Rides We Like: Into a New Jersey Snowsquall
(2016) A couple of years ago the Missus and I went to Montana for our honeymoon in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Prior to going out there, I joked around about the cold temperatures as being merely “a dry cold.” True to my joke I was shoveling off the porch of the slope-side cabin in a t-shirt and completely unawares of the zero-degree Fahrenheit reading. Perhaps the ism is true.
That experience only came to mind later in the ride today. I managed to meet up with the one and only Mike (it’s Mike again!) to pack in some miles before the end of the weekend. I had fought a head cold all week, which explains the lackluster mileage on either the trainer or road miles. I forced this ride today. I would later learn just how glad I would be on the bike.
I took it easy on the first few miles to re-acclimate to pedaling a bike. I found myself smiling as I hit out over the Bucks County roads. It was cloudy and cold, the way a winter ride should be. In typical Bucks cycling routes, this one involved a common covered bridge and down a ridge. Wismer Road, I have mentioned, can be a struggle to climb. Coming down it is another experience. I could imagine a more stunting rider searching for 60 miles-per-hour down this hill. As mentioned before, in true Pennsylania style, it has a stop sign at the bottom of a steep portion. This is where I encountered Mike.
For the remainder of this article I have decided to make Mike the protagonist. I am merely the observing eye to his ride. I guess that would necessitate an antagonist. That will come along later I suppose. I guess that also means I need to describe Mike in our cold weather ride. One may ask why I pointed out the fact that it was cold: because Mike could be observed leading the way down the last portion of Wismer in a summer riding kit. That’s right, he forced the issue by wearing his Belgian Boys Club Belgie Kit and Tommeke bibs. I must say they looked professional.
My first thought was, “I wonder if he’ll be cold” but when wearing a Belgian kit, one cannot admit to weather having any affect on the ride. I figured I would get nowhere with that. My second thought was our route. Since I had zero miles since last Sunday, I figured to take it easy. (Doesn’t it always go downhill from there?)
We passed through Carversville (we all know Carversville by now) and into New Hope, PA. We took the shortcut through the Triumph Brewing parking lot and managed to cross the train tracks within moments of the bells clanging and the lights alerting those nearby a locomotive was returning home. With the bustle of downtown, and with a Girl Scout barking the sale of Girl Scout Cookies on the sidewalk, I did not get a chance to look back at their massive mode of transportation.
We walked into New Jersey via the pedestrian deck on the New Hope- Lambertville bridge. The Delaware River looked healthy after much rainfall in the past few weeks.
We went to the back of Lambertville and hung a left on the bumper of a Ford Escort with a window sticker that said, “If you’re going to ride my ass, at least pull my hair.” We decided to back off immediately for fear of the operator’s seriousness.
We turned north on state route 179 and made hard work of a long shallow climb. Images of Philippe Gilbert’s attack in the World Championship in Valkenburg, Holland, came to mind and we pushed the pace to the top. It was a winter ride with a small turning of the screw. In all honesty it was the moment I decided to use up all the fuel I had to pretend like I had a big motor for the day. Thinking I had walloped Mike, I looked over my shoulder at the top and there he was. So much for the poker face.
We turned onto the much-anticipated Queen Road. In typical New Jersey fashion, this road was rolling and quiet. Throw in enjoyable and one doesn’t need to be convinced as to why this road is sought after. It's rolling and smooth with a couple of calculated climbs. It runs smack into the front door of Sandy Run church, another old structure from a much older era. It sat peacefully watching us ride around the perimeter of the property onto Cemetery Road and beyond. I’m sure the church didn’t bother wondering about us after this exchange.
We accessed some technical roads and experienced New Jersey’s only covered bridge (We find them even across the river). It was around this time the antagonist began appearing. Little white invaders began fluttering out of the corner of the eye. The weather websites had stated to expect snow. We both thought it was all a bunch of ridiculousness.
Around the same time the second necessary experience occurred to signify snow accumulation: no traffic. People in these parts invade the grocery store at the mention of snow and then hide inside. We stated how enjoyable it would be to ride in flurries for a bit. Don’t forget Mike was riding in his summer jersey. We started snapping photographs in an attempt to capture the feeling of riding a bike in the snow. There’s always some juxtaposition of doing a typically summer activity in the winter. It shows on the faces of people driving past us.
We reached the Delaware River just in time to see the flurries pick up pace. The road was now wet. Snow was building up on my jacket and our crusader’s summer riding jersey. The consolation was his stylish appeal amidst the blowing snow. Mike was battling the elements while I remained toasty in my jacket and winter bibs. "Keep up the good fight, Mike!" I thought.
I informed him I would be riding back with him to avoid the Wismer climb. I also didn’t want to go back the way I had come out, or so I told him. Our visibility was reduced noticeably as the snow picked up in intensity. It was so enjoyable, and I said so to Mike. We often have wonderful riding experiences, and today was one of them.
At the height of the precipitation, Mike and I split up and I headed home. The snow was accumulating on my jacket sleeves. It was even piling up on the tongue of my cycling shoes. Brushing it off gave a small sense of satisfaction. Spray was starting to come off the front wheel at this point. I figured we had timed this ride perfectly. Leaving thirty minutes later would have brought a phone call to deal with the increasing elements.
Returning to the house solo made me think of the comment about the dry cold out west. The ride’s temperature today was in the low thirties, but for anyone who doesn’t live on the east coast it is hard to explain the humid cold. So I’ll try to explain it here. If it’s thirty degrees with over fifty percent humidity, plan to feel like the cold has penetrated each layer of clothing, each layer of the body, down to the bone. It feels like the bones are rattling with much colder temperatures than what the thermometer reads.
But riding in the snow for the last half of a route with great company? That’s an experience that certainly cannot be topped easily, and humid cold or not, it's worth heading out in it.