mph, and I signed up for the slowest. While I felt pretty confident I could maintain a slightly faster pace, I also felt it best to err on the side of caution, since we’d be riding on roads completely unfamiliar to me, and at least some of the roads would have heavier traffic. I also made the assumption that we wouldn’t be seeing the SAG vehicle very often — I mean, it was just one guy, and there were more than 40 people signed up to ride across a variety of paces. One person supporting all those people could be stretched pretty thin.

The days leading up to the ride were a little fraught: the forecast was not promising, and emails were flying about whether or not to cancel, or whether we should postpone the ride from Thursday to Saturday. Finally, at 11:30 on Wednesday night, the organizer sent an email that said the radar looked good for us until about 3pm, and the ride was on.

We met in the parking lot of a grocery store a little before 7am, and headed out onto the roads around 7:30. Of the 40 riders signed up, some had arranged to meet us a little later, once we crossed over into New Jersey, and others bailed due to weather or scheduling issues; I think about 15-20 people rolled out from the start location in PA. We started out together, but the faster-paced group quickly left the two slower-paced groups behind. My group, the 13-15mph pace, only had two people signed up: the ride leader and myself. We stuck with the slightly faster group as we wound our way out of Flourtown, through Philadelphia and across the Tacony-Palmyra bridge. After that, I expected we would spread out on the roads a little, but we were able to keep up the pace and stick with the faster group throughout the day.

Throughout the morning, we were constantly being leap-frogged by the SAG vehicle. He was there when one of our riders had an early flat, there to offer us refills on water or Gatorade, there to offer us bananas, Fig Newtons and cold slices of watermelon (if there is anything better than ice-cold watermelon when it’s hot and humid — and when you have to remain sober so you can keep riding your bike — I don’t know what it might be). He alerted us to a rider on the road ahead of us who needed help with a simple flat, when he was helping someone else with a more complex problem. When we got a little off the cue sheet, he was ahead of us with his four-ways flashing, to show us where to turn. Did I mention before that I wasn’t expecting to see much of the SAG? Boy, was I wrong about that. That has to be the best $5 I’ve ever spent.

We stopped for lunch in Hammonton, NJ, about 50 miles into the ride. At this point, the gentleman driving SAG left us for a while; in addition to providing amazing SAG services, everyone who wanted to clean up after the ride had dropped a bag with him, which he was delivering to the B&B that was letting riders use their showers. He dashed ahead while we lunched, hoping to get to the B&B ahead of the faster group of riders. Eventually, he rejoined us and was later able to swap out with another rider, who took over the SAG duties so the original driver could at least ride the last 15 or so miles into Ocean City with us.

My personal highlights of the ride:
– Shortly after crossing the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, we rode through a beautiful neighborhood of older homes. We took advantage of a wide, paved multi-use path that ran between the homes and a harbor dotted with sailboats. It was so pretty!

– At one point later in the afternoon, while we were riding in a paceline and doing about 19-20mph, a huge dragonfly was buzzing along right beside me. I think he was alongside me for about 30-40 feet before he zipped off; damn bug hardly looked like he was trying!

– Taking a turn pulling on the paceline; we were 60-some miles into the ride, and my GPS watch had stopped working during our lunch break, so I asked the rider behind me to tell me when we were going a good speed. When he said, “Right about this pace is good”, I tried to sort of calibrate my level of effort and settle into that pace. When I glanced back over my shoulder to check the line of riders behind me, I was about 40 feet ahead of the group. I don’t know if that means I dropped them, but I kind of like to tell myself that, 60-odd miles into an 85-mile ride, I dropped the group. (Let me live with my fantasy, guys.)

– Getting compliments on being a strong rider. As I actually, gradually, start becoming a strong rider, those compliments are awesome! My favorite compliment was that someone commented on “how still” my upper body is when I’m riding — that absolutely made my day. I know I’m not the fastest rider around, but I’m faster than I was a year ago. I’m not the strongest climber by far, but I’m far stronger than I was a year ago. I’ve put as much effort into cleaning up my form as I have into building overall strength, and it really makes a difference.

After threats of thunderstorms, a delayed start, a long lunch and a couple other extended breaks, we completed our ride of 85 miles, and reached our B&B in Ocean City around 4:30pm. The day had been hot, humid and sunny — the showers and thunderstorms held off, and the evening was beautiful in Ocean City. My shower was hot or cold by turns, but utterly wonderful all around; have you ever noticed that humidity just seems to glue every bit of road grit to you as you go?

We had a nice dinner at a restaurant within walking distance of the B&B, and I believe some people went out for some live music nearby — I went for an early bedtime. I regretted that later, as Friday morning dawned rainy and stayed that way! We couldn’t even manage to get any of the famous Brown’s Donuts on the Boardwalk, as we didn’t have an umbrella with us, and the rain was a little too intense for standing in line. We did have a very nice late breakfast at a tiny restaurant, then decided to hit the road for home.