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Road biking, dirt road riding on Frankenbike, tandem riding, group riding, time trialing, randonneuring - I love to ride, and I love to write. As I've traveled along on two wheels, I've learned one thing: Expect Adventure. Join me on the journey!

Betty Jean Jordan

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Baby, It's Cold Outside

The forecast for yesterday's Peach Peloton included temperatures in the 30s throughout the ride with rain the first few hours.  We started on the east side of Macon, a slightly farther drive for a lot of our Peach Peloton regulars.  Given these two disincentives, we expected a smaller group than usual.  Robert asked me what the over-under would be.  I said 6; he guessed 8.  It was 6.

The weather was exactly as predicted.  I was dressed as well as I could be, but my fingers and toes still had bouts of numbness during the ride.  I've ridden in some pretty bad conditions, but yesterday was among the toughest.  We all suffered.  I had forgotten how much difficult weather will take out you.  The body uses a lot of energy to maintain its temperature when it's cold and wet.  On the bright side, the guys were only interested in completing the ride - no rotations or attack zones yesterday.  Woo hoo.

A few random notes from the day:
  • When I eat a Cool Mint Clif Bar, I get the sensation of...riding on a rural road in Wilkinson County in December in the rain.  Hmm...not quite the same as a York Peppermint Pattie.
  • The guys were laughing at me because they couldn't understand what I was saying during the ride.  My jaw was half frozen, and I couldn't help slobbering.  I felt like the Tasmanian Devil.

  • I try to avoid bib shorts when I ride with the Macon guys because it takes me longer at nature breaks as I have to remove outer layers to get the bib straps down.  Yesterday, I didn't care.  I wore my warmest insulated tights, which are bib-style.  The guys had to wait an extra minute for me during our nature break.  They were very nice about it, though.  Incidentally, Chad M., our ride leader, opted not to have a store stop even though the route was 70 miles.  He reasoned that that was preferable to getting even colder following a store stop.  To my surprise, I decided that was a good call.
  • After the ride, Robert and I stopped to get some sandwiches.  Even after that, both of us were still pretty chilled, and so we also went to Dunkin Donuts for coffee for him and hot chocolate for me.  As he drove us home, I started feeling pretty cozy from the seat heat and the warmth of the cup on my hands.  It was definitely nap time.  When I woke up at home, it was an hour and a half after the ride.  I got out of the car and started walking inside.  I felt something biting the bottom of my foot at the heel.  Immediately, I took off my shoe and sock, but there was no insect.  I took a few more steps, and the sensation started again.  Weird!  I had never had such a reaction, but I'm sure it had to do with the cold.  Fortunately, it went away quickly.  I mentioned it to Robert, and he said he had had a similar experience!  Even stranger, when went to a Christmas party later that evening, I found out that Chad M. and Van had the same reaction.
I did question my sanity for riding in such conditions when I'm not even training for anything specific.  I guess I did it to make sure I still could.  I'm afraid that if I avoid weather extremes, I'll get to the point where I can't handle them.  Besides, it's like making a deposit in the ol' mental toughness bank.  In the future, if I'm in a difficult spot - in a cycling event or in life in general - I can remember that I made it through yesterday's Peach Peloton.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Alien Invasion

It was a uniquely beautiful and surreal night for a dirt road ride.  The nearly-full moon disappeared and reappeared in the partly cloudy skies, backlighting the trees into silhouettes.  As the wind whooshed by my ears, I thrilled in the solitude of the beloved rural roads of my home.  Crickets chirped their gratitude for the unseasonable warmth - companions unobtrusive.  A white tail flashed before me in the post-crepuscular hour.

That's when the aliens invaded.  I love the Sci-Fi ringtone.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Wings and a Pear

Every once in a while, I love doing the type of ride I did last Saturday – pure enjoyment, let the speed and power data be whatever they will be.  This kind of ride is especially good for dirt road riding because, by its nature, it’s slower than riding on paved roads.  And for me, fall is the perfect time for such a ride because I purposely take a break from the Strava distance challenges for a few months.  I have to structure my unstructured-ness.

A bonus on such a ride is to have a fun destination.  I had been wanting to trying a new local restaurant, Bryan’s Wing Hut.  I came up with a great plan: ride a few hours on some less familiar dirt roads and then pick up some wings for lunch on the way back home.

It was chilly and overcast when I headed out on my cyclocross bike.  That didn’t dampen my spirits, though.  I ran a few quick errands in town and then stopped by The Vanilla Bean.  Peach Peloton starts next Saturday, and so it’s going to be several months before I get another chance for a Saturday morning pre-ride visit to The Vanilla Bean.  I got a cup of ginger twist tea and a banana-chocolate chip muffin (slightly warm!) – the perfect fortification for my cycling adventure.

Most of my dirt riding is in the fall and winter, when it’s too dark to ride on paved roads after work.  With lights on my bike, it’s safe to ride on the sparsely traveled dirt roads near my house.  That’s the thing, though – on those weeknight rides, I don’t have enough time to venture very far.  During the day on a weekend, however, I can do some exploring.  I mapped a route that took me on dirt roads in the north part of the county, near Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.

Soon after I headed out from The Vanilla Bean, the clouds began to clear.  Patches of sunlight streamed through streaks of grey clouds, backlighting the red, orange, and yellow leaves.  The pines provided just enough green contrast to give the whole scene that uniquely autumnal look.

The sun began warming everything up.  I was quite comfortable in my cool-weather riding gear.  It was good just to feel my muscles move.  Round and round in that panacean rhythm.


A couple of years ago I rode to the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center on dirt roads.  This time I turned off of Murder Creek Church Road a little south of there.  I mused about the strange juxtaposition of words in that road name.


Then I got to the really fun part – some roads in the Clybel Wildlife Management Area (WMA) that I had never ridden on.  The Clybel WMA has several ponds interspersed among acres of woods.  I saw a few fishermen around the ponds, but mostly it was a solitary ride.  When I’m in places like this, I never understand why they aren’t just packed with people.  My soul craves the kind of beauty I saw that day.  It was so beautiful it almost hurt.


Magical therapy…

My route continued south, back toward home.  I savored the day, enjoying going at my own pace.  I transitioned back into rural residential areas and then approached the Monticello city limits.  Time to go by Bryan’s Wing Hut.

Bryan is Monticello’s mayor and recently opened his Wing Hut after retiring.  I got to chat with Bryan himself while another worker prepared my wings.  I ordered wings only, figuring that would be all I could carry on my bicycle.  I kind of hoped I would be able to carry them in my jersey pocket, adding to my repertoire of Stromboli, sopes, and olives.  Alas, my wings came in a Styrofoam clamshell.  That’s not too big an alas, though.  It was still notable that I carried them in my backpack along with a library book and some wooden clothespins from that morning’s errands.  (I had stashed my backpack at the office while I rode.)

The wings and I made it the last few miles back home.  With a pear on the side, it was the perfect way to cap off a stupendous dirt road ride on a glorious November day.



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A November Weekend in Middle Georgia

The first weekend in November has become one of my favorite of the year.  It has two events that I really look forward to: the Deer Festival on Saturday and the Fried Green 50 on Sunday.  These are a couple of reasons why I love where I live.

Deer Festival


Jasper County has an abundance of deer (see my previous post).  We're even the Deer Capital of Georgia.  Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising that Monticello is home of the Deer Festival.  Every small town in Georgia has a festival.  Some celebrate important agricultural crops, like the Blueberry Festival (Alma), the Peach Festival (Fort Valley), and the Pecan Festival (Blackshear).  Other festivals have more obscure origins, like the JugFest (Knoxville) and the Fire Ant Festival (Ashburn).  I grew up in metro Atlanta, and so I wasn't even aware of these kinds of festivals until I moved to Monticello nearly 22 years ago.  Sure, Atlanta has its share of music, arts, and miscellaneous festivals (Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival, anyone?), but they are nothing like the Deer Festival, Monticello's signature event that more than doubles the city's population for a day.

White-tailed deer had all but disappeared from Georgia by the early 1900s due to hunting and deforestation.  Beginning in 1928 and lasting until 1992, the U.S. Forest Service and the Georgia Game and Fish Commission (later the Georgia Department of Natural Resources) began restocking white-tailed deer, bringing them to Georgia from other states.  Restocking in the mid 1900s in Jasper County was particularly successful.  One factor in this success is that about 30% of Jasper County lies in the Oconee National Forest.


Our burgeoning deer population drew hunters, which provided a boost to the local economy as the hunters needed food, lodging, gas, and other amenities.  In 1966 the first Deer Festival was held as a thank you to the hunters.  It's still going strong in 2017, its 51st year.


Deer Dash


In 1998 I was serving on Monticello's Downtown Development Authority.  In conjunction with the chamber of commerce and a local bank, we began the Deer Dash 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run.  We thought this would be a good way to pump some life into the long-established Deer Festival by attracting a new demographic.  It's been quite successful.  This year's Deer Dash was the 20th running.


I joke that running is barbaric (it is), but I run just enough to fairly comfortably do two 5Ks in the fall: the Athletes Helping Athletes 5K to benefit Southeastern Greyhound Adoption (SEGA) and the Deer Dash.  I run the SEGA 5K because I'd do just about anything to promote greyhound adoption, and I run the Deer Dash to support my local community.


A few months ago I started running one day a week to get ready for the two 5Ks.  Endurance is no problem because of all my cycling, but I did need to wake up my running muscles.  Usually, I'll do a little speed work before the 5Ks, but I didn't bother with that this year.  Work has been so busy this year that I haven't done much specific training; I just ride or run as much as I can.  So, I went to Saturday's Deer Dash simply wanting to have a decent run.


I drove uptown about 45 minutes before the race.  I took Allie, one of my greyhounds, with me.  I don't run with her, but it's fun to walk around with her after the race.  She stayed in my office during the race.


As everyone lined up at the start line, I thought about the course.  Four state highways go through Monticello.  These state highways are mostly built on ridges.  Obviously, we want the route to stay off the state highways, and so it goes perpendicular to the ridges, making for a quite challenging course.  There's one particular big hill about halfway through, which we call Heartbreak Hill.  I decided to use my usual strategy: I'm good at climbing hills on my bicycle, and so every time I have to run up a big hill, I pretend I'm on my bicycle.


It was a warm morning for November.  I felt better than I expected during the race.  I kept as fast a steady pace as I could.  I used the hills to my advantage, trying to pick up a few seconds on the competition on each one.


As I approached the finish line, the time was about 24:50.   A good race for me would be to break 25 minutes.  I wasn't quite going to make it.  Then I realized that I hadn't seen the seconds portion clearly.  I could break 25 minutes after all!  I ran as fast as I could across the line (I wouldn't call it a sprint) and finished in 24:44.  I was very happy about that.  What really surprised me is that when I ran the SEGA 5K a few weeks ago on a significantly easier course, I ran it in over 25 minutes.  Oh, well - I'll take my 24:44.  As a bonus, it was fast enough to win female masters!


I retrieved Allie from the office.  We walked around and visited with friends, neighbors, and people I see only once a year at the Deer Dash.  Robert had come uptown, too, before a long ride he had planned later in the day.




One person we were especially glad to see was Brooke Bittinger, one of Robert's coworkers from about 25 years ago.  That's when Robert and I were dating, back in Atlanta.  Robert worked at Black & Veatch, and they had a particularly fun group of young engineers and scientists.  Brooke looked just the same.




Following the Deer Dash, I drove home with Allie, took a shower, and headed back up town to enjoy the Deer Festival.  This time, I rode my bicycle.  By late morning, parking gets a lot trickier.  Sure enough, when I returned to the Jordan Engineering parking lot, it was now full.  No problem, though - I put my bicycle inside and walked to the square.


Venison Cook-Off


The first order of business was getting some lunch at the Venison Cook-Off, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club.  For $10 you can sample all the entries.  There weren't as many as usual this year, but what was there was delicious: BBQ, chili, grilled chunks of tenderloin wrapped in bacon, and chowder.  The chowder is really a stew with small pieces of potato, but it's the most fitting name.  It was dubbed so by Mr. El, longtime local Kiwanis member.  Mr. El was beloved in our community and passed away only a few weeks ago.  I missed chatting with him at the Venison Cook-Off as I had in years past.


Jimmy Mudd, one of the Venison Cook-Off participants, had these two deer antlers connected by a rope next to his cooking area.  You're supposed to be able to hang them in a tree while you're hunting, clack them together, and attract bucks.  He said it looked really good on TV, but he's not so convinced about how they work in the real world.



More antlers (closeup)
Animals

After I went to the Venison Cook-Off, I checked out the rest of the Deer Festival.  There were several booths with animals.  First, I visited the alpacas - swoon!






The alpacas remind me of my favorite comic strip ever that I drew:



If I could draw more than stick figures, I would love to be a cartoonist.  Given my limited artistic abilities, I have primarily entertained just myself over the years with my drawings, which I call Fiddlesticks.  (I did have a short run in The Monticello News).

Next, I visited my friend Christina, who works at Dauset Trails in neighboring Butts County.  She brought several reptiles, including Squirt:



Squirt is 10 years old.  Dauset Trails knows his age because they have had him since he hatched.  His lower shell is just becoming concave, indicating that he is male.  Before that, they weren't sure of his sex.

And there were baby goats!




These Nigerian Dwarf goats were hanging out next to the Yellow Rose Farm booth.  This vendor is local, offering soap and other goat milk products.

People


People of all kinds show up at the Deer Festival.  It's a true snapshot of life in the South.  On Saturday I particularly enjoyed catching up with friends and neighbors as well as simply people watching.


There's one guy that I never see anywhere except at the Venison Cook-Off.  He and I leaned up against the same pickup truck in the cook-off area, enjoying our venison in companionable silence.


It was great to see my friend Lu (farthest to the right).  She's had some major health issues, but she was well enough to perform with her clogging group.




Lu looks like Aunt Clara from Bewitched.  Lu even acts like Aunt Clara from Bewitched.  Maybe Lu is Aunt Clara from Bewitched.

Then there are the masses I've never seen before.  I think a lot of them live in Jasper County, but we must run in different circles.  This woman intrigued me; she was wearing a Georgia Grown backpack with some kind of camouflage hat and veil.




This next woman doesn't exist outside of the South.  I'm talking about the shirt, the pants, and the shirt and pants together.  I simply had to take a photo, but of course I wanted to be discreet.  I acted like I was taking a picture of the Confederate monument in the center of the square, and then at the last second I moved my camera.



Food

In addition to the Venison-Cook off, the Deer Festival has plenty of more typical festival food.  It wouldn't be a festival without funnel cakes:



I didn't actually eat a funnel cake.  This one was just on display...all day.  Mmm.
If I hadn't filled up on venison, I definitely would have hit up this food booth:



How cool is that?  Rice, vegetables, and a choice of several grilled meats, served in a pineapple half.

Merchandise

I have to pay a big complement to Pam, Director of the Monticello-Jasper County Chamber of Commerce.  She has a real talent for marketing and festival planning.  She was the chamber director for many years, moved away, and then came back.  While she was gone, the quality of the Deer Festival declined significantly.  Since Pam came back a few years ago, she has made a concerted effort to recruit vendors who offer excellent handmade goods.  We've gone from plastic aliens to fine pottery, metalworking, and other really nice items.



Pitcher plant!  It's carnivorous.  I didn't trust myself to buy one of these since I have trouble with everyday houseplants.
Rosie the Robot replica.  I was very tempted to buy her.
I'm not a hunter, but this vendor was really nice to teach me a little about duck calls.  All the ones at the left are mallard calls, the most common kind.  The ones on the right are wood duck calls.  He demonstrated them for me.  So interesting!
Some things I did buy:


Green tomatoes from a local farmer (I turned them into a Green Tomato Casserole on Saturday night), horseradish cheese from the Amish cheese vendor from Ohio, and a Positive Pineapple koozie.  Some local, entrepreneurial, young men established Positive Pineapple, and I was happy to give them a little support.

I splurged and got myself this lovely alpaca wool short sweater.
Miscellaneous

After I finished checking out the Deer Festival, I walked a few blocks to Reese Hall, which was having an open house.  Owner Judy Hunsucker has done a phenomenal job restoring this 1800s house over about 18 months, saving it from the brink of ruin.  Opening at the beginning of this year, it's now an elegant bed & breakfast, food kitchen for takeout items, and event facility.  Reese Hall is a true asset to our community.


As I walked back to the office, I stopped by the library to get an audio book for the coming work week.  (I'm teaching classes three days this week, which means a good bit of commuting time.)  I enjoyed chatting with a couple of my librarian buddies.  I don't remember how it came up in conversation, but they told me about a discussion they had had earlier in the day about spaghettification.  How could I have gotten this far in life and not know what spaghettification is?  It's the process by which a body is stretched and ripped apart by gravitational forces as it falls into a black hole.

This reminded me of all the vocabulary words I learned from reading Nancy Drew mysteries when I was young, e.g., bungalow, notary public, sedan, and titian.  My librarian buddies didn't know the word titian.  I explained that it's a strawberry-blond color, used to describe Nancy's hair.  I even showed them an example from a Nancy Drew book there on the shelves.  I've never known anyone else described as having titian hair except Nancy Drew.

So, just goes to show that you should stop by your local library.  No telling what kind of useful information you might pick up.

Fried Green 50

The next morning was the annual Fried Green 50, an off-road cycling event in the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge (PWR).  The PWR is one of my favorite places in the world.  Getting to ride my bike there is one of the best things in life.

The Fried Green 50 starts at the boat ramp area next to the Ocmulgee River, just outside downtown Juliette.



This hamlet is the filming location of the eponymous movie Fried Green Tomatoes, one of my favorites.

My friend Monte Marshall and other volunteers with the Ocumulgee Mountain Bike Association put on the Fried Green 50.  This was the 10th year - woo hoo!


Monte with the backwards bike and Matilda, the Fried Green 50 mascot
The Fried Green 50 isn't a race, but it is.  There's a prize for the first male finisher and the first female finisher.  I admit it...I'm a Type A personality, and I have to go for the gusto.

I've been the first female finisher in many years, but not always.  Last year I had some tough competition from a woman named Beth, who is from North Carolina and is about 12 years older than I am.  She beat me last year.  When I heard she was back this year, I thought, uh oh.  However, she found me before the race and informed me that she was going to take it easy this year because she's recovering from a shoulder injury.

It was such a beautiful morning.  Unseasonably warm for November, I was surprised but glad to be comfortable in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey.  It has to be something pretty significant for me to miss regular church on Sunday, but I could tell this would be a glorious day at bike church.

The crowd was the biggest in memory:



Off we went at 10:00 AM.  I edged my way to front.  I had no illusions of hanging with the fastest guys, but I didn't want to get stuck behind non-racers either.  Although the front group did drop me fairly soon, I got into a good, steady pace that I hoped to maintain for 50 miles.

After a few miles, Beth and her husband caught up to me.  Sandbagging maybe?  I played it cool.  My friend John, an excellent ultra runner, also joined us.  The four of us rode together for a while.

The course has some pretty significant hills.  Climbing is my strong suit, and I seemed to be out-climbing the others.  After a while, I dropped the other three.  But would it last?  Beth and her husband never did catch back up, but John did.  I was glad for his company and to be able to work together.

One of my favorite parts of the course is the portion south of Round Oak-Juliette Road.  Although it's within riding distance of my house, I never seem to ride this section except during the Fried Green 50.  Soon after we entered this area, I saw a sign that read "Steep Hill."  I've ridden on this road a half dozen times during the Fried Green 50, but because it's only once a year, I didn't remember the specifics.  The hill was actually steep downward before it became steep upward.  Being rather unfamiliar with it, I took the downhill more aggressively  than I intended.  I think I actually got slightly airborne.

After a mile or so, I overtook another rider.  As I was riding by, he said, "If you're keeping score, there's one woman in front of you."  I replied, "Thanks!  I'll try to catch her."

John and I caught up to Matt, a cycling buddy of mine from Columbus.  Matt had been with the front group.  He said that the woman in front of me had been hanging with them, even taking pulls.  Apparently, she's a pro.  Well.  No way I could compete with that.  Even so, I kept riding as hard as I could.

The route had six creek crossings.  On all but the third one, I was able to ride through without stopping.  I probably could have ridden through that one, too, but I was being careful.

The beauty of the day around me was palpable, yet I was suffering on the bike - a strange juxtaposition.  Then, around mile 35, John and Matt pulled ahead of me.  I suspected that I was experiencing the onset of spaghettification.  I had to ease up a little.  At least it allowed me to enjoy my surroundings better.

When I'm racing the Fried Green 50, I try to carry enough food and water so that I don't have to use the rest stops.  Since I was out of contention, it was definitely worth stopping for water at the last one on the route.  That did a lot to sustain me in the final 10 miles.

I finished well, but I had to agree with Robert's assessment of how much dirt and gravel roads will beat you to death.  An off-road ride is probably an equivalent exertion to 1.5 times the number of miles on paved roads.  But even though I felt tired and pummeled, I was exhilarated!



Thursday, November 2, 2017

Deerly Beloved

I live in Jasper County, the Deer Capital of Georgia.  It's particularly obvious this time of year.  When I ride after work in these waning days of Daylight Saving Time, there may be a little sunlight when I start, but it quickly diminishes.  It's the time for crepuscular creatures, like deer.  (Crepuscular is one of my favorite words.  If you don't know what it means, look it up.).  It's magical.

I meant to write about this last week, but I'm super busy with work and other commitments right now.  However, when I had another magical crepuscular ride tonight, I wanted to remember it with a blog entry.

Tonight I didn't count the deer, but I did on last week's mixed surface ride.  Last week I counted 17 deer during my 14-mile ride.  There were probably a lot more that I simply didn't see.

I'm always amazed at how well the deer blend into their surroundings.  Their brownish grey matches tree bark and the deepening dusk alike.  There ought to be a name for that color; I'm sure some paint company has thought of that.

I find myself keeping alert for movement in the shadows.  It's like the cycling version of Where's Waldo.

Deer # 15 and 16 still stand out in my mind from last week.  It was just getting too dark to see.  Those two deer were obscured except for the outlines of their white tails.  As I rode down the road, their tails bobbed along parallel to me like silent phantoms.

Add in a waxing, gibbous moon; the scent of fresh pines; late-season crickets; the gold-then orange-then pink-then purple sunset; and the relative warmth before way-down fall sets in - that's a recipe to cure whatever ails you.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Georgia Neuro Team Camp - October 2017

My Georgia Neuro cycling team has a long-weekend camp each year.  This past weekend we went to the Blue Ridge, Georgia area.  I don't "love" the mountains like many people do (although I do like the climbing challenges from a cycling standpoint), but this was as enjoyable a trip to the mountains as I can remember in a long time.

Friday


Robert had arranged an Airbnb place for our group to stay.  It was ideal.  The furnishings were simple but very comfortable with an attractive rustic flair.  The main house had several bedrooms and some pull-out sofas.  There were also two "tree houses."  They weren't really tree houses, but they were so fun!  Of course, Robert and I had to stake our claim in one:




Robert and I were able to head to camp early enough to get in a ride on Friday afternoon.  We had hoped that our friend Chris would be able to join us, but he couldn't get there in time.  Teammates Stony and Van arrived even earlier in the day than Robert and I did and were already on the road.


Friday's route took Robert and me south over Doublehead Gap.  Because it was getting late in the afternoon, and shadows lengthen even more quickly in the mountains, we rode only about an hour before turning around shortly after the descent down Doublehead Gap.


The climb up the backside of Doublehead Gap is even more challenging than the first side we had ascended.  As we approached the summit near the turn-off to Springer Mountain, an old man in a pickup truck slowly passed us.  Robert said, "That guy is thinking how tired we must be."  Not 30 seconds later, the man pulled over at the summit and called out his window, "I'll bet you'uns tongues is draggin'!"  We laughed and waved, and that buoyed me all the way back.


Robert and I met up with Stony and Van at the house.  After showers, we headed into Blue Ridge for dinner at Fightingtown Tavern.  Bill arrived at the restaurant shortly before we did, coming straight from Macon.  While we waited for the rest of our group, we played some darts and enjoyed the decor, particularly the tributes to various rock musicians:



Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of REM at the US capitol in 1998




At least we still could talk about sex.


Darts.  Serious competition.  If it's competition, it's serious.


Van battling it out with Bill


Cool folk art depiction of the 1776 flag using knobs


Robert getting serious in his boots


"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." - Jimi Hendrix







Coincidentally, although Fightingtown Tavern didn't have any Lynyrd Skynyrd paraphernalia, Ronnie Van Zant and several others from Lynyrd Skynyrd were killed in a plane crash 40 years ago on Friday.


Pretty soon, Chris and his wife Jill and Cody and his wife Christy joined us.  We had a meal of better-than-average bar food, made with locally sourced ingredients.  Fightingtown Tavern proudly notes that it has no freezers and no microwaves.  They also feature a number of Georgia beers.  I tried a local brew called Moon Over Blue Ridge Wheat, made by Grumpy Old Men.  That was in honor of my teammates.


When we got back to the house, the rest of our group was there: Cal and Jeff K.  (We missed teammates Chad, Tina, and Tony at camp!)  Everyone was tired, and so we hit the sack to get ready for the next day's big adventure.


Saturday


Cal is recovering from a broken shoulder.  We're so glad he still came to camp even though he couldn't ride.  He also graciously offered to cook dinner on Saturday night.  Therefore, I was glad to be the main breakfast cook.


Saturday morning was the fancier of our two breakfasts.  I used a recipe for Blueberry Stuffed French Toast, but I substituted fresh cranberries for the blueberries and added some pecans.  Additionally, it has a side sauce with more blueberries, in which I also substituted cranberries.  I had never used cranberries in this recipe before and was a little nervous about making my teammates guinea pigs, but it turned out wonderfully.  The recipe may sound complicated, but it's actually quite simple.  You assemble it the night before, refrigerate it, and cook it the next morning.


I also used team camp as an excuse to make Banana Ginger Bread from my "Bats in the Pantry" cookbook.  This is a really cool cookbook that features recipes highlighting ingredients that depend on bats for pollination or seed dispersal.  I'd been jonesing for Banana Ginger Bread.  It has five spices that make it uniquely piquant, including fresh ginger and a whole tablespoon of cardamom.  FYI, the bat-dependent ingredients in this recipe include bananas, vanilla, vegetable oil, flour, allspice, cloves, beer (hops), dates, and ginger.


Along with two types of sausage, some homemade pumpkin granola, fruit, orange juice, and of course coffee (and tea for me), we were well fueled for our longest day of riding: 81 miles with lots of climbing.


The guys rode as strong as ever.  I really haven't ridden with them much since Peach Peloton season ended back in February.  When Tuesday Worlds started back in March, my teammates rode with the A group while I mostly rode with the B group.  I've gotten to where I just can't hang when they surge and attack.  Although team camp is intended to emphasize the group, both from a cycling and social standpoint, I still had to work hard on the bike this past weekend.


I got dropped the first time as we climbed Skeenah Gap, about 11 miles into the ride.  I consider myself a good climber, but I couldn't keep up.  Robert pulled me back on.  I rode a while longer with the group, but after about 35 miles, I slowed to a pace I could maintain all day.  This scenario has played out countless times over the years, but I still felt a little disheartened that I couldn't keep up.


Since it looked like I would be riding solo the rest of the day, I did what I wanted to make the ride more enjoyable.  As I crossed a creek, I stopped to take a picture of this sign:




I'm an instructor with the NPDES Training Institute.  We are a third party company that teaches erosion and sedimentation control certification classes that are required by the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission for everyone involved in construction.  State stream buffers are an integral part of erosion and sedimentation control and, therefore, a key concept in the classes I teach.  Warm waters (i.e., non-trout streams) have a 25-foot buffer, and cold waters (i.e., trout streams) have a 50-foot buffer.  Most people probably wouldn't pay much attention to this sign, but I was excited to see it.


A few miles farther, I reached our store stop.  It was at Sunrise Grocery, which we call The Apple Store.  (Yes, that can be ambiguous!)  The guys were taking a good break, but I decided to go randonneuring style, checking in and out quickly.  I wanted to get a head start, even though I knew they would catch me, probably sooner rather than later.


While I was at the store, I needed to get some more fluids.  Nothing much appealed to me.  The relatively few flavors of Gatorade/Powerade that they had all sounded rather icky.  I was about to buy a bottle of Mountain Dew.  Then, as I approached the cash register, I saw a barrel with bottles of cold apple cider - perfect!  After all, this was The Apple Store, and it's the height of apple season.


Even better, in walked Cal.  He checked on us several times along the route since he couldn't ride.  His timing was perfect because now I could buy a bag of apples that he could carry in his car.  I got some Mutsu apples, my favorite variety.  I always have to get them directly from North Georgia because my local stores don't carry them.


I drank a few swigs of my cider and poured the rest into my water bottle.  Then, I hit the road.  Just down the road was the biggest climb of the day, Wolf Pen Gap.


My frame of mind improved significantly after the store stop.  I relaxed a little as I felt less pressure to keep up with the guys.  Also, it had been several years since I climbed Wolf Pen, my favorite climb in North Georgia, and I rather looked forward to it.  I started up the five miles of switchbacks.  I got into a groove and enjoyed the climb.  I could tell I was riding well.


Climbing up Wolf Pen with apple cider in my water bottle - the real kind of cider with high turbidity and little floaty pieces in it.  That's about as quintessential a fall ride in Georgia as you can get.


The mountains of North Georgia draw even more motorcycles than bicycles.  As I got closer to the top, a motorcyclist with a ponytail passed me.  Cool!  A woman on a motorcycle!  Shortly before the the summit, I saw her pulled over onto the shoulder.  As I chugged by, she called out, "I'm impressed!" I answered, "I'm impressed, too!" as I pointed to her motorcycle.  With short legs and having only straddled a motorcycle - i.e., not having ridden one by myself - I truly am impressed with a woman with the strength and coordination to ride one. Here's to women doing what they love, even if - or especially if! - it's "non traditional."

I crested the top of Wolf Pen and began the descent.  Descending is not my strong suit, but the other side of this gap isn't too bad, particularly because it lacks the switchbacks of the side that I had just climbed.  Even so, I was proud that I did this descent more confidently than usual, maybe because I was feeling so good.  Toward the bottom, I saw a suggested speed limit sign (the yellow kind) with 35 mph.  I looked down at my Garmin and saw that I was going right at 35 mph.  Woo hoo!


Then, almost out of nowhere, Stony passed me!  Dagnabbit!  I didn't expect to get caught that soon.  But after all, he puts everyone through the Stony Grinder:



Photo by Van
A few minutes later, here came Van.  They were ahead of the others and pulled over at Lake Winfield Scott at the base of Wolf Pen to regroup.  I kept riding to maintain my momentum.  Robert caught up to me shortly thereafter.  He said he knew that I had climbed Wolf Pen well because he couldn't believe that it took them so long to catch me.  Ha!  Short time, long time - that's certainly relative, isn't it?  Oh well, either way, it was nice to ride with Robert for a few miles at a pace that was comfortable to me.

We stopped at a convenience store in Suches.  Cal drove in behind us to check on the group.  Robert went inside, and I headed out again so that I wouldn't get too far behind.


I settled back into as fast a pace as I could comfortably maintain for the approximately 25 remaining miles.  It truly was a beautiful afternoon.  A motorcycle passed me with a man on the front and a woman on the back.  She was wearing a beige crocheted shawl with a large, attractive pattern that caught my eye, probably because it was atypical motorcycle attire.  I focused on other patterns around me: the multitude of branches on a tree that had fallen beside the road, the deep burgundy tassels of some type of grass, clouds, all kinds of foliage...  For a few minutes, I was able to simply live in and enjoy the moment.

Not surprisingly, after several more miles, here came the blue train of my teammates.  I hopped on the back for a short distance but then got dropped again.  No big deal - I was tired and simply wanted to make it to the end intact.

I did catch up to Cody.  I was impressed that he rode so strong because he's a big guy and doesn't climb nearly as easily as most of the others.  We rode the last few miles together.  Everyone made it back to the house, whooped but with a sense of accomplishment over the challenging ride.

The main thing that struck me about Saturday's ride is how much of an effect my hard, early effort had as I tried to keep up with the others.  Only a month ago I rode many of the same roads on a 200-km brevet.  That ride was even longer (124 miles) with even more climbing (10,492 ft), but I wasn't as spent at the end because I kept a steady pace the entire time.  I appreciate the intensity required to ride with my teammates - particularly because it gives me a type of training that I wouldn't otherwise get - but it's not easy.

I felt pretty useless the rest of the day.  The good thing is that there was nothing else on the agenda except hanging out with my cyclopeeps.  (I was really grateful I didn't have to cook dinner!)  I appreciated having some down time; I need to build more into my schedule.



Afternoon faded into evening.  Cal, Christy, and Jill brought dinner outside for us to eat there.  Everything was delicious: chicken parmigiana, Caesar salad, and garlic bread.  Good riding, good friends, and good food - the stuff of life.

Sunday

We slept a little later Sunday morning but intended to start riding earlier than the day before.  So, as soon as I woke up, I jumped in to start cooking breakfast right away.  It wasn't as spectacular a breakfast as on Saturday, particularly since I had forgotten to get bread or bagels, but we managed on an inadvertent paleo diet of bacon, eggs, and fruit.

We modified our Sunday route because we were concerned that some of the roads on the originally planned route would have too much traffic.  So, the entire group headed out the same way that Robert and I had gone on Friday afternoon.  We did an out-and-back that went a little farther, adding on a section that Stony and Van had explored.  Compared with the previous day, we rode a relatively tame 37 miles, but we still climbed 3,000 feet.  My-uns tongue was draggin'!

Following the ride, we all cleaned up and said our goodbyes.  Robert and I stopped for lunch in Blue Ridge, which has an impressive array of restaurants for a town its size.  (They have done a great job with tourism.)  After some tasty soup and sandwiches at a cafe, Robert suggested we get dessert.  It was the perfect opportunity to visit The Sweet Shoppe of the South.

I always wanted to stop at The Sweet Shoppe if we got to Blue Ridge.  It is owned by Susan Kelly Catron, who is originally from Monticello.  She and her business partner won Cupcake Wars on the Food Network a few years ago!  I got a pumpkin swirl cupcake, and Robert got a cinnamon roll and coffee - a perfectly sweet ending to our trip.


Me, Susan, and Robert
Analyzing the Data

Robert and I enjoyed talking about the weekend as we drove home.  I had already analyzed my Saturday ride (an early, hard effort with the Georgia Neuro team vs. the steady effort of a brevet) and was satisfied with my performance.  However, I didn't feel like I rode particularly well on Sunday.  This was based on the fact that I had a hard time keeping up with the guys again.  In other words, it was crazy thinking.  Robert helped me put things in perspective.

Of course I was tired on Sunday after the hard ride the day before (not to mention the not insignificant ride that Robert and I had done on Friday).  I even had confirmation from my Strava data that I really did ride (more than) OK: two QOMs on Sunday's ride.  Also, Robert reminded me that my simply being able to spend a weekend riding with my guy teammates in the mountains and not cause logistical problems is itself an accomplishment.  He wasn't being harsh, just matter-of-fact; he was acknowledging that I know how to ride hard yet pace myself, and I know how to navigate.

I find myself in a unique position.  In general, I prefer riding with guys because they are usually stronger and challenge me to stretch my abilities.  At the same time, I sometimes get frustrated when I can't ride at their level.  I have to remind myself to ride as best I can; that's all I can do, and that's all I need to do.  You'd think that at this point in my life (47  years old, intelligent, and accomplished), I wouldn't second guess myself so much.  But I have a feeling I'm not the only one.

Michelle Obama recently addressed the Women's Foundation of Colorado: "We forget how strong we are.  We're never reminded.  We're taught subtly and subliminally that our voices are unimportant.  Those are the kinds of messages that stifle girls' voices."  She offered this counter-message: "Tell her every day she is smart and capable and lift her up.  For so many people, the role models they follow are right in their backyard.  It's their mothers, teachers, siblings, and their fathers and the men around them who every day can lift them up.  Don't underestimate the power of the day-to-day motivation and inspiration in a girl's life."

Whatever we women do - ride bicycles, ride motorcycles, own businesses, make cupcakes, raise families, or anything else - may we have confidence in our abilities, offer our talents to the world gladly, and be accepted for who we truly are.


Cody, Van, Jeff K., Robert, Betty Jean, Bill, Stony, and Cal