I'm not one for looking backward very often, but when it comes to riding, Hartshorne will always be a special place for me.
I grew up in Lincroft, NJ, a small town on the outskirts of the more well known small town, Red Bank, NJ. In 1994, after finishing undergrad at St. Peter's College in Jersey City, I was looking for a way to broaden my workouts. Until then, I had been lifting weights pretty steadily for four years but my only "cardio" had been pick-up basketball in the rec center. I had wanted to try mountain biking for a while. So after I finished school, I took $300 and bought a brand new, fully rigid Mongoose Sycamore. My first ride was actually a short trail ride on the Thompson Park trails behind Brookdale Community College in Lincroft. There were maybe three miles of real trails there, but I didn't mind. I loved it. I couldn't wait to ride again.
Then a few weeks later, a friend of a friend who had been riding for a while invited me to come along on a trail ride at Hartshorne, my first "real" trail ride. I'd love to say that it was one of those moments that opened my eyes to the joys of rolling along a narrow ribbon of dirt, but that would be completely false. In fact, the only thing I really remember about that ride was that it made me very sick. And by "sick", I mean that I puked ... more than once. I had never pushed my heart rate that high before. Well, that's only partly true. When I was eight, I was diagnosed with a heart murmur after one weekend when my heart rate went through the roof and took forever to come down. But that ride was the first time I made it go that high myself. After we finished, I sat in a cold sweat outside the car in my soaking wet t-shirt and cut-off sweats and wondered if I would ever want to do that again. My legs hurt, my ass hurt, and my head was swimming.
Looking back now, I would say my buddy's friend was kind of an asshole for letting me get that sick. I mean, I've ridden with a lot of people who were total beginners since that time, and I would never stretch them that far the first time. But maybe he just didn't think about it. Regardless, I did try to ride again -- even rode with that same guy a few more times. But, for the first few times after that, I think the only thing that got me back out there was a defining characteristic (probably more like a character flaw) that through the years has both helped and hurt me more times than I could possibly count -- I am completely unable to accept the fact that I cannot do something. I have beaten my head against the wall (figuratively speaking) at one time or another in just about everything I do because when I fail (and I do fail more often than not) I don't respond by retreating and considering a new strategy. No, I come back at it full force again and again until little improvements start to tip the scales in my favor. Not the most efficient way to get it done, but the whole "learning" thing has always been a messy process for me. (You should have seen me in grad school -- yeesh ...) Anyway, over time, I started to enjoy myself a little more out there. Then I went to grad school and spent two years in a book with only the occasional ride out and around Bethlehem, PA. I didn't ride a trail for two years, but it must have gotten inside my head before I moved to PA, because the first thing I did when I finished school was buy a bike.
And the rest, well ... just sort of snowballed from there.
So, many years and even more miles later, here I was this afternoon riding in the same place that started it all so painfully 17 years ago, only now, I've only got one gear and I'm looking for ways to make the ride more challenging. It wasn't the first time I went back there -- truth be told, I try to ride there almost every time I get back to NJ. It's not overly technical, and the Grand Tour Loop is only about 9 miles all told, but there is always going to be something about Hartshorne that pulls me back. Maybe it's nostalgia, maybe it's a need to ensure that it doesn't ever beat me down again. I don't know. But riding there always makes me happy. And despite the fact that my typical weeknight ride in Philly is much more difficult in pretty much every way, Hartshorne still makes me stretch myself and I always feel satisfied when I finish a ride there. And isn't that the whole point of doing this anyway?