I knew there would be soreness and sunburn. I knew I wasn't quite ready. I waited too long to pack my gear and prepare. This is how bicycle trips always begin.
I got the invitation.
The idea was for five folks to ride to a state park in New Jersey. We would camp there, presumably drink by a fire, and return to Philadelphia the following day. I knew one of the folks, and had met two of the others; years ago and only one time. The trip was organized by Mark. I know him. The rest of the group was friends of Mark, probably all co-workers as well. I've known Mark throughout most of my life. I was invited. I am enthusiastic about bicycles, curious about people, and motivated to take more trips. Let's do this. Let's cruise through New Jersey and see what happens. Let's talk to each other and bicycle.
I prepared in my manner.
There must have been background organizing, or coordinated preparation. I was up in Maine for awhile; not focused on matters of future planning. I got back to the Philadelphia area in time for this ride, and prepared in my usual manner.
I replaced the cassette and chain on my favorite bicycle - the one - my Hoopty and friend. I replaced the stem with one that will not creak against the handlebars - a battered steel stem by Salsa from the 90's, with a substantial length and height. I re-wrapped the northroad-shaped handlebars. I have a pair of grips cut lengthwise to provide a channel for the cable housing from the bar-end shifters. Over this, I have two layers of handlebar tape, which continue all the way to the stem. The grip area is plush. I added a highly-modified set of aero-bars from the 90's. The aero-bars could be their own story: I removed the padded arm rests, cut a few inches off the straight sections, and swapped in shorter bolts to fit the quill-style interface. I am pleased as punch with the outcome.
The trip plan was simple: 56 miles to the state forest to camp. Return the following day. I planned to pack minimally while providing all the comfort I might want. I brought a one-person tent, my backpacking air mattress, and my backpacking sleeping bag. They all fit in one pannier with room to spare. I brought one extra thin t-shirt, so I could use the dirty one as a towel. I brought a bulky sweatshirt to be used also as a pillow. I brought a multi-tool and a patch kit. I packed a few food bars and not much else.
I had everything I needed in my panniers, but the top of the rack was still bare. There was plenty of space for a friend. Laugh-a-Lot Bear has been with me on previous short tours. We travel well together, and have developed a good rapport. He joined me on this trip, sitting up on the rack and held comfortably in place with a toe strap. He had a clear view of the passing scenery and motorists. He is a good friend, though quiet. His battery compartment has been empty for years.
We met at a cafe and pedaled.
I woke up in my van, strategically parked about a mile from our meeting point, in a spot that is shaded and meets all of my needs. I loaded up my gear, and made sure Laugh-a-Lot was secured, before arriving early at the agreed upon cafe. I crouched across the street and waited for loaded touring bicycles to show up. Aside from Mark, I wouldn't recognize any faces. Approximately on time, introductions were made, and coffee and bagels were eaten.
The plan was straightforward: We ride all day, following a printed set of directions, and camp at the final destination. We left. A group of five cruised over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and into Camden New Jersey. We picked our way through that area to greener vistas beyond. The sun rose to its highest position, and made itself heard on our skin. One in our group approached heatstroke, but everybody survived. We took breaks in the shade as needed.
Along the route we experienced one flat tire. There were plenty of cooks to attend to the broth. As we neared the destination, a tire exploded. It sounded like a gunshot, complete with smoke. The tire was cut severely enough for the tube to escape the incision - the tube burst like an overfilled balloon in a small cloud of talcum powder. The tire was useless afterward, but the show was worth the price of admission. It didn't matter much anyway - we were within easy walking range of the campsite.
Camping with dudes.
"Hell Yes" is the feeling you get when it is time to relax. After a hot day of riding, a picnic table and a rest feel great. We moved slowly throughout the day, but arrived with plenty of sunlight remaining. Camp chores were performed in a leisurely manner. We took showers, set up tents, and purchased an abundance of kiln-dried logs from an office.
Maybe there was a discussion of food that I didn't notice. I assumed that food plans would either be discussed beforehand, or we'd stop at a grocery store nearby. I also made the assumption that everybody else would pack a huge amount of gear, so I left my stove and my kitchen items at home. As it turned out, there was a team of camp stoves and copious amounts of freeze-dried backpacker meals. I was happy to accept all that was offered.
After all hints of sunlight had disappeared, and the fire was the correct shape and size, the focus went to talking and whisky. I didn't bring a cup, so I sipped from the bottle, which put my new drinking plan in serious jeopardy. Last time I was on a bicycle trip with Mark, we killed a whole bottle, and I woke up still drunk as fuck. I pumped the brakes early on the bourbon and rye, and switched to a bat piece instead. We sat and jawed around the campfire until late. I slept well and woke up feeling reasonably peachy.
The return to Philadelphia.
The day was forecast to be a notch hotter. Our bodies were a measure more tired. We did not wake up early to get a head start. We rose in a casual manner, allowing the day and the sun to proceed at their will. Two of the group called in reinforcements. They would be picked up in a Prius deployed from the city. The remaining three of us would return by pedaling.
Being "out of shape" is subjective and relative. I could ride a bicycle without feeling miserable, but the return leg of the trip was a challenge. I looked forward to resting while the sun cooked my skin. My stomach was uneasy for most of the day. My hands were tired and began to feel numb. I began to feel sore from hours on the saddle. I find it interesting that humans can adapt to these conditions. If you ride long distances for weeks or months at a time, you find that the conditions begin to feel normal. I love the feeling of owning the world on a bicycle, but it takes time and mileage to get to that point.
The three of us arrived back in Philadelphia. We cruised at a steady pace and rested as needed. We made the trip with no incidents, but I felt considerably knackered at the end. We parted ways at the foot of the bridge. I returned to my van on Poplar.
The glorious aftermath of home.
The day was still hot, with temperatures in the 90s, when I turned the key in the ignition and headed toward Kennett Square. My body was tired and my brain was shot. I dropped onto my usual spot on the couch like a bag filled with dirty bricks. I sat with my folks who were watching the news, and made no statements longer than a few syllables. The air was conditioned, and I pushed the button on the side of the couch to recline.
I managed to mention that I was tired and sunburned and hungry. Mom listed a few things she could make me for dinner. We went to the kitchen, where I sat on a stool, as she cut cubes of chicken and drained a can of beans. She added the chicken and beans to rice, which was exactly what I needed. She added most of a jar of bruschetta to make it all even better. I ate this with taco shells as I came back to life and told her all about the bicycle trip.