So here it is, the day of the “improved” Ramapo Rally. This year’s route was to be better marked, and not as wickedly mountainous as last year (to encourage more riders to participate).
Generally speaking, if you’re a visitor to an area and you want to take a tour like this it helps a lot to have proper markings spray-painted on the road so you don’t spend all day leafing through your printed instructions, which were 4 2-sided pages that you fold into 4ths for clipping onto your handlebars and viewing. This means that unless you have good road markings or are from the area and know generally where to go, you have thirty two little pages to flip to follow all of the twists and turns.
I didn’t start with a formal group and when I got out to the very first turn I saw the red “century” arrow pointing right and began following it. So did a handful of others near me. About a half mile in we realized it was a wrong turn. Not only was it a wrong turn, but there was a traffic director right there at the turn waving cars into the parking lot who did not call out to us to tell us we were going the wrong way. Just perfect.
Shortly into the ride as I was getting into a groove a packed formed and all of the characters and roles started getting sorted. We had the tall (bald) racing enthusiast who wanted to get a nice even draft line going, a small race team of about 4 (others on their team were elsewhere on the course, all the members near us were chinese, one of whom was a 60 year old in perfect shape and condition), the NJ locals one of whom looked like a body builder with a tanktop jersey, and a pair of short guys who were former mountain bike racers. One of these guys looked just like John Leguizamo. We all called him “Magellan” as he had the turns marked on his handlebar and were calling them out before we got to each one. This smoothed things out considerably. I was referred to as “Brooklyn” for my jersey.
One of the first things you notice about this years Ramapo Rally is the staggering lack of scenery compared to last year. They probably should have called this the “New Jersey Real Estate Tour” instead — it consisted mostly of New Jersey suburbs and housing developments.
As the day before, the weather forecast predicted thunderstorms, which I would have welcomed to last year’s heat wave. The reality also looked quite a bit like the day before: sunny with growing heat.
The first 83 miles were great. The entire group rode strong and we even found a few roads where we could bike three miles without a turn interrupting us. We talked and joked and I don’t think anyone was straining to keep the pace (I’d look at the speedometer while at the front of the pack and kept it around 21mph).
Then the early afternoon sun set in.
People started peeling off the back of the group. We lost the 60-year-old first, then a group of three (including myself), then I’m not quite sure what happened. Felt a little like sun poisoning. The energy disappeared from my legs and I watched helplessly as the spedometer gradually slouched from 21-24mph to about 14. I started needing more and more water.
This was a strange and surprising thing to me as I was doing a very good job keeping up on calories and hydration up to this point and the transition was dramatic. Riding in the shade I was at full speed, in the sun, barely moving.
The sun cracked me like an egg over a frying pan. I dropped off our group of three and found myself about two pages behind in our directions and lost at a ridiculous intersection in the sun. It was like watching a national geographic special where the weak buffalo gets separated from the pack and is exposed to predators, though I’m not sure what those would have been at this point — SUV’s I guess. I was angry and confused and had to flip through the directions three times to find out where I was.
When I finally reached the next (and last) rest stop I had goose bumps. Met a very nice woman who volunteered not only for the Ramapo Rally, but also for RAM (the Race Across America). I talked with her about that event for a while with a few other riders. I learned a lot about the race including a few staggering facts; the “traditional” class of riders do not have any sleep requirements. At all. One of the top riders was over 60 years old and finished in 8 days. Yes. Eight days.
I also learned a little more about the acclimation required for the altitude that the Leadville 100 is raced at and have decided to abandon that as a goal. I’m not sure I would be able to take 3-4 weeks off to train up there to attempt to finish 100 miles off road in 8-12 hours…
After 3 bottles of gatoraide, some water on the head, a few packs of salted peanuts, cookies, a banana and brownie I was back on the road and finished out the ride.
Final ride time distance: 121 miles, 6:50:02
Epilogue: Ran into two of our racers in the parking lot when I got back. They had mentioned that their final group ended up being 4 people and were surprised that they lost me. So was I. Had a few sips of some of their homemade iced tea which was a blend black tea, green tea and chai. It was pretty good.
Just as last year, none of the volunteers cared that we made it (after getting lost twice even with half of our group being locals due to mismarkings and construction that actually destroyed the roads and paint for about a half-page of instructions) and were all going home even with many riders on the road.
That night CL put some aloe gel on my sun burns and it felt very good upon application, then later it collected dust while I walked around the city. When I wiped my face off after rinsing it left a big dirt streak on my white bath towel.
I said this after last year, but I think I’m going to say it with more conviction this year: never again.