Events: The Bastille Day Randonee
(2015) It was hot, my stomach was full of sugary syrup from two Coca-Colas and a Snickers, I had been dropped, and I didn’t have a Garmin. I pulled out my cue sheet that was the equivalent of a wet tissue and reviewed the turn-by-turn instructions. “I’m on Opie. Left onto River Road.” After stuffing my cue sheet back into my pocket I wondered how much more life it had in its current state. I was in the final ten miles, but I didn’t know it because I neglected to look on the sheet for the mile marker.
I got here by meeting the registrants of the Bastille Day Randonee at a bike shop in Flemington. This was the newest challenge offered by Kermesse Sport, which has extensively expanded its line-up in recent years. Although Bastille Day in France was two days away (Americans are always noted as being in a hurry), the ride celebrated the French holiday marking the overthrow of Louis XVI, and his wife, Marie Antoinette, by peasants tired of their oppression. It should be noted that none of the riders on this day looked like peasants.
The starting point was a new bike shop. This is always an exciting experience. It’s fun to walk into any bike shop, but to especially walk into a newly built shop is twice the fun. V5 Cycles in Flemington is a huge space. It has a high ceiling that makes the environment feel airy and circulated. Things are spread out so one is not banging a service bike off merchandise. There are two large dressing rooms; there are two large bathrooms; there is a large lounge area that many shops lack. (This would come in handy if I made it back.) Lounge areas are great especially during the Tour days to create a social experience as well as a buying experience. Behind the couch laze the shiny bikes of Trek and Focus.
Rolling up to the shop a scant ten minutes before the start of the ride, Brian Ignatin asked me for my top three picks of the team time trial stage of the Tour. Those who picked correctly - or at least picked the closest to the correct order - won gear from Hutchinson Tires, KMC Chains, or Clif Bar. Panicking under pressure like I always do, I went with Sky, Astana, and BMC. I would be wrong, but luckily Orica GreenEDGE didn’t fly out of my mouth (they finished last because they have next-to-nobody left by this point). After a few announcements and peculiars, I eyed up two riders with whom I was going to try to keep pace: riders named Dave and Marco. Marco is V5’s mechanic. Since I was experienced at scoping out riders with Garmins in other Kermesse rides, I figured I would work as hard as I could to keep up with them. After all, I came armed with two Epic Bars and a five-hour time goal.
There were two courses for this ride, a long and a short course. The long course was nearly 85 miles in length. The shorter course avoided the middle portion – the climbs – and totaled just over 38 miles. I would follow the group that opted for the longer day.
I learned that Flemington, in lush summer, is a curiously located town. One could be within a few miles of it by bike and see no protruding landmark to signify its locale. This was felt immediately after departing the bike shop; we moved straight onto quiet country roads.
For the first few miles there were four of us. We headed down the pale-colored roads New Jersey seems to be known for. The opening roads were smooth and the temperature was quite comfortable. One nice part about the Bastille Day Randonee is its opening profile. The roads give one’s legs a chance to come under him or her. The miles dropped away at a rather comfortable clip.
This ride is beautiful. Of all the rides Kermesse has put on, this one was the most scenic. It was evident in many areas, but the most awe-inspiring moment of the ride came after we passed through Stanton and port-rounded the Round Valley Reservoir. What came into view was a large earthen dam that holds back all that water. Yet strangely enough my first thought was, “Who mows all that?” as it was meticulously manicured in straight lines. The preserved land through which we passed fortified the beauty of the ride. It was at this moment our group swelled to seven total (including a French rider, how did Brian plan that?) and it would remain so for the rest of the ride.
As a group we passed by the second reservoir, Spruce Run, before we started our two climbs. We were in the middle portion of the route that was whittled from the short course. Strangely enough, this was satisfying. The day was getting hot, but the climb on Rocky Run Road was completely shaded. It’s not a steep climb by any means yet it goes on for about three miles before dipping down and then climbing again. It was on this climb that we all took notice of Skinner Road; it is a wall of a climb that each rider noted would have to be tried in the future (after researching this climb, it is stated to be 33% in one spot).
We summited in Woodglen then ripped down into Bunnvale where we stopped at mile 35 for hydration. The Sunoco station worker did not know what to do about seven cyclists raiding his market then lounging around the curbside. The glass bottle Coke tasted so refreshing after the sustained climb and increasing temperature.
Another enjoyable portion followed as we accessed yet another River Road on the approach to Califon, a sleepy little town that had a few people out and about. One turn out of town and we started the second climb that was two miles in length, not as high, but was followed by several larger rollers for the next ten miles. Here we saw large estates and horse farms. We passed through Oldwick and Lamington as the route mellowed out while the temperature rose.
All seven of us passed through Whitehouse Station where we met up with the short course. We plodded on to Raritan for our final rest stop where we raided a Quick Chek for Coca Cola, water, and Snickers. It was mile 68 and my gas tank was running low. I was starting to hang on the back of the group. I was getting nervous about the remaining seventeen miles (although I thought we only had fourteen). We linked up with yet another River Road and a healthy dose of wind, low energy, a fast group, and heat dislodged me from the remaining six. It wasn’t the worst place to get dislodged, as it was quite beautiful, but the group got smaller and smaller into the distance. River Road became Opie and I had to resort to my sweat-soaked cue sheet to continue on my way.
Happily the front six waited for me at Neshanic Station. Marco stated that since I had started with them, I would finish with them. It was a welcoming sentiment, but I still felt guilt for slowing them down. The route would mellow in the final nine miles. It was the standard New Jersey roads that make summer riding difficult: the light-colored tarmac that reflects sunlight, the lack of shade, and the mid-day heat continued to beat me down. Punchy rollers meant I would get dropped and then have to sprint back on in the flat. I tried to tap into energy reserves that I just didn’t have.
We motored down 3 Bridges Road that lived up to its name. We returned to the original River Road, the one from which we departed Flemington. I still saw no town. Flemington could have been on the other side of the world for all I knew; yet V5 Cycles was less than a mile away. Finally the road looked familiar again and the shop came into view. Oh the elation of finishing nearly 85 miles in well under five hours of moving time.
After struggling to decide whether to throw the bike on the car or go straight to the shop through the two flags of France, I rolled over to the front doors of V5 Cycles and plopped down on the couch not caring about how bad I stunk or how sunburnt I was. All seven of us had rolled in relatively together. Despite wanting a River Horse Milk Stout (which I consider close enough to chocolate milk as recovery) that was in the tub of ice, I reached in for another bottle of Coca-Cola hoping to revive myself after the proper walloping. To further help us feel French for a day the organizers also prepared French wine for the post ride along with baguette jambon or baguette fromage or baguette beurre. Or if you want to get real freaky, baguette jambon beurre avec fromage (sandwich with ham, butter, and cheese). Flawless French after only 85 miles. River Horse beer was stashed smartly in the bucket waiting for any takers. Americans are certainly better at beer than the French.
In the spirit of cycling, it would be quite strange to do such a ride and come back feeling fresh. This was an incredibly beautiful ride with extremely wonderful people. To ride with a group at a decent pace with decent conversation created such an enjoyable atmosphere that it’s a shame many more riders couldn’t have joined the experience. It was an immensely satisfying ride to pass through new towns and over new roads. To have a larger group would have meant for more chances to stop at the watering holes and general stores on the route to make for a full day. But this is the first year for the Bastille Day Randonee; it’s a learning curve for next year.
This event is a fantastic experience for riders of all abilities and one should look for it next year as a must-do to celebrate the French Revolution.