Rides We Like: Back to the Thursday Night Thunder Route
(2017) Sometimes a perfect scenario needs little coaxing at all. The path to today’s ride meandered through the digisphere with routes as long as sixty miles proposed for the extra day to the Labor Day Weekend. There were plans to stop at a coffee stop. Then there weren’t. Once all nine of us met up at the local elementary school parking lot it was decided a much more traditional route would be taken. We had amassed an arsenal of local riders; why waste the firepower on an easy spin? We pointed our route toward the old proving grounds on New Jersey’s route 519.
In the States, Labor Day is a celebration of those who drive the country through sheer force. I’ve stated my conflict a couple times regarding the holiday. I’m no laborer, but I’ll never turn down a day off. Judging by the amount of people on bikes today, scores of cyclists had likewise ambitions.
Once the route accessed New Jersey’s route 29, the northerly accessway to Frenchtown, each rider fell in line and we hammered a lovely pace line. Each rider occupied the front for a short time before peeling off. Oh the joy of gobbling up riders who were taking the same route solo. To my knowledge, nobody jumped onto our group.
To get to 519 the route must go up the ridge in the form of a three-mile category four climb. Route 12 is long medium grade climb with a new surprise around each turn. Just when it seems over, another part of the hill is revealed. It was here I watched the group ride away from me as if I were one of those solo riders on the way up. Luckily they took mercy on me and we regrouped at the stop light before turning south. Here we agreed the seven-mile twisting and undulating road would be taken at race pace. Just as the ride and route came together in perfect harmony, this portion of the ride came together even better.
First there was the headwind. The pace line gradually quickened. With the constant headwind and brisk pace, a breakaway attempt would not work. Even two riders working together would struggle to maintain a lead. With every rotation we eyed each other up. The undulating parts provided relief while the uphill parts stung. Add in the headwind on a shallow gradient with the high speed and the right time to try an attack had to be precise. Halfway through the section Josh attempted to ride ahead and was reeled back in. Maybe the headwind reared up at just the wrong time.
There is an incredibly magical part to the old Thunder route. The road slings us out of wooded shelter and slices through rolling Jersey farmland. It also goes briefly downhill and winds to the right. One last obstacle stands between the roaring group and the finish line at the back of the cemetery. There is a calculated steep hill with a craggy oak standing sentry. That oak has seen many of my attacks squander. It’s the steepest portion of the hill, moments before the plunge into the tiny hamlet of Rosemont, NJ. The oak came into view and immediately mocked me. I could feel it.
I was in a remarkably comfortable position among the nine of us. Slotted third wheel and with the left side completely free I prepared for a hard effort if I wanted any chance of claiming the shinny prize. With a couple riders effectively boxed in, I decided to put my head down and go. It was a moment. I quickly covered the flat ground leading up the oak tree’s climb. I climbed the cassette a bit to meet the gradient. Occasional glances at the zenith revealed the farm stand that signifies the raging descent. At one moment I decided this wasn’t worth it and sat down. I immediately threw the idea away and stood back up. Looking down I saw no shadows coming behind me. Imagination conjured the group leaving me to hang out there only to tear down the corkscrew descent and blast by me in the final moments.
Once summited I went all in again. The descent is where I felt I could maintain distance. With potholes on the right side of the lane I moved into the middle of the road. A move by someone inside would invite rattlings. Going outside is longer. I so badly wanted to look back and see what I was working with. Fear kept me from doing so. I kept listening for any sounds of tires or gears. I still saw no shadows coming up behind me. I also saw the cemetery wall dancing a short distance ahead. It lay just at the top of a slight roller right as we entered Rosemont. I then chanced a look over my shoulder and saw the group four wide and coming strong. One more dig saw me cross the line in hypoxia.
Interesting our culture that on a day encouraging reprieve from labors, we seek out hard work to slake our desires. Here a ride came together with the efforts of a few cyclists looking to take advantage of the Labor Day holiday. A short recovery jaunt up River Road on the Pennsylvania side led us to Lumberville General Store for post race pace coffee. Here we joined dozens of other cyclists, perhaps three group rides, in sitting on the patio to discuss everything except for work. Mike said he wondered if I would write about winning the ride; I decided I would. But the ride was too perfect to leave out there without mentioning.