RHA Trustee Dallas Hetherington riding in the 2018 Gran Fondo NJ.

Some of the best bicycling in New Jersey can be found on the scenic backroads of Morris, Somerset and Hunterdon counties. That’s why the annual Garden State Fondo – a bicycle endurance event for the benefit of local charities – draws over 2,000 cyclists each year.

This year, for the first time, Raritan Headwaters Association (RHA) has been chosen as an official beneficiary of the Garden State Fondo – formerly known as Gran Fondo NJ – to be held Sunday, Sept. 8.

Raritan Headwaters is looking for bicyclists to ride for its team, which will be led by Board of Trustees member Dallas Hetherington of Bernardsville.

“We welcome cyclists of all levels who want to participate in a fun event and help raise funds for Raritan Headwaters,” said Hetherington. “The Fondo is a ride, not a race, and riders can choose their distance and then ride at any pace.  I did the 62-miler last year; it was my first time at the Fondo and when I finished, I knew I’d want to come back this year and do it again.”

“The Garden State Fondo routes take riders throughout the upper Raritan River watershed, so it’s a perfect fit for Raritan Headwaters,” added Cindy Ehrenclou, executive director of RHA. “There’s no better way to see the beautiful landscapes and streams we work to protect than by cycling the Fondo routes.”

A fondo – Italian for ride – is a mass participation bicycling event that was first popularized in Europe. It’s similar to a large marathon in that most riders, rather than racing other cyclists, challenge themselves against the clock.

The Garden State Fondo, founded in 2011, is the brainchild of the late Marty Epstein, owner of Marty’s Reliable Cycle in Morristown, who passed away on May 2 after a battle with cancer. Since 2011, Epstein helped raise $1.5 million for charity through the Fondo. “It was Marty’s contagious enthusiasm that inspired Raritan Headwaters to participate,” said Ehrenclou. “This will be a special year for us to honor his passion and enthusiasm for getting folks outside and enjoying cycling.”

Ranked as the number one fondo in the United States, the Garden State Fondo ride is popular for its variety of challenges and scenic routes that take riders past farms, forests and historic places.  It starts and finishes in Morristown, where a celebratory barbecue lunch awaits finishers. Riders can choose among six routes ranging from 18 to 125 miles, and can pick their pace within each route. Rest stops with snacks, beverages and bike repair help are located at regular intervals.

To sign up for Team RHA, go to the Garden State Fondo website at www.granfondonj.com and click on “Register.” On the registration page, click on “Team” and type in Raritan Headwaters. Riders must pay their own registration fees, which vary by route.

The six Fondo routes are:

  • The Breve – This 18-mile route is designed for those who want to join in the Fondo fun but aren’t ready for the longer distances and bigger climbs of the other routes.
  • The Piccolo -The 42-mile Piccolo offers everything cyclists love about the Gran Fondo experience, including a mass start, a timed hill climb and lavish rest stop.
  • The Medio – The editors of Bicycling Magazine named the 62-mile Medio course one of “The 50 Best Rides in America.” The route takes riders through quaint hamlets, alongside chateau-like mansions, secluded lakes, country farms and creek-lined forest roads, with two timed hill climbs.
  • The Migrane – This 75-mile course, with three timed hill climbs, is ideally suited to those who want a big challenge but aren’t ready for the toughest rides.
  • The Gran – The 107-mile Gran Fondo route is the event’s original endurance challenge. While it is a tough route, with four timed climbs, it is still accessible to riders at many levels.
  • The Estremo – Inspired by the same passion for big goals that gave birth to the original Gran Fondo NJ back in 2011, the 125-mile Estremo is an ultra-endurance challenge with six timed hill climbs.

Last September, Hetherington, fellow trustee John Parker of Oldwick and three other cyclists made up the Raritan Headwaters’ first-ever team to enter the Garden State Fondo. RHA was not an official beneficiary, but team members raised funds to support RHA’s mission by getting pledges for each mile ridden.

Even better, Team RHA’s participation in 2018 paved the way for bigger things. Shortly after the event, Raritan Headwaters received the news that it had been chosen as an official beneficiary of the 2019 Fondo.

“It’s very exciting, because it means we will share in the proceeds raised by entry fees” said Ehrenclou. “We’re looking forward to the boost this event will provide for our mission of protecting clean water in local rivers, streams and homes.”

If you love cycling the scenic back roads in Morris, Somerset and Hunterdon counties, please consider joining Team RHA. Training rides are available during the months leading up to the event. All team members will wear a Raritan Headwaters cycling jersey.

For more information about Team RHA, contact Blake Putnam at bputnam@raritanheadwaters.org or 908-234-1852, ext. 320.

About Raritan Headwaters

Raritan Headwaters has been working since 1959 to protect, preserve and improve water quality and other natural resources of the Raritan River headwaters region through efforts in science, education, advocacy, land preservation and stewardship. RHA’s 470-square-mile region provides clean drinking water to 300,000 residents of 38 municipalities in Somerset, Hunterdon and Morris counties and beyond to some 1.5 million homes and businesses in New Jersey’s densely populated urban areas.