Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Moment of Totality

For 2 minutes 15 secs I was at one with the universe and understood all its least that is how I felt during the total eclipse on Monday. I had spent almost a year researching and planing the trip. Because of my aerospace background I understood, down to the mathematical level, the motion of the Sun and Moon. I could visualize the orbits in 3D and see the shadow that the moon was projecting on the US as it moved from Oregon to South Carolina. Because of my interest in astronomy  I knew all about the corona and what it should look like when the Moon passed in front of the Sun. I had researched different weather models and compared different astronomical weather prediction algorithms for predicting sky conditions to make sure I could determine, to the best degree possible, where to head to get a perfectly clear sky. At that moment all that knowledge came together so that I not only saw the eclipsed visually but was able to take it in on a number of different levels.

Getting to that moment was a lot of work. I had used the sum of all my knowledge to make sure I got to see it and capture a total eclipse that I know are rare, beautiful, and fleeting. I probably spend over a hundred hours researching the best place to be, determining the best information to use to predict where the sky would be clearest, coming up with plans with multiple alternatives to make sure I could stay ahead of the crowds and get around any traffic jams. It was a lot of work and some what stressful because I had only one shot to get it right. However at the point right before totality when I knew that this was going to happen all the anxiety I had went away and was replaced by the joy that I could finally relax and enjoy the totality...

...of course no amount of research can totally prepared you for what you will see and feel. For me it was awe inspiring and overwhelming. I got some great pictures that are probably similar to the ones you see on the news but I what I saw with my eyes and experienced with my mind was much difference. As the astronomers, next to us explained, the human eye can see and put together multiple exposures and wavelengths together in a way a camera can't. Even if you have a camera that can take multiple exposures and put them together you only get a poor visual approximation. 

There is also an emotional context to the experience. I was in a field by the Payette River with a few hundred other people. Even though we didn't know each other before that day we quickly became family as we talked about the eclipse and ourselves for the few hours we were waited for the Moon to block out the Sun. At the moment of totality we were no longer a group of strangers but were like a society of druids celebrating the summer solstice. There was cheering a screaming and high fives all around. I felt connect to everybody there in that moment as we were all taking in the totality. It was a feeling of joy and happiness that is hard to describe.

I know that not everybody is excited by a solar eclipse and would not have gone through the trouble and planning I did to see it. For me however it was one coolest things I have ever seen or experienced. It was as powerful as expected but also much different than I thought it would be. It was not only visually and intellectually beautiful but also unexpectedly emotional. It is a memory that will give me joy every time I think about it. 

I have a lot of good stories around the moment of totality, that I will post later, about how we got to where we did and some the of things we did along the way like, almost make it to the highest tri-point in the country, watch Sweden annex part of the US, find the actual middle of nowhere...

For now however here are some more pictures. The one at the top of the post is just at the end of the eclipse went the moon is just about uncover the sun. The flash or "diamond" effect is caused by the fact that the moon is not perfectly round and that flash is caused by the sun going through the canyon at the edge of the moon.

Here is a picture at the middle of the eclipse showing the full corona around the sun.

Here is another one showing a solar flare at the 1 o'clock  position. I didn't think the camera and telescope I used could actually see solar flares so this picture surpassed by wildest expectations. 

This last one is a wide angle view showing the eclipse. Its not exactly how it looked but you get a general idea and if you click on the photo and zoom in you can see some stars and planets if you know where to look...

...more stories to follow.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

They ARE the Lying Bastards

Today I lead a ride the likes of which had not been seen before. It was so good that that people on the ride couldn't believe how good it was. In fact is was so good that more people showed up for this ride then the tour de francaise. Here is the route to show you how good it was.

We started in Frenchtown and headed over to the PA side of the Delaware where the roads were amazing. I even managed to close the road for first the 6 mile for the category 1 climb up to Lake Noximixion because I could. From there is was rolling hills and great scenery until we hit the town of Perkasie where we stopped at one of my primo rest stops where I got the most beautiful chocolate brownie you have ever seen.

After the rest stop we climbed the toughest hill of the day, much harder than that little Manayunk wall they have in Philadelphia. Some of the losers with me complained about how hard the hill was but I pulled them all up with me.

The ride then continued along the stupendous roads north of Lake Noximixion going past Greek temples and some of the best wellness centers in the country. I was riding so fast and hard that I was wearing the rest of the people out so I had to stop a second so they could rest and get some food to keep up with me.

I took an amazing detour along a gravel rode (Quarry Rd) with scenery that could not be believed but all these people could do is complain about how afraid they were about falling on the gravel SAD.

The last part of the ride was down the famous Red Circle of Death (Red Cliff Rd). It is an impossible steep downhill that few can handle but I lead everybody down safely back to the starting point.

Some people accuse me of being a lying bastard but is it the lamestream media (and my insane bike posse) that is creating that FAKE NEWS. They even accuse me of colluding with that commie Philly bike club on the ride today. Yes it is true that I met with them in the first weekend in May but it was a meeting about a charity ride. OK I got some route sheets at the meeting but there was no collusion.

The truth is if I was such a lying bastard why would people ever allow me to lead them on any ride.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse

Its a strange thing that I don't remember the last time I had to negotiate a bridge out. For the last few years I have encountered a bridge out at least every 2nd or 3rd ride. Its not that the roads and bridges in NJ are getting any better, I just have been unlucky at encountering bridges that are out these past few months.

That changed today as Jack and I went out for a post PFW event ride on Sunday. On Arneytown Rd I saw the bridge out sign and knew we had to go for it. The bridge was still mostly intact so it was possible to get over it however the bridge crew did a good job of making it difficult.

They parked a large excavator on each side of the bridge with the shovel down to block the path. It would have stopped most people be we are professionals at this so with a little limbo Jack and I made it through the first excavator....

...and then over the second. From there it was on to Emily's Church where we found a couple of vultures drying their wings.

The past two weeks I have been keeping the rides local as I have been preparing for the zombie apocalypse (i.e. the total solar eclipse). I have been planning this trip for over a year. Seeing a total solar eclipse has been on my list of must do things for since going to a planetarium in high school. The reason that I have not tried to see one until now is that it required travel to some remote part of the world with only a 50% chance of actually seeing it. The one on August 21 is special for a couple reasons. First it is the first eclipse since 1979 that will be able to be seen in the US and second it is the first eclipse to go across the entire US since 1913. In order to see the eclipse you have to be in a 60 mile wide band that starts just south of Portland Oregon and ends in Charleston SC (Here is a map of the path). With an eclipse that spans the US is should be possible to find some where with clear skies to be able to see it but it takes a lot of planning and some luck.

In order to see the eclipse you have to be somewhere in the 60 mile wide band with clear skies so everything depends on the weather. As we all know weather reports are not very accurate and the difference between a partly cloudy sky and clear sky is not something meteorologists spend a lot of time trying to predict. There are some great sites that NOAA has and some astronomy organizations maintain that try to predict the cloud cover so I plan to use these to improve my chances at being at the right place. 

The other issues is that since this eclipse is in the US and has been well publicized there are going to be a lot of people traveling to see it. Every hotel in the path has been booked for the past 6 months and the roads leading to the big cities where it will pass over are going to be traffic jams of people. This is why if you are going to try an see this eclipse you will have to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. There will be millions of people following the best weather and popular cities to see the eclipse. You have to stay ahead of the crowd and plan for any possible problem or you will get eaten by the crowd and miss the eclipse. 

My plans are to fly to Denver the Friday before the eclipse and then head to where I think the weather will be perfectly clear. That will give me 2 and a half days to get in a place to see the eclipse. The weather in the north west especially east of Portland has the best chance of clear weather (76% vs 50% for Charleston). There are also less people north of Denver yet there are still a lot of good highways so I can move around the country quickly. The main problem is going to be finding a place to stay and places to eat. Because of the influx of people the hotels and restaurants will be overwhelmed. I may end up camping out and eating beef jerky from gas stations but as long as I get the see the eclipse that won't matter. 

For those of you not traveling to see the eclipse there will still be a partial eclipse seen from NJ so get your eclipse glasses or make a pin hole camera and enjoy the partial eclipse.

Assuming my plans work out I hope to share some good pictures and stories about the eclipse. That is assuming there isn't a sudden Sharknado that encircles the globe( as being shown on SYFY tonight)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Explore or Exploit Decision

I have been reading Algorithms to Live By over the last month. It a great book about how real world problems relate to some standard computer algorithms. The book talks about some interesting issues. One of them is the Explore vs Exploit decision. This is the decision all of us have to make when we need to decide if we want try something new or go with what we know to be good. Like should I try the new restaurant or go to my old favorite. Going to a new one may be disappointing but it also could be become a new favorite. In most cases you should explore as it expands your choices and increases you knowledge of the world. This is something I agree with and try to follow especially when planning out bike routes.

Today's ride was an exploration of some roads in Warren county. This was similar to a ride I did last year. I wanted to change it up some more but was away this week in Dublin for work so didn't have a lot of time to work on the route. Being in Dublin was also not conducive to getting ready for one of my hillier rides this year. Besides the travel and working long days it didn't help that I was in the city where Guinness is made so I had to have a few and then a few more. For the record Guinness does taste much better in Dublin.

I got back from my trip late Friday night so I wasn't looking forward to the ride as I was travel weary. When I woke up Saturday it was already on its way to a hot and humid day. I brought some gator aid with me on the ride to try and stay hydrated. When I got to Frenchtown Jack and Jim was already there then Blake showed up a few minutes later followed not long after by Laura.

We followed this route which I made less hilly and a little longer than last years route. The main goal was to visit the Blue Army Shrine and ride along the Delaware as it is both flat and scenic.

As we headed up hill towards Clinton I felt the fatigue of my week of travel and tried to conserve what energy I had by using lower gears and spinning more than normal. I managed to make it over the hill and into Clinton with out too much of a problem. My main concern was the hill after Spruce Run which was the steepest climb of the ride. Going up it I shifted to my granny gear at the bottom of the hill and climbed it as slow as I could. It one of those hills that get steeper as you climb it so at the top I was at my max heart rate but I made it and actually felt better than I expected.

The road after the climb, Black Brook is a shaded rolling hill and very scenic. Then we made our way through Glen Manor and Hampton on our way to the Blue Army Shrine. On the way however we hit two problems with the route. The first was Dutch Hill Rd which is a steep winding downhill on a beat up road. This was the hill last year where Laura's rim got so hot from braking that it caused a bulge in the tire. This time there were no issues with tires an every body made it down safe but this is one of the hills we will never do again.

The other problem was getting across Rt 31 on Rymon Rd. I don't remember this being a problem last year but there was constant traffic and we had to take more risk than I wanted in order to cross the road. So this intersection is off the list of places to ride. Part of exploring is learning where not to go

After getting across Rt 31 we were on to our main attraction the Blue Army Shrine. The shrine is neither blue or has anything to do with an military army. It is a catholic shire dedicated to the Lady of Fatima who is credited with seeing a vision from the virgin Mary. You can find more details about her story here. The mission of the people who built the shire which was to fight against the atheistic policies of the Soviet Union and their Red Army. The member wore blue ribbons, hence the name blue army. If you want to read the whole story check this out

The Blue Army shire is an odd place with some strange statues on the lawn and a tall chapel at the top of the hill which was one of the steepest hills we climbed. After checking out the site we headed to Asbury for a break. There is a new coffee shop there. The place is a little expensive and the baked goods are just OK but there aren't may other choice to stop around here. At the stop we ended up running into Mike H and his ride.

From Asbury the ride is much flatter although there were a few rollers we had to get over. When we got to Bloomsbury I decided to make a slight detour to the planned route and check out the center of town and see what happen to the general store we used to stop at (its not a pizza joint).  When I signaled a left turn both Laura and Jim told me I was wrong but I yelled trust me. So when I made the left, Jack followed me but Laura Jim and Blake went right. Its nice to know after 10-15 years of leading these people on rides all around this state that they have so little trust in my navigation skills. I will admit to occasionally getting lost but that is part of the fun of these rides and since getting lost was in the actual description of the ride I think they should have trusted me. To be fair I should have made it clear that I was just taking a small detour through town and not making a major change it the route.

After splitting up and going through town we did meet up soon after where I busted them for their lack of trust in the ride leader. Like the Belmar PBC ride publishing the route in advance so everybody can have it on their GPS can sometimes cause a fractured ride.

After Bloomsbury we made it to the Delaware and the nicest part of the ride. As Jim reminded everybody this is one of his favorite roads in the state. It was getting hot at this point. I had been drinking as much as I could and even taken a gu pack to not cramp. I was actually feeling better than expected. I was slowing down, however, and took a little longer to get up some of the rollers on the way back but knew I could make it. I did feel on the verge of cramping but I think the gu does help.

We were all pretty tire by the time we got back. It was a good ride with some good parts and a couple parts that we will never do again. The value of exploring is in the fun of the journey itself and the knowledge you gain as part of it. There are times when I want to do a tried and tested route and don't want the mental strain of exploring but most of the time I will choose to try rides our routes where I can do some exploring.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

There is No Such Thing as Too Many Downhills.

Saturday was my hilly ride from Cocoluxe in Gladstone NJ. I have done this ride 4 or 5 times before but continue to tweak the route to find good roads and try and get the perfect mix between scenery, climbing and good downhills.

The starting point for this ride is an hour north from our normal rides so I only got 3 other people to join me (Laura, Bob, and Jack). I know Jim would have been there too if he hadn't been on call. Because of that I took the parking lot photos that he usually takes.

For once there was no threat of rain this Saturday. It was a little humid but otherwise a nice day for a ride.

The climbing starts almost immediately as there is no flat way out of Gladstone. The climbing continued as we made our way towards Tewsbury and Rockaway Rd. The climbs are in the 3-5% range so nothing too difficult but there is also not a lot of flat riding so you are either climbing or coasting down hill. For some reason in years past I would get a stomach cramp 5-6 miles into the ride and have to stop for a few minutes. I'm think doing so many hills at the start of the ride may cause it but didn't have any problems today.

The longest climb of the day was up Rockaway Rd and then up Guinea Hollow. These are gentle climbs next in the woods next to flowing brooks so even though you are climbing for over 5 miles it doesn't feel hard and you aren't continuing wondering if this is ever going to end.

A little more climbing along familiar roads as we made our way into Long Valley and had a flat or slightly down hill break for 5 miles. One of the changes I made to this years route was going down Coleman into Long Valley. I did this road a couple of years ago and remember that is was a fast straight downhill that I wanted to do again. It was a good as I remembered.

From there we climbed back out of the valley to a rest stop at a Quick Check. We meet a tri-athlete  on an aero bike at the rest stop. He left just before us but was still sitting at the light for a few minutes until we joined him and pushed the button so the light would actually turn and let us continue on.

I usually take Pleasant Hill Rd but took a different way up South Rd. This ended up being less or at least easier climbing and a nicer road. At the top of South Rd I took a GU pack since there was some hills coming and I wanted to see if it would prevent cramping.

We had a few killer down hills on the way into Medham. The downhill on Ironia it twisty and steep but I have done it enough times now to be able to take it at almost full speed and enjoy it. It also helped that a lot of the roads in this area seem to have been recently paved. One of the reason I like hills is that it can lead to good scenery and some fun downhills.

Before getting back to Gladstone we had one more tough climb up Bliss Rd. I could have cut this hill out of the route as there are other flatter ways to get back but going up this hill would lead to two more fun down hills. One that has a number of small humps in it that make it feel like a roller coaster ride and if you are daring enough (which I'm not) you might even be able to get some air.

At the bottom of the hill Jack complain about the number of fast downhills. Which I don't understand. I understand when people complain about too much climbing as they are getting tired and hurting (although I have learned to ignore them) but if you don't like going down hill fast just use the brakes.

The last part of the ride was past a lake and was the only road that wasn't nicely paved. We ended up with about 3200 feet of climbing in 45 miles. Besides the climb up Bliss nothing was painful or steep so this was an easy 3200 feet of climbing. It also seems that the GU worked as I didn't cramp during or after the ride.

I have another hilly ride in Warren county in a couple of weeks. I hope it will be as nice as this ride was.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Red White and Blue

The holiday weekend was a little longer than usually since the 4th was on Tuesday and most people either had or took off the 3rd for a 4 day weekend. Since we had a party planned for Sunday I road close to home on Saturday so I could get back early to clean up the house so everything would be ready for the party.

I'm not any more or less patriotic than most people but since I was born on the 4th of July it is required that I wear some red, white and blue during the holiday weekend. It started 5 or 6 years ago with a simple flag hat then a few years ago some one gave me the shirt then last year I got the shorts. I think the only thing left is the shoes.

The party on Sunday went well. It was a little warm and I was manning the grill so I was glad I was able to jump in the pool when I got hot. We have a Brontosaur in our pool this year to swim with. Its a blow up toy but if you put water in it instead of air it is neutrally buoyant and will chase you around the pool.   

On the 4th I went to the All Paces ride to catch up with some people I hadn't seen in a while. I ended up riding with Ira, Herb, Bruce, Larry and a few other people. It was a very relaxed and fun ride and gave me a chance catch up most of them.

In the afternoon I ended up going to a friend for another party so it has been a busy holiday weekend. Luckily I am also taking July 5 off to make it a really long weekend. 

Monday, June 26, 2017


If you rode with the Princeton Freewheelers in the past 25 years you knew Don. If you rode with Don you heard a lot of stories, laughed a lot and you learned something about biking. The more you rode with Don the more you started to share his passion for riding and his sense of adventure. When I first started riding with the Princeton Freewheelers I was a regular on his Honey Do ride. It was there that I learned the roads. It was there that I met a lot of people I call friends and still ride with today. It was there that l learned how to be a good ride leader.

This week we lost Don. He was a unique character and just a great person to be around. We are all going to miss him and the joy he brought to all of us. It was a life well lived as witness at his funeral on Sunday. The funeral home was overflowing with friends and family sadden at his lost but also laughing and telling their favorite stories about Don. The richness of his life was easily seen by all the people who he helped along the way. Don is now gone but he left an example of how to lead a meaningful life. I know I am a better person for knowing him.  

In my Road Biking NJ book I included a number of routes I learned from Don including a slightly shorter version of his famous Belmar century.  There is one picture of Don in the book of him and Herb at Mendokers bakery siting outside and eating some baked goods. Don busted me about this saying

"You couldn't get a picture of me riding. The one picture of me in your book was me stuffing my face" and then he would laugh the way Don did.

So as a tribute to Don, at the top of this post, I have included a picture of him riding, taken that same ride, that didn't make it into the book. It is him on a early fall day riding with Herb and I with out a care in the world just enjoying the ride and each others company.  I am sad that I won't ride with him any more but wanted to thank him for helping me discover the joy of cycling.