Events: The First Ride of 2015- The Sourland Semi-Classic
(2015) “I’ll never be one of those guys,” I said to myself years ago while studying the cover of a bike catalogue. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the two riders pushing their way uphill, except one.
The Sourland Semi-Classic on March 15 in Hopewell, NJ had the honors to kick off the 2015 cycling season. The weather favored the Sourland Semi-Classic to activate the Kermesse Sports’ calendar. The sky was overcast, the wind was present, but the overall ride comfort was liberating considering the recent struggle to snap out of a polar freeze. There was still snow on the ground, there was mud making up the pave sections, and there was the occasional raindrop felt around the midpoint of the ride. Despite all these dreary adjectives, the ride could not have been more enjoyable.
Numerous parts made this ride great: The town of Hopewell, NJ is one of those central locations that works well for a ride like the Sourland Semi-Classic. The clapboard houses of dashing color line Broad Street to give a flare for the Americana. Turn-of-the-century houses contain commercial brick buildings mixed with residential houses. In the summer, the town can be quite leafy. Those were certainly far-off conditions.
Within Hopewell is the Sourland Cycles bike shop nestled smartly in a befitting Hopewell environment. As participating bike shops go, Sourland Cycles shined with enthusiasm. Aside from the obvious excitement, the shop was a bright and welcome juxtaposition to the conditions outside. How nice it was to sign in amidst the warmth of fellow riders, new bikes, and the atmosphere of a new bike shop.
Further adding to enjoyment was the ride proper which left as one group from the shop. The pace was manageable probably because, for many, this was the first outdoor test of the new year. It also was obvious riders were enjoying being outside to signify the start of cycling season. The quick turns in the first few miles recalled the familiar portions of the Hell of Hunterdon course, which would be the next spring classic on the calendar.
The roads of northern Mercer County were peaceful and enjoyable on the way to the Sourland Preserve. In a comical coping skill for some unplugged riders, many of the GPS-equipped riders found themselves quite popular throughout the ride. It was less of a mindset to stay with any given group and more of an attempt to stay with people who knew where they were going. As groups would approach intersections, riders would either sit up or look around for people who looked like they knew where they were going. Another option was drop to the back of the bunch and follow. Surely one of the riders in the group knew where the course went.
The route seemed fairly flat for the first bits. Rocktown Road, the first of only two dirt sectors, seemed unprepared for riders this early in the season: The late winter conditions made the dirt track fast and flat. There were no big rocks to contend with, as there were in years previous. The trees gave way to glades, which is where the wind began to make its presence known. The course profile felt a bit flat in the beginning. There was enthusiasm that this would be the standard for the ride. Veterans of Kermesse rides spoke up stating that rides never remain complacent and that something was out there waiting for the all of us.
Our return trip into the Sourland Mountain Preserve wasn't as welcoming. The Kermesse secret unraveled as the small group turned onto Zion Road. If there was anything nice about this long climb it was the fact that what lie fifty feet ahead couldn't be seen. No one could form expectations; every turn hid a surprise behind it. The climb continued upward. The others in the group took turns riding up front only to give up and drop back. Moments later the same riders would return to the front only to drop back again. It certainly seemed many were ascending Zion Road for the first time. Then, just as there was hope that we'd top out and come screaming back into Hopewell, the GPS leader told us to turn left onto Long Hill Road, hardly the name of a road one wants to access after climbing. Yet here we were coming back into the Preserve and it was all so beautiful.
Approximately fifteen miles of the fifty-eight-mile course wound through 90-square-mile conservancy. Too many times historical markers begged to be read as we zipped by. And this conservancy is certainly historical. According to one sign, John Hart, a Declaration of Independence signer, hid out in the Sourlands. Charles Lindbergh’s baby was kidnapped from the Lindbergh estate within the Sourlands. These are some of the reasons that lead to belief that the mountains are haunted. The fog and cloudiness created a nice dramatic setting. Despite this, the Sourland is beautiful even when it is muddy and snowy and cloudy.
The Sourland route zig-zags East Amwell Township and turns through Ringoes. The ride passes through Neshanic and reenters the Sourland Mountain Preserve. From there the ride points south-by-southeast to Mount Rose only to pivot on the right shoulder and turn for home in Hopewell, NJ. It is certainly a ride that can be done any time of year - which is highly advised. The large groups might not be there, but a majority of the roads are quiet back-country roads suitable for a day out.
It was toward the finish that I remembered that bike catalogue from several years ago. Two riders clad in winter gear riding up some (most likely) Colorado mountain looking like they’re enjoying themselves. What stood out was the deep snow on both sides of the road carved by behemoth snow movers. That’s when it occurred to me that I had become one of those riders. Remaining snow from the storm that forced a reschedule still lined the course like the Tifosi during the Giro.
At the finish of the 58-mile ride, participants all gathered back at Sourland Cycles for post ride debriefing involving pizza, River Horse beer, camaraderie amongst cyclists and shop employees, and a big screen with Youtube videos of cycling races. If one were so inclined, Sourland Cycles provides a bike washing station at the back of the shop complete with a rack, hose, and other accessories to return a bike back to its pre-ride luster.
If anyone asked how many years this ride had been put on, many would probably estimate a longer time frame. This did not feel like a first-year ride. The serenity along with the camaraderie and an anticipation to get the season – specifically the classics – started made this an extremely enjoyable first event for the year.