by Joe Kratovil
In New Jersey, the final weekend of Randonneuring arrived with unquestionably the hottest temperatures experienced so far this year. A 200K and 300K were being run simultaneously from two different start / finish locations, the 200K using almost all the same roads and controls as the very hilly northern portion of the 300K. Given the start times were two hours apart, riders from both events would encounter each other on the road and at many controls.
Nineteen 300K riders departed the Clarion Hotel in Princeton at 5am in the relative cool of darkness. The first comparatively gentle leg of 35 miles would bring them to Whitehouse, where the 200K was set to start at 7am. The 300K leaders arrived just before the start of the 200K. While the temperature was still under 80º, the high humidity was a hint of what was yet to come.
Eight 200K riders set out on the route at 7am, beginning their hilly journey. The first control, Hackettstown, was reached in 25 miles, and some climbing was encountered along the way—though the toughest climbs were still yet to come. A steady increase in temperature was also felt. As an organization, New Jersey Randonneurs—known for providing a high level of support—regarded the impending weather as a serious threat to the well-being of the participants. To ensure safety, a plan was drawn up to increase the level of route support. The 200K riders would have ten opportunities to refresh water between the start and finish, at an average 12.5 mile intervals. The 300K riders would have 13 opportunities, averaging 14.3 miles between each. Electrolytes and ice socks, along with other hot weather remedies, were used as well.
Riders from both events began arriving at Foot Bridge Park in Blairstown in the late morning. The covered picnic area was shady and pleasant despite the ever-increasing temperature and humidity. A catered lunch was provided from a local market. It was a good sign that most riders ate heartily. The last two 300K riders to arrive Blairstown did so with one hour to spare. One rider had suffered multiple flats; his riding companion stayed with him. At the close of the control there were two DNF’s, both from the 200K. One rider reached the control suffering from heat-related issues; he subsequently chose not to continue. A second rider never arrived. The missing participant was contacted— he had abandoned the brevet, having found his own transport.
The most challenging climb of the route, Jenny Jump, was the next hurdle. Riders expended a lot of energy to achieve the top. Once there they encountered the RBA offering ice water to be enjoyed while sitting on chairs set up in the shade. Those familiar with the route surely had the Schooley’s Mountain Climb on their minds, which was not too many miles away. By that time of day the heat index was over 100º.
The field was quite spread out by the time the optional water stop in Mansfield Township was reached. This strategically-placed refill opportunity was at the foot of Schooley’s Mountain, which represented several miles of climbing. A second water stop was encountered some miles after the climb, in Long Valley. At this location one 300K rider chose to abandon. On this day, when one reached their limit of tolerance, this was unquestionably respected.
Only a few miles further, in the small town of Califon, a control with many services awaited the field. Another challenging climb of Route 512 immediately followed. Several more milder miles would ensue, although exposure to late day heat and sun were intense. The heat index was at its highest point of the day, 112º. Not surprisingly, another 300K rider called it quits at Hacklebarney State Park. Interestingly, while volunteers were both prepared and willing to transport riders to the finish, none would accept this offer. It appeared they did not want to take volunteers away from the task of supporting those who were still riding. In general, Randonneurs are a selfless group.
For 200K riders, the finish at Whitehouse was only 12 miles from the State Park, with one fast screaming downhill enjoyed on Route 517, in Tewksbury Township. The first 200K rider to reach the finish was Drew Lee, who managed an overall time of 9 hours and 13 minutes. This was more than two-and-a-half hours ahead of anyone else. The final riders to see the finish at Whitehouse would require the full time limit to do so—a perfectly sensible strategy under the circumstances.
There was one more intermediate control point in Neshanic for the 300K riders, just 28 miles before the finish. Another rider abandoned there, calling for a ride from home. Once again, the decision was respected. The field was spread out over more than five hours. On the way to the finish there was one more dedicated volunteer waiting on the side of the road with ice water and slices of watermelon—a final refreshment and a morale boost from an experienced rando who knew just what was needed at that point in time.
The first to arrive at the finish at the Clarion Hotel in Princeton was Ed McDonell, with a total time of 13 hours 45 minutes. He was followed closely by Ed Bernasky, with a time of 13 hours 56 minutes. Finishers continued to arrive for more than five hours, with the final two just eleven minutes ahead of the 1:00 AM cut-off. The rider plagued with four flat tires, Oliver Zong, and his companion Paul Weaver both finished successfully—as if 112º heat wasn’t enough of a challenge. Chapeau to both!