The Longest Day
208 miles in one Day

(Last updated: Thu. Sep 24, 2009)


"So, are you going to do the Longest Day this year?", asked Dr. B. in his annual early season question on my first ride of the year on February 15 , 2007. The temperature was about 35 degrees, my legs ached after 2 1/2 months off the bike and I just wanted Bill to stop talking so I said, "sure". That, I found out later, was a mistake. This signature ride of the Central Jersey Bicycle Club starts at the top of NJ in Port Jervis and winds 210 miles all the way to the southern tip of the Garden State at the Cape May lighthouse. Its name derives from it being held generally near the longest day of the year because it takes most riders 14 to 15 hours to complete and late June offers just about enough light to finish the ride before dark. Many riders actually start in the dark to give themselves a bit more leeway.

Bill (aka "Dr. B.") and I have been riding together since I began riding five years ago, though he has been a friend for 35 years. He has always encouraged me to ride the Longest Day but because of my intense travel schedule, daily energy-sapping commute to my office in midtown, my six and nine year old boys and my wife Susan of whom I see far too little, I have never trained enough to even think about the ride. This year I decided to just do it!

I spent the off season off the bike and in the gym bulking up my legs, particularly my hamstrings which had become so weak from cycling that I injured my left ankle compensating for the weak hamstring. The transition from free weights back to riding was tough, but I have never felt stronger. It took about 6 to 8 weeks to get my aerobic conditioning back but once I did my average speeds were 1 1/2 to 2 mph above prior years. The problem is that all of my riding pals also got stronger this year so I have been chasing a moving target. Nonetheless, I felt strong enough early this year to just go for it – and began to think about actually riding the Longest Day.

As winter melted into spring, Dr. B. kept hounding me telling me, "you said you would do it back in February. You can't bail out now, the team needs you". I continued to hedge, telling Dr. B. "...maybe...". Slowly, the team grew to six other strong riders, all of whom are either employees of Jay's Cycle in Westfield or club riders for Jay's Cycle. The Jay's team for this year's ride is: Dr. B., Geoff, Trey, Paul, Arch, Eric, and me. Bill and Geoff, our leaders, had also arranged two sag cars, with free housing for all of us in Port Jervis for the night before the ride and free housing in Cape May for the night after we finished the ride. It was all there, perfectly laid out. Never again would I be able to do so little in terms of logistics and have such a strong group to ride with, so I finally told Bill, "Ok, I'll do it". He was ecstatic. I was worried. Could I actually finish this 210 mile monster? Would I stay healthy? Would it be too hot or would it rain? Would my bike hold up? Would we get lost? Would our sag drivers bail at the last minute? (one actually did, but miraculously, Dr. B. found a back up driver, Chip, whom I hadn't seen in 20 years, so it was a treat to reconnect with him).

On the morning of the ride, we departed at 6:05AM and rode through fairly dense fog for the first hour or so, until the climbing began. The climbs are not too steep except for one 12% grade on a county road, but it's only about 75 yards long. The other climbs are 1 to 2 miles and only about 4 to 5% grade according to my computer, so they are doable. Our strongest climbers raced up the climbs, I managed to stay with them on one climb and thought better of it on the second long climb. With about 170 miles to go, chasing these jackrabbits up the second hill seemed foolish. We needed to keep our strength. In the end, our computers registered about 5,000 feet of total elevation gain, and nearly all of the climbs occur in the first 50 miles. Despite this, we were averaging a fast 19.2 mph after the first 50 miles. No one complained, knowing that the last 160 miles were flat.

However, flat means that one pedals NON-STOP for 160 miles over the course of about 7 1/2 hours. We rode a solid paceline for these 160 miles, with each of us taking only 30 second pulls at the front, which saved energy, but our legs never stopped moving. That was enough to nearly break my spirit...the monotony of it all...and no rest for the legs on down hills because there were no down hills for the last 160 miles...

Somewhere around Chester, two friends abruptly appeared on bikes and rode with us for about 10 miles down route #206. They had been riding and saw one of our sag drivers, Chip, who had been our patrol leader in Boy Scout troop #77 in Westfield some 30 years ago. Neither friend had seen Chip in 30 years so they reconnected for a few minutes until our paceline blew by, then they joined us. That was a treat for me, but may have bothered a few others in the pace line, though no one ever complained. My friends dropped off the ride in Pluckemin and we were seven again.

In Manville we stopped in a small town square with a statue of the Virgin Mary, the only place we could see with some shade. The temperature was approaching 90 degrees and we were getting hot. Most of us either had a bagel from Bagelicious or used their bathroom – thanks so much to a great owner who tolerated us well. While we were resting and eating in the square, a priest emerged from the church to get into his car. He asked us about the ride and gave us all a pre- printed card with a travelers' prayer. We were both bemused and touched by his grace towards us, total strangers. In the end, the card worked as we all arrived safely.

By mile 95, Eric was complaining about his shoulder getting stiff and by mile 98 he said it had locked up totally. I dropped off the pace with him and rode in front of him to break the wind resistance for him as far as he could go but with only about 1 mile to the lunch stop, he got off his bike and hopped into the sag wagon. I felt horribly for him, and accelerated to try to rejoin the group. I found them in Allentown at the lunch stop, a great Italian restaurant. We missed the mandatory lunch check in and rode about a half a mile back to find it but never did. Several other riders at the lunch stop tried to explain where it was as they had figured out that there was a typo in the directions. We opted to skip the mandatory checkin not wanting to add even more miles to our weary legs searching for it. Most of the riders we spoke to at the Italian restaurant skipped it too. I ate Spaghetti and meatballs, others ate big sandwiches. After an hour, we were refueled and ready for the second 100 miles of the day.

Eric rebounded after lunch and after an adjustment by our chiropractor/cyclist Dr. B. and a massage byChip, a trained masseur. He continued with us for another 20 miles or so but in the end succumbed to his aching shoulder. We were all saddened by his decision but inspired by his courage. Eric made us proud to be his teammate by the way he handled this tough situation with dignity. He shouted encouragement to us from the sag wagon for the remainder of the ride!

Somewhere in the Pine Barrens Park, at about mile 140, we picked up rider named Dave (from Dover) who was trying to finish the ride solo. My first thought was, to do this alone, this guy is even crazier than we are. We invited him to join our pace line and he stayed with us for about 25 miles then dropped off, no one was sure why, but he just dropped off the back. Also in the Pine Barrens, our sag wagon was pulled over by a park police car, and after a quick exchange with our sag drivers the police car's emergency lights were on and in a hail off spinning rubber and heart pounding acceleration, the police car sped off – we thought to chase some bad guys. But, about a mile later, there was our police car, lights flashing, trooper expertly standing in the middle of the 4 lane highway stopping traffic so that we, total strangers, could ride unaccosted through the red light. As I passed him I yelled, "You Da MAN", and off we went. We never saw that trooper again but will remember his unselfish deed for years.

Then we had a dead straight 20 mile stretch through the Pine Barrens. It took one long hour to finish this stretch, but seemed longer since the road never turned, no hills, no change of scenery, straight as a ruler. It was, quite frankly, boring. My mind began to wander and I became stale from the monotony of scenery and the monotony of rotating in the paceline, all the while baking in the sun with nothing new to stimulate my mind. My legs began to ache. The spinning never ceased. I was finally tired. I'd just about had it.

Somewhere near the end of this road, at about mile 160 or so, I seriously considered getting into the sag wagon because the pace was still quick at 20-22 mph and I was getting really fatigued and hot (ambient temp was 89 degrees at that point and we had been baking in the sun for hours). But, four things happened rapidly in succession to alleviate my pain. One is that I asked the group at the next rest stop if they wouldn't mind backing off the pace by 1 mph and to my surprise, nobody argued. The reduced pace lasted only a few miles before it picked up again, but the rest stop (which included several cups of ice water poured over my head, a peanut butter and banana sandwhich made the night before for all of us courtesy of Arch and Dr. B.) plus the temporary slower pace helped me recover. Dr. B. saw me fading a little and told me, "pain is temporary and pride is forever", and that really helped my flagging mental state. At about mile 180, a few cars with bikes atop passed us in the opposite direction and honked at us like crazy and flashed their lights at us. Clearly they had already finished and were encouraging us to finish strong. Because of this I actually felt a rush of adrenaline that kept me going for miles. It was almost like I received an injection of a stimulant - the feeling was so powerful!!! Finally, Arch had brought 2 decaffeinated real cokes (i.e. not diet) and we split one at each of the last 2 rest stops. Coke is like rocket fuel to your legs near the end of a long ride and decaf seems to work just as well (I can't have caffeine).

Paul, who was feeling strong – and pushing the pace all day – took a monster pull (long, but steady at about 21-22 mph) into the headwinds after the last rest stop of the day. I was next in line and decided to do the same. The Cokes were really helping my legs and, like Paul, I wanted to do my part to give everyone a rest as we began the final 25 miles. The long pull tired me out (not Paul) so I didn't do another long one. In the end, we made it strong to the finish and celebrated. Of course there were lots of high fives, hugs and beer at the finish. My legs were still sore for a few more days...

Some statistics from my computer: 213 miles total (one wrong turn and searching – but not finding - the mandatory lunch check-in added about 3 miles to the posted ride distance), 11 hours 18 minutes on the bike, average speed 18.9 mph with a headwind for the last 70 miles, 5,000+ feet of climbing and 14 hours 35 minutes total travel time with rest stops. In addition to Eric who gallantly hopped into the sag wagon at mile 120 with a badly stiff back, two other riders began to get a little heat exhaustion at about mile 200 or so and limped in the last 13 miles, but finished. One teammate dropped off (shouting at us) with about one mile to go so three of us finished together with Arch winning the sprint to the lighthouse by about 5 feet over me and Dr. B. But, after 213 miles who's counting? What we started at 6:05AM we finished at 8:40PM.

All I can say is I've never eaten so much food or drunk so many fluids in a day before, or perhaps a week before. The extreme hunger continued on Sunday when I couldn't stop eating but the cravings for food finally abated on Wednesday. My teammates tell me that they had the same experience. Dr. B. swears that our metabolisms will be elevated for a few weeks. Hopefully he will be right.

I couldn't be prouder of my teammates (Geoff, Dr. B., Trey, Paul, Eric, and Arch) and our sag drivers who not only made the ride possible, but blocked intersections for us allowing us to ride through multiple stop signs and red traffic lights saving us at least 15 to 20 minutes of ride time. They urged us on for 14 hours without flagging, massaged our aching bodies at rest stops, fed us, found gear for us, and made us smile when the energy to smile seemed like too much work. They are the real heroes of our ride. Thanks Chip, Jennifer and Stefanie. You guys are the best. And, finally, thanks to the Central Jersey Bicycling Club for organizing this great ride for about 70 riders this year, a day none of the seven of us on the Jay's team will soon forget.

Tony Cook Westfield