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Princeton 300 & Whitehouse Station 200 - Test ride repor

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Randonneur RBA

Joined: 05 Jan 2007
Posts: 64

Posted: Tue Apr 24, 2007 12:54 am    Post subject: Princeton 300 & Whitehouse Station 200 - Test ride repor

There have been two years since I last rode this route, and I wanted to make changes on the first and last stages so off I went on Saturday morning to test how it feels and amend the cue sheet accordingly.

It was quite chilly at 4h00am, and three layers were no luxury. I saw virtually no car for the first 20 miles of the route or so. And certainly none when ascending the first climb of the day, new to this route, which you can thank for having got you rid of the two infamous RR crossings on Rt 601 experienced in years past. None of that any more, and a nice forested ridge instead. Plenty of deer too, hence take it easy when you will be descending the ridge on your way towards the river.
Deer were still there, in herds and as usual at that time and place, as I was proceeding along the river in chilly temperatures. The crossing of Rt 202 was very quiet, and traffic returned when I hit Rt 523 for the last few miles before Whitehouse Station. Two bagels at the controle place were quickly ingested, and the landlord now is aware that he will see 50 cyclists on Saturday. I had a few minutes in hand over cut-off when leaving the controle.

You guys are lucky, because the bridge closure that forced a re-routing up a frankly tough hill last year on the 200 has now been fixed, and you will have instead the much more civilized ascent up Guinea Hollow Rd to reach the ridge above Califon. This section is truly beautiful in early morning light, and is certainly one of my favourites on this course. Good news too is that surfacing through Califon and further up has gone better with time, and the twisty descents have gone easier - but you should still come with good brakes and handling skills! By that time temperature had gone up, or was it all these hills, so I was promptly seen stuffing the Carradice with clothing and proudly (?) exbibiting fairly pale leg and arm skin for the fist time this year. I smiled in reminiscence while ascending past Mansfield Police Station, wondering whether locals still remember us from the 2005 NJ600, and then the easy bash towards Hackettstown allowed to enjoy view of vast expanses, and also to realise that bloom has hardly started yet in those parts - by the time you come it should be at full peak!
Temperature must have been a good 50 degrees lower than last time I rode through Hackettstown (still 2005 NJ600), but it was all very well from my point of view. The sharp climbs out of Hackettstown went fine, and the leg saver (30 x 27) was happily called into service for the 25% steep climb up Ryan Rd. Many easy miles followed, up to the point where I realized my back tire was getting soft. Inspection revealed no obvious hole, so by lack of a better reason I concluded of a pinch flat, changed the tube, and made mental notes to (i) buy two new tubes when visiting the bike shop in the afternoon (the only one on the route), (ii) order two new Armadillos to have them ready for the Saratoga 400. Twenty minutes later I was back on the road, and the involuntary rest must have gone a long way towards making me feel the approach to Blairstown easier than usual - but just as beautiful as ever. I took note of the question you will have to answer in Blairstown, now changed to an unmanned Info Controle. There is a good looking bakery just by the corner, should you want to grab a quick bite.
Which might be a good idea given that the next 6 miles to the main controle have not gone any easier with time. However, I was still feeling pretty good, and better than usual at that place and time, when reaching the Dark Moon Tavern. The much needed sandwich did not stay arrogant for too long and was promptly consumed, while chatting with the landlady and a couple of motorbikers from Allentown PA, home of Tom's series! The deli now awaits you, and we insured that you may use the Port-O-Pottie even if you don't buy any food.
With again a mere few minutes of spare time in hand, Jenny Jump beckoned, and the 25% gradient in places was calmly ascended thanks to the leg saver. Traffic was fairly moderate on the ensuing section, where I spotted an error on the cue sheet which shows how one can get wrong when reading road signs from a car instead of from a bike. Reaching Port Colden allowed me to test once again that the cue sheet is right at this place, making me wonder why so many people get lost every year by missing Butlers Park Rd while it is signposted twice and the cue sheet distance is correct! So if you get lost this year over there, blame only yourself and don't pretend you haven't been warned!

On the climb to Schooley's Mountain I took a few notes on the cue sheet to eliminate doubts in your minds - this is not (quite) Hillier-Than-Thou, and we are not visiting Camp Bernie! And as I rode past the deli at the top I spotted this Randonneur bicycle leaning against the wall, the owner of which proving to be Janice Chernekoff who will be running the Dark Moon controle on Saturday, and had decided to enjoy on her bike the route of the Whitehouse Station 200 beforehand. We had a sort of lunch together, Janice telling me she was finding herself slower than usual, and then she set off promising I would soon be seen flying by. I never saw her again, so either she hasn't got any slower, or I have.
The impromptu lunch was threatening to wreck my plan to stop by the bike shop in Long Valley on time, and in fact the shop had technically closed when I stopped by (5h10pm) but the manager kindly agreed to sell me a pair of tubes nevertheless. He knows you will be passing by on Saturday, so feel free to stop by. The main road to Califon wasn't too trafficky, and neither was the climb out of town, the last large ascent on the route. I stopped by Hacklebarney State Park to make notes about the Information Controle you will have there, hoping that you will find it easier to find than last year. And it was still daylight when I descended Black River Rd, and soon afterwards set-up for the night. I had hardly over a quarter of an hour spare time when reaching Whitehouse Station, and prompty set off for the last stage.

I would like to be able to claim that the last stage was fine and smooth. I had designed it from the map, aiming at avoiding RR crossings and traffic altogether, at the expense of making you climb a ridge. The testing gave a slightly different story: a short but rough section of dirt track, a frankly awkward crossing of Rt 202 involving having to walk 25 yards against incoming traffic. And this so promising little lane going up the ridge to where I wanted to go, nice at first, less nice then as tarmac gave way to dirt (and steeper gradient), frankly dodgy when dirt gave way to a flooded 'track' in the woods - by now I was walking. Up to the point when the 'track' stopped and I found myself pushing a bike and lost in the middle of the woods at close to midnight! That was laughable, in a way, and I nearly did start laughing. Then it dawned on me that some of you might not find it funny on the day. So I backtracked, tested the better known way up the ridge instead, and when realising at the finish that I was 45 minutes past cut-off, decided to go back to the drawing board on this stage the day after. Which was done, in the car, and there you are with a mostly new last stage without the antics I had to go through. In case you were wondering how RBAs do to give you a route, that was a sample. Though I will be first to say that I enjoyed it, very much in fact. You see, that was still a ride, and one to remember at that.

I hope that gives you an idea of what you will be going through. I estimate the total climbing on the 300 to be approx. 12,000 feet (9,000-ish on the 200), and it includes two hills of 25% steep gradient where very little gears come handy. That said, don't panic if you find yourself close to the cut-off around mid-point; the return half is easier than the way out and you should be able to make-up some time on the way back. Good news is that distance is really just on target with nothing in excess. The other side of this coin is that you'd better fill-up your Information Controles correctly, because if you don't that will be read as you haven't completed the distance and you will be declared DNF. Now, you know!

Laurent Chambard
NJ Randonneurs
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