Patricia George, an avid cyclist, came all the way from Pittsburgh to check out Sunday’s Gran Fondo New Jersey.
After pedaling 107 steep miles through Morris, Somerset and Hunterdon counties, she was sold.
“I like New Jersey!” the medical doctor said as the third annual Fondo was winding down with burgers and music at Pioneer Park in Morristown.
That seemed to be the general consensus among the nearly 2,000 cyclists who chose from rides of 18-, 43-, 63- and 107 miles on a sunny, pleasant late summer’s day.
“The scenery was phenomenal,” said Oakland, NJ, resident Steve Boykewich, who did the 43-mile “Piccolo Fondo” with his daughter, Vanessa.
“It was beyond awesome!” said Priscilla Gathoni of Morristown, after completing the 63-miler.
“The hills were awesome, the bike was awesome, and I was ready for it!” This year’s ride was better organized than last year’s, with better route markings, Priscilla said. “And the food is good.”
Mayor Tim Dougherty, on hand to greet the cycling horde at the 7 am start, said the Fondo has made Morristown “the cycling capital of New Jersey.”
Marty Epstein, owner of Marty’s Reliable Cycle and founder of the Gran Fondo NJ, said the event’s success resulted from countless hours with Executive Director Bill Ruddick “making lists of lists of lists of lists.”
Of course, nobody can plan for everything. A boulder somehow found its way onto a road in Peapack-Gladstone, and four riders landed in the hospital after hitting it as high speed, Marty said. A car may have struck the leg of one of those cyclists, he said.
Fortunately, no injuries were reported when wind gusts knocked over canopies and signs in Pioneer Park.
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Some proceeds from the Gran Fondo NJ will benefit four local charities: The Seeing Eye Inc., Homeless Solutions Inc., Grow It Green Morristown and Sustainable Morristown, new to the list in 2013.
Charities shared $37,500 last year. The Seeing Eye, Homeless Solutions and Grow It Green each entered teams of cyclists. Although the Gran Fondo is not a race–the name means “Big Ride” in Italian–it featured timed hill climbs for competitive individuals and teams.
Rest stops offered cannoli; bananas slathered with Nutella; assorted fruits and energy snacks, and other treats. Musical entertainment in Morristown included our not-so-old friends, the Lords of Liechtenstein, and Katie G, Beecher’s Fault and other bands from the Original Music School.
Marty said he will survey participants to see what changes they want for 2014. After last year’s Gran Fondo NJ, women lobbied for separate porta-johns. So that addition was made this year.
Sustainable Morristown also experimented with aggressive recycling and composting of food wastes from the Gran Fondo NJ, in hopes of setting a precedent for future town events.
Even the utensils were compostable. Made from corn starch, they cost 12 times more than plastic forks and spoons, said Daniel Salsberg of the House of Salsberg Inc., the Boonton Township caterer for the Gran Fondo NJ.
Donning rubber gloves, Chris Kogler of Green Wastes Technologies Inc. spent much of the day re-sorting trash and garbage discarded into the wrong bins. Next year, he said, he plans to label bins more clearly, per suggestions by town Sustainability Coordinator Paul Miller.
Marty heard mostly kudos, and comments about the hilly terrain. The 107-mile “Gran Fondo” route had more than 9,100 feet of climbs.
“It was very scenic, but I didn’t get a chance to enjoy the views because I was suffering so much,” said Amani Jennings, who is a member of the Major Taylor cycling club in Newark.
Nancy Morris , a Union resident who rode with a fundraising team for leukemia-lymphoma research, joked with Marty that hills on the 18-mile “Breve Fondo” seemed steeper this year, too.
“That’s a geographic fact in New Jersey. They just go up and up and up every year,” Marty replied.
Regardless, Nancy said she is determined to try the 43-mile route next time. “I’ll be working all winter for this one,” she promised.