The two oldest guys in the brewhouse — bambinos by our standards — are dusting off their bikes and hitting the course for BikeMS: City to Shore. Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm and Culinary Ops & Soda Guru JP Thomas are doing the one of the shortest possible distances — 50 miles — but Multiple Sclerosis research doesn’t care, and, to be completely honest, 50 miles on a bike is still quite an achievement.
They’re not exactly biking noobs — they’ve both been on bikes as adults — but this is definitely the first time either of them have ridden quite this far.
In fact, Jimmy’s just recently gotten back in the saddle, riding with the Cape May Hustle, a group of locals who get together each week to ride.
“It’s really laid back,” he says. “We ride maybe ten miles around West Cape May and Cape May Point every Thursday. I only started a month ago or so.
“It’s a beautiful time of year to be cruising around Cape May.”
JP used to ride quite a lot when he was at the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson and Wales in Colorado.
“Jeez, that had to be 2000,” JP says.
“It’s been almost twenty years since you’ve ridden a bike?!?” Jimmy asks, incredulously.
“Hard-core, yeah,” JP replies. “I mean, I’ve ridden with the kids around the block, but no. I’m gonna get in my car and go somewhere.”
Nonetheless, riding a bike in Colorado is a little different than riding through South Jersey. You know. Mountains. Like, actual mountains. The Rockies are, as the name suggests, rocky. Riding a bike through them is a little different than tooling around Cape May.
JP’s been riding up to Court House and back, maybe a 15-mile ride, a couple times a week.
“I’m gonna do a longer ride, but I’m not ready yet,” he says.
To train for City to Shore, Jimmy’s been riding between his in-laws’ near Higbee Beach down to Sunset Beach.
“I’ve been doing seventeen to twenty miles,” he says. “I’ll spend a Saturday doing that. This weekend I’m hoping to start upping it closer to thirty miles.”
They’re both enjoying getting their legs back. And Cape May in the summer offers some excellent opportunities for bike riding.
“It feels good getting out of the house and riding and being in the fresh air and getting some exercise,” Jimmy says.
“Exercise, yeah,” JP agrees.
“I do not do… cardio,” Jimmy admits. “At all. So this is probably the first time I’ve done cardio since high school. But it feels good.”
JP’s been riding a lot in the evenings, and as the shorter summer days turn into autumn, he’s rather enjoying it.
“Getting to watch the sun go down,” JP says. “That’s what I like about the bike trail. It’s so secluded, you’re in the woods, there’s nothing around, it’s just you and the bike.”
Cape May’s bike trail is one of the best-kept secrets in town. Stretching from the Cape May Lighthouse to the Cape May County Zoo, the trail is fully paved, away from traffic, and, according to the guys at the brewery, absolute perfection.
“It’s really nice,” JP says, “but the problem is that once the sun goes down the bugs start coming out, so there’s a fine line of getting that timing right. I literally had to bring my safety goggles from the brewery because I was getting bugs in my eyes.”
While JP stays home when the weather turns bad, it doesn’t really affect Jimmy all that much.
“I grew up in Seattle,” he reminds us, “and I rode my bike to work in Northern England, so, whatever. If there’s a light rain, it feels good. Like riding in an air conditioning unit.”
“But for City to Shore, there’s a good chance it might rain,” Jimmy says. “It’s late September and they say they’re gonna do it rain-or-shine.”
We ask the guys what concerns them about riding so far.
“Uh, can we put down ‘death’?” Jimmy laughs. “‘Heart attack’? No, seriously, though. My mom’s going to read this. I’m in my late thirties and haven’t done cardio in years.”
(He’ll be fine, Mrs. Valm.)
“Alright, you want to know my number-one fear?” Jimmy asks. “Tripping, going down stairs after riding fifty miles. You know when your legs are so damned sore? Going down stairs is the worse! You’re gonna fall flat on your face.”
JP laughs in agreement.
“After I did my first run,” Jimmy says, “I figured that if I could just do fifteen miles, twenty miles without even thinking about it, I could definitely do fifty miles in two months time.”
“That’s why I started at fifteen, too,” JP says. “I figured if I could do that, I could train and do fifty.”
“After that first one, I’m not scared of anything,” Jimmy says.
“I’m scared of hitting sand and wiping out,” JP says, “because my feet are locked into the pedals. If I hit sand and go out, I’m going straight down, and I’m locked in and can’t move. I’ve actually been practicing popping my feet out.”
And that practice is probably a good thing since JP learned the hard way that you should probably know how to get your feet out of the clips before you go on your first ride.
“My very first bike ride out, I didn’t know how to clip out,” he tells us. “I knew how to snap in, but I’m biking, and I’m riding, riding, riding. I get to a stop sign, and I couldn’t get out. I had to grab on to the stop sign — I’m holding myself up by the stop sign. I have my phone in the other hand, I’m on YOUTUBE, trying to figure out how to get my feet out of the pedals. I’m stuck hanging on this thing and I couldn’t move!”
Nice, JP. Let that be a word of warning to all you first-time riders out there. In fact, here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsANKHyVnbk.
Jimmy laughed his ass off at this story, but he’s not without some trials and tribulations of his own.
“This bike I got back in the UK, and when I moved back home, we just packed it up and moved it with everything else,” he says. “So it’s been in storage at my family’s beach house out on Long Island. I just got it back down here a few months ago, so it sat there unused for almost five years, and I bought it three years before that in Manchester.
“So I brought it down here and got it all tuned up and it was great. The tires looked underinflated, but I’m just doing the Cape May Hustle, so, whatever. I got out the pump and pumped it up. I made it maybe a mile down the road, and the front tire starts to go sssssssssshhhhhSSSSSHHHHH… and it’s just done. I had a spare tire that I keep in my saddlebag, so I got it out to replace it.
“I start texting my fiance to tell her, ‘Haha, first time training and I get a flat tire.’ I’m not even sitting on the bike anymore, and I watch the back tire go sssssssssshhhhhSSSSSHHHHH…
“Well, I don’t have two spare tubes. So I call my father-in-law and ask him to come get me.
“I get back, and I replace them with two tubes I had, as well. And I’m pumping them up, I’m pumping up the front tube, and as I’m pumping up the back tube, the front tube goes sssssssssshhhhhSSSSSHHHHH…
“I’m wondering what the hell is going on, and I realize that these tubes are at least seven years old.
“So my first training session took four hours and six tubes to go three miles.”
Nice. Let’s hope Jimmy does better in September.
“Last question: why are you doing this?” we ask.
“Because Jimmy said I had to?” JP jokes. “No, I’m doing it because my mother and my sister both have MS. Riding for my mother and sister, riding my late brother’s bike, in his spirit.”
Jimmy, on the other hand, wasn’t planning on doing it this year, but since nearly the entire brewing team signed up, he wanted to do it for the camaraderie.
“Let’s do this as a team,” he said.
“One day he came in and said, ‘No, I’ll be at the finish line, cheering you guys on,’” JP says, “and the next day he came in and said, ‘I’m riding.’”
“It seemed like if the whole brewing team is doing it, I really wanted to make it a team effort,” Jimmy says. “It’s for a great cause. They raise millions of dollars from this one event, and I wanted to be a part of it.
“I have an aunt who has MS, as well, and it’s taken its toll on her. It affects so many people.”
“And it’s a disease people don’t really understand,” JP says. “There’s a lot of different forms, from ‘MS-I’m-tired-every-day’ to people like my sister, who are struggling every day and unable to walk.
“So, it’s not just research. It’s awareness.”