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Friends invited me to house sit for them over the holidays and it was a compelling getaway from the crumbling disarray of NYC. It’s a 250mi trip that involves two ferries and because of schedules then requires an overnight. I’d done this in August so what could go wrong?

Familiarity is always a boon. Sort of knowing what I was getting into was good on the muscle memory. Knowing that the Pine Barrens (one of my top parts of the trip always) is also a dead zone for services it was good to book stops around it. I changed up my starting route a bit and tried a different descent. Mid-December isn’t always kind to cycling but there was a window for a trip in high-40 to low-50 temps which is downright balmy.

Having to cover 20 degrees to 60 degrees in likely wet and dry weather is a difficult thing to pack for with limited capacity. That’s like three zones of kit and two different types of outerwear. Compounded in that I’d gotten rid of deep cycling wardrobe a few years ago.

The ride. I like my race through Manhattan for the 7am ferry at East 45th street. It’s just early enough that traffic means business but none of the harried bullshit that happens after 8am. The ferry was good and against the morning rush so fairly empty. 45mins later I disembark at Highlands in NJ. In the parking lot I tried to load my map on my computer and it just refused to load. I’m not entirely sure what the problem was still. It might be that Komoot has a cap on how many “planned” rides it will let you have.

I was able to ride with the Komoot map up and turn-by-turn voice activated by default? It was frankly kind of a joy never having to look at the map. I listen to music or podcasts so it was a small thing to just intermittently have audio interruption on forthcoming turns. It is, however, an absolute battery suck. Not prohibitive for this trip but good to know for the ecology of the whole thing.

I’d sort of routed myself too far inland over to Atlantic Highlands (adjacent to Highland) and in to Red Bank. The Atlantic Highlands and the hills just behind it were a joy. Red Bank though was kind of a dumpster fire. I certainly wouldn’t stop there again, maybe i’d route through it but the roads past it out to the Army base were all sort of shoulderless suburban dreck and other options should be found.

I took the Wawa app with me this time. Wawa is the sort of default convenience store for a majority of the trip. Ordering ahead probably saved me 10mins each stop. Maybe an hour overall? In part because my food was ready but also because i wasn’t making decisions in the store and dithering. Grab my food and grab liquids then pay and go. I guess if you get their Gift Cards you can prepay which would have been nice also I suppose. That first Wawa in Red Bank was SUPER sketchy. A sea of methed out migrants leaning against the length of mini mall wall waiting to steal my bike. I decided to go in but man did i try to rush and kept peering over the low wall to make sure everything was fine. Lots of shitty old-school NJ types inside. Real NJ. Some toothless wheelchair guy repeatedly asked me how expensive my bike was as I was leaving. Did I mention “sketchy”?

Further down the road, another twenty miles and maybe five miles past the Army base things start to transition to more wooded and then eventually the Pine Barrens. A nice ride in the waning sunlight. This late in the year it was twilight by 4pm. Downright dark out by the time I’d gotten to Egg Town Harbor for dinner. After which, my new route dived to the shore. At about 100mi I’m over a complicated causeway and out onto Ocean City. You forget that the thing about “dry counties; cities” is that there’s no reason for anything to be open after 6pm because no alcohol is driving any business anywhere. The main drag on Ocean City was under heavy repair and garbage grated streets. This eventually flatted my back tire. It was cold now with the ocean breeze. The streets were largely dark. Even under the occasional street lamp things seemed somewhat clandestine.

My pump didn’t seem to be working. I couldn’t find where the problem was and i was tired and angry and not thinking well. I was about 20 miles from my hotel and it wasn’t looking good at 9pm. Cooling down a bit, I tried to swap the tubeless rear for a tube I’d brought with me. Only, the tube I had wasn’t the right size. I had a short valve tube and the rear wheel was a 50mm rim. No valve extender. I just hadn’t even considered the problem. If I’d brought additional sealant AND had a working pump maybe I could have solved my problem. I wasn’t walking 20 miles in the dark at the end of the day. I called an Uber and the car wouldn’t take the bike. She had room; just refused. I returned to the parking lot to sulk and about ready to cry. An Suv pulled up and parked near me. After a minute or two i could hear mumbling from my phone and realized that it was the Uber app telling me another driver had arrived. I walked to the suv and she said she didn’t want to travel to where i was going and she only did “local” trips. After five minutes of pleading and whimpering and the discrete application of cash she agreed to take me to my hotel.

A little before ten pm, I rolled into the Sandbox motel in Wildwood, the adjoining oceanfront town and sort of the last stop for “fun” before NJ terminates to Cape May. The woman at the desk stayed late for me and helped me source a few bike shops not too far away that “might” be open the next day. It’s off-season so who knows really. Sandbox was a super kitschy sort of 60s style motor inn with some 70s interior styling and generic ikea furnishings. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I loved it.

Day 2, A good night’s sleep and rewarming your core temperature will do wonders for your mood. I had to wait for the early bike store to open which meant that I could sleep in longer than planned. Missing the morning ferry was baked in. How quickly and ‘whether’ i could get my wheel fixed was of concern though because I had another 110miles ahead of me and I was sort of on the clock.

I walked about a mile or so to Swifty’s bike shop. The guy opening the shop walked with me for the final few blocks and we talked about bike stuff etc. I had to wait a half hour for the shop to open but my new friend was nice and told me the mechanic wouldn’t be in early yet either. The main tech was off for the day and I ended up with the sort of ESL shop apprentice that wasn’t really sure how to change a tire. Nice enough kid, but every time he left the shop to ask a question, I’d step in and start working on the bike on my own. They were able to find me a long enough tube and I switched out tires for a new 32 Conti 5000 rather than worry if this guy could really seat a tubeless tire and then i’d be stranded somewhere else with the same problem. Mostly this was all easy peasy. I was sweating bullets because of trying to reach the midday ferry. As thing were wrapping up, I asked the owner if they had a shop truck and if I threw money at them would somebody drive me over to the ferry. They made it happen. Everyone at Swifty’s was just amazing.

An hour and a half later, I was across Cape May and unloading outside of Lewes, MD. A short ride to Henlopen park. That Henlopen trail is another highlight for me. It’s just absolutely beautiful and sort of perfectly articulated. Lots of people enjoying it but it never detracts. That trail spills out just north of Rehoboth. With the wind mostly at my back this entire day, it was a completely different experience from the sufferfest and dread this southern drag had filled me with in August. This flat 20mi boring stretch was kind of a joy and with a new tire under me I was in a good mood. It also helped that it was in the high-50s.

My first food stop is about 30 miles into the day which is unusual. I’d planned for it at least. And Wawa again so everything programmed. I made the mistake of eating too much. I ate for the ride ahead rather than just knowing to eat with the food I was bringing with me. Full is not a good way to be on the bike. I was unhappy and bloated for the next hour. Rookie mistake.

It was nice getting “past” the part that I had to bail out in August. I swung towards Berlin and would ride largely inland a bit for the rest of the ride. Lots of farms, flat but undulating, rural and every now and then suburban. I liked everything south of Berlin really. It was kind of fun seeing how far I could ride into the dark until I had to turn my front light on. Turns out… further than you think. It’s a strange feeling to be traveling in the dark at speeds in the middle of nowhere. Forbidden.

I was going to stop at Wolff’s sandwich shop for dinner but I’d gotten there at 658pm and they closed at 7 (though posted for 8). I chatted with a customer that had just picked up his food about what to order and when i turned to the counter to order the woman told me they were closed. Unreal. I would later go back and try Wolff’s. I like them but nobody likes shitty service.

I made great time for the next hour or so to my destination; maybe coming in an hour and a half before I’d planned to on the day. Just as I made the final turn down a 2 mile long country lane to my final destination my battery on my front light had exhausted. I don’t know how long it takes to get a charge from “dead” but it was more than a couple minutes. I knew my final run up was going to be a long very gravel drive with a lot of deep potholes. The solution? Take off my blinking rear red light and hold it in front of me like an idiotic assemblage of Paul Revere. One-handed pirate with my dim klaxon blazing the final meters to my dear friends at the Swamp Palace.

That massive cold snap happened at the beginning of January which halted any ideas I might have had of pulling a 24hr time trial in the reverse direction. Enough snow was still dotting the roads around VA, not to mention the eventual black ice that there was even less no-shoulder than before. And it was a recipe for death. I caught a greatly delayed train out of Norfolk, in fact one of the first to actually get through VA after an Amtrak the earlier day had stranded people onboard for 30 hours nearby.

Lessons:
-Always pre-load your map. I had this problem with the Dirty Apple a few years ago. Once the map is on the head unit there’s never any problem. So pre-load.

-Small light, long enough tube valve or adapter, or ‘and’ adapter. sealant. check pump. compressed air.

-Buy too much food; eat just enough food.

-Charge your front light first. I had only partially charged the light at the hotel instead charging the battery overnight. Everything else can be hot-charged from the road.

-Your 50mm deep wheel with a 32 tire will just very barely fit the hook for the train locker. Keep that in mind.

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