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, June 4, 2017

Bon Vivant Ride

The majority of my rides have a fairly intense purpose: Tuesday Worlds, interval training, or even completing a brevet within the allotted time - not to mention actual races.  Yesterday I rode 69 miles in 4 hours and 25 minutes.  That's about 15.6 mph, certainly a mellow-ish pace for me.  The kicker is that I was gone for 7 hours.  That was the whole point, however; I rode for pure pleasure, and I decided that it didn't matter how long it took.

I came up with a fun route to highlight several culinary destinations.  Because it was all about good food and good times, I dubbed this the Bon Vivant Ride.  A bon vivant is a person who enjoys the good things in life, especially good food and drink.  The literal translation from French is, "good liver."  That's liver as in one who lives, not the internal organ.

Robert went to the Masters National road race championship in Augusta yesterday.  So, he was out of town, and I had a rare Saturday with no particular plans.  Of course, I filled it up with my ride, but it was more like playing all day.  I wouldn't let myself worry about all the chores or other "productive" things I could be doing.

First on my itinerary was going to the Market on the Square, Monticello's farmer's market that occurs every Saturday from May through September.  I had to miss every week in May (cycling events) and, therefore, was really glad to get to go to the farmer's market yesterday.

At least half a dozen vendors were selling fresh produce.  Additionally, a few others were selling plants, homemade soaps, baked goods, or crafts.  I was especially glad to see Mike this year.  Not only does he make the world's best pickled beets (seriously, I have to restrain myself from eating the whole jar when I open it), but it was good to see that he was feeling well enough to be there after battling cancer in recent months.

I also made sure to visit my friend Laverne.  In previous blog entries I have raved about her fried peach pies, and I will do so again now.  They are sublime.  Although I was powerless to resist buying one yesterday, I delayed gratification because I had to save room for the various goodies I wanted to sample along my Bon Vivant route.  It was more fun to share the peach pie with Robert today anyway.  By the way, Laverne's cute granddaughter was helping her yesterday.  As her granddaughter rang up my purchase, she commented that I smelled like the swimming pool.  I laughed and told her that I had put on Coppertone because I would be out in the sun all day.  Coppertone has a distinct fragrance that I actually like.  It reminds me of the beach.  One time when I was about five, my family was visiting the beach.  I woke up just after the sun came up but before the rest of the family.  I remember entertaining myself by opening a bottle of Coppertone and smelling the contents.

Having made the rounds at the farmer's market, I made a beeline for The Vanilla Bean for second breakfast.  This has become my tradition on my local Saturday morning rides in the warmer months.  I readily selected Green Dragon for my tea, but the day's dessert choice was not so simple.  There happened to be no pies yesterday, which probably would have been my druthers, but there were several delectable looking cakes, including lemon, spice, and hummingbird.  With bananas, pineapple, nuts, and spices, hummingbird seemed to be the best of all worlds.  Maybe it was kind of a subconscious choice, too.  I'm currently listening to an audio book entitled The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane.

Second breakfast and farmer's market loot
As a bonus, I saw my sister-in-law Jennifer and her boyfriend Greg at The Vanilla Bean.  Jennifer stepped into the shop next door, and Greg and I enjoyed sitting outside chatting.  Greg is from New Zealand.  It's always interesting to get his perspective on all things American.

My next destination was Larry's 4-Way, a convenience store in the northwest part of the county, near Jackson Lake.  I was compelled to go there after reading the Monticello-Jasper County Chamber of Commerce newsletter a few days earlier.  It noted that the biscuits at Larry's 4-Way were mentioned in the May issue of Bon Appetit magazine!


I love a good biscuit, but somehow I've never clued into gas stations being such a ready resource.  And if the biscuits at Larry's 4-Way - right in my backyard - were worth a mention in Bon Appetit, I definitely had to check them out.

A few days earlier during the planning part of my journey, this part of my route was temporarily jeopardized.  When I mentioned to Robert that I was going to Larry's 4-Way, he urged me not to ride on Jackson Lake Road.  That was exactly how I was going to get there.  Robert is not one to try to tell me what to do (as if I'd listen to him anyway), but I conceded that he did have a valid concern.  I decided that Highway 212 would actually be a safer way to go there, even with it being a state highway.

The out-and-back portion from downtown Monticello to Larry's 4-Way on Highway 212 was fine.  As one of the busier highways in our county, it might not be my first choice for local riding, but it has a fairly wide shoulder.  I'm grateful it provided me adequate bicycle access for my biscuit investigation.

Larry's 4-Way is a bustling hub of commerce.  It took me a minute to scope out the interior, but then toward the back I spotted the object of my quest:

What variety!  I had never seen a bologna biscuit before.  I wondered how it would compare to the convenience store I saw on the Mountain Music 200K a few weeks ago, which claimed to have the best fried bologna in town.  (It was the only store within about 25 miles.)  I'll have to keep wondering.  Not only did I not try the fried bologna a few weeks ago, at Larry's 4-Way I opted for an egg biscuit instead of the bologna biscuit.  It may have been the Bon Vivant Ride, but I didn't want to be too hard on my liver.

I had thought that the biscuit at Larry's 4-Way would serve as elevenses, but because of my extended chat with Greg back at The Vanilla Bean, it was really more like eleven-thirties.

I don't know what the Bon Appetit article was talking about.  This biscuit wasn't flat.  It was a big, fluffy cathead biscuit, similar to what I make.  Maybe the Larry's 4-Way biscuit baker changed the recipe since the article was published.  Larry's are drier than mine, though.  I searched The Google to try to discern what makes the difference.  I suspect that I use a little more shortening than they do.  Regardless, I doubt many other people have used the Internet to research the ratio of fat to flour in biscuits.

I headed back toward Monticello for the next leg of my ride.  It was a picturesque day with beautiful, blue skies and clouds as fluffy as cathead biscuits.  Several people had asked me that morning, "Isn't it too hot to ride?"  No, it felt good to me.  It was actually kind of relaxing; we're finally at the time of year where my body doesn't have to work to stay warm.

I stayed on Highway 212 E almost to the Putnam County line and then turned onto Old Hillsboro Road.  This is prime riding in my area - very little traffic and excellent pavement.  I wended my way to downtown Eatonton and my final culinary stop of the day: Tienda Tarimoro, a fantastic, authentic Mexican market.

On several previous bicycle rides I've visited Tienda Tarimoro.  It's an old gas station with a beautiful rock exterior.  Although it's rather small, it contains a vast array of items to delight the senses.

The fresh produce includes items particular to Mexican cuisine, e.g. prickly pears and tomatillos.
I looked for a Pope Francis candle but didn't see one.  Maybe you have to be dead to get on a candle.
I always get a Mexican soft drink at Tienda Tarimoro.  Yesterday it was limon flavored.  I also got some lunch while I was there.  As in most Mexican restaurants, they started me with some chips and salsa.  The salsa was chipotle flavored, a pleasant variation from usual Mexican restaurant salsas.

I tried not to overindulge so that I would have room for my entree: sopes with carnitas.  Sopes are a traditional dish in central and southern Mexico.  They look like very thick tortillas and are made with masa (ground corn soaked in lime, the same ingredient used to make tamales and tortillas).  Chewy with a few crunchy edges, they have a delightful texture.  I was served three sopes topped with beans, lettuce, tomatoes, queso fresco, and my selected meat (carnitas, or roasted pork) and a side of green salsa.  This is real Mexican food:

While I ate, I watched the television across the small restaurant area.  It was tuned to Univision.  I could only see it because the sound was turned down (not that I would have understood the Spanish anyway).  Some kind of Mexican game show was on.  There were four contestants.  One was dressed like a clown.  The four had to complete various tasks.  First, they were unspooling rolls of paper towels and stuffing them into a big box.  The they were using their teeth to remove multicolored loofah-looking things from a big, acrylic box.  The whole time, the smarmy looking game show host was standing to the side and laughing.  I can't imagine this could be much more entertaining even with the sound.  Actually, it was like a scene from one of my dreams.  It's as if someone were a fly on the wall in my dream and then converted it to a real, live game show.

Delicious though they were, I couldn't eat the third sope.  It's just as well because the three sopes with carnitas were bigger than my head.  The rule is never to eat anything bigger than your head.  (There is one exception to the rule: cotton candy.)  At the same time, I couldn't bear the thought of just leaving the last one to be tossed out.  I came up with the perfect solution: I would carry it home in my jersey pocket.  I have experience in these things.  Two years ago during my longest RAAM training ride, I rode 180 miles from Monticello to Dublin and back.  I stopped for lunch in Dublin at a great Italian place but couldn't finish my Stromboli.  Therefore, I carried it home in my jersey pocket.  As for the sope with carnitas, I just needed a container.

I asked the waitress for a bag.  Either she didn't have one or didn't understand because she came back with a Styrofoam clam shell container.  Obviously, that wasn't going to fit into my jersey pocket.  So, I improvised.  I wrapped and then double wrapped the sope in the pieces of aluminum foil and food service paper that had come with my plate.  Soft but protected, it fit snugly in my jersey pocket.  Yummage for later!

This reminded me of a passage from the classic cycling book The Rider by Tim Krabbé:

"Jacques Anquetil, five-time winner of the Tour de France, used to take his water bottle out of its holder before every climb and stick it in the back pocket of his jersey.  Ab Geldermans, his Dutch lieutenant, watched him do that for years, until finally he couldn't stand it any more and asked him why.  And Anquetil explained.

A rider, said Anquetil, is made up of two parts, a person and a bike.  The bike, of course, is the instrument the person uses to go faster, but its weight also slows him down.  That really counts when the going gets tough, and in climbing the thing is to make sure the bike is as light as possible.  A good way to do that is: take the bidon out of its holder.

So, at the start of every climb, Anquetil moved his water bottle from its holder to his back pocket.  Clear enough."

Life can dish up some real crap sometimes.  Other days I might feel rather meh for no particular reason.  Overall, though, I believe that life is what we make of it.  I'm grateful for days when I'm a good liver.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

State TT Championship 2017

Yesterday was the state time trial (TT) championship.  It's one of my biggest races of the year.  However, this year I wasn't in peak TT form for several reasons.  These days there aren't very many TTs on the Georgia race calendar, and the TT championship was much earlier in the season than in recent years.  Additionally, I've been focusing primarily on endurance riding, a very different training goal than TT training.  Even though I didn't expect this would be my best TT championship race, I was still curious (and nervous!) to see how I would do.

Interestingly, the state championship was my first TT this year.  I missed this year's Tundra Time Trial in February because it fell on the same day as the Middle Georgia Epic (see race report from 2/20/17).  About six weeks before the state championship, I started doing TT interval training.  This is my usual preparation for a TT.  However, my body has felt different this year.  Specifically, in the past the limiting factor in my training has always been my cardiovascular system.  This year, however, my muscles felt like the limiting factor.  I couldn't maintain past years' power levels no matter how hard I pedaled, yet my heart and lungs didn't feel maxed out.  I'm sure I could get back my previous power threshold with work, but there wasn't enough time before the state TT.

Originally I had assumed that I would race women's Category 3.  I'm actually a Cat 4, but I've been a Cat 4 for so long that I feel like it's fairer to give newer racers a shot at the Cat 4 title.  The only way you can cat up is through mass-start races (road races and crits), not through TTs.  Because I gave up mass-start races after my serious crash a few years ago, I'll never be able to cat up.  (My epitaph will be Cat 4, 4 Ever.)  However, you can race in TTs, including the state championship, in a higher cat, which is what I've done the past few years.

This year I had a different option.  For the first time, masters women categories were offered at the state TT!  Men typically have masters categories in any kind of road race, but masters women races are relatively rare in this area.  So, I registered for the women's masters 45-49 group.  This seemed like a good move particularly given my less-than-optimal TT fitness.

Different types of cycling races seem to ebb and flow over time.  TTs were a lot more popular five years ago.  I don't know if fewer TTs on the race calendar have diminished interest in them or if dwindling TT participants have led to fewer races.  Chicken vs. egg.  Either way, most of the state TT categories had few racers.  You have to preregister for the state TT; there is no race-day registration.  Therefore, I checked the list of preregistered racers several times earlier this week.  I was the only registrant in women's masters 45-49...until Wednesday night.  That's when I saw Christine Grant on the list.  D'oh!  She's an excellent time trialist who always beats me.  Oh well, all I could do was my best, which was true regardless.  And who knew - maybe I still had a shot at winning.  (By the way, there were no women Cat 3 racers at the state TT!)

I did have one extra nice thing at yesterday's race: Robert went, too!  Although he hadn't done a TT in three or four years because he's been focusing on road races, he decided to do the state TT.  Not only did I enjoy simply having him with me, I also appreciated his being my soigneur.  He pinned my race number on me, which was much easier than having to do it myself.  At first he accidentally pinned it on upside down.  He fixed it, but he really didn't have to:

Although I knew I wouldn't be able to hold as high a wattage as the last few years, I had a power target in mind.  My plan was to not go out too hard, keep my power a few watts below target on the first half of the race, and then go harder on the second half.  I was hoping that adrenaline would let me hold slightly more power than I had been able to during my several weeks of TT training.  That turned out not to be the case - I could hold only what I had been able to during training, surprise, surprise - but otherwise my general plan worked well.

Christine was in front of me, starting one minute before I did.  The course was out-and-back.  As expected, I didn't see her until she was coming back from the turnaround.  She seemed to be about a minute in front of me then, but I couldn't tell if it was significantly more or less.  No need to worry about that - I just had to keep racing as hard as I could.  My biggest goal, other than hoping my best would be enough to beat Christine, was to break an hour.  The state TT has been on the same course for the last several years, and I've been able to finish in just under an hour (59 minutes and some odd seconds) the last two years.

I kept my eye on my power meter.  I talked to myself constantly: "Keep your head in this.  Keep pedaling.  A little faster.  A little more power."  As during training, I could go only as hard as my muscles would allow.  I tend to push a hard gear, but I had found during TT training that by spinning in a slightly lower gear, I could actually put out more power and, therefore, go faster.  I downshifted more than in previous TTs to keep my power and speed as high as possible.

Often during a TT, a snippet of song gets stuck in my head, which I use as kind of a mantra to keep myself on task.  This time it was a rather weird song, "We Belong" by Pat Benatar - not the most energizing TT mantra, but I didn't fight it.

As I got closer to the turnaround, I knew I would see Christine soon.  As soon as I spotted her, different song lyrics immediately jumped into my head: Oh, here she comes from "Maneater" by Hall & Oates.  That was definitely a better TT mantra for the second half of the race.

Doing rough calculations in my head, I determined that it was going to be close on breaking an hour.  I kept on and kept on.  I actually felt a little stronger in the last few miles.  At 56 minutes, I had about a mile and a half to go.  Pedal, pedal, pedal!

1 km to go.  Push it, push it!  I put my head down and crossed the line just as my Garmin turned over 1:00:00.  But what was my official time?

A cool thing about this race is that as soon as I finished, I received an e-mail with my time!  I didn't even have to wait until the list of results was posted.  I finished in...


Less than two seconds over my goal of breaking one hour.  Bummer.  Surely I could have saved two seconds somewhere along the course, probably at the turnaround.  But I rode as hard as I thought I could at the time.  The numbers are what they are.  I was actually quite pleased with my results given how my training had gone.  The only question now was how Christine had finished.  I was 99.9% certain she had won, but I did wonder how much she beat me by...

Her time was 00:56:43.51.  That's 3:17 faster than me.  Even at my best trained level, I couldn't be three minutes faster than what I raced on that course yesterday.  So, extra kudos to Christine for a truly outstanding performance!

Despite the pre-race barfiness and the pain during TTs (and they are painful if you do them right), they are worth it.  For one thing, you get to challenge yourself, setting goals and seeing what your body can do.  Besides that, it's a great group of cycling peeps.  I have fun seeing many of the same racers at TTs: Angela, Christine, Joy, Liz, Louis, and others.

Yesterday was especially great because my good friend Chad did his first TT since a horrific accident he had just over a year ago.  The fact that he survived is miraculous; to see him get back out and compete was a true joy.  Chad, Robert, and I went to Mellow Mushroom for lunch after the race.  It was fun to remember all the TTs we have done together in the past.  And, fortunately, the pizza was much less painful than the race.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mountain Music 200K Brevet

About two months ago I started not one, but two new jobs!  I’m excited, and things are going well, but I’m still getting my feet under me.  Although I’m riding lots, I haven’t had much time for writing.  Last weekend’s ride, however, is definitely worth a report.  It was my first brevet that started in another state.

The Mountain Music 200K, hosted by the Alabama Randonneurs, began in Ft. Payne, AL.  Originally, I had planned to do a permanent that day, which is the only Saturday this month I have available to keep up my R-12.  Then, when my rando buddy Andy posted on the Audax Atlanta Facebook page about the Mountain Music 200K, I changed my plans.  Not only did this present a terrific cycling opportunity, it gave me an excellent chance to visit my father and stepmother.  Ft. Payne is about a 3.5-hour drive from my house but only about a 1.25-hour drive from theirs – definitely an easier early morning drive to the ride, especially gaining an hour going west to the Central time zone.

I had a wonderful visit with Daddy and Marian – so wonderful that I stayed up way too late.  I barely got six hours of sleep before I had to leave for the ride, but it was worth it to get to see them.

The drive to Ft. Payne was easy, almost entirely on interstates.  A little rain fell right before the 6:00 AM start.  Fortunately, it cleared out, and we had a dry ride.

When I got to the high school parking lot where the ride started, I was delighted to see not only Andy, but also Robert N. from the Audax Atlanta club.  We Georgia randonneurs made up nearly 50% of the seven riders doing the brevet.

Me and Andy (photo taken by Robert N.)

It was a beautiful morning.  Although I had to wear arm warmers, it was a good tradeoff because the cool dampness brought out the fragrance of the prolific honeysuckle along the roadside.

After about seven miles, we began our first significant climb of the day, three miles at about 7% into Mentone, AL.  I have to admit that although mountains aren’t my favorite terrain in general, I do kind of like climbing them on my bike because I’m built for it.  I was the first one to Mentone.  This had a drawback, however.

As I followed the route and turned off of the main road in Mentone, I noticed a cool photo opp, one of those things where you stick your face in a hole to take a picture.  One of my life rules is never to pass up one of these photo opps.  Unfortunately, I had gotten to the top of the climb first, and no one was there to take my picture.  It wasn’t the typical animal or other similar scene.  It was a plain brown board with three holes and “Mentone, AL” across the top.  Delightfully prosaic.

Mike, Max, and Robert soon caught up to me.  We rode together for a number of miles.  Mike and I in particular rode at about the same pace.  One time we were riding past a peaceful herd of cows.  Mike said hello to them and then confessed to me that he talks to cows.  As if I would think this was odd.  Not only do I do the same thing, earlier that morning I had sung to a buzzard.  It was a variation on “Blue Sky” by the Allman Brothers Band: Don’t fly Mr. Buzzard.  I’m just riding down the road.

About 66 miles in, we got to the second big climb of the day, just after the control in Menlo, GA.  This one was about two miles at 8%.  Relatively speaking, the overall elevation gain wasn’t outrageous to be in a mountainous area: a little over 7,000 ft in our 132-mile route.  One thing that makes riding in the ridge & valley topography of NW Georgia/NE Alabama unique is that you can minimize your climbing by staying in the valleys.  You only have to climb if you get up on one of the plateaus.

Mike soon caught up to me after this second big climb.  We rode together to the next control, which was also our last store stop.  Max arrived soon after Mike and I did, and the three of us mostly stayed together for the remainder of the ride.

A highlight of the day was riding through the Little River Canyon National Preserve.  An incredibly scenic road winds around the canyon and offers multiple, beautiful vantage points:

The brevet included several info controls.  The last one was at a fire hydrant:

I think I'll go for a ride.

I felt good at the finish, a bonus given that I then had to drive 3.5 hours back home.  I said goodbye to Mike, Max, and Bruce.  Bruce is the RBA for the Alabama Randonneurs, and he did a fantastic job of putting on the brevet!

About an hour into my drive home, I started feeling really sleepy.  I pulled into a large, busy travel plaza along the interstate.  After making sure my car doors were locked, I took a 30-minute nap.  I woke up refreshed and drove the rest of the way home without feeling sleepy at all.

Thank you to all my Alabama and Georgia rando buddies for making my first out-of-state brevet so fun and successful.  I hope to see you all again soon!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Athens-Augusta-Athens 400K

Usually it doesn't take me five days to write a ride report.  However, things have been in a state of flux for the last couple of weeks.  Friday, March 17 was my last day at my old job.  Then on Monday, March 20, I began not one, but two new jobs!  I'm very excited about them, but it's been rather like trying to drink from a fire hose or trying to ride a tidal wave.  I'm grateful to still be able to ride my bicycle in the midst of it all.

Last Saturday's brevet was only my fourth 400K.  Preferably, I would want to be well rested going into it.  This time, I really wasn't.  I had to get up at 4:30 AM on Monday and Friday during the workweek before, and then I had to get up at 4:00 AM the morning of the ride.  Also, I didn't sleep very well most nights that week simply because of to-be-expected nerves during my job transition.  Nevertheless, because there are only two 400Ks on the Georgia randonneuring calendar this year, and I can't make the second one, I bit the bullet to do the Athens-Augusta-Athens 400K even in my fatigued state.

Five of us gathered at the SpingHill Suites on the outskirts of Watkinsville: Chad G., Chad H., Graham, Robert N., and me.  Chad is definitely the statistical mode of the names of my cycling friends.  I've come to the conclusion that if your name is Chad, you're an excellent cyclist.  Conversely, if you're an excellent cyclist, your name isn't necessarily Chad.

Within a quarter mile, Graham turned back to get something he forgot.  The other four of us continued on.  Somehow I became the de facto navigator.  The sun hadn't come up yet, and I couldn't see my bike computer screen because I had minimized the back lighting time-out to save as much battery juice as possible.  Nevertheless, I thought I had the first part of the route memorized.  I was wrong.  In downtown Watkinsville, we were supposed to turn left onto Simonton Bridge Road.  I had us go a block farther and turn left on Barnett Shoals Road.  We realized our mistake fairly soon.  We could either backtrack or ride a few extra miles and loop back into the correct route.  Robert said that it's psychologically harder to backtrack.  So we rode an extra 5.8 miles instead.  Wow.  That's so much better.

I hoped that would be our greatest excitement of the day.  The ride was, in fact, rather uneventful - yet pleasant - for quite a while.  Chad H. powered ahead early on, leaving Chad G., Robert, and me to ride together.  After discussions about politics and religion, I suggested that we talk about sex.  Thus, I yelled, "Monkey butt!"

There was an info control at mile 30 (actually mile 36 for us because of the early extra miles), but the first real stop wasn't until mile 90 (actually mile 96 for us) in Norwood.  We were ready for a break!

I headed out a few minutes before the guys to find a nature break spot.  Honestly, most of the time I prefer the woods to a convenience store restroom.  As I got back on my bicycle, I noted with amusement the important role that duct tape plays for us randos.  Here, it's holding my bike computer charger to my frame to keep it from rattling, and it's securing my fork to my can of sardines:

My two companions soon caught back up to me.  Most of the next section of the route was out and back to Augusta (actually Evans).  By the time we got to the next control at Publix, Chad G. and I were starting to pull ahead of Robert.  Chad G. and I took a shorter break than Robert and got back on the road.  Robert was able to hook up with Graham at Publix.  Chad H. had already left this control a little before Chad G. and me.

Chad G. started fading as he and I rode toward the next control in Thomson.  He's obviously a very strong rider, and he outrode some of the more experienced randonneurs at the 300K a few weeks ago, but this was his first 400K.  That's a big step up.  Still, I hoped that he would keep riding steadily.

After Thomson, Chad G. was feeling pretty rough.  On the other hand, I got a second wind, so I pulled ahead.  I don't know if it's the Coke I had in Thomson, the fact that one of my most alert times of day is around 6:00 PM, or I've simply gotten more accustomed to ultra distances.  It's probably all three.  Regardless, I felt great on the 32-mile stretch between the controls in Thomson and Washington.  I figured it wouldn't last the rest of the ride, and so I enjoyed it while it was there.

Before I got to Washington, I was riding on a quiet, rural road.  (Actually, most of the roads on this route were quiet and rural - beautiful!)  I saw some cows that had gotten out in the road.  They got spooked as I rode by, running alongside me for a short distance.  I looked for a person at the adjoining farmstead but didn't see anyone.  Fortunately, I was able to flag down a neighbor about a quarter mile down the road.  She called the cows' owner.  Later, I was talking with my rando buddies about the cows, who simply thought the cows were chasing them.  Although I grew up a city slicker, I'm glad my father-in-law, who is a farmer, taught me about cows getting out.

At the Huddle House control in Washington, I was ready for something more akin to a real meal.  A waffle and some bacon hit the spot.  However, the Coke I ordered tasted terrible.  Sure enough, it turned out to be Pepsi.  They can't trick me!  I got a Mountain Dew instead.

Chad G. got to the Huddle House pretty soon after I did.  He ordered food but looked like he was about to fall out.  Then Graham arrived.  I was fueled and ready to go, and so I headed out solo.  The sun had just about set.  I was on schedule to finish somewhere around midnight.

Earlier in the day when my Garmin battery got low, I turned on my charger and gave the battery a good boost.  Now my Garmin battery was getting low again, and the charger was used up.  I had wanted to bring a backup bike computer, but I never was able to get the route to upload to it.  Then, I intended to bring a second charger, but I accidentally left it at home.  So it was time to go to my backup backup plan.  You always need one of those in randonneuring.  When my Garmin battery finally gave up the ghost, I started the Strava app on my phone to collect the remainder of my ride data.  (Fortunately, I had charged my phone back at the Huddle House.)  To navigate, I used my cue sheet, which I read with the extra front light that I mounted on my handlebars.  (I had brought the extra front light as a backup to my dynamo wheel hub.)  Because I didn't have a way to mount the cue sheet, I put it in my pocket.  I memorized a few turns at a time and then stopped to memorize a few more.  My little system worked well.  Until it didn't.

At about mile 231 (which should have been about mile 225), I took a wrong turn.  Later, when I studied what went wrong, I determined that my mistake was due to a change in road name that wasn't noted on the cue sheet.  On the other hand, it might simply have been the late hour (about 11:00 PM) and my growing fatigue.  I wound up taking an out-and-back side jaunt to Colbert.  By the time I realized my mistake, mapped a route to get back on track, and got on the correct road to the next control, I had ridden about 7 more extra miles.  Along with the wrong turn first thing that morning, I rode 13 extra miles total.  That put me nearly an hour behind schedule.  Major bummer.

But there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  When I finally got to the last convenience store control in Athens, there was Graham!  He was looking and feeling strong and invited me to ride the remaining miles with him.  I was happy to do so.  Not only was it nice to have a companion for the last bit (he really helped keep me going!), but I got to accompany him as he finished his first 400K.  We arrived at 1:17 AM.  Another great example of randonneuring camaraderie!

I had enough adrenaline to get me part way through the hour-long drive home.  When I started getting sleepy, I pulled over for a short nap in my car at the Morgan County landfill.  I have done work there, which is why I picked that spot.  It was only later when I was telling a friend that I realized this sounds a little odd.

The next day (well, actually later the same day) I had to go grocery shopping.  The only other things on my agenda were resting, reading, and drinking wine.  Remember how Gilligan's Island started with a three-hour tour?  I had a three-hour nap.  A three-hour nap.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Athens 300K 2017

Here's a brief ride report from Saturday's Athens 300K brevet.  A good crowd gathered at the start, about 15 riders.  Nine of us formed a nice subgroup that seemed to ride about the same pace: Andrew, Brian, Chad, David, Dick, Joe (visiting from Pennsylvania), Judah, Michael, and me.  Chad, Judah, and Michael live in Georgia but were doing their first brevet with our Audax Atlanta Club.  Chad comes from a triathlon background.  Michael was using the brevet as training for the upcoming Dirty Kanza (200-mile gravel grinder race), and his sister Judah was doing the brevet with him.  Here we all are at the Georgia Guidestones:

The Guidestones are an intriguing point of interest.  They consist of granite slabs from a local quarry.   (Nearby Elberton is the granite capital of Georgia.)   The slabs are inscribed with words of wisdom for humans to live peacefully and sustainably on Earth.  The words are printed in a different language on each slab side.  No one knows who constructed the Guidestones.  Cue "The Twilight Zone" music...

Michael and Judah eventually rode off the front.  I thought they might burn out, being new to randonneuring, but they rode strong the whole way.  The only thing is that they didn't have a map or cue sheet of the route.  Later, they passed us going the opposite direction about 20 miles from the finish.  I guess they were trying to find a shorter route back to the parking lot.  Michael had mentioned wanting to finish by 6:00 PM because he had to get on the road to go to Florida.  A 12-hour finish was a mighty tall order for the Athens 300K.

The other seven of us mostly stayed together, particularly after the control in Royston.  I had hoped we could go back to the neat little indoor farmers market that we had found on last year's Athens 300K brevet, but it was closed.  So, we opted for more convenience store food:

Andrew tickled me with his observation that we do a lot of things while randonneuring that we would never consider other times.  For example, we would never plop down on a curb outside a convenience store because we wouldn't want to mess up our clean pants.  On the bike - no big deal.

While I was sitting on the curb, I looked across the street.  At first, I was taken aback by this sign:

I thought, "Wow!  I've never seen an agnostic church before!"  It turns out that the first two letters of the sign were obscured from my vantage point.  It's actually some kind of medical diagnostic facility.

The stretch between Royston and Jefferson is pretty far and doesn't have a control.  The route goes near the farm of David Nixon, one of our rando buddies.  David has graciously provided an extra food/water/rest stop the last few years.  We were grateful that he repeated his hospitality this year:

We got to the last store stop, about 18 miles from the finish.  I was kind of antsy to get going because I was supposed to meet my husband Robert after the ride at Amici in Madison, a good Italian restaurant on my way home.  However, Andrew and Brian wanted to rest a few more minutes.  No big deal - I'd rather stay with my group.

Finally, we got underway to knock out the few remaining miles.  After a while, Joe started falling behind.  It turns out that we didn't take into account the Michelob factor.  Back at the store, Joe had had two Michelobs.  He explained that he and his rando buddies in Pennsylvania always drink beer during their rides.  We Georgia randonneurs aren't teetotalers, but we generally save our merrymaking for after the ride!

Andrew and Brian were so nice to hang back to check on Joe.  I rode on ahead to rejoin Chad, David, and Dick so that I could finish and head out to meet Robert.

We finished in just under 14 hours; Andrew, Brian, and Joe were only a few minutes behind.  All in all, it was quite an enjoyable 300K, and I managed to keep the pace moderate enough so that I wasn't totally exhausted at the end.

One interesting side note: the Athens 300K route goes on or past roads that have the same name as five people I know: Robert Hardeman Road, John Pruitt Road, Joe Bolton Road, John Stowe Road, and Jim Daws Road.  Technically, I don't know John Pruitt, the longtime Atlanta news anchor, but that's still a lot of familiar names.

Speaking of familiarity, several of my rando buddies remind me of musicians in famous rock bands.  I've always thought that Kevin, our RBA, looks like Michael Stipe of REM but with more hair.  Also, Robert N. looks like Neil Peart of Rush but with more hair.  This weekend I kept thinking that Andrew reminds me of someone.  Finally, I realized that he looks like Ric Ocasek of The Cars but with less hair.  It's cool that my rando buddies resemble so many great rockers!

Ride on, and rock on!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dirty Pecan, a.k.a. You're Gonna Make It after All

The Dirty Pecan is a dirt road ride in Monticello, FL.  It offers three route lengths: 60, 100 or 150 miles.  Of course, I had to choose the longest one...  After racing the Middle Georgia Epic (200K, or approximately 124 miles) a couple of weeks ago, I looked forward to doing the Dirty Pecan as just a ride.  Besides, dirt takes more effort than pavement, probably close to 1.5 times as much.  Therefore, simply finishing the 150-mile option at the Dirty Pecan was my only goal.

Robert doesn't do as much off-road riding as I do, and so I planned to go to the Dirty Pecan by myself.  I didn't mind.  Not that I wouldn't miss him, but I kind of looked forward to proving to myself I could be self-reliant on such a big cycling adventure.

On Friday after work, I headed to Monticello (FL, not home!).  It was my second visit to this lovely town in about six weeks.  At the end of January, my Georgia Neuro cycling team spent a weekend in Monticello.  The beautiful roads and mild temperatures made it an ideal location for a winter training camp.  By the way, I have a longtime connection to Monticello, FL.  Robert and I have had greyhounds for nearly 22 years, and many of our greyhounds came from the Jefferson County Kennel Club.  The racetrack closed a few years ago, and our adoption group has shifted its efforts to Ebro.  Still, as I passed the old facility a few miles north of downtown, I thought of Robert's and my beloved greyhounds who have passed away and felt gratitude for all the tremendous volunteers who work so diligently to find homes for as many greyhounds as possible.

Before I got to Monticello, I stopped in Thomasville, GA for dinner.  I went to the Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop, which I've wanted to visit for a long time.  Sweet Grass produces artisan cheeses that are served in high-end restaurants in Atlanta and sold wholesale across the Eastern U.S.  The store in Thomasville offers samples and has a casual yet classy restaurant.  I enjoyed a hamburger with pimento cheese and bourbon bacon jam, a side spinach salad, and a glass of Spanish red wine featuring Cabernet franc, one of my favorite grapes.  As if that weren't great enough, there was a giant photo of a chicken on the wall:

I definitely need to go back and take Robert.  Maybe we'll get a chance in May at the Georgia Tandem Rally, which will be in nearby Valdosta this year.

From Thomasville, it was about a 30-minute drive to my motel in Monticello, the Super 8.  I wasn't looking for the Ritz, just something clean, comfortable, and relatively inexpensive.  It was all those things.  It also had a group of young guys staying there before a wedding the next day.  They were playing cornhole in the parking lot outside my room.  I couldn't resist.  I put on a T-shirt over my pink flannel pajamas with the bicycles on them.  Then, I pulled my shirt up over my head, walked outside, and did my best Cornholio impersonation:

I usually don't sleep too well the night before a big cycling event, particularly when I'm in unfamiliar surroundings.  It's just as well because the cornhole dudes woke me up several times with their all-night partying.  I tried to be gracious in my heart, thinking about the couple who had an even bigger day coming up than I did.

The ride didn't start until 8:00 AM, which gave me time to eat a free continental breakfast at the Super 8 - woo hoo!  When I stay at a motel before a brevet, I have to pack a breakfast because I usually have to leave for the ride before the motel starts serving.

We gathered for the ride at the University of Florida extension office a few miles west of downtown Monticello.  Some riders had camped on the spacious grounds, and the remnants of the previous night's bonfire felt really good in the early-morning, 40-something degree temperatures:

As I waited in the starting area, I ran into my cycling buddy Pete.  He was doing the 60-mile option and planned to race it.  As he so correctly put it, if you've got a starting point and an ending point, there are going to be guys who race.  When I told him that I was doing the 150-mile option, he warned me that there weren't a whole lot of stores along the route.  I explained that I was prepared, pointing to my jersey pockets filled with four Clif Bars, an Epic bison bar, a can of sardines, a cut-up apple in a plastic bag, and some homemade trail mix (peanuts, raisins, and chocolate chips).  All my food supplies weighed down my jersey, making it hang down to my butt.  Pete congratulated me on my J. Lo. look.

We were off!  I stayed near the front group for the first few miles.  After a short distance, we got to a bad sandy spot.  Remembering how Robert had told me that it's easier to go fast through such areas, that's what I tried to do.  Unfortunately, a couple of guys in front of me slowed down in the soft, deep sand, and I veered right into even deeper sand to avoid hitting them.  I fell over, and a couple of others went down, too.  Fortunately, none of us was really hurt thanks to the soft landing spot.  However, that put a substantial gap between me and the front of the pack.  I resigned myself to solo riding, which I had expected anyway.

A little while later, I caught up to a guy that looked like he was riding about my pace.  However, he was only doing the 100-mile option.  Bummer - for both of us.  He hadn't been able to upload the gpx or tcx file with the route and was trying to rely on tire tracks in the dirt.  That's a heck of a way to try to navigate!  I told him I'd be happy to direct him for as long our routes coincided.  We picked up a few other guys who were doing the 60- or 100-mile route.  Unfortunately for me, they soon went in a different direction as the 150-mile option split off.  Back to solo riding.

I settled in for a long day, fully expecting not to see any other riders.  I stopped for a photo opp on a particularly picturesque road that illustrates why the Dirty Pecan is so aptly named.

Just as I was getting my phone camera ready, here came some other riders.  I waited a few minutes for them to move out of view, but I was't patient enough.  If you look very carefully in the distance in the photo, you can barely make out a couple of riders.

Then, I caught up and passed these same riders.  Later, I played leapfrog with still a few other riders as I stopped for more photos.  This field of greens was absolutely lush - the most beautiful collards I've ever seen.

Across the road was some other crop growing profusely.  I don't know what it is, but the lacy, green tops were lovely.

I had plenty of food.  Liquids were a little sketchier.  I had two bottles of Skratch Labs powder mixed with water, but I would need a lot more to drink than that, even though it was a cool day.  The precautions about it being a self-supported ride were totally serious.  There were only two store stops available on the entire 150-mile route.  I made sure to get water at churches when I could.  Fortunately, I was never in danger of running out of fluids.

The first store stop was at mile 67 in Boston.  Georgia, that is.  The Liberty convenience store was like an oasis.  Four other riders were there at the same time I was.  We enjoyed sitting on the curb, taking a short break and refueling.  One of the guys got some fried chicken at the store.  I opted for the sardines I had packed because I knew it was one of the few places where I would be able to dispose of the empty can.  I had duct taped a plastic fork to the can.  When I pulled everything out of my jersey pocket, I discovered that the end of the fork and tines had broken off in that morning's minor crash.  I used the fork handle to scoop up the larger pieces of sardine.  Then, I sopped up the mustard sauce with one of my apple slices.  Rocket fuel.

One of the guys left the store before I did, and the others were still there when I left.  I passed the first guy fairly soon, and then it was more solo riding.

I was grateful for the second store stop in Cherry Lake.  I bought a magic Coca-Cola and sat outside at a table to drink it.  The sugar and caffeine in Coca-Cola - particularly at mile 108 - are what make it magic.  A store clerk sat down at the table next to mine.  We chatted for a few minutes.  She was about to begin an eight-hour shift after having run a mail route.  She had started at 6:00 AM and wouldn't be finished with work until midnight - an 18-hour workday.  I told her that she would inspire me as I finished up my mere 10-hour (I hoped) bicycle ride.

I felt pretty good and hoped to make it back to the extension office in Monticello around sunset.  This sign buoyed my spirits:

If this were up North, it would be something like Chowder Rd and Pierogi Way.

Because of my experience doing long brevets, I knew that my Garmin battery likely would die before the end of the ride.  I have a charger that I can attach to my bike, but for this ride it was simpler to bring a backup computer.  Sure enough, I got a low-battery message.  I decided to let my Garmin run until it died before switching to my backup.

Then came an unexpected twist: about two miles of hike-a-bike sand.  It was impossible to ride through.  Obviously, others had had the same problem because I saw footprints alongside tire marks.  Not much I could do except hoof it.  That was a major slowdown that meant I definitely would have to do some night riding.  I wasn't worried about that, though, because I had front and rear lights.

While I was hiking, sure enough, my Garmin went out.  I swapped it out with my backup.  However, for some reason the course file on my backup wouldn't load.  Fortunately, I had grabbed a map and cue sheet at registration that morning just in case.  We had been warned that no such provisions would be made, and so thank you to whoever changed that policy.  As much as I enjoyed the ride, one comment I would make is that better maps should have been provided ahead of time.  The only way to get the course was to upload a gpx or tcx file.  I had to find an online app simply to view the gpx file on Google Earth or Google maps.  I like to have a feel for the route ahead of time.  In fact, I normally build my own route file from whatever map and/or cue sheet is provided.

I didn't have a cue sheet holder, and so I stuck the papers down the front of my jersey, which was easier to access than my pockets.  I would memorize a few turns at a time and then stop to memorize the next few turns.  This wasn't a bad system with only 18 miles to go.

Woo hoo!  Back on faster pavement and only 14 miles to go.  What's that ahead?  A blinking taillight - another cyclist!  Maybe I'll have someone to ride with at the very end.  Or not - the cyclist went straight at the next right turn indicated on the cue sheet.  Oh, well.

Straight at an intersection, another straight, and then left on Ashville Highway.  From there, I was pretty sure I could find my way back even without a cue sheet because I was back on roads that were familiar from team training camp back in January.  Wait - the second straight was actually a T-intersection, albeit slightly skewed.  Did I miss a turn or something?  I checked Google Maps on my phone and saw that I was on the correct route.  The cue sheet should have indicated a turn.

The sun was setting.  Despite being tired, frustrated by the horrendous sandpit, and totally ready to finish, I appreciated the beautiful rose-colored sky to the west through orchards of pecan trees.

Monticello city limits - just a few miles to go.  I went around the traffic circle at the courthouse, heading toward the extension office.  About a mile from the end, I spotted the same cyclist with the blinking taillight.  I said hello as cheerily as I could as I passed her.

I finished!  The grounds were empty except for my car and a few others.  One fellow called out to me right as he was leaving.  I asked him if I was supposed to check in with someone.  He said no one else was there.  Hmm...even though I didn't need a juice box and a hug every 20 miles, I did expect the basic courtesy and safety measure of 
someone being at the end to make sure everyone made it OK...

The guy left, and a few minutes later, the woman I passed during the last mile rolled in.  She had done the 100-mile route.  Bless her heart, she had been out there as long as I had!  We wished each other well and were glad we both made it safely.  She must have wanted more chamois time because she didn't even change clothes before heading out.

On the bright side, it was now totally dark.  That's a bright side because I was alone again and didn't even have to bother with ducking down in the passenger side of my car to change clothes.  I could simply stand out in the open next to my car.

It was too late to get the barbecue meal I had purchased.  I suppose I should have had the foresight to realize that it wouldn't work for the 150-mile option.  At least 4-H got a donation out of it.  So, after a quick text to Robert, I drove off in search of vittles.

Before I got back to the roundabout in Monticello, I saw three of the guys I had seen back at the first store stop in Boston, GA.  (I don't know what happened to the fourth guy; I hope he made it back.)  I rolled down my window and shouted encouragement.

Pizza sounded like the perfect recovery meal.  The Lazy Lizard Pizza Company was happy to oblige, and, apparently, they have no problem with serving homeless looking people.

I drove the few miles back to the Super 8, which now seemed palatial.  After a marvelous shower, I lay in bed, figuring that I wouldn't move for the next 12 hours.

Actually, I woke up a little before 7:00 AM.  I dressed and went to the motel registration area for another complimentary continental breakfast.  Then, I headed back to Monticello (home, not FL!).

Before I really got going, I made a brief stop at a roadside stand that sells yard art.  I figured they wouldn't be open early on a Sunday morning, but I had fun taking a quick look.  I love kitschy stuff like this:

It's just as well that they weren't open.  I would have wanted to buy something, which wouldn't have fit in my car with my bike and gear.

As I drove home, I enjoyed listening to my latest audio book from the library, a spy thriller.  Interestingly, it has taught me a new word: pakhan.  It's the Russian mafia equivalent of a godfather.  It's pronounced "puh-KAHN," the same way I pronounce the nut.

By the way, the National Pecan Shellers Association polled Americans and found no clear consensus about the correct pronunciation of “pecan.” Some people say “PEE-can,” and some say “puh-KAHN.” Some even opt for “PEE-kahn” or “puh-CAN.” Pronunciation doesn’t seem to follow any regional, urban vs. rural, or other pattern. Furthermore, I happened to look up the correct pronunciation of “piquant.” There are three: “PEE-kuhnt,” “PEE-kahnt,” or “pee-KAHNT.” Therefore, there are 12 possible ways to say, “piquant pecan.”  I'll bet the pakhan likes piquant pecans.

Back home, I laid out my swag.  I bought one of the Dirty Pecan T-shirts.  I suppose I need to start collecting T-shirts depicting bicycles with wheels made out of various foodstuffs.

I also got some dirty (chocolate-covered) pecans.

They are really good and have a hint of cinnamon.  I've only let Robert and me have a few at a time each evening for dessert along with our hot tea.  We've managed to eat only half the bag in the last few days.

One last note: I had planned to ride the Dirty Pecan for a number of months, but the timing turned out to be great.  On Friday before I headed to Florida, I gave my two-week notice at my job.  When one quits one's job, what else does one do but ride one's bicycle 150 miles?  Obviously, I've given a lot of thought to changing jobs, and I've worked toward it for several months, but I'm still a little nervous.  However, I'm even more excited!  As I rode hour after hour on the dirt roads of Northern Florida and Southern Georgia, I took a little inspiration from Mary Tyler Moore - for both my career and successfully completing the Dirty Pecan.