In a sport full of tradition, there are few more iconic than the winner of the Tour de Franceriding triumphantly with his teammates along the Champs-Élysées in Paris. The Tour de France takes place over a 23-day period and covers usually about 2,200 miles and is recognized as the greatest cycling event. This last ride is really a ceremonial end to the race. The winner, who has already been decided, gets to bask in the glory.
I’ll need to take you back a couple days to last Friday, my last planned stage of my 1600-mile ride to explain how if feels to end such a long journey. I had not given much thought to the actual end except where might be the appropriate place. Morristown seemed to be the appropriate place where my family and friends were. My son, Justin, had mentioned that he wanted to meet me somewhere along my final route.
Just a few days before some of my riding buddies from Morristown also expressed an interest in meeting at the Swiss Chalet Bakery & Cafe who helps sponsor our club Swiss Chalet Cycling. So, I set a plan to ride 90 miles northwest to Morristown on Friday, May 11th after resting a day at my place in Ortley Beach. I was feeling great and ready to get this job done. It had been 30 days since I was home.
The Ride Home
The weather looked good again. The only problem was a nagging 10 mph headwind that I hoped would be easier as I went inland. I took mostly backroads to avoid the highways. I had enough of that.
I looked at the ride in two parts. The first was to get to Old Bridge for lunch, about half-way. Then from there to Morristown. I followed Rt 35 north to Bay Head then turned northwest into towns like Brick, Farmingdale, Adelphia, Colts Neck and finally Old Bridge – almost all on county roads. Mostly, a pretty route and certainly easier than most roads I had been riding this past month.
Going through Point Pleasant I eyed two familiar riders going the other way. It’s Terry Downs and his wife Lori, Terry is a rider I had met at the shore. Just another unexplainable coincidence in this journey. He had been tracking my progress over the past days. We stop for a brief conversation and eventually he rides with me, taking me through some really pretty areas of Allaire State Park instead of county roads. A nice little unexpected detour on my way home.
I was already running a bit late for my scheduled lunch with Tom Borkowski, my morning riding mate and fellow employee at Amboy Bank, before I retired. I forgot how much I missed that morning ride (generally, a few days a week) and the bagels and coffee almost as much. At least at this point I’m about 1/2 way home (40+ miles), although time is ticking away.
Soon I was off again heading through Middlesex County towns for the next 25 miles or so in local traffic. This is where I learned to ride in traffic while commuting occasionally to work. Alright, this wasn’t world-class Tour de France racing but dodging traffic requires some energy and a lot of concentration. I wanted to make it safely home at this point.
The last 20-mile segment left was the ride over the Watchung Mountains. This mid-section of Jersey geographically divides the area as a range of mountains that you need to cross to go north to Morristown. In a car, they seem like big hills, but on a bike they are formidable and require about 2,000 ft. altitude of climbing. That’s something I have not had to do much of this last month since I was hugging the flat coast.
By the time I reached the first mountain, I was pretty tired having ridden 70 miles and was at least 1/2 hour behind schedule. The first major climb is a steep one up Vosseller Avenue and took all the energy I had to climb it. The second is up Mt. Bethel Road which is not quite as steep but very long. Once over those there are are still rolling hills to face, but time can be made up and you sense the end is near. I’m now over the mountains.
The Last Pull to the Finish
At 5:00 p.m., about one hour behind, I pull into to the Meyersville circle and meet my riding entourage that will escort me to the finish in Morristown about 1/2 hour away where others are waiting. My fatigue and concern about making this last leg on time have vanished. It’s just sooo good to see familiar faces. Justin, Tom, and Pete are riding with me. And, Duncan and Brit are providing a motorcycle escort ahead! It’s not a solo journey anymore.
We pulled into the Swiss Chalet Bakery in Morristown about 5:30 to my surprise there are a dozen or more people cheering, including my grandkids! This was much more than I expected and such a great feeling that friends and family came out to see a pretty whooped guy finish his crazy journey. It’s that kind of time in your life when you feel grateful for what you have and especially for the people around you.
My Ride on the Champs-Élysées
But, the ride did not end until I finished the last couple miles home from the bakery. At the end of my block (Mountainside Drive – today’s Champs-Élysées) , the grandkids were lined up on their bikes ready to ride the last “miracle mile” (actually about 1/4 mile). I rode with my little teammates on bikes, a trike and a scooter to the end. It was a triumphant ride, at least as memorable as anyone ever rode in Paris.